Sunday, 27 July 2014

All things sweet @ Italian Continental Bakery & Cafe - Mawson

Get ready for some major sweet dessert porn. The Italian Continental Bakery & Cafe in Mawson has been on my list of eateries to visit for years. I hear good things from work colleagues who make the short drive from the Woden town centre for a quick lunch, and other friends who've had some of the traditional Italian pastries. One morning, a bunch of us were about to hike up Mt Tennent and decided to all meet at the Italian Continental Bakery & Cafe beforehand to fill up on some goodies.
There's indoor and outdoor seating with plenty of locals enjoying coffee and breakfast.
First of all - CRONUTS! There were 3 types that day - chocolate, vanilla and salted caramel. I could these were filled with cream or custard in the middle.
There's a mouthwatering assortment of cannoli, Italian doughnuts, custard doughnuts, macarons and biscuits.
And lots of cream filled pastries such as eclairs and bigne that caught my eye.
I didn't want to be too full hiking up and I had already eaten breakfast, so I purchased a cannoli (around the $3 mark). The pastry is soft, fresh and lightly rolled in sugar. I gobbled this up quickly and was wondering whether I should go grab a cronut to have later. I decided against it since it would just get squished in my backpack. But made a note to go back in the near future.
So on another Saturday morning a couple of weeks later, I headed back to try out the breakfast menu and grab a few more pastries :) At 10.15am, I was disappointed to find that the cronuts had all sold out. I'll have to get there earlier next time. A sign at the front counter was advertising a Nutella hot chocolate ($5.50) so I couldn't pass that up. This was sweet, not too thick and tasted very much of Nutella! I loved it.
The breakfast menu is available between 8am-11am and both vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
My friend D and I both chose the French toast with fresh banana, strawberries, maple syrup and cinnamon sugar ($13.90). I found the French toast to be a little dry and dense but I did like the crunchy outside, the fresh fruit and conservative amount of maple syrup drizzled on top.
D had the jam doughnut which is bigger than my first.
He really enjoyed it - look at the beautiful colour of the jam!
I ordered a few pastries to take away too.
The fat Italian doughnut ($2.20) was a must try - I love the dark golden brown colour.
Slightly disappointed as it was a little dry for my liking however it had fantastic flavour.
Now to try some of the custard filled pastries. I have memories of tasting delicious bigne with my family in Italy so I chose the chocolate bigne ($3.30) to try. Great choux pastry and this is filled with a large amount of smooth creamy custard. What I like about the custard is that it's not rich at all. It's actually quite light. You think you won't finish it all, but then you do (feeling slightly guilty).
Clockwise from left: Sicilian cannoli, Via Lattea, and chocolate bigne
The Via Lattea ($4.50), also known as the Milky way, consists of two bigne - one filled with chocolate custard and the other filled with vanilla custard with a dollop of dark chocolate on top. Again, great choux pastry and light creamy custard.
The Sicilian cannoli (I think around $3.50) had both chocolate and vanilla custard piped into each end. The cannoli pastry really impressed me - crispy, flakey and exactly the way a cannoli should be. I could tell it was made fresh. The same light and creamy custard is used in the other pastries above. Yum!
So there you have what was my sugar high a few weekends ago. Apart from sweets, the Italian Continental Bakery & Cafe do a pretty good lunch as well with fresh focaccias and sandwiches (they bake fresh breads on site), pastas, risotto, good ol chicken parma and more. Prices are reasonable with the most expensive item on the lunch menu priced at $19.90.

I found service is quick and efficient. Order up at the counter (there are two people on the registers during peak periods) and a table number is provided if you're dining in. It took about 5-10 minutes for our drinks to arrive and another 5-10mins for our meals. At one point that Saturday morning, there was a queue right to the front door. A very popular spot for the locals.

Definitely worth a visit. You won't be able to walk past those pastries! I need to go back for that cronut.

Open Tuesday to Sunday at the Mawson shops (between the Woolies petrol station and 7/11 station). Check out its Facebook page too.

