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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Coq au Vin - Chicken & Wine French Style

Coq au Vin is that classic French dish you are bound to have heard of no matter where you are.  Simply put, it is chicken cooked in red wine and once again this is not a dish you can decide to make impromptu as it requires an overnight marinating of the chicken.  Another celebrity chef showcased his version of this dish on French Food Safari and this time it was Melbourne based Jacques Reymond.  Inspired by the recipe and by it's utter ease in preparation I decided to start the marinating process the night before and left it for my dad (who has never cooked a French dish in his life) to finish it off.  Expecting it to be a complex task he reluctantly accepted the job of finishing doubtful of his own abilities in the cuisine de France.  

The recipe that follows is once again my adaptation of Jacques' dish, amending it a slight bit to make it easier still.  The result a very full flavoured chicken dish with bite.  The vegetables are beautifully cooked and resonate the deep red wine that they have marinated in.

2kg Chicken Pieces
1 x 750ml Bottle Red Wine
250ml x Port Wine
2 x Celery Sticks, chopped
2 x Carrots, cut into batons
1 x Beetroot, cut into cubes
2 x Red Onions, diced
6 x Garlic Cloves, chopped
5 x Sprigs of Thyme
2tbsp x Sugar
1tbsp x Black Peppercorns
3 x Bay Leaves

1/4 Cup x Flour
Oil to Shallow Fry
125ml x Beef Stock
50ml x Red Wine Vinegar

4 - 5 Bacon Rashers
500g Mushrooms left whole
Parsley to garnish
Rigatoni Pasta served al dente

In a heavy pot combine all marinade ingredients
Cover with a lid and leave in the fridge overnight
Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry
Heat a little oil in a frypan 
Dust the flour over the chicken to cover evenly
Lightly fry the chicken in the oil and brown all over
Place the pot with the marinade on to the heat and bring to the boil
Add the browned chicken pieces and stock to cover
Pour in the red wine vinegar and stir to combine
Replace lid and reduce heat to low
Cook for 30 minutes then remove from the heat
To make garnish fry bacon for 3 minutes then add mushrooms and saute for a further 2 minutes
Garnish with the parsley and reserve until serving

An optional part here is to thicken the sauce in the main dish by adding chicken livers.  As I had already made a chicken liver pate this week I used a couple of tablespoons combined with a little warm water and stirred through the Coq au Vin.
To serve place a helping of the Coq au Vin on al dente Rigatoni Pasta and top with the mushroom and bacon garnish.
Serve immediately with a glass of Red Wine (what else?) 

Duck a L'Orange - Classic Duck and Orange Sauce

Pairing meats with fruit can sometimes prove to be a winner and I believe that this is especially true when dealing with richer meat types and the fattier ones and duck meat ticks the boxes for both those provisos.  As duck has already featured quite prominently on my French weekend in the form of Confit and Rillettes, I felt it definitely justifiable to cook a meal with duck breast. 

Modern Duck a L'Orange is a derivation of a classic French dish that dates back to the Parisian kitchens of the 60s.  As I discover more French cookery and delve into the classic recipes, it never ceases to amaze me just how simple it is to recreate some of these dishes in the home and achieve a fine dining style meal without the price tag.  This is my version of Duck a L'Orange and while it borders on modern cuisine, I have tried not to steer to far from classic recipe.      

Ingredients, to serve 2

2 x Duck Breasts
2 x Oranges, zest and juice 
1 x Juice of 1 Lemon
2tbsp x Campari (Orange Liqueur)
1tbsp x Brandy
60ml x White Wine
Half tsp x Chicken Stock Powder
60ml x Water
1tbsp x Butter
Salt and Pepper to season


Preheat oven to 200 degrees celcius
Season duck breasts on both sides
Heat a dry oven safe frypan on the stove
Add the duck breasts skin side down and cook for 6 minutes
Remove and reserve duck fat that has rendered
Turn and cook on the flesh side for 4 minutes
Reserve any rendered fat again and place in the hot oven for 10 minutes
To prepare the sauce heat a saucepan with 1 tablespoon of the duck fat
Add the wine and allow to boil and reduce by a third
Pour in the orange liqueur and brandy and allow to reduce slightly
Now combine the orange and lemon juices and zest in the saucepan and stir to achieve a thickened syrup
Dissolve the stock powder in the water and stir through
Add the butter and stir to make the sauce glossy
Remove from the heat
Remove cooked duck breasts from the oven and sit to rest covered in foil for 10 minutes
Slice the breasts thickly and serve with jasmine rice
Drizzle with a generous amount of the sauce and zest for garnish.

