Monday, 23 August 2010

Margan Restaurant, Broke (Hunter Valley)

Being inner city Sydneysiders, Mr FBC and I consider anything more than a 15 minute drive away to be far, far away (it's all relative!). So, considering our evening drive for dinner in the Hunter Valley this weekend will take 30-40 minutes sure makes our destination, Margan Restaurant in Broke, feel very distant.
Margan Restaurant is part of the Margan Winery in Broke Fordwich. I'm instantly attracted to the restaurant from the blurb I read on their website and how committed these guys are to using fresh produce and reducing their overall carbon footprint.
"Being farmers, we are committed to looking after the land so that it is able to look after us for generations to come. As such, we are determined to ensure our carbon footprint is as small as possible. Our one acre fruit and vegetable garden is a labour of love as well as a sustainable way we can reduce our food miles. We base our menus around the seasons and in particular, what we are harvesting from the garden right now. What is not used in the kitchen goes to the chickens who very kindly supply us with eggs for the menu and compost for the garden (the chicken or the egg?). The water falls from the sky, so we offer you fresh rainwater, filtered and free. The wine comes from the grapes grown on our vineyards right here in Broke Fordwich and made in the winery behind where you sit. We freshly prepare most menu items from scratch in our kitchen, including our signature gelati, pasta, smallgoods, pastries, etc"
Ahh...warm and fuzzies. I already feel like I'm being a good samaritan just by choosing to eat here.
After what seems like forever along dark country roads, we arrive at Margan and it's pitch black all around except for the glimmer of light (and hope) emanating from the restaurant.
Arriving inside the restaurant, we are warmly greeted by our waitress for the evening. I'm immediately wowed at the interior design of this place. There's a warm log fire burning, textured concrete walls and there's lots of dark moody lighting. Even though this is meant to be a nice romantic dinner for Mr FBC and I, being the nerdy foodbloggers, we are relieved when we are led to a table in a reasonably well lit corner. It's all for the sake of getting the good food porn shots! 

Log Fire
Margan's menu offers quite an extensive list of tasting plates. You can get  3 tasting courses for $60, 4 tasting courses for $75 or 5 tasting courses for $90. We're told that the tasting plates are a tad smaller than an entree size so Mr FBC and I decide to get 4 courses each. And, since we have an unspoken rule about going half/half with all the dishes, we effectively get to try 8 dishes in total. It's a win-win. The next big decision is what to order....  
It takes a while, but finally we decide.

Mr FBC chose these four dishes -

  • Broth of poached chicken, risoni and free range egg finished with shaved bottarga

  • Slow braised lamb shoulder, beluga lentils, pumpkin, smoked eggplant and goats curd

  • Twice cooked pork belly, red cabbage, cavolo nero and caramelised apple puree

  • Chocolate fondant with caramel ice cream and salted vanilla hazelnuts
 And  I chose the these four - 
  • Seared pepper crusted kingfish, crispy silverbeet and anchovy mayonnaise
  • Saute of white beans with spanish morcilla, scallops and picada
  • Confit duck parcel and seared breast on celeriac puree with leek, wild honey and verjuice.
  • Cheese cigar with Tarago Shadows of Blue and quince
To start with, we're provided with these delicious canapes - cute little crumbed pork balls bursting with flavour.
Complimentary Canape - Crumbed Pork Balls
Our first tasting plates arrive. Mr FBC's broth of poached chicken and risoni is topped with a bright yellow yolk. Mixing the yolk in with the broth produces a beautifully creamy texture. 
Broth of poached chicken, risoni and free range egg finished with shaved bottarga
My first course, seared pepper crusted kingfish, silverbeet and anchovy mayonnaise was delightful. The kingfish was light and fresh and I loved the crunch of the the fried silverbeet and the salty tang of the mayonnaise.
Seared pepper crusted kingfish, crispy silverbeet and anchovy mayonnaise

