Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

30 May 2016

HOLLYWOOD & JONATHON GOLD

There he was, the best restaurant critic in the entire world, on stage about three metres away from my seat, even larger in life than on the screen or on the page and sharing his thoughts on the current frenetic Los Angeles food scene. Jonathon Gold, writer for the LA Times and the star of a documentary City of Gold was one of the keynote speakers at a culinary conference I attended last month in Hollywood. (NZFF fans may have been savvy enough to view this delicious film last year in July in Auckland and it is only now on general release across America.) After a private showing of his film, we spent time listening to the man, who speaks as eloquently as he writes, while nibbling on tacos made by his favourite taco food truck cook.

Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants is the city’s eating bible. Gold ranks his favourites and for the last three years in a row Providence, the Melrose Avenue temple of dining that showcases modernist seafood, has won top spot. Now that’s truly professional, a critic who recognises the best and is not drawn by zany start-ups or the latest fad. But his list also includes hard-to-find strip mall joints run by immigrants that cook the food they love best for their new communities and even, heaven forbid, food trucks.

The picks he shared that night around Hollywood were Loteria Grill where you will eat some fine Mexican food, Hungry Cat for delicious seafood, Baroo where fermentation rules, and Soban where really hot spicy Korean food is on the menu. He also told us to call into the classic Frank and Musso’s, which is about as close to Old Hollywood you will ever get and where those elderly waiters probably served endless cocktails to Frank and Dino.

But on to my own experiences in the city of gold. After eating my fill of Mexican on a day long excursion through East LA (Los 5 Puntos had the best carnitas taco I’ve ever eaten) I was ready for some local seasonal food.

It would not be a Hollywood experience without an In-N-Out burger and fries. For decades this fast food joint just off Sunset Boulevard has been a mecca for college kids (Hollywood High School is across the street) and tourists. The meaty burger, bright with orange cheese and crunchy lettuce did not disappoint and I was pleased no-one important spotted me there.

Spago, (number 3 on Gold’s list) where Wolfgang Puck sowed the first seeds of his restaurant and catering empire was top of my list. It has taken me 33 years to get there since I was first alerted to this fancy-schmancy place on the pages of Gourmet. Puck is in the kitchen most days keeping up with culinary trends and constantly reworking a menu that appeals to the celebs and well-heeled (I spotted some measuring at least 6 inches) Gulfstream-owning crowd. In the outdoor remodelled courtyard we sipped champagne and sampled the famous pizza, which Puck has turned into an airport chain. It was the best pizza ever – asparagus, peas, mint, lamb sausage, fresh cheese in a crisp yet doughy crust. A real adventure and worth booking ahead for.

But best of all were the two meals eaten at Chef Nancy Silverton’s Mozza (Gold’s number 6). This clever chef seemingly owns the neighbourhood that was just a $4 Uber fare from our hotel and has four operating eateries within a vast commercial building. It is spring in LA so we feasted on a gorgeous array of spring vegetable inspired dishes at the main restaurant, Osteria Mozza. Burrata wrapped in house cured ham and topped with asparagus, peas, mint and pea shoots was one of the sweetest things I have devoured this year. It was from the small mozzarella bar tucked within the restaurant and Silverton herself presided over this, plating our dishes.

Next door, two nights later we ate at Chi Spacca, Silverton’s meaty Italian bistro which serves up grilled meats, an array of house-cured salumi and a stunning pane bianco made with truffled lardo. Incredibly delicious.

If my experience sounds good but a little far to get to, be patient. Nancy Silverton is bringing a taste of Mozza to Soul Bar for one night only on August 31. Call Olivia at Soul to register interest: 09 356 7249.

23 April 2016

EATING VANCOUVER

Surrounded by the snowy caps of mountains, sparkling blue water in every direction and Spring’s tulips bursting forth in a colourful display all over the city, there is no place more beautiful on America’s West coast than the Canadian city of Vancouver.

There for a mere 36 hours and with the help of that city’s food guru Nathan Fong, we managed to sample the fare in four terrific restaurants. So for anyone contemplating a visit to this beautiful serene city here’s a list of top notch places not to miss.

Boulevard: Sitting almost in the foyer of the leading hotel in the Vancouver, Sutton Place, Boulevard is one of those terrific places that manages to make everyone feel comfortable. From the well-heeled clientele that choose to stay in house, to ladies and who lunch and the business set it’s all here. A clubby atmosphere at back, modern bustle and décor up front, and a classy raw bar – take your pick. The food is oh so fresh and modern and we snacked on the most innovative seafood tower ever with seafood fashioned into several tasty melanges accompanied by prawns, oysters, crab claws and more. Hamachi, served sashimi style with fresh spring garnishes was the highlight.

