Restaurant Hubert, Sydney

Push open the heavy door. The sound of Jazz music comes up the spiral staircase.  Descend said stairs past thousands and thousands of mini-bar style bottles.  To my right is a queue of people waiting for a spot at a cosy bar with its own bar menu.  To my left is the restaurant, full of relaxed, post work chatter.   A grand piano sits on a small stage, red curtains behind it.   It is waiting for someone to belt out some Gershwin or Piaf.  Welcome to Hubert, dripping in atmosphere and conviviality.

Hubert was one of the hottest openings of 2016, it was near impossible to get a spot unless you were willing to get there for a Nursery Hour dinner or, at the other end of the spectrum,  at the time you’d usually be lining up at Golden Century for post drinking salt and pepper squid.  The website had people cursing in frustration – in the first few months there was no menu to peruse, no bookings except for 6 or more and only allowed within a certain number of days in advance, no phone number if you needed to make a change, dinner only, lunch mas non, and truly suboptimal lighting for ‘Grammers.  Other than the booking policy and the lighting, the other things have thankfully changed.

On my first visit I thought that the place was perhaps a wee bit overhyped.  On my second visit though, coinciding with their one year anniversary, I bought into the dream. There’s some pretty fine French fare going on here so take a bunch of your friends so you can work your way through it, some of the plates are too big for two to share.  There was a wonderful sounding whole duck special that night, but designed for 3-4. No surprise that the place got a two hats debut.

The very long wine menu makes for some entertaining reading, peppered with a staff Q&A. There are several pages just of whisky, so my friend thought that no pinot gris by the glass was a little black cross.

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The bread bought to the table is just excellent, and so is the butter; it would be easy to gorge on it.  But I’m surprised that it is what goes with the smooth and delicious duck pate, I would have preferred some thin crisps instead.

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Love the wagyu tartare (what’s left of it, I forgot to take a photo); unusual combo with the French fries, which are smattered in herbs and finger licking good

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The Clams Normande come in a light buttery fish stock, I dip the bread in so as to soak it all up.

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The pickled octopus with kipfler is a bit too acidic for me, but that’s my fault for not reading the word pickled on the menu.

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I’m also not that big a fan of the much talked about Malakoff, a deep fried gruyere.  One mouthful does the job, it is quite rich.

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But I love the lobster spaghetti, done in a lobster sauce with cherry tomatoes and chives.

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The John Dory provencal is simply done, poached with a topping of tomato, olive oil and basil.

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The crew put their own spin on Pommes Anna, taking the potatoes vertical instead of the typical French horizontal.  Ah that beurre blanc.

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On my second visit though the four dishes my friend and I had ordered were bought to the table all in extremely quick succession and we ran out of room, perching one precariously on a wooden divider. Gotta turn those tables folks. Long and leisurely is not the name of the game if you eat before 8.30pm.

I did love both the desserts I tried.  They are very generously sized, and easily shared between two.

The Santa Claus melon with finger lime, sorrel jelly and young coconut sorbet is wonderfully refreshing.

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Having had a few enjoyable vacherin desserts in my time – typically layers of meringue and cream – I decide to try theirs.  It makes me chuckle, it looks like it should have a barbie doll sticking out of the top of it – remember those barbie toilet roll holders? Lurking behind the cream is the meringue, which when smashed though reveals a delicious combination of sauternes ice cream, honeycomb, lemon and mandarin.

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There’s a private dining area available and also a banquet menu for groups.

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Restaurant Hubert, Basement, 15 Bligh St, Sydney
Ph 9232 9881
http://www.restauranthubert.com/

Restaurant Hubert Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Making pignolata

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A few days before Easter, I give Mamma Rosa a call and suggest we knock together a pignolata, we haven’t made it for ages. “You know”, she says, “I was thinking the same thing”. We’re getting into the territory of hardcore traditional Southern Italian sweets, and for me one that comes with a lot of memories. Nonna, Mamma Rosa and I would get a little production line going to make it happen. When I was growing up, pignolata would typically be made at Christmas and Easter, in the shape of a wreath. But Mamma Rosa, clever lady that she is, often made it into other shapes, giant number 18’s or 21’s depending on the birthday, and there was a dove or two here and there.

