Tuesday, 27 March 2012

AJ Noodle House

he says:

Regular readers will know that my obsession Thai food resides quite comfortably with my Vietnamese food obsession.  So having found an excellent Brisbane Thai restaurant I was also very interested to try the quality of the Brisbane Vietnamese food offering.  Unfortunately I hadn't done any research other than being told by my sister that the better Vietnamese restaurants are in Inala which was a bit too far from where I was staying in the city. This meant that I was left to wander around, check out how much has changed in Brisbane and hope for the best. Once gain, I am in no position to judge Brisbane's best but I would hazard a guess that the establishment I wandered into 'AJ Vietnamese Noodle House' comes very close. At least the best Vietnamese CBD option anyway.

Living in Melbourne and having an obsession with Footscray (and Springvale) I feel I am quite qualified in judging the potential of a Vietnamese restaurant from its menu.  By this measure AJ Noodle House was looking full of potential. The menu board in the front window filled with somehow stereotypical Vietnamese restaurant photos of all the meals read like a 'Greatest Hits' of Vietnamese cuisine. Bun Tit Nuong, Pho Tai, Bun Bo Hue, Com Suong, Banh Cuon Cha Lua and many other classics. With only 18 meals on offer it was unlike what I am used to in Melbourne where some of the Vietnamese menus list literally hundreds of dishes, but given that the kitchen seemed slightly bigger than a shoebox I think 18 dishes is a pretty good effort.

After a long day of conferencing and a tough workout I was pretty keen to head back to my hotel room and relax in front of the tv so I decided a bun salad would be the best option. As usual there were so many meals on the menu that I wanted to eat it was not an easy decision. Normally when it come to Bun (rice vermicelli noodles) I'm a Thit Nuong man (Grilled Pork) but AJ's also had a Lemongrass Beef option (Bun Bo Xao) that I hadn't seen very often in Melbourne so obviously I had to give it a go.

I really enjoyed this dish, it was the perfect meal to eat after an exhausting day, not too filling but still substantial enough to leave me well and truly satisfied. The Bun was perfectly cooked, the Nuoc Mam dressing was not too sweet and not too sour, just perfect really and the lemongrass beef was excellent. I really like that they had cut it into very thin small pieces, it makes it so much easier to eat with chopsticks and the flavour had a wonderful smoky grilledness with a nice touch of lemongrass and of course that slight caramelisation that the sugar gives when grilled. Also great was the amount of herbs and vegetables, overall it was definitely one of the better Bun salads that I have eaten in a while.

Having enjoyed my Bun Bo Xao so much and also feeling quite pleased with myself for discovering this little gem I was looking for any opportunity to return and try another of VN's offerings. In particular I had my eye on their Banh Cuon Cha Lua (Steamed Pork Roll). I love eating this dish at Ding Son Quan in Footscray and was keen to try a different version so I could compare. On my last day in Queensland I had time to grab a quick lunch before heading to the airport so of course I headed directly to VN Noodle House. When I first visited VN's it was around 8:30 in the evening and they were not very busy but on the Wednesday at lunch there were people queued out the door! This only confirmed my suspicion that this was one of Brisbane's better Vietnamese restaurants.

My takeaway Banh Cuon Cha Lua was excellent. the steamed pork noodles were lovely and soft and in my opinion just the right thickness, sometimes the Dinh Son Quan noodles can be bit on the thick side. The noodles are filled with a pretty simple mix of minced pork and wood ear mushrooms and accompanied by a few slices of Vietnamese pork loaf (Cha) and a lovely array of salad including shredded carrot, pickled sprouts, mint, tomato and cucumber and crispy fried shallots. VN's version was absolutely delicious, the lovely soft noodles and delightfully refreshing Nuoc Man made for a refreshingly light and delicious lunch. I think I even preferred it to the Dinh Son Quan version although it would have been even better if it came with a few Banh Cong (fried Mung Bean Cakes) like they serve at Dinh Son Quan.

So if you're in Brisbane and looking for a fantastic lunch I highly recommend VN Vietnamese Noodle House. It not too hard to find, just head to the Charlotte Street end of Elizabeth Arcade and turn left, you'll be very glad you did! Lunchtimes are pretty busy but the tables seemed to turn over pretty quickly and takeaway is always an option, it is definitely worth the wait.

AJ Vietnamese Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Thai Wi Rat Brisbane

he says:

I was recently in Brisbane and of course took the opportunity to check out some of the Thai food that the Queensland capital has to offer. After a bit of research I decided the best bet was Thai Wi Rat in the Fortitude Valley Chinatown mall. Thankyou to Eat Brisbane for this recommendation. It was the picture of the Yen Ta Fo that sold me, I've never had this before and always wanted to. There's something strangely appealing about a fluorescent pink soup broth...

I arranged to meet up with a group of old friends for dinner the night I arrived and one of my mates informed me that I had chosen well as he had been taken to Thai Wi Rat previously by a friend who lived in Bangkok for 3-5 years (the number of years varied slightly over the course of the evening) who told him it was the best, most authentic Thai in Brisbane. First up was a serve of grilled calamari, this was very good and easily passed the not chewy test.  It was perhaps not quite as exciting as the stuffed calamari I had enjoyed earlier that day but lovely none the less.

Thai Wi Rat use the order at the counter system which I think works quite well for large groups. At least you don't have that 'who pays what' and 'how many beers did you have' problem when the bill arrives. So when I found myself standing at the counter with my mate Gazza we were both keen on the pork neck papaya salad and the pork neck salad (yes they're different) from the specials menu so we decided to go the sharing option. I'm a huge fan of pork neck and reckon if its cooked well its one of the best cuts of pork. The pork neck salad was one of the simple Isan style meat salads with mostly meat accompanied by some herbs, lettuce and sliced shallots. My guess is that a toasted ground rice is mixed with the meat to give the meat a little texture. Of course a fantastic spicy Thai lime, fish sauce and chilli dressing is added to give that wonderful spicy, sweet, salty zestiness that leaves such a special sensation in your mouth long after you've finished eating. 

I can't comment too much on the taste of the Pork Neck Som Tam as it was fierily hot, so so spicy that I had to resort to the method of not letting any of it touch my lips while I ate it combined with constantly cooling my mouth with swigs of Singa. Being the proud men that we are, Gazza and I staunchly slowly worked our way through each incredibly painful mouthful enduring the laughs and jeers from our fellow diners until it was all gone and we were left red faced with beads of sweat dripping down our foreheads. Now I like hot food but this was without doubt the hottest Som Tam I have ever encountered! 

Not deterred by my painful Som Tam experience a few nights earlier I returned to Thai Wi Rat two nights later to try a few more of their offerings that had taken my fancy on my first visit. Like most foodies I am a bit of a menu analyst, meaning that I think you can tell quite a lot about the quality of a restaurant just by carefully reviewing the meals offered on their menu. In this case the dead giveaway was the Yen Ta Fo noodle soup, if a restaurant has this on the menu then you are almost guaranteed that the food will be very authentic. The Yen Ta Fo was really good, I'm so mad for Boat Noodles that it will always be my number one noodle soup but there are a number of very close challengers and Yen Ta Fo is now one of them. The seafood was perfectly cooked, the noodles were also perfect and the soup was wonderfully tangy and sweet with a balance of saltiness. I ate every last drop and will now be madly searching for somewhere in Melbourne where I can enjoy another bowl. 

I was pretty hungry that night so I also ordered the Yum Neua Num Tog which is a Laos beef salad. Years ago before I know much about Thai food I was obsessed Thai beef salad and for some reason I have always avoided it these days. This is probably because it is one of those Thai meals that has been adopted by the main stream and you are likely to see a watered down version cooked on Better Homes and Gardens or some similar show. Likewise a lot of Thai restaurants also alter it to cater for the western crowd. Anyway, given that I was convinced that Thai Wi Rat were much more authentic that most Thai restaurants I was pretty confident this would be good. It certainly was, the beef was cooked to about medium. I wouldn't have minded it was a bit rarer but it was very tender and flavoursome and that's the most important thing. Again, I'm pretty sure it was coated with a toasted ground rice powder which adds a lovely texture and flavour to the meat. There isn't much in the way of salad, just a few pieces of morning glory and a bit of lettuce, but I think this is actually how it is served in Thailand. Overall it was a really nice light compliment to the Yen Ta Fo. It was also highlighted in a glowing review provided with the menu and I have to agree that this is one of Thai Wi Rat's many standout dishes. 

So not that I am in any position to judge whether this is the best Thai in Brisbane it certainly is some of the best Thai I have eaten in Australia (sadly I haven't eaten Thai in Sydney... yet). I'll definitely be back next time I'm in town, that's for sure! 

Thai Wi-Rat on Urbanspoon

Friday, 23 March 2012

Melbourne Thai Festival

he says:

I read about the Thai Festival a few weeks before the event and started salivating almost immediately. I'd never been to the Thai Festival before but I had a feeling it was going to be an eating extravaganza! I was right! In particular, I expected that the food on offer would be traditional Thai food more like what you get in Thailand and less like the usual 'traffic light curry' Australian Thai restaurants. Right again!

My wishlist for the day was for Hoy Tod (Oyster or Mussel Omelette), Bamee Guay Tiau Ped (Duck Soup with Egg Noodles) and Kanom Buang (Thai Crispy Coconut Pancakes). I was also secretly hoping there wouldn't be any Boat Noodles as I have designs on having my own stall next year...

On arrival we pretty much headed straight down to the river where all the food stalls were located and quickly found a hoy tod vendor. Some people might baulk at having a mussels at 10:30 am but not us. Lathered with sriracha sauce this was amazing, the mussels were plump and succulently delicious and combined perfectly with the crunchy batter and sprout mixture.

The omelettes are fried up with heaps of oil on a huge flat wok, yes another pice of cooking equipment that I now need.

In Thailand I fell in love with cold Thai Milk tea (cha yen). I have made cha yen at home many times but it never seems to taste as good as the cha yen we drank in Thailand. I am never sure whether to add condensed or evaporated milk as the Thai seem to use these interchangeably. This cha yen were fantastic and so refreshing, it was made with evaporated milk which is another enigma to me... Since when did anything not taste better when you added sugar? I will find it hard to not use condensed milk when making my version. I think this a throwback to when Mum used to boil up tins of condensed milk for her wonderful and very 80's caramel tart.

Next up was Thai prawn cakes, I have no idea what these are called in Thai but they have a similar slightly rubbery squeaky consistency to Thai fish cakes (Tod Man Pla) but with a lovely crunchy fried outer coating. Add a simple salad of sliced shallots and cucumber and a sweet chilli dipping sauce and voila, awesomeness!

The same vendor had a crispy fish salad (Yam Pla Duk Foo) that I had always wanted to try. I have read about and seen pictures of this previously, it is usually catfish and the fish is chopped or minced finely and then added to a pot of hot oil where it fries and floats to the surface forming a crunchy kind of flat fried cake. This cake is then broken into pieces and added to a salad of sliced shallots, peanuts, sliced lettuce and shredded green mango. Add a beautiful sweetened chilli, lime and fish sauce dressing and its ready to eat. I loved it and now confident about giving it a go home. It sounds difficult in the recipe books but looked pretty easy on the day...

By this stage I was felling full and was also trying to leave some room for a few of the yummy looking desserts we had spied earlier but I was felling pretty good and decided I had enough room for one more savoury dish. I opted for the Grilled Squid stuffed with Pork and Glass Noodles. This was great, I have had grilled squid previously that was quite tough and rubbery but this was lovely and melt in the mouth tender. I'm pretty sure there's a secret to ensuring that the squid stays tender while still cooking through and getting those wonderfully charcoal grill lines. Just another thing to add to my wish list of 'I wonder how they do that?'. This was from the iSpicy stall and I think they sell it in the Richmond restaurant so I am now planning a trip over that way to do more research.

Probably our favourite Thai dessert is Kanom Tokyo, there are so many! We usually buy a container of these about once a week however we can only seem to find ones with the Pandan custard filling, not that's its a problem. We both love our Pandan custard, but at the festival they were also selling them with sliced banana and cream. And they were fresh off the hot plate which like most things makes them sooo much better! I could easily have eaten a whole container to myself.

Also added to my wishlist of cooking equipment, one large flat hotplate for cooking of Kanom Tokyo (and Kanom Buang).

The last delight for the day were some Thai donuts (Patongo), also served with Pandan custard. I've never had these before but have read that they are extremely popular in Thailand. One of my food guides recommends a stall that is renowned in Bangkok, so much so that apparently the King sends his servants there to get them for him!  I'm not sure if these were fit for a King but they certainly satisfied a pair of commoners like us.

Overall it was an absolutely awesome day and even though I didn't get all of the food on my wishlist I left feeling incredibly full and very satisfied. Now I'm counting the days until next year's Festival. Who knows, next year there may even be a Thai Boat Noodle stand...

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Footscray Friday

he says:

I am lucky enough to have a job where I get and RDO each month and a few weeks ago I took Friday off to go and get the ingredients for my Boat Noodle test cookup. Usually we visit Footscray as a family which I absolutely love but this time I was by myself so I took a bit of time to just enjoy the atmosphere rather than head from place to place as we usually do.

I parked in the Footscray market carpark ($1 per hour bargain parking and so much better than a crazy carpark hunt) and scoped out the market for all the ingredients that I needed the next day. I knew that I had a couple of hours until Tina and Charlie met up with me for lunch so I didn't buy any of the meat that I needed. Instead I decided to go to a cafe for a Vietnamese iced coffee, I think it was called Chau something and is near the Leeds St entrance to the Footscray market. Chau is usually frequented by large groups of elderly Vietnamese men who sit outside for hours enjoying coffee and chatting almost themselves. I have to admire these guys, they have such a great community.

I loved my Vietnamese iced coffee ($3.50) and subtly watched the old Vietnamese guys for tips on how to drink it. I know that seems a strange thing to say that I needed tips on how to drink a coffee but it has a big spoon sticking out of it and is filled with ice so its actually not that easy to drink without looking completely awkward. I was never a big fan of iced coffee (or tea) but I have to say that I am now a definite convert, the addition of the condensed milk really appeals to my sweet tooth!

Next I headed over to Little Saigon to look for some morning glory and a few other things. Of course I couldn't help but wander past the Dinh Son Quan bain marie to see what was on offer that morning. I really love Dinh Son Quan as they seem to always have something different on offer each time you go there. This is sometimes great but sometimes annoying as if you find something you really like there is no guarantee that you'll see it again anytime soon. Oh pork stuffed squid, when will I see you again...

On this particular morning I noticed takeaway containers of fried blue swimmer crab cooked in a sweet sticky looking tamarind sauce. It was only about 10 am but I had to ask about it. When I was told that they were only $5 for the container I knew that I was soon to be sitting on a park bench in Footscray crunching my way through a container of sticky tamarind fried crab!

Of course that's exactly what happened next and I loved every sweet crunchy minute of it! There aren't many places more interesting to sit on a park bench and watch the goings on than in Footscray and I'm pretty sure there's nowhere in Melbourne that you can buy a container of delicious fried crab for $5 to crunch on while you're doing it.

Vietnamese Pork Pie from Nhu Lan

he says:

I was in Richmond the other day and wanted a quick snack so I dropped into Nhu Lan to see what they had. I wasn't in the mood for Banh Mi (sacrilege I know) so I decided to try the Vietnamese Pate Chaud Pork Puff for $1.50.

I don't know much about these pastries but they are undoubtably yet another awesome French influenced Vietnamese delicacy. The pastry is crispy and light and the filling is actually reminiscent of a sausage roll  and equally delicious. 

I wouldn't say the filling is substantial but for $1.50 what do you expect. Anyway, I found it a great little lunchtime snack that still left room for more Richmond deliciousness. Hey, when you're eating lunch in Richmond you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket! 

Nhu Lan on Urbanspoon

Kanom Krok Recipe

he says:

I had a comment asking for the specific Kanom Krok recipe that I cooked in my previous post so as I was cooking them again I thought I'd take specific notes and post them for anyone else who was interested. I reckon this morning's effort was even better! I used corn this time as a topping as I didn't have any spring onions.

Other than the Kanom Krok pan you will also need something to crack the coconut with (I use a cleaver) and also something to scrape the coconut flesh out from the coconut (I used the scraper pictures below), metal chinese soup spoons also come in handy.

Make the batter first by mixing 1 tsp of the limestone paste with 1 cup of boiled water until dissolved. Leave this to settle and then pour off the limestone paste water mix and leave the residue in the bowl. you should get about 3/4 of a cup.

Next mix 1 tsp of arrowroot flour (you may need to crush this to a powder) with 1 cup of rice flour and 1/2 cup of water.

The batter should coat the back of a spoon with a thin film.

David Thompson suggests that that should be left overnight but I don't worry about that. Next you need to add 1/2 cup of scraped coconut, 1/4 cup of cooked jasmine rice, 3/4 cup of the limestone paste water, 2 tbs of coconut milk (I used Chaokoh this time and it was OK but not as creamy as Kara) and 1/4 tsp of salt to a blender and blend to a smooth consistency. If you get any lumps it will stick to the pan so make sure it is nice and smooth.

Once it is blended smooth add it to the rice flour batter mix and set aside. It is easier to make the Kanom Krok if you put this is a jug or container that is easy to pour from.

To make the filling add 1 cup of coconut milk, 1/4 tsp of salt and 4 tbs of sugar and mix until the sugar is dissolved.

Now you're ready to cook!  Put the Kanom Krok pan over a high heat using a heat diffuser so that the pan doesn't get direct heat and grease all the holes well with coconut oil.

The coconut oil doesn't have a traditional oil consistency, its more like a white paste but it liquifies as soon as it hits some heat. 

Reduce the heat to medium and half fill each hole with the batter mix and lift and tilt the pan to ensure that the batter covers right up to the edges of each hole. Don't worry if it spills over a bit, this just forms delicious extra crispy edges. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes. My pan didn't come with a cover but my wok lid fits perfectly! 

Next add about 1 tbs of the filling to each mould then cover and cook for another 3 minutes. You should notice the filling start to set and the edges start to brown.  Finally add the corn kernels (or sliced spring onion) topping to each mould and cover and cook for another 5 minutes. 

Make sure you check every few minutes so they don't burn. I use a sharp pointed knife and a metal chinese soup spoon to gently lift the Kanom Krok so I can check that the edges are browning nicely. If they are hard to remove from the mould then either the batter is too lumpy or they aren't cooked enough, probably the latter. You definitely want them to cook until the edges are browned or the final result won't be crispy which is pretty important if you ask me. 

Once you are happy that they are all cooked to a delicious crispiness (the filling will also have set slightly but will still be slightly runny inside) remove them from the pan and place them face to face on top of each other. As you are removing them check by gently squeezing them that they are firm and not squishy, otherwise return them to the pan for a bit longer.  

Let them cool for a minute or so as the filling will be molten and then eat them as fast as you can. I guarantee you it won't be that difficult! 

The credit for this recipe comes from a few places (mostly David Thompson) but I have made some of my own adjustments so if you actually use it to cook Kanom Krok I would really like to hear how they turn out, pictures would be even better!  Good Luck!  

If you can't find a Kanom Krok pan (I got mine from Springvale), Waz from Nathan Thai in Footscray has told me he can order a 28 hole pan for $40 for aluminium and $35 for steel. Mine is cast metal which I assume is the steel one, I think cast metal is better than aluminium myself. Waz also has most of the ingredients you will need. Go to Footscray and check out his shop, he is very knowledgable and also very friendly. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A Taste of Townsville

he says:

Over the weekend we all headed north to Townsville for a series of family events, a Retirement party, multiple Birthdays and a Christening, yes I am now a Godfather... (cue dodgy Godfather impression)

I was not expecting great things culinary wise from Townsville but I have not been home (yes that's where I grew up) for about 3 or 4 years and the place is changing very rapidly so I really didn't know what to expect. We arrived in the morning just before lunch so the first decision was of course, where to eat?  Being that it was a day off I suggested that we might have a drink with lunch, or maybe someone else suggested it, there is a theme that will appear if you read closely...

While I really enjoy a drink of wine, I am pretty fussy about which wine I drink so I suggested perhaps a trip to Dan Murphy's and then a BYO establishment might be a good option. Mum suggested Fusion 51 which I remembered being hearing about from some of my old Townsville friends who told me that it was owned by another old Townsville friend of mine Peter Heilbronn. I need to apologise in advance for the lack of photos for this entire post, I am still getting used to this whole blogging thing and get so annoyed with myself after enjoying a fantastic meal and then realising I didn't take any photos!

I was actually very surprised to be greeted by Peter who recognised me immediately, it must have been 15 years since I last saw him so I am taking it as a compliment that obviously I am ageing well.  What followed was a fantastic and very relaxed dining experience that was highlighted by a deliciously succulent pork belly and asian noodle salad and also some superb salt and pepper style deep fried calamari that Peter told us the secret is in the slicing of the calamari. I definitely agree with him there. There were other lovely dishes served but these two were the standouts for me. Oh and the prawn wontons, they were also excellent with nice crispy skins and a tender moist prawn filling. We complimented this wonderful food with a bottle of Kooyong Estate Pinot Noir 2008. It matched the food perfectly (but what food doesn't Pinot match perfectly) although I did have to ask for an ice bucket as Townsville room temperature is a bit hotter that the Melbourne room temperature that I am used to. Dessert was also delicious and the grilled mango was something I hadn't seem previously but will definitely order again if I get the chance. So by this stage I was very impressed and our weekend was off to a great start.

Dinner that evening was a Queensland specialty that you don't see often in Melbourne, crumbed fish and chips. Melburnians love their battered and grilled fish but for some reason crumbed fish doesn't get mush of a run. I'm normally a battered man myself but as I was in Nth Qld I thought I should go for the local specialty and I was glad that I did. It was exactly as I remember it with a beautifully crispy brown crumbed coating that hugged the moist flesh of the fish, why does my crumb never stick like that?  Again no food pictures?  What was I thinking??? I did get a few of me and Charlie though, Townsville was so green and tropical, Tina and I both commented how different it was to the dry place where we grew up in the 80's. The Strand redevelopment is just wonderful and probably the best thing that has happened to Townsville in decades.

The next morning I had arranged to go fishing and crabbing with my cousin Dayne and his stepfather Demi at Alligator Creek. I don't know about alligators but we did see a few decent sized crocodiles so I definitely kept all appendages well within the boat! It took only about half an hour to get to the creek and launch the boat which coming from Melbourne I thought was just great. One of the really special things about Townsville is how easily you can leave the town behind and be relaxing in nature. I started strong and within minutes had landed the first catch on the day, unfortunately it was the first of many catfish which the boys instructed me to return to the water as they are not good eating. Being a bit of a Thai foodie I personally would have kept them and tried grilling them over charcoal but as we expected to catch many more better fish I didn't mind returning my first catch to the water.

Unfortunately despite trying a few spots we didn't catch anything worth keeping although Dayne claims to have caught and released a large Salmon but actually it bit his line and escaped so I'm pretty sure it doesn't count. I did see it come to the side of the boat and was starting to think about how it could be cooked only to see it disappear under the water with Dayne restraining himself from jumping in after it.

Although we didn't have a lot of luck with the fish we did mange to get a few legal size crabs in the pots so all was not lost. Demi kindly let me take a couple home that I kept for dinner the following night. I really enjoyed the morning fishing, it has been ages since I've been fishing and its something that I find very enjoyable and relaxing. Not to mention how good it is to cook seafood that you have caught yourself.

After retuning home and helping the boys clean the boat I decided that I needed some Tamarind soup mix for my mudcrab dinner the following night. Mum took me to the asian grocer on Ross River Road where another fantastic surprise awaited me. As soon as I entered I noticed some large bunched or Thai Holy Basil (Bai Krapow) that you really can't get in Melbourne. I sometimes see it at Footscray but it is usually a tiny bunch that is blackened with age as it doesn't keep well. It certainly paled in comparison to the huge luscious green bunches available in Townsville. Also very exciting for me were the beautiful little Thai cucumbers that I have never seen in melbourne. They were identical to those we ate in Thailand and you can see them in the background image of this blog (yes I didn't take a photo, another blogger fail).

That night we went for dinner at 'A Touch of Salt' for Bazza's retirement party. Dinner was superb, Tina and I shared the Oyster Duo which was 3 Tempura with Miso Mayonnaise and 3 Natural with Wakame Salad and Tobiko. I love oysters and these were both wonderful, I am a sucker for fried food so the Tempura were my favourite. For entree I had the Seared Scallops with Goats Cheese & Ricotta Gnocchi, Pumpkin, Muscatels, Pine Nuts, Brown Butter, Crisp Sage. The scallops were lovely and plump but my only criticism was that I thought the dish was a bit oily. For Main I had the Confit Duck Beetroot Risotto, Roast Baby Beets, Chard, Pancetta Crisp, Jus Gras and it was excellent. The confit duck was melt in the mouth and the risotto was cooked perfectly with the grains of rice cooked to a perfect consistency. I had a bit of a look around the table and while the other meals all looked great I had to agree with myself that the confit duck was the best option!

Tina and I both consulted the dessert menu and as often happens we looked at each other and asked, what do you want? Which is really code for I can't choose and want to know what you are ordering so I can eat some of it too. As so often happens we had both couldn't choose between two desserts so decided to order both and share them. So between us we devoured the dark Chocolate parfait fig carpaccio, caramel ganache and the vanilla bean crème brulee chocolate lavender shortbread. Both were heavenly. I really liked the way the dessert menu was divided into small and large desserts, you don't see this very often and I think its a great idea as I pretty much always want dessert but don't always want something large. in saying that I have been known to eat a crème brulee for two all to myself.

Luckily for me (and maybe a bit because of me) Bazza loves Pinot so it was Pinot all the way with dinner, just the way I like it. We started with the Giant Steps Gladysdale Vineyard (Yarra Valley, Vic) then moved on to the Felton Road (Central Otago, NZ) and finished with the Jones Road Jr Jones (Mornington Peninsular, Vic). All were superb and I was a bit busy enjoying the food and conversation to really taste any of them properly although If I have to choose I would go with the Jr Jones. It was actually the cheapest with the Felton Road the most expensive but I am just so biased towards Victorian Pinot that it never really had a chance.  All in all it was a really fun night, I would definitely recommend 'A Touch of Salt' to anyone visiting Townsville and looking for a fine dining experience. What made the experience even better was the semi private dining room, just subtly separated from the main dining area by a beaded curtain. I found it nice and private with the sterility that you sometimes get from the 'private' dining room.

The next morning we headed to the Cotters Market on the recently opened up Flinders Street Mall. It isn't the biggest of markets but what I really like about it is the farmers that come from the surrounding towns bringing their wonderful array of locally farmed produce. I love sugar bananas and will buy them whenever I see them. Not so much the ladyfinger variety but the smaller sugar bananas with the thin skins. You don't see them sold very often in Melbourne although you can occasionally get them at Footscray and sometimes even the Victoria Market. I found a bunch immediately and reluctantly shared them with Charlie. I also bought some delicious Rambutans, again they were reluctantly shared with Charlie. the same stall had some fresh herbs in pots for sale and when I saw a Holy Basil plant for $5 I started trying to work out how I could get it on the plane back to Melbourne.

Other highlights were the lovely bananas in sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. I love this treat and will definitely be cooking it myself at home if I can only work out what bananas are used, they seem to be a light purple colour so I'm a bit stumped on that one.  The same stall had native eggplants for sale so I grabbed a bag of those. The man at the stall asked me if I knew what they were and I replied that they were pea eggplants and often used in Thai curries. He seemed satisfied with that and as I left I heard him say to his wife, "pea eggplants, that's a better name". I also bought some lovely little scud chillies, a head of Thai garlic and some very hot long red chillies. I was only staying one more night so Mum and I a lot of cooking ahead of us!