Coast: Not far away from Boulevard, in the centre of the glitzy downtown shopping precinct, Coast is the seafood flagship of the successful Glowbal restaurant group. Multi-layered, with a stunning circular cocktail and bar that dominates the restaurant, this is a lively scene that attracts an upbeat crowd. Try for a seat on the balcony overlooking the restaurant and enjoy feasting on an array of fresh innovative fish and shellfish dishes. We tried some soy paper wraps and a moist sweet crab cake. If you’re a steak lover head next door to the group’s Black and Blue that has a floor to ceiling spectacular display of meat quietly and seriously ageing in a temperature and air controlled cabinet.

Cin Cin: Lauded as Vancouver’s best Italian ristorante, this is a very popular and comfortable roomy place to enjoy traditional Italian fare with a twist. Everything is cooked with care and the focal point is the wood-fired grilled food that is filled with flavour delivering a genuine smoky punch. The pasta and rice primi courses are pretty damned good too and you’ll find some of the best service around. I loved my Tuscan style duck pappardelle as it was filled with robust flavours.

Joe Forte’s: Sunday brunch does not get much better. Inside the two tiered restaurant there are tables tucked into corners everywhere and a pianist tinkles away on the ivories to make everyone feel in the mood for relaxation. Upstairs there’s an outdoor patio with a beautiful garden and planted feature wall. The eclectic menu offers everything from oysters, freshly shucked or fried, to some lovely renditions of fish and chips, lobster rolls, salads and the ubiquitous but delicious Eggs Benny. We loved the fried pickles featured above!

And two things not to miss while in Vancouver; the Granville Island Market and the Butchart Gardens, a day long excursion to Vancouver Island, but utterly worth it as we got to see half a million tulips bursting into bloom. Gorgeous.

22 March 2016

JAIPUR LITERATURE FESTIVAL

They say, “Everything you have ever heard about India is true, but the opposite is true too.” After ten whirlwind days on a trip with the patrons of the Auckland Writers Festival to northern India, I will second that.

We started in New Delhi, moved on by coach to Agra to see the magnificent Taj Mahal and then had five days in Jaipur to attend that city’s famous Literature Festival. Along the way there were glorious buffet meals, superb street food, some interesting meals in restaurants and of course numerous visits to stunningly preserved temples, forts and other historic edifices that reached back to the 15th century.

No, it was not hot (I needed a sweater and jeans most of the time and I hadn’t packed those – thank goodness for the wonderful pashmina stores) and no again, I nor anyone else in our party of 20 was ever sick (we were careful to eat only hot cooked food.) We stayed in the stunning Imperial Hotel in Delhi which is totally reminiscent of the British Raj, while in Jaipur we almost took over the Narain Niwas Palace Hotel. Almost everyone simultaneously declared it the Third Exotic Marigold Hotel. It truly could have been.

The Literature festival was crazy. Stephen Fry, Margaret Attwood, Atul Gawande, Esther Freud, Helen McDonald and a host of other well regarded authors, musicians and artists took to the stage to share tales of their writing. The five day programme was bulging with opportunity for the thousands that attended to listen and learn, while the extended lunch buffet feasts were filled with every day with different curries, breads, rice dishes and more. Delicious!

Ten books were launched during the festival, and two of those were cookbooks. In their own way these events were complete opposites. The first, Indian Accent, was an utterly sophisticated book from the Delhi restaurant of the same name. The panel to launch the book in the crowded Google sponsored Mughal tent was headed by journalist and socialite Shobhaa De who took the audience through the book with the author, adventurous and cutting edge chef Manish Mehrotra, and Rohit Chawla, one of India’s top food photographers.

Indian Accent opened in Delhi in 2009 with an inventive Indian menu at The Manor, New Delhi. It serves Indian food for the twenty first century with a unique marriage of global ingredients and techniques with the flavours and traditions of India and has become India’s most celebrated restaurant. It is the only Indian restaurant named in the current list of the World’s Best 50 restaurants, and for one short minute I thought about buying the book to bring home to the very talented Sid Sahrawat of Cassia in central Auckland. Two things put me off. First was Mehrotra’s food is probably as inventive and interesting as the food as Cassia but certainly, by the look of the pages, is no better. It is good to know that here in New Zealand we have an equivalent. And secondly, the book was as big as a tombstone, and weighed in around two or three kilos. Try putting that in your suitcase!

