Thursday, May 27, 2010

Salad Days at the Bouzy Rouge

What do you get when the interior designer whose very own dining room looks like this:

And whose hallway entrance looks like this:

And who designed my favourite bathroom ever in the history of the world:

turns his hand to restaurant decoration?

You get the Bouzy Rouge, in Richmond, a refurbished pub, owned by Jose and Sandra De Oleivera and decorated by Jean Pierre Heurteau, responsible for the above interiors.  You also get an interior which is over the top to say the least.

So, perhaps as expected there is a bit of road kill on the walls with chandeliers thrown in for good measure:

lots of animal print:

and these bejewelled crowns, which act as  bread baskets and make one feel rather Maid Marianesque:

I had a wonderful long lunch for a friend's birthday on a recent Sunday. It was a feast to break the famine I hadn't really had but I could pretend.

We were a table of 10, which was fun for us but not so fun for the waitstaff.  However we had charming, patient, non eye rolling service in a crowded environment.

To begin with we had lots of plates to share (including scallop ceviche with pistachio and blood orange and chilli salted calamari) and then I had roast suckling pig with cabbage and crackling and a beautiful sticky jus.   Also on offer and tasted by me were a baked wild rabbit casserole which retained lots of moistness.

A place with an ever present, hovering owner, poking around behind the bar, offering up freshly cooked cake to annoying people like me who were hanging around asking to split the bill because we had to leave first, is always a good sign.  I know restaurants hate splitting the bill but sometimes it has to be done and I really think, like duck, it is a good test of restaurant management and attitude. 

I would love to return for the salads, as part of my never ending quest for interesting salads.   I think I could live on salads with a bit of beef thrown in every few days.   And well balanced ones with the correct dressing and a bit of originality are hard to come by.

Here are three on offer:
  • baby endive salad with figs, sugar peas, cranberries, walnuts, proscuitto and gorgonzola with balsamic and truffle oil dressing.
  • beetroot, roast pumpkin and chick pea salad with cous cous, preserved lemon, Persian fetta and chard.
  • salad of grilled asparagus, dehydrated olives, and green beans with a seared tuna steak and sauce gribiche.
A great place for a long lunch.   And probably dinner.  And also a drink. 
Bouzy Rouge on Urbanspoon

(Images: (1) and (2) House and Garden (3) Vogue Living Australia March\April 2006  (4) and (7)  Kit Haselden on Flickr (5) and (6) Bouzy Rouge)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Epicerie Tote Bag by Maron Bouillie

I have been told by my children that my green credentials are inadequate.  The most significant of my failings is that I do not have a reusable shopping bag and instead allow the shops and supermarkets to ply me with plastic bags.   Are plastic bags the number 1 crime against humanity?   My daughter thinks so.  

A French 'artiste plasticienne', Maron Bouillie, makes bags imprinted with photos of wonderful French things. Like this bag, which I hope to use in place of the evil plastic.   Her (slowly loading) website is here

I found this in yet another website free shop, Ex Libris, located in Armadale. A glittering jewellbox of a store, it sells an ecletic mix of all things French, including Gien porcelain, and design books, and door knobs, an little crystal alarm clocks, and Tolix chairs, and so on. 

This is the reverse side of the bag.   I love the details - spice jars (!), lemonade bottles, little wooden drawers and so on. 

Maron Bouillie also makes little printed purses:

And this, my favourite, an Onion Bag:

As I was in the shop, buying something, I thought I may as well buy a couple of other things (oh fatal flaw in my personality). So I bought two other Maron Bouillie creations, firstly a little car bag for my son to store his super precious, dating from the 1960s, Thunderbirds 2 and 4, which I dearly hope will extend their lives.   

And for me, a little bag to store spare embroidery cotton.  

