December 24, 2013

A Merry Christmas to all

Tick tock, tick tock. The countdown is on. Christmas Eve is in full swing here. 

Wishing you all a beautiful Christmas. Be happy, be safe, be joyous and most of all, be thankful. 

December 06, 2013

They call him Big El

I greatly dig the fact that over the last year or two we've had some pretty good Mexican restaurants opening up around town. There was a period of time in my early twenties when I was absolutely cray cray for Mexican and would regularly head to Pancho's in Victoria Park or Mexican Kitchen in Fremantle. I remember once upon a time when the Mexican dining choices we had in Perth were fairly limited to these establishments and also the likes of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (hello, blast from the past!) and Acapulco Annie's. 

I'm glad that going out to eat Mexican no longer means overly cheesey and sour cream laden tacos that are more about the heat rather than the actual flavours of the spices.  Pancho's is no longer my Mexican of choice.

Most would be familiar with El Publico in Mount Lawley and La Cholita in Northbridge, both serving dishes designed to be shared and possessing some pretty impressive alcohol menus. Both also do not take bookings which is somewhat of a bugbear of mine. Sometimes you can't wait around for an hour or two (or even more) hoping that you will be bestowed with the blessing of a table. 

Big El's Latin American Fusion (we shall call him Big El for short) is new kid in the playground, taking up residence in the location once occupied by Sake Bar on Francis Street in Northbridge. I actually don't know what the deal is with bookings but we were there for a function and there was no problem with having a booking for that accepted. I don't know if that may be different for smaller groups of diners.

My friend's partner was celebrating his entrance into a new decade and I was helping her with organizing a special surprise birthday dinner for him while they were living it up at Marina Bay Sands.  I love organizing events though.  I even start thinking about my own birthday months and months in advance.  Sometimes I think event and party planning would be something I could do and then I think about having to deal with crazy pedantic people.  I'm a crazy pedantic person.  I don't know if I'd want to deal with me if I wasn't me.

From the time I contacted Big El's they were really helpful in accommodating me as well as giving some good advice in terms of how to organize the food orders.  Before settling on Big El's I had contacted a few other places and it's pretty disappointing that some did not even get back to me.  What actually made me think of suggesting Big El's to my friend is that I had heard of the place because I knew they had their artwork done by Perth artist Joseph Boin AKA Destroy so that in itself gave it some brownie points from the outset.

On the night there was 18 of us, and we were seated at the back of the restaurant.  There is a separate elevated dining area on one side that I assume is also used for private functions and group bookings and booth style seating along the other side.  It was a Wednesday night and fairly busy, however the staff were attentive and the service could not be faulted.  

Their menu is also designed to be shared and for starters we ordered a few serves each of the chorizo chiplets, elotes callejeros (street corn), nacho bowls and tortilla chiplets which we had served with chilli con queso and guacamole.  We did not order it, but they have a Mexican hot dog on their menu and the description of it alone makes me want it.  Do yourself a favour and head to their website and check it out for yourself.  I love a bit of innuendo and smut.  Actually, don't check it out if smut is not your thing.




These starters came out quickly and we enjoyed them while quenching our thirst with their skulls of mixed spirits.  We ordered a couple of skulls of Hendricks gin and tonic and Grey Goose vodka and cranberry.  The skulls are enough for five drinks and are priced at $35.  We also ordered some jugs of lime and mango frozen margaritas which are made with Patron tequila, with these priced at $24.  The margaritas were yummy but I was a bit sad as I was expecting an actual jug but they were served in something more like a carafe, which dashed the vision in my mind of drinking from a communal jug with multiple straws.  I won't hold that against them though.

They call me Hendricks Lamar

To follow the starters were tacos.  There are four different fillings you can choose from, which are crispy chicken, slow cooked pulled beef, ginger salmon and black bean.  We went with the chicken, beef and salmon.  They had a lot of different sauces and because we ordered so many tacos we were able to have each of the sauces.  I really like the idea of building your own taco and being able to choose your desired filling, sauce and salsa.  Oh, we had the mango and jalapeno and tomato and garlic salsas.  That mango salsa was so good.

I found the salmon to be on the dry side, but other than that I enjoyed all of the food.  It definitely has the flavour as well as the heat - if you want it.  It's not just chilli, chilli and more chilli but no real flavour.  The chilli con queso dip was so very yummy, and the guacamole is made for you at the table.  Or you can do it yourself if you wish.  The pulled beef was my favourite of our filling choices.  As you should expect with any slow cooked meat, it was very tender and full of flavour.  

