Papa Jack’s – Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

Papa Jacks

I don’t know about you, but I love a revolt against the ordinary, average, homogenized tedium that thrives in our global existence and threatens to smother not only our culture and food heritage, but snuff out its evolution without a backward glance. On the up side, I love the dichotomy it’s creating and the more and more prevalent kick-back and cross-cultural, multi-dimensional gastronomic celebration it’s cooking up. Point in case – Papa Jack’s. I’m going to borrow from my previous blog on the Best of My Breakfasts in Brisbane (because I wrote it and I can) ….“Old but new, funky and just bordering on the edge of recreation, Papa Jack’s will transport you to the Creole South the second you walk through the door. It’s soul food served with a side of swamp blues and green tomatoes.”

So impressed was I with their breakfast and hanging out for a substantial something different and  the soufflé I knew they had on the menu a little while back, I abandoned my ever-growing bucket list of new spots to hit and headed back to Papa Jack’s.

MusslesOf course I left it too long and missed the soufflé. I might have been devastated but for the creative genius of a dish that at first glance seemed a bit weird and a little off my taste chart. My curiosity overcoming my usual distaste for cold seafood and tomato juice, I felt compelled to order the applewood smoked mussels with a “virgin Mary” sauce.  Exciting, zingy and utterly refreshing. The sweet smokiness of the applewood pops out through the flicker of heat in the sauce and swirls around the delicate salty flesh of Kinkawooka mussels.

Pork BallsHaving already departed from convention I kept going, and rather than ordering something more substantial I followed my mussels with the pulled pork boudin balls. Risky, having ordered the same just a week ago at another restaurant and being bitterly disappointed with a dry, unseasoned and really rather tasteless vestige of the same. Not so here. Happily rolled up with some rice, a little spice and Chef Grant Skinner’s characteristic dollop of Creole zing in his Dijon truffle mayonnaise, these perfectly crisped, crumbed delights restored my faith.

My husband ordered “Le Big Burger” with onion rings and house-made pickles and being as our lunch was a prelude to the Pinot Palooza (Pinot Noir wine festival), could not have been happier with himself. Cheesy FriesServing up a decent burger with a difference is not easy and sometimes simplicity is best not messed with, but Papa Jack’s wagyu version with creole cream cheese is substantial, balanced and contemporary without being overtly funky. It’s enough on its own, but you wouldn’t want to miss the cheesy fondue coated fries sprinkled with bacon crumbs. In retrospect, just as well I didn’t order the substantial main I might otherwise have considered.

As for the Pinot Palooza, if you didn’t make it this year I’m afraid you’ve missed it, but if you’re a pinot noir lover and you don’t want to miss next year make sure you get on the mailing list at http://pinotpalooza.com.au/. We had a great afternoon and spent a fabulous hour with Esquire’s Restaurant Manager, Alex Beazley, who expertly guided us through his pick of the best six pinot noirs and shared some anecdotes, experience and some particularly gorgeous tastings with us. Notably Curly Flat’s 2011 Pinot Noir (personal favourite), Crittenden’s Gepetto and finishing with a generous splash of Chambolle Musigny from Burgundy.

Spirit House, Yandina QLD – Thai BBQ Lamb Salad

Originally posted on incidentalfoodie:

BBQ Lamb SaladI love spring. My garden is popping with colour, my house is infused with the scent of jasmine and gardenias and some of my favourite foods are in season.

I also love Christmas and am not averse to a little extended anticipation. What’s not to look forward to? It’s a time to celebrate everything that’s right with the world – family, fun, peace and of course, food. It’s also a time to the share the things you love most with those nearest and dearest. So there’s no better time to share some of my favourite spring, summer and festive food with you.

As you might know from a previous blog, I have spent many happy hours at Spirit House – the restaurant and and the cooking school. I have also spent many delightful hours in the pages of their recipe books, cooking their sensational creations and sharing them with family and friends.

