AN ODE TO RESTAURANTS PAST

I was excited by a recent article in the Sunday Age (14th October by Gemima Cody). Excited, because it highlighted two of my favourite Aussie restaurants of all time – Fanny’s and Two Faces. I realise that the purpose of the article was to publicise the newly released 2018 Good Food Guide, but it was heart warming to see kudos being given to a couple of the original 3-Hat establishments from the groundbreaking inaugural edition from 1980. (Two of four 3-Hat establishments in that edition – I presume one of the others was the wonderful Flower Drum, but what was the fourth?)

Actually, when I first came to Australia in the early 70’s, Fanny’s was one of the first restaurants I visited. Known in those days as Fanny’s by Gaslight, I had read about it in a local magazine and my notes tell me that I was highly impressed – not just by the food, but the ambience and the professional service as well. (Those were the days when my restaurant visits were infrequent enough for me to make notes). And, in latter years, Two Faces became a regular haunt, with Hermann Schneider commenting to me, many years later, that he thought I was in a dubious business of one sort or other, because I was obviously not his atypical client, yet always spent and tipped well. (I just spent a fair proportion of my earnings on restaurant visits – as any young chef should.)

To my mind, Gloria and Blyth Staley and Hermann and Fay Schneider were the forerunners of today’s inspiring restaurant scene. Sure, Ms Cody in her article was a touch disparaging about the classical ‘Frenchness’ of each establishment and, yes, cream and butter did play a significant role in their kitchens – particularly in those early days. But, I will always remember the tender, flavoursome Goose with Fresh Cherries at Two Faces and the Scallops Provencale at Fanny’s, which were opaque in the centre at a time when our wonderful local scallops were normally cooked within an inch of their life (and then for 10 minutes more).

Obviously, Vegemite Scrolls with Black Garlic and Miso and Camel Milk Sorbet using liquid nitrogen (Attica) didn’t rate a Guernsey. And neither did a menu like Dan Hunter’s at Brae, which centres around his inspiring gardens. (Although, Dan, a little credit to the original ‘gardener/chef George Byron wouldn’t go amiss.)

But the food at Fanny’s and Two Faces was inspiring nonetheless and this was a time when hospitality positions were rarely regarded as ‘real’ jobs and top quality produce was hard to find. (“Of course the fish is fresh Sir – it’s fresh frozen.”) Yet, even with such challenges, both establishments set what seemed at the time impossibly high standards and, in doing so, laid the groundwork for today’s vibrant restaurant scene. They inspired customers, restaurateurs and cooks alike (take a bow Luke Mangan, Andrew Blake, Teage Ezard, John Lepp, etc., etc.) and introduced us to the suave, urbane Claude Verysser, who ran Fanny’s dining room with such aplomb and the highly professional Anders Ousback, who oversaw Two Faces with flair and a delightful touch of dry humour. (Anders went on to run the room at Berowa Waters, where the food of Tony and Gaye Bilson was, to say the least, world beating – but that’s another story!)

I digress. I will always remember Mrs Staley sitting at the corner table, where she witnessed almost every dish as it exited the kitchen pass. And those kind, yet on the mark, words from Good Food Editor, Claude Forell when she passed:

“Gloria was an inspired impresario with a flair for design, a sense of style, an antenna for contemporary trends and an intuitive feeling for exquisite food.” How true!

Whilst a former apprentice from Two Faces, who preferred to remain anonymous, but is these days a very successful restaurateur in his own right, once told me:

“Chef not only had eyes in the back of his head, but could somehow tell – even if seated at the other end of the dining room – if you had the slightest f..k up in the kitchen. And, sure, you got a bollocking (only if deserved), but overall he was a generous and caring boss who, for our own good, installed in us a desire for perfection.”

So, were Fanny’s and Two Faces up there with the world’s best, like our current breed – maybe not? But did they serve bloody good food (which was innovative for its time) and look after us as if they really cared – sure did!

PS. And, just out of interest, it was not a trick question. My restaurant Fleurie was not the fourth 3-Hat restaurant mentioned from the 1980 Good Food Guide. I did receive 3 Hats, but not until later in the eighties, when I also had Hats at Champagne Charlie’s and The Last Aussie Fishcaf.

