December 31, 2009

The Botanical

169 Domain Road
South Yarra, Victoria
Phone +613 9820 7888

So December was my birthday month, and on my birthday Daz surprised me with a wonderful dinner at The Botanical. I had no idea where we were going, but the second I saw that we were driving towards the Botanic Gardens, I knew straight away what was in store for me.

Botanical Kitchen 2

Some how, either by great planing or shear luck (I'm guessing luck) we were seated directly in front of the pass. For normal dinners that seat would have been very frustrating, but for a food blogger it was just heaven. We got to see every dish being finessed, we witnessed the fury and heat that goes on in the kitchen, and at the end of the night we knew EXACTLY why our dessert was taking such a long time. Daz had bought me a cake, after the candles were blown out it was whisked away to the back corner of the kitchen to be cut up. Funnily with a kitchen full of chefs, there was no one available to slice it up. No bother though, I was happy enough to sit there and continue soaking up the atmosphere. If I cant work in a kitchen at least I can watch it in a pseudo-reality-TV style way.

Botanical Kitchen

Since the Botanical has a daily offering of oysters we decided to kick off our meal with a couple of the daily oysters. There were three varieties on offer, and luckily I asked if I could have a copy of the menu, as Botanical Birthday gift to me! So here the are;

oysters at the botanical

Clair de Lune Bouton Begins life as a wild caught single seed oyster, hand selected & subjected to choppy wind conditions & ocean swells which gives its unique briny flavour

Rusty Wire This new brand of oyster has a beautiful natural balance between salty briny & sweet flavours & has a great eating texture, only harvested in small quantities and believed to be one of the finest oysters produced out of the Clyde River. So called because it is a popular technique to indicate when the oyster has reached maturity.

Moonlight en Surface A hand selected rock product finished under unique flotation process which produces a softer, cleaner, more refined flavour.

oysters at the botanical 2

I cant remember which was which, but do remember that the big one was by far the best. The flavour was much more subtle than the other two and was so appetising. I think it was Clair de Lune. Just delicious.

We each selected a main meal. The two boys ordered the Dry Aged 500 Day Grass Fed Black Angus Rib Eye, Vine Ripened Cherry Tomatoes and Lyonnaise Onions and botanical Hot Mustard. I had a tiny sample of the Lyonnaise onions and they were so sweet and meaty I wanted a whole dish to myself. I love sauteed onions, and they go so well with a nice smoky piece of meat

Botanical steak

Daz ordered the Bearnaise sauce with his steak. I could hear his arteries hardening as he ate it. That Bearnaise sauce had a serious amount of butter in it, but I'm so glad it did. I really regretted what I ordered and all I wanted was to eat everything on Daz's plate.

botanical bernaise

I ordered the Roasted Hazeldene chicken, confit leg sausage roll, baby leeks and imported mushrooms. It was nice, but there really wasn't anything remarkable about it. The chicken was moist and the mushrooms had some serious flavour, but those are things that you would expect from a place like The Botanical.

Botanical Chicken

V1 ordered the Wood Roasted Snapper, Asparagus, Globe Artichokes and Asparagus Veloute. I had a tiny sample of this dish too. The flavours were good, but I was a little surprised by the portion size, in fact I was surprised with mine too. When the boys got their steak, they totally dwarfed our meals, and from a price comparison, there really wasn't much difference.

The botanical snapper

As a side we ordered Triple Cooked Hand Cut Potato Chips with Aioli. These were so good, we were literally fighting each other for the tiny little potato bits that were so golden and crunchy.

three times cooked chips1

I made unhealthy chip even more sinful by dipping my chips in Daz's Bearnaise sauce. The best bit? They had slithers of garlic mixed in amongst the chips, but they were cooked delicately that they imparted a smooth garlic flavour to the chips.

three times cooked chips

Overall the meal wasn't the best I've ever had, but I'll surely be back for more fresh oysters and triple cooked chips! The festive season is almost over and before 2009 finally comes to an end I wanted to wish everyone a very happy and healthy new year. Forget all those new year resolutions, live every day the way you really want to and make every waking moment your new resolution. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

December 17, 2009

Cafe Vue - Cocktail Night

December is a fantastic month for two reasons. 1. Its contains christmas and who doesnt love Christmas? presents and phenomenal amounts of food. AND 2. Its my birthday!! Woo hoo! Any excuse to party and get presents right? For a while now I've had my eye on the cocktail night at Cafe Vue, so I decided we were all in desperate need of a refreshing cocktail. And at $75 for 5 cocktails and matching small dishes, the value is incredible. The beauty of the cocktail night in December is that the cocktail de jour (or month in this case) was Christmas themed and so the power of my birthday and Christmas were combined to create an uber celebration!