As I took my seat in the Mughal tent for the second cookbook launch, Rajasthan On A Platter: Healthy, Tasty, Easy I pondered why almost every other seat was taken and the crowds were building on the edges. The authors were two seniors, Suman Bhatnagar and Pushpa Gupta, both beautifully dressed in saris and their silvery grey hair neatly swept back into buns. Their book is a simple publication with the look of home shot photography. They explained to a very calm, polite, but somewhat disinterested audience, Rajasthani cuisine is famous worldwide and in this book they explore the different types of Rajasthani dishes and its nuances. They were very proud of their recipes, carefully researched and tested, and emphasised the health factor and calorie analysis of their food. I whispered to the women next to me, “Why are these elderly ladies so popular with so many young attendees?” They explained that the following session, Literature vs Cinema – Influence in Shaping Beauty Ideals had been transferred at the last moment to the large marquee we were sitting in and that everyone was claiming a place to see their Bolliwood heroes.

And that was exactly why the crowds were there. I still think about those lovely ladies and how excited they must have been to draw such a huge audience. By the time their session wrapped up more than 4000 Indians, both young and old had gathered. Some were even perching in the surrounding trees for a better view. I hastily exited, giving up my seat to my daughter Katie who was keen to see the next session. She loved it, texting me, “This panel is mad. But everyone here is a crazed fan screaming at every word.”

29 February 2016

THE CULT PROJECT & MORE

The pop-up restaurant scene just got a whole lot better.

Last week I ate a simple yet extraordinary dinner at a new bar, Madame George on Karangahape Rd where William Cook and Carlo Buenaventura have an initiative going, The Cult Project on Tuesday nights. These two young chefs who have cooked at Orphans Kitchen and Matterhorn are offering, until the end of April a popup dinner twice a week alternating between Madame George (Tues) and the Open Late Café (Fri).

(Madame George at 490 K Rd has Matt Fitzgerald at the bar with a very short but esoteric wine and cocktail list.)

Our dinner for $60 was billed to be a three course meal, but it was kick-started by three delicious little unadvertised amuses – a refreshing raw gyoza made from turnip with fermented trevally stuffing and kimchi dressing, a tiny roast potato with cheese curd and bonito flakes and a hazelnut cracker topped with duck liver parfait and cherry jelly.

Our entrée (pictured above) was a delight; grilled gem lettuce sat on a dollop of sunflower sour cream with fish sauce dressing, mustard seed, dill, coriander, salad burnet and nuts. It was also so, so, refreshing to eat on a hot night. This was followed by grilled beef, nice and chewy, with baby pak choy, endive and red sorrel leaves, a kombucha and cucumber vinaigrette and a side dish of totally inspired creamed corn and feta with the surprise addition of fresh shiso leaves.

If that’s not innovative enough how about the dessert of vadouvan sponge with fresh and caramelised apricot, goats milk foam and verbena powder. The sponge with an underlying curry flavour was savoury – a great finale.

This remarkable dinner made me realise just how much the old order changes. Bright young chefs around the country are managing to make their mark without the stage of their own restaurants.

In the past few weeks I have been truly impressed by the energy shown as some of our keen cooks, food lovers and chefs head in new directions.

I joined a panel at a Food and Art night at the Christchurch Art Gallery to talk about the present and future of food. Giulio Sturla and Alex Davies shared the platform and impressed the crowd (and me) with their clear vision for both their own food and New Zealand’s place on the world culinary stage.

I loved Alex Davies’ image of what NZ food is; “A shared meal around the table that might involve roast lamb, potatoes and fresh garden vegetables, or a gathering around a hangi.” Alex is doing a series of pop-up dinners showcasing his new directions in vegetable menus and hopes to find a permanent restaurant by the end of 2016. I hope he does.

Giulio presides over his cutting edge Roots Restaurant in Lyttleton where he shows huge respect for the land and sea around him, foraging for and sourcing ingredients to put together a sustainable and delicious menu every night. His work with ConversatioNZ has awakened many NZ chefs and farmers to the possibilities of developing and promoting our unique culture and food.

I also loved the food trucks and stalls surrounding the Art Gallery that night, especially Mamacita’s Tacos, and the beautiful Cakes By Anna (CBA) – yet another way our talented cooks and chefs can ply their wares. Back home I lunched yesterday on Judge Bao’s amazing pork buns in the Sabato Sunday market.

How do we find all these talented people? Social media, of course.

Alex Davies pop-ups are booked out but here in Auckland do not miss The Cult Project $60 for the meal (drinks extra).
Buy tickets at www.thecultproject.co.nz/events

15 February 2016

INCREDIBLE INDIA

Nothing can quite prepare you for the assault on the senses while travelling in India. The thick dust that crowds out the sun and turns every sky grey, the endless cacophony of horns and noisy animals, the vast array of smells that range from fragrant to stench, and the vivid colour displayed by this race of happy, busy people was constantly overwhelming. While most New Zealanders sensibly took to the beach in the hot spell that January brought, I was lucky enough to join a terrific group of patrons of the Auckland Writers Festival on a jaunt to the Jaipur Literature Festival in the chilly winter of northern India.

