25 August 2011

Kayu Manis: Lunch with Chef Wan

If you haven't heard of Chef Wan, look him up now. He's a Malaysian celebrity chef who has a number of cookbooks and cooking shows and has travelled around the world showing off the best of Malaysian cuisine. In 2009 he won "Best Celebrity Television Chef" from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and was appointed as a Culinary Ambassador by Tourism Malaysia in 2010. In 2011 (er, last week) he came to Wellington to cook at the Wellington Fisher & Paykel Masterclass along with local favourites Martin Bosley, Al Brown, Desmond Harris and Alexa Johnston. So: a pretty big deal.

On Saturday, less than 24 hours after a very full day of eating and a breakfast of miso soup with spinach leaves (appropriate considering the food eaten all weekend)  I rolled myself down the hill to Kayu Manis on Cuba St where I met up with a munch of food bloggers (yep, I'm just going to slip that one in there), some of the lovely people behind the Malaysia Kitchen NZ initiative, and (!!!!!) the super-enthusiastic and personable Datuk Chef Wan. I was so lucky to be able to get up close and personal with Chef Wan (not to mention spend time in the company of some very lovely ladies), and after seeing him mobbed by fans at the Malaysia Kitchen Night Market the following night I truly understood just what a special lunch we had.

I'm glad I went on an empty stomach. Chef Rajah of Kayu Manis certainly put on a feast for us, with Chef Wan explaining each dish as it arrived. 

Chicken & beef satay skewers were first up, served with peanut sauce, cucumber and bite-sized pieces of compressed rice. These were fantastic, well-marinated and full of flavour. Chef Wan explained a good satay sauce will coat the meat when you dip into it, rather than run off, and gave his seal of approval for this sauce: not too runny, not too thick, a lovely spicy peanutty flavour. 

Next up were the fattest spring rolls I've seen. Okay, so you may be thinking spring rolls aren't that exciting. But these were delicious: the wrapper fried to a perfect crisp, the filling a lovely combination of flavours and textures. 

The mussels in coconut curry that arrived next were incredible. When they arrived, Chef Wan started out by saying how he preferred the smaller French mussels over New Zealand green-lipped ones, which he said were tougher in texture. And then he tried one, and changed his mind: "these are fresh", he said, which were far different to the pre-packed ones he said he'd had in the past.

Chef Wan explained this type of curry is more often prepared with freshwater fish in Malaysia, and is made with turmeric (which explains the vibrant, yellow-green colour) and coconut milk. The sauce was creamy, coconutty, with a hint of spice, and we didn't let it go to waste.

Not long after we polished off the mussels we were served cucur udang, Malaysian prawn fritters. They were incredible: simultaneously light and substantial, crisp and fluffy, the batter well-seasoned and the prawns juicy and tender. According to Chef Wan, these fritters are made using all sorts of ingredients, including sweet versions (made with banana or coconut - I must try this!!) and are a popular snack or breakfast food for kids to eat before school. The sweet chilli sauce they arrived with was good, but we followed Chef Wan's lead and dipped them in the leftover coconut curry sauce from the mussels - wouldn't want it to go to waste!

We all got up to watch Chef Rajah from Kayu Manis make the roti: of the swarm of Malaysian restaurants all over Wellington, Kayu Manis is one of a handful of places that makes their roti fresh. Having spent time in Singapore and Malaysia, where fresh roti is everywhere, I certainly appreciate this - and even if you haven't been to either place, you can definitely taste the difference. 

We all got up to take photos, and Chef Wan got right amongst the action. I think we were all impressed by Chef Rajah's expert roti-flipping skills. 

And the finished product: fresh, hot, fluffy, chewy roti: nothing at all like the rubbery pre-made ones you mostly get around these parts. 

Along with the roti and plenty of rice, we were served several main dishes. The first was fish sambal: pieces of fried fish coated in an invigorating tangy-hot sambal sauce. Chef Wan explained how sambal plays an important role in the Malaysian diet, typically eaten at least 2 to 3 times a week with all sorts of things like fish, chicken liver, eggs... As far as condiments go it's pretty versatile and one of my favourite kinds of chilli sauce.

The beef rendang was, I thought, spectacular: tender beef in a rich, dark coconutty sauce full of spices. As far as rendang goes, this was one of the drier ones I've had - many Malaysian restaurants in Wellington make it with much more sauce. Chef Wan said both wet and dry are authentic; the dry version is made to be easily transportable and keeps longer.

One of the biggest crowd-pleasers was the lamb kuzi. Don't let its pale, bland-looking appearance fool you - it was packed with flavour. This dish originates from the southern part of the Malaysian state of Johor, where Arab traders left a culinary legacy in the form of the raisins and spices in this dish. There was quite a strong cardamom flavour, balanced out by the sweetness of the raisins and other spices and the meatiness of the lamb. According to Chef Wan, this dish is often also made with duck and gets a lot of its flavour not only from the spices but also caramelised shallot. Beautiful.

photo supplied by PEAD PR who are the lovely folks behind Malaysia Kitchen NZ

Aside from the wealth of information Chef Wan shared about Malaysian food, we also talked about everything from Facebook (Chef Wan's "fan club" is here, with frequent, candid updates) to cheesecake (Chef Wan spent several years in the States and apparently has even published a cheesecake cookbook). He was chatty and friendly and a walking encyclopaedia of Malaysian cuisine. I think Laura summed it up perfectly when she said it was "SO FUN and SO DELICIOUS" - five days later, I'm still on a cloud.