Oh Lord Jesus, it's a fire!

At the end of the night they served the birthday boy a special birthday drink on the house, which was very nice of them.  It was massive!  It came out on fire! It is called Down the Rabbit Hole on their menu, but I'm not sure ordinarily if it's as big as they made it for him. 

Like a knife through the heart!  If you're wondering about the message on the cake it's a reference to a hip hop classic.

The total bill came to just over $600, which I think is pretty damn good considering we were all full at the end of the night and had ordered quite a few of the skulls and jugs.  I definitely will return to Big El's as there's a few other items on the menu I'd like to try, the smutty hot dog being at the top of the list.

Oh and here I am.  What did I wear?  I was Bruug'd out, in their Island top and Nightowl skirt.  Check the clutch, it's my Hustle Bag which I received a couple of weeks ago and LOVE!  I will write a post about the greatness of the Hustle Bag soon, but for now, ladies you definitely should get one.  No more low battery! 

Big Els Latin American Fusion on Urbanspoon

October 13, 2013

High Tea in the Hills

A couple weekends ago while I was still sick, I roused myself from my death bed to have an afternoon high tea at De Bles Cafe in Kelmscott.  Take it from me, it's not the most enjoyable experience to attempt a high tea sitting while you can barely breathe or talk.  In hindsight I should have stayed home, but I'm loyal to the cause and will rarely say no to food.

I pass De Bles Cafe on a weekly basis even though I live nowhere near it but my fabulous Pilates instructor is nearby in Roleystone and I drive past the cafe on the way to her studio.  In fact, I actually thought it was located in Roleystone because she is literally only a short walk further down the street but a quick check tells me it's Kelmscott.  When you have a good Pilates instructor you will drive far for her.  The same can be said for buttery pastries. 

As well as being a cafe, they are also a patisserie and the rear of their premises sells a variety of baked foods as well as breads and baguettes.  Knowing this I may stop in after a Pilates class to indulge in a pastry.  Again, I'm loyal to the cause.

I was really impressed with the cafe upon walking in.  It really is quite unassuming and for many they would probably drive past and not even know it was there.  The main dining room where the high tea is served was prettily decorated with the tables set with cute crockery and a simple vase of flowers.  At the rear is further cafe seating, however I believe this main dining room is solely for high tea.  

They offer a really good choice of teas, as well as coffee and hot chocolate.  I had the vanilla rooibos which was really good.  I didn't pay close enough attention though to making a note of the tea and coffee they serve so I'm not sure which brand of tea it was.  I did pay enough attention though to know that I enjoyed it.

The tiered stands came with an assortment of savoury and sweet treats, as you would expect.  A couple of different sandwiches, a quiche, strawberry tarts, macarons, chocolates and of course, scones with jam and cream.  I didn't eat everything as my appetite was feeling a bit suppressed, but the scones were really good.  They were great scones.  The sandwiches were good too, not being stale or dry.  

I noticed as we left that you can also buy the teas and coffee that they serve.  The only downside to De Bles was the confusion as to where we pay when we left.  The staff looking after the main room farewelled us, and they were very lovely and provided us with great service, but it seemed that they were not the ones who take care of the bill.  We were left standing there and when no-one came to take our payment we walked out into the rear cafe where the staff working that area helped us out.  We went out that way and saw the lovely grounds that they occupy complete with a flowing stream.  It was very picturesque.  I imagine it would lovely out there on a nice day.

De bles on Urbanspoon

October 04, 2013

A Farewell to Marc Jacobs

The news was confirmed with a dramatic runway show - Marc Jacobs would be leaving Louis Vuitton.  The man who has been an integral part of the Louis Vuitton brand since 1997 and without a doubt a driving force in transforming Louis Vuitton from more than just being known for brown monogrammed bags into the fashion powerhouse that it is today.  It is said that he is leaving to concentrate on his own Marc Jacobs line as the company prepares to go public.

Where would Louis Vuitton be today without Marc Jacobs?  That is something we will never know. It's almost like there was a Before Marc and an After Marc period.  Before Marc it's not at all debatable that Louis Vuitton was well established within the luxury sector.  After Marc is where he took the brand above, beyond and further, to a level some may even say to be over saturation.  One thing is for sure, if you didn't know the iconic monogram logo before, you definitely knew it once he had come on the scene.  It was all about the logo, in every form, in every reincarnation, in every colour, on everything.

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Yes, on everything.  

