To foie, or not to foie?

In the lead up to the end-of-year season, one is constantly reminded to at least attempt a decent proportion of self-control in the inevitable festive indulgence. Excuse yourself early from those after-work drinks, one less party to attend (really?! picking friends are we?), politely decline those turkey leftovers.

Besides the wanton excesses, the media is also keen on carrying the obligatory story on foie gras. Yes, that lovely slab of goose or duck liver, slightly warmed with a tinge of grill colour, generously smeared over a teeny tiny crisp bread, then washed down with my Chateau dY’quem or Chateau Coutet.

This year’s versions have popped up over the past 3 days. Probably a little too late to have any significant impact on consumer decisions. But then again, I reckon that there’d be a couple of editors and media moguls who’d be looking forward to more than a little sliver of foie gras.

About a month ago, Anthony Peregrine writing for the Telegraph UK discussed the quintessential French culinary ingredients of Periguaux truffles and foie gras. In his column, he points out that it is his honest preference for the taste of pate over foie gras as the basis for his decision to shy away from the latter. This week, we have ‘Force-fed foie gras loses flavour in France’ from the Guardian. It refers to a poll conducted on behalf of a French animal protection group to which 47% of respondents indicated support for a ban on gavage (I’d love to read the precise wording of the questions though). Also, 29% cited ethical reasons for not purchasing foie gras. Excellent! I think those numbers actually suggest to us that if you improved the methods of producing foie gras, then one could potentially doubling their customer base!

Without getting into the argument of anthropomorphising the experience of the birds, articles in this vein have consistently failed to present both sides of the consumer experience and discuss the ‘ethical’ options. Yes, there are farms which practice ethical foie gras production. And by this I am specifically referring to free-choice food consumption by geese and ducks. There is no need for further debate on this aspect. This is a natural inclination for these birds, primarily because they are migratory species which are compelled to feed on as much as possible before autumn in preparation for their seasonal flights across incredible distances. Why do media articles attempt to either conduct lazy journalism or pander to animal rights agendas without striking a balance and presenting this side of the story?

So, here’s a bit of education with a link to one such ‘ethical’ producer, Sousa & Labourdette. This is a 200-year old farm currently operated by two men, located in Extremadura, Spain. This region might be better known to you as being famous for their wild acorn-foraging Iberian black pigs which are used to produce jamon iberico. The business operates on a once-a-season harvest and takes advantage of the natural habit of the migratory geese. You can watch a video of their website. All the animals are free-range, no enclosures and as close to ‘wild’ as you can get. The birds are naturally inclined to stay on the farm due to the plentiful supply of food. With a capacity to maintain 1000 birds, that annual production is understandably limited to 2000 jars. They are one of the biggest ethical producers in Europe, having certification from Spain’s National Association of Ethical Food Producers (ANPAE).

So why aren’t the French adopting this approach? Could it simply be put down to resistance to change and the stubborn adherence to traditional methods? The biggest factor would be the limitation to one single harvest per year. Would you risk loosing an entire year’s wage? It is also possible that considering the longer spells of warm weather owing to the Mediterranean climate of Extremadura, migratory flocks of geese tend to stay in the region for a longer period of time conducive for harvest. How can the French counter the seasonal changes in climate so as to retain enough birds for a profitable business? With so many non-trivial factors to consider, this is a tricky issue and one should not be so quick to fault the persistence of French methods.

Here’s an interested TED talk by Dan Barber (who has had the privilege of preparing foie gras for Barack Obama) discussing ‘The Foie Gras Parable’. He describes his visit to the Sousa & Labourdette farm, something that RSPCA have yet to do which is why they have yet to release an official comment on ‘ethical’ foie gras.

For the unadventurous, my advice is to stick with duck confit drenched in Bordeaux and black truffle sauce.

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Teen Rescue Foundation – addressing under-age alcohol abuse
The issue of under-age drinking remains largely unaddressed.  Under-age alcohol abuse is of immense concern to various communities and those in the business. Stigma (both cultural and social) is a major hurdle. But on the flipside, businesses may also be unfairly criticised.

As a step in the right direction, Tyson Stelzer has spent the last 3 years setting up the Teen Rescue Foundation which has just been officially announced. He has put out a call to the wider wine community to be proactive in tackling underaged alcohol abuse. I urge everyone to sign up on their site, and have a look on their facebook page for activities. Recently, they were at Schoolies week on the Gold Coast. There is also a group of winemakers on their bikes sweating over the 7 Peaks Alpine Challenge in aid of the foundation. So far, they have raised $40,000 of their $100,000 target.

Alcohol abuse isn’t just restricted to those affected. It is a disgraceful societal problem, and like it or not, one which impacts on every individual directly or indirectly.