Bon Apetit!

Bouillabaisse - Fish Stew French-like

On the series of French Food Safari the celebrity chef that tagged along with the host through France was Guillaume Brahimi.  He owns a fine dining restaurant in Sydney and a newly opened French bistro in Melbourne.  On one of the episodes he cooked up a Bouillabaisse and it looked exceptional.  Garnished with baguette slices and topped with a mayonnaise infused potato mash - it was all I needed to put that on my hit list for French Food Weekend. 

So here is my adaptation of Guillaume's Bouillabaisse.  While my fish stew is a little lean on the exuberant fish types, it does not lack anything in taste.  Mine is Bouillabaisse on a budget for 5 people.  Seriously, I bought $5 worth of Whiting, $6 worth of Prawns and another $5 worth of live Mussels.  I used fish stock that was left over and frozen from a risotto I had made a short time back.  The result is a very French-like Fish(y) Stew that was loved by all.

For the soup
Olive Oil
500g x Whiting, heads removed and cleaned
1.5L x Fish Stock
1 x Fennel Head, sliced finely
1tsp x Fennel Seeds
2 x Carrots, roughly chopped
4 x Shallots, sliced
Zest of 1 Orange
180ml x White Wine
1tsp x Saffron
2tbsp x Tomato Paste
1tbsp x Dried Tarragon
500g x Raw Prawns, shelled and deveined
500g x Mussels, debearded and scrubbed

Parsley, to garnish
Lemon juice to drizzle

For the Mash Buttered Baguettes
1 long French Baguette, sliced on the bias 
6 x Potatoes, boiled and mashed (kept warm)
1 x Egg
1tbsp x Dijon Mustard
Half cup of Vegetable Oil
1tbsp x Lemon Juice
Salt & pepper
1tbsp x Butter

Heat a heavy pot with a little olive oil
Chop the whiting into 2 inch pieces and add to the pot 
Add all remaining ingredients to the pot except the prawn & mussels
Pour in enough Fish Stock to cover and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes
Allow the stew to cool slightly and place in a large jug
Using a food processor, blend the stew to a puree
Pass through a sieve back into the heavy pot
Bring the soup back to the boil and add the mussels and prawns
When the mussels open the soup is ready 
Pour soup into a large serving bowl

Make mayonnaise by blending the egg, mustard and lemon juice.
With the blender running slowly trickle in the oil until the mixture emulsifies into a thick mayonnaise.
Season with Salt and pepper and extra lemon juice if necessary.
Combine the mash potatoes and butter with the mayonnaise until mixed through  
Spread generously onto the baguette slices and place around the surface of the soup
Garnish with the parsley
Squeeze a little lemon juice
Serve immediately.  

Terrine : Two Ways

Terrine is a form of what is known as forcemeat.  French charcuterie sellers proudly display their forcemeat delights in their windows for the customers to purchase.  You will find alongside terrine, sausage, pate, roulades and rillettes to name a few.  A common theme is to use game meat and birds, like rabbit, wild boar and duck.  Also included would be chicken livers and the infamous foie gras, which is specially fattened duck or goose liver.  
The meat that goes into terrine is ground to a coarse minced consistency and combined together with herbs and spices to create a formed shape - usually a rectangular loaf.  Similar to meatloaf, terrine is baked in the oven slowly to amalgamate the meats and "force" them into one, the end result is a delicate charcuterie item lightly spiced with different notes of flavour deriving from its various ingredients.