We started out in New Delhi, where that aforementioned dust lay thick on every tree and the Lutyens-designed web of boulevards was constantly heavy with traffic ranging from modern cars to camel drawn trailers and the occasional lumbering elephant. We ate superbly in the magnificent Imperial Hotel and ventured out to visit many monuments of note and buy an array of pashminas.

We moved on to see the Taj Mahal in Agra. Suffice to say this is an outstanding wonder of the world that is not to be missed. The highlight however was a serendipitous stop at a nearby ancient stepwell where hundreds of local village school children lined up in disciplined fashion to receive a free samosa to mark a winter festival day. The band played on.

For our five days in Jaipur, we stayed at Narain Niwas Palace Hotel which has been renamed by our group of Kiwis, the Third Exotic Marigold Hotel – funky, authentic and pure, pure Indian from the colourful saffron washed exterior walls to the lumpy but roomy beds. Our arrival coincided with an engagement party. Hundreds of elegantly turban wrapped men of the family celebrated complete with brass band, camels and an elephant, while the women took tea on the back lawn. That’s India!

Jaipur, the Pink City, turned on a real welcome. Street food excursions, a stunning party for hundreds in a private garden, the Amber Fort, G&Ts on the terrace, a beautiful chicken biriyani at the revered Rambagh Palace hotel, constant fun and the excitement of the crowds and literati at the Jaipur Literature Festival all kept us so busy we were exhausted. Some festival attendees even climbed trees to get a better view of their heroes on the crowded outdoor venues.

No trip is ever complete without a visit to the food markets for a foodie like me, as this is where to get to grips with the culture of the country. The markets of Jaipur took my breath away, albeit for both the amazing display of stunning fresh vegetables and the pervading pong of rotten fruit that lies thick in the gutters nearby. Couple that with the brilliant sari-clad women crouching over their produce and I could have sworn I was on a film set.

Our final stop was just what we needed. Samrode Palace Hotel, only an hour from Jaipur was restful and relaxing. A couple of cool swimming pools, a lovely spa, magnificent food, luxurious surroundings and clear blue skies above – the only time we saw those in the whole of our trip. India is incredible.

25 November 2015

CURRENT FOOD TRENDS

Just like fashionistas’ hipster beards and ripped jeans, the food industry is beholden to the latest and sometimes zany food trends. Just when you have finally mastered the slow cooker to produce tasty but mushy dinners it has fallen from grace, to be replaced by a must-have gadget or ‘bullet’ that purees, froths up vegetables and fruits for tasty healthy smoothies that will make your hair shine like a beacon in a storm and your body bounce with new energy.

Chefs are the people driving the new food trends. Just one clever idea, ingredient, recipe or innovation from a leading influential restaurant or television chef and everyone is wanting to try it, emulate it. Soon it may become a supermarket item and appear in the pages of the foodie section of the newspaper or the women’s magazines.

However we’re witnessing food trends that are more people-driven than traditional restaurant-driven ideas.

The biggest influence on the current food landscape is socially conscious eating. We seek the provenance of our food, we support producers and growers whose ethics are admirable, we dine out for a cause and we worry about feeding the hungry and the needy. Our schools inspire and encourage their pupils through schemes like Garden to Table and Kids Can Cook, teaching them the value of fresh produce that’s sown, grown, harvested, cooked and eaten in the school garden and classroom as part of the curriculum. In Auckland the new Eat My Lunch scheme provides a lunch for a needy child for each lunch you buy. It’s sourced by donations, volunteers and crowd funding.

Increasingly we are conscious of food waste. Heard of ‘dumpster diving’? It started out with people raiding the bins of supermarkets and restaurants, hauling out edible food thrown out as the use-by-date expired or food that was extra to requirement. Now various initiatives have set up to collect and redistribute this food. Kaibosh Food Rescue collects 10,000 kilograms of quality surplus food each month from businesses in Wellington and the Hutt Valley, sending it to local community groups who help those in need.

The third big trend is health conscious eating. The young and the fit lead this trend, trying diets of raw food, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, fat-free, additive-free, chemical-free, gluten-free, grain-free and sugar-free. Consumers demand fresh food, preferably traceable to the local farm or factory, and shop for organic produce in specialist food stores, farmers markets, health food stores and good old fashioned butchers, greengrocers, bakeries and fishmongers. Supermarket aisles stocked with shelf-stable additive and preservative laden foods are quickly passed by, as the store’s outer perimeter with its fresh, refrigerated food products increasingly becomes the popular place to source the week’s shopping.

