Tuesday, February 22, 2011


190 Wells Street,
South Melbourne , 3205

Once upon a time I worked in South Melbourne. When I worked there many years ago there was a fantastic little cafe around the corner in Wells St that was always busy, well priced and served great food.

Years later, the same little cafe is still well priced, still produces great food and is still remarkably busy. The name of that cafe is Pekopeko.

Pekopeko is best described as a Tawianese inspired asian cafe, the interior is dark, warm and furnished with nice tables and chairs, not a hint of laminex! The walls are decorated with lots of interesting sketches produced by the owner and just has a comfortable feel. Not too busy, not too noisy and even when there is a queue of people at the door they don't try to rush you out the door when you have finished.


The menu revolves around their bento boxes, there are some non-bento options, however, at $12.50 a bento box it is hard to go past them. Being a while since my last visit, I went for the irresistible Pop Chicken bento box and the Taiwanese spring rolls as an entree.

The Spring rolls are great, nice juicy garlicy pork, vermicelli noodles wrapped in a crispy skin, what is there not to like except more?


The pop chicken bento would easily be their most ordered bento based upon my observations and it is easy to understand why. Juicy chicken, lightly coated in peppery batter and fried nice and crispy. It won't win a heart health tick even if it does come with a few token vegetables. The fried tofu also helps to break up the chicken extravaganza, but this is all about bite after bite of that pop chicken.

Pekopeko has certainly maintained a good level of consistency and I am yet to have a bad experience there. I will warn you, if you go for lunch get there early or be prepared to wait. I have never been there when there has not been a queue out the door, this should be enough testimony in itself.

Pekopeko comes with my highest of cafe recommendations to anyone that happens to be in the area and after a nice place to eat that is not part of the St Kilda rd foccacia and bain-marie brigade.

Pekopeko - Highly Recommended

Pekopeko on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bistro Vue

Normanby Chambers
430 Little Collins St, Melbourne

Bistro Vue has always seemed a bit like the odd man out in the Shannon Bennett dining empire, not soaring to the great heights of Vue de Monde, but certainly more expensive than the more approachable Cafe Vue.

It had been a few years since my last visit and was quite interested to see if I would be pleasantly surprised or disappointed.

Walking in, it is exactly as I remembered, very Parisian and as we were seated by our French waiter it was difficult not to get in to the mood for some French bistro dining.

L: Foie gras in brioche
R: Soft shell crab, celeriac and apple rémoulade, mojo sauce

The gallic state of mind developed with a reasonably priced glass of Veuve Cliquot and Foie Gras to start with. When I ordered this, I expected this to be served warm, instead the Foie Gras came out cold, encased in brioche with apple puree and what I suspect was the same celeriac and apple rémoulade that came with the softshell crab entree.

Once the initial disappointment of the cold Foie Gras subsided, I did enjoy it and as it warmed became progressively nicer. The Foie Gras was actually quite light and rather generous, at $38 per serve it is getting up there, but totally enjoyable for any foie gras fan.

I also tried some of the softshell crab entree, it was well cooked, with the rémoulade & mojo sauce complimenting the crab.

Sher Wagyu X Holstein, hand cut chips, truffle mustard

For the main course, I asked our French waiter for his steak recommendation. He recommended the Wagyu steak, not the most expensive cut so went with it.

The steak came out perfectly medium rare, the portion was generous to say the least and had good Wagyu richness without being too over the top. The hand cut chips were closer to whole potatoes, however, they were light on the inside and were lightly crispy on the outside. The simple truffle mustard also worked well complimenting, not dominating the dish.

Tarte Tatin

For dessert, I was torn between Souffle and Chocolate Fondant. The waiter dismissed my choices when I asked his thoughts and instructed me to get the Tarte Tatin. For some reason I have never gravitated to Tarte Tatin on any dessert menu but took a leap of faith and waited anxiously with a glass of Sauternes in hand.

I needn't have worried, the waiter came out placed an empty plate in front of me with a cute little copper saucepan of crème anglaise, after a brief dissapearence he returned to flip a pastry coated cast iron pan to reveal one of the most beautiful food sights I have seen. Lifting the pan the table fell in to silence followed by ooooh's at the sight before us - golden apple, syrup thick with spice and vanilla seeds garnished with two vanilla pods on top. As the syrup spilled on to the plate the waiter poured the crème anglaise, this is food porn at it's finest.

All this is good, but the proof is in the eating and the eating is good! Every element of this dish is superb, the apples well cooked and caramelised, great spice in the syrup and crisp puff pastry based. This was a revelation and I am a Tarte Tatin convert and this would easily be in my top 10 desserts of all time.


