Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kermadec Restaurant, Auckland

We had a brilliant weekend in Auckland, and one of the highlights of the stay was the  Kermadec Restaurant and the degustation menu. This is not so much a review as a hazy recollection.

The Kermadec, located right in the middle of all the action of the Viaduct, has long been a favourite of mine, and I didn't need much encouragement when LW suggested we go there for her birthday.

We started with an "amuse bouche" which was a cube of watermelon surrounded by a cold watermelon soup. More of a glass of fruit juice than anything else, it was refreshing as could be. I was drinking a very dry sherry, whilst LW had a cocktail called Rosebud

Then we were onto the fishy starters: firstly, Kingfish carpaccio with yuzu, soy,  radish and fresh wasabi. Stunningly fresh and jumping with sharpness and bite.

The second fish dish was a nutty scallop dish and beautifully rounded and balanced, quite soft and luxurious.

I was going to have a glass of Perigrine pinot gris with these 2 dishes, but the waiter, although charming, was so busy that by the time he got round to it, I was ready for something darker for the red meat.

The main course was a very rare venison with roasted shallots and chocolate "soil" that went with the delightfully tender deer extremely well. I drank a Gimblett Gravels Merlot with this that was smooth to the point of no return. It slipped down so well that our waiter, seeing my thirst, came and topped up the glass.

And the dessert! A sphere of blueberry sorbet that had been chilled with liquid Nitrogen and filled with the lightest fruit mousse. Served with sorrel and olive oil which makes it sound right peculiar, but it wasn't. It was amazing.

By the time the waiter brought out a very fancy "happy birthday" plate written in chocolate with petit fours on the side, which tasted of rich fruit cake crossed with rich chocolate pudding) we were done!

For completeness sake, here's the whole menu:

Cooling fruit, hibiscus, tansy, cornflower, chamomile and bergamot
Salads Goats cheese tube, Detroit red beetroot, hazelnut, orange, leaves, buds, flowers
Curious cropper tomatoes, muscovado olive, pine nut, basil, burnt fennel, fresh buffalo curd $23.00
English peas, Dutch white broad beans, spring onion, mushroom chawanmushi, crystal and paper $22.00
Entrée Roasted veal sweetbreads, marzipan macaroni, butternut squash, ginger, red sage
Silky chicken, Koura, young coconut, lemon grass, piquant consommé finger lime $22.00
Scallops, butter apple, toasted oats and milk, hazelnut butter, rosemary $23.00
Auckland Island scampi, soubise cream, clove, mini sweet carrot, seven spices, almond zephyr $26.00
Easterbrook quail, hulled wheat, black pudding, truffle chestnuts, tea prune, parsnip, anise hyssop $22.00
Southern ocean kingfish carpaccio, yuzu juice, mirin, soya bean, daikon, pink radish, fresh coppers folly wasabi $20.00
Living Oysters wild and farmed freshly shuckedKERMADEC RESTAURANT MENU Main Course
Wild Red deer, beetroot purée, Tarakan chocolate, Banyuls, shallot, raspberries $42.00
King Cole duck, Whitlof, cherries, Tokyo turnip, olive paste, yuba pastilla $39.00
Master stock braised Wagyu short rib, summer roots, leaves and flowers, garlic Crème Brûlée $ 40.00
John Flynn grass fed beef rib eye agria potato fondant, gentlemans relish $42.00
Perendale lamb loin, goats cheese sandwich, fennel, Muscatel, broad beans, mint, gorse $42.00
Poulet Rouge, smoked mussel, velouté, rock lobster, white asparagus $46.00
Roasted Hapuku, pea vichyssoise, gem lettuce, periwinkles, crumbled pancetta, tarragon $39.00
John Dory, cucumber, garlic cream, lemon confit, quinoa, currents baby leeks $42.00
Bread, Tubers, leaves, fruits, pods
Bread, organic flour, fresh churned butter made daily $4.50 Mixed leaf salad $10.00 Potato and truffle croquettes $9.00 Globe artichokes, Roma tomato, cucumber, buffalo yoghurt, lemon, saffron $12.00 Asparagus toasted nut and olive cereal $9.00
Tasting Menu
Cooling fruit, hibiscus, tansy, cornflower, chamomile and bergamot
Southern ocean kingfish carpaccio, yuzu juice, mirin, soya bean, daikon, pink radish, fresh coppers folly wasabi
Scallops, butter apple, toasted oats and milk, hazelnut butter, rosemary
Wild Red deer, beetroot purée, Tarakan chocolate, Banyuls, shallot, raspberries
Iced blueberry balloon, cassis, olive oil, cheesecake, baby sorrel
Head Chef: Richard Highnam Pastry Chef: Brian Campbell

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chilli or Chili (or Chile even)!