We eat out more often; regularly in cafés where the food is fast and fresh, in restaurants where shared plates and small plates have replaced the concept of the three course meal, and in pop-up dining destinations where the word gets around through social media. The biggest eating out trends are cheap eats and street food, brought to you by hole-in-the-wall cafés and colourful food trucks who deliver instant plates of tasty food to eat on the run.  

TOP FOOD TRENDS

  • Fermented foods: This is not just fuelled by the high interest in Korean cuisine and its staple kimchi, the fiery fermented cabbage dish. Health experts are gripped by fermented yogurt, miso, kombucha, kefir, fermented vegetables and tempeh, which allegedly boost the good bacteria in your digestive tract, and help to heal a multitude of health issues.

  • Handmade muesli and porridge: Visit any farmers market and count the new cereals on offer. Fresh, handmade and filled with healthy seeds, nuts, grains and dried fruits with no added sugar, these are the new breakfast.

  • Sourdough bread: While supermarket aisles remain crammed with squishy sliced and plastic wrapped loaves, small bespoke bakeries are churning out handcrafted slow-rise breads, made with genuine sourdough starters and chockfull of grains, sprouted wheat and goodness. Expect to pay up to $10 per loaf. It’s worth it.

  • Doughnuts: The cronut, where the doughnut and croissant merged, was an unhealthy flop but the doughnut is back. Decorated with fruit, chocolate, cream, custard, jelly, icing and much more, it is commanding attention world-wide. One of the fastest sell outs at this year’s Wellington on a Plate was the pop-up doughnut stall with new inventive flavours daily.

  • Vegetables: Kale, cauliflower and beetroot. If you’re not eating these vegetables, you are missing out. The star of the plate is no longer the protein component, but a colourful cornucopia of vegetables. My Food Bag has introduced a Veggie Bag, while leading restaurant chefs are offering well planned degustation meals of vegetables.

  • Grains: Pearl barley, freekah, brown rice, ancient grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, and teff have become the darlings of the gluten free set. Also look for pasta and noodles made from non-wheat sources, such as brown rice, buckwheat, or quinoa.

  • Hot sauces: Fire up your cooking with hot and spicy sauce. The traditional Tabasco sauce from the bayou is joined by an array of locally made scorching sauces such as the award winning Culley’s, Huffman’s and Kaitaia Fire.

  • Coconut: Debate rages on over coconut and its health benefits, but coconut sugar, coconut yogurt, fresh coconut in salads, coconut cream and milk, coconut ice blocks and ice creams and coconut water continue to sell like crazy, many as an alternative to dairy products.

  • Bone broth: When did stock become ‘bone broth’? It’s just a rich chicken, meat or vegetable stock dressed up with a fancy name but it is the drink or soup you want when you crave comfort food.

  • Pork buns: The new slider. Soft, white pillowy buns, (bao) usually stuffed with roast pork with crunchy crackling and some spicy Asian sauce, are the hot item in restaurants, food trucks and farmers’ market. And there’s a tofu version for the vegetarians.

TOP BEVERAGE TRENDS

  • Kombucha: Fermenting tea or fruit juice with sugar and the ‘scoby’, a culture of yeast and bacteria, to produce a refreshing non-alcoholic zesty drink has become a home hobby trend. A range of good flavours made by artisan producers are stocked in many supermarkets.

  • Low alcohol beer and wines: Popularity and consumption of low alcohol alternatives is soaring. Stricter drink/driving rules and the attraction of less alcohol will make these a smash hit this summer.

  • Artisan and craft beers: New Zealand’s love affair with craft beers is unstoppable.

  • Rose wine: Wineries throughout the country are offering blush pink wines that are light and delicious. And sparkling rose will be the go-to choice for summer drinking.

  • THREE TOP KITCHEN GADGETS

  • Nutri Bullet: This handy little processor and its equivalents make a healthy and highly nourishing liquid meal for breakfast and lunch. Soups, drinks and even a complete dinner party can be whipped up in seconds.

  • Nespresso machine: Move over the coffee plunger and instant coffee. Nespresso have brought the style of the café to coffee making at home with machines ranging from the simple to the glamorous, and provide a complete range of specialist single origin coffees to brew from around the world.

  • Soda Stream: As sugary drinks topple from popularity, sparkly water is right on trend. With a handy machine on the bench top, all the family enjoys added zing from good old tap water.

TOP RESTAURANT TRENDS

  • Burgers: Expect to see more and more upmarket burgers and burger destinations as we continue to embrace the idea of a simple tasty meal solution. Auckland’s new Burger Burger eatery offers the healthy gluten free option of burgers in a ‘bunnuce’, a small cos lettuce that replaces the bun.

