Thursday, January 13, 2011

Spice Island by Benny

The Spice Island cooking school is in San Remo, a small community just the mainland side of the bridge to Phillip Island and probably a place that most people just drive through on their way to the main Island attractions. We are in quest of lunch, and the Island is just too busy with the summer holiday crowds – a problem also afflicting San Remo, but at least here we find a car park.

Stroll down Marine Parade past the busy and noisy centre, but not too quickly – we nearly wander straight past this unexpected gem but my eye was caught by the bowl of locally grown garlic, the stacked loaves of artisan bread, and other fine food groceries on offer, and then the long tables and chairs as well as the kitchen right at the back. A journey inside discovers a chalkboard menu of breakfast (still available) and lunch dishes that stimulate the palate, confirming that when its not a teaching venue the skill of the teaching staff is not wasted. Forgoing the temptation of Israeli eggs (from the breakfast menu) and the curiosity factor of giant cous cous I opted for the chicken and mushroom pot pie while my better half chose the Vietnamese chicken salad.

The salad was very good, although not quite typical of the Vietnamese salads that we make ourselves. Is one more authentic than any of the others? I don’t know, and really don’t care as long as it is quality food. One notable and welcome inclusion is a generous scattering of small black seeds that taste nutty, but with a slightly sharp bite. It turns out that they are sesame seeds – black ones. The chef doesn’t know if they are a different variety to the normal sesame seeds and we have to rely on the expertise of Ian Hemphill (from his book Spice Notes) to learn that black sesame seeds are simply the unhulled version.

The pot pie is also good, but could be better – the meat is just a bit dry and stringy, but the flavour is excellent. Maybe they need to use a fattier cut of meat and simmer it a bit longer. My accompanying salad is a simple one of mixed lettuce leaves and good flavourful tomatoes – as they should be at this time of year. It was fine, although maybe just a touch heavy on the balsamic.

The service was good, friendly and cheerful, if not quite as knowledgeable as you might expect from a cooking school – but just right for a shopfront in a seaside resort. If we were holidaying in the area we would definitely return to sample more of the menu, and also try the cafĂ© they operate on nearby Churchill Island which the website suggests provides a different menu.

Ambience - 7
Food - 7
Service - 8
Price - 6

117 Marine Parade
San Remo VIC 3925
Tel: (03) 5678 5999

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