There's one thing that gets me really excited in the food realm, and that's chillies (Can you tell from my blog background?). I'm not sure whether its the risk that comes with the burning from them, and how that can go from underwhelming to completely destructive, or maybe it's the jewel-like beauty of the plants when the fruits start to grow and ripen. It could even be the instant endorphin rush that comes with the fiery burning taste. And I really love the fact that the sensation of burning is illusory; that our senses are being toyed with by nature's chemical warfare.

Whatever it is, I'm doubly indebted, on an annual basis to LW, who is so good at growing chillies. Doubly, because she hates the heat from chillies. The plants need a long season and plenty of sunshine and heat, and this year (and last year) we have had both. I'm very excited about the sauces I will make from the fresh crop this season, but meanwhile, as the ones in the garden start to ripen, I have taken down the lovely strands of dried chillis from last year that have been waiting patiently for me in the pantry, and made some jars of chilli salt.
some of the dried chillies

The recipe could not be easier: take the whole dried chillies, put them in a spice grinder (we use a coffee grinder - but not the one we use for coffee)
ready for grinding

and pulverise until finely powdered - seeds and all. Then add some salt to preserve, desiccate and season, and, if warranted, a little sugar too. And then put in a well-sealed dry jar. And that's it!
the condiment is ready

A couple of observations: the dust gets very fine, and airborne. Some coughing, sneezing, choking and rolling on the floor in agonizing, but illusory, pain is inevitable. Breathing apparatus, goggles, and a 20 micron charcoal reticulation filter in a fume chamber will keep this to a minimum.

But the result is worth it; the salt is brilliant for all kinds of things; a rub for roasts, seasoning for all kinds of spicy dishes; a tiny pinch with some cubes of cheese; mixed into a batter to coat squid for frying; baked potatoes a la masochisme; swahili tadpoles; the list is elsewhere.

And finally, when we were at the Waimamaku wild west festival yesterday, I scored a Bhut Jolokia chilli. (I am indebted to Clint from Fire Dragon Chillies for that!) For a while, this fruit was regarded as the hottest chilli in the world. I say for a while because the title is controversial, and growers seem to breed increasingly hot chillis every year. But it's hot enough. About 4 times hotter than a habanero (my all-time favourite). This one is going to provide me seeds for next year (all being well) and I may well eat the flesh. I'll see if I can stand it! I'm not a macho "I can eat hotter chillies than you can" sort of person, but the taste from some of these very hot ones is beautiful, and the heat, as I say, generates an almost instantaneous endorphin rush. My favourite way of eating them is to soak the finely sliced flesh in light soy and a little rice vinegar for a few minutes, and then eat with some plain rice. I'll post the results.
my very own bhut jolokia!

Well, I just de-seeded and chopped the rather frightening and aromatic chilli, being careful (sharp knife and fork) not to cover my fingers in the juice from the flesh. It smelt amazingly pungent and sweet at the same time. I put the seeds to one side to dry and have marinaded the flesh in soy and vinegar as planned. It is delicious! It tastes almost smoked, with a tropical fruit sweetness reminiscent of mango, or pineapple. But, bloody hell it's hot, in a creeping, "will this stop getting hotter because I can no longer think" kind of way. The reduced brain activity must surely be a reflection of the endorphin rush, and lasts about 15 min, but it's now an hour later and my lips still burn if I lick them. I think I have never tasted a hotter fresh chilli, ever. I may also have a new favourite...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


It's that time of year that we go from famine to feast where tomatoes are concerned. Not that tomatoes are concerned about much.

