Restaurants and Credit Card Surcharges

Recently I've been noticing a trend when I visit restaurants here in Sydney. The dreaded credit card surcharge. I think we're all used to being asked to pay a 2% or 2.5% fee for using Amex as their merchant fees have always been higher than Visa or Mastercard. And this is at almost all retail locations, not just restaurants. But lately a number of restaurants are adding a percentage, usually 1%, to their bills for using a credit card, full-stop. Now, that's annoying in my opinion, as hardly anyone uses cash at restaurants these days and the merchant fees should be costed into the prices. In today's cashless society it's like asking me to pay a surcharge to simply pay my bill. That's frustrating.

Now what really got me going recently was a visit to my local Bavarian Bier Cafe here in Crows Nest. 

The Gourmet Female and I sat down for a quick dinner after work one night, a half schnitzel, some calamari, a pretzel, and a couple drinks. Total, just under $50. Not a big bill but not a small amount, either, for about 45 minutes at our table. A quick and profitable turn. 

You can imagine my surprise when the bill arrived and I see what I thought was a 2% surcharge. Really? They're going to tack on a full 2% to use a card? But then I see it clearer - it's a $2 surcharge. For a $48.90 bill. In my maths that's over a 4% markup to use a credit card. In fact, to be equal with other establishments charging 1% you'd have to have a bill that's $200 or more. Highway robbery!

I mentioned my frustration to the waitress about a 4% credit card surcharge and she says, "It's $2. The percentage depends on how much you spend." Yep, got that. She obviously missed the point. So I mentioned my frustration in my comment card and on Twitter. Did I get any response? Nope. I mean, why would I? It's obviously a bit of a money spinner in most situations. I'm guessing there are few tables spending over $200 - and that's accepting that charging an additional 1% is acceptable in the first place. Funnily enough, the surcharge isn't mentioned on their website menu. 

In any case, what do you think? Should restaurants accept that people pay most times with a card and factor that into their prices? And do you think a flat $2 fee is acceptable? If you're with me, let the restaurants know. I'll grind my teeth and accept the occasional 1% but I'm not going to visit any place that blindly charges a flat fee, regardless of total. But that's just me...

Spatchcock, Mushrooms, Pancetta Dust, Potatoes, Herb Emulsions

It's been a while since I've had the time and energy to cook a completely new dish over a weekend. But I've been dying to try a few new techniques I've been testing and I'm also keen to keep the trend of "no recipes" going. So this past weekend I decided to throw together some ingredients that I've been playing with and try to knock out a top dish. 

Now it may seem pretty simple but it was a fair bit of work. But the flavour combinations were like nothing I've created before and the Gourmet Female was singing its praises all night! So I present to you, Spatchcock with potatoes, mushrooms, peas, pancetta dust, and herb emulsions...

The first thing you'll need to do is to make the herb emulsions and you can do these a couple hours in advance. Pretty simple, you'll need:

  • 10g tarragon
  • 10g parsley
  • 40g olive oil

With a stick blender blitz each ingredient on its own with 20g of olive oil. It will probably require a few pauses to scrape the ingredients back into the middle to blitz again. Once you've created a paste, press the herb mixture through a small sieve into a small container and set aside. You'll end up with two small containers, one with the parsley emulsion and one with the tarragon emulsion. 

The remaining ingredients you'll need are:

  • 3 large roasting potatoes
  • 110g snow peas in pods, then shelled
  • 100g button mushrooms, sliced in half
  • 100g pancetta
  • 500g organic free-range chicken stock
  • 1 500g spatchcock (butterflied)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp crushed coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp duck fat
  • salt and pepper

First, slice your spatchcock into four pieces, two legs and two breasts. Season with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, crushed coriander seeds, and lemon juice. Let marinate for about an hour.

Put the stock into a small saucepan and set on a low simmer for about 45 minutes - about the time the rest of the prep should take.

Now, you need to make the pancetta dust. This is the first time I've made it and I have to say, it's pretty freakin' incredible! And SO easy to make. 

Warm your oven on grill 8 setting and allow to warm to full temperature. Place the pancetta slices in a pan and grill for four minutes. Turn the pancetta and grill for another four minutes. Remove once done and place on paper towel to absorb the grease. After a few minutes crumble the pancetta into a stick blender container and blitz to a fine dust. Set aside. This is what you'll end up with!

Turn the oven to fan bake at 200C and let heat.

Now you'll need to prepare the potatoes. You'll either need a circular ring cutter or make your pieces into squares. I prefer the look of the circles but both taste just fine. Slice the potatoes on each side so that they have square tops and bottoms at the width of your desired thickness. Then cut six pieces, wash, and set aside.

Heat the duck fat in a non-stick pan on medium-high and then add the potatoes, cut side down. Season the potatoes with salt, pepper, and paprika. Then heat an oven safe fry pan with a splash of olive oil on another burner.

After the potatoes start to brown on one side flip them over and cook until brown on the other cut side. Once both sides are browned then roll the potatoes on their side and add the spatchcock pieces, skin down, to the oven safe fry pan and fry for three minutes. Flip and move the spatchcock to the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Keep rolling the potatoes to get a golden brown crust on all sides. Once the spatchcock is cooked through remove and let sit aside to rest. Add the mushrooms to the potatoes and cook for three minutes, flipping constantly.