  • Southern style barbecue: Glorious hunks of smoky meat, slow cooked in a wood fired oven and accompanied by coleslaw, collard greens, and spirals of fried potato are all the rage. And not to miss out on this trend from the southern states of the US is fried chicken. Chefs soak the portions in buttermilk before dipping in yet another secret mix of spices, herbs and flour for the ultimate crunchy tender bird. It’s everywhere.

  • Middle Eastern: British chef Yotam Ottolenghi, currently one of the most popular book author and food writers in the English speaking world, has influenced and inspired many menus, chefs and cooks with his take on the food of his homeland Israel and its neighbours. It’s food with exotic spicing, lemons, wild honey, falafel, tahini, pomegranates, date molasses and more.

  • Philippine, Vietnamese and South East Asia: The latest Asian cuisine to garner attention is Philippine cooking. As young immigrant chefs in our restaurants show off their heritage we can expect such menu items as suckling pig, the spring roll-like lumpia, adobo - a rich stew infused with vinegar, halo halo for dessert and plenty of tropical fruits and coconut. Vietnamese food, with its mountains of fresh herbs is also on the rise again and clever chefs are bringing all South Eastern Asian cuisines together in genuinely interesting Pan Asian fusion cooking.

  • Peruvian food: It is big overseas, commanding worldwide attention as the Peruvian government backs its top restaurant chefs. Three of the World’s Best 50 restaurants can be found in Peru, and culinary tourists are flocking there to eat. Pisco sour, a cocktail with the local brandy, meets ceviche, and causa made with heritage potatoes from the Andes in a new sophisticated food movement. Forget those tales of guinea pigs.

first published in my Listener Food Column November 2015

9 October 2015

MY FOOD BAG VEGGIE BAG

This week we changed our usual eating patterns as My Food Bag offered me a trial of their new Veggie Bag.

“Great,” my husband said, “I can lose weight!” Well no, he didn’t, as the meals were hardly the sort of food that one would get on a diet. They were substantial portions; they had plenty of vegetables, lots of protein and some bulky starch components that filled us up. Also they were hearty, so hearty that our neighbours got to enjoy a couple of tasty lunches with the leftovers.

The thing about vegetarian food is that as owner dietitian Nadia Lim said, there always has to be some form of protein and so each night we ate a meal that incorporated that – a fried egg, fried haloumi, fried chickpea patties, and tofu.

The meal with tofu was the most original and interesting. Japanese eggplant, shiitake and soba noodles with tofu, edamame beans, leeks, sesame seeds and lemon basil. My 92 year old mother came to dinner that night as it was our daughter’s birthday. She declared she had never eaten such interesting food as everything on her plate was completely unfamiliar to her. The marinade made everything tasty. I would have given this meal 9/10 but the tofu was disappointing. It was firm and rather tasteless and so I pan fried it with soy and oil to try and inject flavour in it. If Nadia can find some silken tofu this would be a stellar dish. 8/10

Monday’s meal was grilled spiced haloumi with kumara, walnut and bulgur salad. There was a lovely chunky herb vinaigrette, cherry tomatoes, roast red capsicum, spinach, fresh coriander and pumpkin seeds. All filled with flavour and easy to cook. This was my husband’s favourite of the week. 8/10

My favourite meal was the potato, pea and cauliflower curry with a fried egg, brown basmati rice and mustard chilli oil. It was hearty with a tin of tomatoes and creamy coconut and we had so much we could have had the neighbours over. Instead they feasted on the remnants for lunch next day. 8/10

Finally a dinner of falafel with freekah tabbouleh, hummus and pita bread. The falafel balls were complemented by an enormous salad… freekah with grated carrots, grapes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mint, parsley pecans and juice of half a lemon, but it lacked a little spice or tasty dressing. We had a mini pita each and three large falafel patties. The meal was hugely improved when I decided to add a dollop of greek yogurt and sumac to everything. 7/10

Here’s the thing about My Food Bag. You get to cook with stuff you wouldn’t normally use, all the shopping and most of the measuring is done for you, and no meal takes more than 45-55 minutes to prepare. I have had the Gourmet Bag before and as long as it contained one or two vegetarian meals each week, that would be my preference. But if I were ordering every week and I can’t as I have my own recipe development and testing to do of course, occasionally I would do the Veggie Bag as it is interesting and original. I have ordered two weeks of My Food Bag vouchers for my son and his wife as they have a new baby and it will be perfect for them as they love their cooking but will not have to shop or think!

