Saturday, April 19, 2014

San Churro Winter Preview

Disclosure: I was invited to the San Churros tasting as a guest of the shop

You guys starting to feel that nip in the air? Waking up at 6 to make my way into the city to go to the gym, I'm definitely feeling it and some mornings it's now getting cold enough for me to see my breath in the morning, appear and dissipate, as a quick little cloud. 

I don't know about you guys, but I honestly love feeling winter roll in (minus the getting sick every now and again). I love the wooly jumpers, jeans, blankets wrapped around me, cuddling with the dog (or the Brad) and of course, a thick hot chocolate, cradled in the hands, keeping the fingers nice and toasty. There's just something so satisfying about eating in winter, as the body craves sustenance to keep warm. 

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A few weeks ago I was invited to take part in San Churro VIP tasting of their new winter menu, featuring a mix of hot and cold goodies (because let's be real here, it's never actually too cold for ice-cream). 

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For the nippy mornings, I loved their very Spanish breakfast offering of a cinnamon breakfast churro, braided and very, very generously dusted in cinnamon sugar. Available only before midday, I would definitely welcome these first thing in the morning, warm, with a slight crunch and chew and just a touch of sweet to get the taste buds jumping with joy.

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Salted caramel makes it's way on to the menu several times, proving it's still a force to be reckoned with (and probably always will be). The iced salted caramel is surprisingly light with a nice gentle touch of caramel and not quite as rich as I expected it to be. The restraint with the salted caramel is again put into use with the salted caramel sundae, which isn't too rich, allowing the melted milk chocolate to make it's presence known as well. Unfortunately the white chocolate ice-cream is a bit light in flavour in comparison, so although it adds the creaminess, there wasn't too much flavour from there.

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We did though, all love the cookies and cream sundae, which is exactly what you would expect out of white chocolate ice-cream with warm chocolate fudge, chocolate biscuit crumble and chewy macaron meringue pieces. Not tidy to eat, but loads of fun.

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The chocolate volcano is a beast of a cake, even sharing two between 7 people was too much, with it's rich cocoa flavour and gooey, soul-melting, lava centre. Despite complaints of being full, I saw those spoons making a multitude of return trips…

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After talking about the ice-cream on offer with the marketing team at San Churro, we had to try a scoop of their chilli chocolate ice-cream, their ice-cream supplier using their own couverture chocolate imported from Spain. This results in a delightfully rich ice-cream with a nice kick of chilli. Winter? What winter? Give me more!

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Naturally at San Churro, hot chocolate is on the agenda, and we were a little overwhelmed to receive 6 huge mugs all at once! For the winter menu, San Churros is offering El Grande Spanish hot chocolates topped with either marshmallows and chocolate syrup, crushed maltballs or chocolate biscuit crumble. 

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Whilst they initially looked promising, I was slightly disheartened by the marshmallows and chocolate syrup, as it was so sweet I couldn't take more than a sip! The chocolate biscuit crumble was much better flavour wise, but got pretty thick and gluggy quite quick. The crushed maltballs fared the best, and was my favourite, and something I would quite happily return for!

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We all thought we were done, but San Churro had saved the best for last. If you only try one thing from the winter menu, make it the salted chocolate coconut shake. Erupting into a medley of oohs and ahhs and happy sighs, it was clearly a crowd favourite. I found it well balanced, with the salted coconut both boosting the chocolate and also capping it's richness, there was a delightfully savoury moreish factor this that made us all wish we had a little more than the mini serves we tried. 

Fortunately we're just at the beginning of winter, and the menu is still available until the end of August, after which they may take away the salted chocolate coconut shake…so I'll definitely be ducking in soon to get my fix!

Chocolateria San Churro on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 14, 2014

Now at four - Celebrating in Kyneton

Goodness, that time of year again, where Brad and I celebrated another year together. 

It honestly baffles me every time our anniversary comes around, how quickly the time goes, yet how quick it doesn't seem. I feel like I've known him forever, yet it also feels like we're just beginning. It's a lovely limbo to be in, and especially at the moment with my new job, since I'm chatting to him less online through the day and generally seeing a little less of him through the week, I'm loving any time I have with him so much more. 

Sorry, sorry, but it's an anniversary post, there's going to be mush. I adore him, what else can I do?

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This year, we took the staycation to a new level, by actually going out of town for a night two weekends ago…this may have possibly been due to me constantly visiting the Annie Smithers Bistrot website, drooling over the menu and concocting reasons in my head for going to Kyneton. 

And so on a surprisingly sunny Saturday afternoon (I wanted to leave in the morning but was stuck with family stuffs), we popped into Brad's little yellow car and made the hour drive out north towards the Macedon Ranges. 

It's a little funny when we go driving for long extended periods of time, Brad's not usually the overly chatty type, whilst I need my mouth to be occupied with food or conversation constantly, which usually leads me to talking Brad's ear off about the oddest of things as I search for things to talk about. Poor boy.