It was Marc Jacobs who was responsible for Louis Vuitton releasing its first ready-to-wear collection and while this was the a definite sign of the brand's evolution it was with the accessories and small leather goods where the ball was well and truly hit right out of the park.  Collaborations with the late Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Murakami produced some of the most recognizable designs; the Louis Vuitton graffiti (over which Mr Jacobs is sprawled in the above photo) and the Monogram Multicoloure and Cherry Blossom.

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 He enlisted an army of celebrities to to advertise the products.  Not that he really needed to.  The lines that snaked outside boutiques when new and limited edition collections were released and the wait lists for products proved this.  I suppose though that the relationship with the celebrity culture was a reciprocal one.  Seeing JLo or Madonna in the print ads upped the highly desirable factor, and at the same time, their association with the brand made them cool.  How many times has Louis Vuitton been named dropped in countless songs?  Kanye West styled himself as the Louis Vuitton Don and strutted around with a monogrammed backpack.   

Some designs have been questionable.  I can't say I was a fan of the patchwork or perforated bags, or the Miroir collection.  However, I thought the small Groom collection was particularly cute and was a nod to their origins as a luggage maker.  I still think that the little bell hop looks like Tin Tin.  I have the rectangular Pochette Cles coin purse although I don't use it very often.

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I have a special place in my heart for Louis Vuitton.  It was the first 'actual' designer piece I owned when I received a bag for my 18th birthday.  A bag which I still very heavily use to this day, after all, it's a Speedy.  A Speedy will never get old.  Hands up if your first LV piece was a Speedy.  It seems that the Speedy is a popular starting point as well as the Alma and the Pochette. 

Last year when I was in Paris I visited the Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs exhibition at Les Arts Decoratifs.  Not only was it masterfully curated with a great use of props, lighting and various media but it was also like walking through a timeline of the brand's existence, almost like going from a silent black and white movie to a surround sound high definition full colour spectacle.

The rumour is that Nicholas Ghesquiere will take over the reins from Marc Jacobs.  It will be interesting to see what he does with LV and at the same time see what MJ does with his own label.

Some of my favourite and/or memorable Louis Vuitton moments below...

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Of course Ms Carey had the flagship store on Les Champs-Elysees shut down so she could drape herself over some vintage trunks.

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The Louis Vuitton Don with his gold and silver Miroir.

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The dreamy Spring/Summer 2012 runway.

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Lemon yellow, checker board retro goodness at Spring/Summer 2013.

Always a favourite moment to be had in the flagship store.  Unfortunately no vintage trunks to drape myself over.  I forgot my bikini.

Thank you Mr Jacobs for all the Louis Vuitton loveliness through these years.  I'd spend the money all over again.

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October 01, 2013

A new-ish Japanese in town

Over the last two weeks I had some days off here and there while I was sick. Even now I still have a niggling cough that's hanging around like a visitor that you just want out of your house.  Being at home during the week allows you to do things like watch daytime television or notice the amount of young kids you have living near you that love riding (noisily) up and down the street while you're trying to sleep.  I know, I sound like a grumpy old curmudgeon and perhaps if I had closed my doors and windows I would have slept in peace, but I like the fresh air.

Another thing that it requires you to do is wonder where your next meal is coming from, considering that you generally don't feel like cooking (or doing much else) while you're sick, and it's not like being at work where I have a multitude of food options available to me once I step outside of the office.  Luckily for me as I browsed through Instagram from my sick bed I came across a picture of a yummy looking Japanese bento box accompanied with the information that during the week this particular establishment had a two-for-one promotion on the bento boxes.  What?!  That was enough to get me out of my pyjamas (and I will honestly admit I spent 3 days straight in pyjamas but rest assured I showered and put on a new pair daily) and heading down the road to get my Japanese fix. 

I made my way to JBento in Victoria Park and promptly placed my order for two bentos, one of them being freeeeee.  What could be better?  I spoke to the nice man working there and asked how long they had been open as I live nearby but hadn't heard of them.  That said they do only operate Monday to Friday so that would probably provide a good explanation as to why I didn't know about JBento earlier.  He told me that they had been operating for a few months and it looks to me like it's a popular lunch choice for those working nearby and also students.  Oh to be a uni student again.  Those lazy days which I never appreciated until it was too late.

From the exterior JBento can be quite unassuming as it is located in what was once a house, but inside they've fit it out with funky looking chalkboard tables and cushioned stools.  If it should strike your fancy, you can draw on the tables while you wait.  It's also very clean inside. 

Help yourself to the green tea!

