Mark Ronson @ Margartet Court Arena, 29 July 2015

A show like this doesn’t come together very often, which is why snagging a ticket to Mark Ronson was a really, really good idea. The English producer’s fourth LP, Uptown Special, is phenomenally fun and its translation to the live arena worked beautifully.

Picking highlights from a set like Ronson’s is easy, with the show leaving countless talking points in its wake. The set up and production were brilliant – the band positioned behind elevated screens featuring footage, lyrics, lights and more; with the screens themselves creating a multi-teared podium with Ronson top and centre.

Then there was the lineup of guests, which took the spectacle to the next level. Australian artists like Ella Thompson, Daniel Merriweather and Kevin Parker provided a homely touch, while the international contingent impressed with Theophilus London, Keyone Starr, Kyle Falconer and my personal favourite, Andrew Wyatt.

There were plenty more takeaways, too: like how sincere Ronson came across, how sparkly some of those jackets were, and how keen and plain awesome the horns dudes were throughout.

With all the guests in tow, the set felt like a greatest hits of modern indie dance classics, with Ronson’s tracks complemented by a few of the artists’ own (Merriweather’s ‘Change’, London’s ‘Tribe’ and Wyatt’s ‘Animal’). The set was owned by the last two tracks, though. ‘Valerie’ was a tribute to Amy Winehouse, with the band rocking to Winehouse’s recorded vocal, before ‘Uptown Funk’ had everyone in hysterics with Theophilus London and Keyone Starr leading the vocal duties perfectly.

Mark (1) 29.7.15

Setlist

Feel Right
Ooh Wee
Bang Bang Bang (feat. Ella Thompson)
The Bike Song (feat. Kyle Falconer)
Everyday (feat. Kyle Falconer)
Tribe (feat. Theophilus London)
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before (feat. Daniel Merriweather)
Change (feat. Daniel Merriweather)
I Can’t Lose (feat. Keyone Starr)
Summer Breaking (feat. Kevin Parker)
Daffodils (feat. Kevin Parker and Kirin J Callinan)
Leaving Los Feliz (feat. Kevin Parker)
Animal (feat. Andrew Wyatt)
Heavy and Rolling (feat. Andrew Wyatt)
Somebody To Love Me (feat. Andrew Wyatt)
Valerie
Uptown Funk (feat. Everyone)

Advertisements

The Wombats @ Margaret Court Arena, 28 July 2015

The accents and expression of The Wombats are priceless and after hearing them on the radio throughout the years, I could easily just listen to them chat for an hour and a half. But their tunes are damn fun, too, and a minute into the floor rattling ‘Your Body Is A Weapon’ I was more than ready for the solid set of rock and lyrical wit to come.

After the show, I read a review I wrote about the band in 2008. In comparison, I noticed that while the banter between the trio has lessened a little and their mascot and trivia have fallen by the wayside, the amusing and energetic vibe of the show at MCA last night – more than seven years on – was much the same as it was at their first Australian show at the HiFi Bar.

Murph’s voice may have been a little worse for wear after the festival weekend, but he still belted everything out with zealous delight. As for Tord, the guy was absolutely on fire, tearing around the stage to some seriously heavy bass lines and competing against the epic light show for best on ground.

The best thing was that The Wombats haven’t compromised anything, or looked for stadium tactics as they’ve grown. The set lists are longer, lights are brighter and there’s more room for both the band and fans, but they’ve remained true to their musical roots: clever lyrics and infectious hooks played with passionate, dorky and rockin’ energy.

Setlist

Your Body Is a Weapon
Jump Into the Fog
Moving to New York
Greek Tragedy
Be Your Shadow
1996
This Is Not a Party
Kill the Director
Little Miss Pipedream
Headspace
Techno Fan
The English Summer
Give Me a Try
Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)
Emoticons
Let’s Dance to Joy Division
Untitled

Death Cab For Cutie @ 170 Russell, 26 July 2015

Death Cab certainly have it –maintaining genuine quality throughout serious quantity; dishing out favourite after favourite over a 23 song, two hour set. There was a level of predictability in elements: everyone knowing the band would depart for Ben to sing ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’, or that he would wiggle dance his way through an entire performance. But when you’re consistently good it brings people back.

And whilst you might get dumped, sacked and mugged in one afternoon and still be happier than the stereotypical Death Cab fan, the band actually bring a lot of fun to the stage, bringing an energy to each song in movement, goofing their way through technical difficulties and looking for galactic cocktails.

