Lunch 5 May 2015

We expected cool and rainy weather for  what advised to be a perfect cold weather dish however the sun shone and it enticed some forty members into attending lunch with Bill Alexiou in the kitchen, Paul Irwin (our wine recorder) on wines, Ross MacDonald on cheese and Spencer Ferrier in charge of coffee.

Canapes were prepared by Peter Squires and Peter Manners and comprised a zuchinni and feta frittata as well as finely sliced lamb backstrap topped with a Greek version of babaganoush which has pomegranate seeds and yoghurt instead of tahini .There was also sliced boiled egg with a tapenade, the last on toasted bread that could have been crisper to complement the toppings. Accompanying them was the Pikes riesling 2006 drinking very well and still fresh under stelvin . The reliable Lustau sherry was also on offer this time.

The main course was a Greek "stifada", marinated beef cheek in a luscious sauce made on tomato carrot and flavour enhancers of cinnamon, bay leaf and cloves . Also on the plate was some risoni , little grains of pasta resembling rice in appearance . It was a meal of robust flavours and good texture. Served with it were a Burtons Limestone Ridge Merlot 2001 13.5% alc which showed good fruit and flavour; and a Warrenmang Estate Black Puma shiraz 2001 from the Pyreenes area of Victoria. At 15% it was a big wine, elegant and well balanced with dominant blackberry fruit.

.The cheese this week: a Tarago Shadows of Blue made from pasteurised cow's milk from Gippsland Victoria .It was a rich double cream blue vein cheese with a creamy flavour, a good aged example of the style with nutty and salty tastes on the palate. It was simply served with a salad of walnut, lettuce, rocket and pear. The accompanying wines were a 1999 Rosemount Estate Mountain Blue shiraz cabernet from Mudgee ( 14% alc) and 1999 Pirramimma Maclaren Vale Stocks Hill Shiraz(14% alc).The Mudgee wine was judged wine of the day by speakers: it was well balanced and flavoured with blackberry eucalyptus characters. The Pirrammma was well past its bed time, most bottles "dusty" with oxidised character and hard acid end palate.

The red wines were all under cork.

The coffee was made on beans from El Salvador, a sweet light coffee well matched to follow the cheese course

Wine tasting 28 April 2015

Wine Master Paul Ferman selected the wines for the monthly tasting before he departed for foreign climes, so was not there to receive the accolades which flowed from a great collection of SA reds from 2004. In order of appearance, they were: Penfolds Bin 407 cabernet; Grant Burge Shadrach cabernet; Majella Coonawarra cabernet; Orlando St Hugo Coonawarra cabernet ; and 2 masked wines (same State and year) which were revealed as: Burton McLaren Vale shiraz; and Penfolds Bin 389 cabernet-shiraz. It was a terrific lineup, and not a dud among them, leading to a diversity of preferences, although the 389, a dark monster with years ahead of it, seemed to find unanimous favour. Otherwise, the bigger fruit wines, particularly the St Hugo and the Shadrach, were preferred to the more elegant 407, Majella and Burton, but all agreed the whole range was the best seen at a tasting for some time.

The quality of the wines was enhanced by some spicy, but not too much so, food from Paul Thorne, with Keith Steele on canapes. These took the form of a very good homemade terrine with a dab of quince paste on thin baguette toasts, and little cups of a tasty but still zingy tomato-based Moroccan soup. With them came a single aperitif, the 2003 Richmond Grove Watervale riesling, showing some maturity but still youthful zest, a slight spritz and plenty of fruit. The Moroccan theme continued into the main course of lamb shoulder, slow cooked in a broth of Mid-Eastern spices but no heat and served fall-apart but still moist with accompanying hand-around plates of quinoa with pine nuts, chopped dates and other goodies, and a warm salad of red capsicum and tomato with sliced red onion. There were strong flavours to match the strength of the wines, and the bigger ones went better with the food.

It was back home for the cheese, a very young, snow white and creamy Meredith chevre from Victoria, mild and lactic with a sourness that went well with fresh figs, dates and fresh walnuts in a sugar glaze in the Moroccan fashion; but not quite so well with the tasting wines, although it was better with the aperitif riesling for those who managed to save a bit.