I ordered teriyaki salmon and chicken bentos.  They come with your usual side of rice (I love the rice topping so much!), a small green salad with sesame dressing, wakame (seaweed) salad, potato salad and a crunchy slice of daikon pickle.  I'm a huge fan of wakame salad but I didn't enjoy the potato salad.  It's a bit different to your standard 'Western' potato salad - duh, it's Japanese. The salmon was cooked really well, crispy on the outside but still quite tender on the inside.  I tried some of the chicken and although I generally don't order teriyaki chicken, the chicken was grilled nicely and not dry.  The teriyaki sauce on both was really yummy and had a perfect sweetness to it.

Super cute packaging!

The following week I couldn't resist getting another JBento fix and that time I ordered the karaage (fried) chicken and bulgogi beef, which is more Korean than Japanese.  Karaage chicken is one of my favourite Japanese dishes to have so I knew I had to try their karaage.  Unfortunately, I didn't really enjoy it and compared to other karaage I have had from other places it didn't really measure up.  It was lacking a lot of the flavour that you would usually find in karaage chicken - the soy, garlic and ginger.  It was more like plain battered chicken than karaage.  While there was a lot of chicken, rather than being mostly batter than chicken, I didn't think it had the crunch and taste of other karaage chicken that I've had.  The beef was better, the sauce being rich in flavour, and the meat thinly sliced and soft to the bite. 

Despite not being happy with their karaage chicken it is still Japanese I would go back for, on the days I may not find myself at work that is! I was still happy with the other dishes and would definitely go back, as well as recommend that you try them out. 

JBento on Urbanspoon

September 19, 2013

Au Printemps

I had dinner with my girlfriends at one of our favourite restaurants in Perth, Chez Pierre, which is located on Stirling Highway in Nedlands.  For those who remember the wonder that was Eminem (the Turkish restaurant, not the rapper), Chez Pierre is located at the same venue.  Oh Eminem, how I remember those days.

Enough of the reminiscing.  The food, service and atmosphere of Chez Pierre make it a worthy successor to Eminem.  I would not eat there so often it this were not the case.  One of the great features of Chez Pierre is that they release a seasonal menu every two months, which features a different menu for each week and that I think is not only a great way to have a wonderful lunch or dinner but is also great value.  Five courses under $60 in a lovely French restaurant, what could be better?

The 'Taste of Spring' menu was launched at the beginning of September and each week until the end of October their menus will feature spring produce served up classic French Provencal style.  Although it's technically spring, you wouldn't know it with the weather these last couple of weeks.  Rain, rain and more rain.  What's that saying though? Spring showers means no summer water restrictions, or something like that?

These special set menus are available all week except for Friday and Saturday, and each week's menu is representative of a region in France.  It is only recently that they have no longer allowed for these menus to be ordered on Friday, which I wasn't aware of when I booked but they were very gracious to allow us to do so.

We had the 'Biarritz' menu, which was composed of a creamy mushroom soup for our amuse-bouche, a tiger prawn and pumpkin risotto for entree, a crisp lemon sorbet to cleanse our palate followed by a half roasted spring chicken and chocolate tart for dessert.

I always love their amuse-bouches, and you never know what it will be until it's placed in front of you.  It was so creamy and rich, it definitely delights the taste buds.  The prawns in the risotto were plump, sweet and fresh.  The chicken was not the best main course I have had at Chez Pierre.  I found it to be quite bland in taste, which is a departure from the richness of all the other main dishes I have eaten there.  That said, I do understand that this is obviously how the dish is intended to be, a lighter tasting chicken dish flavoured with a tarragon herb sauce and served simply with roast vegetables.  Any lack of richness of the main was certainly made up by the very rich chocolate tart served up for dessert!  A slice of baked chocolate tart served up with creme anglaise and ice cream - mmm mmmm!!!

I don't have any photos of the dishes from that night, however, I do have some to share of a dinner I hosted there last month in their private dining room, which is a great choice if you have a large group or a function.

Private dining room

Pumpkin veloute amuse-bouche (from a prior dinner)

Smoked salmon salad entree (from a prior dinner)

Roast lamb main (from a prior dinner)

It's unfortunately not always common to find a restaurant that has great food and great service, it's often one or the other.  It's a shame because sometimes you want to return somewhere because the service is so good, but the food not so much and other times the food is fantastic but the service really puts the whole experience down a notch or two.  At Chez Pierre, the service is exemplary.  The staff are so very attentive but they're not intruding.  They just sort of move in silence, almost invisibly, clearing away your plates, brushing the crumbs off the table, filling up your water and generally being there, without being there.  If you get what I mean.  Hello!  They even have someone who stands out the front to direct your parking.  That night the poor person who pulled the short straw was standing out in the pouring rain.  That's dedication.

