Monday, 31 December 2012

The Best of 2012 - Live While We're Young

The links on this page take you to my respective review.

It has been six months since I started this writing this blog. What started as a novel and interesting experiment has turned into a ritual for me and has made the time that I have spent in Melbourne since relocating here from Sydney earlier in the year much more fulfilling. Thanks for taking the time to read my rambling posts and for the support.

In the spirit of adding to the hundreds of "best of" lists that are on offer, I thought I would summarise what received the highest scores on my weighted rankings page and extrapolate a few of the scores into words.

My best overall dining and drinking experience that I had in 2012 was at Jacques Reymond. It not only received my highest score for "ambiance" and also for "service" but the complete experience was the most memorable and enjoyable.

Flinders Island Wallaby starred in two of my favourite degustation menus for the year. First of course it was featured in my sublime experience at Jacques Reymond but I first enjoyed it at Attica and after musing about them both for hours and talking to people (and probably boring them) for just as long, I prefer the way Ben Shewry of Attica has devised the way to serve the beast. There are two distinct contrasting styles too so the diner wins in the end ultimately. Best regards to Flinders Island Meats for providing this meat to these extremely talented chefs so plebeians like me can enjoy it. 

With Attica in mind, it received the highest score with "quality" in mind. Running the gamut of the high quality produce grown on site, the much maligned potato prepared in its own dirt which I thought was brilliant, the King George Whiting in paperbark, the marron, the aptly named Plight of the Bees, the multiple playful amuse-bouche, and of course the simple but truly divine Flinders Island wallaby, Attica was a stand-out for excellence not only in the quality of food but also the matching beverages. I was blown away.

Although I could not fault the "service" that I got at Jacques Reymond, another and more important consistent example is the professionalism afforded to you at Flower Drum. After visiting Flower Drum for the better part of a decade I can not recall a time when service was not "perfect" and when you get to the chance to watch the team prepare and serve Peking Duck, you know that you are in the midst of professionals who go out of their way to make the diner comfortable.

Value for money can be interpreted in many different ways. I think of it as having both variation and quality, yet an amusing and professional experience which is memorable for positive reasons at a reasonable price. This theme has taken on a few different incarnations since I started writing the blog. One of the most surprising finds for me was Naked For Satan in Fitzroy on a weekday afternoon. Besides the infused vodkas and craft beer on offer, they provide a wide variety of pinxtos (Basque for snacks or tapas) for $1 per serve at the bar. You simply save your toothpicks and pay when you are finished and are on the "honour system" throughout your drinking and grazing experience. I have always found the pinxtos to be tasty, colourful, fresh and exciting and they certainly enable you to polish off a fair share of their extensive list of infused vodkas. Besides having an interesting ambiance and back-story, I think this one of the hidden gems of Melbourne. After priming yourself at Naked For Satan, it is easy to wander across the street and play the latest video games and drink some strong cocktails at Mana Bar, or even enjoy the hospitality of my favourite find with respect to bars this year, Black Pearl.

With Black Pearl and bars in mind, the appreciation of bars is always subjective and directly relates to your company, ambiance, service and is indeed more experience based than many other things in life. For that reason time after time this year, I have found myself sitting on a stool at Der Raum in Richmond and consider it about as perfect you can get, at least using my personal criteria. Der Raum is currently being renovated and will re-open in February 2013 and I am really excited to see what Matthew Bax and the team will come up for its next iteration. I had the pleasure of attending Bar Americano many times over the year which is the little (and I mean little) sister to Der Raum, in the CBD and along with Black Pearl, those bars are my favourite finds for the year. My most pleasant surprise though took place at The Den (under) The Atlantic restaurant at Crown Casino. I was never expecting to find such a cool yet comfortable bar at Crown that features live music. It is now one of my locals.

Not to digress from the "value for money" theme, I can't help think what Virginia Plain and chef Andy Harmer and sommelier Raúl Moreno Yagüe have on offer. The first time I was there, I experienced the $89 seven course "chefs choice" degustation and was able to leave not only full but very satisfied not only with the quality of food and ultimately paired beverages (for a surcharge) but with the experience in general. I have since returned a few times, not only for a quiet beer at the bar but also for a hedonistic custom degustation and wine pairing extravaganza. Virginia Plain in my opinion most effectively uses Twitter (@virginiaplainau) to best disseminate propaganda that is both fun and engaging and and along with South Wharf Promenade (@swpromenade) I always feel confident that when I scroll through my timeline at any given part of the day I will find some useful information from one of those sources.

