Saturday, December 11, 2010


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212 Given Tce, Paddington

I've started the grueling task of Christmas shopping. One of my stops was a gourmet food store (Gourmet Providores) on Given Terrace so we decided to also get lunch around there.

It's been a while since I ventured onto Given Terrace. I remember the last time I went, I spotted a cafe that I wanted to try. We walked past it again yesterday and I realized it was Anouk.

Anouk was packed. We decided to try our luck by asking for a table and if there weren't any free, we would move on to someplace else. Amazingly, we acquired a table for 2 (what appeared to be the last vacant spot in the entire cafe).

The waitress pointed out some specials that were written on a large mirror (artistic but a bit difficult to read) and we were also given single-sided menus that contained some nice brunch/lunch offerings.

There was also a beverage menu and one of the walls in Anouk was decorated with even more refreshment options such as unusual blends of smoothies and muddled fruit drinks. On a hot day like yesterday, I found these drinks to be more inviting than anything else on the menus.


We ordered a lunch item and beverage each. I assumed Hien would also be getting a cold fruit drink and shooed the waitress away when she asked if we'd want any coffee to start with. Amazingly, he asked for a hot mocha. Maybe I'm just more heat intolerant than everyone else? I can't even bear the thought of a hot drink on a hot day.

Pear and vanilla smoothie

After much umming and ahhing, I went for the pear and vanilla smoothie. When it came out, I couldn't decide whether or not I liked it. It had a strong vanilla flavor and a strange sour aftertaste that I assume was the pear. What I like is that it wasn't very sweet and it's possible that all the sweetness came from the pear. I hate drinks that are too sugary. It reminded me of a drinking yogurt and I liked it enough to finish the whole thing but couldn't eliminate the feeling that I made the wrong choice and missed out on something potentially better.

Garlic prawn spaghetti, proscuitto pesto, chili and parmesan

Hien ordered from the specials menu and chose the prawn spaghetti in pesto. The serving size was rather small but the ingredients were fresh and the pasta had good flavor.

Lemon baked ricotta, butter lettuce, olives, sweet mustard dressing and ciabatta

I chose the baked ricotta. I didn't know what to expect. I thought it might be a salad but I had a feeling they would bring out a whole lump of baked ricotta. That's what it turned out to be! Ricotta is a very, very mild cheese (my polite way of saying bland) and I've used baked ricotta before whilst making canapes. I thought it was a bit like textured air. I actually really enjoyed this baked ricotta though. It was warm and soft with an interesting texture (cross between chewy, crumbly and melty). It had a very subtle herb flavor and was nice with the tart salad dressing, olives and sour ciabatta. I'm also under the impression that ricotta is a healthy cheese because it has a relatively low fat content. Extra win!

Though Anouk was extremely busy, we experienced excellent service. The cafe is decked out nicely and would have been a comfortable environment if there was a tiny bit less people (it was hard to talk because everyone was chatting loudly). I thought the food was great and I was excited about several of the menu options, which made it difficult to choose but encourages me to go back. My drink was a slight disappointment but only because there were so many others I wanted to try.
Anouk on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 10, 2010

UQ Schonell Pizza Caffe

UQ Schonell Pizza Caffe
Schonell Theatre, Uni Of Qld Union Rd, St Lucia

The past couple of years, the only time I've stepped into St Lucia campus was for exam revision so I don't exactly have kind associations there. Yesterday was graduation day and I took the chance to enjoy the only thing one thing I'm garunteed to miss from uni - the pizza cafe (which is spelt with double 'f' on their website).

No one is allowed to touch the food before I get my shots :D

To provide some scene setting, I'll first say that yesterday was steaming hot. I was sweating so much I had to peel myself from the seat of my car, and that's WITH the air-conditioning provided by my car. When I got outside, I had to deal with the impossibilities of trying to find my mum ("Where are you??? The library?? There are more than 5 libraries here!!! Which one are you at?? What do you mean there's grass here?? There's grass everywhere!!!").

After prancing around the grounds like a mad woman, I was convinced that all my graduation photos would be light reflective because my face was just that sweaty (eww, I know). And that was BEFORE donning the traditional gown (that I fondly think of as the closest I'll get to wearing a Hogwarts school uniform).