27 September 2015

OYSTERS - FOOD TOURISM AT ITS BEST

A perfect Spring day, a turning tide, a few foodie friends, local wines, and oysters fresh from the farm, gathered in front of your eyes. All aboard the Mahurangi Oyster Shuckleferry at the Scotts Landing wharf on the Mahurangi Harbour.

Lisa and Nod Hay are well known for quality Pacific oysters from the Mahurangi. You may have eaten then for sure at Depot, you may have downed a dozen or so at popups at the Street Food Collective in Ponsonby or at Welly on a Plate, or spied them live in the tank at Fishbone in Queenstown. The Hays never let their oysters get too big, and always deliver them in the shell to their restaurant and private customers. so they are sweet and briny and always taste like the sparkling ocean they are grown in.

Now they offer an experience of an oyster farm tour on their barge, "The Oyster Shuckleferry." They have lovingly restored and furnished this confortable vessel so groups can visit their farm and shuck fresh oysters to their hearts' content. Visitors will learn more about oysters than they've ever known and have a fabulously relaxing and tasty two hours sipping, shucking and devouring.

This is simply food tourism at its absolute best - experiencing fresh food in the stunning environment it is raised. One of the best days out I have enjoyed in a long time. Fabulous hosts, and any oyster lover's dream come true.

To book for groups of 8 to 16 people contact Lisa and Nod Hay,

Oyster Shuckleferry ph 09 425 5652 www.mahurangioysters.co.nz

24 September 2015

SICILY

I am constantly asked about Sicily as it is a hot spot to visit. I went there a few years ago with the fabulous Faith Willinger and we found these places...I am reposting them here and although this is not a current list Sicily is one of those places where nothing changes much and it all just gets even better. So here goes. Please note this was written just after I went there.

Sicily is touted as the “new Tuscany” for tourists. The island is complex; mountainous countryside with ancient hill top towns, a plethora of well preserved and restored Roman ruins, some stunning resort beaches and most importantly a cuisine that is rich and unique, developed around the magnificent Mediterranean seafood, and from fertile gardens that produce much of Italy’s vegetables, wine and olive oils. I ate fantastic food, visited historical sites dating back thousands of years and enjoyed friendly hospitality. But there was a dark side too, the legacy of years of Mafia dominance, with some of the ugliest cities I have ever visited with rubbish and dirt strewn around highways, towns and suburbs. The secret to Sicily is to go well prepared, planning ahead for both accommodation and meals.

Not to be missed:

  • Catania

Sicily’s second largest city has a major airport, Roman ruins, the colourful Mercato della Pescheria (fish market) and many Baroque palazzos, museums and churches. Eat at the humble Antica Marina on the edge of the fish market for superb fish, and join the crowds at breakfast for coffee and pastries and cannoli on-the-run at Salvia in the town’s main street. Pasticceria Salvia, via Etnea 302, ph 095 322 335 www.savia.it Antica Marina, via Pardo 29, 95100, ph 095 348 197

  • Taormina

A wonderful ancient hill top town to explore, high on the slopes of Mt Etna. Take the cable car from Mazzaro to explore the narrow streets and enjoy lunch with a view. Stay at Hotel Caparena below the town on the Mediterranean coast with its own beach. www.gaishotels.com Eat dinner at Ristorante La Capinera overlooking the coast, has superb food and wine. Via Nazionale, 177, Taormina ph 0942 626 247 www.ristorantelacapinera.com

  • Caffe Sicilia

Touted as the best pastry shop in Italy, this casual café in the beautiful Baroque town of Noto, serves the cakes, pastries and freshly made granitas of Corrado Assenza, a magician in the kitchen. Try the almond granite with a dollop of coffee granita for possibly the best breakfast treat on earth. Corso Vittoria Emanuele, Noto, ph 0931 835013. Closed Mondays.

  • Modica

One of many World Heritage sites in the South, the hilltop town has a four star luxury hotel, Palazzo Failla with a cutting edge restaurant, La Gazza Ladre where chef Accursio Craparro cooks modern food, and the quirky Japanese sommelier oversees a splendid wine list. Don’t miss walking down at dusk to the main street through the town’s many alley ways to view the lights. Palazzo Failla, Via Blandini 5, Modica ph 0932 941 059 www.palazzofailla.it

  • La Madia

Owner Pino Cuttaia’s superb food in this humble Licata restaurant is modern, clever and pays homage to Sicily’s finest produce. Matthew Fort, co-presenter with Tom Parker Bowles of television show Market Kitchen called it possibly the finest meal of his life, and I’d agree. Corso Filippo Re Capriata, 22, 92027 Licata Ph. (0922) 77 14 43 www.ristorantelamadia.it