Moving over to the South Wharf Promenade, my jaw dropped when I visited Akachochin. This place just surprised me and exceeded all of my expectations. Besides being a great Japanese Izakaya, they have a wonderful sushi bar with some of the best and freshest fish that I have had the pleasure of experiencing in Melbourne. Along with the service and ambiance, this was the surprise find of the year for me. Being a big fan of Maedaya in Richmond, which is one of the best value for money izakayas around, I thought Akachochin took the whole experience to the next level though.

Breakfast is always a meal that I never took very seriously but in recent times I have found myself at various places that specialise in it around Melbourne. With the aim mainly to prepare myself before watching the cricket (read, have a full stomach to absorb beer) these venues were not only fun but relaxed and strangely, served great food and coffee. My last review of the year was all about St Ali in South Melbourne and it certainly left the most profound impression on me. Three Bags Full in Abbotsford and Chez Dre in South Melbourne are also stand-outs and experiences that I really enjoyed.

Looking to the future, when the next The Age Good Food Guide comes out in 2013, I not only predict but expect Neil Perry's Rosetta to be awarded two hats and Sake Restaurant to end up with one respectively. Rosetta was my most anticipated opening of 2012 and it did not disappoint. This is the best Italian food in Melbourne and when combined with the almost opulent yet classy fit-out, professional service and location, it made it a true contender for my experience of the year.

Mexican-themed restaurants were the big rage, if not a trend in Melbourne in 2012. I love Mexican inspired food and I rushed to try every place a few times. Time after time, Senoritas in the CBD delivered. It is as close to "authentic" as I have found and when mixed with the dark ambiance, great bar and most importantly the menu it is a true winner. The team certainly knows how to make a good fish taco and along with tacos al carbon and a balmain bug dashed with habanero chilli, they kept me coming back repeatedly.

Finally I thought about where I would eat every day in a perfect world. My hedonistic personality demands a quality yet malleable menu, great wine list and a flexible environment. Another contender for one of my best experiences of the year, Movida ticks all of the boxes. I never tire of the tapas on offer, the wine list, the affable and professional staff and the convenience of it being centrally located in a quirky laneway in the CBD. I have found myself stumbling into this place unannounced on multiple occasions over the last six months and have always left happy and giddy. The hedonist in me demands that I frequent this place more often in 2013 because you really do not have to enjoy everything on the tapas menu to be satisfied and can instead have a couple of dishes at the active bar, a bottle of wine and toddle off to other venues highlighted above and truly be content. I even bought one of Frank Camorra's cookbooks... that is how in to Movida I am.

Best wishes for a great and safe 2013 and here is hoping that your wine bottle never goes dry.

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

Sunday, 30 December 2012

St Ali - Big Morning Out

Following on from good breakfasts and equally good times in the last few months with the highlights being Hardware Sociéte, Three Bags Full and Chez Dré I was told that I would not be considered one of those "cool kids" if I did not attend St Ali in South Melbourne before the years end and of course before I compose my much anticipated "Best of 2012 list" which is forthcoming.

St Ali, like the aforementioned fine morning establishements was packed when I presented myself with one other hungry and thirsty soul. The wait time I was advised would be a mere fifteen minutes which passed quickly. The eatery is housed in what appears to be a converted warehouse on a side-street in South Melbourne that shows some of the typical Melbourne "character" that the locals have come to appreciate and almost expect. Metal roller doors act as windows and the loading dock when opened exposes part of the dining room. The place is easy to find if you keep an eye out for a crowd hanging outside a random building on Yarra Place.

When our name was called and we were shown to our place at a communal table, the hostess immediately asked if we would be keen to order coffee. I thought that was very efficient as normally you are seated and wait a while for the pleasure.

The place had a good vibe with background music that did not intrude, but yet complimented the environment. The staff actually smiled when you dealt with them and everyone in general that worked there looked like they were enjoying themselves which was remarkable if not refreshing in the morning. Posters for the Big Day Out 2013 are affixed to the wall and the menu even has a Big Day Out theme which made me fondly recall concerts from yesteryear, which I thought was fun and convenient enough for those who haven't thought about the forthcoming festival which is touring in January 2013. You have the opportunity to purchase a ticket direct from St Ali along with a premium beef burger for the package price of $165. One stop shopping indeed.

The clever menu highlights a breakfast called My Mexican Cousin, which inspired the name of the restaurant at the Melbourne Theatre Company. Despite being intrigued as what could be so delectable that would cause the naming of a restaurant when I also like, I chose the Full Spanglish ($21.50) breakfast which included two eggs cooked at 63c for 63 minutes, house beans, blood sausage, Istra bacon, portobello mushrooms and house-dried tomato on sourdough. Freshly squeezed juices complement the one-source coffee, which lives up to expectations and the plaudits as so many of the "cool kids" that have recommended this place told me to go for the coffee (and to stop walking to St Kilda for my poor alternatives) and I wholeheartedly now agree with them. I may have to start wandering by for takeaway coffee in the new year. Dining in, you are provided a small flask of hot water so you can make, in my case, your long black, as strong (or weak) as you want which I thought was a nice touch.