Wrapping up we were presented a small plate of canelé. They were somewhat "caramelised" on the outside, but they worked well to mop up more of the Tarte Tatin syrup.

So thoughts on Bistro Vue? It is good, very good. Perhaps having Cafe Vue as the outlet for everyday brasserie food has given Bistro Vue the opportunity to fulfill its potential as a showcase of refined and modernised French classics. When a table of 6 order around 12 different dishes and all were received favorably, you know a restaurant is doing well and in the case of Bistro Vue deceptively well.

Bistro Vue - 15.5/20

Bistro Vue on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Josie Bones

98 Smith Street
Collingwood, 3066

The dining experience at some restaurants are exactly what you think they will be, others are the complete opposite. Josie Bones? Undecided.

Josie Bones is the temple of meat and beer started by Season 1 Masterchef couple Chris Badenoch and Julia Jenkins. Perhaps I thought it would be a Henry the VIII style medieval feast of gluttony with a pig trotter in one hand and a pewter mug o' beer in the other.

L: Crackle of the day - Pork
R: Trotter Fritters with Romesco Sauce

There is the pig trotter to hold whilst drinking beer from the other. However, the trotter is actually a trotter croquette and the beer comes in nice glass with the Josie Bones logo stamped on in. Gluttony refined.

While on the subject of beer, there is an extensive beer list of both tap and bottled beer with some great local microbrewers and a good overseas contingent. They offer some unique experiences such as a glass of the Infinium joint collaboration between Weihenstephan and Samuel Adams. At $13 for a champagne glass it is a clear expression of how serious beer is treated here, good on them.

Back to the food though, the crackle of the day which was pork came out dry, crispy and flavoursome - good start. Following this was the Trotter croquette's serving up gelatinous, tasty meat encased in a crispy breadcrumb shell. I would have liked a bit more meaty chunkiness, but overall quite nice. It paired paired well with the romesco sauce, not very Henry the VIII at all.

Lamb Tongue on spiced eggplant

Next course of lamb tongue on spicy eggplant was served, the tongue was well cooked with great flavour and that unique tongue texture. The spicy eggplant was nice and rich and overall the dish presented well, something that tongue has a hard time doing.

L: Dry Aged Skirt Steak with Bone Marrow Butter
C: Moghrabieh, peas, mint, sultana & pine nuts
R: Beans in tomato sauce

Wrapping things up we went with the special of the day and two sides that our waitress Sara recommended. On the topic of staff which I normally don't go in to too much detail on, the staff at Josie Bones are all very good. Sara knew the menu back to front and was passionate about both the beer and the food. James the bar/beer manager also came over for a quick chat and was also very friendly, saw the camera and asked about the name of the blog, guess it is obvious these days. Thumbs up for the friendly staff, not like the "elitism" one finds at places like Bar Lourinha or Mamasitta.

Back to the food though, the sides were good, but were still just sides. The moghrabieh was refreshing after the meaty dishes with the mint resetting the palate. This came in handy since the final course of meat was the highlight - Dry aged skirt steak, aged for 2 years served rare with marrow butter. The meat melted and had a richness that you only get from a ridiculous length of dry aging and the marrow butter added richness. Despite just 6 slivers served, the richness made it more than filling.

So after enjoying some nose to tail eating, Josie Bones offered the choice of meats that I expected but served and presented in a much more refined way than I expected. So is it what I expected? No, but am I disappointed? Absolutely not. Will be going back and most likely sooner than later.

Josie Bones - 14/20
Josie Bones on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sous Vide Confit Duck Leg with Asparagus & Kipfler chips

When I started off with my sous vide research, my focus was on cooking meats like duck breast, steak and chicken. However, when I started looking around online I noticed that there was some good experimentation happening with cuts like duck leg and other high collagen meats.

While I don't think I'll look at Lamb Shank sous vide for quite some time, duck leg did intrigue me. The reason for this is that duck legs are generally best cooked confit style which is basically in fat. There are two reasons why I have avoided this, first of all it is cost prohibitive since you need a $20 tin of duck fat to cook a $3 duck leg. Secondly, you need to control the temperature and prevent the confit from turning in to a deep fry.

Duck leg sous vide style is an interesting proposition since there is enough fat in the duck skin to self confit once the temperature gets high enough.

Looking around the internet, people have tried ranges between 75 and 83 degrees. For my first attempt, I went with Thomas Keller's recommended temperature - 82.2 degrees over 8 hours.

