Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review: Brother's Oven Hot Cross Buns

After our successful hot cross buns from Wanniassa, S and I decided to stick to a good thing and stay on the Southside. This week we tried the offering from The Brothers Oven.

The Brothers Oven has to be the only shop that has remained constant since Homeworld, the centre next to the Hyperdome opened in the 80's. I've long been a fan of their sausage rolls and bread so it seemed obvious that we should try their hot cross buns.

They offer what seems to be the standard range now of fruit, fruitless and choc-chip but as you know I'm a purist so we had traditional fruit. On size alone these are standout buns. They are HUGE and at $5.50 for a 6 pack they are also very reasonably priced for a bakery offering.

But on to the taste ... we both agreed these had a nice light texture, decent but not large amount of fruit, light spice, subtle glaze. Basically they are a very tasty but not standout bun.

S: 6.5/10
L: 7/10

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Random Musings: A gut reaction

Some times you act on instinct, a gut reaction before you even think.

I had to be in Sydney at the Queen Victoria Building for work this week. I was up on an early flight and the function I was attending didn't start till a little later which gave me enough time to nip into Haigh's chocolates to buy some nice Easter gifts. It took serious focus to make quick decisions and get on my way but I was ably assisted by one of the very lovely staff members as I picked out options from the huge selection.

If you have been to Haigh's you will know that they always offer you a chocolate sample when you buy something. Being 8am and knowing I was about to tuck into eggs and bacon I turned the offer down - I know, in hindsight I'm shocked and amazed at my restraint. But I was saved by the thoughtful assistant who instead packaged me up quite a generous sample of broken Easter egg in a little bag which I immediately imagined eating on the plane on my way home..

I headed up to the gorgeous tea room, sat through an inspiring presentation and had a delicious breakfast before heading back outside to grab a cab.

But as I stepped out of the glorious building that is the QVB, I was struck by the sight of a homeless woman begging near the entrance. She was sitting, head bowed, with an air of abject misery. As a cab pulled up, the thought of my package of sample chocolate suddenly occurred to me so I quickly thrust it into her hand.

Her smile was fantastic. Yes, it was just a little pack of broken pieces of chocolate but in that moment it lit her up.

The presentation I had been to was on philanthropy and the point had been made that the act of giving is as much a benefit for the giver as it is for the receiver and I know that my split second decision to give away my chocolate really did make me feel good. It is a little reminder that it doesn't take much to spread some happiness.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review: Wanniassa Bakery Hot Cross Buns

So after our disappointment with a northside bakery, S and I decided to play it safe and shop local. In the heartland of the southside, Wanniassa shops are one of those great little shopping centres. They have a supermarket, bottle shop, a couple of restaurants that punch above their suburban weight, a hairdresser and of course a bakery with a big sign advertising the availability of hot cross buns.

As we walked in we realised that not only did they have hot cross buns, they were on special! We got 6 gorgeous buns for $4 (vs 2 for $5 at Knead Patisserie - just saying) and we were much happier with this purchase.

From the male perspective, S said that these are very dense but tasty hot cross buns. They have a nice dark colour, definitely win on fruit but are let down by being just too dense, particularly towards the base. The don't have a nice glaze like the other bakeries - the top is more like a supermarket hot cross bun - but overall very good hot cross buns that don't quite tick all the boxes to get a top score.

From me: I agree, these are great hot cross buns. Loads of fruit (sultanas, raisins, currants) and great spice. I quite liked the dense texture but agreed it got a bit doughy at the base. This is definitely what you want and expect from a hot cross bun. That said the didn't have the delicious glaze or tweaked flavours that make the Flute version something a bit more special, so I would say this is a very good standard bun, but not quite into the gourmet realms of a Flute baked version.

S: 7/10
L: 7.5/10

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Restaurant Review: Soju Girl

I have to start with an admission, this was not my first visit to Soju Girl. Or even my second, or third. This is one of my favourite restaurants in Canberra and definitely always on my list when people ask for recommendations of a great place to eat. So it was with no hesitation that I agreed to a dinner with friends here recently.

Soju Girl's menu is divided into small and large plates, all of which are designed for sharing. The small plates essentially form entrees with the large plates as mains. We chose 5 small plates for our group of 6, although ended up with 7 because we doubled up on the gyoza and pork belly to ensure everyone got plenty.

Zucchini flower, sticky rice, Korean pickle, capsicum compote, soy mirin ($8 each)
I can't imagine a trip to Soju Girl without having a zucchini flower. They have changed slightly since I last had them with the sticky rice now purple from the kimchi. But even with the change they continue to be delicious, slightly acidic from the vinegary rice but balanced by the sweet mirin sauce. This is a dish as much about the texture as the flavour with the crisp batter, tender zucchini and sticky rice.

Handmade gyoza of the day (6-pieces $16)
On our visit the gyoza were pork and cabbage. They had a good pork flavour, a nicely caramalised base but the thing that made this dish was the ever so delicious dipping sauce. I was very happy we had ordered two plates so that I got to eat two of these.

Char grilled Australian squid, yakitori glaze, soba noodles ($17)
This was the most disappointing dish of the night. There wasn't anything wrong with it, it just didn't pack the flavour punch of the other dishes. Still the squid was tender and the textures interesting.

Crispy pork belly, chilli salt, fried apple puree, bacon candy ($19)
OMG the pork belly. I have no idea how they manage to get it so incredibly melt in the mouth tender. It was just yum and beautifully counterpointed by the thai basil on top but honestly this dish was made by the fried apple puree that my friend scrapped the plates to get every last drop of.

Pan tossed prawns, chilli paste, crispy noodle salad ($24)
This was another spectacular dish. Perfectly cooked prawns with a really interesting salad that included lychees, one of the few fruits I like in savoury dishes. Again this is a dish with a fantastic interplay of texture. The crispy noodles make each mouthful really interesting and the chilli sauce ties it all together.

We chose to order only 2 large plates plus steamed rice for our  main. We could have gone for a third dish or some sides but made the strategic decision to save space for dessert. I have had both of these mains numerous times before but I just can't go past them. Both are completely delicious with melt in the mouth tender meat.

Beef cheek, pickled cabbage salad, Penang cashew curry ($44)
Don't you love a curry where the meat falls apart at the touch of a spoon? This curry has a rich, meaty flavour. It isn't a hot curry, in fact I think of it almost like an asian goulash with the effect of the coconut cream in the sauce. But the richness is counterpointed by the freshness of the delicious salad that tops it. Just yum.

Coconut braised duck, lychees, Royal Thai yellow curry ($42)
The only thing I don't love about this curry is that it comes on the bone. That said the duck is so tender it is no effort at all to get it off the bone, onto your plate and into a very happy mouth. It is rich and creamy but punctuated by the sweetness of the lychees. So good.

As I mentioned, we had strategically decided to order less mains so that we could have dessert. I didn't try all the desserts so some of this review comes from my friend's opinions.

Chocolate fondant, caramel popcorn, vanilla gelato ($19)
The caramel popcorn and caramel sauce spread on the plate were both delicious, however the vanilla gelato was nothing particularly special and the fondant, while tasty, was not the best the tasters had eaten. They both commented that it wasn't quite as chocolately as they expected, tasted a little floury and the centre while soft didn't have that delicious ooze that makes for a great fondant. That said there were two very empty dishes quite quickly.

Yuzu cheesecake, tropical foam, orange crumble ($16)
This was the dessert pick of the night. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit and this deconstructed cheesecake had a fantastic citrus flavour. I often find cheesecake a bit heavy but this was light, almost mousse like and the two diners scrapped their plates clean.

Coconut pannacotta, rosewater tuille, raspberry and lychee salad ($16)
After much deliberating I chose the coconut pannacotta. I liked this dessert, however felt it needed more of a counterpoint to the sweetness of both the pannacotta and lychees. The raspberries did add a lovely acidic note but there were only about 5 of them on the plate so they weren't enough to counter the rest of the dish. The tuille was particularly light and delicious though.

