(photos by Peter McConchie)
Today I have a beautiful recipe for you from the humble and talented chef Leilani Wolfenden who heads up the kitchen at my favorite local bistro here in Sorrento, Cakes & Ale.
The nosey journalist in me was immediately intrigued. What was this new place all about?
Would they survive the pace and attitude of summer in Sorrento? (Strange phenomenon happens here in summer, crowds of holidaymakers descend upon the town and despite the fact that they are on holiday they can be impatient and demanding!)
I snuck in for a coffee on Christmas Eve they'd been open just a few days, to scope it out and let's be honest have an extra half an hour to myself away from my darling family. There was an air of friendly confidence about the place that said the people behind it knew what they were doing. I was relieved for them and excited for me.
I love living on the Peninsula, I love that it is not the city, that the ocean beaches are wild and deserted for most of the year but there are many times that I yearn for a local cafe or restaurant with at least a pinch of the sophistication and personality found in Melbourne. Not to mention, a place that offers honest, skilfully prepared food, full of flavour and locally grown ingredients.
A year on, Cakes & Ale have settled into the neighborhood making friends with locals and weekend visitors. I've donned my PR hat and now work on the marketing and media of Cakes & Ale, which is easy because I was already a fan. And in case you're thinking this post is just a marketing ploy I think we know each other well enough by now to know I only write about things I actually use or would be happy to spend my money on. Also, I've been planning a series on 'wholefood' cafes and restaurants because the good ones are hard to find and I figure I might as well put to use my reviewing and food writing skills to share with you what I find.
Back to the story. My first inklings were correct, the team behind Cakes & Ale do know a thing or two about the restaurant game. Owner James Langley, Manager Mathew Guthrie and chef Leilani Wolfenden made a seachange from Melbourne where James set up Panama Dining Room and St Jude's Cellars, Mathew worked as manager at both, and Leilani honed her skills at notable restaurants including Est Est Est, Ondine, Comme, Petrus (London), The Square (London) and her own venture in Northcote, Next Door Diner.
They all grew up in the country, then after years of restaurant life in the city have come full circle returning to all that they enjoy about being out of the city. The slower pace, the proximity to local producers and growers, and being able to grow food themselves. James has established a kitchen garden up the road from Cakes & Ale to provide specialty or hard to find herbs and vegetables, this season roderique shallots, ciccio sprouting broccoli, rock samphire, broad beans and lots of green manure crops to help improve the sandy soil are being planted.
Thursday night at Cakes & Ale local seafood is a feature, Leilani creates beautiful classic bistro seafood dish for $20 from the catch of the day caught by White Fisheries who fish Port Phillip Bay. The fish caught that day arrives by ferry at Sorrento pier in time for dinner.
Tell me some of your favorite wholefood cafes and restaurants in the comments. Cafes and restaurants that are cooking for real, creating menus using locally grown and sourced produce.
Enjoy Leilani's recipe!
Cakes & Ale
100 - 102 Ocean Beach Road, Sorrento
for bookings ph: 03. 5984 4995
100ml olive oil
1 aubergine, cut into 2cm chunks doesn’t have to be perfect
2 kg ripe tomatoes cut into 2cm chunks, again doesn’t have to be perfect
1 large brown onion finely diced
½ head of garlic, finely sliced
750ml vegetable stock
1 yellow zucchini
1 green zucchini
Slice zucchini on the angle 2mm wide
2 or 3 leaves of silverbeet and or black cabbage, slice thinly
Handful green beans, slice on diagonal into 4 or 5 pieces
100 gram green split peas
2 cloves garlic
500 ml vegetable stock
In a heavy based large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Reduce to low heat, cover with lid and stir occasionally until transparent.
Add aubergine and stir. Put lid back on and cook until aubergine is a smooshy mess (approximately 45 minutes).
Add the tomatoes, season.
Add zucchini and leave the lid off and cook until the majority of the liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated, check seasoning and set aside.
In a separate pot, heat olive oil and add onions and garlic, cook in the same way as above.
Keep on a low heat and add split peas. Make sure the peas are coated with onions and garlic before adding the veggie stock a ladle full at a time replacing the lid each time and allowing to cook slowly like making risotto (45-60 minutes).
When all the stock has been absorbed and the split peas are cooked, remove from the heat and set aside.
Saute beans, zucchini, black cabbage and silverbeet in olive oil, seasoning generously.
When vegetables are starting to wilt add 4 tablespoons of eggplant mix and 1 cup of vegetable stock. Bring to the boil and check if it needs seasoning.
In a serving bowl put 2 or 3 tablespoons of pea puree – cold is fine – it all gets mixed around.
Pour bean and zucchini vegetable mix over the top and scatter with fresh oregano leaves and a few fresh basil leaves.
A few drops of olive oil over the top won’t go amiss.