"What even is Australian food? Healthy, hip and possibly with a smashed avocado on top?" Bill Granger
I find I have been putting off blogging on the last two of my Christmas cookbook gifts, one because I suspect I don't have much to say about it and the other because I suspect I've got too much. So I thought I would start decreasing the pile of books on my desk and tackle Bill Granger - the not enough to say one.
I don't have any Bill Granger cookbooks, and so when I saw that there was a new one out this Christmas I put it on my wish list - and voilà it was given me. I decided it was time that I discovered what Bill Granger was all about, and, as it happens, this is a good place to begin - and maybe end - because I think it's a summary of where he's at today.
Well actually, not quite. I see that his original Darlinghurst café shown above, has been closed and is up for sale, due to COVID, even though he implied that he might reopen it one day. He still has two more Sydney 'bills' - one in Surry Hills and one in Bondi. But I also note that his London cafés - I think there were three or four have also been 'temporarily' closed. I do not know about those elsewhere - Korea, Japan, Hawaii. Interestingly, considering how he actually comes from Melbourne, I do not think he has/had a 'bills' in Melbourne. I wonder why because he credits Melbourne coffee - which he imported to Sydney way back then, as converting Sydneysiders to coffee. He also credits Melbourne with the 'melting pot' theory of food, rather than Sydney. So why no 'bills'? Too much competition? Similar places already established? Maybe he took Melbourne to Sydney. Anyway, at the moment his empire may be shrinking.
I sort of lump Bill Granger with Donna Hay, which may not be quite fair, and is certainly done in ignorance. Their food is somehow clean and fresh and simple.
"Bill had a way of synthesising market produce + eggs + sunshine + freshness into something you didn't know you wanted, but you wanted it bad ... take something people love to eat, and make it fresher, lighter, more beautiful. It's irresistible. It's the sort of food you eat when you're on holidays, and yet you can eat it every day." Terry Durack
Having now read through his book though, I think Donna Hay is sometimes rather more complicated, and definitely more into dinner. Bill is not big into dinner - by his own admission. There are two small sections in this book which could be said to be 'dinner' - Barbecues, and Big plates. The rest of it, is really mostly breakfast with a bit of lunch. Brunch I suppose. And some have indeed credited him with the concept of brunch. And certainly with the all-day breakfast notion.
"We were simply aiming to be a cheery no-frills breakfast joint with a great atmosphere, smiling service and top breakfasts and coffee. To me, this still sums up everything I think Australian food should say: you don't need wealth and a history of fine dining to enjoy great flavours and meal in the sun ...
I have always believed Austrlia serves the sort of food that brings people together - over coffee, over communal tables, over all-day menus - and makes us all feel good. And I don't think it's just the food - it's the way we eat and serve it. There's always been a casualness about Australian eating" Bill Granger
The communal table was the big thing, put in because of the necessity for no more than 32 places in a small space. Above is the newer Surry Hills version. I have to say it looks like a thousand such places - there are at least half a dozen in our neighbourhood. The drawing power is the name of its founder - Bill Granger - these days, and favourable reviews, which, again, really might be based on on the fact that he was supposedly first with this concept. I wonder if it still has the same drawing power, and is it better than a whole lot of other places? I found at least one review that said it wasn't. But I guess that's the trick isn't it? Getting famous and then hanging on to the fame so that you become a tourist destination - like Harry's Bar in Venice - whether you are actually better than everybody else or not.
But I'm not really supposed to be talking about Bill the restaurateur, I started out to write about this particular book. Which I suspect is indeed 'essence of bill' and is most probably a compendium of earlier and popular recipes, although I can't really say, never having seen any.
The first section - Classics - definitely is. And here they all are: Avocado and poached egg on rye - he says he prefers his avocado diced in a salsa - but here you are given options - sliced, smashed or diced. (Can't find a recipe for this, but there are heaps of variations out there.) Way, way back I did a post on avocado toast. Maybe I should update it sometime. Then there are those Ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter and banana that everyone goes on about, Scrambled eggs - yes just scrambled eggs which he cooks a little like I was taught to cook an omelette, sort of shaken not stirred, and Sweetcorn fritters with roast tomatoes, bacon and avocado salsa - which he maintains is his favourite breakfast dish.
These recipes have become the hallmark for all those brunch menus you will find all around you these days. And there are more throughout the book. Some old, some new. I'll check out the first and last sometime soon.
In the meantime a quick look through the book showed me that another aspect of his Australianism is the fusion of different cuisines in one dish. Two examples that I found - and so terribly trendy - are: Kimchi, spinach and ricotta dumplings - Korea meets Italy, and Lentil tacos with buffalo mozzarella and pickled red onion - Mexico/Italy/India? Eastern Europe? I am not criticising this I think it's wonderful really. And inventive. But alas no recipe, although Christine of the Happy Veggie Kitchen has had a go at recreating it.
Interesting stuff and there are several other interesting things to try in there.
But I notice a resistance in myself. Why? I cannot come up with a good reason. Is it because it's all so Sydney somehow? Have I, a born Englishwoman, become a Melbourne fanatic? There are double page spreads throughout the book that feature the water of Sydney and sometimes Bill, sometimes arty shots of coffee and cafés. A little like the Gabriel Gaté book only Sydney not France. I should say that the book is beautifully illustrated as you can see, with each section marked by a full page artwork of a face, using geometric shapes - like the cover. Some say they are a bit Mirò like. Perhaps. The recipes are clear and mostly pretty simple each with a brief introduction from Bill himself. He also has an introduction of two or three pages, about how he got to where he is now, and about what he hopes we will get out of it.
“You really have to know how to follow a recipe and taste the food as you go, that’s really important. You should also know what good food tastes like, so if you eat out, that makes it a lot easier because it gives you an idea ...
Favourite recipes become a personal biography, reminding you of life's markers with a flavour on the tongue or a cooking aroma." Bill Granger
He's not what you would describe as a great writer though. Straightforward and engaging like his food, rather than literary and atmospheric.
I'm glad I have the book and I really should make an effort to make something from it - overcome my resistance. There was an interesting sounding vaguely Indian fish dish that looked tempting. I found an interview with him which asked what his favourite flavours were. His reply was interesting. It didn't include avocado for a start ...
“I love chillies, cumin, ground coriander, saffron, all sorts of flavours from the Middle East and India.”
Very Yotam Ottolenghi really. I suppose that shows in this book, but I think there is more of Japan and Korea than the Middle-East and India.
If you want the essence of Australian café culture - this is for you. If, like us here in Melbourne, you are locked in, You can have brunch with your loved ones, and then you can pretend you are in a café having an expensive brunch even though it will cost you a fraction if you make it yourself. Not that avocados are cheap.
SOME ELTHAM POSCARDS
I haven't done this for a while, but on today's walk I saw early signs of Autumn, and some beauteous things. Enjoy