Like all of her recipes, none of the quantities are exact, it’s really about look and feel and experience. The dough for pignolata is very similar to that of crostoli, it’s just what you do with it that’s different. The amount we made was quite a big batch – it can produce two large pignolate, or three smaller ones. (By the way other Italian readers may know this sweet as struffoli, but in my mother’s village it has always been pignolata).

So off we go. We start by putting ten large eggs in a large bowl of the electric mixer. Next, says Mamma Rosa, “metti ‘na cucciarinata di zucchero per ogni uovo”. That’s one heaped spoon of caster sugar for each egg. Whisk them in the electric mixer till combined and fluffy.

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Next, add about half a cup of olive oil. Mamma Rosa never uses standard cup measures. Its just “ ‘na tazza” and typically whatever coffee cup she grabs from the cupboard. I guessed it to be about half a cup. Then half a cup of Sambuca (Molinari the only acceptable one at their house!) or Millefiore. She loves Millefiore, a lovely floral Italian liquor she often uses in sweets, but she says its dreadfully expensive here compared to Italy. Combine the oil and liquor into the egg mixture with a wooden spoon.

Now it’s time to add the flour. Like crostoli, she uses two parts plain flour to one part self raising flour. At a guess, I’d say we used about 800g of plain and 400g of self raising. You want the dough to be soft and pliable. We fold in the flour with a wooden spoon then we used the dough hook attachment to bring it together for a couple of minutes. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, knead until smooth and form in the shape of a log. (If it is too much to knead in one piece just split it in two).

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Cut the log into discs, then roll each disc into long thin strips, kind of like breadsticks. They do need to be quite thin because the dough does puff up when cooked due to the self raising flour. Dad grabs a giant tile from the garage and Mamma Rosa and I take a seat and get rolling. As we roll she chatters as she often does about growing in Italy. She tells me that when Nonna used to make pignolata she’d make seven or eight at a time, and hand them out around the village. It would be the same with bread, biscuits, blankets,  whatever she was making. “Mama era di mani larghe” she says. “She was of big hands”.  Generous, she means. I miss Nonna. But the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

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Once we have all our strips ready its time to cut. Grab a serrated knife and cut the strips into little pieces, about 1cm long or so.

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Then it’s time to fry. Heat some oil in a deep pan (Mamma Rosa used canola) and then fry the dough balls in batches until nice and golden. Set the fried balls aside and give the pan a clean. At this point we divided the balls in two to make two separate pignolate. The honey mixture below was just for one of them. If you don’t want to make two at once you can store the fried balls (once cooled) in an airtight container then go again another day.

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Return the pan to the heat and add about 350g of honey and half a cup of caster sugar on low/medium heat. (You can also add a little cinnamon but I’m not really a fan). Stir constantly until it starts to go golden and caramelise – but not toffee –  (was a good ten minutes or so), then add in the dough balls, combine till well coated keep stirring till the honey starts simmering, and continue to stir for another 5-10 minutes.

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The next step is to shape it. You can either shape it on a board or on the plate you’re going to serve it on. Be very careful, the honey is scaldingly hot, so we had a bowl of iced water at the ready. You can’t really let it cool down much as then it will begin to set before you can shape it. We spray the board with olive oil, put a glass down and then tip the honey coated balls around it and begin to shape. Add some sprinkles for decoration, remove the glass, then leave it to harden and set. Once it is set store in the fridge until you are ready to serve and cut with a serrated knife.

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It keeps well in the fridge in a sealed container for several days. It took the two of us a good three hours to make this, so it is a labour of love, but well worth it!

Flour Eggs Water, Tramsheds Harold Park

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The folk from A Tavola know their pasta and do it well, and they’ve expanded the family with the opening of Flour Eggs Water at the recently redeveloped Tramsheds precinct.  It’s a long narrow space where you can sit at a bench or on a communal table, and where you’ll be warmly welcomed by the staff, as I was on both my visits.   It isn’t an overly long menu, but one that changes regularly depending on what’s seasonal, and you’ll recognise a few favourites from the original A Tavola in Darlinghurst.  The menu is a little bit of a meander through Italy, as you’ll see a bit of Sicily, a bit of Sardinia, and some Calabria and Piedmonte thrown in for good measure.