Is it just me, or am I seeing photos printed on absolutely everything at the moment?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hiding Away

Lately my daughter has been coming home with news that she is being teased.  The tease is about her feet.   Apparently they are too small.  To me, this is a pretty laughable insult, along the lines of 'your hair is too shiny' or 'your eyelashes are too long' but it affects her.  It is a point of difference between her and her little friends.  Who knows why little girls do this.  I know it is worse in single sex schools.   And I know that generally little boys aren't bitchy. 

I cannot make my daughter feel better.    She doesn't believe me when I say that the size of your feet is just one of those things you cannot change, and it is a waste of time and energy to worry about it.  

Everyone has to endure some teasing at school. It is a rite of passage, although it shouldn't be.   I keep telling my children that they must never make personal comments about people's appearance.   But when others all around you do this, it must be hard not to retaliate.  

When I was teased at school (about my name, my fair skin, whatever) I wanted to curl up in a little ball, in my own separate magical home.   So here they are for my daughter, some magical places to hide: 

(Little willow folly, by artist Patrick O'Donoghue, found here

(a walnut shell carried by a sperm whale, by Johanna Wright

(A hay bale cottage, by Ludwig Design

(mice over Paris, Johanna Wright as above) 

(a beaver house by artist Mark Ragonese see here

(A grown up treehouse by Blue Forest

(as above) 

This weekend we are going to rug up in front of the fire as I hope it will be cold, and I will make a start on sanding back my horribly painted cedar bench.   And read as much as I can.  And, I am a bit ashamed to say, probably watch Avatar (it's not me, my husband wants to watch it). 

Have a lovely weekend. xoxo

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Restaurant Inspiration - Confit at Circa the Prince

Does the environment you eat in affect your experience?   I would like to think that I only care about the food and so am not unduly influenced by such things as my surroundings, so that I can enjoy good food on a grimy Bangkok street just as much as in an unadorned, cheaply decorated Fitzroy cafe. 

Last week at Circa the Prince,  I had one of the best meals of the last year in a setting which almost but not quite overwhelmed the food. 

Imagine this room:

To my right, a table of property developers in pressed jeans and blue striped shirts, their silver hair brushed back in in the style of a lion's mane.  To my left, a well known intellectual property lawyer dining with his wife.  Immediately next to us, a completely rotund couple from Holland who talk of food and recipes all night and proceed to order each item on the menu and share all the dishes (just in case you are in any doubt, that is quite a lot of food).   Over past the black tiled central column, a table of beautiful women including a Kim Raver clone sit with their large labelled leather handbags piled up next to them.   Past them, a table of mohawked and bepierced young men with a 6 foot tall boxum women in a Talitha Getty style silk turban with body image issues (I overheard her in the bathroom).   Further behind me sits Luke-who-used-to-work-in-our-local-wine-shop-and-is-now-a-sommelier, dining with two 23 year olds wearing short shorts on this cold Autumn evening.

The people are not the problem in this restaurant.  The acoustics are.   So full of people, sitting in a hard concrete room, eating to a background of loud house music, it is nigh on impossible to hear the person opposite.  I probably seem middle aged saying this, but restauranteurs - please - enough with the loud bass music.  It's not a nightclub.   

And it is a shame, that this newly renovated room, on which I am certain a large amount of money has been spent (it is essentially the old courtyard covered over), feels so temporary, so last minute, so cramped, so unsuited to the delicate, great value food which is being cooked by Matt Wilkinson.    The old restaurant, which faces the bump and grind of Fitzroy Street, is now used for functions. What a waste.  

The very best element of the room, visible above, is the vertical garden, housed in a square frame of boxes.   Oh, and those black lights.   And the upholstered chairs.  And the little tables work really well for closeness but not if you have long legs. 

I ate:
  • kromeskies
  • warm salad of partridge (confit breast and terrine) with rhubarb and heirloom vegetables.
  • 150g Sher wagyu beef 
  • gingerbread parfait with warm apple rice pudding. 
The kromeskies (pork shoulder shredded and deep fried based on a Russion recipe) were salty and moreish.  