When it came to ordering the pizza, I was less interested in the pizza and more attracted by their tap beer. The menu contains one pizza for every letter of the alphabet. Certain flavors have stars next to their name, which indicates a surcharge. We chose 4 pizzas for the 4 of us (2 vegetarian and 2 with meat), plus one jug. My mum and grandparents also had a coffee each.

Pure Blonde

The beer was a life-saver. Even our glasses were chilled and it was all I could do not to roll it across my forehead. I practically drained the glass in one hit. Icy beer on a hot day is not to be underestimated.

Sophia Loren - pan-fried baby spinach, black olives, gorgonzola

I chose the 2 vegetarian pizzas not because there are vegetarians amongst us but because I like vegetarian pizzas and I'd never get away with ordering them with my friends. With my family, I'm allowed to choose whatever I want. The first was 'S' for Sophia Loren which contained baby spinach, black olives and gorgonzola.

Pizza close-up

I couldn't detect any obvious blue cheese flavor but did think this pizza was more flavorsome than the others even though it seemed most simple so maybe the gorgonzola contributed to that. This was actually my favorite one.

Visconti - grilled eggplant, zucchini and capsicum

The 'V' for visconti had grilled eggplant, zucchini and capsicum. I liked this one as well though the grilled veggies become a bit soggy on the base and there was nothing that had a good crunch to balance that.

De Sica - ham, pancetta, calabrese, pineapple, olives, capsicum, onion

My mum's favorite was 'D' for De Sica, which in my mind is a bit like a fancy Hawaiian cross supreme. It had the most stuff on it, with 2 types of meat, pineapple and more. Some people like that but I favor really simple pizza with not many different toppings.

Giannini - roasted chicken, baby spinach, ricotta, grilled capsicum

The last we had was 'G' for Giannini. This is one we frequently ordered whilst studying at UQ. It has chicken, spinach and ricotta. Ricotta is quite a mild (aka bland) cheese and I would have preferred something with more punch, like fetta.

Now for some overall comments about the pizza... they're good. I really like this style of pizza. I know that people will have different preferences, indeed my dad likes a thick base because it fills him up more but even he liked these pizzas when he tried them. I sent a photo of this meal to Byron, hoping to make him jealous but he said they looked 'thin and dry'. In MY opinion, speaking as someone who likes thin and crispy pizza with simple, good quality ingredients, this is the best gourmet pizza out there and amongst the cheapest too. When we compare to a similar sized pizza at say, Sugo Mi, the one at UQ pizza cafe is about 30-40% cheaper, even without a student discount. Furthermore, I wouldn't say Sugo Mi necessarily tasted BETTER.

Pizza sandwich

The thing to note is that thin crust = people eat more slices. My granddad actually ate 2 slices at a time with the topping squished in the middle like a sandwich. I thought that was kinda cute!!

My other item of personal advice is that I normally find the UQ pizza too garlicky. I've had sleepless nights because the garlic 'mouth feel 'persists until the next day, even with rigorous brushing, rinsing and green tea-drinking. I got around this problem by saying 'please omit all garlic addition from all 4 pizzas'. It worked fabulously - equally tasty pizza without the discomfort.

Coffee ($2 special)

I forgot to mention the coffee. The Pizza Caffe now has a system where you get a buzzer when you order and go collect your meal when it buzzes. Ours buzzed once for the coffee and again for the pizza. Mum was a bit annoyed that the coffee came first because it's usual to have coffee after the meal but I guess they're much too busy to coordinate those things.

The UQ Pizza Caffe is predominantly a student venue. For that reason, there's not much in the way of service (you collect your own food with the buzzer) and the atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired. On the plus side, the food is relatively cheap and what you get isn't standard student-quality pizza. It's definitely on par with any gourmet pizza I've had at an expensive Italian restaurant and for that reason, the Pizza Caffe has a reputation that goes beyond the student circle.

Schonell Pizza Caffe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Siana in the Valley for a platter with bubbly

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Siana Bar Dining Lounge in Fortitude Valley

I've been to the city Siana once before for a curry Buffet and dessert platter. The meal was lovely and I left with a good impression so I was keen to see if the Valley Siana was in the same vein.

After the trouble finding parking (I think they have on-site parking but we missed the turn and parked a few streets away), we got to the restaurant, which is located on the ground floor of the HQ complex. On first sight, it looks like an office building, tall with lots of glass.

Siana on the ground level is very open with basically no walls... the street is invited in to the restaurant (noise and all).

