Drinking to my (un)health

When the doctor saw me two days ago, my fever had hit an all time high and she told me I had developed bronchitis. I looked at her puzzled because I didn’t think it was physically possible to develop bronchitis within two days of feeling bad. But who was I to argue with her frown and the stethoscope? The last bit of advice she imparted was from to get plenty of rest, keep up the fluids and drink juice to boost vitamin C. I wasn’t training for the Olympics so I had enough time to rest. I could keep up the fluids by drinking juice which has to taste better than water. Things were already beginning to look up!

Drinking juice is no hardship because I happen to love juice. The more berries in my juice the better. I just won’t drink orange juice because oranges make me cough and I’m not fond of citrus fruits anyway. You won’t believe the number of juices they have in supermarkets these days. I was about to pick an apple and black current juice, then I remembered how she had said something about vitamin C. So, I spent the next 5 minutes looking at the ingredient component at the back of juice bottles and comparing between them. Someone old had been standing behind me all these while impatiently, but I hadn’t notice her because I was determined to pick the best juice. Also, my ears were blocked and if she had said, “excuse me,” I wouldn’t have heard her either. So, I’m sorry if that old lady happened to be you, your mum or grandma. I would have apologised but your scowl was certainly quite disarming.

I settled for a 2.4L breakfast juice which contained all sorts of fancy fruits and the more boring ones. This one even said it had antioxidants which are suppose to be good for everyone. I figured I might as well give all the other vitamin levels in my body a boost instead of just C. Drinking one serve of juice was supposed to give me ~200% RDI vitamin C. Wow! Then I stupidly did the math and figured that drinking five cups would boost my C levels by 1000%. How awesome would that be? I’d feel so much better in less than the time it would take to complete my antibiotics course. So, I happily drank all five cups – got to keep myself hydrated after all!

The first sign that something had gone pear shaped was when my stomach started producing rumbling noises followed by growling noises. There was that much warning before my body revolted against the five cups of healthiness. It clearly wasn’t used to so much fruity goodness within a space of three hours. I spent the whole night sleepless and coughing – excessive sugar and the total amount was probably more than a sweet-toothed individual like me would have consumed at peak condition. So, here are some important lessons that I learnt from this slightly amusing (not at that point in time) experience: (1) Drinking in moderation applies not only to alcohol; and (2) do not try doing mathematical calculations when feverish – things will not work out well (e.g. 1000% RDI vitamin C does not equate to you feeling 100% better). So, now I’m waiting for the antibiotics to kick in and work their magic.

The offending culprit is on the far left

Persimmon – Art on a Plate

As part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces, National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) brings to life the exhibition – Napoleon: Revolution to Empire. NGV promises it will be a mesmerising event that showcases the finery of French art, culture and life. It sounds like a lot of fun, so I jumped on the website to find out more about it. The first image that I saw is cropped from the painting, Napoleon Crossing the St. Bernard, by Jacques-Louis David.

Napoleon’s very own pretty pony

It depicts Napoleon fashionably dressed in his military finest sitting astride a horse. It is a dead giveaway that he is Napoleon because of his gold-trimmed bicorne hat which looks rather fancy. The second thing you notice is the startled wide-eye expression of the horse. Maybe, someone was clutching the reins a little too tightly with his gloved left hand. The horse also has a nicely combed mane of which some people will be jealous. Some websites let on that the secret of achieving a nice, glossy mane is to use oil, water and vinegar; one even suggested mayonnaise. Who knew that? Given that Napoleon is French, he would probably have used butter instead.

Speaking of butter, NGV is offering different packages where you can dine with the legend on selected dates. You can breakfast with Napoleon, lunch with Napoleon, high-tea with Napoleon or go for broke and enjoy a six-course degustation menu with Napoleon. Napoleon sounds a lot more sociable (and heavier) than history has lead us to believe. Imagine fitting all those meals in and still winning battles. What a guy!

A friend and I had heard of a restaurant called Persimmon at NGV which serves Modern Australian fare. Since both of us had never tried Modern Australian food, we were pretty keen to find out what it was about. Persimmon is located on the ground floor of NGV international. After you enter the building, walk straight ahead and just before you reach the end, turn right and meander down a dimly lit passage way. Turn left and you’ll find yourself at the entrance of the restaurant. In stark contrast to the passage way, Persimmon is illuminated by natural daylight which shines through panels of glass windows and softer lighting on the ceilings. The windows frame the well-maintained greenery of the Grollo Equiset Gardens; and on occasion, the view is enhanced by a few water fowl swimming in the clear waters of the nearby water fountain. The interior of the restaurant has an avant-garde theme about it with bold splashes of black and orange-red furniture that are texturally firm or soft – just like the persimmon fruit itself. The restaurant is itself spacious which means that you will not be cramped or knocking elbows with fellow diners – a bonus given that some popular CBD eateries are often overcrowded.