Spirit House Thai Cooking BookMy favourite from my almost…

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Spirit House, Yandina QLD – Thai BBQ Lamb Salad

BBQ Lamb SaladI love spring. My garden is popping with colour, my house is infused with the scent of jasmine and gardenias and some of my favourite foods are in season.

I also love Christmas and am not averse to a little extended anticipation. What’s not to look forward to? It’s a time to celebrate everything that’s right with the world – family, fun, peace and of course, food. It’s also a time to the share the things you love most with those nearest and dearest. So there’s no better time to share some of my favourite spring, summer and festive food with you.

As you might know from a previous blog, I have spent many happy hours at Spirit House – the restaurant and and the cooking school. I have also spent many delightful hours in the pages of their recipe books, cooking their sensational creations and sharing them with family and friends.

Spirit House Thai Cooking BookMy favourite from my almost complete Spirit House collection (and of everything else I have), is Spirit House’s first publication – Thai Cooking. It’s entirely navigable for novices, challenging enough for more experienced cooks and spans the spectrum from canapes, salads, stir-fries and curries to desserts. It’s great all year round and I turn to it almost weekly for curries in winter, stir-fries in spring and salads in summer.

My favourite spring dish celebrates not only its Asian origin, but the gorgeous produce of Australia and the season – Thai BBQ lamb salad. The good news is, because they are such nice people, the authors have given me special permission to share it with you.

Recipe

They have also given me a little heads-up that a best of Spirit House cook book will be available before Christmas, featuring a compilation of their favourites as well as 20 new recipes.

In the meantime, have fun with this one and if you want to venture out for an appetiser, something really special or a little of something you won’t (unfortunately) find in any of their books yet, scroll down for a little “taste” of what’s on offer at the restaurant right now.

Salmon SoupIf you have eaten at Spirit House, cooked any of their recipes or try this one, then you’ll know that their food is balance epitomised. Authentic Thai food, celebrating local produce, using traditional but also embracing some contemporary techniques and always perfect.

Point in case their coconut soup with salmon, lemongrass and chilli oil. Delicate, moist fish is a perfect match for the hint of chilli which just cuts through the coconut milk and with finessed restraint does not overpower the subtlety of the lemongrass and kaffir lime.

I could tell you about the pork belly, but I’ll (almost) let this picture speak for itself. It looks sweet and it is sweet, but it’s also satisfyingly fiery with all the crisp on the skin you want.Pork Belly

Too often I’m enticed by scallops and am left more than a little disappointed by the obligatory vogue accompaniments.  Spirit House’s Thai version with puffed roti and fried green peppercorns is inspired. IScallops wish I could tell you more about it but I completely and utterly lost myself in the moment and other than telling you it is one of the best things I have eaten – ever – I’m afraid you’ll just have to try it for yourself.

New on the menu, so something we felt compelled to try, is the pulled wagyu with pickled shitakes. This dish best demonstrates the old with the new. WagyuMore savoury, but with the chilli hit you’d expect, generous shavings of wagyu work well (if not very substantially) with thick, gnocchi-like noodles, basil and wafer-thin garlic crisps.

If there is one thing that makes Spirit House work (apart from the exceptional food, service and good energy), it’s the consistency of the place and its people. I have never been there and not seen co-owner Helen Brierty close at hand and it’s telling.  In all the years I have been dining there, the gardens have always been beautifully tended, the menu true to its roots, the food and service faultless and everything weaved through with a delicate efficiency.

Spirit House

Variety and the Best of Brisbane’s Young Chefs

Variety Dinner LogoEvery now and again you get the chance to combine seemingly polar passions. A few nights ago I had such an opportunity at the Variety of Young Chefs Dinner. Imagine being wowed by the fantastical gastronomic creations of six of Brisbane’s most up-and-coming chefs while delighting in the Spanish-inflected humour of Miguel Maestre and at the same time being a part of something life-changing.