The food was served in a reasonable amount of time and when I requested another long black, it was delivered with a smile. The eggs on the sourdough were great and the blood sausage and gourmet quality bacon complimented them well. Such care was taken with the eggs (or at least it appeared so) that I thought I was holidaying on Hamilton Island at Qualia as that was the last time that eggs have made an impact on me not withstanding fights I had with them as a randy teenager on Halloween.

Paypass facilities made payment a quick one when we decided to go and I left feeling not only satisfied but a bit happier compared to when I arrived. For that alone, it was worth the money.

I am not sure that the "cool kids" will consider me one of their clique now that I have been to St Ali but I reckon I am a better person for having the experience. If you fancy driving to this place, be aware that on Sunday you can park on the street without having to worry about being fined as there are no parking restrictions on Sunday.

St Ali, South Melbourne
St Ali
12 Yarra Place  South Melbourne VIC 3205
(03) 9686 2990
My Rating: 13/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Unrestricted street parking on Sunday

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 79% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like St Ali.

St Ali on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Hofbräuhaus - Das Oompah

I thought it was intriguing to find a German bier hall on Market Lane, intermixed with the likes of Flower Drum and Hutong Dumpling Bar on the fringe of Chinatown. After enjoying many meals at Bavarian Bier Cafe, if you can classify a meal as multiple steins of beer and some sort of heavy meat, sauerkraut, potatoes and some very attractive seemingly Aryan staff and also the fun, lively and seemingly ethnic feeling that Löwenbräu Keller in Sydney has on tap, I thought that Hofbräuhaus would be a happy medium between the two.

Walking into the restaurant, we were greeted by the kids taking part in Play School however Noni and Simon were not to be seen. Children were running around with reckless abandon. A lovely lady ultimately came down the stairs from the Bier Hall and greeted us. We said we were very hungry and thirsty and when pressed, expressed a desire to sit upstairs since Play School was in session on the ground floor. We were taken upstairs and seated with the other sane patrons who were enjoying business lunches and a sense of serenity, for a while that is.

Hofbräuhaus has many menus. Many specials are advertised and are attributed to the various parts of the day and nights. Lunch specials, dinner specials, parma nights, student nights and various times that the oompah band (translate: a four piece Bavarian-style band that plays German tunes, that is deemed to be fun party entertainment) would be performing in the bier hall upstairs. The instruments were already set-up, ready and waiting to be played. Having seen the oompah band many times at Löwenbräu Keller, it is good fun provided you go with a large group and people are in the mood for such an experience.

I simply had the German Bratwurst as I as more interested in refreshing myself with steins (litres) of Spatan (from Munich) and having a bit of a chat. The children from Play School found the staircase and started running up and down it after taking intermissions in the bier hall at this time.

The service was fine and the food was what I was expected. I would later find the server quite embarrassed as multiple people had mentioned the wild children and I found out that the large group of them downstairs actually belong to the "boss" which I found fascinating. I never really considered a German restaurant with a bier hall an ideal place to host a party for children especially if you are the manager, but who am I to judge. With all of the commotion, when my stein was vacated, I happily paid the tab and left a tip for the lovely server and got the hell out of there. If you think the oompah band can be loud, the band had nothing on this group of children.

Check this place out if you have a large group, want some decent heavy food and are prepared for a noisy time at communal tables. It is good fun for the random times in your life that you want a german-themed big night (or lunch without the band) but with the other choices in the area, you will not go through withdrawals if your visits to Hofbräuhaus are limited to those few big beery occasions in your life or the requisite visit during Oktoberfest.

Hofbrauhaus, Market Street, Melbourne
24 Market Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone:(03) 9663 3361
My Rating: N/A
Service: N/A
Ambiance: N/A
Quality: N/A
Value For Money: N/A

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 83% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Hofbräuhaus.

Hofbräuhaus on Urbanspoon

Friday, 28 December 2012

Mamak - A Malaysian Surprise

I choose to eat at Mamak on Lonsdale Street frankly because the other places that I turned up to recently without a booking were not able to accommodate us on a whim. I had heard rumblings that Mamak, which flogs Malaysian food was decent but the queues were pretty intense every time that I wandered by previously. I really did not know what to expect so we fronted up at around 2:00 PM hoping to avoid some of the perceived madness, which we did fortunately.

