pomegranate and star anise soda

jar2It’s late on Sunday afternoon. The air is cool, moist with lingering humidity from the warmish day-that-was. Rain birds call, their cries echoing from the trees to the thirsty earth. It’s going to rain tonight. The last month of autumn has beckoned the wet.

Not that I mind. I actually prefer the cooler months and their rain-splattered windows, worn leather boots and cosy, patterned blankets. Each rainy day brings opportunities for steaming hot porridge, six-hour lamb and melted cheese on garlicky toasted sourdough. My kind of bliss indeed.

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Admittedly, there are fleeting moments in winter when I’m sick of the grey. When my heart swells at the thought of sunshine, light cotton t-shirts and ice-cream by the seaside. During those times, I wrap myself in a blanket and eat a warm salad with as many colours as I can find. Between bites, I drink cold iced soda, preferably laden with fruit and heartening fresh mint.

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In hindsight, the above process is probably only suitable for the Australian winter. Here in Perth, our temperatures drop to a mean of about 7 degrees C (44 degrees f) in the evenings, definitely nowhere near freezing. However, this Aussie girl likes to eat, sip, snuggle under blankets and wait for cold liquid to travel from mouth to stomach. As I watch the ice cubes frost the side of the glass, I think of sunshine, bare feet and thick, wafting heat.

One of my favourite sodas of the moment incorporates sweet, red pomegranate, ripe citrus and fragrant star anise. When poured over ice, it’s my new favourite remedy for an exhausting day with bleary, overcast skies.

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This drink is beautiful as a sparkling fruit soda for hot (or cold) afternoons with friends, however if you’d like to elevate it into the ‘cocktail’ category, feel free to add a shot (30mL) of vodka during the mixing process. It’s delicious either way.

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Pomegranate and Star Anise Soda

Adapted from this recipe by the Kitchn.

Makes about 8 x 3 tbsp/45mL serves

  • 1/2 cup pink or red grapefruit juice (from about 1 small grapefruit)
  • 1/2 cup navel orange juice
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate juice (from about 1 medium pomegranate*)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup white caster sugar
  • 2 star anise pods
  • ice cubes, to serve
  • chilled soda water, to serve
  • mint leaves and pomegranate arils for garnish (optional)

Combine citrus juice, pomegranate juice, sugar, water and star anise in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until the liquid reduces by one quarter.

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Remove from heat and let sit 30 minutes. Strain and discard the star anise pods and any residual solids. Let syrup cool completely before using.

To serve, fill a 350ml glass halfway with ice cubes, add 3 tbsp of syrup (and 30mL vodka, if desired). Fill with soda water and stir well. Garnish with pomegranate arils and mint leaves.

*I removed the pomegranate arils (seeds) from the fruit, chucked them into the bowl of a blender and pulsed them briefly to extract the juice. If following this method, pour the extracted juice through a sieve to remove any seeds and residue. Feel free to substitute store-bought pomegranate juice if you can’t find fresh fruit.

You should be able to store any remaining syrup in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator indefinitely.

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bill’s bar and bites, leederville

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I’ve always held divided opinions about the Leederville Hotel. Built in 1897, the structure has always been an established landmark in the town’s entertainment precinct. However, over the past five years its ‘Seedy Leedy’ reputation had largely eliminated any desire I had to walk through the building’s beautifully molded door frames.

All of this changed last week, when I attended a ‘long table dinner’ within the freshly renovated interior of the Hotel’s new pop-up establishment, Bill’s Bar and Bites. After tentatively stepping over the threshold, I was immediately impressed by the beautifully relaxed aesthetic. Warm exposed brick sat comfortably beside pared-back plaster, greenery and timber furnishings, effortlessly harnessing the charm of old-meets-new.

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Venue manager Dwight Alexander is an affable gentleman who immediately makes you feel welcome in what has become his ‘second home’. He describes the menu at Bill’s in three words: ‘perfect for sharing’. Upon tucking into a plate of salumi, jamon serrano, crumbly fourme d’ambert, pickled stone fruit and green olives, I would definitely agree.

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sangriaAward-Winning Executive Chef Damien Young (previously of The Butterworth Bar and Kitchen) and his tattooed right-hand man, Jeremy, have created a beautiful selection of quality shareable eats that range between $4 and $15.

