Lemongrass – Carlton, Melbourne

For the past 3  years I have traveled to Melbourne every second to third week. Sometimes I feel like exploring and trying something new and sometimes (especially in winter) I feel like going somewhere warm, welcoming and consistently outstanding. Lemongrass is that place for me.130612 Lemongrass Facade

No surprises they have won so many awards for so many years. This is Royal Thai cuisine that pays true homage to its origin. Their chilli pastes and sauces are hand crafted with the instinct that can only be attributed to decades of handed-down experience. The decor is as delicately finessed as the food, the service as subtle as the klong thaps (steel drums) and pong langs (xylophones) playing in the background; and the prices as well balanced as the whole experience. Surprising is the respectful nod to Australian and some very fine French wines.

130612 Lemongrass Green CurryI highly recommend – well everything really – as I’ve pretty much worked my way through much of the menu over the past few years. But if I had to choose and you had only one opportunity to eat here – I’d say don’t miss the Prawn herbed salad, red duck curry or the green prawn curry (pictured). If you’re on a budget or in a hurry, their daily street food menu is great value, swiftly presented and  perfect for a quiet night in with a glass of red and your laptop.

You’ll find Lemongrass on the eastern end of Lygon Street (174 Lygon Street, Carlton for you SatNavvers). If you’re walking (as I do) but you’re new to Melbourne, brace yourself for the onslaught of Italian Maitre D’s – who will invariably and animatedly promise you everything but Nonna to dine with them.

Keep walking though. You won’t be sorry.

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Frosted Bliss

I love Melbourne in winter. Even if my bones get chilled to the marrow, my nose frosts pink and my toes cramp with the cold. It reminds me of Europe. But it has more soul. 130621 Park

130612 Melbourne CityIt’s all about the contrast. Luminescent green grass, sky so grey it’s almost colourless, burnt orange leaves.

 

Silver city skyscrapers blanketed in fog, golden domes, ancient spires, vibrant laneways, jagged power lines, yellow trams. Urban parks, brave souls fighting city traffic (and chilblains) on bicycles.

Curries, dumplings, chillies, pastas, cappuccinos, chai teas, cocktails and wine bars. This city is the best of all the places I’ve been to in the world, in one place. Even in winter.

130612 Melbourne Temperature

Mushroom Risotto

130609 Risotto

This is my favourite risotto. I’ve made it a thousand times and every now and again I’ll add something a little different. Last night I added some Seven Hills goat chorizo (produce awards 2012 medallist) and mushrooms.

The greatest tip I can give you is DO NOT LEAVE YOUR RISOTTO. Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some music and be prepared to spend 15 minutes nursing – think of it as massaging – your rice. Honestly, the more love you give it the better.

This recipe serves 2.

BASIC RISOTTO
500 ml chicken stock
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 finely chopped shallots
3 sticks celery, finely chopped sea salt
black pepper
1 clove garli,c finely choppped
120 g arborio rice
50 ml dry vermouth (martini) or dry white wine
35 g butter
40 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

MUSHROOMS
200 g swiss brown mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 handful thyme leaves
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
salt & cracked black pepper
1 handful italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 pinch chilli powder
squeeze lemon juice

Put the stock into a saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer.

Chop 1 clove garlic. Slice mushrooms and fry 2 minutes on high heat with thyme. Add garlic and fry another minute. Add a pinch of salt, the parsley, a small pinch of chilli powder and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Chop celery, shallots and garlic. Heat oil in a pan and add celery and shallots. Sweat them for a few minutes. Add garlic and after another 2 minutes add the rice. Turn up the heat and keep stirring the rice until it becomes translucent (about another 4 minutes). Reduce the heat if necessary to avoid browning the rice. Add the vermouth (or wine) and keep stirring. Once the vermouth has cooked into the rice, turn the heat down to a good simmer and add a ladle of the stock and half the mushrooms and keep stirring. When the stock has absorbed add another ladle of stock. Keep stirring and adding stock until the rice is el dente (this should take about 15 minutes). Add the butter, the remaining mushrooms, a handful of parmesan (and sliced, cooked chorizo if using). Spoon into bowls and top with remaining parmesan and parsley.

P.S. If anyone knows the secret to protecting their Parsley from our beloved possums, I’d love you to share it 🙂 I woke up yesterday morning, threw open the curtains and saw this. Cost me $2.40 to buy my parsley for this risotto. Expensive little buggers.
130609 Parsley

Bucci – Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

Bucci QuailWhat a delightful little big restaurant this is. Not having booked and not realising there was a huge restaurant next door, we dined al fresco on the street in front of the bar area. Nice and intimate and if you’re a devoted life observer this is the spot. The service is prompt and the menu expansive – with a commensurate (though a little expensive) wine list.

I adore arancini and Bucci’s caramelised cauliflower and gorgonzola arancini is the best I’ve had. Perfectly cooked al dente risotto, a perfect balance of cauliflower and cheese and a punchy little pesto on the side.

I loved the presentation of the crispy-skin quail – mostly deboned making it nice and easy to tuck into – served with pear vin cotto and a pancetta pistachio crumble.

Their spaghetti and meatballs had a great rustic tomato base and the pasta was perfect, though the meatballs might have been a little less dry. Perhaps that’s the Iti way?

Overall great value and fantastic food. I reckon a rainy Sunday afternoon with a bottle of Pinot Grigio, a platter of salumi, more arancini (drool) and Bombolini (dark-chocolate coated donuts with boozy black cherries) could be just the thing.

Bucci is in James Street, Fortitude Valley. We arrived early so got a table, but it fills up quick so book if you can.