Foodgasm 7.5/10
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Friday, 25 July 2014

2014 Dessert Degustation @ Koko Black

Each year, Koko Black holds special Winter Evenings of Chocolate providing 4 courses of chocolatey dessert porn (see last year's post here) and a cocktail. This year was my 3rd year attending and I'm always impressed with the dessert creations. A theme is chosen each year and the pastry chefs start coming up with ideas based on Koko Black's chocolate and dessert selection. This year's theme was 'new creations' where the latest chocolates introduced at Koko Black are turned into something wicked.

We started off with the mocha truffle martini. This is the first year where non-drinkers were given a virgin option so I was really happy with that. The espresso 'martini' consisted of chilled espresso and sugar syrup served with a mocha truffle swizzle stick. The normal drink had vodka, creme de cacao and kahlua in it. When I drink coffee (mochas to be exact), it's only in the mornings, so one sip of this espresso made me eye-poppingly (is that a word?) alert. Wowza! I only managed to drink a little less than half as it was too strong for me and I knew I'd be up all night. The mocha truffle stick was fun and gave me my first hit of chocolate for the night.
Course 1 - the honeycomb inclusion. This was based on the new leatherwood honey chocolate and consisted of Tasmanian leatherwood honey marshmallow, Madagascan chocolate mousse, honeycomb and chocolate shards. I really loved this simple dessert that used only two flavours in various textures. The marshmallow was divine and I enjoyed biting into the crunchy shards of honeycomb which helped break up the chocolate mousse. A fantastic mix. I admit that I was sad when I finished it all.
Another shot of the marshmallow sandwiched between two layers of mousse - delicious!
Course 2 - the sesame truffle. This looked impressive (and a similar structure to one of Gelato Messina's cakes). It consisted of milk chocolate tahini mousse and a liquid sesame caramel centre, all encased in a milk chocolate shell, and surrounded by spiced almond dukkah. I loved opening this up and unravelling what lay inside. I've never had a sesame seed and chocolate combination before but I can confirm it tastes fantastic! The toasted sesame seeds added a depth of nutty flavour to the chocolate as well as crunchiness. The mousse itself is infused with sesame paste (tahini) to help bring out that nuttiness. The dukkah is a brilliant idea with both black and white sesame seeds as well as kind of crumble. It provided a bit of saltiness to help balance out the sweet chocolate.
Inside is the salted caramel centre which wasn't too potent and sweet. I think the addition of sesame balanced it out quite well.
Course 3 - the chocolate cherry royale (launched about 4 months ago). This consisted of sour cherry 
soufflé, milk chocolate ice cream (on the spoon), butter shortbread and morello cherry jelly all topped with freeze dried cherries. The soufflé was amazingly airy and light but I'm not that fond of sour cherry. The chocolate covered marshmallow was a nice little surprise as was the chocolate coated popping candy.
An airy and light soufflé
A tea, light hot chocolate or iced chocolate/coffee is offered as part of the degustation. As I was feeling quite full by this stage, I chose the light hot chocolate over the iced chocolate (my favourite).
Course 4 - the caramel walnut escargot made up of caramel milk chocolate semi-freddo, cinnamon panna cotta, walnut crumble and a laminated pastry crisp. The ultra creamy semi-freddo wasn't too sweet with a mix of both caramel and chocolate flavours. Even the caramel sauce on the plate wasn't that sweet, but maybe I'd just had too much sugar by then? The pastry tasted like buttery baked goodness - I could've easily eaten more of it!
The tiny ball of panna cotta was cute and had a wonderful texture but didn't add much value for me. I did enjoy the caramelised walnuts on the plate.
 My friend's gluten-free version of the escargot replaced the pastry with chocolate.
As mentioned above, the desserts that night were based on a selection of Koko Black's chocolates and desserts which were displayed on the counter.
Service at Koko Black is attentive but unobtrusive with staff quietly providing a new set of cutlery and napkins for each course. Always a good night, Head Pastry Chef, Adam Tippins explains each dessert and its creation before it arrives at your table. He also goes around to each table to speak with guests which I think is a great way to learn more about the desserts. It makes it a more personable experience too. It takes about a week for him to prepare everything for each degustation (it's held at the other capital cities around Australia too). At the end of the night, a goodie bag is provided so there's more chocolate indulgences to look forward to after leaving :)
The Winter Evenings of Chocolate are held once a year and the cost is $80 per person. I'd recommend booking in next year if you're a hardcore chocolate lover. Best to go for a stroll afterwards too :)