Our friendly waitress ushered us to our seats before handing out the menus and talking us through the specials of the day. She mentioned that the restaurant’s menu is often reflective of what exhibitions they had on. The NGV is currently showcasing Napoleon, hence the menu adopts a French influence. We agreed that we would share the Diver scallops, toasted panko, wakame seaweed, smoked bell pepper aioli, Coq au vin, buttered mash potato, pine mushrooms, onions & bacon, and finish with the Dark chocolate fondant, croissant ice-cream, chocolate pop rocks for dessert. Don’t you love friends with similar tastes in food? It makes ordering so much easier and quicker. After approximately ten minutes, our waitress came back to take our orders. In exchange, she left us a small selection of bread and butter presented on a wooden plate. We liked the warm, yeasty smell of the bread as well as the audible crunch just before biting into softness. You could also sprinkle some salt and ground pepper is you like, but the butter purist opposite me won’t have it any other way. There is no substitute for butter, she would say, and I would have to agree.

The arrival of plump golden hue scallops heralded the start of something beautiful. Crusted with a mixture of panko and fine wakame, the scallops captured both the sand and sea elements. A droplet of pink ginger gel was delicately piped on top of each morsel, creating a visually stunning artwork. Usually not fans of ginger, we found ourselves pleasantly surprised by how its mild tang went well with the sweetness of the translucent scallops. I added a smidgen of smoked bell pepper aioli but apart from creaminess I couldn’t really taste the bell peppers. Were they perfectly cooked and succulent? Hell to the yes!!! From memory, we had halting conversations punctuated with expressions such as “Wow” and “really good” whilst eating the scallops. Yes, that is how eloquent we are ;). As our waitress came to change our plates, we asked if the scallops were going to be on the menu for the next two months. At first, I panicked because she said there might be variations to the menu. Quelle horreur! No more scallops?! She must have seen the slightly stricken look on my face, because she hastily clarified with “small changes”. For example, instead of Diver scallops, they could be serving up Hokkaido scallops. Oh, I think we can live with that :)!

There was a decent wait between the arrival of the scallops and that of the main, but then you can’t rush good things. If the scallops were anything to go by, we had high hopes for the main. The Coq au vin did not disappoint. It was carefully plated with small mounds of golden buttered mash potato and garnished with mushrooms, a small bulb of onion and a cube of bacon. There was a generous portion of well seasoned, juicy chicken, so tender that it fell off the bone easily with a slight nudge of the knife and fork. It is important to stress that the texture of the chicken was not mushy. We are willing to bet that no one likes to eat mushy chicken, which is wrong on so many levels of hygiene and decency.

I think I have used the word “butter” a fair bit in this post, and so here it is again: buttered mash potato. The three words that send my friend’s heart racing in excitement and possibly leaping for joy. In her words, the mash was “velvety smooth and flavoursome without being overpowered by butter”. She also said a lot of other wonderful things about the deceptively light mash, and perhaps in her highest praise yet, “you could almost imagine you were in France”. That is a hypothetical statement since we have never been to France. However, I suppose that the French are pretty adept at making mash potatoes given that “Paris mash” originates from them.

The sliced mushrooms had soaked up the richness of the jus such that it tasted the slightest bit sharp. The jus which by now had formed a small pool at the base of the dish rather made us wish that there was more to go around. As we polished off the chicken, mash and mushrooms, we eyed the bacon. The bacon turns out to be lardon, a cute rectangular marvel with layers of melt-in-your-mouth fat evenly spaced in between succulent pink meat. The fat has rendered the meat tender, and the meat has imparted a hint of smokiness to the fat. A symbiotic relationship at its best. Individually, each component on the plate was faultless; but put together and the sum of them was outstanding.