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We made a pitstop in Woodend to visit the Holgate Brewery. When we popped in at about 2:30pm it was a bit quieter, then people swarmed in for beer tastings just after we got our paddle! With 8 beers on tap, you'll spoiled for choice at this micro brewery, but your best value will be getting one of the beer tasting paddles for a chilled out $18 (which we first thought was $40 when we heard someone else ordering it, but didn't realise he had gotten food as well…phew!)

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I very much enjoyed the overall smoothness and subtle sweetness, each of them were very easy to drink, the type of beer one could easily drink all day, and I was pleasantly surprised with the hoppier beers, with higher IBU ratings, that they weren't overwhelmed with bitterness. Instead having quite complex characters, balancing out the bitterness with sweet, rounding it out nicely…which meant I quite liked them!

From there it was a short 20 minute drive onwards to Kyneton, where we swung by Macedon Interiors to pick up the key to our apartment for the night.

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When I originally booked, I had booked for Apartment 61A, which is next to Macedon Interiors. However, shortly after I had made my booking, I received an email to inform me there had been some mix up in admin, so they were going to move me instead to their other service apartment diagonally across the road, with no extra charge (the new room was $100 more a night than Apartment 61A).

Free upgrade, score!

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And wow, could I not have been more impressed. Circa 1860, literally two steps down from Piper Street, welcomes you through it's big beautiful light wooden doors into a delightful and very tastefully decorated apartment. 

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My 'Ooh Shiny Thing' syndrome went into overdrive as I swanned about the two living areas, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, pointing out all the things I wanted in my future home and asking Brad if he would mind if I made my future home just like this. There were just so many beautiful details, the golden engraved stool with hunting dogs, ornate mirrors, and I was totally obsessed with the reading lamps hidden in our bed head. So genius. Does anyone do these anymore?!

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With high ceilings and oodles of natural light, I kind of didn't want to leave, scurrying about exploring the two sitting rooms, kitchen and huge bedroom, with one of the softest beds ever. Swoon.

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Having not eaten since breakfast though (beer does not make for a meal), the hunger pangs came a running, so we made out way to Piper Street and strolled down to Mr. Carsisi for a nibble. 

I was somewhat surprised to find a Middle Eastern driven menu, as I hadn't really done any reading prior, which heartily supports all day eating. 

We tucked into a couple of the specials for the day, pan fried haloumi with berries and some delightful felafel. The haloumi in particular wooed me, I had never had it with something sweet before, but it was a combination that worked beautifully together. 

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A Turkish coffee for Brad and a Turkish strawberry and pomegranate tea for me, before having a quick walk around Piper Street and retreating to the apartment for an afternoon snooze. 

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Come evening, I pulled on a little dress, slipped on some high heels and tottered over to Annie Smithers Bistrot for dinner, just around the corner. So convenient!

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The space is simple, elegant but relaxed, brick walls softened out with smooth and gently curvaceous wooden chairs and tables. Brad commented that it felt like we were in an art gallery, as the space was quite minimal and the spotlights along the wall seemed to indicate that something could be hanging there. I suppose food is the art here, no?

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I loved that for the tables for two, on the side of the room that we were on, that the tables were set up so that guests could sit perpendicular to each other. It makes for a cosy and intimate arrangement, and also feels more relaxed as well. It's also nice just to be able to discreetly slip my hand into Brad's and sit contently for a bit.

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Lillet Blanc for me and a Melbourne Gin Company gin and tonic (on my recommendation) for him. 

I noticed that the front of house seemed to be a little understaffed and soon learnt that half of the staff had cancelled last minute! Despite this, the waitresses worked hard and even the chefs came out to give a hand, serving up food and clearing up plates, patient and unworried. 

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We started with an amuse bouche of mushroom custard, which I will admit, had me arch an eyebrow initially, topped with a fresh mushroom salad. Mushroom and custard is not normally two words I would expect to hear next to each other, but it was just a delight, served cool, it was a nice way to tap on the taste buds and wake them up. Not overwhelming in flavour, but just enough.  

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I chose the twice cooked gruyere cheese souffle with a nashi, tatsoi, gorgonzola and local walnut salad. Normally I do tend to keep away from super cheesy dishes, more to be kind to my waistline than anything else really! But since it was a once a year occasion, I figured I could indulge a little. I could hardly stop salivating as I started taking pictures, wanting to just dive in as it tempted me with it's rich aromas. With a slight elasticity on the outside, inside the souffle was magically soft and fluffy, without being overly heavy on the palate. Just heavenly, and the choice of a mild gorgonzola was perfect with the salad, adding a lovely creamy texture without being the dominant flavour.

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Brad's free range chicken liver parfait with toasted house made brioche, pickled zucchini and sauternes caramel arrived on a wooden board, and I immediately zoned in, with curiosity, on the vial of golden liquid. 

