Sunday, August 29, 2010

An Evening with the Master - TETSUYA'S, Sydney

Apart from the almost inconspicuous name at the gate there was no other indication that a Michelin starred restaurant is located in this battle-axe block behind a heritage listed property on Kent St, Sydney.

Yes, there was and still is a gate which further emphasises the exclusivity of Tetsuya's (and made me wonder if they'll let me in). Guests are normally chauffeured in. I'm one of the very few who came by foot.

The evening started with drinks at the bar where I joined a dozen or so of my dining companions. Various aperitifs were on offer including Bollinger champagne. I was still too much in awe at that stage and decided to have some sparkling water instead.

Before we knew it we were all ushered to the upstairs section of the restaurant where the man himself was quietly completing some final touches for his master class.

Tetsuya's Master Kitchen by Electrolux was a sight to behold. One major feature of his impressive domain is the absence of any buttons/knobs/dials/handles etc. which makes keeping it spick and span easy (an army of staff doesn't hurt either). Heat levels seem to magically change with the slide of his finger. His cupboards open/close with a slight touch. I would love to have my kitchen fitted as such. But that dream would have to remain...a dream.

With all his accomplishments and various honours chef/owner Tetsuya Wakuda did not put on airs. He gladly answered every question in his soft-spoken manner. At the end of the class he also happily stayed for photos with humble bloggers like yours truly. Calling him Tets did not seem irreverent any more after personally talking to the man. One priceless thing I found out that evening is the fact that he does not like salmon.

He began the master class by skilfully preparing a warm tuna salad with black beans and orange garnished with fine tendrils of chilli. I scoffed this dish down like there's no tomorrow. No precise measurements were provided. As suggested by Tets, it's all up to the diner. This plate of sublime elegance is definitely something I will give a go at home. Tets made it seem easy enough.

Next to Japanese, Italian is his other favourite cuisine. He demonstrated this by showing us how to cook fregola/fregolone (a type of pasta from Sardinia) for a quick yet impressive meal anyone can do at home. He prepared fresh tomato sauce which he lavishly finished off with spanner crab meat from Noosa.

Other tips from the Master:

1. Use grapeseed oil (mainly for non-Italian dishes). It can stand higher temperatures than other oils.

2. Tuna is best aged a couple of days rather than fresh out of the sea to allow the fish to develop that distinct tuna taste.

3. Fresh tuna is best wrapped in paper towel then plastic wrap before storing in the fridge.

4. Use medium to low temperature when cooking garlic in oil for Italian dishes.

We were then escorted to our table to begin the evening’s degustation. We were first served with a choice of fresh sourdough or Italian bread and luxurious butter whipped with ricotta, black truffles and parmesan. That definitely set the scene for an evening full of superlatives.

Rather than boring you with details of the menu I purposely took a photo of every single dish and labelled them accordingly.

If I’m to choose a favourite it would have to be the oxtail with sea cucumber. It was rich, smooth, melt in your mouth stickiness. Among the desserts I’m very partial to the warm bread and butter pudding. It was cinnamony creamy comfort goodness served in a pot.

To cap off what was already an unforgettable dining experience a gift bag was handed over to us containing a signed copy of Tetsuya the cookbook, truffle salt, and a box of macarons amongst other things.

Once in a lifetime is the only way to describe it. As much as I would like to think it will happen again I know it will be a while if at all.

The Beancounter was a guest of Electrolux. Flights, accommodation and dinner at Tetsuya were part of Electrolux Tetsuya Masterclass Competition.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Birthday Lunch @ IKEA

With its maze like set-up and kids' activity corners scattered throughout the store you can easily be forgiven for thinking Ikea was designed with only kids in mind. But that is exactly the beauty of it and what sets it apart from all other furniture stores. Both kids and the more mature in age will find something to hold their attention. For a family man like me it's heaven sent.

Let's get one thing straight though before I continue. I am not associated with Ikea in any shape or form. Having Swedish designed items in my house does not count! I paid for them with my hard earned cash. None were given to me for free. My whole family just genuinely enjoy the place.

I therefore did not think it odd that Yaya would request to have her birthday lunch at Ikea. Also, with a variety of reasonably priced meals how could I say no? $1 hot dogs anyone? But they are so much more than cheap reconstituted meat..

