Fairbro’ gets a taste of down under and a short language course with Balls & Company on Greek Street.
G’day. Yes it’s Australia Day and Balls & Company are hosting a celebration dinner. I sit trying to decide between the’Budgie Smuggler’ or the ‘You Reckon’. With cocktail names like this you can tell it’s going to be a down to earth evening. It’s not the weather for swimming apparel so I reckon on the ‘You Reckon’. It’s a refreshing of mix of Cargo spiced rum, custard apple juice, carrot and wattleseed syrup and lime.
Bonny Porter is our host. She made the journey to the land of drizzle (and I’m not talking olive oil) from Sydney in 2014 after reaching the final week of Masterchef the Professionals and founded her little Soho meatball restaurant the next year. Apparently there are a cluster of meatball places in Melbourne so it is an Aussie thing, but not a thing with cultural provenance, just that someone copied a New York meatball joint which became popular so the others copied.
Tonight she’s invited her Aussie Chef mates Matt Robinson and Andrew’Bredo’ Bredon to join her in the kitchen cooking up sharing plates inspired by the warmer climates and the tastes of home. Matt’s from Sydney, he’s executive head chef at Fitzrovia restaurant Dickie Fitz presiding over a pacific inspired all day menu.
He relocated to the UK in 2003 joining Marco Pierre White’s The Criterion, before a stint as Bluebird’s head chef. Bredo’s from Adelaide and came to London just before the Millennium seeking success in online businesses. He founded DealChecker and more recently Secret Escapes, then, looking for a new challenge he left the tech world to found Bell Air, a healthy fast food startup in Shoreditch.
I’m sat opposite Helen and Nic and we tuck into the first offering of Sausage Sizzle with Beetroot Ketchup. Traditionally it’s a’snag’ (sausage) cradled in a slice of white bread but this is a deliciously pimped up version. Andy, a big Aussie fella with a welcoming face to my right can’t get over the sight of people eating this with cutlery as the whole idea of the’dish’ was born out of a need to get to grips with a hot’mystery bag’ (sausage) by rolling a slice of insulating Wonder White bread around it before chugging it into your face. For the Aussies this is as hilarious as eating Doritos with a knife and fork.
Vegemite and Cheddar Churros, swiftly follow. Andy says this dish must have been designed to echo’Tiger toast’: thinly spread Vegimite with strips of melted cheese spaced apart to resemble a square graft of tiger hide, probably invented by the Vegemite marketing department. The Churros are everything they should be: light fresh and crispy and the subtle cheesy flavour works. Dipping mine into the dollop of Vegimite at the centre of the plate, I realise I’ve never actually tasted it before – strewth, it’s like Marmitex10 – Marmite is Vegimite-lite.
I’m reminded of my French friend Dav who, upon coming to England for the first time fifteen years ago recognised Marmite in the supermarket and bought some to try, but wasn’t sure how you were supposed to eat it. Taking his cue from the illustration on the label with the pot and spoon, he scooped a full teaspoon and stuffed it in his mouth provoking an instant array of new facial expressions. If you tried that with Vegemite it would be recorded as’salty suicide’.
We drink Logan’s Weemala Shiraz Voignier to cleanse our salty palettes as the main events begin to arrive, Split Prawns with charred baby gem fresh from the griddle or’Barbie’ as it is tonight, and a Braised Oxtail Meat Pie who’s dark rich contents ooze out from the taught, robust flakey pastry when cut, like a savoury chocolate fondant.
I’m told it’s nothing like the ubiquitous Four’nTwenty meat pie you’d chuck a u-ey to pull into a servo’ for, but all agree that that is a good thing. Lastly Matt’s’signature’ Chicken Parmigiana arrives (shortened to Parmee in Sydney or Parmer in Melbourne, a seemingly important cultural marker) the meat is moist with tangy sweet tomato sauce and rich Parmesan.
To accompany all this a bright colourful salad of smashed Avo’s and (I’m guessing),’Beeto’s’ (?) and Feta balls with Pesto (possibly only employed because it already sounds like a shortened word). And another classic Oz accompaniment; Chicken Salt Fries. The chicken salt arrives in a separate dish looking like a hundred quids worth of rough speed (Don’t ask me how I know).
It tastes like the dust at the bottom of a bag of Roast Chicken crisps Ã¢â‚¬â€œ i.e. fantastic. Andy suspects this stuff is actually made of chicken as it’s not the proper bright yellow chemical powder you get in Oz fish’n’Chipo’s, but they’ve nailed the taste. He says the only place you can buy it over here is from Ocado’s. The way he says it sounds like yet another Aussie shorto’.
Nic is talking about a food show fronted by John Terode exploring antipodean cuisine. Nic’s annoyed that Terodo’ went to all the wrong places in his home town of Melbourne, but rather than laughing at his poor research, Nic is genuinely gutted about what travellers will miss out on. Aussie culture is young but it is heavily felt and all these guys have a strong sense of national identity with most intending to move back to the motherland one day. This sentiment is also driven by our brass monkey weather, there is talk of’Rugging up’ against the recent cold spell – back home a
ll that phrase means is wearing a jumper while still wearing shorts. I’m really picking up the lingo.
Desserts appear with more shortenings and more stories from home;’Pav’ is Pavlova with bright fresh fruit topping a light soft centred meringue (I discover meringue is a particularly enjoyable word to get you started speaking with an Oz accent). Anzac Cheesecake with coconut and passionfruit has a crispy oaty base emulating Anzac biscuits, the hardy wartime ration famous down under, topped with a smooth rich layer of creamy sweetness. Finally little versions of Tim Tams top off the evenings excellent food.
We retire to the tiny basement bar downstairs for a Starward Whisky cocktail named’Strewth’. I reckon the regular Balls and Company menu would be ripper as all the food we’ve enjoyed has shown thought and skill. To sum up the grub was beaut, the grog was good plonk and the company bonzer cobbers all round. This Pom has nothing to whinge about and by now I’m fluent: Fair dinkum. Sweet as. No dramas.