201 Cuba St
Te Aro
(04) 382 8627

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Milliemirepoix dined at Kayu Manis as a guest of the Malaysia Kitchen programme.

PS. You can read Rosa's version of events here, and look at Laura's photos here!

22 August 2011

Wellington on a Plate 2011: DINE Wellington roundup

As I said last time, I haven't gotten as much Wellington on a Plate action this year. I had such high hopes, plotting out which set lunches and dinners I wanted to try on the little calendar I keep at my desk. And then, bam! It was suddenly the last week of Wellington on a Plate and I hadn't made any lunch or dinner reservations as planned, and time was running out.

Luckily I had a couple of lunch dates last week as well as a food bloggers' dinner at Fratelli on Friday night (I have to apologise for the grainy photos, some of which were taken on my phone... I was more focused on eating this time around!):

Burger Wellington: Smith the Grocer

A friend and I ended up at Smith the Grocer after our first Burger Wellington choice for a quick & informal Lambton-area lunch, Astoria, was sold out of their burger* (it wasn't even 1pm!). Some hasty phone research and quick eliminations ("do you think we would've needed a booking?", "hmm, their burger sounds pretty standard") led us to Old Bank Arcade where there was plenty of room for us to sit and burgers were coming out of the kitchen left and right.

Smith the Grocer's offering for Burger Wellington was a Moroccan lamb burger ($17.90): a spiced Wairarapa lamb patty with the usual lettuce, tomato & cheese, in a Pandoro bun. Though there were a few things that could've been better (I wished the cheese was on top of the patty rather than underneath, the patty could've been juicier, the bread was a little on the dry side), it satisfied my burger craving and eased the initial panic that set in after we couldn't get a burger at Astoria ("where else around here does burgers?" "...BK?"). The tzatziki that came on the side good and we both ended up smearing some inside the burger. And although the fries weren't crinkle cut (as per the menu) they were nice and crispy and I was perfectly happy finishing them off (er, almost!).

*my friend went back the next day and said Astoria's burger was worth going back again for. Sadly, I missed out on it this time. But you can read about it on Delaney's burger blog here

Smith the Grocer
Old Bank Arcade
233-237 Lambton Quay
Wellington CBD
0800 764 843

Open Mon-Fri 7:30am-5pm; Sat 10am-4pm; Sun 10am-3pm

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Burger Wellington: Bisque on Bolton

A couple days later I was back on the burgers, this time at Bisque on Bolton in the Bolton Hotel, conveniently located across the street from my work (no rushing back down Lambton Quay on a full stomach that day!). Aside from the location, I was really excited to try Bisque's burger: the promise of paua fritter and crayfish mayonnaise was great.

"Pāuā for the People" ($22), a paua fritter with crayfish mayonnaise and salad greens, was good but there were a few things that detracted from its potential awesomeness. The fritter was tasty but was almost drowned out by the bap it arrived in (a bit dry) and the robust salad greens and tomato (a bit slippery). The crayfish mayonnaise was delicious, but most of it seemed to have soaked into the bread. I probably would've been happier deconstructing this one and eating the paua fritter with some of that crayfish mayo slathered on top. In fact, I'd happily pop back over the road if that was ever on offer at lunchtime.

The other thing I'd totally go back for were the kumara fries that came with the burger. Not your all-too-common soggy, greasy kumara fries, these. These were gloriously crispy on the outside and smooth and creamy and kumara-sweet on the inside. Some people don't like kumara fries. I am not one of those people. But I don't think it's just because I have a soft spot for kumara fries that I thought these were fantastic. If only these appeared on Bisque's regular menu... I can keep dreaming, though. 

Bisque on Bolton
Bolton Hotel
Corner of Bolton & Mowbray Streets
Wellington CBD
(04) 462 3770

Open for breakfast: Mon-Fri 6:30-10am / weekends and public holidays 7-11am; lunch: Mon-Fri 12-2pm; dinner: 7 days 6-9:30pm

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DINE Wellington: Fratelli

On Friday evening a lovely group of food bloggers and other food-type people met up for dinner at Fratelli. It was pretty funny seeing this come together: Andrea suggested it on Twitter as she was going to be in town, there was much to-ing and fro-ing on venue choice, lighting, a Twitter hashtag (#woapfbd) was born, and eventually Rosa took charge and booked us in at Fratelli.

I'd never been there before (for reasons perhaps not entirely logical or fair, I always seem to overlook the bars and restaurants on Blair and Allen streets) but was pretty excited about the $70 three-course set menu (with matching wines, of course) they had on offer. Not to mention spending an evening with the likes of these lovely ladies.