We started with the above mentioned charceuterie plate and some duck and manchego cigars ($5 each with piquant green tomato chutney), all of which were perfectly accompanied by a dry glass of Fino and plentiful sweet Sangria ($27 for 750ml). These were followed by my favourite dish of the night, pink snapper ceviche. Soft slivers of sweet white snapper were perfectly complimented by creamy avocado, flecks of chilli and soft green herbs in a gentle blanket of acidity. I could’ve eaten an entire serving and left feeling satisfied. It was that good.

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But no, I didn’t leave. Instead, I tucked into tender slow-roasted lamb shoulder accompanied by house-pickled vegetables, warm jalapenos, soft goats curd and fresh green herbs. This was followed by slow-roasted, Baharat-spiced chicken with fennel and yoghurt, warm Moreton Bay bugs (accompanied by my favourite green of the moment, salty samphire cooked in burnt butter) and a tumble of roasted radishes with slippery Tuscan kale.

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As I ate, I sipped on a delicious Spanish red, Felix Solis ‘Castillo De Albai’ Tempranillo ($10 glass, $44 bottle). Speaking of beverages, Bill’s prides itself on its $15 house cocktails and an eclectic mix of hops that start at $4.50 for an Emu Export before progressing through to a pleasing range of delicious craft beers.

Emu Export. I haven’t drunk from the red can since my bonfire days as a thirteen year old in the sticks of suburbia. I might have to revisit those days of happy abandon (with a side of Fremantle sardines).

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Our meal finished with Bill’s ‘dessert of the day’, sweet poached pears in anise syrup, fresh oozy figs and creamy mascarpone. Whilst slathering the goodness over sweet honey-toasted brioche, discussion naturally progressed towards the future of this beautiful pop-up bar.

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Hotel general manager Jason Antczak presently states that the Bill’s concept is time-limited to nine months, after which the entire Leederville Hotel site is set to be further developed.

Whilst the creative team behind the present Bill’s incarnation (including Perth creative Cale Mason and interior designers Project BLAK) are sure to come up with something equally impressive, I have to say that I’ve already become slightly attached to the warm, inviting goodness that is Bill’s Bar and Bites. I’m certain that this new addition to the Leederville strip will soon become a favourite of many.

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Thanks to Georgia Moore, Damien Young, Dwight Alexander and Jason Antczak for your generous hospitality during the long table dinner. *See Bill’s full menu here.

Bill’s Bar and Bites

Open 7 nights, 4pm – late

742 Newcastle St, Leederville WA

(08) 9202 8222

must winebar. cool for cats summer series

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There’s something quintessential about cocktails and summer. Not that cocktail drinking can’t be a winter activity, but… well, as soon as the barometer starts rising, I’m craving the closest booze over ice.

Not just any booze… something deliciously refreshing, distinct but light, naturally infused with citrus, mint, herbs or berries. Something like the Ginuary from Must Winebar‘s Cool for Cats summer menu.

Cool for Cats is a promotion being run by chef and owner Russell Blaikie and his talented team at Must Winebar for the entire month of January. To help patrons ‘cool down’ from the scorching summer temperatures, the bar is offering a new short menu of bar snacks, gin-based cocktails and sangria from 4-7pm each day, with wines and Champagne being sold at bottle-shop prices.

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I first sampled the delights of Cool for Cats on Monday 6th December 2014 as a guest of Russell Blaikie and his creative team. It was a scorching day; 40 degrees C to be exact. After cooling down with some water, we sampled the entire range of Cool for Cats promotional cocktails, delicious bar snacks and sangria whilst chatting to Russell and his head barman, Marz.

About ten minutes into the evening, I berated myself for forgetting my camera. A semi-exclusive invitation, an event launch, Perth food personalities… the camera wielding should have come automatically. But, well… no. Between my day job, recipe development and everything else, I guess I’m still adjusting to the ‘public foodie’ thing. Very slowly.

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Cue Thursday evening, 9th December 2014. I sent my husband a message on my way home from work, proposing the idea of a visit to Must for both blogging and comparison purposes. Blogging in the respect that I needed some decent photographs for Monday’s event post. Comparison in regards to, well… comparison.

In short, I wanted to see whether the ‘average patron’ would get the same impeccable food, cocktails and service as we received during the launch party. Aaron was agreeable, mostly due to my raving reviews of Marz’s delicious ‘smoked negroni’ cocktail from Monday night.

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We arrived just before six pm. The bar was reasonably quiet; a few patrons sat sipping slowly from a pitcher of iced sangria. We scanned the room, settling on seats at the centre bar.