We were lead by a very friendly waiter to this long, wide bar table. Though there are a few small tables scattered around, the main floor is taken up by 2 of these long tables. Guests essentially sit on this table next to strangers (kind of like when you go to sushi train). It wasn't very busy when we went so we were lucky enough to have a gap next to us.

The table is a bit too wide though so you really have to lean in to talk to the person sitting opposite you. I was impressed by the glow of the table top. It looked slightly alien and pretty cool. Overall, the decor is contemporary and refined.

Rosemount Botanicals crisp chardonnay

We got the Platinum Platter and a glass of Rosemount Botanicals. The waiter read out 3 choices of this sparkling wine, which as a non-wine appreciator, just sounded like gibberish to me so I asked him to recommend one and he told us to get the chardonnay.

Glass of bubbly each

The wine came first and it was a wonderful recommendation. The wine was lightly sparkling, refreshing, sweet but not cloying and had a very subtle apple flavor. It was supposed to have cucumber notes too though I'd be lying if I said I detected that. I liked the wine so much I finished 3/4 a bottle and am planning on purchasing it the next time I need to buy wine for any occasion.

Platinum platter

When our platter arrived, my jaw dropped.

Steamer pile

As well as a giant platter of assorted Asian-inspired food, there was a stack of small bamboo steamers too. Each one contained more food!

Prawn dumpling

We worked through the food gradually. It's against my nature to eat slowly because I'm a gorger but the wine helped (you tend to be more conversational and less concentrated on the food).

Salmon naan

Out of the food we ate, I particularly enjoyed the naan and the sushi, which was very fresh. The peking duck roll was nice but had too much sauce for my liking.

BBQ pork bun

I liked the crispy chicken skewer (chicken togarashi) but Hien said it was dry. The BBQ pork bun was good, one of my regular yum cha favorites.

Once again, I had a great time at Siana. The food was plentiful, with lots of variety. Though the food is not too different to a lower-end sushi store or yum cha restaurant, you're paying for the atmosphere. All this was supplemented by friendly service, a nice dining environment and a bottle of wine. I would just prefer the table to be a bit narrower so that it's easier to talk!
Siana Valley on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fab Fish & Burger Grill

Fab Fish & Burger Grill
Shop 12, The Barracks, 61 Petrie Terrace, Paddington

I don't often head to Paddington because I've got it in my head that parking is really difficult to find. Luckily, that's not an issue when someone else is driving and it's their job to find parking.

Paddington street art

I heard about Fab as I was browsing other food blogs and suddenly got a burger craving. We headed there today for lunch.

I've never actually been inside The Barracks before. The closest I got was Hog's Breath but that's not the same as stepping in. I was expecting a big shopping mall with lots of levels but it's actually like a long courtyard with a few cafes/designer shops lining either side. Fab Fish & Burger Grill is one of them.

There are a few tables inside but we chose to sit in the courtyard area. Fab have a selection of burgers on their menu, as well as less take-awayish items like sandcrab lasagna.

Veggo burger - roasted mushroom, lettuce, tomato, herbed cheese, grilled haloumi, roasted capsicum reslish and aioli

I ordered the Veggo burger. It was massive, featuring a large mushroom steak (what I call any huge, flat mushroom) and grilled haloumi.

Cut neatly with a knife and fork

I thought the sauces (combination of cream cheese, relish and aioli) were very tasty and full-flavored, the burger was not at all dry (which is a fear in large burgers). The bun itself was nice too; it was soft but didn't taste like those processed white rolls. The salad was fresh too. I was really happy with my burger.

Blues brother burger - prime beef, lettuce, tomato, blue cheese, roast pumpkin, aioli(with haloumi added)

Hien ordered the Blues Brother burger because he saw that it had blue cheese. When I pointed out that mine had haloumi (his favorite food item), he got jealous and decided he wanted some in his too. We actually got a deal at Fab because today (Tuesday) they had an 'all burgers $9.95' special. Hien decided he'd use the $2 saved in the special to add haloumi to his burger. I pointed out that this cheese might clash with the blue cheese but he said (quote) 'you're out of your mind!'

Eaten caveman-style

He ended up loving the combination and proclaiming it to be the best ever food hybrid. I didn't try any of this burger but his food back was very much positive and from what I could see, it was also huge and filling.

Chips and aioli

We ordered some chips too. They are shoe-string fries and though some were a bit soggy, they were for the most part nice and crunchy. A bit over-salted for my liking but the aioli was nice.