I'm so proud of LW who's been slaving away in the veggie garden, tending the seeds she germinated, encouraging the seedlings, weeding, feeding and and pruning the swiftly-growing plants so that they crop well without falling over in the sub-tropical storms that pop up just when its time for the tomatoes to ripen. As a result, we have a beautiful crop of tomatoes, with a few amazing varieties represented here. The "Moneymaker" is the standard, and tastes good enough, and looks great, the "Beefsteak" is big and tasty, and the "Great White" (which is yellow) is great (but yellow), but the star is the "Brandywine"; a huge (as much a 500g per fruit) and ugly, split, odd, and misshapen as a tomato could get. But the flesh is a dense, almost watermelon texture, with few seeds, and the taste is that pure, old-fashioned sweet and tangy flavour that all tomatoes used to have until they started appearing in supermarkets with labels saying things like "grown for flavour" on them.
of course I removed any dodgy bits...

Naturally, they all ripen at the same time and the glut has to be used. And our favourite is passata. It could be made and put in jars, but we prefer to freeze ours and it keeps for a year, no problem.

Here's what I do: Gently sweat an onion and a few cloves of garlic. Deglaze the pan with white wine and some worcester sauce and add a few herbs. For this one I used dried "herbes de provence" and some salt
then add about 5 kilos of chopped tomato, and let it simmer in its own juices for about an hour. 
no really, I did.

well, you'd never know.

Once the tomatoes have softened and fallen apart, put the whole lot through a mouli, and then bag it up in 250ml portions for the freezer.

It makes a great pizza topping, or pasta sauce, or, as LW did, is the basis for a brilliant ketchup

Very useful stuff, and a great way of stretching out the tomato season all year round.

Chicken Satay Mk2

Hello again! I've been remiss on my posting, but now I'm back.

We had a few leftovers the other night; a garlicky chicken stock from a roast chicken, some pieces of cold roast chicken, and the usual selection of seasonal veggies; so it was time for another chicken satay. Especially as my thoughts have turned to the island of Bali, where LW and I and a couple of good friends from Melbourne are heading in August...

I cooked the rice in the garlic and chicken stock for a rice that was quite delicious, and a wee bit "Heinanese"

I made a salad by finely dicing the tomatoes and cucumber, and then adding some coarsely ground roast cashews. I added parsley (because the coriander has all gone to seed) and Vietnamese basil, & then dressed it with a combination of rice wine vinegar, fish sauce and olive oil.

The chicken was too friable to stay on skewers, so I shredded it and fried it until frispy in hot oil, and then added a satay sauce made from peanut butter and all the usual condiments. In the frying pan it instantly curdled and clung to the fried chicken like a shy toddler to it's mother's leg.

I then served it all up, and within a matter of minutes, it was gone, and all we had left was a delicious aftertaste.

Monday, January 10, 2011

a culinary miscellany

Hello all, and a very happy new year! We've just had a lovely 2 weeks wherein my Mum and Dad came and visited us from Yorkshire! They had good weather, and we ate and drank like it was christmas. Now I'm a little sad, they have gone away, and my stomach is looking forward to a week of light, vegetarian food to recover!

Meanwhile, here are some highlights from the last few days:

1: The confit of duck (see previous post) cooked up beautifully!

All I can say is: I must do it again soon; very succulent, very moreish, and probably shortening my life by a day or 2. But as long as it shortens the far end of it, I'm happy with that.

2: Kamakura is a restaurant in Russell, and, although it is a lovely place, we have omitted to go there for nearly 2 years. I can't think why. We took the foot ferry from Paihia, a brief journey guaranteed to make the meal feel like a holiday. The weather was sublime, and the sunset dramatic.
And the food was even better than I remembered; I had a salad of soft-shell crab with asian greens and sesame dressing,
followed by a remarkable shoulder of lamb slow-cooked in duck fat.
And lo! It was even better than the confit of duck! I have to try this at home. Everyone's meal was of an equally good calibre, and we will definitely be back.

3:. We took Mum and Dad to Auckland to stay overnight and than take them to the airport today. This involved a lengthy and lovely lunch at the Crystal Harbour chinese restaurant on the viaduct. Every lunchtime they do Yum Cha, and it was really good, and, as usual, we ordered too much. The evening saw us at Kermadec, also on the viaduct and the meal there was brilliant; The seared tataki yellowfin tuna was just right, and the pork belly was excellent, too.
Mum and dad had a really lovely salmon tartare, and the grilled snapper that LW had and the grilled bluenose cod Dad had were sensational.