For me, it’s the construction of particular Death Cab songs that wins me over. Lyrically, ‘You Are a Tourist’ makes me nostalgic and ‘What Sarah Said’ devastates every time; but musically the progression of ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ and ‘Transatlanticism’ are unique beasts that grow, spread and absorb you. In this performance, each of these respectively ended the main set and encore with an intense energy from the stage and were easily my set highlights.

Set list:

No Room in Frame
Crooked Teeth
Photobooth
Black Sun
Doors Unlocked and Open
The Ghosts of Beverly Drive
Title and Registration
Codes and Keys
Little Wanderer
Company Calls
President of What?
You’ve Haunted Me All My Life
What Sarah Said
I Will Follow You Into The Dark
El Dorado
You Are a Tourist
The New Year
Cath…
Soul Meets Body
I Will Possess Your Heart
Your Heart Is an Empty Room
A Movie Script Ending
Transatlanticism

Florence + The Machine @ Palais Theatre, 22 July 2015

The charm, talent and bedazzlement that is Florence + The Machine is a truly wonderful thing. According to a press release, 40,000 entries were received in the ballot for Flo’s two sideshows; so it was pretty stellar to secure tickets at the just-under-3k capacity Palais Theatre.

This show was genuinely stunning. And while I’m happy to hold it in the tops of the year, the people down the row seemed to think it was the single greatest moment of their entire existence. Chock full of highlights, Flo’s voice took the roof off (quite an effort – it’s quite far up) and along with her dance, banter and all round presence had everyone in awe.

Among the set list, ‘What Kind of Man’ pumped enormous guitar while blinding everyone with heavy lighting, the superb ‘Shake It Off’ mixed elements of acapella and crowd choir, a poignant thrust of dance shapes within a huge vertical spotlight ended ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ and ‘Dog Days Are Over’ provided a gigantic finish with the theatre jumping up and down as one.

Adding to the fun of it all, the set was far from orchestrated. Someone wanted to hear ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’ so Flo pulled it out, forgot the lyrics and turned it into something as humorous as it was impressive. Another girl wanted a hug, so she was invited up on stage for just that. Even severe feedback was treated as creative opportunity – labelled as the new song titled only by the emoji face “that goes like this <Flo pulls face>.”

Florence + The Machine have pretty much been serious headliner material from the outset, but shows like this demonstrate that a band can be truly spectacular, as playful as they want and continue to grow beyond what you didn’t think was possible.

Set list:

What the Water Gave Me
Ship to Wreck
Shake It Out
Cosmic Love
Delilah
Long & Lost
Sweet Nothing
Only If for a Night
My Boy Builds Coffins
How Big How Blue How Beautiful
Queen of Peace
What Kind of Man
Drumming Song
You’ve Got the Love
Dog Days Are Over
St Jude
Spectrum

Eat the World – Part 5

Week 19 – Azerbaijan – 24 May 2015

Plov.

I write the name of the dish alone because it’s half the reason I chose to make it. Plov. What’s not to love about a name like that? Eastern Europe and the Middle East meet in Azerbaijani cuisine, which to be honest I hadn’t given a single thought to before looking on the map for my next destination. Perhaps it was my heritage (very loosely speaking) that made up my mind, but of the countries I passed over this year, I didn’t want this to be one of them. Then I found Plov…

Plov is a popular pilaf dish from the Azerbaijani kitchen. In its method, it was quite similar to that of the one I made for Afghanistan, except at the end when broth is incorporated in the dish. Flavour wise, it was quite different, with the sugars of apricots and their reconstituted texture adding an exciting element to the dish – albeit an altogether different sweetness to that of its Afghan neighbours caramel elements.

Overall though, this dish didn’t complete a hattrick of amazing bowls I was on track for. While the nuts and apricots were delicious in their own right, there was not enough transferred across through to the rice. The saffron helped a little, but my experiment just didn’t add up.

19 Azerbaijan

Recipe appeared in Feast and is available here.

Week 20 – Lebanon – 28 June 2015

Enough with rice, it’s about time it was given a rest. From Azerbaijan, it’s a fair hop over a couple of countries to get to Lebanon, but I think Asia established that direct routes across borders wasn’t always going to happen.

This week I decided to make kibbeh, a Lebanese meat dish. While the dish incorporates burghul or cracked wheat, it is predominantly mincemeat and certainly reflects such meatiness in its final form. It is spiced with baharat, which is an eight spice blend (yes, I was excited!) of paprika, cumin, black pepper, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves. Whilst only a little of this was used, the flavour blend still goes a long way in creating a unique taste.