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Foodgasm 7.5.10
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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Veuve Clicquot truffle dinner @ Hyatt Hotel Canberra

A friend and I recently attended the Veuve Clicquot truffle dinner held at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra as part of the Truffle Festival. You may already know that Veuve Clicquot is a French champagne house. A bit of background to the brand - Madame Clicquot was widowed at 27 with a child, and found herself taking over her husband's wine business. Already skilled with wine, the successful brand Veuve (French for widow) Clicquot was born, and she became a legendary entrepreneur.

For regular readers of this blog, you might know that I don't drink so why on earth would I attend this? The answer is it offered good value for the price - 6 courses for $145 (inc matching drinks) was reasonable compared to other truffle dinners currently being held. Plus I've never dined at the Hyatt apart from the main lounge area for high tea. It bothered me that the set price couldn't be changed for those that didn't want matched drinks.

The night started off outside the grand ballroom with champagne cocktails for guests. I got a choice of lemonade, coke or squash. About 45 minutes later, the doors to the ballroom opened and we sat at our designated shared tables.

Onto the food. The first course was cream of Breton artichokes with truffles and fresh water marron from WA. I thought the presentation was beautiful with lots of bright colours. The steamed marron was fresh, soft and succulent (but slightly salty). The milk truffle foam on top of the marron was very subtle and there were some shavings of truffle on the plate too. There were three textures of artichoke on the plate and I really loved the poached artichoke. The beets were crunchy and gave a nice contrast to the rest of the meal.  I really enjoyed this and it indicated the quality of food to come.
We were asked whether we'd like a mocktail since we weren't drinking. Now we're talking! After my friend and I both accepted, pineapple, passionfruit and lychee mocktails arrived in champagne glasses. I was happy :)
The second course were the garden vegetables in a Chinese truffle broth with a free range chicken, truffle and chestnut tortellini. Truffle shavings are infused into the broth before being strained. The tortellini filling tasted nice with shaoxing sauce but I've had better broths.
Since my friend can't have gluten, his tortellini was substituted with a dumpling. A Chinese dumpling sitting in Chinese broth made more sense to me than the tortellini.
The third course was a lightly smoked Berkshire pork jowl, marinated scallop, black truffle, prune and cauliflower. The scallop is cooked perfectly as is the pork that has been smoked over hickory chips. I thought this was a really well balanced dish with the prune and honey-like snap providing the sweeter elements. Turnips gave added crunch too. A great dish!
The fourth course was the slow roasted Rangers Valley wagyu eye fillet glazed in a walnut reduction, fois gras, black truffle butter and King Oyster mushrooms. Now I'm not a big steak person and I don't usually order a steak when I dine out. But this is probably the best eye fillet I have ever tasted in my life.
When I first sliced into it, the wagyu looked too raw for me (I usually like it cooked medium) but when I closed my eyes and really tasted it, I realised it was cooked beautifully. Very pink but no blood. It was soft and unbelievably juicy. This has completely changed my preference on how I want a steak cooked. Oh and yes, the truffle butter and mushrooms were a fabulous accompaniment to the wagyu. The chef mentioned to eat the wasabi flower sitting on top which really does taste wasabi-like and adds pepperiness to the wagyu. Brilliant!
The fifth course was the triple cream brie, truffle honeycomb, walnut bread and quince confit. The whipped honeycomb with truffle honey was missing, however staff were coming around to place these on each individuals' board. I loved the brie which was gooey and thick - almost chewing gum consistency. I should've asked where this could be bought. The very sweet quince helped cut through the sharpness of the brie, as did the honeycomb when it came around.
By this stage, I'd had two of the pineapple, passionfruit and lychee mocktails. When a third came out, I politely declined as it was quite sour (and is filling in itself). But I asked if a different mocktail could be made instead. Our waitress was more than happy to bring something else out and asked what kind of mocktail I'd like. I wanted something with berries in it and she went to check what could be made. I gladly accepted the option of a virgin raspberry mojito for something different. It was very sweet and seemed like it was full of cordial but I did like the mojito freshness and fizz.
The sixth and final course was the pepper ice cream, molten chocolate cake, white truffle pistachio caramel corn and strawberry jelly. The chocolate cake was nice and gooey in the middle but a little dry outside. Not the best I've had. The pepper ice cream was interesting but I couldn't really taste any pepperiness until the last few spoonfuls.
Truffle is infused into the caramel sauce and popcorn which gave me a strong hit of truffle flavour. Yum! I didn't like the strawberry jelly that much and left most of it on the plate. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but I think by that stage I'd had too much sugar and mocktails.
I should mention that at the start of each course, Executive Chef Nitin Kumar, would come out and explain each dish to us.
I didn't realise this dinner would be quite lengthy (and on a school night) lasting 4.5 hours. However, I'd say there were at least 100 people in attendance so well done to all the chefs that cooked for us!
There were a few speakers on the night - Hyatt representatives, the Executive Chef and Sherry from French Black Truffles of Canberra out at Majura Park. Sherry gave a spiel on truffles that I found interesting. Did you know that truffles need dry climate, 35 degree summers and then frost to thrive? This makes Canberra and its surrounding regions a great place to grow them!