AWFUL OFFAL RIDES AGAIN (vegetarians & vegans keep clear)

For a very brief period in the early 70’s, I worked at Lacy’s – a very fashionable restaurant in London. Owned by highly regarded Chef Bill Lacy and his wife Margaret Costa, the Sunday Times Food & Wine Editor, it  championed offal. And, in her wonderful “Four Seasons Cookery Book”, Margaret christened the offal chapter ‘Awful Offal’, lamenting the fact that all these delicious bits and pieces, so full of nutritional value, ended up with such an awful nano – even refusing to quote the Oxford Dictionary (parts fallen or cut off”), as it may “put you off these good and nourishing foods forever”.

These days, Fergus Henderson of St John’s Restaurant in London fame is regarded as the champion of ‘awful offal’, but isn’t it time that us Aussies in, a day and age when we continually talk of no waste, jumped on the bandwagon of offal to a greater extent? In fact, how dare we even consider slaughtering a beast, any beast, and not using up every skerrick of same. Instead, we need to follow the lead of our parents and grandparents and embrace delicacies such as kidneys, liver, tongue, brains, sweetbreads and the like. Although, I must admit, my mother and grandmother almost put me off tripe for life when they smothered it in the world’s worst white sauce (cornflour thickened milk with tonnes of parsley). It was only when I discovered the joys of the French version (Tripes a la Mode de Caen), where the Bechamel was not only made correctly, but it was heavily flavoured with the world’s best apple brandy – Calvados. But, I do remember my father happily eating my mother’s version. Then again, he also loved haggis (he was a Scot). I do wonder whether it was the generous tot of single malt alongside that swayed him. Me? Haggis didn’t ever do it for me and I am, to this day, reminded of Greenkeeper Willie from The Simpsons, who described it as “the awful bits and pieces from the animal stuffed into a wee lamb’s stomach” or words to that effect.

Anyway, I digress, my Salade Nouvelle of pan seared duck livers with baby spinach, bacon, lardons and a tangy mustard dressing was always popular on my restaurant menus. As was Twice-Cooked Ox Tongue with beetroot relish and/or celeriac remoulade and a Chicken, Brain & Spinach Pate en Croute was an absolute hit.

Also, as a kid, I was pretty keen on Crumbed Brains & Bacon and Devilled Kidneys, and Lamb’s Fry went down a treat as part of our breakfast feasts, particularly if there was fried bread alongside. I will always remember Ann Taylor’s stunning Calf’s Liver with onions from her Sydney restaurant, the highly moreish salad at Leon de Lyon in (where else) Lyon, which was packed with goodies – many of which I was loath to enquire as to their origins (it was so tasty, I ordered seconds!), and then there was Jimmy Shu’s bloody wonderful crispy tripe, which I hope still features on at least one of his many Northern Territory establishments.

And, I mustn’t forget the Sweetbreads Grenoblaise from Melbourne’s Fanny’s – one of my favourite restaurants of all time, which were drenched in a foaming mix of brown butter, capers and tiny wedges of lemon – delish!

All in all, enough to encourage each and every one of you to immediately rush to the butcher’s shop and grab some offal, any offal. But do keep in mind that this is not supermarket fodder and you may have to visit a ‘real’ butcher and maybe even pre-order some of these delicious goodies.

 

PS.

For all you tripe haters, here is a recipe that will appeal. Keeping in mind how much Aussies love anything crumbed, just parmesan crumb fine slices of par-cooked tripe, deep fry and serve with a Sauce Bearnaise laden with lots of fresh tarragon.

A friend of mine served such a dish to his kids without appraising them of the fact that it wasn’t chicken or fish. It’s alright, I’m not advocating such behaviour, but they scoffed the lot.

 

PPS.

Another of my father’s favourites – the unfortunately named faggot. Originally a Cockney working class creation, the faggot is a simple sausage of ground bits and pieces wrapped in caul fat (lining of a pig’s stomach) and baked until golden brown. Absolutely delicious, it’s other claim to fame is that a tray in a faggot shop in London’s Pudding Lane, which caught fire in 1666, started the Great Fire of London. The moral of the story – don’t flame the blessed things.

 

And, there’s more … for plenty of new recipes, log onto my YouTube channel – Huey’s Fabulous Fast Food For One (or Two) – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmvDLNrITNG0Gyhpz6350FA