The memorable meal concluded with a not-so-memorable coffee, a single estate from Panama obviously grown with the US market in mind, soft, pleasant and inoffensive.

Lunch 21 April 2015

It was good to see Bruce Thomas( immaculately attired as usual in chef's whites) back in the kitchen, assisted by good mate and fellow member Mark Compton.

First up were some fine canapes, a piece of Bruce's trademark lightly cured salmon with crème fraiche in a short pastry cup, and some quality duck liver pate with lashings of grand marnier on plain thin toasts. The main aperitif to accompany was a 2013 Tellurian marsanne from Heathcote, fresh and juicy but a bit sweet and monodimensional. Also on offer was the last of the McWilliams Vintage amontillado sherry, rich and full but lacking the cut of the Lustau equivalent.

For the main course, Bruce took us to Normandy, with large veal backstraps roasted, sliced and served on a bed of celeriac and winter root vegetable puree with slice of cored and poached spiced apple on top and a veal reduction stock enriched with calvados, verjuice and cream poured over. Completing the plate were some perfectly crunchy beans and snow peas. The meat was great, although with inevitable differences in doneness according to the part of the backstrap it came from. The sauce was a joy, and in all it was a classic French bistro dish, not too heavy but tasty and satisfying. Satisfying, and interesting, might also be applied to the accompanying wines: a 2010 Nicolas Reau Pompois Anjou and a Mediterra Toscana from the same year. Neither was familiar to most members; the Anjou, made from cabernet franc grapes, was youthfully purple, with a pronounced spritz, some briary characters and clean, while the Toscana was made from traditional shiraz, cabernet and merlot and showed as a more serious wine with fine tannins balancing some high (14.5%) alcohol and a good match with the food. If they expanded members' horizons, that is no bad thing.

The cheese, of course, also came from Normandy: a rather young but decidedly delicious Fromage de Meaux, the pasteurised version of Brie de Meaux. It showed typical grassy notes in the paste, which was still crumbly and slightly sour in the centre, with lovely floury rind and no hint of ammonia. With it, Bruce served his trademark quince paste, a developed and slightly tart labour of love, and some fresh walnuts, now in season. Wine Master Paul Ferman returned to Australia with a 2000 Tyrrells Vat 1 semillon and a 2010 Tappanappa Foggy Hill pinot from the Fleurieu Peninsula of SA. The Vat 1 was still a baby, with high acid dominating the top fruit and perhaps a bit restrained for the cheese compared with the pinot, made by Brian Crozer and a really good Oz pinot, with Burgundian notes on the nose and nice vegetal characters on the palate; it needs time to improve

Finally, Spencer Ferrier gave us a coffee made on medium roast beans from a single estate in Panama, in the lighter style but with a firm finish and enough acid to give it interest. It was outclassed by a birthday wine from Martin McMurray, a 12-year matured Stanton & Killeen muscat from Rutherglen, grapey, sweet and luscious, the classic Xmas pudding in a glass.

AGM and lunch 14 April 2015

Food Master Nick Reynolds had the job ahead of him, serving a lunch to about 40 members following the AGM which concluded about 12 noon. The intervening hour was filled by a succession of wines from the generous Wine Master, along with plenty of canapes from Nick and Bill Alexiou: the result was an unusually boisterous crowd sitting down at 1pm.

Nick and Bill took it all in their stride, however. For starters, Bill produced some wonderful pork and beef Greek meatballs and a zingy beetroot paste on bread crisps, while Nick came up with a lemony homemade hummus under a nicely done coffin Bay scallop topped by a piece of grilled bresaola, or air-dried beef, on ceramic spoons. Accompanying them, the wines included, but were not limited to, a 1997 Tyrrells Stevens Semillon, a 1998 Steingarten riesling, a 1998 Vat 1 semillon from Tyrrells, a Picnic pinot from Central Otago in NZ and a choice of amontillado and manzanilla Lustau sherries. Space, and an increasing blur, do not permit notes on each.