In my opinion Chez Pierre is somewhere you could go for a variety of reasons - family events, business lunches or dinners, romantic evenings or dates or just wanting to have a good meal with friends.

Chez Pierre on Urbanspoon

September 03, 2013

How do you get to Paradise?

Find here my directions to Paradise.  Board a small plane to the Mitchell Plateau.  Once you arrive at the Mitchell Plateau airstrip, flag down a helicopter and hop on board for a short (and beautiful) ride to Kimberley Coastal Camp.  You have arrived at your destination. 

Simple as that, really!

As the name alludes to, Kimberley Coastal Camp is a retreat located in the Kimberley region, the very north west of Western Australia.  It is perched on the shores of Admiralty Gulf, accessible only by air or water.  For Australians who've not travelled to the Kimberley, you should.  We are extremely fortunate to have a beautiful, vast and very much untouched land within our own country.  For my readers who do not hail from Australia, if you're going to come to Australia make time in your journey to see this land.  What you envision when you think of Australia you will see in the Kimberley.  

I was recently lucky enough to spend some of my mid year holidays (I call this my "escape from winter break") at Kimberley Coastal Camp.  Of course, to get there you need a starting point.  I began my journey in Kununurra, however you can also reach KCC (as the cool kids call it) from Broome and Darwin.  If you can find your own way to the Mitchell Plateau, you can do that too.  It is not a 'budget' holiday destination, but I sincerely believe the experience will reward you many times over the cost you incur to get there.  If there's ever place you'd want to put on your must-do list and start a savings plan for, this would be one of them.

Flying over Kununurra
Mitchell Falls

It takes about an hour and a half from Kununurra in a small plane to reach the Mitchell Plateau.  From there it's about fifteen minutes in a helicopter to arrive at KCC.  The best way I can describe KCC is as a very private and comfortable retreat that exists in great harmony with its surroundings.  The buildings do not impose on the environment.  Being in your bungalow you remain constantly aware of where you are.  They are built in such a way that you can see out to the water during the day, at night the starry sky and moon and the sound of the waves gently lapping up on shore lull you to sleep.

Mitchell Plateau airstrip
Aerial view of KCC

The bathroom facilities are outdoors with the showers built into the rock face.  It is something else to have a rainwater shower under an indigo sky dotted all over with twinkling stars.  The main building, known as The Shed, is where communal meals are shared with your fellow guests and the staff.  Although up to 12 guests can be accommodated, often there are far less and it may even just be you.  With four staff on site, it allows for a very exclusive and intimate experience.

The Shed

For those who come for the fishing and endless days on the water, you can join the two expert fishing guides Angus and Jimmy.  Then there's Julie, who can share her vast knowledge of the local environment and the creatures that call it home.  For the foodie, you won't go hungry with the delicious meals dished up by their chef Jordan.  There's a saltwater pool for the times you just want to do nothing - as beautiful as the water it is unfortunately not safe to swim in, so stick to the pool.  There are great bush walking trails and some of the best examples of Aboriginal rock art close by.

Steep Head Island

During my few days there I did all the above.  I fished, and was very proud of myself as a novice fisher pulling in a few impressive sized fish.  Another day was spent setting out nets in the mangrove creeks to procure some mud crabs for dinner.  Again, a successful mission with more mud crabs netted than were needed.  Of course we only kept the biggest and the best!  The bush walks led me through even more beautiful scenery,  finding respite from the heat and sun in the shade of the caves filled with Aboriginal art or by a plunge in a freshwater swimming hole.

Lawley River
When the time comes to leave, you won't want to.  You will already have resolved in your mind to return.  I felt that I had experienced so much, yet at the same time was wonderfully relaxed.  I also left with an increased feeling of thankfulness in my life and an overall refreshing in my perspective of many things.  You know Oprah likes to talk of these 'aha!' moments.  I'd say such a moment was had.  Being cut off from the rest of the world, even if just for a few days, can really do wonders for you.  I'm talking no telephones, no mobiles, no internet, no Facebook, no television and you really start to appreciate this disconnect.  If I had to sum it up in one sentence, this is it:  I was blessed with a very special time at a very special place.

Endless perfect sunsets

 Kimberley Coastal Camp