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Start off with some beautiful San Daniele prosciutto and a hunk of buffalo mozzarella. It was gone in seconds.   They also give you some house focaccia which is so light and airy, but we ate it too quickly to take a picture of it!

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We tried the cuttlefish with fregola and pane carasau (there’s your Sardinia) with watermelon and mint. The latter ingredients added beautiful freshness and the cuttlefish was well cooked, but I did find the dish a little dry, it needed more of a dressing.

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On the other hand the beef tartare is a bit too saucy and acidic and the beef is a bit lost.  Excellent crunchy slivers of bread served with it though.

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But then the pasta arrives and shines.  Even Mamma Rosa gives it a tick of approval, so it must be good.

The malloreddus with pork and porcini is fragrant and rich and just gorgeous.  It’s a very generous serve too.

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Vegetarians will be absolutely delighted with the agnolotti dal plin (there’s your Piedmonte), with eggplant, scamorza, ricotta, salata.  The problem is it is so delicious the non vegetarians will want to steal it.

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Crab fans will enjoy the mezzelune with crab, ricotta and asparagus.  They come in a bit of a bisque.  One of my sorelle finds it a bit too fishy but I enjoy it.

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I also rate the chittara al nero di sepia with prawns, basil and pistachio (hello Sicily).  Chittara means “guitar”, the pasta being so named as it is traditionally made using a tool with strings, like a guitar. Lovely flavour combination, must try and make this at home.

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The pappardelle with lamb is one of their signatures.  The pasta is silky smooth. I do like lamb, but not in ragu form, so this wasn’t a favourite for me.

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Accompany your pasta with a refreshing salad.  Loved the red cabbage salad with raisins and walnuts.

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Otherwise there’s radicchio with witlof with fennel, orange mint and lemon.

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If you have room for dessert, there’s a few A Tavola favourites.

There’s the tiramisu, which in taste reminds me very much of my version.

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Or the cremino al cioccolato (from the original Darlinghurst venue), which looks like a cappuccino but isn’t.

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If you’re too full but just want a little sweet, try a cannolo.  It’s pretty good with a crunchy casing, but there are others that I prefer.

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Overall, its a lovely spot for a casual Italian meal, one you can easily drift to regularly.  Tutti a tavola!

Flour, Eggs, Water, Tramsheds Harold Park
Ph (02) 9188 7438
http://www.tramshedsharoldpark.com.au

Flour Eggs Water By A Tavola Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

In my kitchen, April 2017

The gentle coolness of autumn has rolled into the kitchen, bringing with it thoughts of soups, minestrone, and baked dishes like parmeggiana.   As we pick the very last of our tomatoes and cucumbers, the garden is looking very bare and I need to swot up on what to plant next.

We also picked our last baby beetroot, which I gently roasted in the oven.

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One of the Small People has also been tending lovingly to a strawberry plant, of which he is very proud.  He insisted I take a photo!

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Last month I mentioned I was germinating white dragon fruit.  Now teeny sprouts, they are looking very healthy.  My latest challenge has been to try and germinate mulberries.  I adore mulberries, but the season is short and they are very hard to find.  I occasionally stumble across them at a farmers market.  I planted 10 seeds each of the black and white varieties, and waited the prescribed 40 days, and nothing.  When 50 then 60 days passed, I knew it was a fail.  Undeterred, I tried again, planting another 6 seeds of each.   I have one tiny sprout of the black variety!

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For those who don’t like carbs, now is the time to look away.

In my kitchen is a variety of Molisana pasta that we all really like.  It is a really tight curl, Shirley Temple ringlet style, and “holds the sauce” very well.  If you haven’t tried the Molisana brand of pasta, I recommend it.

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One night I used it to make a “pasta forno”, or baked pasta, with peas and eggplant.

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In my kitchen is this lovely plate of biscuits from my darling Godmother.  Her savoiardi were divine, I must ask her for the recipe.

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A fellow bread baking friend and I went up to Victoria’s Basement to get enamel roasters.  Other breadbakers and IMK’ers swear by them.  I was very happy with the result.