I think Fab Fish & Burger Grill is great. We had lovely service and the atmosphere at the Barracks is pleasant. Both our burgers were big and delicious. The chips were a tasty side. In my opinion, the burgers here are much better than Grill'd though they don't claim to be healthy.
Fab Burgers on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Banana Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting and Cashew Praline

Banana Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting and Cashew Praline
Home Cooking

We had a banana crisis in our house last week. Usually, bananas get eating up fairly quickly because they're easy to eat and don't require washing or cutting (we're very lazy). This particular bunch contained GIANT bananas that no one seemed to want to touch. Mum went through a few by cutting them in half and eating a bit at a time but by the end of the week, we had these giant, browning bananas and dad, who never gives me baking requests said 'please do something with those'.

I've made many banana breads before so to try something different, I typed banana cake into Google to see what would come up. I was instantly attracted by this recipe and ended up using it. I followed it for the most part but forgot to by sour cream so I substituted that for yogurt instead. I know it's normal to substitute natural yogurt for sour cream but I admit mine was just a normal flavored tub, the type you snack on. The cake still turned out fine and I couldn't taste any of the yogurt at all... though, if you must know, I used 'stick date pudding' flavor. I also modified the frosting a bit (left out the sour cream).

What attracted me to the recipe was the use of white chocolate. I had an amazing carrot cake at Planet Matterz and I'm convinced they had white chocolate in their cream cheese frosting. I wanted to try it for myself. What I didn't like about the recipe is the lack of nuts. To me, a good banana bread has to have nuts. I know this is a banana 'cake', technically, but I couldn't get around the idea of biting into anything banana flavored that didn't have a crunch.

I rummaged through the pantry and found some cashew nuts. I was going to just toast them and pop them on top for decoration but in the end, decided to make a salty praline. It turned out to be the best part of the cake.

Banana Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting and Cashew Praline
Serves 8


For the cake
  • 2 large very ripe bananas, mashed (this is about 1 and 1/2 cups)
  • 116g sour cream (I used yogurt)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 and a 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 120ml canola oil
  • 200g cake flour (or 30g cornflour plus 170g plain flour)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the frosting
  • 170g white chocolate, chopped
  • 225g cream cheese, softened
  • 55g unsalted butter, softened
For the praline
  • 1/2 cup of cashew nuts
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Line a 22-23cm diameter springform cake tin.
2. In a stand mixer, combine the banana and sour cream/yogurt.
3. Add the eggs, vanilla and lemon zest and mix until combined.
4. Add the sugar to the banana mixture.
5. Gradually add the oil, beating until completely mixed.6. Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the banana mixture on low speed until completely combined.
7. Pour into the prepared cake tin. I found the mixture to be quite runny.8. Bake for 40-50min until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in tin for 10min before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.9. To make the frosting, first melt the white chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. My parents just got this awesome induction cook top which has a very precise temperature setting and I can melt chocolate straight from the saucepan. Set the chocolate aside to cool slightly.10. Beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the cooled white chocolate and mixed until smooth. Mine was very soft after it was all mixed so I did what the recipe suggested which was to place the icing in the fridge to firm up before frosting.11. To make the praline, crush the cashew nuts and toast on high heat until golden.
12. Reduce the heat to medium and add the white sugar and salt. Constantly stir and you will see parts of the sugar beginning to liquefy.13. Once all the sugar has melted, it will start turning golden. You must remove it from the heat immediately or it will burn.
14. Spread the mixture onto a piece of non-stick baking paper on a hard, cool surface and let it set till hard.15. Break up the praline into little pieces to use.16. To assemble the cake, spread the frosting over the cake and sprinkle the praline over the top. I tried to make a nice pattern but soon gave up. The frosting melts easily so you may need to refrigerate the cake before serving.

A few points... the recipe for frosting (above) produced way too much frosting than required for this cake. It was a delicious frosting but flawed in some way because it goes runny so easily. I suspect there was too much cream cheese and butter and not enough chocolate.

The cake itself was very nice. It has a moist, dense, almost pudding-like texture. I was really excited about using the lemon zest in the mixture but unfortunately, couldn't detect any of it in the actual cake.

As I mentioned at the start, the cashew praline was the true hero of the cake. It added not only texture but also a nice saltiness that cut the sweetness of the white chocolate. I would be happy to eat the praline on its own too!