It was a long night but I'm very glad I attended.

A truffle tip for home thanks to the gentlemen sitting next to me that night: place a bit of truffle in a glass jar or bowl (as long as it is covered) along with some eggs with the shell still intact on a paper towel, and let it sit overnight. The truffle's aroma will penetrate the eggs through the porous egg shells, giving you truffle-infused eggs.

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Foodgasm 7.5/10

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Saturday, 19 July 2014

Lunch @ Rocksalt Modern Dining (Gold Coast)

After a fantastic dining experience at Social Eating House + Bar at the Gold Coast, and with some unanticipated free time, I really wanted to try out its sister restaurant, RockSalt Modern Dining located in the same suburb of Broadbeach.
RockSalt offers great service and a sophisticated laid-back vibe. Rocksalt's awards displayed on top of the wine shelf includes winning the Gold Coast People's Choice Awards for Chef of the Year 2009, 2010 and 2011. Rocksalt was also awarded 1 Chef's Hat by the Australian Good Food Guide in 2009, 2010 and 2011. My expectations of this place were pretty high.
There were only two other full tables in the restaurant as we had arrived quite late for lunch (around 2pm). Our waiter was very professional and friendly. After asking whether we'd like to sit inside or outside, we were informed of our water options - sparkling, still or tap, and presented with the wine menu.
To start, we shared the entree sized King Prawn white truffle risotto with black truffle creme fraiche, salmon pearl caviar and herbs ($24). I loved the bright colours in the dish. The risotto was perfectly cooked, smooth and creamy. Truffle flavours really came through and the salmon pearls provided extra bursts of flavour. I'd forgotten about the prawns until I came across a few large chunks. The risotto was slightly salty but other than that, it was fantastic. I was really happy with the choice.
For the main meal, I ordered the seafood plate ($44) consisting of local seafood, tomato fondue, congo potatoes, confit leeks, watercress, vanilla and saffron veloute. This looked very pretty on the plate but there wasn't much of it for $44. There was nothing particularly special about this dish in terms of taste. The king prawns were sadly overcooked and dry. The rest of the seafood was cooked well but had gone a little cold by the time the plate had reached me. The purple congo potato was different and not something I usually see at restaurants. My favourite element was probably the confit leeks - soft and full of flavour.
Shot from above
My partner ordered the fish of the day ($38) with fregola and asparagus. An interesting combination of pasta and fish.
I was full after the entree of risotto so no dessert was ordered. I wasn't completely satisfied with my main meal especially for the price, and I don't think my partner was either. I guess my expectations were too high. Overall, it was a pleasant experience.

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Foodgasm 6.5/10
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