There is one thing you can count on from the Vue empire and that is attention to detail. Every dish and cocktail was presented and explained to precision. Only problem is I have a bad memory at the best of times, when you throw in alcohol retention of detail is lost let alone remembering who I came with!! I'll try my best to include as much detail as possible, but towards the end the only details I might have is the colour of the cocktail, and I only know that because I have photos to remind me!

First up we have the Snowball Cocktail. This was a tequila and gin based drink, with nougat flavours, orange blossom, almond liquor and peach. It was designed as an aperitif to kick start you into the meal and get the mood flowing. They aimed to have the flavours recreate the feeling of a white Christmas. Later in the evening we were lucky enough to have a very interesting chat with the fellow who designed all the cocktails for the night and he let us in on some of the secrets. Originally the cocktail had an almond foam floating on top and was aimed to be paired with a dessert. But when Shannon Bennett designed his dishes for the night he moved the cocktail to the start and it transformed into an aperitif. I must say it was very refreshing and extremely delightful. It really hit on every single note, like an orchestra. It was a real pleasure drinking this. Everyone at the table wanted a second one, no strike that - we all wanted individual jugs of the stuff!

first cocktail

The first dish was Mandarin marinated tuna tartare with a little soya sauce, with dashi gel, and a ribbon of apple finished the dish off. The tuna was subtlety flavored and slightly oily which was a treat. I think this dish disappeared in record time, I remember thinking, wow this took longer to photograph then eat! Enough said right?

first dish

close up of dish 1

Second cocktail was The Gingerbread Man. This cocktail was designed to taste like ginger bread crumbs, it was a whisky based drink containing ginger bread syrup and smarties, it also had a foam of some sort (alcohol works quickly on me). After speaking to our inside source, he told us that he worked with the pastry guys from the kitchen to develop his syrups that he uses in his drinks. You can really tell that the drink is not just one dimensional, where it contains just alcohol to get you hammered. Instead it works a little like food and tries to interact with more than one portion of your palate. For me, I enjoyed this drink, I'm a fan of ginger bread so this was a winner for me.

second cocktail

We had a ball with this one, everyone had different coloured smarties and once you mixed your drink a beautiful hue would develop. One of my friends, Miss Coco LV (named after her two favourite designers) ended up with a very festive green number.

second cocktails mixed up

The dish to accompany the ginger bread man was a Pigeon ballotine with chicken pate wrapped in brioche topped with curly lettuce which had been simply dressed with olive oil. Oh how I wish all bar food was this tasty. The perfect size to pick up with your hands and shove into your gob, two bites and its down. "Quick! where's the waiter, maybe we could steal someone else's serve!"

second dish

second dish close up

The third cocktail was Mrs Clause, very descriptive right? Daz joked that it was Mrs Clause blended up with Vodka, a punishment for not helping around the north pole. When the drink arrived I thought for a second she really was in the drink! It was a brilliant blood red colour. Christmas will never be the same now! Our very helpful waiter explained what really was in the drink. This was a Bourbon based drink with cherry liquor, tarragon flavours, cherry syrup and aniseed flavours, which was to compliment the dish it was matched with, pork. When talking to our insider friend, he reveled that the level of herb was upped in this drink when he realised what it was going to be paired with. The aniseed flavour goes well with the pork, but this was my least favourite drink of the night. I found it too powerful and difficult to drink without any food. Although I'm not a big fan of aniseed, I can see how this could be a very refreshing drink to have on a sunny afternoon.

third cocktail

Mrs Clause goes really well with some pork, so we had Confit pork neck, which was slow cooked for 36 hours with kipfler potato and herb, I suspect tarragon, mash & red wine sauce, served with potato crisps. This was a very hearty dish and was really enjoyable. Not the best slow cooked pork I've ever had, but the lumpy mash was quite tasty.

third dish 2

Its funny when you've had a couple of drinks, potato crisps somehow look a little different. Anyone else see Pacman???

third dish

Our fourth cocktail was Sleigh Bells, which was a glass of Pirie Vintage Champagne from Tasmania. I'm sure the waiter explained why it was called Sleigh Bells, but I don't remember why. The champagne was used as a palate cleanser to prepare us for our dessert course.

fourth cocktail

Our fourth dish was Comté cheese from France with beetroot & smoked bone marrow salad, and a watermelon circle. The bone marrow had been extracted and smoked to impart a real meaty flavour to the beetroot salad which were thinly shaved pieces of beetroot sitting on top of a dollop of Buffalo yogurt. I love cheese so saying anything about this dish is slightly bias, I loved it, every single drop of it. I was going to lick my plate, but then I remembered I was in the presence of company.