Add to the above a load of onion and pine nuts and you pretty much have all the components you need. You then create two parts – a raw meat/wheat paste and a crumbly cooked mince. Assembly is simply: one layer meat paste, one layer cooked mince, another layer meat paste. You end up with a kind of baked meat sandwich where the bread is… meat.

This needed to be balanced somehow, so I tracked down a Lebanese salad named fattoush. This is effectively the antithesis of the kibbeh, made from lettuce, capsicum, cucumber, spring onions, parsley, mint and lemon. Balanced with a little hummus and pita bread, the fattoush excused the levels of meat and made for a well rounded plate.

20.1 Lebanon

Kibbeh: http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/kibbeh-bil-sanieh

Fattoush: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/authentic-lebanese-fattoush/

Following my kibbeh experience, I kept on searching and received a little more insight into Lebanese food, learning that pretty much every recipe for a kibbeh is different and its authenticity is actually quite tricky. Along with this info, I borrowed a Lebanese cookbook consisting of many traditional recipes, including all sorts of kibbeh. Instead of a reattempt, I tried something new by ways of Lebanese chicken breast rolls. This was simple looking, but complex tasting dish which involved a cooked stuffing of basmati rice, pine nuts, almonds, spinach, spring onions, raisins, salt & pepper and (as in pretty much anything Lebanese) lemon juice.

With stuffing on hand, you butterfly a chicken breast to create a wide piece, load in the goodies and roll into a tight log, securing with toothpicks before dusting with baharat, searing and roasting in the oven for 20 minutes, basting every so often with oil and lemon juice.

Once rested for 10 minutes, the chicken sliced nicely and looked great with all the shapes and textures crammed up inside. I rounded out the chicken as a meal with a Lebanese potato salad (cold boiled potatoes with lemon, oil, mint and salt) and a cheat’s tabouleh (made with cous cous instead of burghul, along with parsley, mint, tomato, cucumber and lemon juice).

The chicken recipe was from Abla Amad’s Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen. The potato salad recipe can be found widely across the internet. The cheat’s tabouleh was simply made up.

20.2 Lebanon

Week 21 – Turkey – 5 July 2015

This is exciting… After leaving the familiar realm of Asia in April this is the first hint of geographic familiarity in a while. My experience of Turkey does not extend beyond a visit to Istanbul, but in that week exploring Turkey’s Western-most city I managed to pack in a huge load of culinary delights. However, as far as Eat the World was concerned, something entirely new for me was coming from the kitchen this week.

While perusing the flood of Turkish recipes on the internet, it all seemed a little overwhelming, which is why I simply picked something random. I’d come across a dumpling soup, which looked perfect for the winter months in Melbourne and at the same time quite confusing – corn and cabbage based soup felt Asian, chicken and cornbread dumplings felt South American… How would it come together?

The recipe was made up of several elements and while it required a lot of time, none of the elements was in any way difficult. The cornbread was made in advance, although the recipe made way more of this than I would need. Everything else could be put together at the same time.

My amendments to the recipe included using canned beans instead of soaking my own, and using polenta instead of cornmeal and purple cabbage instead of black cabbage in the soup.

The soup itself is made with 2 litres of water, not stock. This resulted in a subtler flavour overall, although the corn and tomato paste did come through, as did the cabbage (quite strongly) when eating leftovers the next day. With thanks to polenta, the soup thickened right up and the dumplings (arguably the winner of the dish) sat atop the soup rather than swimming about in it.

21 Turkey

Recipe is available here.

Week 22 – Greece – 12 July 2015

Greek recipes are ridiculous, not for the ingredients, method or time, but for the quantity! With yet again a huge range of Greek recipes to choose from, I was easily convinced by moussaka; but had I not reduced the recipe I’d settled on, I would have landed enough for 15 people on my bench.

Having not had moussaka before, I was excited by the elements that made it up and how its structure vaguely resembled the lord of food: lasagne. While the recipe below can expand on each element, the dish was basically made up of breadcrumbs, boiled potato, roasted eggplant, a spiced meat/tomato sauce and a béchamel sauce, all stacked and baked to delicious combination.

I followed the recipe rather accurately with only a couple of changes, such as using passata to develop a really rich, thick meat sauce and infusing the milk with thyme, bay, onion and nutmeg before making the béchamel.

Out of the oven, allowing the moussaka to sit for a little while was rather important, as it cooled slightly and everything settled in its place to result in an easy slice and serve. The elements of this moussaka worked really well together, with a variety of rich flavours and mixed textures: crunchy crumbed eggplant, soft potato, meaty sauce and creamy béchamel. This one is will be made again!