As previously stated, Nick faced the hordes at table undaunted. Sundry sous vide tanks on display indicated what was to come, and some wonderfully bright pink fillets of ocean trout duly appeared, sprinkled with a dusting of Middle Eastern spices and served with an appropriately slightly pickled salad of fennel and crumbled fetta cheese, boosted with intense fennel pollen. With the rich but not oily fish appeared a 2009 Ocean Eight chardonnay from Mornington Peninsula, with crisp stone fruit characters on nose and palate but lacking depth; and a 2010 Port Phillip pinot noir from the same area, plenty of sweet fruit on the palate in the lighter Oz style but needing a bit more time to develop depth.

The cheese was, as ever, great, a Secret de Scey semi-hard cows' milk cheese from the Franche-Comte region of France, with a distinctive vein of ash and a salt-washed rind, showing good mild creamy flavours and soft chewy consistency. Some salted mixed nuts were an ok accompaniment, as were a 2006 Epsilon shiraz from the Barossa, showing typical overripe fruit and big bricky characters but some strong tannins to give it a degree of elegance; and a 1998 Bowen Coonawarra cabernet, light and elegant for a Bowen, mature and better with the cheese.

An El Salvador (Central American) medium roast bean was the basis for a smooth, relatively soft coffee in the US style to bring proceedings to a final halt.

Mixed lunch 7 April 2015

Who said members avoid mixed lunches? Even our President was among the 54 members and guests who assembled on the first day after the Easter break to enjoy some great food from Roger Straiton in the kitchen, and ditto wines, cheese and coffee from the usual respective providers.

Vinously, Paul Ferman started with an eclectic mix of a Bredif sparkling chenin blanc from Vouvray, a McWilliams Museum Release amontillado sherry and some still whites, chiefly the Tim Smith Eden Valley Riesling seen at previous lunches.A campari was provided to liven up the vouvray! All very refreshing but no fireworks. Not so some terrific canapes, actually prepared by Ian and Chris Witter: homemade ocean trout gravlax with a tangy sauce on pumpernickel, and a rich savoury duck liver parfait simply served on crispbread.

Roger promised, and delivered, quality fillet of beef, with whole Angus fillets roasted blood pink, sliced and served with a classic sauce chasseur made on mushrooms, herbs and heaps of booze, with some crunchy dutch carrots and some little potato croquettes completing the plate. It all turned on the beef, and Roger certainly delivered. So did the wine master, with a 2009 Ch Peyredon Bordeaux from Haut-Medoc, juicy but savoury, and a 2008 Crozes-Hermitage from Dom de Clairmont, also refreshing if a bit thin on fruit.

The cheese was another triumph, a soft and sticky but fresh and clean fromager d'affinois from the Rhone-Alpes region of France, buttery and sweet with a soft lactic aftertaste. Simple green seedless grapes were an ideal accompaniment. The first accompanying wine was a 2004 Providence "Miguet" chardonnay from Tasmania, fully developed and showing top integration of fruit and acid to yield a fine match with the cheese. Also a match, but an even better wine, was the 2001 Seppelts Chalambar shiraz from Victoria, also well developed with a rich fruit overlay on classy tannins, and certainly the best wine of the day. Assorted ½ bottles of sticky whites were also in evidence, and soon accounted for.

Spencer Ferrier wound things up by giving a choice of a coffee made on Aceh beans form Indonesia, with strong chocolate characters in the mouth and a good long finish; and English Breakfast tea, but not as Mr Twinings knows it. Two perfect ways to finish a standout meal.

5th cook off and wine tasting 31 March 2015

It was a coincidence of gustatory pleasures, with James Hill in the kitchen doing the last of the cook offs for the 2014 COTY, and Paul Ferman providing a wholly masked bag of local and foreign reds and whites for the monthly wine tasting. It justified the huge attendance of 56.