The partridge salad was unpeakably divine.  Dotted with tiny peeled carrots, dressed with something piquant, the partridge (not easy to find in Australia) was full of flavour.  The whole dish sang. 

The beef deserves special mention.  It came with the following:  mustard, tomato relish, a lentil and green bean saute, a little copper pot of glistening smooth mashed potato and a perfectly dressed green salad.  All for $45.   Not cheap but good value when you need to order sides to make up a properl meal in so many restaurants. 

The wine service was slow but the sommelier did a great job of plying us with Barolo.  The wine list allows you to order different 'serving sizes' from 30 ml through to a normal 120 ml glass.   Just to be clear, 30 ml is two tablespoons, barely a gulp, and for some of the more expensive wines this size costs more than $15!   However, it is a chance to taste some amazing wine. 

In summary: go for the food, trust the sommelier, and pray that the owners re-think the renovation.  

Circa, the Prince on Urbanspoon

The partridge salad inspired me to do a different kind of confit to my usual duck (great standby dinner party dish because it needs no attention. Also good for killing off unwanted dinner party guests with a nice overdose of cholesterol with the duck fat). 

I couldn't find partridge but I did find jumbo quail, which I jointed. 

Warning: photo of meat below.

Put the quail, one sliced garlic clove, a bay leaf and a sprig of rosemary into a small ovenproof dish which just fits the quail. Put enough duck fat to cover into the dish and bring to the boil on the stove top. Then cook in the oven for about an hour at 160 degrees. I find this works much better with leg joints than the breast which tends to dry out.  (I used both, and didn't end up eating the breast).

I served this with cubes of roasted beetroot, some greens and a vinaigrette.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Re Spiced.

We all have those lists in the back of our minds, little things we think 'I must pick that up if I come across it'. 

I have had spice jars on that list for many years.  Literally years.   Small jars may seem like a simple enough thing to find.  But they had to be glass.  And the opening had to be wide enough to fit a tablespoon measure.   And they had to have nice plain lids.  

On the weekend I found my Holy Grail.

These jars, from Scullerymade ($19 for 10). If you live in Melbourne I urge you to visit this amazing copper pot, silicon mould and all things kitchen filled shop.  You will not leave empty handed.

I needed these jars because until yesterday, my spice drawer looked like this:

And now, it looks like this:

I like them so much in their pristine glassy state that I don't even want to label them.  But as a courtesy to the other members of the house it is probably the right thing to do.  And I do find cumin and coriander look quite alike. 

Now my spice drawer resembles a colourful science laboratory filled with mineral sands

I am well aware that the pleasure this clean out gave me is beyond reason and out of all proportion.  I can't explain it.  It just is.    

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Graham for All Seasons

The more I read my Kindle (birthday gift in March, used for my utilitarian reading - ie crime and modern literature but am still intending to buy lots of books in paper form), the more I hanker after delicate colourful first edition books. 

Even Graham Greene, a relatively serious man, had to conform with design norms of the time.  Hence this book cover with its lurid 1950's style, just the thing to read attired in this:

During a period of leave from work some years ago, I developed a low level obsession with Graham Greene.  My problem is that when I decide I like a writer I feel compelled to read all their works.  That's fine if it is Jonathan Safran Foer (only two novels and one work of non-fiction to read).  But with Mr Greene, there are at least 30 to wade through.  So the writer and I had a quite long relationship although I found I couldn't quite get through his entire oeuvre.   

And I am not proud of this, because although he is a magnificent writer, he is heavy going and his books tend to be very guilt ridden.   I felt like life was almost too much to bear at the end of my Greene fest and even converting to Catholicism wouldn't save me.

On the lighter side, what diversity he shows.