By this stage, we felt pretty impressed with our experience at Persimmon. Our plates were changed after every course and our glasses never empty. I think it is fair to say that Persimmon provides excellent service in a way that is unobtrusive of your personal space, something that is rare to find these days. The only dish left was dessert. I love desserts and will often return to the furthest places just to eat them again. We had ordered chocolate fondant, croissant ice-cream, chocolate pop rocks. I was sold on the fondant and my friend on the croissant ice-cream. Dark chocolatey goodness spilled and puddled into a gooey mess as I halved the soft fondant which we immediately tried to scoop up to taste. Thankfully for us, the fondant did not burn our tongues. The chocolate fondant contained just the right amount of sweetness without being saccharine. The portion size was just right and the dessert did not overwhelm with its richness. And after a mouthful of the croissant ice-cream, the both of us agreed that this was not a dessert to be shared :). You could definitely taste the croissant from the silkiness of the ice cream which my friend adored. For a playful twist to their dessert, Persimmon scatters some pop rocks along the plate. Eating these and hearing them crackle as they explode brought back fond memories of me sneakily eating pop rocks in grade school.

In summary, Persimmon restaurant is a hidden treasure that turns classic dishes into incredibly delicious artworks – befitting of an establishment located at the heart of culture. Go there to unwind from the hustle and bustle of the city, and enjoy quality service from impeccably polite staff. If this is what Modern Australian is about, then I think Napoleon himself would have been jealous of what Persimmon has to offer.

Persimmon on Urbanspoon

Snag Stand – it is frankly a wiener!

Who doesn’t like sausages? I love them! If someone causally told me that they didn’t like sausages, I would very seriously reconsider our friendship compatibility. That is how much I like sausages – it is on my friendship check-list. “Must love sausages” is pretty high up there with normality. You know the saying, “man cannot live by bread alone”? The genius was clearly a sausage lover who probably didn’t mind some ketchup or mustard to go along with it.

Imagine my delight then, when I found out about Snag Stand – the home of heavenly “haute dogs”. Times that by three when I discovered that it was at Melbourne Central and opposite the State Library. Score one for easy access! This meant that I could jump on the tram, grab the deliciousness and head back within 20 minutes give or take. Perfect. Know what is even more perfect? Their marketing skills –  which is cleverly littered with puns. I love puns (can you tell from the title?) and I love sausages – clearly this was a match made in hot dog heaven.

The first thing that I noticed about Snag Stand was how prime the location was. Traffic was heavy and almost everyone had noticed the stand. And even if you somehow MISSED seeing the stand, you could not possibly miss/resist smelling the aroma of sausages sizzling on the grill (unless you are down with the cold/flu and have a block nose). The striking yellow colour of Snag Stand makes a play for the New York atmosphere. They are 2 (I think) high tables and chairs which you could sit on and munch the hot dog while people watching – if that is your thing. The term people watching is kind of creepy, I know. Another way of saying it is “watch the world go by” – which sounds comparatively less stalkerish… Anyway, you walk up to the counter to place your order and in return, you get a buzzer which sounds and vibrates when your hot dog is ready for collection. Easy peasy. The times that I was there, I saw students, construction workers, and people attired in suits lining up to place their order. The humble sausage brings together people from all walks of life.

Snag Stand menu caters for a range of tastebuds – even if you are vegetarian (potato, smoked apple and sage). I suppose it is the equivalent of tofu burgers although I never got use to their appeal. Each item on the menu is displayed on a square black  cardboard with fancy writing and their description. They include, wagyu beef, pork and fennel (italian), weisswurst (veal, parsley and onion), chicken and rocket, beef and horseradish, spicy spanish chorizo, greek (lamb, rosemary and oregano), chillidog, backyarder, toulouse, australian fare, american classic, german bratwurst, and my all-time favourite: spicy cheese kransky. On top of that, they pair their artisan sausages with fancy accompaniments such as sauteed onions, house-made sauerkraut, creamy coleslaw, coopers ale BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese, and different kinds of mustards (ranging between meh and so hot it’ll make you cry). Did I also mention that most hot dogs come served with a toasted brioche roll? Brioche always gets me. If you are a fussypot who don’t fancy the above options, you can design your own hot dog  – how awesome is that?

Between the two of us and three visits, we sampled the (1) chicken and rocket, (2) spicy spanish chorizo, (3) chillidog, (4) american classic, and (5) spicy cheese kransky and (6) toulouse. To top off our greediness, we couldn’t resist ordering their chips with house-gravy dipping sauce. Across the board, all sausages were top quality, packed with flavour and the right amount of juiciness. They are well seasoned and tasty without being overly salty for the health conscious – but then you do not eat hot dogs if you are worried about health. The only sausage that I found to be a bit “meh” was the american classic. If you prefer milder flavours, go with the chicken and rocket or the toulouse. On the other hand, you should totally order the chillidog or spicy spanish chorizo if you like your lunch to pack a punch. The chilli on the chillidog seriously high-fived my tastebuds. For me, I would be forever faithful to the spicy cheese kransky (even if it wasn’t spicy) because I absolutely love the combination of cheese and sausage. The only advice I would give is to eat the hot dog carefully because Snag Stand is generous with their toppings (not that I am complaining). You do not want the juices to dribble down your chin, sriracha/chipotle mayo or truffle/wasabi aioli to smudge your expensive suit – especially if there is going to be a board meeting afterward.

In summary, Snag Stand sets a pretty high bar for quality sausages in Melbourne. Yes, it is pricey but then again, it is not your average sausage sizzle. I foresee a long relationship with Snag Stand as long as it continues to stock my spicy cheese kransky!

Snag Stand on Urbanspoon


Why flu shots do not impart invincibility

Every Winter there are people who faithfully line up to get their flu shots. These visits are announced well ahead of schedule to encourage mass vaccination. However, because I don’t deal well with sharp pointy objects – especially when they are aimed at me – and also don’t believe in the success of this program, I avoid it. It is not to say that these vaccination measures are redundant. They are pretty useful if there is only one specific type of bug. In reality, that one bug loves to throw a good party and invites all its mates over for a bash. Not only that, those bugs are also pretty friendly with just about anyone really, and they tend to overstay their welcome.

Anyway, whenever my colleagues tried to persuade me to get the flu shot, I let them know how much I believe in “herd immunity”. Yes, that is an actual immunology term and not something that I made up. Yes, I know I had those two words in inverted commas. I would try changing them, but it is rather hard to do on the iPad…my fingers can’t tap in front of them. “They give out sweets like Freddo at the end”, cajoled one friend in a bid to appeal to my penchant for sweet things. Sorry, but not even Koko black chocolate is going to cut the mustard. So the rest of the lab trooped to get their shots and I made off to buy a snack – a delicious one that was pain-free.

They came back convinced that they now were immune to the cold/flu. I say cold/flu because there are some sticklers out there who insist it is a cold or a flu. It was ironic then that they were the first to succumb to the bug(s). How could it be? They were bewildered. It did not seem fair that I was still healthy and eating cookies to my heart’s content. They couldn’t even ask for a refund because the shot was free. It was a grave injustice as far as they were concern. Did I laugh in their faces? No, I didn’t, because laughing at someone’s misfortune is ungracious and not something that I do. Blogging about them on the other hand is perfectly acceptable. Deep down, I felt a twinge of panic. This year’s herd seemed to have dwindled, I swear I didn’t spread my belief of herd immunity that far!

My worry only increased when I travelled on the metro trains. It literally is a vehicle for bugs as commuters coughed, sneezed and spread the love. They couldn’t help it of course, but that did not lessen my desire for teleportation to be achievable within the next few seconds. After a few weeks, the inevitable happened. I got bounced by the cold/flu. In between feeling downright sick and exhibiting all symptoms that screamed for healthy people to take cover, I experienced incoherent unkind thoughts. These included: (1) who was the one who passed it to me, (2) how I was going to carve out their spleen using only a spoon, and importantly (3) how could I get better faster and then repeat (2) with the modification of another body part. As well as that, I raged at the fact that I had to watch everyone else eat ice cream whilst consigned to a plain diet. I am well aware that these thoughts border on being neurotic and murderous, but in my defense I was kind of taking every medication over the counter to quench the symptoms. You name it, I most likely have digested it. From this experience, it can hardly be lost on anyone that I make a terrible patient look positively angelic. Usually, I like to think of myself as a pretty amiable and happy person.

So thank you to those of you who very kindly put up with me and tried to make me feel better with warm tea and turning up the heaters until it felt tropical instead of Winter. I have not changed my mind about flu shots, and next year you will still see me heading out for a pain-free hot chocolate shot!

La Belle Miette – move over cupcakes

A few years ago, there was a cupcake frenzy rampaging throughout Melbourne. No one seemed to be able to get enough of a little cake that is covered with swirls of frosting and decorated with little red heart candies/sprinkles/other sugary goodness. This observation is evidently well-supported if you were to google “melbourne cupcake stores” – which I did do; since googling is a favourite, frivolous pastime of mine. 639,000 results appeared in an instant, or 0.48 seconds to be exact. There were the usual suspects such as the Cupcake Bakery, Little Cupcakes, the Cupcake Queens, Cupcake Central, and The Cupcake Family. Outside of Melbourne, someone by the name of Paolo (or who likes the name of Paolo) had opened his very own cupcake store, affectionately called Cupcakes by Paolo.

With so many stores located just within the Melbourne Central radius, I started to view cupcakes as sneaky little things. It did not help when someone in my lab stuck up a funny Weight Watchers poster that showed a pink cupcake holding up a white flag with the words: “I come in peace”. Whilst it amused me, the poster didn’t quite convince me of the cupcake’s innocence. To paraphrase from Shakespeare, that cupcake doth protest too much. Whilst I did try a few cupcakes from different stores, I didn’t understand the fascination surrounding them. Suffice to say, I wasn’t a cupcake kind of person, and I didn’t score well in the “what cupcake flavour are you?” quiz in my honours lab either.

So, imagine my panic when macarons started to gain popularity in Melbourne, boosted possibly due to its guest appearance in MasterChef. I termed it the macaron movement. Oh no! I thought, soon there will be macaron stores sprouting the streets just like those cupcakes. It turns out that I was half right. There wasn’t an overwhelming increase in the number of stores that specialised in macarons. Rather, there was an increase in the number of existing stores that started to sell their own macarons. For a period of time, there was heated debate between friends as to what constituted a macaron, and what size it should be. This was largely based on confusion between macarons and macaroons – and how to pronounce each one correctly. For a small little round biscuit, it sure courted quite a bit of controversy.

The first macaron that I bought was the black and white macaron from the chocolate store, Shocolate, which had apparently won an award. It looked good in a zen kind of way, and it tasted very good. Long story short, I was hooked on macarons. That’s when I created the macaron expedition which involved creative logistics such as how-long-can-I-disappear-to-cover-all-these-shops-without-anyone-missing-me? In reality, the macaron expedition took place over several weeks as experiments and reports joustled successfully for my attention. Slowly, my friend and I ate our way from Shocolate to Cacao to Ganache Chocolate to LuxBite and macarons by someone else called Duncan. Apart from one very disappointing experience which sent me on a macaron hiatus, I enjoyed the sugary expedition.

It was by chance that I came across La Belle Miette. Some would even say it’s fate. One day, a friend and I had trooped off to Hardware Lane to eat the crepes at Le Triskel as we were in our francophile mood. That’s when we notice a cute little shop that sold macarons. Naturally, we detoured and popped in to have a closer look. Round little perfections sitting atop a marbled table gleamed happily behind a glass barrier. They were all pastel shades ranging from a light lemony yellow to intense raspberry red. I was sold, and when I looked at the pretty boxes, I was smitten. The design of those boxes tell a beautiful story which you can read on La Belle Miette’s website. This is very similar to a thesis, which is meant to relay a story too, albeit a less tasty one.

How many should we get? 2 or 3? In the end, we got 6……….That is to say, 6 utterly scrumptious macarons that should individually win macaron the year award. We devoured in no particular order:

  1. 72% Cocoa Single Origin Chocolate (Venezuela)
  2. Caramel a la Fleur de Sel
  3. Hazelnut Belle Miette
  4. Pimm’s & Pomegranate
  5. Strawberry & Vanilla
  6. Lemon

I loved them all, no matter what flavour they were, all had a wonderful egg-shell crunch when you first bit into them. Then your teeth sinks into the the sweet moistness of an impeccably rich ganache that can only leave you in an exuberant sugar-high mood. The single origin chocolate macaron is sin in a box, and the delightful chewiness of the salted caramel macaron has caused my mind to wander many a time during lab meetings. I noticed that La Belle Miette also dabbles in cheeky flavours such as Pimm’s & Pomegranate. Although I have not tasted Pimm’s before, I can assure you that people who prefer tart flavours would very much enjoy it. Although some might consider lemon or strawberry and vanilla fairly boring , their lightness provides a welcome contrast after eating the heavier flavours. Sometimes, the best things are the simplest.

With the spectrum of flavours like theirs, La Belle Miette captures a range of clientele – those who like to play it safe and conventional, as well as who are adventurous enough to try exotic combinations. What La Belle Miette does even better is her ability to strike the right balance between textures and sweetness. One does not overwhelm but complements the other. Within the patisserie circle, it is safe to declare that Pierre Hermé and Ladurée are giants in the field of macaron creation. Melbourne may not have either of these outlets, but we have our own giant in the making – La Belle Miette.
La Belle Miette on Urbanspoon

Chez Dré – What’s not to love?

The name South Melbourne has become synonymous with brunch spots especially during the weekends. The area is essentially a hotspot of cafes that serve reliable breakfast favourites, coffee and delectable pastries. So where does one go to get a fix for all three, I hear you ask. If you were me, and pressed for time, you might want to venture down the cobblestones to the rear of Coventry Street until you see a little hanging sign overhead that spells “Chez Dré”.

Chez Dré is home to one of the finest chefs in Melbourne, especially if you happen to like patisseries as much as the air you breathe (which I do). Many have visited this place and many have fallen under its spell. One thing that stands out almost immediately is the impressive open kitchen. This is a clever concept which Chez Dré has incorporated, and it essentially provides a little pre-theatre magic. You can see first-hand the works of art that are being built or the finishing touches being added. Combined with the delicious smells,  Chez Dré easily composes a symphony for your senses. I do not know if the kitchen staff ring a bell when the dishes are ready to be served; but if they do, I wager that many diners will soon develop a Pavlovian response.

It is often said that the early bird gets the worm, but with all day breakfast being served at Chez Dré, you can safely hit the snooze button for 10 more minutes. And if you don’t feel like having breakfast by that stage, there’s always lunch. Chez Dré’s menu offers a wide selection of sweet and salty dishes that can be light or heavy. The only difficult decision is which dish to pick. However, if you bring along friends, you can happily order three to four different ones to tickle your tastebuds. Just remember to bring friends who like to share 😉

On one rainy Friday morning, a few of us travelled by tram to try the delights of Chez Dré. Between us, we ordered the caramel bananas and chocolate sweet crepes, sauteed mushrooms with sourdough, brioche french toast, and a Croque Madame. I love the crepes and they are just as good as the ones served at Le Triskel in the city. It is very hard to go wrong with bananas and chocolate! After bartering a little with my generous friends, I pinched a bit of their french toast which was served with caramelised apples and vanilla marscapone cream. The tangy bite of the apple cut through the vanilla marscapone cream to match the chewiness of the brioche perfectly. I had a little bit of food envy! In contrast, the Croque Madame brought a whole new meaning to eating a ham and cheese toastie. This was more like ham and cheese version 2020. The bread provided a delicious crunch when bit into, which I really loved. Coupled with the ooze of an egg yolk, the taste was all that richer. Somewhere in between our funny conversations, we ordered coffees and hot chocolates. The hot chocolate at Chez Dré came served with a strawberry flavoured marshmallow – something that will be a hit with kids. If you prefer your hot chocolate on a slightly thinner note, then you should give this one a go.

From my perspective, no good meal is complete without desserts. I don’t know if people usually have sweets after brunch, but I do. How could I resist when there were rows of patisseries and colorful macarons distracting me all throughout brunch? The descriptions of all were tempting enough, but I picked the chocolate tart because I took a shine to its mirror glaze. One bite was all it took to convince me not to share. Yes, I was being a selfish, terrible friend. However, a beautiful chocolate tart was at stake…and it tasted deliciously dark and creamy. Did I mention that the word “diet” is not in my vocabulary?

It was with a heavy heart, and possibly even heavier stomach that we slowly made our way back to the lab. Nobody had missed us, except perhaps for our cells that were waiting for us to passage them. In summary, Chez Dré captures the essence of what dining out with friends is meant to be. Her service is charming, and the quality of all dishes that we tried was testament to the chef’s creativity. Their desserts taste phenomenol and are presented with the utmost care. I can hardly wait for my next visit back, after all, a certain dainty chocolate eclair with perfect curls had caught my eye! This time, I’ll buy two to share!

Chez Dré on Urbanspoon

When something works

Being a research student working towards a degree, one of the most exciting things that can possibly happen is to get positive results. Science can be a fickle friend. After weeks of trying, I finally tasted a small measure of success! Now, to repeat the experiment until n=3 for statistical significance. To cap off such a happy event, I celebrated with a macaron whose deliciousness I will write about at a later time.

Ganache Chocolate

Melbourne is famous for its coffee culture. It is difficult to envision walking down a street without the aroma of freshly grinded beans wafting in the air. In the Winter, I love walking past little cafes and inhaling second-hand coffee. That’s right, I don’t drink coffee. Not unless you count Farmer’s Union ice coffee or Dare ice coffee. However, even the least discerning of coffee drinkers would be able to tell you that those aren’t real coffee. Rather, they are loaded with sugar. This is not a problem for me, since I have a rather sweet tooth. Instead of coffee, I adore hot chocolate. I really do!

During my Honours year, I scoured the web for places which sold the best hot chocolate. The first time I visited Ganache Chocolate at South Yarra was a case of sheer serendipity. The day itself had not looked promising, and when it started to pour, I ran for cover into what seemed like a rather narrow shop. What struck me at first was the red brick wall and the presence of a few tables and chairs. Then elation set in as I looked around and absorbed the sights of chocolate, chocolate, and MORE CHOCOLATE!!! Chocolate abounded in the form of bars, pieces, dinosaurs and bunnies. How cute! Clearly this was a sign, I was meant to be here. Never mind that my first seminar was coming up and that I had not yet put together the powerpoint slides. Science would just have to take a number in the presence of awesomeness.

By this stage, I was becoming more excited, and then I spotted the cakes resting behind the glass. Despite their different descriptions, they shared one common feature – incredible, well-defined architecture. Each layer enrobed a new flavour that unobtrusively merged and married with the next one. I tried the Triple Mousse Cake – it was in one word, sensational. Despite having dark, milk, and white chocolate mousse, the cake itself was not overly heavy. The sweetness was well-balanced and will not send dentists bolting. If master chocolatier, Arno Backes, was man of science, I would have nominated him for the Nobel Prize.

I digress. What I really wanted to talk about was the hot chocolate. Ganache Chocolate serves undisputedly the best hot chocolate in Melbourne. Maybe it was the unrelenting weather outside paired with the dulcet tones of velvety, rich, molten cocoa that warmed me to my depths. My neurons were firing with each sip, sugar-charged electrical impulses dancing along the nodes of ranvier. The experience left me smiling for days. For some lab members, this was rather unsettling, but I didn’t care. From that moment on, I compared every hot chocolate with Ganache’s. So far, I have not encountered a better place. I highly recommend Ganache Chocolate to all hot chocolate lovers, I do not think that it will disappoint in the slightest. They also serve coffee, and I hear that their capuccino is equally as wonderful.

A lot of people are concerned with service. From my experience, and I came dressed as a student, service was not an issue. The staff at Ganache Chocolate are welcoming, and not at all pushy. Generally, if staff can afford students the same respect as everyone else, then it is a place worth visiting. I have been back to Ganache several times now, and tried all their cakes. I cannot pick a favourite, that would be too cruel for the rest.

Mr Backes – I salute you!

Ganache Chocolate on Urbanspoon

On how this blog came to be

Sometimes, the lab can get a little too overwhelming, and so I escape… Specifically, I abandon the pipettes and cell culture and go in search for food. Unlike people, food is quintessentially uncomplicated. Food never throws a tantrum, or make ridiculous demands. Of course food wouldn’t be complete without friends, and so I grab my partner in crime. On these jaunts, we walk, bus, tram and train to reach those places that we’ve only read or heard about. We leave behind the world of Pubmed, and waltz into that of Urbanspoon. It is another dimension, another revelation.

We peruse the menu as closely as any materials and methods section in a paper. Then we make our orders, often sharing a dish or two as yardsticks to determine if a place is indeed as good as it was reviewed. In scientific terms, this is called peer assessment. During the waiting period (incubation), we catch up with what is happening around us. I find it incredibly fascinating that we never seem to run out of things to say. It is at the dining table that experiments are trouble-shooted, and new ideas take form. When the waiter lays down our order, there is a moment where my heart freezes as I catch sight of the food. It is a feeling that is very similar to the moment I have just before finding out my grades for the semester. Sometimes the food is wonderful, and sometimes they disappoint.

The excitement when we discover a new eating place is immeasurable. Immediately,our minds begin to whirl as we plan our next adventure. The plate of food is slowly polished off, their flavours and textures become a topic for lunchtime discussions over the next few days. Amidst all these, we realized that we did not have a lab book to document these thoughts, and so I created this blog.

My blog is as much for these food memories as they are to chronicle my time as a PhD student. I hope to look back on them with nostalgia one day. They are my youth.