Clam and prawn ma po stew. Photo: John Laurie
I'm struggling today. This week has been one of those full-on, eating-drinking occasions and it's only Wednesday. Not that I'm complaining. It's hard to be critical when most of it is technically work, it's just that I'm feeling worn out from all this bon-vivant behaviour. I woke up expecting a cravat around my neck.
When you devote your life to food and drink, as I do, every week seems to bring something new and interesting. And I don't mean iPhone 5 new and interesting - just a tad lighter, with a slightly better camera and a battery that doesn't need charging every three hours.
The week started on Monday night at Aubergine, named Canberra's best in a string of forums, with @burgundyben, @mikerism, @clonakilla and @jimchatto - we refer to each other only by our Twitter names these days - plus a couple of dozen of our own glasses in case they run out and two cases of wine. @aubergineben did a fantastic job with six, maybe seven, courses to go with the wines from Italy, France and Australia. The three bottles of fizz eased us into the night: 04 Veuve La Grande Dame, 02 Taittinger Comte and Bollinger RD rose´. And as you know, starting a week with these three elite champagnes means, no matter what happens, it's going to be a great week.
Hanger steak with mushrooms. Photo: Bryan Martin
My next clear memory is lunch on Tuesday in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. A beautiful Melbourne day, warm and stunning, the early afternoon sun shining through the window on to our crisply-lined table at Cafe di Stasio. It's always a joy to come back here and sit down to a really good Italian lunch.
After Monday's excesses, a bowl of pasta and couple of bottles of di Stasio's own Yarra Valley pinot puts us back in good shape. My tagliatelle con sugo e pancetta e guanciale - Mallory Wall, the maitre d', says this so much better than we can - is exactly what I need. Soft handmade ribbons of pasta with a rich, reduced beef sauce clinging to its every molecule, crisp pork lardons to add that special presence only the belly and jowl of a pig can do. Back in the mood for the evening for which we've travelled down here.
Briefly, our six-hour dinner at Circa to celebrate 20 vintages of Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier was an impressive wine event, involving what seemed like every wine writer in the land plus a good smattering of winemakers, other industry professionals and a few paying customers.
We start with Krug's multi-vintage champagne, before five flights of essentially the same shiraz - a challenge for the kitchen trying to match a menu.
The last bracket was served around midnight with a superbly cooked, tender and blissfully small piece of hanger steak. This is a lovely piece of beef. Known also as skirt or onglet, it comes from the upper belly of the cow, say around the diaphragm. Hold that thought.
The next morning, feeling revived after a run on St Kilda beach - well, if you filmed me and sped it up a bit, you'd conclude it was definitely not walking - we're back at a tasting of 40 Clare Valley rieslings. There's a rebranding of the Clare Valley wines happening, so we walk away with a pen and a hat with the badge ''Home of Aussie riesling'' across it.
The lunch that follows, again at Circa, is stunning, with flavours of Japan, Korea and China. We have rice-cracker encrusted squid, spicy and salty, with a seaweedy sauce; little scallops shells filled with a mo pa stew of prawn and clam and black-bean sauce; sang choi bow filled with crispy lamb and a Vietnamese-inspired salad with pork belly. This is mighty fine food for lunch. But hang on, that was the starter. Our lunch reflects the new theme at Circa of food to share from the robata grill, which is a Japanese-style grill that has a mix of woods.
The complex grilled snapper with miso-poached leeks, flying fish roe and buttery baby carrots is a lovely arrangement, with a Japanese seasoning that works so well. But the dish that gets me is served in a beautiful French copper frypan - Rangers Valley hanger steak, remember last night? This is the best cut of steak if you can find it, and at lunch is grilled and served with braised mushrooms and caramelised eschalots.
This inspires me to find some hanger steak, buy a robata grill (I can dream) and get a big mix of exotic mushrooms together.
Head chef Jake Nicolson says hanger steak is not always easy to get - there's only one on each cow - but I got one at Eco Meats at Belconnen last week (you need to ask for it in advance).
Nicolson likes the sweetness, flavour and texture of this cut for grilling. He cooks it over mallee wood to give it a ''leathery, caramel'' character. Cook your steak medium rare then rest it.
The exotic mushrooms - a mix of king brown, enoki, nameko and log-grown shiitakes - are simply fried in good olive oil plus a little garlic and ginger. Once they're wilted, the pan is deglazed with a soy/sugar caramel reduction. These pan juices are used to baste the steak, which introduces the sweetness and mushroom flavour to the meat.
Peel and pan-fry some eschalots (the little brown onion ones) whole in butter with a little sugar until cooked through. Add to the mushrooms.
Slice the steak and toss it through the mushrooms and eschalots. Serve.
If you haven't got a robata grill and mallee wood, you could marinate the steak in soy, apple juice and onion to give some sweetness and character.
>>Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, bryanmartin.com.au