Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Dinner @ Wood & Coal

I was looking forward to having dinner at Wood & Coal Spit & Bar at the Canberra Centre with V last weekend. Wood & Coal, located opposite Jamie's Italian and replacing Babar's, is the latest BBQ/wood fire/grill based eatery to open up joining the likes of Smoque, Hopscotch, Ox Eatery, and Blackfire. As the name suggests, wood and coal is used to cook delicious meats in the kitchen including pig on a spit.
There are beautiful white arches and terrace style seating that looks out into the Centre. 
The entrance is outside where you're greeted by a staff member. We didn't have a booking but they do accept walk-ins and we scored a booth to the side of the restaurant. The unusual space has been used well with a large bar area standing prominently towards the entrance, the large open kitchen along the back, and various seating arrangements everywhere else - a mix of booths, terrace style seating and stools at the bar. The combination of wooden textures and soft lighting provides a cosy warm atmosphere for dinner.
The meat fridge is clearly illuminated at the back.
The food menu is on Wood and Coal's website and includes a mix of small and large plates, and items from the spit. Small plates range from $12 - $20 and includes sashimi, chicken wings, pork rillettes and zucchini fritters. Large plates range from $15 - $36 and includes charred mackerel, twice cooked lamb, beef short rib and a variety of salads. There are also lots of meat dishes from the spit. The lunch time specials look like good value - $17 for Souvas from the Spit, or $25 for the Lunch Tasting Plate.

To start with, we ordered the milk bun thit ($12) which came in a serve of two. I was surprised and pleased to see an Asian influence. These mini buns (Asian sliders?) were delicious and filled with carrot, cucumber, coriander, chilli, mayo and the charcoal spit meat of the day (our waitress informed us that it's pretty much whatever meat they have the most of at the time) which in this case was pork neck. A generous amount of pork neck and delicious condiments make this a winning combination. Yum! I was impressed that a kitchen staff member delivered this to us and explained what was in the dish.
Inside the milk bun thit
V and I decided to share the spit roasted pig with creamed honey and maple ($48) thinking this would be enough between us. We were wrong. Whoops. I thought it was quite a small portion for nearly $50 with bones and marrow included. However, the suckling pig was melt in your mouth succulent and so tasty! All meats from the spit are served with pickles and condiments. Sadly, there was only half a slice of pickle and a carrot slice.
I perused the leather bound drinks menu not expecting to see anything of interest (to me being a non-drinker) but was happy to see a mocktail menu! Three mocktails are on offer around the $10 mark. I ordered the Hibiscus Vestal with hibiscus syrup, citrus, lemonade, cranberry and rose petals. Really enjoyed it and the presentation is lovely.
I couldn't go past dessert (all $18), and knew instantly what I wanted. Big John's Loukoumades with caramelised banana, popcorn honeycomb, hazelnut ice cream and pistachio. This looked magnificent and plated so delicately. It tasted even better and I loved the different textural elements. The balls of deep fried dough were hot and drizzled with a honey syrup. The ice cream is smooth and a refreshing contrast to the other items. If the other desserts are as good as this I'll be very happy.
Good to see there is plenty of ventilation in the kitchen. Nothing worse than all your clothes and hair smelling of BBQ. Noise levels weren't too loud but we were sitting away from the kitchen with the bar separating us from the other diners. The booths themselves provide a nice little private hub too.
I thought the service was fantastic - I liked that our waitress introduced herself telling us she would be our waitress for the night, the kitchen staff delivering our dishes and telling us the details of each dish when setting this down in front of us, and that feedback was asked at the end of night.

I'm eager to go back and try some other dishes and more desserts!