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The recommendation was to pour it over the parfait and my goodness, one bite and I was in heaven. I couldn't get over how light and airy the parfait was, there was just about no weight to it at all, like a passing cloud. The pickled zucchini was a brilliant addition, after a string of sweeter condiments with my parfait, the tart and zestiness of the zucchini was refreshing and quite complementary, which suited Brad better too. 

Although I had wanted to drink local during dinner, the Pinot Noir of my choice was out of stock, so I quickly reverted to a Barbera from Dal Zotto, because really, how do you go wrong? Actually, I loved the wine list at Annie Smithers, which had a lot of great Victorian wines on it, and not just that, but every wine listed had a descriptor underneath it, to help give some reason to one's wine selection if one is pretending to know what they are doing (don't tell Brad)! Or even if you know, it's a nice little guide to have. 

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Brad opted for the aged Sidonia Hills beef for his main, the cut for the night was rib eye, with dutch cream potatoes, braised peas, pancetta, cos and jus. Beautifully rustic and hearty fare, the rosy blush of the meat was just perfect for us and I couldn't get over the smooth dutch creams. 

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For me, it was the market fresh fish, with sweetcorn veloute, cauliflower and chive beignets and a herb salad. I've uh, forgotten what the fish is, but I believe it's a New Zealand fish, caught locally in Portland (Victoria that is, not Oregon). Other than a couple of deposits on the skin which seemed to have pocketed some extra salt and given a bit of an overly heavy salt hit (cue puckering), the fish was lovely and fresh, and cooked perfectly, with a similar texture to snapper. 

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A freekah, quinoa, cabbage, ricotta, herb and toasted nut salad with lemon dressing kept us company and provided a light reprieve when we needed a break to digest a bit!

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To wrap up our night, a caramelised white chocolate mousse with honey sponge, fresh figs and burnt honey ice-cream satiated my sweet tooth nicely. I'm loving seeing caramelised white chocolate pop up on menus more often these days, it's totally delicious and not quite as rich as salted caramel. I think other than the one bite that Brad had, I ate the lot, greedily lapping it all up. 

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We left contented and happy, and trotted back around to the apartment where we curled up in front of the gas log fire underneath a snuggly alpaca wool blanket and watched Anchorman 2, which proved to be one of the worst movies we had watched in a while, which made for plenty of head scratching and intrigued questioning afterwards. Like I get that the Anchorman is pretty funny, but two just had so much wrong with it, so many unnecessary additional plots! End of rant.

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The next morning, breakfast was at the Little Swallow Cafe, a sweet little space filled with the happy chatter of locals, where the menu was short and sweet and the baked eggs were hearty. It warms the soul.

Piper Street itself is sweet, dotted with a variety of eateries, and a load of cute interior design stores and souvenir shops. I very much wanted to take a doggy shaped door stop home with me, but I think Brad wouldn't have let me hear the end of it if I had dropped $70 on it on the drive home…

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Piper Street also leads down towards a river which makes for a short and pleasant walk, meaning you can then turn back around and pop into the bright and light Inner Biscuit for some cake. This gluten free lemon tart was just what I needed, although the selection available made it hard to narrow down what I wanted! Someone will have to try the hazelnut meringue cake and let me know what it's like!

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On the way home, we stopped by the Trentham falls and also Trentham itself, where the Redbeard Historic Bakery lives, serving up it's certified organic sourdough day in and day out. 

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All of the bread is cooked in their woodfired, historic Scotch oven, which was apparently in use from the late 1800's until 1987, where it lay unused until it was restored in about 2005. Scotch oven's used to be the commercial way of baking bread in the 1800's and they used to be found all over Australia, but the majority of them were destroyed by large flour millers in the 1950s to eliminate competition for their supermarket breads, so they are quite rare finds these days.

We didn't stay in to eat, as I was quite content from my lemon tart earlier, but I did pick up some organic sourdough hot cross buns and an organic spelt loaf to bring home. I loved the loaf, with it's dense texture and slight tang, and the hot cross buns were awesome as they weren't too rich, and quite wholesome with some nice spice weaved through. 

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All in all, it was so lovely to get out of the city and actually feel like you're on holiday, even if it's just for one night. I was really lamenting heading back to the city as we made our move from Trentham, as I was loving the charming personalities these small towns had, as well as not having much traffic going on. As Brad and I will be travelling independently relatively frequently this year, it's nice to just squeeze in an escape together, and just enjoy each other's company, as we always have and hopefully always will. 

Circa 1860

Holgate Brewhouse
79 High Street

Holgate Brewhouse on Urbanspoon

72 Piper Street

Annie Smithers Bistrot & Produce on Urbanspoon

Little Swallow Cafe
58 Piper Street

Little Swallow Cafe on Urbanspoon

Inner Biscuit
34 Piper Street

Inner Biscuit on Urbanspoon

RedBeard Historic Bakery
38A High Street

Red Beard Historic Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon