Rome Food Diary: Fatamorgana Gelato, Travestere

Fatamorgana appears on a number of top ten gelato lists and I was curious to try it out (after being disappointed by one of Rome’s *best* pizzas). For example, Lonely Planet calls Fatamorgana ‘one of the finest among the city’s gourmet gelatarie’. Their location in Travestere is modest, and there wasn’t a line when I arrived on a Saturday evening about 8pm.

I think they are perhaps known for some of their interesting flavours, and decided to have two scoops, one of apple, almond and cinnamon, and the other, a “Parisian” chocolate that had butter and champagne.

And then I was asked if I wanted whipped cream on top, and my head said no, but my mouth said ‘why not’ if that’s what they’re offering. So, for 2,50 euro, I had a lovely experience with the fresh, fruity and unusual apple pie-like combo, and the chocolate flavour was rich and luscious and seemed to melt almost immediately.

Oh, they also advertise as offering vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options, which seems like a good thing to do.

Fatamorgana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Desserts, European, Food n' Grog | Tagged | Leave a comment

Rome Food Diary: Bonci Pizzarium

When in Italy, and when in Rome, and one reads that there is a place that some people consider the *best* pizza in Rome, well, that is worth a trip. It’s in a quiet area, just off a quiet street and next to the Cipro metro station. There were at least two food tours who stopped by while I was there, and a group of school kids. It’s definitely on the foodie map.

The trick apparently is the dough. Gabriele Bonci is famous for it. He has been called the Michelangelo of dough by Vogue magazine, he has a cookbook with recipes from this very pizzarium, and apparently comes up with 1,500 different sets of toppings a year. The dough apparently is left much longer than other doughs to rise… and I could see in the shop that there is a second baking process, as the pizzas come out on display at the counter, but when you order, your pizza goes through another quick baking so it is extra hot (so much for why I ordered the zucchini and garlic one, as it was the latest to come out of the ovens at the back).

The dough is risen high, and is super crisp and even a little chewy. It tasted basically like a really high quality foccacia to me, and with some olive oil, and a bit of zucchini on top, was unlike any other pizza I’ve had (this is in the square, Roman style). The luxury slice that I ordered, which had a generous amount of cured ham, as well as cheese and zucchini and garlic oil, did resemble the pizza I knew a bit more, as the heavy topping had made the top of the foccacia less crisp, so the top and bottom had started to meld together. Because the ingredients on this one were so luxurious, it cost me 9,35 euros for the slice (as compared to 3 euros for the zucchini one).

I also had a suppli (1,50) because I was dying to try one. It was a crispy deep-fried ball or rice cooked into tomato sauce, and a piece of cheese, melted but starting to reform my the time I got to it. Apparently, having cheese in the middle like this is one of the main differences between a suppli and an aranchini!

But I was surprised in the end, because I didn’t really like the pizza that much. I can understand why other people do, and it tasted high-quality and unique indeed, but the luxury one I ordered was way too rich and salty (and for me to say that, lover of all kinds of fatty meats, is surprising) and the other one didn’t knock my socks off either. And I ordered too much, as I wanted to try two flavours and was incapable of requesting a more reasonable size.

Pizzarium Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in European, Food n' Grog, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Rome Food Diary: Le Mani in Pasta, Trastevere

Are nights in Rome always this pretty? After after-work drinks with friends, I walked up from Portuense to find a restaurant that my friend James had recommended. Of course, I didn’t have a reservation, but hoped that I’d get in, as it was around 8pm. Somewhat gruffly, I was given a space, as long as I would be out by 9:15pm.

I think they were a little confused that I didn’t have an appetizer, nor main, but just had the one pasta dish, but honestly, I just can’t eat so much on holidays when I’m having meals out every night. Both the couple next to me and a singleton next to them were having the same pasta dish.

I asked what it was. Fettucini with fresh porcini mushrooms and shaved truffles. While the specials board said this was only available if two people ordered it, I asked why the single guy had gotten it. The waiter said he’d come in earlier, when it was less busy, but he would see what he could do… Just a few hours before, Shawn had explained that Italy is a culture of negotation. No doesn’t necessarily mean no. It might mean that they want to see what you’ll say in return. So, I was glad to have pressed the point because OH MY GOD.

The fresh porcini mushrooms were tender and soft, and smothered in butter had a quality that was animal-like. With shaved truffle on top of that, a generous amount, a bit nutty and gritty with a beautiful flavour. And the springiness and addictive quality of handmade pasta. I was just in heaven here. Truffles ain’t cheap, so the pasta with a lovely half-bottle of white wine (Angimbé’s Cusumano, a Sicilian wine of Insolia 70% and Chardonnay 30%), and some sparkling water came to 32 euros.

This was seriously good. When I left, the night was still pretty young, but how the neighbourhood was glowing!

Two nights later, on the Sunday night, I couldn’t resist going again (but again with no reservation, which I wouldn’t recommend doing…). I arrived closer to 10pm. The restaurant was full, and there was a line up. The same gruff maitre d’ tried to warn us off, saying it would be 30 or 40 minutes… I decided for my last dinner in a restaurant in Rome that I would be determined… And no more than 10 or 15 minutes later, he came out, and sat all of us who were waiting, a table of four, a table of two, and myself. I was seated closer to the door this time, rather than near the kitchen.


So, for my second round at Le Mani in Pasta, it was 25 euros for some sparkling water, another excellent half-bottle of wine (a Vermentino this time, for 9 euros) and an incredible pasta.

I asked the same waiter as I’d had before for the “second best” dish, since I’d had the best dish the previous time… and he recommended the anchovies with pecorino cheese. I think there were chili flakes in there too. It came with fresh spaghetti (and as before, was one of the daily specials that they normally only serve for two people [which is why the prices appear double as what they should be] but they’d kindly arranged a dish for one for me!).

The pasta again was absolutely delicious, as was the wine. I also finished the meal with an amaro, and liked it so much (3 euros) that I asked for its name: Amaro de Capo, a Calabrian specialty that is well known in Rome, apparently. Give it a try if you come across it (I liked it so much I brought a bottle of it to my friend’s place the next night).

As I was taking a photo of the daily specials, one of the waiters asked me if I wanted a photo with the chef. Hell yes! Leaving the restaurant, I felt I had fallen into the well-worn cliché on Tripadvisor where a family or couple in Paris or Rome had found THEIR restaurant, befriended all the staff, went there for multiple meals and couldn’t stop raving about it to all their friends and in reviews.

I find something a bit funny about this as it can steal away other’s own sense of discovery, can be pushy about projecting one’s own experience onto others (“You must try this place”) and show not a little bit of pride (“Aren’t I clever to have discovered this place?).

And yet, I am a food reviewer myself, constantly giving recommendations, and it definitely reminded me of how exciting and pleasing it is to feel both at home but also discovering the best of a culture different from your own. And it’s kind of a beautiful experience, really, deeply emotional and sensual to adopt a restaurant, as I did this trip, as your favourite of a place.

Le Mani in Pasta Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in European, Food n' Grog, Travel | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Bangkok Food Diary: Kub Kao Kub Pla, Central Embassy

On my recent two-day stopover in Bangkok, this was my favourite meal. After the flight from Sydney, and a rather torturous journey from the airport to my hotel, I met up with my old pal, J., who took me one of his favourite restaurants. It’s part of a chain, apparently: I count seven listings on TripAdvisor for branches in Bangkok.

We had a spicy papaya salad with preserved egg, a crab curry, and a deep-fried fish… All them were perfectly delicious. The salad had just the right hit of spice, and I thought the addition of the thousand-year-old egg was pretty interesting. The crab curry was luscious and creamy. I think there was egg in it too. And the crispy fish was great.

Washed down with a few beers. At 2,000 BT for the two of us (about AUD 85), it’s probably considered a bit expensive for Bangkok, but I think the price reflects the quality of the food: excellent. I’d definitely come back.

Posted in Asian, Food n' Grog, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Rome Food Diary: Sora Margherita, the Jewish ghetto

So, haters gotta hate. I’m very amused reading on TripAdvisor the latest reviews for Sora Margherita. Diners are upset that others love this place so much (and that they didn’t), and they complain about it being expensive, which I just don’t understand as it looks the same prices as elsewhere. Mostly, they complain about the one feisty waitress, who I adore.

Years ago, in San Francisco, there was a Chinese restaurant famous for a waiter who was purposely and famously rude to customers. People came from all over to be treated rudely. I don’t think this is in the same category at all: the waitress simply has a very direct manner, and I LOVE that she often digs a fork into the last piece of food on a plate, and feeds it to you by hand. Waste not, want not, I’d say. And how could you let this beautiful food go to waste?

So, really: I think if you’re not up for adventure and you are kind of prissy about food and service, just DO NOT GO. Go to one of the touristy places elsewhere. There are a lot on the main street, rather than trying to find this quiet entrance, around the corner.

As for me, I decided to try my luck for Saturday lunch. I arrived at 12:15pm and no one was in a line, so I put my name on the door, went for a walk, and came back at 12:30pm. The restaurant because mostly full, but not entirely, and as I find sometimes happens in Europe, even though there was a completely empty table next to ours, I was seated right in a corner, and the next couple, who also didn’t have reservations, were seated with me (basically two tables for two, but together without any space between them).

This could be awkward but the friendly Calgarians introduced themselves and we had a nice chat.

In any case, I got my fix of deep-fried artichoke. Wonderful, though comparing photos with last time, this was a smaller one, and had less heart. Luck of the draw (or season?) I guess.

For my pasta, I decided to be adventurous and order one of the specials, with amatriciana sauce. I still can’t quite remember the name of the pasta, but when it showed up, it was a thick spaghetti, basically. Not fresh pasta, and al dente. At first, I thought it was just OK, but then, getting into it, there were little pieces of guanciale, a sort of bacon, that were both deep-fried and charred, so both a crunch and this charcoal hit of fat that combined with the rich tomato sauce and the pasta made this dish pretty good.

Dining on my own meant I couldn’t split dishes with anyone and that’s all I had room for, but hey, I love this place! I’ll just have to come back for more. And look, they’ve changed their business cards from red to blue.

Check out my review below from 6 June 2016:

IMG_4860

So, this was my favourite restaurant experience in Rome. It ticked all the boxes for authenticity, eccentricity, value and heart… it allowed me to try a few new dishes, and yup, I adored this place, that was recommend by a colleague (thanks Nihan!)

I also found it hilarious that as we sat down, the very tough and no nonsense waitress was scolding a table of (I think) Scandinavians near us who had ordered a deep-fried artichoke and had left the best part, the heart. She cut into it, stuck a fork into it and waved it under the mouths of each of the designers. The women, frightened, refused, but the man in their party ate a heart off the fork, to cheers all around. It was the second time I’d seen the wait staff or managers of a restaurant schooling foreigners on how to eat Italian food, in a forceful manner.

IMG_4861

In any case, that dish was a stand-out for me. I’d never tried it before, the leaves deep-fried so crisp that you could eat them like potato crisps, the earthy, savoury flavour of artichoke made decadent through deep-frying. And of course, the heart was delicious.

IMG_4862

In the two times I managed to go to this restaurant, we tried a few other appetizers too. A classic mozzarella (how could you go wrong?) and eggplant, grilled and marinated (delicious).

IMG_4891With my better half, we split a pasta dish, a filled pasta with a meat sauce. This was only half the dish. Generous servings. Delicious. Fresh. Honest. Mmm..

IMG_4863

 

Ah, the next time, fresh pasta, with cheese and pepper, with a dollop of ricotta on top. It was unbelievable.

IMG_4893

 

I’m not sure how we managed to fit it in for lunch, but we also ate fried bacalao (salted cod).

IMG_4892

 

For dessert, to finish, a classic pannacotta. And we downed it with some grappa.

IMG_4894

Tucked in a quiet side street in the Jewish quarter, the first time we went, for dinner, we arrived right at its opening hour, and managed to get in only because someone who’d reserved hadn’t shown up!

And for lunch a few days later, it was busy, but not a problem to get a table.

A few of the reviews online seem disappointed that Sora Margherita is more expensive than it once was, or was not as good as it was. Ah, nostalgia. For me, judging by the present, this place is pretty special, and I think the photos speak for themselves… I am really, really happy we found this place. If you get the chance, GO!

IMG_5029
Sora Margherita Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Advice, Food n' Grog, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rome Food Diary: Baylon Cafè, Trastevere

I went back and forth on this one. While I really wanted to go to Sora Margherita in the Jewish Ghetto, I was reminded of the reviews on TripAdvisor that it can be very hard to get into, if there are lines of tourists, and I thought it might be hard to get a table for one. I’ll definitely try to go sometime in my days in Rome, and I’m glad to know the feisty waitress is still there, who manages to outrage about a quarter of the TripAdvisor reviewers, but I think she’s fun and colourful. So, one of the reviewers who didn’t like the waitress or the prices suggested this place, which when I looked it up is five minutes from my hotel.