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Monday, 29 September 2014

Breakfast @ Superfine Cafe

Tucked away on the corner of Mort and Bunda Street in the city, is newly opened Superfine Cafe serving coffee, breakfast and lunch.
Some signage out the front gives you an indication of the types of goodies sold here.
Did you know that both owners are Olympians? Zuzana, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and various other international competitions as a race walker is now retired, while her partner Evan is still in training as a 100m and 200m sprinter in the Paralympic Games. He's won 5 Gold medals for Australia and is the world record holder for these categories in the T38 sprint events. Wow! Both trained at Canberra's AIS arena and wanted to start up a new challenge with Superfine. You may recognise Zuzana from Dream Cuisine where she worked as the barista there for two years.
So what's behind the name Superfine? The cafe was originally going to be set up south of Yass and named after the superfine wool grown in the area. When the couple decided to open up in Canberra instead, the name stuck.
In his free time, Evan is also a landscape architect and his influence is shown throughout the cafe. Both Suzana and Evan have put their heart and soul into the cafe. I love that it is decorated with their own passions and interests - old lifting blocks from the AIS are reused as seats.
The couple have made the space look and feel as natural as possible with plenty of plants, wooden and metal decor. I was impressed to hear that the plywood against the walls have been stained with coffee extract (the same coffee sold at the cafe) for a more natural look. I never would have guessed.
Onto the food. Superfine offers a few breakfast options such as chia seed pudding, toast, banana bread and waffles. I decided on the full size waffle ($9.50) which isn't on the menu but can be made. This has Zuzana's own mix of muesli and paleo granola, natural yoghurt and sliced bananas on it with a side of maple syrup. I'm told that a gluten-free option can be made as well. I've never had a waffle with muesli and yoghurt on it before, but it works and I loved it! The muesli and nuts gives a yummy crunch, while the bananas and maple syrup provide sweetness, and the yoghurt a bit of sourness. Surprisingly filling. I could definitely eat this again. I also ordered a soy mocha which was $4 for a small plus 70c for soy milk.
Superfine has a 'Koffee Karma' board where if you treat a friend to a coffee, they will place a voucher on the board for them to claim another coffee.
The chia seed pudding looks fantastic and the couple tell me a chia seed pudding using cold drip coffee is in the works. I'll need to try that out next time!
Superfine Cafe is open 7-4 Monday to Friday. There are no current plans to open on weekends however a few special events may be pursued in future. Check out the Superfine Cafe Facebook page for more details and pics.

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Saturday, 27 September 2014

Opening night @ The Merchant Deli & Cafe

The Merchant Deli & Cafe at the Kingston Foreshore is having its soft opening this weekend. A limited selection of items on the menu is available to try out with the full menu being launched this Tuesday. Walking past outside, you can't help but notice the brightly coloured glossy tiles along the back wall and the contrast with the exposed brick counters. It gives off a nice warmth and cosiness in the cafe. Staff uniforms are also bright with different coloured shirts and aprons worn by floor staff.
It wouldn't be a deli without the huge selection of meats and cheeses.
A selection of cakes and tarts are in the dessert window ranging from $6-8.
Jugs of water are readily available and I was impressed with how frequently the jugs are replaced with full ones. The grapefruit and lemon slices make it very refreshing and citrusy.
The menu for lunch and dinner offers a range of meat dishes 'from the land' and 'from the sea', items from the grill (not available during the soft launch weekend) and pastas. I noticed the breads and croissants are from Autolyse Bakery in Braddon.
Only highlighted items are available during the soft launch weekend
I ordered the anise braised beef cheeks ($22) with baby fennel, mandarin and brioche crouton salad with garlic milk. The beef cheeks were amazingly soft and tender simply melting in my mouth. A knife was not required as my fork was able to cut through the beef easily. Delicious! The fennel and mandarin salad was a good accompaniment providing crunch and a burst of juiciness. My only minor complaint is that the portion is on the small side.
A charcuterie platter for two ($25) was ordered filled with cured meats, olives, gherkins and grilled sourdough. It looked great!
Another friend had the grilled lamb, lemon and rosemary lamb skewers ($22). This is a great option for meat lovers. The chunks of lamb were huge and cooked perfectly with a beautiful redness inside.
D had the braised lamb shoulder pappardelle ($20).
It took about 20 minutes after ordering dessert for our slices of cake to come out. Our waitress apologised for the delay as our orders had been mixed up somehow. The New York lemon cheesecake ($8) was a popular choice for most at the table.
My Belgian chocolate cheesecake ($8) came out last. Moist and chocolately with a smooth thick ganache, I enjoyed this treat. It came with a light custard and berry coulis too. I wonder if we can ask for ice cream?
There is no drinks menu besides coffee and soft drink at the moment. The Merchant, Prohibition Bottle Shop and Market the Grocer (towards Giles St end of the Foreshore) are all from the same company. Any wine or beer purchased from Prohibition can be brought into The Merchant with no corkage fee charge.