22 Greece

The recipe I used is available here (and I dare you to make the full amount).

Giving us a run for our money. Coffee in New York and Chicago

The US has a reputation for bad coffee, and for good reason: namely, Starbucks. These things are everywhere – every other street, train station, department stores, you name it – and while their marketing techniques are amusing (deliberately misspelling names in as ridiculous a way as possible to be photographed for social media), their coffee is far from humorous.

But Starbucks simply have the exposure (and the occasional uncomfortably placed DJ – yes); they don’t control coffee. While location convenience and free wifi are going to win over a majority, there are choices for a good caffeine fix all over the place, from the Melbourne knock-offs to the New York originals.

Here are a few places that won me over in New York City and Chicago, beginning with, hands down, the best coffee I had in NYC:

New York

The Jolly Goat Café – 515 W 47th St, New York

This is a tiny bar with the friendliest staff and the finest cappuccino around!

Jolly Goat

Little Collins – 667 Lexington Ave, New York

Melbourne all over, amazing espresso and drip coffee and tasty brunch snacks, too.

Bluebird Coffee Shop – 72 E 1st St, New York

Another tiny place in an unassuming location. This was taken from a list of Aussie knock-offs, too.

Two Hands – 164 Mott St, New York

Completing a trifecta of Aussie cafes, this Little Italy location offers more space than the others, cool surroundings and a very decent cup.

Bluebottle – Rockefeller Center, 1 Rockefeller Plaza, New York

This is a chain that delivers awesome espresso. Conveniently, they have a spot hidden away at the bottom of the Rockerfeller were you otherwise struggle to find anthing half decent. They also popped up in kiosk form on the Highline.

Champion Coffee – 52 Gansevoort St, New York

It’s in the name. A sweet as coffee spot in a hipster paradise “food court” – get your caffeine fix at the trendy end of the Highline.

Two Little Red Hens – 1652 2nd Ave, New York

In truth this one made the list because the cupcakes are incredible (peanut butter & chocolate mud = heart attach heaven). The coffee was pretty good, too.

PB Cupcake

Black Brick – 300 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn

The Brooklyn location is pretty stellar – the cold brew is fantastic.

Toby’s Estate Coffee – 125 N 6th St, Brooklyn

An Aussie company, I didn’t really like how Mac(Book)Cafe the space was, but the coffee was tops.

Chicago

Intelligentsia – Heritage At Millennium Park, 53 E Randolph St, Chicago

A Chicago chain that was always super busy and for good reason.

Buzz Killer Espresso – 1644 N Damen Ave, Chicago

Up in Bucktown where everything’s cool anyway, may as well have a prime coffee spot to go to.

Buzz

King Café – 900 North Michigan Shops, 900 N Michigan Ave, Chicago

Unassuming in a shopping centre, this place gives high hope to a commercial district with little great coffee that easily visible.

What’s eating? New York & Chicago

Eating in New York City is one of the easiest things to do, with the choice of pretty much any cuisine you can think of. If you’re stuck, or want to easily separate the good from the bad, the internet can enlighten you (or overwhelm you, although you’re probably feeling that way already). Yelp is one such online tool that works in your favour in the big US cities, because Americans leave a lot of reviews on it. It’s great because you can filter quite finitely and still produce a great list of choices, you can trust its ratings (“4.5/5 from 900 reviews” – yeah, I’d say that’s going to be pretty telling), and the negative reviews are so often hilarious.

Below is a list of locations we ate at and immensely enjoyed in New York and Chicago. I’ve put them alphabetically because I’m not good at picking favourites. You can read my little review if you want, or just trust me and take the address…

New York

$$ Brooklyn Bowl – 61 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn

An odd one to start with given it’s a bowling alley, but on a recommendation we headed here for some wings and were not disappointed. If anything, it’s a really cool environment to get some grub, with amazing tunes playing and the opportunity to bowl with your dinner. They also had a really solid gig guide, so there’s way too many reasons to visit.

$$ DuMont Burger – 314 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn

Upon enquiry, we learnt that a DuMac & Cheese is, indeed, a complete burger topped with mac & cheese… Only in America. This place has good reviews because it has excellent burgers. Just don’t forget to add cheese… Or mac & cheese.