To summarise the Nation:

A stranger with no shortage of calling cards: devout Catholic, lifelong adulterer, pulpy hack, canonical novelist; self-destructive, meticulously disciplined, deliriously romantic, bitterly cynical; moral relativist, strict theologian, salon communist, closet monarchist; civilized to a stuffy fault and louche to drugged-out distraction, anti-imperialist crusader and postcolonial parasite, self-excoriating and self-aggrandizing, to name just a few.

Add to that: suicidal, bi-polar, writer of screenplays,  and a man with quite a good sense of humour (he once entered a competition for Greene parody short stories and came second).

There is a book for every occasion: having an adulterous affair?  Go to the End of the Affair.  Feeling Spylike?   Turn to the Third Man.   Stuck in a train with a chatty old lady?  Read Travels with my Aunt. Feeling an existential Catholic crisis coming on?  Try the Power and the Glory.  

I raise this because I have found from this bookseller in Bangkok a number of first editions for sale, including my second favourite Greene, the End of the Affair (for $250).

For this, I recommend something fitted:

Not my favourite Greene however. My favourite is:

Set in Sierra Leone it tells the story of Scobie, adulterer, potentially corrupt policeman trying valiantly to keep law and order, and save his marriage whilst reconciling the things he does with his religious beliefs.

This book was chosen by Time in 2005 as one of the Top 100 books from 1923 to date.  We may think scathing reviews are a product of the modern time.   Well -  George Orwell wrote a review of this book in the New Yorker in 1949 which you can read here, and made this comment after summarising the plot: 

'I have not parodied the plot of this book. Even when dressed up with realistic details it is just as ridiculous as it sounds'.

And today, in a world where we have to tell everyone what we think, all the time, endlessly, blurting out truths to no avail, I rather like this observation by Mr Greene:

In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.

(Images: (2) (5) (6)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A tale of three lamps

For as long as I can remember,  lampshades and I have not seen eye to eye.  No matter where I look, online or in the flesh, I can never seem to find a lampshade I like.  Either the  shape is too pyramidal, or the covering is wrong, or the proportions don't work.   Whatever happened to the good old fashioned cylinder shade?  That is much more my style.  

The lamp base and shade above are from the 1950s and it sits on the Other Side of my bed.   

Pretty much impossible to match, but I have found this shade, from Vixen, which I think contrasts reasonably well.   I know it is strange to have non matching lamps but Someone is very attached to his light, and it isn't going anywhere.  

The third lampshade is for my daughter's room.  I had foolishly bought her an Ikea lamp a few months ago which threw off very little light (the squinting gave it away).  We had another 1950's base hanging around, so I bought a shade in a shape I liked and covered it with this butterfly fabric.  

If you cut and measure carefully it is quite easy to recover shades using a spray fabric glue.    I haven't quite mastered how to make it neat on the inside.  In the end I just folded it around and kept it in place with white masking tape.  It doesn't look so great in there, but my daughter doesn't mind.  

If you look closely you can see a pile of 1970's Enid Blyton hardback books, which I found in March in a second hand bookstall.  The Naughtiest Girl in the School, the Faraway Tree and so on.   I was so excited to find the ones just like those I had. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Plum Cake for Mother's Day

Some plums picked just a day ago (so the man who sold them to me said).

Perfect for a plum cake, a German recipe from Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion.  

It has a batter on the bottom, a topping of halved plums and ground almonds (and pine nuts as I improvised) and a sugary buttery streusel topping which puffs up and crunches as the cake cooks.

My mother is a great cook, and being from the country it is perhaps surprising she doesn't bake more.  It is also surprising she didn't actively teach me to cook, it was something I learned in my late 20s.   She had to work, very hard, from when I was 11 years old, and if I asked her I am certain she would say that she just didn't have the time.   Perhaps she was too tired, a complaint I am guilty of making way too often these days. 

As much as it is tempting to be rosey eyed about mother - daughter relationships, the truth is that they are tricky, and that really hits home once you have a child of your own.  I can every day see myself behaving in ways, both good and perhaps not so good, which are so similar to the ways in which my mother behaved when I was a little girl.   