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I’m loving these crispy Afghani Dippits made by a local family company in Sydney.  With a smear of avocado or a gooey cheese they are great.

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In my kitchen is also some fresh Afghani bread from a local grocer.  Its kind of like a squashed Turkish bread, really thin but springy at the same time.  The Marito was a big fan.

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I found a panettone lurking in the pantry from Christmas, I’m thinking I’ll make a dessert with it rather than have it straight up.  I’m sure I’ll also put the tin to good use.

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What’s happening in your kitchen? Thanks to Liz at Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things for hosting this month’s link up of kitchens around the world.

Mamma Rosa’s Zucchini Ripieni (stuffed zucchini)

Mamma Rosa has been great at catering for my vegacquarian Marito over the years. Though really, in the world of Southern Italian cooking, this isn’t hard. A lot of Southern Italian is old style “cucina povera”, or peasant food, as meat was considered a real luxury, and vegetarian anyway. That is the type of food I ate all of my childhood, and what I often now make my own children. The decades following the second world war, when my parents grew up, were a time of terrible poverty in Italy’s south, hence the name of this type of cooking. My father tells the story of him as a very young boy, sneaking out to the chicken coop to take the eggs, eating them raw, so desperate were the times and so severe his hunger. My nonna would go to collect the eggs wonder and why the chickens weren’t laying. He tells it with a laugh, the story of a mischievous boy who tricked his mother, but there is sadness there too.

But I’ve meandered a little. Flipping through Mamma Rosa’s little book this weekend, I felt like making this stuffed zucchini recipe of hers. Like many of the recipes, it is a little light on detail and quantities, as when she is making something it is generally done by feel and taste, and she found them difficult to scribe for me. She has always used the light green zucchini variety for this dish – the variety you’ll see growing in Italian backyards around Sydney in the Summer – and I think the shape is better for this recipe. The number of zucchini is approximate, it really depends on the size. Mine were on the smaller size so I used eight.  Her quantity of cheese is “a piacere”, a phrase you see a  lot in Italian recipes.  It means “to your liking”. I used about half a cup, but use more or less as you please!

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Ingredients
6-8 light green Italian zucchini
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 leek, white part only, diced
50ml olive oil
1 cup aborio rice
750ml stock
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
Grated parmesan cheese, “a piacere”
3 eggs
Salt for seasoning

Making them

1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil.  Cut the zucchini in half, and place in the boiling water for 4-5 minutes so that they soften slightly.  Drain and once they are cool enough to handle, using a knife and/or a spoon scoop out the flesh, leaving the skin. (This step is rather fiddly, you want a nice thin casing, but not too thin so that it doesn’t hold). Set the flesh aside in a colander to drain.  Place the hollowed out zucchini in a baking dish or a tray lined with baking paper, and season with salt.

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2. In a pan, heat the olive oil then saute the onion and leek until softened. Squeeze the zucchini flesh to remove any excess water, chop coarsely then add to the pan and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the rice, stir to coat, then gradually add the stock as if making a risotto until cooked. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the parsley and parmesan and stir through. Taste for seasoning and add salt if required. In a bowl, beat two of the eggs and stir through.

3. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Fill each of the zucchini cases with rice. (If you were preparing ahead, after stuffing you could place them in the fridge for cooking later). Beat the remaining egg and brush over the top. Spray some foil with olive oil, cover, and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for a further 20 minutes. Serve.

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Queen Chow, Enmore

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The Merivale winds, having blown North, South and East, have found their way to the Inner West, this time transforming Enmore’s Queen Victoria Hotel. Gone are the Indiana Jones pinball machine, the pool table and the pokies.  Instead you’ll find a variety of taxidermy (!), a baby elephant figure,  a Roman statue, and some mighty fine Chinese.

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Downstairs, while flanked by a long bar, is a bit more sombre and restaurant-y. Upstairs is The Smelly Goat bar, with some cool and cosy little nooks, and a lovely light filled enclosed outdoor dining verandah.  The staff are on top of it all and very welcoming.

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We start of course with dumplings (Eric Koh is in da house) which are all delicious. The Marito and Small People particularly rate the prawn har gau, and the casing is definitely more delicate than elsewhere.   I had my eye on the lobster and asparagus dumplings for my second visit but they had disappeared from the menu!