Slow braised lamb shoulder, beluga lentils, pumpkin, smoked eggplant and goats curd
Taste plate no. 2 arrives shorty. My FBC's lamb beautiful and just falls apart in the mouth. The goats curd adds a nice creamy saltiness and the sprinkling of pomegrantes adds a lovely sweetness to the dish.
Saute of white beans with spanish morcilla, scallops and picada
My scallops were very delicate and plump morsels. I wasn't sure what a 'spanish morcilla' was but it tasted like a very rich and dense sausage. (Note: I just 'googled' it and found out it's a spanish blood sausage - interesting. I'm glad I didn't know as I might not have picked it!).
Twice cooked pork belly, red cabbage, cavolo nero and caramelised apple puree
Mr FBC's pork belly was really delicious - the meat was tender and sweet with a lovely crunchy crackling. Neither Mr FBC and I knew what cavolo nero was but we figured it was the vegetable that looked a bit like spinach?  That was a pretty good guess - another 'google' search reveals that cavolo nero is an Italian black cabbage or kale.
Confit duck parcel and seared breast on celeriac puree with leek, wild honey and verjuice
I chose the duck dish because it had verjuice which reminded me of Maggie Beer and a documentary I watched about her quest to introduce Australia to verjuice - the juice of unfermented grapes. Anyway, it was a good choice. The confit duck parcel was a bit like a duck meatball. The seared duck breasts were very succulent and the sweet sauce worked well with the duck.
We have a bit of a break to rest our stomachs before tasting plate 4 (aka dessert) arrives. We take this time to have a look at the interiors again. There's a beautiful cellar room that our table overlooks. I think they must have functions there - I could picture this restaurant being a wonderfully romantic place for a wedding.  We also have time to do a bit of eavesdropping on what other tables are ordering. A group of 8 people near us decide to order 3 courses. I want to say - "go for at least 4 course people!"... but I only manage to say it loudly in my head.

Chocolate fondant with caramel ice cream and salted vanilla hazelnuts
Desserts arrive and we realise that our night is nearly coming to an end (sigh:( ). There's a bit of a drumroll before Mr FBC cracks open his chocolate fondant. Will it or won't it be gooey on the inside?? The suspense.... it's gooey, chocolately and very decadent.
Cheese cigar with Tarago Shadows of Blue and quince
I'm really impressed when my dessert arrives. I think I was just expecting a bit of cheese and crackers. The cheese cigar is filled with 'Tarago Shadows of Blue' which is a rich double cream blue vein cheese which has been rolled in pastry and deep fried. The sweetness of the quince sauce works really well with the cheese. Mr FBC finds it a bit too rich but I love it - being the 'cheese fiend' that I am.
It's been a wonderful night of decadent eating. Mr FBC and I were really impressed with Margan - it has both an original menu and the chefs also seem to use fresh and local produce. It was defintely worth the trek there (and back).

Margan Restaurant
1238 Milbrodale Road,Broke NSW 2330
ph: 6579 1317
Open for Lunch - Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Dinner - Friday and Saturday
Breakfast - Sunday
View Larger Map

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Sonido! Fitzroy (Melbourne)

For me there are two types of great dining experiences. The first is where you go somewhere expecting great things and it achieves or exceeds your expectations. The second is when you go somewhere with no expectation, often for the sake of just having something to eat, but are completely blown away by the experience. Sonido, located in Melbourne’s funky but grungy suburb of Fitzroy, was one such place.

Mrs FBC and I were recently on a gastronomical holiday in Melbourne sampling some of the great food the city had to offer (look out for future blogs). Having arrived on Friday and eaten our way through to Sunday we decided it was time to give our stomachs a rest and instead do some visual eating at Melbourne’s Queen Vic Markets. On our last trip to Melbourne a friend of ours introduced us to Fitzroy and Mrs FBC and I immediately felt at home. So naturally this is where we stayed this time round. Come Sunday morning, and finding ourselves a little over indulged, we decided to walk to Queen Vic markets in an attempt to re-build our appetites. Of course, being a Sunday, we were in serious need of a good source of coffee and, having noted a few good venues on Gertrude St, we chose this as our route.

One thing you need to note about Melbourne is that Sundays can be little slow, and as it turned out most of the cafes we saw on Gertrude St were closed. Desperate for coffee, and of course a small amount of food, we happened upon a little unimposing café called Sonido. Sonido has the sort of grungy haphazard décor that only arts students or Europeans can pull off. Or in this case South Americans (and still possibly arts students).

Sonido's unimposing entrance.