Meanwhile, spread some pancetta dust on each plate. Quickly add the peas to the mushrooms and potatoes and cook for one minute. Remove and add to the plates. Place two pieces of spatchcock on the pancetta dust and then add the potatoes.

Place a few drops of the tarragon and parsley oils on each plate and then drizzle the reduced stock. It should be almost a syrup consistency. That's it! Trust me, people will be talking about this one for a while...


Maple Smoked Bacon!

Lately, I've been obsessed with creating my own food. Whether that's through my little veggie garden or making cheese, I find it so incredibly interesting and rewarding to create amazing ingredients on my own. As I was browsing through the Toro Bravo cookbook a couple weeks back I was inspired to create my own bacon. And to be honest, it was so incredibly easy and mind-blowingly tasty that I decided that I MUST share it on the blog.

Firstly, if you love bacon in any way (and if you don't, I think you're at the wrong blog), you HAVE to appreciate the end result.

The ingredients you need are:

  • 2.2kg pork belly
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp juniper berries
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp pink sea salt

Now, you can do less bacon if you want, just scale the ingredients back. The first thing you do is to source some good quality free-range pork belly.

Next, combine the cinnamon, coriander, juniper berries, and salt in a mortar and pestle and ground to a pasted. Add the brown sugar, paprika, chilli powder, and pink sea salt and stir to a consistent powder.

Rub a tablespoon of maple syrup on each side of the pork belly.

Cover all sides of the pork belly with the rub and place into a pan about 2x as wide and high.

Refrigerate for a week. By the end, you should see a good amount of liquid extracted from the belly. Now it's ready to smoke!

I recommend picking up a few smoking tins from Bunnings. They are $15 each and will do a great job of smoking your bacon. Pick up enough wood chips for a 4 hour smoke, about 500 grams. Wet the chips for an hour and then fire up one burner of the BBQ.

Place the pork belly on a rack on the cool side of the BBQ and smoke for 4 hours.

Once the bacon has reached 150C internally it's time to chill in the fridge for a couple hours and then thinly slice. Maybe a favour for your best local butcher? 

In any case, enjoy! I find this bacon is best crisped in the oven. But who cares? It's your own maple smoked bacon and eat it any way you want! Let me know what you think...

Masterchef 1/7/14 - Insane In The Brains

So we're back to somewhat normal challenges after the lull-me-to-sleep boring croquembouche "challenge". I just couldn't do this recap justice on that episode, it was just so batshit boring. But at least tonight we have the master, James Viles from Biota Dining, joining the show and telling us all how it's done.

Kylie Kwong opens us up by saying it's been "amazing" thus far. What's really amazing is that I'm still watching so intently, given how many parts are so obviously scripted and/or arranged. What would be awesome is a cooking show that just lets people COOK. Go figure.

And this Power Apron bullshit is starting to annoy me. Win one challenge, get all kinds of benefits for a full week? What a way to help keep a fan/producer fave on the show for a few more days. Whoa, wait a minute!

And I never have gotten this "cooking with beer" to create great bar snacks thing. Isn't beer God's best bar snack on its own?! And then George puts his hands in some of the bar snacks. Didn't his mum teach him that's how you spread cooties? Sheesh. Then I start screaming, "Someone make BEER CAN CHICKEN!". Damn it, won't someone listen?!

Someone says "bacon" and I smile. Colin says "cap-si-CUN" and I throw my shoe at the TV. The only thing that pisses me off more than that is when people say "draw" instead of "drawer". DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL. Grammar - it's the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you're shit.

So we all know now that Laura hasn't used beer before. Like five times. Ok, move on. Or, you could pull a Renae and freak out and cry cause, you know, it's a new ingredient and shit.

Gary tells us that this "won't get any better". For once, he's right. And Tracy obviously struggles with multi-tasking. Which, you know, is par for the course for the cook holding the fucking Power Apron. Then ham gets confused with bacon. You'd think Australia's top cooks would know this.

Seriously, how could they be doing top bar food without BUFFALO WINGS?! They are the end-all and be-all of great bar food. Just sayin'.

Then it drops. Kylie redefines the English language by saying it's a "mushy firmness". What the fuck?! I'm blown away by this until Matt makes some hand motions announcing that Tracy is battling for the immunity pin. If you saw it, you'd know.

And then James joins us. Seriously, if you haven't been to Biota Dining you must make a beeline there NOW. It's simply incredible. As I'm catching up on Foxtel IQ someone mentions brains. I make a Cypress Hill comment. We laugh. And then we hear "brains" mentioned about a dozen more times. No one gets the joke...

Tracy tells us that her dish is "rustic". I think that's just a synonym for "shit presentation." (EDIT: it's shit presentation) And then the judges pretend to not know who cooked what. Just another farce on Masterchef Australia.

Funny thing is that the waitress leaves out "brain puree" in her description. Why? I mean, they've said "brains" a dozen times already. In any case, Tracy beats James. WHAT THE FUCK?! Are you serious? Man, we've jumped the shark. James is obviously pissed. Which he should be. Craziness.

In any case, we're whittling things down to the last few. Let's hope we still see some good cooking and the producers and judges don't continue to screw things up. Tonight's recap is brought to you by AllDay. Check out the track, "Claude Monet", it's a cracker. He's a good Aussie rapper and his new album drops on July the 4th! Good night, peeps. 'Til tomorrow.