Reviewers of this restaurant smugly point out that this where the locals dine, rather than the tourists, but really, it’s not for lack of trying. The two young waiters outside Baylon tried to hustle in every person who walked past, somewhat clumsily, and in a way I found a little charming but mostly annoying to hear during my whole meal. I think, because this restaurant is not as far into Trastevere proper, that it misses out on a lot of business from people who want to be right in the centre of the action, or at least next to one of the bustling squares.

My first disappointment was that they were out of Carciofo alla Giudia, the deep-fried artichoke dish that I’d loved from Sora Margherita. Ah well, I went for the classic pasta dish Cacio y Pepe (though on the menu above, the ‘Roman Holiday Meet Balls’ sounded intriguing too). With very al dente pesto, and a lot of salt, I found the dish just OK, not fantastic. I think the pasta was too al dente to match and melt with the creamy, richness of the sauce.

Then, still hungry, I took the recommendation of the waiter, a friendly young guy who reminded me of a Border Collie with his enthusiasm, and ordered the oxtails. My family loves oxtails, and Mom would cook them in a Hawaiian stew (rich with tomatoes and potatoes) or as a soup, Chinese style. So, it was great to try the Roman version. It came as a parmesan tuile over a generous amount of oxtail in a rich, thick tomato sauce. It was delicious and I chewed off the meat and cartilage and was Very Happy.

And even though I’d had a glass of white wine with the pasta, and of red wine with the oxtail, I decided to finish the evening with a negroni, which somehow tasted better than all the negronis that I make for myself at home, and I loved the touch of the dried orange slice. So, this almost made me Very Happy.

So, while I was unsure of whether I liked the place at first, I definitely swung upwards, and getting a 20% discount from booking through TripAdvisor and the Fork was the cherry on the pannacotta for my first proper meal in Rome this trip.

Baylon Cafè Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in European, Food n' Grog, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Bangkok Food Diary: Veganerie Concept, Sukhimvit Soi 24, Klongtoey

We went, not because we’re vegan, but because a friend said the food was tasty. I found it fine, but not special. The cauliflower drumsticks were simply battered cauliflower with a sauce. I love zucchini pasta, and have had an incredible pesto version in NYC. While I was looking forward to this, the zucchini was raw, so didn’t resemble pasta. The green curry sauce was tasty enough.

My friends seemed OK with their pulled pork and waffles (in fact, fried mushrooms) and an elaborate hotcakes dessert.

We were very full though at the end of the meal though. I can see if you’re vegan, this would be pretty exciting… but as vegan imposters, it was just OK.

Posted in Food n' Grog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Bangkok Food Diary: Maisen, Central Embassy

Maisen is a chain of Japanese restaurants that is famous for its crispy breaded pork cutlets, more commonly known as tonkatsu. It was in my guidebook as a must-try when I was in Osaka, where I first tried it, so it was a great surprise to find that Maisen has come to Bangkok and can be found in different food malls. This location must be one of the grandest though, with a rather amazing window out to the city.

I had a set menu with tonkatsu with Japanese curry. There was a delicate set of appetizers, a chilled vegetable and two dumplings, and then a bowl of their famous coleslaw, which is just white cabbage that is sliced so finely that combined with their signature sesame seed salad dressing is amazeballs. I’ve tried to slice cabbage this thin, in imitation, but even trying various kinds of Japanese graters, I couldn’t do it.

For the main, there was the choice of two parts of the pig; on the waitress’s recommendation, I chose the loin. The tonkatsu was perfectly crispy, and inside slightly fatty, and very tender. You can tell this is a high quality piece of meat. The curry came in a gravy boat so you can pour it over your rice and tonkatsu yourself (I like interactive dining), and it came with some Japanese pickles (including the tiniest of onions). Did you check out the video at the top of the page?

You also got bottomless Japanese ice tea (unsweetened, hurrah) and a choice of ice cream or almond pudding for dessert (I chose the latter).

For Bangkok prices, the 435 BT (about $17 Aussie dollars) price tag for lunch was a little steep, but feels right for what you get, and is rather cheaper than a trip to Japan. A high recommendation.

Posted in Asian, Food n' Grog, Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sydney Food Diary: Hulu at King Street Wharf

Chef Johnny is only 25 years old but presides over two Hulus and is a consulting chef or manager of many more.

He trained in French and Japanese cuisine, and while he doesn’t like to eat them, he loves making dessert (though this dish below is sweet and sour pork, on ice, with random fruit).

It was a pleasure to have him explain some of his food philosophy and history over a meal for food bloggers at Hulu at King Street Wharf, only a few months old.