On August 28, 2014 Variety Children’s Charity, with some incredibly talented and dedicated organisers, put on a dinner hosted by Restaurant Two. The five-course dinner was prepared by the  young chefs of some of Brisbane’s top restaurants, including Blackbird Bar & Grill, Bare Bones Society, Public, Restaurant Two, Stokehouse and Gerard’s Bar & Charcuterie. All of this was in support of a 15-year old award-winning gymnast who tragically broke his neck during training earlier this year and is now confined to a wheelchair.

The unrestrained courage of the young man and his family, the generosity of all who supported the event and the boundless talent of some very exciting young chefs made this a night to remember.

BeetrootBen Kaye-Smith of Restaurant Two blew us away with his beetroot, dark chocolate and cumin salt. And those walnuts … I’d guess they might have been roasted and smoked over cocoa with a dusting of sugar, but I’d be happy to be corrected. Either way, the balance, creativity and genius of this dish belie Kaye-Smith’s age (18) and put him front and centre of young chefs to watch.

Pork FilletOllie Hansford of Brisbane’s Stokehouse wrote his menu on the plate. Imagine looking at a Picasso and knowing exactly what he wanted you to experience. This young chef carried beautifully the philosophy of simple food, perfectly prepared and true to origin, to the diner. Every element on the plate – the pork fillet, maple glazed pork cheek, carrot fondant and carrot and lemon myrtle puree with smoked apple – stood out with the very many other heroes of the night.

Variety runs one of these dinners every year and if you haven’t had the joy of attending one yet, I highly recommend you do. It’s worth every cent and if that’s not enough to convince you, being that it’s for a good cause should.

If you’d like to know more about Variety go to http://www.variety.org.au.

Home Made – Lamb Pilaf

I love cooking in winter. It’s the perfect time of the year for comfort food, spicy curries and one-pot wonders. Everybody knows that curries are better left in the freezer for a bit and it’s a great opportunity to bulk cook and give yourself the odd night off. Being as I’ve just started a Masters in Gastronomic Tourism, those nights could become rather more frequent, so you’ll see a few more one-pot wonders and quick easies over what could well be the next 5 years.

130714 Lamb Pilaf

First up is my favourite Middle-Eastern dish. The aromatic spices are gorgeous with the tart sweetness of the cranberries, and the harissa gives it the heat you want on a cold night. Mind you don’t overdo it though – start with a little less until you’re familiar with the heat level.

SPICED LAMB PILAF

Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil

250 grams lamb fillet, chopped

½ red onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 cinnamon quill

1 teaspoon harissa paste or other chilli paste

1/2 cup medium grain rice

1 ½ cups unsalted chicken stock

1 tomato, seeds removed, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped coriander, plus sprigs to serve

1 tablespoon craisins or cranberries

1 tablespoon roasted pine nuts

Thick greek yoghurt and pomegranate seeds, to serve.

Heat half of the olive oil in a frying pan over high heat and cook the lamb in batches until browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining oil to frypan and cook the onion, stirring for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic, cumin, allspice, cinnamon and harissa and stir to combine. Stir in the rice, stock and tomato. Return the meat to the pan and season. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes or until the meat is cooked through.

Stir in coriander, craisins or cranberries and pine nuts. Serve topped with yoghurt, coriander sprigs and pomegranate seeds.

Balla – Pyrmont, Sydney

Balla Interior1I have so often heard it said that your enjoyment (or not) of a dining experience is predetermined or at the very least enhanced or tainted by your mood, company, the occasion, etc., etc. I used to agree. Until I dined at Balla. My day was shocking. My week had been worse. I virtually ran to the restaurant (in heels) to make my booking, because the cabbie decided the distance wasn’t worth the fare and roared away, leaving me kerbside in the cold.

I’ve said this before, but as a solo female business traveller I always appreciate the ease with which some restaurants welcome the single diner. In Balla’s case, not only was my reception devoid of the raised eyebrow and loaded “table-for-one?”, it was warm, instant and genuine.