For my entree, I chose the Wairarapa beef cheek ravioli in Napolitana sauce with basil & Kapiti parmesan. I don't want to say it tasted predictable, but it tasted exactly as it should: the beef was tender, the pasta perfectly cooked, the tomato sauce just the right thickness and just enough cheese sprinkled on top to add a bit of a nutty bite. Thoroughly enjoyable.

The pan-fried fish* with celeriac puree, sauteed prawns, shaved fennel & cavolo nero was stunning (and a much more manageable portion than poor Andrea's** enormous veal shank!). The fish was perfectly seasoned, perhaps a shade overcooked for my liking but otherwise I couldn't fault the dish; it was gone in no time. I especially loved the contrast of the meaty fish, the robust cavolo nero (by far one of my favourite greens) and the smooth celeriac puree. I'll be cooking something like this at home soon.

For dessert I chose the trio of gelati and completely neglected to photograph it. To be honest, I was far more interested in tasting each of the flavours: pistachio, passionfruit & salted caramel. Each one was beautiful but I'd have to say my favourite was the pistachio, with little bits of nut (salted caramel was a close second, though!). Amazing.

Overall it was a very enjoyable dinner, and the company was just as good as the food (if not better!). The rest of the menu looked good too: I'll definitely be back.

*and here I show my total lack of attention at what fish they were using that day: I was too swept up in the conversation and in how absolutely delicious this was.

**she had come from a full day of the Fisher & Paykel Masterclass... a marathon day of food, to say the least!

15 Blair St
Wellington CBD
(04) 801 6615

Open for dinner Mon-Sat, 5:30pm onward.

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20 August 2011

Wellington on a Plate 2011:Chocolate Festival

Two years ago I went on holiday to Tonga and missed most of the inaugural Wellington on a Plate (except for this fine, fine lunch at Logan Brown). Last year I made up for it by getting in as many Dine Wellington set lunches as possible, attending the Cibo Arte event at La Bella Italia in Petone, the WLG pop-up restaurant... I'm feeling full just thinking about it all.

This year I haven't been on a Pacific Island holiday but I have been away for two of the three Wellington on a Plate weekends (having a lovely time up the mountain and in Auckland and Waiheke, I might add) and my weekdays have filled up with meetings and appointments and a general sense of oh-my-god-so-busy that I haven't even gotten to a fraction of the things on my list.

Still, I've managed to fit in a bit, including the opening of the New Zealand Chocolate Festival last weekend, where I met up with fellow food bloggers Rosa, Shirleen & Emma and wandered around tasting chocolate for a while before I (sadly) had to head back to work.

I have to admit I'm not a chocolate-mad person. I don't go weak at the knees at the mention of truffles or ganache or devil's food cupcakes. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like chocolate - but I feel the same way about it as I do about all food: if it's done well, it's the best thing in the world; if done half-heartedly, I can take it or leave it.

So the best thing about the Chocolate Festival was seeing so many of New Zealand's artisan chocolatiers in one place, seeing so many people so passionate about what they do. I was definitely wowed by several of the stallholders. I won't list them all, but here are a few highlights:

She Chocolat are one of my favourite chocolate-makers... I was won over by their Decadent Dates years ago and have been out to their shop & cafe in Governor's Bay, Christchurch a couple of times. Here they were tasting nutty and rich dark-chocolate covered cacao beans.

Schoc is a Wellington favourite (made in Greytown) and they had a table full of their usual range of chocolate bars, but the most exciting thing was the little display of some new flavours: curry & pappadom dark chocolate and "Tropical Heat" white chocolate, with hints of coconut, pineapple & curry. I didn't buy any but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for these flavours - they were unique but I can see them becoming pretty addictive. 

RQute is a relative newcomer on the chocolate scene. Rochelle roasts and grinds the cacao beans herself in the back of Ernesto on Cuba St before making adorably colourful, almost cartoon-like chocolate creations, including a range of chocolate lollipops and chocolate puzzles (which would make great gifts).

Criollo chocolates were down from Auckland selling a range of exquisite-looking moulded chocolates. The highlight for me, though, were these pralines. Light and crunchy and sweet but not overwhelming. I nearly bought a box until I realised I'd probably eat them all before I got back to work.

I couldn't not include Esque - the very lovely Annette is at the City Market most Sundays (I posted about it here) and makes the most special chocolate, exquisitely flavoured and elegantly wrapped in paper and ribbon. I took a block of her "buzz" chocolate - dark chocolate with manuka honey brittle - back to work in the hopes it'd soften the fact I was gone for so long on a Friday morning. It may have worked: it disappeared in a flash! 

I'm glad I was able to attend the chocolate festival, even if I did miss out on some of the demonstrations because I had to run back to work. Other highlights included the tasting session run by Swiss chocolatier Rene Fellman (it makes sense, but I never stopped to think that slowing down and breathing in could bring out so many layers of flavour) and the warm, gooey pain au chocolate I messily ate while the opening formalities took place (and quickly ran away to wash the melted chocolate off my hands as soon as I could... oops!).

The organisers said they're hoping to make the NZ Chocolate Festival a regular event, and it might move around the country... here's hoping it's in Wellington again soon!