To make a terrine, a reliable non-stick loaf pan is necessary, unless you are lucky enough to have a terrine mould.  The pan or mould is lined with thin bacon or prosciutto strips that will protect the base from burning and it will impart additional flavour too.  Terrine is best served cold or at room temperature.  I served it for breakfast with a poached egg on crusty bread with a couple of nicely matched sides of sauteed mushroom and a home-made Chilli Pepper Relish.  I made two types of terrine as certain breakfast diners don't take too favourably to being dished up liver of any sort - Find the recipes for both below.  These recipes have been adapted from celebrity Aussie chef Anna Gare's versions with a twist of my own flair.

Veal Pork and Chicken Terrine with Livers
250g x Chicken Mince
250g x Veal Mince
250g x Pork Mince
250g x Chicken Livers
1tbsp x Butter
1 x Onion, finely diced
6 cloves Garlic, finely diced
1/2 cup x Port Wine 
1tbsp x Green Peppercorns
2tbsp x Capers, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup x Breadcrumbs
1/2 x Shelled Pistachios 
4 x Sage Leaves, finely sliced
1 x Lemon zest
2 x Eggs, lightly beaten
150g x Baby Spinach, roughly chopped
250g x thinly sliced Bacon or Proscuitto

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius
In a frypan heat the butter and gently saute the onions and garlic.
Add the liver to the pan with the port wine and saute for 1 minute stirring gently
Place liver in a large bowl allow to cool slightly
Line a terrine mould or loaf pan with the bacon or proscuitto draping the slices over the sides so that they can cover the top of the filed terrine
Combine remaining ingredients with the liver.  Do not work the mix too much as you want the mince to remain coarse
Place the mixture into the terrine mould and tap to ensure there are no air pockets
Fold overhanging proscuitto slices over the top and cover with a piece of foil or baking paper
Place terrine into a baking dish half filled with water
Bake in the oven for 1 hour until firm and set
Allow to cool before placing into the fridge to chill overnight

Chicken & Pork Terrine with Dates 

500g x Chicken Mince
500g x Pork Mince
150g x Pitted Dates, chopped 
1 x Onion, finely diced

6 cloves Garlic, finely diced
1/2 cup x Port Wine 
1tbsp x Green Peppercorns
2tbsp x Capers, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup x Breadcrumbs
4 x Sage Leaves, finely sliced
1 x Lemon zest
2 x Eggs, lightly beaten
150g x Baby Spinach, roughly chopped
Extra Baby Spinach to line & cover

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius
In a frypan heat the butter and gently saute the onions and garlic.
Add the dates to the pan with the port wine and saute for 2 minutes stirring gently
Place dates in a large bowl allow to cool slightly
Line a terrine mould or loaf pan with the baby spinach leaves

Combine remaining ingredients with the liver.  Do not work the mix too much as you want the mince to remain coarse
Place the mixture into the terrine mould and tap to ensure there are no air pockets
Place a layer of spinach leaves over the top and cover with a piece of foil or baking paper
Place terrine into a baking dish half filled with water
Bake in the oven for 1 hour until firm and set
Allow to cool before placing into the fridge to chill overnight

Sauteed Mushrooms
500g x Button Mushrooms, quartered
1tbsp Butter
1 x Garlic clove, crushed
Parsley to garnish

In a frypan heat the butter with the garlic being careful not to burn
Add the mushrooms and stir through to coat with the butter
Cook for about 2 minutes then garnish with the parsley 

Red Pepper Relish
3 x Red Capsicums, finely cut (juilenne)
2tbsp x Olive Oil
2tbsp x Red Wine Vinegar
2tbsp x Caster Sugar
half tsp x Cinnamon powder
half tsp x Ground Nutmeg
half tsp x Allspice
1-2 Fresh Chillies, diced

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook gently until softened
Relish is ready when it is thick and glossy 

Duck Rillettes

Rillettes (pronounced Rue-yets) are another forcemeat type made popular in France.  The key to making good rillettes is to slow cook the meat till it falls off the bone.  The meat is then flavoured infused with herbs and spices and compressed into a coarse paste.  It is enjoyed on crusty bread and personally, I need a good pickled gherkin or cornichon to accompany my rillettes snack.  In the recipe below I have used one leg of Confit duck from the previous recipe.  The two day wait to actually use my confit was well worth it at first bite into this delicious spread adapted from Gordon Ramsay.