A must for a first timer are meatballs, gravy, mashed potato and chips. I don't exactly know how the Swedes enjoy theirs but that's the combination we like

One thing Yaya and I enjoy that no other family member seem to share is gravalax/gravlax (raw salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill). She started sharing my plate of a Swedish Open Sandwich as a toddler and has not stopped since.

Ikea is also one of the few places in Brisbane that offers bottomless drinks. Pay once and you can have as much lingonberry juice as you can handle.

There's also a variety of desserts on offer. To complete the lunch we shared some ice cream, chocoloate mousse, berry yoghurt and Swedish apple cake.

By the way, you can easily replicate the meals at home by getting the ingredients from their food store (follow an old post here).

Total bill, less than $30. Kids' smiles all around, priceless!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hello Kitty Cake for Yaya's 6th

My little fashionista is now 6! And to celebrate Yaya's (Elishah) birthday my wife came up with a cake that defines her as a young girl with a sophisticated taste for fashion.

Cherry's design inspiration came from a blanket. Using fondant she made an edible version of Hello Kitty. She used white chocolate mud cake as the base. And, for another layer of chocolate hit she covered it with milk chocolate ganache.

To add that touch of understated elegance she finished it off by artistically placing a black bow around the base of the cake.

The main thing that distinguishes Yaya from the rest of my kids is her sartorial sense. Black, a rare colour of choice for a little girl, is something she wears with flair. Her dream is to one day have her own boutique.

wearing her favourite bolero

Yaya's style of walk and the way she carries herself cause one to notice her. Even something as mundane as her manner of eating ice cream makes one look. An acquaintance who couldn't contain herself pointed this out to every parent in the room. I feel very proud as her dad.

Here's to you my princess. Happy 6th birthday! May God richly bless your every step!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Chilli Crab Revisited

macadamia nuts

The flu season has brought with it blocked noses. Consequentially, my wife has suffered loss of appetite. To bring back to life that which was lost I cooked some chilli crab. The flavour and spice hit it brings was sure to deliver and more...

chilli flakes

Some of you are probably wondering why a photo of macadamia nuts is prominently displayed. Read on to find out.


The foundation of a good chilli crab is a good rempah. Rempah is what Indonesians and Malaysians call their spice paste made from fresh herbs and/or dry spices. And one essential ingredient in the rempah is candle nut. It is named as such as the nuts can be strung together and lighted up like candles.

alimasag (blue swimmer crabs)

I've never seen them in the Philippines but apparently we have what we call lumbang after which the town of Lumban, Laguna was named after. If you know more about this please do not hesitate to comment.

cooked spice paste (sauce that has to split)

Although candle nuts are readily available in Australia there weren't any when I shopped for my chilli crab. Macadamia, which is both rich and buttery, is my chosen substitute. It's got none of the bitterness of the candle nuts but adds depth and texture to the sauce. Not many are aware of this but macadamia, although successfully cultivated in Hawaii, is in fact an Australian native.

The recipe below is a variation on the chilli crab recipe I posted here:

Chilli Crab ala Beancounter

3 fresh crabs cleaned and halved, leave the main shell whole
Some flour
3 large onions
3 cloves of garlic
a knob of ginger
Fresh chillies to taste
Chilli flakes or dried chillies to taste
4-6 macadamia nuts
1 tablespoon belacan (shrimp paste)
1 large onion chopped (yes, another one)
1/2 cup tomato ketchup/sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup stock
Salt to taste
Oil - lots of it

1. First, you need to make the rempah or spice paste. Combine the onion (the first 3), garlic, ginger, various chillies, and macadamia nuts in a food processor. Blitz until they turn to paste. You make this as fine or chunky as you like.
2. Heat up some oil for deep frying.
3. Coat the crab pieces in flour. Shake off the excess flour. Fry the crab pieces until they are about half way done. This should take approximately 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
4. Heat up a bit of oil then saute the chopped onion (yes, the other one) until it is nicely caramelised.
5. Add the rempah and cook for about 10 minutes.
6. Add the tomato ketchup and the sugar. Cook for another 2 minutes.
7. Add the stock. Reduce the sauce to a consistency you prefer.
8. Add the fried crab pieces. Make sure all the crab is coated well by the sauce.
9. Lower the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes or until the crab pieces are cooked.
10. Garnish with some fresh coriander. Serve hot!