The recipe below is what I followed and believe me, the results are as good as any restaurant confit that you would have and normally pay upwards of $35 for. The resulting leg was moist, flaky and pulled cleanly off the bone and the skin which was rendered paper thin and wonderfully crispy. The meat also imbibed the subtle thyme and bay leaf flavours. The only thing that went wrong was a small leak in one of the bags. Next time I cook this long we will be double sealing the bags. Overall prep time was about 15-20 minutes and completion about 15.

Sous Vide Confit Duck Leg with Asparagus & Kipfler chips
(Serves 2)

4 duck legs
1 bunch of fresh thyme
4 dried bay leaves
2 Kipfler potatoes
6 Asparagus stalks
Good quality & fresh extra virgin olive oil
Duck fat (optional)

L: Duck Leg, Bay Leaf, Thyme & Olive oil prior to vacuum sealing
R: Duck Leg, Bay Leaf, Thyme & Olive oil after vacuum sealing

Preparation & Sous vide of Duck
  • Take duck legs, wipe down with paper towel and sprinkle liberally with salt, place in fridge for 1-2 hours to dry out
  • Pour olive oil in to a small cup and place in freezer for 2+ Hours to set
  • Wipe off all salt and excess moisture, place in vacuum bag with 4-5 sprigs of thyme and 1 bay leaf
  • Immediately prior to sealing, add in 1 teaspoon of frozen olive oil and vacuum seal immediately (assuming the use of a domestic vacuum sealer which won't seal liquids).
  • At this time, boil the Kipfler potatoes for at least 30-40 minutes to completely cook through until tender. Place in to a container and refrigerate.
  • Place bags in to water bath at 82.2 degrees for 8 hours.

To Complete
  • Remove duck from water bath and wipe down, remove all thyme & bay leaves remove as much excess moisture as possible taking care not to tear the skin.
  • Take asparagus stalks, remove woody base and wash
  • Cut Kipfler potatoes in to 4-5mm slices diagonally across the length of the potato

Heat 3 pans.
Pan 1 - On medium-low heat, add a splash of olive oil, add in asparagus and grind some salt over. Asparagus should ever so slightly bubble, not fry and the skin will start to wrinkle. Turn and keep turning until tender (approx 10 minutes)
Pan 2 - Low medium heat, add in a splash of olive oil and place duck leg skin side down to crisp (approx 5-10 minutes, meat won't dry out so cook until potatoes are ready or desired crispiness is reached).
Pan 3 - Add in enough duck fat or olive oil to be at least 3-4mm deep. Put on to a high flame, when fat is hot drop in a slice of potato to ensure it starts frying straight away. Once hot, add in slices slice by slice until all are in and none are overlapping. Turn slices gently every 40-50 seconds until slightly golden. Once cooked remove and place on paper towel, grind salt and pepper over the top.

To Plate
  • Place the duck breasts to overlap on the plate
  • Place a small stack of the Kipfler potatoes off to the side
  • Place asparagus to balance out the presentation of the plate

Note - Odd numbers are generally more appealing to the eye, so 3 is the ideal number of asparagus stalks.

Also, while I mentioned the high price of duck fat, I don't want to sound like a hypocrite, so if you cook something like duck breast, save the rendered fat for the most luxurious fried potato you have ever had the next day. It should store for at least 1 week in a container in the fridge.

For more understanding of meat collagens and why shallow frying asparagus is the best way to cook it, watch Heston Blumenthal's Kitchen Chemistry Meat and Vegetable episodes.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sous Vide Sezchuan Duck & Bok Choy

There are a number of different meats that benefit from Sous Vide, if you were to single out one of them though, I would have to say it is duck.

The reason for this is that good duck has a number of factors to make it enjoyable and a lot of technical reasons for why it is a challenge.

The desirable factors for duck breast are crispy skin, well rendered fat and a pink centre but not raw/uncooked. Get one of these wrong and you end up with soggy skin, lots of fat or meat that is uncooked or dry. The margins for getting these right are quite fine.

Traditionally one would cook in a pan, skin side down, flip and finish in an oven. The challenges around this are that the skin is so thick it acts as an insulator preventing a lot of heat getting in to the meat and I have found whenever you take the skin off the direct heat the skin starts to go soggy rather rapidly. As for getting the meat right, it is also hit and miss. you can use a probe, but preventing the outside from getting too cooked and a well cooked pink centre is fiddly at best.

Sous vide fixes all of this, I repeat, sous vide fixes all of this.