After waiting for table service for several minutes we decided that ordering at the counter was probably the way to go and helped ourselves to some menus. It was here that the pleasant surprises began. Rather than the typical collection of toast, scrambled eggs and, for the more adventurous cafes, eggs Benedict, we were intrigued to find a menu consisting mainly of Arepas and Empanadas. Now I know what you are saying, “I know what an empanada is, but what are arepas?” To quote directly from the menu,

“Considered the most typical food of northern South America, AREPAS are a daily ritual that has been practised for centuries. Maiz (corn) is one of the most beautiful gifts of the Americas (North, Central and South) to the world. The indigenous inhabitants of South America mastered the art of transforming maiz into simple, loyal and very healthy round goodies called Arepas!”

Having read this we both agreed that we wanted to try the daily ritual of South America. I ordered the Arepa de Choclo (no, it’s not chocolate) while Mrs FBC ordered the Arepa de Queso.

Arepa de Queso ($7.50)

The Arepa de Queso, or cheese arepa, had a recommendation to eat it with a “buttered knife in one hand and a salt shaker in the other”. This dish consisted of two cheese arepas served with fresh salsa, guacamole and a chunk of butter. Delicious and light, they were a great start to the morning (at least that’s what I thought from the small bite Mrs FBC allowed me to have) and were well accompanied by the salt and butter.

Arepa de Choclo ($7.50)

The arepa de choclo on the other hand was a heavier arepa made from gringo corn with a generous slice of Fresco cheese. And as it turns out this is exactly how I like my arepas.

Mrs FBC and I both thoroughly enjoyed our arepas and to top it off the coffee was great. Our only regret was that we didn’t get to try any more of the menu. However, hopefully next time we return to Melbourne this little café will still be running strong and we can try the rest of the menu.

69 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

Friday, 6 August 2010

Cafe Enzo, Polkolbin (Hunter Valley)

Mr FBC told me the other day that he thinks my iphone is my second brain!  
We went away recently for a nice weekend of wine tasting in the Hunter Valley and were keen to start our Saturday with a good coffee - just to kickstart our brains so we could really savour the complexities of the wine we were about to taste. Nah, not really, we just needed coffee. I wanted to do a bit of researching before heading off in search of coffee in unchartered territory. I was worried that we would get a really bad cup that I would need  to pour down the nearest stormwater drain in digust. Yes - I've done that before and will do it again, if warranted. So, in my hour of need, I turned to my trusty 'second brain' - my beloved iphone. 

Mr FBC and I are regulars at Campos Coffee. We're pretty luckily as it's practically our local coffee shop so our coffee standards are understandably high. I recently downloaded an iphone application from the Campos Coffee website which finds the nearest cafe selling Campos Coffee - it's very nifty indeed.  I didn't think my chances of finding Campos Coffee in the Hunter were particularly high. However, with a quick flick and scroll on the second brain, I had found a cafe that had MY coffee and it was only 1km away. 

Our destination.... CAFE ENZO. I was so excited. Not only did this place have MY coffee, it was actually on my list of places to try in the Hunter. Yay!

I'm happy to say the coffee was great, with the Mr FBC's cappuccino coming in the trademark 'Campos' glossy brown coffee cup.
We weren't up for a terribly big breakfast, so we got a couple of light dishes. Mr FBC ordered some cinnamon toast. It wasn't too exciting but you can't do that much with toast and cinnamon. It was a bit pricey at $8.50... but perhaps we were paying 'Hunter Valley' toast prices.
I was looking for something 'relatively' healthy so ordered the toasted muesli with yoghurt and fruit salad. I was pleasantly suprised with this breakfast meal with its relatively simple yet effective presentation. The dish was served in three bowls placed on a rustic wooden chopping board. I really loved the Brookfarm  toasted muesli  which had a nice crunch from bits of puffed rice. The yoghurt was rich and creamy. I'm guessing it was definitely not 'low fat'. Ahh well, I suppose we got some redemption with the fruit salad which was a lovely mix of strawberries, rockmelon and honey dew.

Brookfarm Toasted Muesli, Yoghurt and Fruit Salad ($15.00)
We sat at a table outside which was a perfect choice for this Saturday morning.  I think Cafe Enzo would be a great place to have a lazy long lunch. Unfortunately, Mr FBC and I had organised a jam packed day full of wine tastings so we had to dash. However, we will definitely try and return to this place sometime soon.
Cafe Enzo
At Peppers Creek Winery
Cnr of Broke and Ekerts Road
Polkolbin NSW 2320
ph (02) 49987233