After a quick glance at the menu, I realized that there was no smoked negroni. And no Marz (see * below). However, after a chat with the barman (he explained that he could make me a regular negroni but not a smoked one) I ordered a Prince Harry (whisky, lime, bitters and vanilla sugar, from the regular cocktail menu) and a seasonal Ginuary (Sipsmith London gin, elderflower liqueur, apple, bitters and ginger beer, from the Cool for Cats summer menu).

Our food choices were a spicy prawn gazpacho shot ($5) and the ‘Must’ fish and frites ($19).

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stools2The fish arrived promptly; four crisp pieces of whiting accompanied by thick homemade tartare and an enamel cup of golden frites. We grazed happily whilst awaiting our drinks and I’m pleased to say that the dish was exactly as I remembered it from Monday. The moist, delicate fish was lightly coated in a crispy batter, perfectly portioned for dunking into the thick, piquant tartare.

The frites were thin, crisp and lightly salted. Aaron and I fought each other for the last three.

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Our drinks arrived half-way through the cup of frites.I had sampled the Ginuary on Monday so I knew exactly what to expect: an easy-drinking, delicately floral cocktail with notes of elderflower, ginger and juniper. It arrived tall, with plenty of ice and a fresh mint garnish.

Aaron’s Prince Harry was presented in a vanilla-sugar-rimmed Martini glass. It was delicious, with dominant whisky notes (from the Monkey Shoulder whisky and Lochan Ora whisky liqueur) and a bitter finish that was beautifully softened by the sugar rim. I’m not entirely sure why it was called a Prince Harry, but… well, it was orange. And perfectly delicious.

glassrimmenu2For some reason, our gazpacho shot was momentarily forgotten; an attentive waiter chased it up after taking our second round of cocktail orders. It arrived soon afterwards, a proud prawn protruding from a chive-garnished shot glass of vivid red.

It was delicious; fresh, plump and beautifully spiced. However, the presentation definitely fell below that of Monday’s launch party with Russell Blaikie. It took me three photographs to get something that didn’t resemble a dismembered finger in a bloodied glass. Here’s the result:

prawngaz

Compare this shot to Bryton Taylor’s snap of Monday night’s offering. Just a small difference in presentation, but… well, we do ‘eat with our eyes’. Rest assured, both versions were equally gorgeous in the eating.

Bryton also has some delicious snaps of Rusty’s Ribs ($19), Russell Blaikie’s own recipe based on the (in)famous ribs from Naughty Nuri’s in Ubud, Bali. On Monday, the pork ribs were succulent, sticky and fall-off-the-bone wonderful, accompanied by a refreshing pickled vegetable salad.

We didn’t order this dish on Thursday, however I’d definitely recommend it if you’re visiting Must during the Cool for Cats summer season. It’s meat perfection, Bali style. So, so good.

finAaron’s second cocktail was Purple Print, bourbon with Creme de Mure (blackcurrant liqueur), cranberry, blueberry jam and mint.

This cocktail arrived with a dollop of blueberry jam on shaved ice, which immediately screamed ‘overly sweet’ to me; however, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was perfectly balanced with bourbon heat and acidic cranberry.

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I ended with a glass of smooth Spanish Tempranillo, the name of which evades me, whilst occasionally stealing blueberries from Aaron’s Purple Print. We chatted happily, watching a trickle of dinner patrons slowly fill the seated dining area. By 7.30pm, we drained our glasses and settled the bill.

After two visits to Must’s Cool for Cats summer cocktail series, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a classy summer sundowner along the hallowed Beaufort Street strip. Chef/owner Russell Blaikie, head chef Andre Mahe and head barman Marz have created a beautiful collection of memorable drinks and snacks that have a deliciously light, casual feel. They’re perfect for scoffing after a hard day at work or for sharing with friends.

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Thanks to Russell Blaikie, Sipsmith Independent Spirits and the Must team for a memorable introduction to the Cool for Cats summer cocktail series.

*Update from 13/01/2014: I’ve received information from Must that the smoked negroni is now on the Cool for Cats menu! It’s got delicious Sipsmith gin, Campari, Pedro Ximenez Lustau sherry and aromatic bitters, all smoked over aromatic orange woodchips before being served over an ice sphere. Perthians, get there. Now!

Must Winebar

Open 7 Days, 12 noon – 12 midnight (*Cool for Cats 4-7pm daily in the bar)

519 Beaufort Street, Highgate WA

(08) 9328 8255

EAT. DRINK. BLOG. the classroom cocktail and cuisine masterclass

glasses

There’s something surreptitiously naughty about drinking an espresso martini whilst sitting cross-legged on the floor of a room that resembles your school library.