First, the canapes, James providing something new in the form of a homemade olive bread, thin slices of a cakey bread flavoured with green olives, parmesan cheese and herbs; as well, freshly prepared rabbit rillettes, made with goose fat and a bit of pork as well as the seasonal bunny, served on thinly sliced Iggy's sourdough. The aperitif wine was the 2001 Tyrrells Vat 1, not an outstanding year and showing considerable bottle variation , with most tired and lifeless. Not so a Innocente manzanilla sherry also available, and appropriately sharp and tangy.

And so to the main event, a revisiting of James' mustard-braised pork neck with cognac. The necks were slow cooked for about 3 hours in stock with a mix of wholegrain mustard, brown sugar and herbs, then turned out and thickly carved. The sauce, enlivened by a hit of cognac and with prunes added, was poured over and the dish finished with garlic mashed potato and wilted silverbeet. Definitely sweet, as befits pork, but with balancing fire from the cognac and bitterness from the beet.

On the whole, the dish was well matched by the tasting lineup of 6 masked wines, 2 white and 4 red, with only an airy statement that there was a mix of Old and New World to help us. Wide and varied were the appraisals, but the wines were revealed as: 2008 Montmains 1er cru Chablis, still delicate and highly acid but a good foil for the sweetness in the food; 1999 Steingarten Riesling, deep gold and developed, perhaps a little too much so; 2009 Dom Fontaine, predominantly grenache from Gigondas in the S Rhone, a bit thin for the company; 2008 Craggy Range shiraz from New Zealand, big and intense with a meatiness that had many picking Spain or Italy; 2008 Trapio monastrell from Spain, a very well made wine that many picked as Bordeaux; and 2008 Lindemans Pyrus, really good drinking with a cabernets blend, and very popular.

The standard was maintained with the cheese, a rich, nutty caramel flavoured semi-soft number , finally identified by Ross MacDonald as a goat's milk cheese from Holland rejoicing in the name Midnight Moon. Certainly worth staying up for, and nicely balanced with some sliced Fuji apples and William pears.

The coffee, introduced by Spencer Ferrier, was a medium roast from NW Sumatra, pleasingly clean and bitter on the palate with an ok length. It was made even better by a birthday port from Gary Linnane. A splendid 1983 Stanton & Killeen, with heaps of rich sweet fruit and spirit to match, it was presented in magnums.

Lunch 24 March 2015

Ignoring the cracks about mothers-in-law, Royal Exchange Club manager and new member Will Hattersley talked to his, and came up with an authentic version of a dish from her native Haut-Savoie region of eastern France: raclette (although some recalcitrant Swiss persist in claiming the dish as theirs).

It was preceded by some canapes of smoked salmon with crème fraiche on crispbread and smoked oysters with a horseradish cream sauce on the same. None the worse for being a late inspiration, they were accompanied by a 2011 Tim Smith Eden Valley Riesling which was okay but uninspired with a hard finish and light fruit, and the Lustau manzanilla sherry, a regular aperitif with reliable style and salty bite proving a better match for the snacks.

The raclette dish was a community effort on the table, each of which was equipped with a special raclette grill brought in by Will for the occasion. Pieces of raclette cheese were grilled on trowels until melting and bubbly, then transferred to individual plates with ham and pastrami, boiled new potatoes, cocktail onions and cornichons provided to accompany, together with lots of good French baguette bread and a touch of chutney which soon vanished. Designed for sharing around a table after a hard day's skiing, the food went down surprisingly well on a typical humid Sydney day, helped by an eclectic lineup of wines: 2007 Tyrrells Steven Semillon; 2009 Ernst Triebaumer blaufrankisch from Austria; 2000 Ingoldby shiraz from McLaren Vale; and 2004 Majella Coonawarra cabernet. Opinions were divided on the best wine and best match: for many, the Steven was a terrific example of the fruitier style of Hunter semillon, but not quite up to the food, while the Austrian wine, with lighter, more acid characters than the other 3 reds was best with the food although outclassed as a drink by the remarkably smooth and rich shiraz and the big, slightly overripe Coonawarra.