The one great failing with Soju Girl in my opinion is their drinks. On this visit we chose to drink wine - mainly because our past experiences have found the cocktails to be highly underwhelming. On a previous visit we all agreed that they were universally watery in taste. On this visit one of my friends sent back his coffee because it was so bad (the replacement was deemed drinkable but not much better) and another person didn't finish their hot chocolate because it was overly sugary from the syrup. We all agreed that clearly they use up their quota of flavour in the food and have none left over for the drinks but it is a pity as it lets down a fantastic restaurant.

I will also say that this is a noisy restaurant with not much in the way of soft surfaces to baffle sound. There were only 6 of us dining but I did struggle to hear what was being said at the other end of the table at times.

However, those comments aside, a meal at Soju Girl is still a spectacular thing and I'm more than happy to venture back any time someone wants to go.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Review: Knead Patisserie Hot Cross Buns

If you are not from Canberra you may be unaware that it is actually two cities. There is the Northside and there is the Southside. People identify over whether they are from north or south of the lake. Many people will not move to "the other side" and we tend to spend our time on our side of the lake.

S and I are Southsiders, however today we ventured north and took the opportunity to visit Knead Patisserie. Knead is located inside the Belconnen Markets and is known for its bread and pastries which are very well regarded. Every table in the place was full and there was a queue of people lining up to order from the delicious looking selection. We stepped up to test out the hot cross buns.

Sadly, they were a bit disappointing. While they do have a light and fluffy texture and the apricot glaze is delicious, there was no where near enough fruit. I had numerous mouthfuls with not a single bit of fruit in it. The fruit is sultanas, currents and peel and when you got some, it was nice and juicy, just very little of it. The bread is lightly spiced but again if you had a mouthful without fruit, it was just slightly sweet, vaguely spiced bread.

I had high hopes for Knead's hot cross buns but in future I think we will just stick to their pastries.

Lisa's score 5/10
S's score 6/10 (mostly for the apricot glaze)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Book Review: The Kitchen House

From the age of about 6 I was a voracious reader. All through my childhood I devoured books and never went to sleep without reading until I was ordered to turn off the light. Even then I would usually plead for just one more chapter and after Mum or Dad had disappeared I would continue reading in the dim light cast from the hallway on the bottom corner of my bed (yes I'm sure it didn't help my dodgy eyesight at all).

Somehow as I transitioned to the adult world I lost that habit of quiet evening reading in bed. Books became something that I plowed through when on holiday in a binge of literature, but during the normal course of a week I rarely touched. This year, however, I've turned that around. I'm back to a few chapters before bed, although now it is S telling me to turn off the light and with him in the bed I can't really get in a sneaky few extra chapters!

The latest book I read was "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom. The synopsis is:

When 7-year-old Irish orphan Lavinia is transported to Virginia to work in the kitchen of a wealthy plantation owner, she is absorbed into the life of the kitchen house and becomes part of the family of black slaves whose fates are tied to the plantation. But Livinia's skin will always set her apart, whether she wishes it or not. And as she grows older, she will be torn between the life that awaits her as a white women and the people she knows as kin.

Set in the late 18th and early 19th century, the book is narrated by Lavinia, an Irish indentured servant and Belle, a half-caste negro slave and is set on a Virginian plantation. While I have to say that the writing didn't grab me - it certainly wasn't a book where I re-read sentences for the enjoyment of the words - the story certainly did.

It is essentially the story of people coping with powerlessness. Skin colour, ownership, gender, societal expectation and money all leave the main characters with extreme limitations on their ability to control their lives and allows those with power the most horrific control of the situations.

There are some fairly grim, but I suspect historically accurate episodes throughout the book and I do think fiction is a great way to learn about history. It is the kind of story where the perpetrators get their comeuppance and everything works out in the end but there is tragedy, and somehow the ending doesn't feel as trite as I thought it may have.

Overall I really enjoyed "The Kitchen House". I think it is important that books remind us of what was, and what in some parts of the world still is. While at times this is an uncomfortable read, reminders of how humans can treat each other is never wasted.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review: Flute Bakery Hot Cross Buns

The Flute Bakery is a Canberra legend. Hidden in the middle of our industrial district it is open only between 8am and 3pm Monday to Friday and only takes cash. The reality is that most of their business is supplying cafes and restaurants around the city but if you make the trek to the bakery, you get to select from an amazing and ever changing line up of cakes, pastries and breads - you just have to battle the crowds.

