Cripes it's good to be back in Melbourne. Love this place now as I did living here, in the heady late 1980s and into the '90s, before offspring and ring roads, and the time of the rise of one Jeffrey Gibb Kennett, like Lucifer unfurling his wings on Bald Mountain in Disney's Fantasia.
The state had just gambled on gaming machines and boy did that work, no more bussing it to the border to dump cash in Albury. Music wavered between the brilliant and dire - Radiohead's Creep and Ice-ice baby. Food wise, it was Stephanie Alexander, David Brown, Miettas and the likes of Cafe de Stasio in St Kilda and the Flower Drum in the city. It was hard to leave.
Twenty years ago, St Kilda was a lazy Sunday morning jaunt down from Brighton. Coffee and big breakfast at Greasy Joes - this was when we were bulletproof, a stroll down Acland Street to Readings for a Dr John CD or the arthouse books I had a penchant for before reality, and a walk on the beach dodging sleeping homeless people and needles.
Joe's isn't greasy anymore, and the strip club on the corner is the Ram Lounge, but the Vineyard restaurant and the RSL sub-branch appear unchanged and you can still pick up books at Readings like Cycle Style by Horst A. Friedrichs, full of well-attired people leaning on bikes. Plus I think the same cake is in the window at the Europa.
On a break from bench duty at our son's basketball on this visit, we find a table at Goldenfields, which sends me into a little cloud of depression thinking about the planning it takes to get into good places back home. Here you can just rock up without having first pleaded your case - if there's a table free, it's yours.
Goldenfields, owned by Andrew McConnell, has a strong influence in the menu from Asia, especially Korea and Japan, and more Western arrangements like the brilliant slowcooked lamb shoulder we share - a lovely 900 grams of juicy protein hanging off the collar bone, covered with shaved, crispy garlic, and with roasted cumin and salted lemon.
The menu has just four mains, lots of little dishes like pickles and grainy nibbles, some raw seafood, and a terrific entree section: Berkshire pork, lobster rolls, roast duck on thick steamed pancakes that look particularly splendid, so it's all I can do to resist them. With the intriguing white cut chicken (for which McConnell has shared the recipe, at right), it all has me like a kid in a candy store.
But I'm focused on the specials - the right-up-my-alley pork with black pudding and kimchi - a terrine of confit-like pork, shredded and sort of reconstructed with the blood pudding, with the sour fermented cabbage, simple and delicious.
We've got a couple of chunky steamed pork dumplings with spicy sauce; and a simple dish of whitebait with kewpie mayo and a tart umami-laden bonito vinaigrette. This reminds me of crispy chips dipped in vinegar, and back home, I have a go at re-creating it.
Wash and pat dry the whitebait (if you've spent time in New Zealand or Tasmania you'll know what we get here is not true whitebait on account of not being green and tiny; rather, a small juvenile sprat-like fish). Put them in a bag with plenty of cornflour, shake a bit and then turn out into a colander and shake to remove excess flour. Fry quickly in clean hot grapeseed oil until crispy. Drain well on absorbent paper and toss through salt, chilli and spice.
Kewpie mayo is available at the supermarket. For the vinaigrette, and I'm guessing here, you could use the pickling liquid - I use the liquid from pickling carrots for salads, and it gives a pleasant sweetness, plus it's thrifty. First, make a bonito stock: bring a cup of water to the boil and off the heat add a handful of katsuobushi. Let it steep for 10 minutes, then strain. Into this dissolve six tablespoons of sugar and three teaspoons of salt. Add half a cup of rice-wine vinegar. Emulsify four parts of this with one part grapeseed oil.
WHITE CUT CHICKEN
Continental cucumber, seeds removed, cut into 10cm julienne
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 cup (loosely packed) coriander
1 knob ginger, thinly sliced then julienne
ground Sichuan pepper
½ tsp sesame oil
1 tsp chilli oil
1 chicken (about 1.2kg), rinsed, trimmed of excess fat
25g (5cm piece) ginger, sliced
5 coriander sprigs, coarsely chopped
2 spring onions, coarsely chopped
¼ tsp white peppercorns and ¾ tsp salt
40ml ginger vinegar (pickled ginger liquid)
80ml soy sauce
pinch of 5-spice
250ml (1 cup) vegetable oil
1 head garlic, cloves separated, finely sliced
To poach the chicken, combine the chicken, coriander, spring onion and white peppercorns in a saucepan large enough to fit the chicken snugly. Add three quarters of a teaspoon of salt and enough cold water to just cover the chicken. On top of the water, lay a round of baking paper, completely covering the surface, and then weight down with a plate or lid. Bring to the simmer over medium heat, reducing the heat to low and leaving to simmer for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate until chilled.
For the garlic, heat the oil to 170C in a saucepan over medium heat, add the garlic and stir occasionally until light golden (30 seconds to one minute). Drain on absorbent paper.
Julienne the cucumber and salt lightly and leave for 10 minutes before rinsing off.
For the dressing, mix all the ingredients together. You can use bottled ginger vinegar, liquid from packet pickled ginger or pickle your own ginger and reserve the liquid.
Drain the chicken, carefully remove the breast and thickly slice.
Arrange the chicken slices on a plate, followed by the cucumber, spring onion and ginger, with two tablespoons of the dressing, the chilli oil, the sesame oil and a pinch of Sichuan pepper. Finish with the crispy garlic chips.
Recipe from Andrew McConnell, Goldenfields, Melbourne.
Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, www.bryanmartin.com.au