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Middle Fish premieres new Southern Thailand-inspired menu

Middle Fish 1

A mainstay of the Melbourne University Carlton district, Middle Fish has thrived off the majority student and academic population, feeding them well over the past couple of years. Suffice to say, Middle Fish is the best food going on Berkeley St. Doesn’t hurt being neighbour to the ever-popular Seven Seeds, and I am certainly not suggesting that coffee at Middle Fish is by any means shabby. Pla Liamthong previously worked with Salvatore Malatesta (St Ali) so she knows good coffee. Their coffee certainly holds its own against the relatively fierce competition in the surrounding vicinity.

Middle Fish 1 Simple Palates Seriously

One thing that keeps enticing me back to Middle Fish is the authentic Thai cooking, the punchy in-your-face flavours and unapologetic use of chilli. It is honest-to-goodness Thai food, something that is lacking and absolutely under-appreciated in Melbourne. You can easily find great Japanese, Korean or Cantonese cuisine in Melbourne city. But Thai, largely cheap imitations. At Middle Fish, you’re getting the real deal. Make no mistake, this chilli punch is completely difference from Chinese cuisine. On a sidenote, I seldom consume rice, but here I say ‘Feed me more’! There is always a good crowd during lunchtime, but it also serves a delightful breakfast spread. Try the Hoy Tod – a breakfast omelette of mussels and pickled bean shoots, topped with delicious homemade Sri Ra Cha chilli sauce. The option of Kao Tom, a breakfast dish comprising of brothy rice soup, a poached egg and shredded chicken breast or crispy pork belly, is very interesting. For the tame-hearted, there are the more typical Melbournian breakfast options, but seriously?!

Middle Fish 2 Simple Palates Seriously

And now, Middle Fish is rolling out a new menu based on the inspirations of Southern Thailand. A change in menu doesn’t bring hope to those fearful of spicy food. Pla isn’t holding back any of the wonderful, aromatic, saliva-inducing chillis from her curries. I love the industrial, factory-type confines of this joint. It is spacious, lifted by plenty of light, you could comfortably have a casual lunch meeting here. Any tighter and the noise levels might truly reach the lunchtime hawker crowds you find everywhere in South-East Asia. There is the slight issue of no alcoholic options at present, and this is solely down to council zoning issues. However, Pla has personally reassured me that this will be corrected very soon.

So, what’s on the new menu? Firstly, get comfortable at your table. Order some of that cleansing chocolate and almond tea to relax your mind. The mildness of the flavours primes your tastebuds for the most soothing and satisfying lunch you’ll have this summer season. Next, wet your appetite with the well-prepared representative snacks which I’d recommend sharing around the table. For starters, try the mushroom springrolls ($7/3 pieces) and Tiger Prawn springrolls ($8.50/3 pieces). The vegetarian mushroom springrolls have a good crunch factor, and the fried pastry layer is just sufficient to retain the moisture dense filling. The prawn springrolls are made out of single prawns, so none of that cheap minced prawn here! Literally 97% prawn within 3% thin pastry coating. I could easily wolf down 2 serves of these for lunch. Also highly recommended is the Sa La Pao, the Thai version of the steamed bun, that is filled with pork dry curry or Kau Kling ($3.50 per piece).

Middle Fish Softshell Crab Sliders Fried Prawn rolls Salmon salad Simple Palates Seriously

I also tried mini version of their Fishcake & Bacon burgers which have this tasty gooey Kang Som tartar, a mayo-based filler made with a Southern Thai curry paste. The regular sized burger goes for $14.50, and there is also a soft-shell crab burger for $17.50. For a bit more to crunch, there are a variety of salads including salmon, lemongrass & honey chicken, and Crying Tiger (slices of medium-rare beef).

Within the realm of Asian cuisine, there are what I’d describe as 2 distinct circles of curry – ones you have with rice, and other which you’d pair with noodles. At Middle Fish, you now have the luxury of distinguishing between both. If you’re feeling more peckish, go for the Kang kati, a coconut-heavy dense flowing curry which you’d slather over steaming white rice. Back home, I’d have this with sides of fried vegetables, fried chicken wings and satay. For a more traditional option, the Kang Prik will not disappoint. This is the chicken curry with the lovely aromas of tumeric, incorporating kaffir lime leaves, soft carrots and potato, with intense curry flavours.

Middle Fish Red fish curry Simple Palates Seriously

The alternative to rice is Ka Nhom Jeen, or Thai vermicelli noodles. Because noodles feel somewhat lighter, and they are the best at soaking up flavour, I’d highly recommend going for a seafood sort of combination. So I’d order the Nam Prik which is tiger prawns in a lovely red, sweet and sour curry made with palm sugar and tamarind sauce, topped with crushed peanuts. Or, and this is what I tried on the day, for a stronger more intense flavour, somewhat unique if you’re not familiar, the Tai Pla, or grilled Mackerel. This dish has got a good level of heat going for it. Basically you have pieces of grilled mackerel in a fish maw curry with pieces of soft sweet potato. A bold curry, if I ever had to pick one.

