Long time readers will know that for the first few years that Mr NQN and I were together and his birthday rolled around, it would be greeted with a sullen "birthdays suck." That would be the closest that my strong, silent husband would get to sulking. I on the other hand love birthdays and I'm determined to turn that around for him. So every year, when Mr NQN's birthday arrives, I try to make an effort to overcome his childhood birthdays in which he was given dubious gifts by well meaning, alternative parents.
Last year, we tried to get into Madame Fling Flong when it was a bar above Soni's on King Street in Newtown. In 2011, the then owner of Soni's Sonia Marra sadly passed away on a helicopter ride in New York City. Now Soni's is no longer and Madame Fling Flong takes up the whole space. I had heard that they had a chef's table experience with a set menu that spanned 7 courses for $30 a head or $60 with matching wines. They could also do vegetarian and vegan meals. I was so relieved I almost volunteered to plan another birthday.
It was Mr NQN and his brother Manu's joint birthday and it is quiet on King Street this Sunday night. We walk in and are led through to the large table just outside the kitchen. While we are waiting for everyone else to arrive, we are given some olives and some bread to nibble on.
Everyone is a little perplexed at the lack of menu but I discover that that is the secret for a peaceful dinner. No menus! Everything is taken care of by the kitchen and I just told them that we had some vegetarians and a vegan while the rest of us had no allergies or dislikes and ate everything. To make things easier, we didn't photograph the vegetarian or vegan dishes (it ends up being such a kerfuffle with such a large, spread out group) but I have to say, the vegetarian dishes that I tried were superb and in some cases I preferred them over the omnivore courses.
The bread is a sourdough ciabatta bread which is made in house. It is paired with a gorgeous rhubarb and champagne vinaigrette and parmesan oil to dip it in which has a nice sweetness to it. The marinated olives are a mixture of tiny little black olives and fat, fleshy green olives.
Our first course arrives and it is a house cured bresaola with shavings of pecorino and nasturtium leaves with an olive oil dressing. The herbs and leaves come from their farm in Gosford and the bresaola is house made having hung for 2-3 months. The thinly sliced bresaola is bold and dry.
Now comes the chef's table part of the experience. Chef Chris Bell comes out and explains that he will be showing us how to make ricotta from milk. We will then season the ricotta ourselves using one of the four salts and we need to guess the salt flavours. He explains that the milk needs to reach 85 degrees before an acid is added to the it to curdle it. He suggests using the strongest vinegar you can find (the type you use to clean) and the stronger the vinegar, the less acidity the ricotta has. For a litre of milk, you will use between 30-50ml of vinegar or lemon juice. He adds it is and slowly stirs it and shows everyone the ricotta curds being formed. Leaving it to drain in a jug lined with Chux, he leaves us to season it with the salts telling us that the whey is also an item that they will cook some of our meal with too.
Everyone gets busy sniffing and sprinkling the salts onto their ricotta toasts. We are also given some button mushrooms that have been marinated in a dijon mustard and thyme from their farm for 4 days. They are tangy and a good match for the creamy, mild cheese. There are some cues from the appearance (the orange zest) and caraway seeds and some just smell so strong like the celery salt that you can't help but guess that one.
Our next courses arrive. It's a calamari with almond and whey puree. The whey gives the almond puree a tangyness, almost like a hummus crossed with yogurt and the calamari is tender and hot.
Oooh these are good. In fact I could have eaten these over potato wedges or fries any day. The thick, sweet blood plum yogurt and salt are a good foil for the crispy, savoury fries.
"Cheesy balls!" Queen Viv says when she sees these and indeed, they are filled with a soy and halloumi and a very brief smidge of salsa verde. Although lightly crunchy on the outside, I found these needed more seasoning and ended up using some of the flavoured salts on them.
This tidy morsel of smoked trout was everyone's favourite course. It was clean tasting and smoked on the premises and with good, clear flavours it had a crispy skin on one side and tender, moist flesh.
The kangaroo fillet pieces were tender and a good red meat choice and paired with the Jerusalem artichokes, a good choice for something different from steak and potato puree.
The cubes of potato were sauteed in whey and had a creamy, almost browned butter flavour with a touch of the tangyness from whey. There is also lemon and parsley to lighten these up.
The dense vanilla cake had pieces of soft, poached rhubarb, crunchy house made honeycomb and a lemon thyme creme. Although I liked the honeycomb I wasn't sure how to eat it with the rest of the dessert and it could have done without it or been served as a petit four.
And with relief, there wasn't a peep of complaint from the special eaters! That's always the best birthday gift ;)
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever had a chef's table experience? And are you good at picking flavours in food and playing food games?
P.S. Curious about the three salts that we tried? They were plain, caraway seed, celery and chilli & sugar salt!
Madame Fling Flong
1/169 King Street Newtown New South Wales 2042, Australia
Tel: +61 (02)9565 2471