While they’re promoting the restaurant as fusion cuisine, I thought it was simply good Chinese food, leaning towards the north of the country rather than Cantonese-style, and with a few twists.

It’s a 200-seater. There’s a downstairs, which looks pleasant enough, with a view out to the water, and an upstairs where we were. I’ve always found the venues at King Street Wharf a little strange; they don’t quite escape the touristy feeling of Darling Harbour, like the ones further down at Barangaroo have. The ambience here feels like it needs settling in; some purposeful music rather than random tracks from a waiter’s phone, and definitely softer lighting.

We really got treated to a feast.

The cold entrees came out in a tower of porcelain whereupon it splits into three bowls: a delicious cold chili chicken, cold and creamy cucumber, and some delicious spinach. The chicken was the highlight for me.

Some interesting dumplings next. The wrappers were fried, and of glutinous rice, and a nice gooey inside.

One filling was cheese, which is unusual for Chinese food, but mixed with the usual ingredients, didn’t taste too unusual for me.

The disturbing goldfish dumplings (“Nemo dumplings”) were tasty, and amusing.

The prawns were delicious, perfectly crisp, and with pineapple, or perhaps oranges (I just went for the prawns).

Tea-smoked duck (oolong) had apparently been prepared over days. I found it quite salty.

Johnny explained that his technique for sweet and sour pork is to use ice… which makes the batter even more crispy. It was crispy, though this one seemed a bit tricky with the bits of fruit and the ice cubes.

I always think fried rice is interesting at classier Chinese restaurants because it’s such a standard dish everywhere, how do they elevate it? But they do.

I have to admit my favourite fried rice in town is at Din Tae Fung. It’s amazing what you can do with fried rice.

My favourite dish of the night was homemade tofu, deep fried, with a delicate sauce of enoki mushrooms. For me, it was perfect; tasted like a humble, village dish that had been elevated.

For dessert, there were three. An osmanthus jelly, one of those strange Chinese textures of desserts that aren’t too appealing to the Occidental tongue. Very pretty and visual though.

The sweet wintermelon soup was a hit, surprisingly. I thought it would be a bit weird for others at the table (I’m used to weird-arse Chinese desserts) but they all liked it and found it very refreshing.

The highlight of course was a deep-fried ice cream with a white chocolate shell that melts underneath the hot chocolate sauce.

More than a gimmick, this really was tasty.

All in all, it was quite a night. Thanks to Johnny and his team for their generosity. It will be interesting to see what kind of crowd Hulu pulls, and I’ll be interested to see if any of the fusion ideas become more pronounced. Why not drop on by and give them a try?

Hulu at King Street Wharf Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Asian, Food n' Grog, Sydney | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sydney Food Diary: Ho Jiak’s Nonya Afternoon Tea

I like the Australian word ‘spruik’. Except I’ve been pronouncing it wrong. It’s sprook, rhymes with Luke, not sproik, rhymes with… well, not anything I can think of.

It means to either promote or publicise something or to loudly advertise something outside a venue, with your voice, like the guys in front of the strip clubs in Kings Cross.

In any case, if it sounds like I’m spruiking Nyonya High Tea at Ho Jiak, my new favourite restaurant, it’s because I am. You can stop in here on an afternoon on a weekday for bubbles and Malaysian snacks, a few favourites and mostly sweets. You could also actually have tea (or the Malaysian mixture of tea-coffee that I’ve never really inclined towards) but hey, why would you?

The idea of it, really, is pretty wonderful. I’m up for bubbles anytime (in this case, it was a basic and tasty Australian drop, the Brut Carview Marview 2003 from McWilliam’s) and I like Asian snacks. While I’ve tried a few of these already at Ho Jiak, I haven’t tried all of them, and my Malaysian friend, an expert in Nonya cuisine (Malaysian cuisine with a Chinese heritage, her grandmother made it) and I chowed down. It was a very, very pleasant afternoon.

$25 for bottomless tea and coffee, and $40 each for bottomless bubbles… along with these lovely plates of delight. Special mention this time to the one with the blue rice and coconut jam on top. Scrumptious!

In the meantime, Ho Jiak seems to be preparing new menu items. I like that they’re always trying to do better, and make more interesting dishes, and shake things up. There seems to be a real commitment to quality and innovation. I’m looking forward to the next meal there already.

Ho Jiak Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Asian, Food n' Grog, Sydney | Tagged , | Leave a comment