1 x Confit Duck leg
2 x Shallots, finely diced
2tbsp x Parsley, chopped
2tsp x White Wine Vinegar
1tbsp x Green Peppercorns
4-5tbsp x Duck Fat, enough to bind the mixture

Fry the shallots in a tsp of duck fat for a minute or two, allow to cool
Using a fork pick the meat from the duck leg
Add remaining ingredients and cooled shallots
Mix well binding the mixture with the back of the spoon
Pack the mix into a glass ramekin ready for use
Use Rilettes as a spread on toast or as a scrumptious patty filling, just a couple of uses out of many.
Rilettes can also be frozen, just thaw in the fridge before use 


Confit Duck - Slow cooked duck in its own fat

I could not possibly go past a French inspired weekend of cookery without preparing a batch of Duck Confit.  This age-old process of curing and preservation of meats such as duck, pork and goose can be the recipient of much criticism because there are no healthy justifications to make or eat this dish.  But there must be something good about it if the French have been doing it for centuries and it has etched itself into culinary history.  The thought of poaching rich duck legs in its own fat for hours on end can sound off-putting at first and health authorities will probably condemn it, but you do not consume the fat in any more excessive a manner than usual.  The confit legs once ready are used by dry frying and rendering more fat away.  The result is a flavour enriched succulent game meat that is quite unique from its conception to its taste. 

Duck Confit has had much more popularity in recent times as more restaurants serve it up and more food mags list recipes using it as a component.  I have even ordered it at a bistro style pub in Port Melbourne.  Although I cannot say that I was too impressed by it as the meat was dry and lacked any real flavour and resembled an overcooked rotisserie chicken…but I am no food critic.  On my journey into confit I discovered just how simple it was to prepare, and can appreciate the method it takes to produce this French delicacy that can attract around a $50 price tag for a couple of legs in a can weighing about 800 grams.  In good restaurants expect to pay no less than $40 for a confit duck meal which would include just a single Maryland piece and some decorative vegetables.  

Now I have always been of the notion that if you can make it at home (and it tastes good) then why not!  I can understand that food producers and retailers have a living to earn and I do not want to take that away from them.  I just feel that there is more pride associated and achievement when you make something yourself.  Nine out of ten times home-made wares would be cheaper to produce than store bought goods and aside from this is the assurance of freshness and can ensure the absence of artificial ingredients and additives.

It was probably just coincidence that the butcher in the supermarket that I usually went to for my Asian groceries actually had some in the window.  There happily on display were the duck Maryland cuts with various cuts of offal.  Now I am not too sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing – it depends on how highly Asian cuisine values duck legs as compared to beef tripe.  Either way I was quite content and at $13.99 a kilo, even happier as I could buy a little more than I set out to.

Different recipes for confit duck list a variety of ingredients from the aromatic department of herbs and spices that are used to impart flavour into the meat.  Salt plays a major role in the curing process and it use also ensure a longer shelf life of the finished product.  One thing that is a “must do” however, is to allow the meat to marinate in the fridge overnight, or even longer as some recipes suggest.  As a rule never decide that you are going to confit some duck legs on a whim and decide to do it all on the same day – it is a two day saga to say the least. 


6 duck legs with thighs
4 tbsp x Salt
6 cloves x Garlic, crushed
1 x Shallot, finely diced
6 sprigs x Thyme
1 tsp x Black Pepper
About 4 cups duck fat (3 tubs of Luv-a-Duck range will suffice)

(Day 1)
Wash the duck legs and pat dry with a clean towel
Dust the salt on each side of the duck legs and work the salt into the meat
In a small bowl combine the garlic, thyme and pepper
Using a dish large enough for all the duck legs , sprinkle half the mixture in an even layer
Place the duck legs, skin side up into the dish and sprinkle the remaining mixture
Cover with a lid or cling wrap and allow to infuse in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours.