The 4 wines were served together because there was, obviously, no cheese course. Instead, Will produced individually baked apple cakes, with good texture and pleasantly tart fruit, which were well washed down by a 2007 Ch Lafaurie Peyraguey Sauternes from France, luscious and starting to mature, fortuitously provided by birthday boy Peter Kelso. Coffee was a house blend of medium roast beans from Forsyths, full in the mouth with woody chocolate notes and a clean finish. It was made even better by a prune liqueur, made by Will's granfather, with plenty of fire but identifiable fruit from a bit of ageing.

4th cook off 17 March 2015

To be sure, it was reconstructed Irishman John O'Rourke in the kitchen for St Patricks Day, and the food was very much in theme. Although a finalist in the 2014 COTY, John had ruled himself out of contention as a previous 3-times winner, but that didn't stop him cooking up a storm.

To warm up, we had Guinness and oysters; the former needing no comment, and the latter a terrific example of large Sydney rocks, served in the shell, mainly unadorned except for a drop of lemon, but some with a bit of pickled ginger, nice but unnecessary. Also on hand was a 2010 The Yard chardonnay from Margaret River, light on fruit but refreshing and showing some development; and the ever-reliable Lustau manzanilla sherry.

So on to the main course, Irish stew but not as you know it. A big stock was made from lamb pieces and bones with aromatic vegetables including onion and leeks, to which was added cubed lamb leg and, at the last moment, diced carrot so that it retained crunch. The obligatory praties were cooked separately in stock for extra flavour and the stew mix poured over them before serving. Certainly too good for the peasants, this "stew" (more a casserole) was comfort food and not only for the Celts. Some great ciabatta bread from Haberfield Bakery helped to mop up the sauce. Wisely eschewing Irish wine, Paul Ferman provided a 2009 Olivers Taranga shiraz from McLaren Vale, with forward nose and medium strength fruit with a fresh finish which complemented the food. The other wine on the table was masked, and most picked it as Rhone, a choice vindicated when it was unveiled as a 2009 Mon Coeur Cotes du Rhone from Chave, a well-regarded maker. It was beaut, with intense rich fruit which will soften and become more complex with time.

John himself provided the cheese, or to be precise, the two cheeses, both of which floored the audience and which turned out to be sheep's milk cheeses from Tasmania (Grandvewe), one a manchego-style semi-hard cheese of some authenticity down to the grass-embossed rind, and the other a blue inspired by Roquefort, worthy but a little rubbery and lacking the intensely salty creaminess of the original. Whole fresh figs were an ideal accompaniment, as were a 2006 Bowen Coonawarra cabernet, and another masked wine, this time the 2005 Taylors Jaraman cabernet from Clare. The Bowen was true to area and maker, but a bit thin and sour, whilst the Taylors was complete, with perfectly ripe fruit balanced by long tannins, and to many the wine of the day.

The coffee came from New Guinea (a plantation once owned by Bob Oatley), a medium strength brew of good but not outstanding character. The kitchen leprechaun had one more surprise up his sleeve in the form of a liqueur from the same place as the cheese, made from the whey left over in the cheese-making process with vanilla added. Sweet and lactic, it took most back to the days of vanilla milkshakes; an interesting experiment which it is to be hoped will not soon be repeated .

3rd cook off 10 March 2015

The COTY award is given to the best main course, and sometimes this is a pity when the overall effect of the meal is especially good. This was the case last Tuesday, when Bill Alexiou-Hucker presented a Greek feast from go to whoa for the 3rd of the cook offs for the 2014 awards. We started with 3 canapes: some quality tapenade topping a slice of egg on a crouton; terrific homemade taramasalata on croutons, made even fishier with the addition of a sliver of dried mullet roe, or bottaga, on top; and a refreshing tzatziki (yoghurt with garlic, mint and lemon) on cucumber slices. All nicely balanced by a 2006 Wine Society Tasmanian riesling, mature and complex with fruit to complement the firm acid.