By this stage you can imagine I was pretty excited about all of my goodies so I headed back to meet up with my parents and Grandad who had come over from Maggie Island to see us. While making my way there I spotted a stall selling Thai food with a lady standing over a Thai mortar and pestle that I immediately recognised as the type used to make Thai Papaya Salad (Som Tam). At $8 a serve (it didn't matter what is cost really) I scratched up the last of my money and borrowed a bit from Mum and ordered a serve. I then stood and watched as the lady deftly sliced some tomatoes into the pestle and added the shredded papaya and carrot and carefully added the tamarind water, lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce, some chillies and finished it off with some peanuts then tasted the sauce to check it was properly balanced.

I just knew it was going to be good, and I wasn't wrong. This was easily the best Som Tam I have eaten outside of Thailand! So deliciously spicy and sweet with a lovely balance of sourness and a beautiful crunch from the papaya and peanuts. I also purchased a chicken satay (minus the sauce) as I think Som Tam is best served with grilled chicken (Gai Yang) and although it wasn't authentic grilled chicken it went perfectly with the Som Tam.

This was the highlight meal of the weekend for me. My only disappointment was that I didn't have room or time to try all of the dishes on offer. I'm sure the Mussaman curry, Green Chicken curry and Thai Chicken Noodle Soup would all be superb! The Som Tam certainly was! So if you are ever in Townsville on a Sunday head to the Cotters Market and go straight to the Thai food vendor just in between the Cowboys Leagues club and the sugar shaker. You won't be disapointed.

Next was the Christening where I officially became a Godfather. After the ceremony we wandered down to the Strand and while the kids played in the awesome water park Bazza worked his magic on the BBQ.

Not long after I finished smashing a couple of burgers with BBQ sauce, Diane unveiled the sensational Cupcake tower! If I had known I might have held off on that second burger. I normally don't get too excited about cupcakes but these were the some of the best I can remember eating for sure. The chocolate cupcakes were really special. Sometimes cupcakes can be 'all show and no go', a bit like my crossfit style really. But not these cupcakes, they were 'all show and all go!' I ate two but could easily have doubled that and probably would have if those scales weren't in the spare bathroom at my parents house. I had gradually watched myself add 2 kilos over the course of the weekend!

After lunch we headed back to Mum and Dad's and started preparing for that nights feast. Mum cooked up a fantastic Vietnamese papaya salad with prawns and crunch salty fried whitebait. The fried whitebait adds a really special crunchy saltiness to the salad, thanks Luke Nguyen for Songs of Sapa (and you too Mum). Mum also cooked a great Chiang Mai fish curry with I think was mackerel. I thought this was a great fish for curries as it held together really well and had a string enough flavour to hold itself in a strongly flavoured curry sauce. The pea eggplants from the market were used in this dish and Mum reckons she might have slightly overcooked them although they tasted great to me. I had a bunch of Holy Basil to use and a nice bag of scud chillies so of course it had to be Pad Krapow. I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing until I tried to buy pork mince. Four supermarkets later and only Pork and Veal 50/50 mix in sight I was getting a bit worried. What's with the Pork and Veal mince mix? Apparently it is perfect for Bolognese according to the label complete with Raguletto branding, cue conspiracy theory. I settled for some pork strips and with the help of Bazza and Di's Thermomix I had my pork mince in about 10 seconds. Of course, no Pad Krapow is complete without few wok fried runny eggs on top. It was lovely and spicy and a bit too spicy for some but the sliced raw Thai cucumbers were the perfect accompaniment to subdue the heat. If that wasn't enough we also had the wok fried mudcrab in sweet tamarind sauce. What a feast and a great way to end a wonderful weekend of fun, food and family (and wine)! Dinner was of course accompanied by a couple of bottles of Pinot starting with the Fulcrum Gippsland Pinot by Bill Downie and then a bottle of the 2008 Passing Clouds Pinot from Bazza's selection.

The next day we headed home exhausted and for dessert that night I smuggled back a couple of the banana sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves treats that I heated up with some sweet coconut cream sauce, so so good!

So that ends our weekend of feasting in Townsville and also my entry for the world's longest blog post! Now its a week of crossfit to try and undo the weekend's damage! Over and out.