(Day 2)
Preheat oven to 110 degrees Celsius (depending on how hot your oven gets you may need to adjust this accordingly)
Melt the duck fat in a saucepan until it is slightly warm
Dust the spice mixture of the duck pieces brushing of any excess salt
Discard the spice mixture and any liquids and pat the duck dry.
Clean the dish and return the duck pieces skin side up 

Pour the fat over the duck ensuring that the meat is completely covered
Place into the warm oven
Bake in the oven for 3-4 hours or until meat is softened
The confit is done when the meat can be flaked off the bone.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly

Now you need to decide how long you are going to keep the confit for.  If you plan on letting it permeate further within the confines of your pantry then use a sterilised glass jar (large one or two) and make sure you cover the meat with enough of the fat otherwise it just won’t keep.  This method of preservation will give you up to 6 months shelf life.  Just be sure that there is a sufficient amount of fat covering the meat at all times.  If you plan on using the confit within a couple of weeks then you can store it in a plastic container, again with enough fat but this time it must live in your fridge.  I kept mine in two big glass preserving jars and they looked like high school science experiments – but minus the formaldehyde.

Things to do with duck confit:

As a roast meal – First remove as much of the fat as you can then dry fry duck in a hot skillet until the skin is crispy.  Use rendered fat as a base for roast potatoes and any other roasting vegetable for that matter.  
Use shredded duck meat in a salad
Duck Rillettes (click to link to my recipe)
As a component of the French classic Casoulet (I will make this dish soon and link here)
As filling for savoury pancakes, sandwiches, pastries etc. etc.

The list goes on limited by only your culinary creativity and your power search of the internet.

French Food Weekend

One of my favourite food series that has aired this year on the SBS network has been French Food Safari.  I have been a Food Safari devotee since catching a couple of the episodes of the first series which took viewers to a different country each week and explored the cuisines.  I now own the series on DVD and regularly screen some reruns when I need some international inspiration.  On the popularity of the original series which ran for three seasons, the network broadcasted Italian Food Safari last year, a culinary trip around all things foodie in Italy.  This year it was France’s turn to be on show and the host Maeve O’Meara along with co-host and super French chef Guilliame Brahimi, traversed around the country with a weekly agenda to make your mouth water.  The series finished up last week and it has left me in a French state of mind. 

Here in Melbourne there are plenty of Patisseries that will have you gawking through their window panes as they display their delicious creations.  There are also a couple of charcuterie outlets – where I am sure I would go on a never ending journey with the pates and terrines as my companions.  The Queen Victoria Market houses one of the best places to get your hands (and tastebuds!) on fresh French cheeses.  I have winced at the thought of having to choose from so much availability but at the cost of around $100 per kilo for some of the soft cheeses from the Normandy region, I would need an unlimited supply of funds and a really quick metabolism.  One thing is for sure, to get exceptional French food be prepared to pay premium prices – French food does not come cheap.  And this is perfectly alright as I don’t think there should be any compromise for good quality.  In saying this though the bill does get a little excessive when you decide that you want to share the French goodies with others, and so you have to buy a little more to ensure enough spreading of the love.  This is where the inspiration came from to build on my French recipe repertoire and create a little bit of a charcuterie from my own kitchen.

Now a typical charcuterie in France would be decorated with drying sausages dangling like ornaments from the ceiling.  They would have fresh blocks of pate and carefully compressed terrines originating from poultry and other game meat.  Confit duck would also be a main feature as nothing compares to a slow cooked duck leg that has been stewing for hours in its own fat.  So my plan was simple: take one weekend and turn it into all things French.  I also plan on conjuring up some fine dining marvels for the dinner plate.  After all, the theme was in motion so why divert.  I already had my initial burst of inspiration from French Food Safari and I scoured the internet for some recipes that I could add my own flair to.  So although it seemed very ambitious for someone that has not tried his hand at anything like this before, I must say I am very pleased with the results.  So here’s to a weekend of plenty kitchen time and a reward more than worthwhile.  A truly satisfying foodie adventure if I do say so myself.