Bill repeated his braised octopus for the main course, with a rich tomato and red wine sauce which may have been a bit powerful for the accompanying whites but which was terrific in its own right. There was medium octopus as well as some babies in the mix, along with (slightly gluggy)risotto-style rice and some shoots of baby asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. To accompany it, a Greek white, the 2014 Thalassitis assyrtiko from Santorini, with forward nose redolent of dried herbs, cleansing acid and a good match with the food; and a local hero, the 2007 Tyrrells Vat 47 chardonnay, showing signs of maturity with buttery fruit balanced by clean acid. A better wine than the Greek, but maybe not as good a food match.

The feast continued, with a typical Greek salad made on pieces of red, yellow and green capsicum, spanish onion and (Greek, of course) fetta with olive oil. This was followed by a sweet dish of grilled haloumi cheese, made in Cyprus from sheep and goats' milk, topped by a lightly heated fresh fig sprinkled with honey. Accompanying this mixed bunch were a big, soft shiraz/merlot blend 2009 Dom Gerovassiliou from Elanomi in Greece, half a bottle of 2000 Stepping Stone Coonawarra cabernet, interesting but at the end of its life, and 1/2bottles of a Samos vin doux from that island, made on muscat grapes and softly sweet but lacking a bit of firmness. It went well with the fig and haloumi, and also with authentic Greek (aka Turkish) coffee, made thick and strong on the spot by the visiting barista from Aesop restaurant in the city with, of course, a piece of Turkish (aka Greek) Delight.

Well done, Bill, especially with around 52 members and guests there to support the Greek cause.

2nd cook off 3 March 2015

The first cook off featured Ted Davis assisted by Gareth Evans. This time, roles were reversed, with Ted assisting the Welsh wizard as he visited Spain for a representation of his tapas-style meal, with a series of finely wrought courses in succession. First, though, canapes in the form of salt cod (bacalao) croquettes by Ted Davis: hand-shredded and still textured poached cod with a touch of potato in balls coated in freshly fried breadcrumbs; and marinated button mushroom caps enfolding a piece of pan fried chorizo, on a toothpick. Both buzzing with Spanish flavours, and both well complemented by a 2012 Pewsey Vale Riesling from wine master of the day Hilton Chapman, fresh clean and enough acid to cut the richness of the fish and sausage.

Then came the tapas progression, necessarily condensed by timing restrictions to force two courses on the plate at a time. There was a cold octopus and chopped potato salad in a lemon-based dressing; chicken sausage pieces enlivened with white wine and sherry and served with seedless green grapes; some simple okra, still crunchy and lacking the gumminess often found; well-cooked and therefore soft and gelatinous honeycomb tripe with chickpeas, tomato and paprika; some extremely well received morcilla, or black pudding, served with a crumble of speck bacon and toasted breadcrumbs; and a mild chorizo sausage with haricot beans and some mysterious fresh chilis which tested many ( and which Gareth may have identified as Bishops Crown peppers). All this was washed down with a Deliciosa manzanilla sherry, which matched some of the milder meat courses as well as the okky, and a 2006 Embruix Priorat red, also from Spain and predominantly grenache, high (15.5%) alcohol but in balance with nice tannins which undercut the bigger meat dishes well. In summary – ole!

The meme from Spain stayed to our gain with the cheese, a classic semi-hard Queso Iberico from Central Spain, made from a mix of cow, sheep and goat's milk with a lovely sweet nuttiness and a distinctive embossed rind showing the imprint of the dried grass bands used in the manufacturing. It was back home with the matching wines: a soft and savoury 2005 Tyrrells Stevens shiraz and a bigger, more assertive shiraz cabernet from Rosemount at Mudgee, a cleanskin but picked correctly by many as the Mountain Blue.

The coffee from master Spencer Ferrier, was from El Salvador, an Arabica clone medium roasted to produce a soft and sweet brew on the palate with a fairly short finish. Nothing short, though, about the birthday wine from Leigh Hall, a1978 Baileys Vintage port, intensely sweet and spirituous which will be going strong long after most of those drinking it.

Finally, let's repeat the plea from the Acting President Keith Steele that members, and their guests, book for the remaining cook offs. We can't guarantee that future chefs will be able to repeat the loaves and fishes exercise that Gareth pulled off, and you may be turned away if you haven't booked.