This popular and well rated restaurant offers outstanding service and exceptional food but lacks the pretention that you might expect from other similarly classed establishments. The menu is perfectly Italian, sublimely balanced with classic, modern and local influences.

Balla Squid Ink Pasta Spanner CrabI started with the instantly proffered Prosecco and ordered the squid ink tagliolini with spanner crab, broccolini, chilli and garlic. I don’t know what made me do it – I never imagined I’d eat something nature created as a deterrent. Perhaps it was a premonition that if I was ever going to try it, Stefano Manfredi – with 30 years of excellence under his hat (4 of them over the years, mind you) – would be the restaurateur to deliver it. I wasn’t wrong. The squid ink is the hero of this perfectly al dente pasta, although it doesn’t override the moist delicacy of the spanner crab, the light crunch of broccoli and hint of chilli.

Balla VenisonI love a restaurant that offers venison – better yet when it comes nestled on soft polenta, slightly gnarly mushrooms and is itself delicately charred with peppery sweetness. I paired this with a glass of Brangero Nebbiolo 2009 from Alba, Italy and couldn’t have been happier. It wielded a touch of spice, vanilla, perfect length and just enough tannin to hold its own and complement the dish. Balla Cheese BoardSo good in fact that I opted for the truffled pecorino and another glass, in lieu of dessert. A mite too much of the truffle for my taste, but a great finish to an almost perfect food experience regardless.

South Africa’s Wild


9 Africa Backyard
Apologies for the silence over the past few weeks, but we’ve been playing in Africa’s back yard. This blog (and the destination) is a bit off the beaten track but it’s worthy of the deviation.

1 CosmosSix weeks ago we flew into Johannesburg and drove from there to Kruger Park. The Highveld this time of year is resplendent with cosmos-fringed golden wheat. The countryside is flat and pockmarked with powerlines, African huts and tin shanties.

2 StreamTwo hours into the drive the terrain starts changing and the veld gives way to hills, rocky outcrops and glistening silver streams. This is the lowveld – rugged and wildly beautiful. Another two hours and the hills stretch out again and the sun lights up the scrub in a hazy mirage.

3 LeopardWe entered the park through Malelane gate to the south and half an hour into the bush saw our first (and last) leopard. Very fortunate, as leopards are solitary cats and spotting them (pardon the pun) takes a very good eye and a lot of luck.

Three weeks before our trip the park was given a proper soaking – 5 Baby Baboonnature’s green light for baby-dropping. From 7 elephantshyena pups, zebra foals and elephant calves  to suckling monkeys and baby baboons – we saw them all.

Dense, rain-sodden bush is not ideal for game viewing, but the abundance of 6 Lionsucculent vegetation and  flowing water works its way up the food chain and fills the pantry. Just as well too, when you’re up close and personal in an open Land Rover with a sated old lion.
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The rhino, giraffe and Impala were so prolific we stopped counting. We saw close to 300 buffalo grazing and drinking on the other side of a very full river. Magnificent, IMG_2042really rather silly-looking beasts – though only marginally less stupid than the wildebeest. IMG_1664Mind you, the sight of millions of them migrating over the Serengeti I’m sure must command the utmost respect.

8 Lower Sabie SunsetOf course I can’t write about Kruger without telling you a little about what’s on the menu for us two-legged creatures. 10 hipposThere is nothing like a bit of biltong, a fine Cape chardonnay and the sound of the hippos guffawing as the sun dips behind river.

IMG_1128Ditto a good slab of beef cooked on an open fire (braai). Pair it with a slow-cooked, very South African “pap en sous” (maize-based type of savoury porridge with chilli, tomato and onion sauce) and you’ll know what I mean. There is no gourmet fare in the park and if there was, it would only wreck the joy of so much of what we go there for – the simplicity of cooking over a flame, under the stars – just the crackle of wood and distant roar of lions cutting through the silence.

This is God’s country and if you don’t believe me, one look at the gold dust He sprinkles over this wild land at sunset should convince you.

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