Middle Fish Simple Palates Seriously

The previous desserts were limited to sweet rotis, so I’m really hoping Middle Fish has expanded on their dessert range. The steamed coconut dumplings aren’t served hot, these are usually served at room temperature or slightly chilled. A coconut custard dessert (a double whammy combination of 2 of my favourite desserts, how can I resist?!) with densely packed red bean paste filling in the middle. My personal favourite, gelatin coated water chestnut with jackfruit slices in cold, creamy coconut milk. Reminds me so much of chendol.

I think this is a brilliant decision by Pla to shake up the menu at Middle Fish. Starting with the brightly coloured menu, captivating visuals of the dishes, and a short story behind it all. There is a friendly atmosphere to the place, great place to meet up for coffee; although parking is tricky at times. The dishes are priced fairly and their approach to preparation is straight-forward (thankfully nothing complicated). Most importantly, such authentic flavours, exactly what I’m looking for, and it just takes me back to my jaunts to Thailand.

Middle Fish on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: My thanks to Sarah Negri of Zilla & Brook for the invite to this event.

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Final Flavour Exchange Melbourne is on this week!

Flavour exchange is back on for the last time for 2014. A great way to end the first working week of the last month of 2014. A fantastic event to nibble on little morsels and sample a variety of wines and beers. Book through ticketek (~$25 + charges).

Flavour Exchange December 2014


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The new vibe Hotel Lincoln, Carlton

It’s been 3 years since I’ve been to the Hotel Lincoln, and much has changed. Well, I’m still working in the same office and the exact same job. The change hasn’t been forthcoming for myself. But the spate of turnover and renewal of jaded pubs continues to this junction of Queensberry and Cardigan Sts.

Lincoln Hotel Coffee Cured Ocean Trout Radish Nashi Pear Simple Palates Seriously

This recent makeover is spearheaded by the former manager of MoVida Aqui, Iain Ling, and has pushed most buttons correctly. After a recent late lunch at the Lincoln, I can state that it has made a deserved returned to my radar. Location-wise, it resides on a quieter Cardigan St corner of Carlton, in-between Swanton and Lygon Sts. It’s an easy walk across Lincoln Sq to the gelati shops.

Lincoln Hotel Pork & Apple Sausages Mash Pickled Cabbage Salad Simple Palates Seriously

Structurally, the old haunt remains intact. There is ample space with tables spread across various rooms, great for groups ranging 2 – 8. The old bar is a good visual for the different beers and wines on offer, although the location of the till at the exact point of entering the premises is somewhat of an eyesore. Several umbrella’d tables are available along the pavement and are ideal for the summer months.

Lincoln Hotel Wagyu Rump Simple Palates Seriously

The greatest change is in the kitchen and menu. The menu is void of typical pub grub like fish n chips and chicken parma. Don’t expect any parma and pot deals here. But it also steers away from the pretentious gastro-pub transformations. The menu is segmented into ‘7 Oz’ palate ticklers, ‘Schooner’ sharing serves, and ‘Pint’ mains to be accompanied by ‘Pot’ sides. For a sweet end, go with the ‘For The Road’ desserts.

Lincoln Hotel Triple Cooked Chips Asparagus Jamon Fried Egg Mayo Simple Palates Seriously

I think the menu is well-thought out, there is something for everyone. 4 mains and 4 sides won’t stress out the kitchen, and is sufficient for a casual lunch crowd. I do wonder whether more is on offer for dinner. There is a good number of sharing plates and I’d highly recommend the croquettes (a single serve of 4) and the cured ocean trout. The mash that accompanied the pork and apple sausages was brilliant, knowing how much butter went into it to achieve that soft slightly sticky texture in fine mash. This was a rather salty dish, but nicely balanced against the black peppery flavour of the sausages. The triple cooked chips have a nice thick crunch on the bite, and a soft steamy middle. Ask about which flavours of ice-cream is on offer, you get 3 scoops for $9 – perfect for sharing.

Lincoln Hotel Lemon Curd Honey Marshmellow Raspberry Macademia icecream Simple Palates Seriously

This simple but elegant makeover of the Lincoln is for the benefit of all patrons. There’s a comfortable vibe, plenty of space, not to mention a great wine list to boot. The menu is concise, food preparation is spot-on. Well-priced, although about $5 heavier for certain items. I’m confident its Urbanspoon rating will increase to reflect these recent positive changes.

Hotel Lincoln on Urbanspoon

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