It is scary because there is something worse than behaving badly - it's knowing you are behaving badly.

(eat warm with cream)

Genes are very powerful and they come through in all kinds of odd ways.  I know I get my obsession with putting food, jewelry, makeup, button, hair clips, socks and all other manner of things in separate and copious containers from her, and I also get the need to have everything spick and span before I can relax from her.  

Having said all that, I am lucky to have her as a mother.  She is a charming, warm, interested in other people person, who sets a table beautifully, is perfect at making people feel welcome and wants everyone to be kind to each other all the time.

And I can say all this knowing she doesn't text, has no computer or email and certainly doesn't read this blog.  

Happy Mother's Day to you, I will love you always. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Percy's New Room

Well not a new room, but made over.  

As I mentioned here, my son was blessed with a lilac room for the first 3 years of his life.

This is what it looked like.  You can see the almost fluorescent purple walls.   Someone told me once it was like something they had as a child in the 1970s and I got the feeling that they didn't mean that in a good way.

Of course there was nothing inherently wrong with the room, although the almost white carpet was one of the more stupid decisions I have made in my life, and was completely filthy after 7 years of baby related activity.

My decision to give him more of a little boy's room coincided with the gift of a sewing machine at Christmas, so I decided to make as much as I could.  I can't make carpet or paint, so I got the professionals in for that.   The walls were painted white, and I had deep chocolate brown carpet put in, which I know is an extreme overreaction to the white carpet but I couldn't help myself.

The old chair, which I used for feeding and still use for reading stories, looked like this: 

I recovered it using my trusty sewing machine.  I bought some red spotty Kokka fabric from Kelani, and pinned the fabric to the existing cover to get the right shape and fit and sewed a slip cover.  It ties underneath but I had to velcro the side sections so that I can get it off for washing.    I then made a cushion cover, which was quite hard because of the rounded shape and those odd indents where the chair arms are.    It worked out reasonably well in spite of that.  

It now looks like this:

You can see in the chair photo that the curtains were taffeta lilac and cream stripe.  Quite amazing and just like a ballgown. My mother is looking forward to taking them off my hands.  

Because the curtain rod requires curtains which slip on tightly, rather than rings, I decided to make the curtains myself, which I did using a Warwick fabric, which photographs badly but looks like this close up.  It is worth mentioning that due to high ceilings, these curtains are 3.7 metres in height and 2.1 metres each across: 

I figured it had a lot of different colours in it, enough to last few years for when my son wants a brown room for his Bionicle stage.  

I then put some shelves up, Ikea Lack (of course) and they are shown above.  The main issue with this room is that it has two doors (one to our bedroom - I think it was originally - and mark my words, will become again, a separate wardrobe room) and one to the hallway.   It then has a casement window and so only one untouched wall. My idea was to get as much off the floor as possible.   

Then came the bed.  I bought this from Parenthood after much price comparison.  I wouldn't go so far as to say children's bed sellers run a cartel but it is certainly amazing the way they all seem to be pretty much the Same Price.   

A little word about the blanket.  The idea for this came from Kelly Doust's The Crafty Minx.    It is a woollen patchwork.  I got a whole pile of old jumpers, mine, and the children's  (Seed shoppers will recognise that blue and grey stripey one), cut them into squares and patched them together with some backing.   Sounds easy, but took weeks and weeks and weeks, to pin and sew and pin and sew.    It is a lovely blanket though, very soft and pre-loved, with a lot of cashmere in it.  I am so grateful for this idea as it enabled me to save so many jumpers with holes and tears in them.   

So that's it.   

It felt pretty good to do this myself.   BUT two things I now know I am never ever doing again - making curtains (too much fabric!!!  Too high risk!!!) and making a woollen patchwork blanket (arrggh, the time, the time).

One last thing to do is to put somewhere the compass decal which I won from the lovely A-M a couple of months back.......

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