As the kitchen is completely open, I could really smell all the various meats cooking. Jackets smelled a little of BBQ at the end of the night. Noise levels were at medium levels that night with all tables occupied inside. On the way out, staff thanked us for dining in and welcomed any feedback.
I headed back for an early breakfast before heading out of Canberra for the weekend. It was still a chilly morning and I could see the fog surrounding the lake. The Merchant opens at 7am and there were already a couple of people sitting inside. The day's newspapers are available to read from the centre counter. I was warmly greeted and shown to a table before being asked for my coffee order and a jug of water being brought out. Coffees are $4 with an extra 50c for soy, almond milk etc.
I ordered the Eggs and Trout ($15) consisting of 60 degree eggs, smoked petuna ocean trout, yoghurt and carrot relish on sourdough.  A nice light breakfast with some tartness from the ocean trout and seeded mustard. The yoghurt was missing but I wasn't too fussed. It is the first breakfast service after all. There are plans to introduce juices, smoothies and milkshakes when the full menu is out.
The Merchant Cafe & Deli is located near La Rustica and 38 Espresso at the Kingston Foreshore. As with most places on the Foreshore, there are plenty of outdoors tables and chairs available. It is open 7am - 10pm every day of the week.

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

All you can eat @ Yummy Chinese BBQ

Yummy Chinese BBQ in Acton offers all you can eat BBQ and steam boat / hot pot for $35 per person. This does not include drinks. There are 2 sittings - 5pm or 7pm. A 2 hour time limit for all you can eat goodness. We made a 7pm booking on Monday night. The place was PACKED both outside (outdoor heaters were on) and inside. Each table has a solid hanging exhaust to suck up BBQ smoke.
I didn't actually know what to expect here. The three of us sat down and the owner came over and explained how to order. Giving us a tablet, she explained that we could order as many serves of items as we wanted from the tablet. The first serve ordered comes in lots of how ever many people are at the table. So entering a '1' in the quantity section would produce 3 of that meat skewer (3 of us at the table). The subsequent times you use the tablet to order, entering a '1' will only produce 1 of that meat skewer. 
The tablet is mostly in Chinese. Enter in the quantities using the plus/minus signs and then try to get the attention of a staff member to do the rest. They then take the tablet away so you'll need to find a staff member again if you want to order more meat skewers. In addition to the tablet food menu, there's plenty of food laid out buffet style at one end of the restaurant. You have a raw meats section filled with marinated chicken wings, squid and more. 
A cold 'salad' bar with tofu, spicy seaweed salad, shredded turnip etc. 
Along another wall, sits a row of metal buffet pots filled with items such as spicy fish, crab, pippi's, vegetables, frozen seafood mix (for the steam boat), broth, noodles and more. You can help yourself to as much as you want.
I really liked the spicy fish. I was a little scared to try this at first - I mean look at all those red peppers in the pot! But the fish was only mildly spicy and so soft. Cooked beautifully!
Udon noodles cook easily in the steam boat, and yes, that's spam.
We decided on one of each of the four skewers available on the tablet to start off with. A staff member brought over hot coals to place in the middle 'pit' in the table. It took about 10 minutes for the raw meat skewers to be brought out. The metal skewers each have a cog on the end that can be placed in the metal trappings so you can turn the cog slightly to get an even cook/BBQ on each side of your skewer. Smart! There are only 11 slots for 11 skewers. Too bad it's not an even number.
I liked the pork and pineapple skewers and lamb skewers the best.
A serve of beef was also ordered and this comes out frozen to be cooked in the hot pot.
Looking over at other tables, we noticed hot plates were being used to cook the chicken wings and squid, and cute hot pots bubbling away. We did not know where to find this and assumed it would be brought over to us, perhaps after we'd finished with the BBQ skewers. Utensils, napkins and water are all self serve. When this didn't happen, we just asked a passing staff member. One hot pot is to be shared between two. A choice of either spicy or non-spicy broth is provided. Since there were three of us, we got two hot pots - one spicy and one non-spicy (for me). The pot is quite small - half the size of what it looks like in the photo as the bottom half is fitted with the charger (?) to heat the pot.
I loaded up my plate with udon noodles, seafood mix balls, veggies and other bits to put in the pot. It takes a while to start bubbling - a good 15 minutes with the lid on.
Non-spicy broth
The non-spicy broth is peppery and didn't have as much flavour as the spicy broth which had a stronger meatier flavour.
Spicy broth - how red does that look?

A hot plate was brought out for us after asking for one. You'll need to make room for this and finish most of the meat skewers to fit it over the pit.
The dessert station has sweet sliced oranges and fried sesame balls. We missed out on the sesame balls (it was 9pm at this stage) but the oranges were still coming out.
It took a few minutes to figure out how everything worked. Some staff can't speak or understand English that well but all have a friendly smile and bring out what you need in the end. Current English pop music is played over the speakers. It's loud inside but not too loud that I couldn't hear what was being said by my dining companions. At the end of dinner, you will stink of BBQ smoke so be prepared for that.
Yummy Chinese BBQ is located next door to Meet Fresh on Childers Lane in Acton and is open 5-10pm all week. Bookings essential!

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