fourth dish

Our last cocktail was Under the Mistletoe, which was a Cognac based drink with orange, star anise, caramelised fig syrup, orange liquor and another spice I cant remember. This drink was a great way to end the night, the intense star anise would have been difficult to follow. And in my opinion, cognac is such a grown up drink, so finally I was begging to feel my age.

fifth cocktail

My heart almost stopped dead when I read what we were having for dessert. Some of you my already know that I love basil. If basil were a rock star I would so be its stalker. Some my say my love for basil is slightly unhealthy, I once asked Daz if we could name our first born Basil, irrespective of gender. He said no.....sigh. I should get back to the dessert. Tartare of fig, white chocolate and mascarpone mousse, topped with a disc of white chocolate and a smear of fig jam then drizzled with warm basil oil. The white chocolate is melted into the glass by pouring the warm basil oil over the top. I'm going to go there, best dessert EVER!!

fifth dish 2

I wanted to hijack the waiter and steal the jug of basil oil and drink it right there...too much?? I was pretty lucky, I pulled out my camera to take snapps of the pouring and ended up getting an extremely generous serving of the basil oil...score! To me, everything was perfect, the softness of the figs, the lusciousness of the mousse, the warmth from the basil. FYI, I am going to try to recreate this dessert, I'm hoping many many many failed attempts, so I can justify constantly making more and more basil oil.

fifth dish

The night was a roaring success, and I strongly recommend getting down to Cafe Vue for a cocktail night in December, for two reasons, value for money, and the dessert!!

Ok, now I really have had too much to drink, there's pacman again!!

fifth dish packman

December 8, 2009

Nutella and Vanilla Cassata's

cassata 2

Growing up in a Sicilian family means two things, loads of screaming, and loads of good food!! Whenever my mum would cook, she would usually get me and my brother involved. When I have children I'll do the same thing. Even though recipes are never written down, I know exactly how to make some traditional recipes straight from my brain, and I have my mother to thank for that. Cassata is a sweet that would always be close to my heart.

cassata 1

Traditionally Cassata's are a combination of sponge cake, ricotta and candied fruit, but in our family it is a baked ricotta tart flavored with whatever is handy at the time, and Nutella is something that is ALWAYS on hand in our household.


The pastry is so dead easy, its basically a sweetened pizza dough and the filling is so easy to put together as well. My mum would usually make the shells quite thick and mould the cases all by hand. I've decided to cheat and use a muffin tin, mainly because I like my pastry a little thinner and crispierI've even exposed Daz to the humble Cassata and eating just one is never enough.


So here is the recipe for Nutella and Vanilla Cassata's

Nutella and Vanilla Cassata's

Make 18-20 Cassata's



200 g plain flour
2 table spoons sugar
7 g dried yeast
warm water
a dash of olive oil


300 g ricotta
1/2 cup of sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence/vanilla bean paste

For vanilla filling up the amount of vanilla essence and for chocolate add a generous amount of nutella


For Pastry

Preheat oven to 170C

1. Add half a cup of blood warm water to yeast and set aside. Allow it to become frothy and complete dissolved, around 10 minutes

2. Add flour and sugar in a large bowl and mix until they are well combined. Add yeast mixture and oil. Knead together to form a firm dough. If you need more water add it little by little. If the dough is too wet, add a little more flour. Once the dough is the right consistency, roll into a ball and dust the top with a little flour. Leave in the bowl with a tea towel covering it. Place in a warm place and allow to double in size. Around 45 minutes.

For Filling.

1. Using a fork, break ricotta up into small piece, using the fork mash the ricotta until it is fine. You can put it in a food processor or through a sieve, but I think the fork method is enough. Add eggs, vanilla, sugar and cream, using the fork combine all ingredients until they are well mixed.

2. Divide the mixture into two batches. Flavour each batch to your liking. Loads of nutella is the way to go!!

cassata 3

Making Cassata's

1. Grease muffin tins with a little non stick cooking spray, this will ensure that the cassata's will pop out and not stick to the sides.

2. Dust a working surface with plenty of flour. Using a rolling pin, roll pastry out until its roughly 3-4 mm thick. You can roll it as thin as you like, the thinner the pastry the crunchier it becomes.

3. Using a cookie cutter, cut enough pastry to fill muffin tins and then line tin with pastry.

4. Spoon ricotta filling into each of the pastry cases, filling to 3/4 full. The filling will rise, but once it is out of the oven it will flatten out and sink to its original size. Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry tops are golden and filling is firm to the touch.

cassata 4
Sorry, all gone.....but wait, theres more in the background!!