$ Ganservoort Market – 52 Gansevoort St, New York

This is a market food court a minute’s walk from the end of the Highline. It’s a haven for hipsters and serves up some amazing options. Be ready to wait for a seat if you’re visiting in prime lunch hours, though – this was place was very popular.

$ Hallo Berlin Push Cart – 54th Street & 5th Ave (Mon – Fri  12:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m)

Best. Food. Cart. This guy has been serving German fair in midtown for years and years and years. And it is SO good! There are a great range of German snags to choose from, along with the expected toppings that all come together so well. He’ll bundle it all up for you and you can walk 5 minutes up 5th to Central Park to chow down.

Berlin

$ Harlem Shake – 100 W 124th St, New York

This is easy burger fair in Harlem, with a cool diner feel and great tunes. Hard to believe all the signatures of the wall.

$ Leo’s Bagels – 3 Hanover Square # 6, New York

Simply very nice bagels and a quick and easy option if you’re stuck downtown.

$$ Luke’s Lobster – 93 E 7th St, New York

Lobster aint cheap, but it sure is tasty. A single roll snack or a full variety feast, Luke’s keeps the menu very straightforward. The lobster and crab rolls are so yum!

LukesLob

$ Pizza Boss – 1469 2nd Ave, New York

This unassuming pizza shop is a total surprise. It’s as straightforward as most of the others, but the pizza is fresh, crispy and not oily! Lots of variety. Listening to the guy explain what a Hawaiian is and why it is so was pretty funny, too.

$ Soba- ya – 229 E 9th St, New York

This place does soba noodles so well there’s no need to serve anything else. Cold, hot and DIY options are available though, so there’s plenty of variety still. Make sure you grab a seat at the bar and watch a pretty stellar production line.

$ Taïm – 45 Spring St, New York

One of two Taïm locations in New York, this was super easy, fresh and fast falafel and vegetarian food. They make three types of falafel and serve in a variety of plates and sandwiches.

$ Taqueria Tehuitzingo – 578 Ninth Ave, New York

This is one quick, cheap, fresh and tasty option with a large range of meats that you should keep up your sleeve, especially if heading to the Theatre District where there is otherwise so much rubbish to be had. A pair of tacos for a few bucks and you’re satisfied, another pair and you’re stuffed.

$$ Tavola – 488 Ninth Ave, New York

On the edge of Hell’s Kitchen, this pizzeria is very popular and very good. The inside has a real warmth about it, with an Italian grocer setup and ceiling fans that are all connected to one belt (it’s cooler to see, I promise). The pizza was great, and you can expect a relaxed dine-in experience, not fast and furious.

$ Zabar’s – 2245 Broadway, New York

Deli business is serious in New York and this place is the real deal. We tried some pretty smashing toasties and a great Danish, but everything here looked gooood – bagels, soup, muffins, all sorts of sweets. It’s another seriously busy spot so be patient or get your grub to go.

Chicago

$ Antique Taco – 1360 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago

Cheap, but not cheap for tacos. In saying that, the mixes they’ve come up with are awesome! You’ll be lining up at the door for a while (don’t try and sneak a seat – they’ll catch you), but it’s worth it!

AntiqueTaco

$ Brobagel – 1931 W N Ave, Chicago

I walked in here because they had a sign saying they’d won an award for their garlic bagel with sriracha cream cheese. I went back several times. The bagels are brilliant and their sandwich creations provide a clever and very filling lunch.

$ Dough Bros Pizzeria & Sub Shop – 400 N State St, Chicago

Went in here for a sub and got two meals in one. Excellent meat with crispy eggplant – was a top lunch. Seriously though, you may want to consider sharing.

$$ Piece Brewery & Pizzeria – 1927 W North Ave, Chicago

A little pricier for pizza, but you’ll have enough for lunch the next day. This is a sports bar, brewery and pizzeria all-in-one, with a nice selection of house made beers and a make-your-own pizza menu. They come out on massive trays because they are massive.

$$ Pizzeria Due – 619 N Wabash Ave, Chicago

Why go to Uno when there’s no line at Due? It was still full, though. And the deep dish was great – super saucy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Who cares if everyone comes here, it’s well worth it.

DeepDish

$ Portillo’s – 100 W Ontario St, Chicago

Speaking of everyone going to a place, when you enter Portillo’s at lunch time you don’t so much joint a line as you do get consumed in a wave. Shuffle forward, place an order, then shuffle to your left. The production line of food prep is worth it alone, although the hot dogs are pretty flash, too! On top of that, I had the opportunity to order a chocolate cake shake… I wouldn’t exactly recommend that last bit.

Portillos