Duck breast protein denatures and sets at 62 degrees. So to cook the meat perfectly, all one has to do is vacuum bag the breast and drop in to a water bath, it will cook perfectly edge to edge a nice juicy pink. Of course out of the bag, the meat is cooked, but the skin is an insipid white. No problem, did I mention before that the skin acts as an insulator? Skin side down on a medium heat will crisp it up nicely rendering a lot of the fat out and not ruin the good work of the sous vide treatment. Don't throw that fat away though, there are many uses for duck fat, all evil, but all enjoyable.

So here is my first attempt at sous vide duck and inspired by my recent visit to Spice Temple I decided to pair with Sezchuan Pepper

Sezchuan Duck with Bok Choy
(Serves 2)


2 Duck breasts
Sezchuan peppercorns (lots, ground coarsely in a mortar and pestle)
Ground rock salt
2 bunches of Bok Choy well washed with outer leaves removed
2 tsp of finely chopped Lemongrass stalk
1-2 Birdseye Chilli de-seeded and finely chopped
Sesame Oil
Soy Sauce

L: Duck seasoned to dry out
R: Vacuum sealed duck ready for water bath

Preparation & Sous Vide of Duck
  • Wipe off duck meat with paper towel
  • Sprinkle liberally with salt & sezchuan peppercorn that has been ground in a mortar and pestle, rub well in to skin
  • Leave in fridge for 1-2 hours to season and for moisture to draw from skin
  • Remove from fridge, wipe off all salt and peppercorns with paper towel removing as much moisture as possible
  • Add some more sezchuan pepper and vacuum seal
  • Place in water bath for 1 hour at 62 degrees

Duck rendering in pan

To Complete
  • Remove duck from the bags, pat down drawing off excessive moisture, score the skin diagonally approx 1.5 cm apart
  • Blanch the bok choy for approx 20-30 seconds in boiling water, drain and refresh in chilled water
  • Place duck skin side down in a medium-hot pan with a bit of olive oil. Skin should sizzle but not burn. Will crisp up in a few minutes
  • While duck is cooking heat 2 tbsp of Sesame oil in a work, when hot add in lemongrass and chilli to cook off but not go black. Add in bok choy, toss for 20-30 seconds add a splash of soy sauce, allow most of it to evaporate and remove from heat

Sous Vide Sezchuan Duck & Bok Choy

To Plate
  • Place duck skin side down on a chopping board, slice through on an angle and turn over and fan out on plate
  • Add bok choy next to the duck. Plating leaf by leaf will help keep presentation neat.
  • Sprinkle some Sezchuan pepper on top


Quite pleasurable and the amount of time to cook/prep is really quite minimal for such a quality dish. Meat should be perfectly pink and glistening, no need for any sauce. The numbing effect of the pepper is unique.

It begins with eggs......

62C eggs

For anyone that has been to any fine dining restaurant over the past few years, one style of cooking has been creeping in to the menu - Sous Vide dishes.

Sous Vide translates to under vacuum and is the process of precision cooking in a water bath. Generally items such as meat are vacuum sealed and cook at the optimum temperature for the contents without risk of overcooking or undercooking. Because the temperature of the item never exceeds it's optimum cooking point, it will heat and stabilise cooking consistently edge to edge. No burnt on the outside, raw on the inside chicken which has been the undoing of many an amateur cook.

I find this all quite exciting and have been looking at how one can do this at home. It is possible to use ziplock bags and monitor the temperature on the stove with a pot of water. The problem with this is that it is almost impossible to regulate precise temperature and a ziplock bag is not capable of removing all the air.

SousVideMagic 1500D attached to Breville Rice Cooker

For the past few months I have been looking for practical and affordable ways of cooking sous vide at home and recently came across the SousVideMagic 1500D which for $159.50 will convert a regular rice cooker in to a precision water bath. You want 61C it will do it, you want 61.2C it will do it and so on.

To be honest I had low expectations, but to my surprise it was up and running in 15 minutes and to kick off my sous vide journey I chose eggs. While not under vacuum, eggs are an interesting proposition, they have two different types of proteins which set at different temperatures.

My first go was to cook 62C eggs. The reason for 62C? it is the same temperature as what Cafe Vue serve their eggs, simple and safe.

62c Eggs on Ciabatta - Glistening white, custard yolk

Dropping the eggs in to the water bath, I came back one hour later to open the eggs and to my delight they were perfect. The egg white was a shimmering translucent white wobbly like jelly and the yolk is like a custard, not hard, not runny but custard. Superb.

The most interesting and exciting thing about this style of cooking is the relative infancy of it. So many questions and ways of cooking to be explored. Compared to baking, roasting and frying which has been around for centuries, this is the brave new world. No longer are eggs fried, poached or scrambled, precision cooked is the new way!

Prawn Star