  • Azienda Agricola Mandranova

Perfectly positioned for visiting the ancient Roman ruins at Agrigento and not far from Licata (see La Madia above), this beautifully landscaped olive farm is run by elegant owners/hosts Silvio, who cooks delicious farmhouse dinners and Giuseppe, who oversees the estate and conducts farm tours.
SS15. Palma Montechiaro, ph 0393 986 2169 www.mandranova.it

  • Ristorante Majore

A pork lover’s heaven. Hidden in the medieval alleys of Chiaramonte Gulfi, high in the hills, Majore has been serving six course meals of delicious fresh and cured pork specialities since 1896. Not for the faint-hearted eater. Via Martiri Ungheresi, 12 Chiaramonte Gulfi ph 0932 928019 www.majore.it

  • Selinunte

One of the most striking Mediterranean archaeological sites is partially restored and can be explored, with or without guides. Book for lunch at La Pineta, a casual seafood restaurant for simple fresh fish and shellfish that is literally on the sandy beach nearby. www.lapinetaristoranteselinunte.it

  • Castelbuono

A mountain top town, well worth the two hour winding drive from Palermo to eat at the tiny Nangalarunni Restaurant and feast on local cuisine, every imaginable mushroom, and fine wines. Visit the town’s main square at dusk, sit in the centre with a drink, listen to the music from the men’s clubs and you will feel you transported to a film set. Nangalarunni, via Delle Confraternite, Castelbuono ph 0921 671 428

  • Sicilian Wine

Sicily has both ancient and modern vineyards throughout the countryside, producing excellent red wines. I loved the wines from Cos in Vittoria, where maturation takes place wine in earthernware amphora, and the nearby recently established Occhipinti wines made by two clever young sisters. And I’d return in a heart beat for one of Sicily’s finest wines, the rich red Rosso del Conte, from Tasca D’Almerita at Regaleali. Stunning.

8 August 2015

FIELD & FALLOW by ED VERNER & LAURA FOREST

Sometimes a dining experience is like no other and does all the things that a well thought out meal should do; excite, challenge, satisfy, and perhaps change your thinking. Last night I was privileged to attend Field & Fallow by PASTURE, a dinner that Ed Verner & Laura Forest offered as a pop-up experience.

We drove in the dark and rain along the almost moving southern motorway and then along crazy country roads to Vin Alto Estate. Tough trip, but absolutely worth it.

Ed and Laura have spent a year away from Auckland, and during this time Ed cooked in various restaurants in Copenhagen. The pair refined their ideas and the values around food and came home to stay in the Clevedon Valley where they hope to pursue their dream of food that is simple, accessible and driven by ingredients that are fresh, local and vegetable-forward.

This meal was ten small courses of imaginative food, sourced from local producers and growers in the Clevedon district and that did not require fancy plating but rather an expression of techniques and ideas gathered overseas.

The first courses; two simple sweet cabbage leaves sandwiched with a buttery emulsion; exquisitely prepared and presented on a log with herbs, followed by a tiny onion cup filled with smoked kahawai and topped with delicate egg yolk crumbs. Perfect to go with a refreshing drink of white port and lime.

Then followed a succession of delicate courses that were just a few bites of exquisiteness; first, one of my favourites of the night some buffalo milk curd with lemon thyme and sweet bee pollen in parsley oil, and another refreshing drink - cucumber, celery and parsley juice.

Next a hearty moist loaf of buckwheat and smoked beer with kefir butter and lardo! (Beer with this, of course!)

Venison tartare with chervil and cauliflower, accompanied by ‘toast’ made with the unusual technique of breadcrumbs and butter so it looked like a lacy doily followed.

After that two vegetable courses; gorgeous baby courgettes with local oyster cream, and a sunchoke with an almond and soymilk skin. Another gorgeous drink with that – pear, fermented celery and grilled lemon.

The final savoury course was heavenly juicy pork scotch with fermented pear puree, rainbow chard washed in chamomile butter. And a lovely chardonnay that picked up on all the flavours.

The first dessert came on frozen plates; I have never seen quite the likes of Ed Verner’s fennel, preserved lemon and coffee ice. It really looked like a loofah sponge but when I put it on my mouth it melted away leaving just the flavours. Extraordinary! (Pic above)

The second dessert was a play on apple and caramel tart… shaved macadamia, apple green apple slices (how did he do that?) and warm yeasted caramel, served with a glass of warmed cider with hints of Manuka and pine.

And then finally the lovely surprise of miniature fresh chocolatey brioche direct from the oven to send us out into the dark and stormy night.

A truly extraordinary dinner from a talented pair that I hope we are going to see a lot of in the near future. This had to be the most refreshing dinner I have ever eaten. Mmmmm.