And so, back home, where, for want of something a little simpler, LW picked some of the corn-cobs from the veggie garden. Steamed, buttered and salted it was definitely the sweetest corn we've ever had. Even raw it was superb.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Confit of Duck

There may be a theme emerging. Fatty, unctuous meats cooked slowly and often more than once. This is no coincidence. Confit of duck is one of my favourite things in the world of food; the first thing I look for on a restaurant menu, and one of the reasons for which I love the south-west of France so much. (Even if it is a little distance from here...)

And yet, I've never cooked a confit of duck (nor any other meat for that matter), so I thought I'd better start somewhere, and christmas seemed a better place than most. This year, LW and I are going to spend christmas afternoon with our good friends with whom we share soup and sandwiches over the winter months. We're sharing the cooking, and then we shall, in traditional style, eat too much, and snooze...

So to the confit. 2 days ago, I butchered two ducks into portions: 4 legs, 8 pieces of breast and wing.

I then thoroughly seasoned the meat with a dry rub of salt (loads) pepper, thyme, bayleaf and garlic. The pieces were then packed into a baking dish and allowed to marinade for 48 hrs in the fridge.

Today, I batch fried the pieces in a little oil to brown the surfaces of the meat and skin.

Meanwhile, in a low oven (140 degC) I melted my entire collection of duck fat. This was about 1.5 litres of it, including the fat rendered from the pieces whilst I browned them.

Once the browning was done, I packed the pieces as tightly as I could into the baking dish full of melted duck fat (it nearly covered them)
and put the whole lot in said low oven for 2 hours, at which point the meat should be nearly falling off the bone (but not quite). Any portions that were not completely covered by fat need turning 2-3 times during the process.

This is as far as I have gone as I write.

The next stage will be to allow the whole lot to cool, and then pack it into sterile preserving jars until we get hungry. They'll keep like this for months if necessary, but it's unlikely that any will last as long as that due to the seductive power of the canard.

To cook, the meat simply needs cooking very hot in an oven for another 5 minutes until the skin is frispy. The fat can be recycled for another day. Needless to say, none of it goes to waste; it's the best thing in the known universe.

Photos will be posted. Duck will be eaten, and, in related news, we have several ducklings running around the garden, blissfully unaware of their rather tenuous future. Forage, my pretty ones, live lives of reckless joy...

French Onion Soup

Just what I'm doing making a rich, hearty soup on a day which, whilst pouring with rain, is also about 23degC and very humid, is anyone's guess. But the guess would have to include in it the notion that I'm making Confit of Duck for the 1st time, and I couldn't possibly let a litre of fragrant, sweet duck stock go to waste (or the freezer, which now resembles an old, forgotten mini black hole that someone made with the Large Hadron Collider and then quickly shoved into a cupboard to gather dust, and everything else within its event horizon, before anyone noticed.)

So soupe a l'oignon it is.

I'll admit, I made this up, it may be a mile or two from the authentic, but it tasted delicious, and there's none left. When the humidity reaches about 90%, my inclination to research tends towards zero.

I very gently sweated 3 medium sized onions for about 40 min, with a spoonful of soft brown sugar and some oil.
When they were very soft, I upped the heat, and deglazed the pan with some sherry, some brandy and some white wine. The smell was excellent! I also added some dark soy sauce for depth of colour and saltiness.

The stock was ready and heated, and when the alcohol was burnt off the onions, I added it, and seasoned to taste. Yum.

Meanwhile, I sliced a baguette, and drizzled some olive oil onto the slices which I then baked in a medium oven for 30 min to croutonize them. I made an aiolioilio (I'm sure that's how everyone in Italy, Spain, Portugal and southern France spells it) with wet garlic (just in season) salt (the seasoning, not the spy) and really good olive oil added slowly to form a thick emulsion.

I then slathered the croutons with the garlicky paste and covered them with grated gruyere.

The toasty things then went on top of the bowl of soup, and back under the grill for no more than 3 weeks.
oh joy. Even in midsummer.

Serve, remembering not to touch the bowls for fear of melty fingers.