The duck spring rolls remind me very much of Mr Wong, which is not a bad thing at all.  There’s a reason why Mr Wong is still packing them in every night 5 years on.

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There’s a twist on the classic cheung fun – here the cuttlefish is wrapped it a fried bread crumb then the rice noodle.   The Marito gives this a big thumbs up.

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I love the salt and pepper squid, silken tofu and prawns with chilli bean mayo.  Done with such a light hand.

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I also really like the “slightly fires the emperor” of cuttlefish, macadamia and garlic chive (though there isn’t much cuttlefish). Its fresh and the macadamia and crunch of baby corn add some good texture.

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But I’m a little disappointed with the angus beef, served with baby king oyster mushrooms and potato.  Its a little dry, the beef is chewy and the potatoes are bland.

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The barbecue duck though, is juicy and tasty

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Back onto seafood, we’re winning.  The steamed market fish (that day barramundi) with ginger, shallot, and white soy, is a deftly executed Chinese classic.

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The Moreton Bay bugs with kombu butter and asparagus are dressed to impress.

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And make sure you leave room for the fried rice.

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There are desserts on the menu, but its pretty hard to resist the lure of Cow and Moon right next door, where we bump into fellow diners.  However you will get fortune cookies with your bill.

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On behalf of Italian Mammas, I do have a bone to pick with you Queen Chow – shall we take it outside?

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Queen Chow, 167 Enmore Road, Enmore
Ph 02 9240 3000
http://merivale.com.au/queenchow

Queen Chow Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Neil’s Three Milk Cake

A dessert I’ve been unable to resist at visits to Spice Temple is the three milk cake.  So I was excited to see that it was included in Neil Perry’s Spice Temple Cookbook.  I tried to make it and my first attempt was pretty good.  You’ll feed a big crowd with this, at least a dozen.  The cake needs to be made the night before so there’s less prep to do on the day of serving.  If you’re not a fan of meringue or don’t have time to make it I think it is still a really lovely dessert without it.  Here’s the end result

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And here’s the restaurant original – I didn’t do too bad for a first go, though I didn’t quite have enough of the garnishes on hand as no quantities were specified.

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Three-milk cake (make day ahead)
300 g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of fine salt
6 eggs, separated
275 g caster sugar
125 ml milk
30 ml rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
375 ml pouring cream
550 ml evaporated milk
500 ml condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 180°C and butter and flour a 30 cm × 20 cm Pyrex dish or cake tin.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, then set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then whisk in the sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time, ensuring each is well incorporated before adding the next. Alternately fold in spoonfuls of the milk and the flour mixture, mixing to a smooth batter. Finally, fold in the rum and vanilla. Pour into the prepared dish or tin and bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, but leave it in the dish. Use a skewer to prick the cake all over.

Mix together the pouring cream, evaporated milk and condensed milk, then gradually pour over the cake, letting it gradually absorb before pouring on more (if you just try and pour it all at once it will go everywhere!). Leave the cake to cool, then cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

Meringue (make when ready to serve)
100 ml water
2 tsp lemon juice
300 g caster sugar
180 g egg whites (from about 4–5 eggs)
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp rose water

Place the water, lemon juice and all but 3 tbs of the sugar in a small non- reactive saucepan. Place over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook the syrup without stirring until it reaches 120°C on a sugar thermometer.

Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then whisk in the remaining sugar and the cream of tartar to make a meringue. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in a quarter of the sugar syrup and whisk to combine.

Continue adding the syrup in this way, whisking well each time, until it is all incorporated, then add the rose water and whisk on medium speed for a few minutes until smooth and glossy.

Three-milk sauce (for serving)
280 ml evaporated milk
240 ml condensed milk
140 ml pouring cream

Combine all three ingredients in a jug

To serve
Finely grated lime zest
Roasted flaked almonds
Roasted unsalted pistachios
Freeze-dried raspberries

Cut the cake into squares and place a square on each plate, then pour some three milk sauce around the cake. Scoop a large spoonful of the meringue onto the top of each cake square and garnish with grated lime zest, flaked almonds, pistachios and raspberries.