Here is the playlist: (click on each link to take you to the recipe page)

  1. Duck Confit – Marylands slow cooked in fat until the meat falls of the bone
  2. Duck Rillettes – Meat shredded from the confit duck legs then combined with herbs and spices into a spreadable paste
  3. Chicken & Port Pate – served with Roasted Balsamic Pears
  4. Terrine – Two types -  A combination of Pork, Veal & Chicken and a Pork, Chicken & Date number, all served with a Red Pepper Relish
  5. Bouillabaisse – Fish stew, on a budget
  6. Duck a L’Orange – A classic dinner dish made simple
  7. Coq au Vin - Chicken cooked in Red Wine after overnight marination.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: Old Town Kopitiam Mamak - QV Building, CBD

Old Town Kopitiam Mamak (QV Square) on Urbanspoon

Malaysian Mamak are collectively the people whose origins are from when their forefathers migrated from the Southern parts of India to Northern Malaysia.  The term Mamak stall is used to refer to an outdoor vendor, small in its appearance, that operates across all hours of the day.  Traditionally Mamaks serve the locals, Malay brewed teas and quick snacks.  The existence of such stalls has become more profound and they are most popular with the youth of Malaysia that are out for a quick socialising session over a cuppa.  More modern Mamaks have taken on the guise of cafés and have extended their menus to accommodate the tastes of their ever-growing numbers patrons.

Mamak style of cuisine varies slightly from the usual Malay dishes you would be accustomed to at your favourite Malaysian restaurant.  The Mamak people of Malaysia have used the influences of their Indian background to fuse dishes together that represent both cultures. Old Town Kopitiam has two outlets in the CBD, one in Chinatown, offering traditional Malaysian and the other in the Queen Victoria Building that is predominantly a Mamak restaurant.  Totally uneducated in the slightest way on Mamak cuisine I tagged along to a lunch get together expecting a nice serve of Beef Rendang – this was definitely not on the menu at the QV Building store, head to Chinatown for that one (I will review the Chinatown outfit in due time).

Since Mamak beverages are all the rage it would be rude not to sample some for ourselves.  You are spoilt for choice here with a variety of white and black coffees and teas with varied amounts of sweeteners and flavour add-ons.  Most intriguing was that you can order a chocolate energy packing Milo or even a Horlicks – a malted cereal beverage that I remember from my childhood in India.  Our drinks of choice were a bit more on the traditional side – Bandung – a rose water flavoured, delightfully pink milk shake like beverage served in the most quirky of contraptions that was rightfully labelled as a ‘drinking jar’.  I would imagine that there is a lid that screws on and you can shake the contents of your beverage without spillage before serving with a straw (I need to get one of these for home!)  My colleague was a little bit more daring and tried the Bandung Cincau which is the rose milk with grass jelly.  Having never experienced grass jelly before, I give her much props.   Alas, she did not find the taste too pleasant though – stick to the original next time.

For starters we ordered Roti Canai ($4) which is a Malaysian flatbread that is served to you hot and crispy.  The talented cook makes it near the counter in part of the open view kitchen. For an additional fifty cents you get accompanying gravies from the available dishes.  While the roti was exceptionally good the $4 price tag is a little steep.  The gravies are a good compliment but not necessary as the roti is tasty enough without and would probably be more value at around the $2 mark.

Nasi Kandar is the Malaysian Mamak equivalent of rice with curry combination that is prevalent in take away shops boasting bain maries stocked with different curries and other dishes.  I ordered rice with two curries, ($8) these being Stewed Beef, Red Chicken Curry.  The beef dish was a mellow tender serve of beef cheek presumably but it had a very sweet flavour to it, almost an overpowering pungency of star anise and/or cinnamon.  The chicken dish was not sweet in flavour but was dotted with whole spices that you bit on if you were not lucky enough to spot them and segregate them to the side of your plate.  Unfortunately the taste of whole cardamom does not satisfy my palette’s requirement for a good restaurant meal.  My colleagues ordered the biryani ($9)as their rice portion and found that they would need to go on a whole spice treasure hunt before proceeding to eat.  The yellow chicken curry was more appetising and the vegetable dishes are simple and satisfying.  

