Keel over Kale, Cauliflower is in town

Take a bow and move aside please, Kale. Cauliflower is the new Must-have vegetable accessory. There’s nothing you can’t do with cauliflower – make it into rice or pizza or chug it down raw. You can smash it, mash it, pulverise it, roast it. You can spiral it, grind it, bind it and blowtorch it. Take that kale! You could do some of those things but you could never pull off rice or pizza.

It’s strange to think that the humble cauli, the veg that used to be like an embarrassing cousin at the wedding, is this year’s new It food.

But why? And how? Who decided you could rub it with spices and roast whole in the oven and call it Cauliflower Roast? Who exactly is the cauliflower Insta-influencer who told us cauliflower’s time has come. Who is the marketing genius who pared it first with pomegranate? And most importantly, with demand skyrocketing, where are the cauliflowers grown? Did farmers have to rip out kale plants to put in cauliflower? The logistics are fascinating.

Now that cauliflower has been elevated to the big league, I want to know how did we ever survive without having cauli in every meal? That was madness.

I’m not anti-cauliflower (although those those teensy tiny florets sure are mess mavens). If you smother it in salt and oil it tastes pretty good (which is the only way we got through the kale years). As far as fake rice goes it tastes pretty good and is nearly as cheap. It’s good to see it is finally getting the recognition it deserves but I’m worried for it. Kale lasted about 3 – 5 years and cauliflower is destined to do the same. Once you’ve had it as rice pizza, mac and cheese, whole roasted or raw with a vegan dip where can you go? And what will be next?

Zucchini has some form thanks to zucchini noodles, it probably has a little too much Latin flair. I’m thinking celeriac, which has a face like a dropped pie, or else turnip. They both have the advantage of looking and sounding bad, a prerequisite for the next hit vegetable. Until we can 3D print the next new veg, Kalieflower, perhaps?

Advertisements

Fancy a Tonka Bean Fizz?

So who decided that drinking gin and whiskey is now a thing. In the last few years there’s been an explosion of gin bars, speakeasys and whiskey rooms popping up faster than a Donald Trump tweet. These bespoke bars are a study in comfy clubby leather furniture, old-school framed pictures and hipster pot plants. Many of them invoke the 20’s and 30’s – an era that millennials are obsessed with and think they invented. It goes with the fixed gear bikes, upturned milkcrates and jam jars in an ex butcher’s shop. Throw in a bearded bartender, artsy menu and ridiculous prices and you are all set to order your gin fling (craft beer and organic wine is so last century).

So what to choose? Why not start with a staple. For instance a freshly foraged Lemon Aspen Gimlet with locally foraged berries which are pureed into a sorbet using liquid nitrogen.

Or how about a Pressed Kale Fizz or Green Ant Gin Julep with dill infused green Chartreuse and orange marmalade syrup. Want something more nuanced? Try a Norwegian foraged Cornish Cumbrian or a charcoal filtered sling with a shot of green pea tonic. To mix things up a bit add a single origin shot of peanut butter bitters mist, a cold drip coffee sphere, wood smoke popcorn or an infusion of whey vapour.

If this seems more confusing than ordering a glass of house red, then it’s important to know who is to blame. HIPSTERS! Not content with beer, wine or a gin and tonic, hipsters have to overdramatize the gin and whiskey scene. Make it something it is not, make it expensive and impenetrable. Make it an expensive conglomeration, not just a drink you have in summer on the balcony before you get stuck into the vino. And now, not only does it cost the earth but you have to wait a long time before that first sip. By the time the bartender (sorry, mixologist) has added small batch cardamom mist and hand-massaged pomegranate seed to your drink, it is a good six minutes, which is five and a bit minutes longer than I ever want to wait for a beverage. Anyway who wants salad in their drink. The more greenery you put in it, generally the less gin there is and the more it costs. Clearly hipsters are not very bright.

Not content with gin, hipsters have also moved into whiskey and spinning it like a vinyl record. I can see why whiskey is hipster heaven or on point as an actual hipster would say. Whiskey bars are intimate and clubby and the names of whiskies usually sound bespoke and hand-crafted. Besides who doesn’t want to imbibe a wee dram in a place called Irish Snug, Swine Moonshine, Whiskey Ginger.

Luckily for hipsters, no-one really knows how to drink whiskey. It is a drink that was last around in the 1950’s and 60’s, which means millennials have been able to pretend they invented it. Anyone who was thoroughly refreshed by a whiskey bar in the 50’s isn’t going out to bars any more.

Even though I’m not that ancient, I yearn for that time a few short years back when I could order a glass of $8 wine in a bar with only a short queue. Of course, this gin fling and whiskey fetish is nothing new. It’s the new smashed avo only in liquid form. Like edible flowers it won’t last. And like millennials it will fade and get old then wither. Just not soon enough.

The insatiable craze of tasting plates

The current fad for tasting plates makes me want to break some dishes. Preferably Greek style. I want to break them one tiny tasting plate at a time until all the world’s tasting plates have been eliminated and we can get back to one square meal on a non-square plate.

According to this self-styled foodie, tasting plates are a cunning, not to mention, successful way to drive profits. These tasty sharing plates come with a rather hefty price tag, usually retailing at $16 and upwards.

According to restaurant marketing people, the ethos behind the whole tasting plate craze is that you share them and make the meal a convivial experience and in so doing make the world a better place. Possibly even create world peace between Greeks and Germans. At least until you get the bill.

