Cafe Barcelona

>Another rainy night, another stupid decision. We were looking for somewhere cosy out of the chilly night air. Despite my previous assertion that I would not eat there again, we found ourselves back at Cafe Barcelona.

Sadly it was pretty empty (well it was a Monday night); despite this the waiter tried to place three of us at a table which was patently designed for two, and appeared a little put out when we asked to move. The front door would not close properly so we spent the evening shivering with our coats around us. They couldn’t get the door to stay shut for more than a few minutes.

The food was mostly good, I’ll grant you that. The tortilla was a bit ordinary, but the garlic mushrooms, meatballs, chilli prawns and everything else was lovely. Service (as before) was hit and miss. It took a few tries before we successfully scored more bread to mop up the delicious juices, and we had to defend the dishes stoutly in the meantime. I felt we were in the way to be honest.

The Spanish tempranillo (Vina Albali, one of my favourites) went down well, but we had to spike Shanna’s sangria with a slug from the bottle. It was mostly fruit juice.

Again, a disappointing evening all told. This time I will tattoo it on my forehead: don’t go back. The thing that annoys me is that Lola’s Tapas is only down the road. Why can I never remember to go there?

Cafe Barcelona

>It was the St. Kilda Festival this weekend. We popped in to BarCelona on Fitzroy Street early on Sunday evening to excape the crowds, the heat and the hurricane-force wind that had caught us in a dried-grass-storm… and got ripped off.

We should have known when we asked for a jug of water as soon as we sat down, and were told we couldn’t have one. Large bottles of still or sparking water only today. We opted for the sangria, and were charged $28 compared to the standard menu price of $24.

Strangely, as soon as our two companions had ordered their food, the waitress disappeared so quickly that our calls for her to return went unnoticed. I wonder what she thought we two were going to eat?

Our companions ordered a platter of antipasto-type food for two at $20, and it was measly. The calamari, mussels, chicken wings, beef skewers and leak and parmesan croquetas were perfectly fine in fairness, but the food came out in dribs and drabs, and even our attempts to be given cutlery and napkins went unheard.

At $96 for four people, it was not value for money. And I’m sure it’s illegal to refuse to serve tap water, regardless of whether you charge for it or not?

I’ve eaten at BarCelona before, and enjoyed it, but I won’t be returning.

marilyn’s dips

>Marilyn is an interesting woman, the PA for the Chairman of the London Ambulance Service. When you meet her first she appears incredibly sophisticated and urbane. However this polished veneer hides a wicked sense of humour, and a glass of wine or two usually unleashes an uproarious laugh worthy of a fishwife.

Here are some of her favourite things to have on the table as you drink.

Hoummus b’Tahini

Makes approx 3 cups Make sure you leave enough time to soak the chickpeas overnight – or use tinned, they are just as good.

1 1/2 cups chick peas, soaked overnight
2 tsp salt
approx 2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup tahini (white, slightly bitter sesame paste – obtained from food stores or delis and keeps indefinitely)
1/2 cup lemon juice
pinch cayenne and 2 tbs chopped parsley to garnish

Drain soaked chickpeas, place in pot, add 3 times their amount of water. Add 1 tsp salt and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes, turn heat down, cover saucepan and simmer about an hour until they are very soft. Drain liquor (keep liquor) and reserve.

Reserve a few whole cooked chick peas for garnish. Puree remainder. Crush garlic with remaining teaspoon salt, add to puree. Slowly beat in tahini and lemon juice alternately. Blend in little of the reserved cooking liquid to make mixture creamy consistency. Adjust salt and lemon.

Baba Ghannouj

1 large eggplant
1/4 cup lemon juice
4-5 tbs tahini
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp salt

Either roast eggplant in hot oven until soft and outside blackened (15-20 minutes) or hold onto stem and place over open grill turning until the skin is charred. Allow to cool.

Remove skin carefully, mash pulp thoroughly and slowly beat in lemon juice alternately with tahini.Crush garlic with salt and mix to a paste. Blend into eggplant mixture.

sunblush tomatoes from the oven

>When I first came to visit Australia, I was staying with my sister. I had no money and no job, so I contributed to the household by going to the market, buying cheap seasonal vegetables and making homemade soup and other dishes. This was one of mymore successful experiments.

Core and half the tomatoes, sprinkle on some chopped garlic, dried thyme, salt and pepper.

Put on a baking sheet and drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil.

Leave in the over after you have finished cooking twice or three times, or alternatively roast slowly at the lowest setting for about 16 hours.

When they are finished they will be about 25% of their raw size.

Store in the fridge in an airtight container.