These dishes served in the rustic way that they were, would probably garner more charm and appreciation coming from a street vendor somewhere in Kuala Lumpur.  In an establishment like Old Town Kopitiam Mamak, in quite an architecturally swish restaurant, in the middle of the QV Building, alongside other fine eateries, I find it somewhat unacceptable.  I would be half comforted if told that the dish was served from the take away food court section within the shopping complex.  There is a certain expectation that you have when sitting down to a meal in surroundings where the shop designers have put much thought into, and unfortunately, Old Town Kopitiam Mamak has left a bad (cardamom!) taste in my mouth.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Mexican Hacienda, Fairfield

Hacienda Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The prospect of having Mexican food has only been limited to my imagination and some carefully selected supermarket ingredients from the Old El Paso aisle.  This has not been too unfavourable as I cook up a mean Chilli con Carne and this is usually the base for my Nachos, Tacos and Burritos.  So when the opportunity to dine out in Fairfield, a suburb not far from the Melbourne CBD, came up I decided to head to Mexican Hacienda for a little bit of a fiesta.  I was in for a surprise however as even though the meals were more than filling they lacked a certain something that just made you feel like you were at a restaurant that specialised in Mexican food.  Despite the fact that the place has been around for years and it boast the use of fresh ingredients and authentic recipes, it just did not stack up.

To start we ordered the Nachos Supreme which was a cheese layered corn chip stack with salsa, guacamole and sour cream condiments.  While the presentation of a volcano of nachos was mildly exciting – the taste was not as explosive as expected.  The corn chips were not crispy and an uneven dispersing of the cheese meant many a chip lay topping-less and rather bland.  Hopes were still alive for the second starter of a Trio of Dips to have some zing appeal given they were made up of a frijole (bean) dip, chilli cheese dip and a jalapeno dip.  Hardly a spicy combination and rather starchy in the taste, the dips were quite uneventful and even the anticipation of jalapeno dip was quashed with a mild, rather tasteless offering.

For our mains a platter or three Tacos sounded promising and a Burrito Del Mar was the selection given that home cooks normally would not cook seafood as part of their Mexican feast (well at least I never have anyway!)  Ten points were given for presentation of the Tacos in a circular arrangement with the rice in the middle.  The beef and chicken tacos were the winners and had a good amount of taste to satisfy but the frijole con queso taco was nothing but the same bean dip from the starter in a taco shell, sadly uninspiring.  

The description for the burrito was creamy prawns wrapped in a flour tortilla and oven baked served with rice and beans.  When the waitress came to the table we were told the plate was very hot as it just came out of the oven.  This seemed quite perplexing to me as I had to at least check the temperature of the plate (for my own curiosity at least!) Sure enough it was hot but not hot like a warmed plate from a servery – hot as in “Don’t touch it your fingers will cook if they come into contact with it”.  I was glad that there were no kids at the table as it would have surely been a touch point (excuse the pun!)  When it was cool enough to handle the seafood filling was surprisingly well cooked and creamy like a mornay sauce that belonged on a bowl of pasta.  The taste was good but in the heat of Mexico I am not sure a dish like this would work.  The rice was a basic mix of quite a bland concoction and the beans was – wait for it – another serve of the frijole dip we had encountered twice before.

I thought the redemption would come from dessert but this was not to be the case.  We ordered Chocolate Mousse which came highly recommended as it was the chef’s speciality – this was quite a lacklustre version of mousse that was without any real chocolate flavour and left you feeling like you were eating something put out on a cheap buffet that you were expecting to be bad anyway.  The Crème Caramel was not even close to being a highlight despite its unnecessarily decorated plate.  The syrup tasted like it was from a bottle and the caramel was definitely not informed that it was supposed to be in this dish.

All in all it was a sad event – only heightened by the surroundings of a restaurant that needed a huge once over to bring in more into today’s world.  I honestly think I have had better Mexican turned out from the hobs of my 6 burner stove at home – even with using supermarket ingredients.  Mexican Hacienda is not on my list of restaurants well worth eating at as the entire event was a complete let down.  The cost of the evening was also on the higher priced part of the scale and considering the food was not up to standard I definitely did not get value for money.  Service started out quite attentively but as the place got busier the waitresses were less seen and their attention was hard to get as they bustled to and from the kitchen.  There was no mariachi music playing in the background to set the mood – the one sound quite noticeable was the microwave alerting that it had finished its cycle of heating.  Sadly, no fiesta to be had here...but I am no Food Critic!