It seems that tasting plates are really just a pimped up entree. How else can you explain that menus now offer the option of tasting plates followed by the main meal? How else can you explain the augmented price tag? How else do you explain words like pulled pork belly on a bed of cauliflower puree and passionfruit sauce? Not to mention duck and Bunya nut cream or any words involving spanner crab and lettuce.

I reckon tasting plates are a good way to spend good on garnish and a weird meat and the sooner the tasting plate craze gets unceremoniously sent back to the kitchen to wash dishes, the better.

Taking the plate is a jarring note

Due to great plate shortage and the knife and fork famine circa 2012 and ongoing to this day, cafes are serving things up in jars and the plate has gone the same way as the tonka bean.

Why?

It’s like a pair of smelly old sandshoes is in charge of table service and thought it would be classy. Either that or Manu, in a French-flavoured fit of pique, cried, “They don’t like ze escargots infused with duck fat?! Let them eat splinters from chopping board wrapped in a salmonella jus. I’ll even throw in this old set of steak knives.”

You know, those in the know will say it’s an attempt to juxtapose the complexity of modern life with a pared down existence, walls, lighting, table settings, all pared back to the underpants.

Those not in the know, will just think that’s a lot of jam to get through to empty out all those jars.

As for death of a plate, food is now presented on chopping blocks, bricks, anything but a plate which has done the job for approximately 30 centuries but that hasn’t stopped inner city hipsters from having a go at it.

Knives and forks are still floating around, but brought to the table in another jam jar. They are trying to make everything look homestyle by having it mismatched. But weirdly, nowadays, thanks to pressure from Better Homes and Gardens everything at home now matches.

It’s not all restaurants or cafes that have no cutlery. Just the expensive funky ones, usually with one word names like Roast, Grill, Sal and Whip (sorry, ignore that last word, I got carried away).

There is no point complaining. This is an actual conversation in Sydney today.

Restaurant goer: Waiter, I’m eating soup off a bathroom tile with an eggbeater and a fish knife.

Waiter: well, sir/madam/gender of choice this is a hatted restaurant. What did you expect? A plate? (insert Sydney waiter sneer).

It’s hard to know where this will end. Will it end? Will your next meal be served on a an old vinyl record, car wheel, playing cards, the kitchen floor.

On that note, excuse me,  have to go and open a jar of jam. I have run out of cups.

How to get ’em queueing

It’s easy to make money in Sydney. All you need to do is not do anything people actually need and instead buy a struggling old business, do a Mexican streetfood refit and then advertise your new eatery.

There are virtually no post offices, old-school garages and butcheries left in this town, they’ve already been transformed into The Garage, The Butcher’s Block or La Stazione or Il Postino. Bookstores have already turned themselves into cafes, and next will surely be newsagents and banks.

Meanwhile the owners of the themed cafes are laughing all the way to the bank. People are queuing up faster than you can say doppia macchiato to get a slice of contrived action.

As for menu, well, basically sorted. Pepe butter, Sonoma bread, Hanks Jams. There must be macaroons, vine-ripened tomatoes and hay-fed pork sausages from Bangalow. And it must be overpriced.

Then – cue stroke of genius – the business doesn’t take bookings, giving the impression that they are really popular, cool, hip and in demand. And sit back let em queue, let ’em queue and sit back and walk to the bank. Hold on, it’s already a new cafe, La Banque. Heard it’s good.

American diner food is a real cheek

It’s ironic that for years we have pilloried American food and now in Sydney, American diner food is the new hip food at any half-trendy restaurant.

It’s hard to swivel sideways in a Sydney nosherie without seeing corn gritts, pulled pork collar butt (I am not making this up), waffles, wings, sliders, ham slow-roasted in Coca Cola, Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Whooppee Pie.

If you go to the site www.thisiswhyyourefat.com compare it with Sydney’s haute, hip cuisine, you’ll see it’s basically the same thing. KFC Deep Fried Soup featured on This Is Why You’re Fat will be Sydney’s next go-to dish – you heard it first here!

I could care less (as the Americans would say) but it’s just so weird. Since when did hot dogs become hip? What was wrong with the foam of 2009? Or the tonka bean of 2010? Why did we have to go to the pulled pork butt cheek? I know most chefs are whackjobs, but they are on way too many drugs this time.

Some might say it is a nostalgic return to the Yankee comfort food of the 1950s. I reckon it’s junk food for grown ups and a nice little earner for restauranteurs – how expensive can corn with a side of mayo, Mac ‘n’ Cheese and miniature burgers be?

All I can say is, please stop! And next time I see a piece of meat infused in Coca Cola with a $45 price tag, I’ll pull my own pork cheek.

Small bars; big price

If you are looking for a butcher, post office, garage or corner shop, chances are it has been converted into a too-cool-for-my-pinot wine bar.

Of course, Melbourne has had small bars for a while, but Sydney has embraced it like it was all its idea the whole time. Small bars are liberally sprinkled in the city and inner west and now they are sweeping the north shore, like an out-of-control bushfire. Or herpes.

Small bars always have a bit of a theme (even Granny’s boudoir would do), a bizarre wine list, miniature food portions and hipster waitstaff from the inner west on temporary protection visas.

Then there’s the price. A quiet drink at a small bar is likely to cost the same as a big night out. These small bars don’t get out of bed for less than $10 a glass of wine, with some bars charging as much as $18 a glass.

Food is around $12 a plate for a few morsels, so let’s do the maths. For two drinks and two tasting plates and we are up to $40. At least. And if you want dessert, you may need to sell a kidney or two.

I’ve got nothing against small bars, they are cute, safe and don’t televise sport (hooray). But it’s an expensive way to eat and drink – and that’s no small matter.