After trying a number of supermarket hot cross buns we decided it was about time that we stepped up the game and started on the specialist bakery offerings. S has actually been trying to get these for me for awhile but today a colleague stopped in on her way to the office to buy us afternoon tea (I know my awesome workplace has afternoon tea featuring Flute cakes on special occasions) and spotted them so got me half a dozen.

Let me just say it was super hard not to eat these then and there at my desk, but I waited so that S and I could try them together. We had one cold from the box, one slightly heated. Both were great but not surprisingly it tasted best heated.

This is a truly delicious hot cross bun. Just the smell as we opened the lid of the box was mouthwatering. The flavour has a freshness about it, I think this comes from the distinctly citrus notes. S thought that you could really tell it had been baked that day on the premises rather than baked some time before and packed in plastic like the supermarket versions we had tried.

In terms of texture, these buns are made of brioche which gives them a dense but light texture. They are packed with fruit, currants and sultanas. I couldn't see any peel, I think they must use zest to flavour the dough. S commented that even after a day sitting on my desk they were still quite moist and we both agreed that the glaze was super yummy.

The only thing we felt was lacking was the spices. The main flavour was definitely the orange, we couldn't really taste the normal cinnamon and nutmeg.

S: 8/10
Lisa: 8.5/10

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Restaurant Review: Akiba

Sometimes things don't quite go to plan. But when plans not working out ends up with delicious food and cocktails, you can't say they went too wrong.

We had headed out intending to go to the Night Noodle Markets that are forming a part of the Canberra Enlighten Festival. But it was really hot, things didn't seem that different to the Multicultural Festival a few weeks ago and there were queues. I have no problem with queues but S has the patience of a sleep deprived toddler when it comes to lining up so we decided it was not the venue for us.

Instead we headed into the city and being relatively early managed to get into Akiba without a booking. We sat at one of the benches that face the window. The view of Bunda Street may not be one of the great views in Canberra but it does make for excellent people watching.

Akiba's menu is designed for sharing and you are warned that things will come out as they are ready, not in any particular order.

First up for us was the soba noodle salad, bamboo shoots, yellow bean, sweet and sour ($12). This was very tasty, light and refreshing and I loved the crispy bits on on top, however I would have liked a few more of the tasty herbs.

As we were eating it my pork belly bun, char sui, asian slaw ($8) arrived. S had elected not to get one so I offered for him to have a bite. I always make this mistake. The man is essentially a shark and in two bites well more than half of my bun was gone. What was left was delicious. The bun was soft and fluffy, the pork tender, not at all fatty and smothered in delicious char sui sauce which was nicely countered by the mayo in the Asian slaw. I very nearly ordered a second one to make up for it but needed to save space for the rest of our meal.

Next up was Japanese fried chicken, lemon braised onions, parmesan ($16). The chicken was perfectly cooked with a fantastic crumb but I felt it was really lacking a sauce. I would have liked more of the mayo from the Asian slaw in my pork bun. However this might have been because I'm not a huge lover of onion, S ate his chicken with the lemon braised onions and said it was a great combo although he would have liked a sauce too.

Finally, we had an order of steamed prawn and chicken dumplings, ginger and black vinegar dressing ($10). The dressing is super yummy and eating these with a spoon to get as much dressing as possible was a great idea. However I felt the dumplings themselves weren't the greatest. The ginger was a bit strong and I could barely taste the prawn.

We chose to wash our meal down with a couple of Akiba's cocktails. S had the El Diablo - Calle 23 tequila, ginger beer and lime, served over mixed berry, black current ice block ($15) which he really enjoyed.

I had the Clover Club - gin, raspberry syrup and citrus ($16). This pretty much includes my favourite flavours of all time and they are perfectly matched here. Just delicious. 

Service was super prompt, we were in and out in 45 minutes without feeling rushed at all. All in all this was a delicious meal and I'm looking forward to a repeat visit. 

40 Bunda Street