Whether this was an intended effect of The Classroom‘s education-themed decor, I’m not sure. Either way, I felt fleetingly like the coolest kid in the class whilst attending the Eat Drink Blog Cocktail and Cuisine Masterclass on Sunday 10th November 2013.

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The Classroom is a small bar situated on Charles Street in North Perth that specialises in ‘cocktail gastronomy’ or cocktail and food matching. Established in 2012 by chef Daniel Sterpini and his business partner Adam Keanes, The Classroom has since gone from strength to strength, winning the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) ‘ Mixology and Cocktail Menu of the Year’ in 2012 and ‘Best WA Cocktail Bar’ in 2013.

The team behind The Classroom describe the inspiration for their small bar to be ‘fun and education’… taking patrons back to the days when ‘learning was fun’. Upon entering the premises, it’s immediately obvious that they’ve executed their concept well: contact covered menus litter the front bar whilst neon backpacks hang joyously above the front entrance. Spirits sit snugly within a wall of modified lockers, right near to a pin-board of pencil drawings.

It’s school, the way it wasn’t supposed to be.

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After acquainting ourselves with the surroundings, our ‘class’ was introduced to teacher number one: Andrew Bennett, The Classroom’s bar manager and resident mixologist. Andrew amiably introduced himself before leading us through a mysterious secret door from the ‘classroom’ into the ‘school library’ where he demonstrated the science behind one of the bar’s most popular cocktails: LN2 Espresso Martini ($22).

andrewNow, before you balk at the price, let me give you the rundown on this little concoction: one pure Darkstar espresso shot, shaken and strained with The Classroom’s secret espresso mix (apparently this has notes of vanilla bean, pure coffee and Pedro XimΓ©nez) topped with mascarpone sherry foam and liquid nitrogen (LN2/-196 degrees C turning the drink into a delicious iced concoction) before being dusted with shaved couverture chocolate. As Andrew explains, it’s like the best parts of espresso, tiramisu and cappuccino in one deliciously boozy, science-dusted hit.

I was seriously impressed (even if he did forget his safety glasses whilst pouring the LN2). preparing liquidnitro2cocktail

Whilst the bar staff formed a production line to complete our class cocktails, we were introduced to The Classroom’s teacher number two: head chef Daniel Sterpini.

Daniel explained his very complex, gastronomically-matched dessert to us in the most ‘teacherly’ of ways: kneeling on the floor (my quick snap gave him an unfortunate magic hand; he was regrettably being bombarded by cameras whilst explaining the dessert elements).

dandessertDaniel’s dessert, the Asteroid Rocher, was apparently inspired by an affogato combined with a Ferrero Rocher chocolate. Upon tasting the dish, I could understand his train of thought.

The smooth nougat ice cream and rich coffee ganache contrasted beautifully against the crunch of homemade honeycomb and pop rocks, just like the textural qualities of a Ferrero chocolate. Pistachio dirt, crystallised violets and blueberries added an earthy, fresh element, rounding out the floral complexity of the smooth coffee ganache.

Surprisingly, the smoky, smooth roasted banana mousse was my favourite element of the dish; smooth, complex and light, with a perfect balance of roasted caramel. When eaten alongside sips of the LN2 martini, the sweet, smooth smokiness contrasted beautifully against the bitter, robust elements of the coffee in a happy revelation.

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For a brief moment, I entirely understood the unique drive behind Dan, Adam and Andrew’s ‘cocktail gastronomy’. It’s an endless, complex and multifaceted journey into the science of food and drink; the building blocks of taste, texture, visual presentation and aroma.

Witnessing the passion behind their product was inspiring.

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I drove home in a state of quiet, deliberate contemplation. Whilst I’m not entirely sold on the idea of matching cocktails to each course (partly due to my obsession with South Australian shiraz), I’m interested in furthering my ‘education’ in cocktail mixology and food matching over the summer months… starting with a ‘Moroccan Affair’ (house-made rhubarb cordial and Tanqueray gin with extra deliciousness).

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The Eat Drink Blog: Cocktail and Cuisine Masterclass was hosted and sponsored by The Classroom bar, Unit 1/356 Charles Street, North Perth WA 6006. Thanks to Andrew Bennett, Daniel Sterpini and The Classroom team for their patience, time and generosity. This blog post is a non-sponsored reflection of my personal experience at this event. Thanks again to the Eat Drink Blog committee for their hard work in organizing this masterclass.

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