The wait at 2:00 PM was not bad at all. In fact it took about three minutes to get a seat which was not at a communal table and I was grateful. Although the menus were thrust into our faces quickly, it still took about 15 minutes to get service to take our order. During this time I was able to admire the relatively modern fit-out, something that you usually do not expect in a Malaysian restaurant. There is an open and clean kitchen near the entrance for you to view whilst you either wait for a table or even relax whilst your takeaway is being prepared. Takeaway is available very late at night on Friday and Saturday and would make a somewhat healthy alternative to pizza and kebabs in the area especially if you have been pubbing it.

Multiple dishes were ordered including the Kari ayam ($16) which is classic chicken curry supposedly cooked with freshly ground spices and chunky potatoes. This was probably the only dish that I thought was average mainly because of the amount of cartilage which was probably enough to choke a small hound but we persevered. A lamb Murtabak ($11.50) also was served with two curry dips and was was purported to be a spicy sambal sauce but in fact it was quite mild. This dish along with the chicken skewers, was the highlight of my experience. It was a good blend of meat, cabbage and onion in a pastry. You are advised that you need to wait 15 minutes for the Murtabak to be made, which is fine especially when you are left to sip the Teh 'O' als limau ($3.50) which is iced tea and lime - damned good iced tea in fact.

I tasted a sweet roti, but as it has never been my thing, I really shouldn't comment either way however all of the desserts that I saw others ordering were large, colourful and looked rather good.

What I liked about this place is the modern fit-out and when you actually got your order in, the service was very efficient. Sometimes too efficient though as they attempted to deliver far too many plates to the small table at the same time which caused a problem, but in the end, you are not really paying much for decent food and atmosphere, so why bother getting annoyed about the little things - when essentially that is all they are.

Mamak, Melbourne
366 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone:(03) 9670 3137
My Rating: N/A
Service: N/A
Ambiance: N/A
Quality: N/A
Value For Money: N/A

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 68% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Mamak Restaurant.

Mamak on Urbanspoon

Friday, 21 December 2012

Sake Restaurant - Hitting The Nail On The Head

Sake Restaurant which opened a few months ago at the newly redeveloped Hamer Hall at the Arts Centre Melbourne in Southbank is a concept that has been tried and refined through years of the brand successfully trading in Sydney and most recently Brisbane so I was looking forward to a polished and professional experience.

Situated at the St Kilda Road-end of the Southbank Promenade, the restaurant and bar have incorporated the design success and choices for that matter from their Brisbane property utilising the river to its advantage so when the weather is actually pleasing in our fine city of Melbourne that it doesn't matter if you are looking for a coffee, snack, alcoholic beverage or running the full gamut of seafood offerings, you will feel comfortable.

On this dining occasion, I had just seen Skyfall, and as I had deprived myself of food and beverage all day, when the epicurean emo and I presented ourselves very late one afternoon recently and announced that we wanted to eat and drink the restaurant into destitution, they were happy to oblige. Although there were spaces outside available which afforded views of the beautiful (sic) Yarra River which makes a good location for people watching, we instead opted for seats at the sushi bar since I am always keen to observe the chefs in action. The sushi bar actually mimics a proper bar and unlike at the Sydney property (and most sushi bars for that matter) the bar is not made of clear glass so there would be no show let alone fish on display.

The service manager, Scott, quickly came over to introduce himself and organised some Asahi beer for us to start proceedings. Scott is an interesting character who obviously took pride in his job and actually enjoyed it. I suppose working in Southbank does have its advantages and with the steady flow of professionals, locals and tourists all congregating in the same place, I am sure that I would find a great amount of amusement if not challenge in an environment myself.

A tuna tasting plate for two ($33) and sashimi tacos ($17) where our first foray into this locations epicurean goodness. The tuna and avacado sushi rolls were fresh, the white dressing enhanced the tuna takai salad and the tuna tacos, which are really just that, tuna sashimi in very small and delicate taco shells were easily consumed and washed down the gob with a shot of Kozaemon Junmai sake shot which is included in the price of the tasting plate. It only takes one taste of sake before I am in the zone so I immediately finished off my Asahi beer and then switched my allegiance to the sake list, which is quite extensive and I chose the first, which would not be the last, large carafe of Ymanadanishi.

Sake Restaurant is known for a few signature dishes. I decided to reacquaint myself with a few starting with the kingfish jalapeno ($22) which is Hiramasa kingfish with yuku soy topped with slices of jalapeno and coriander. Four of my favourite tastes merged into one certainly was not going to lead to a complaint but just a greater enthusiasm and a thirst for more of the fine sake but I could not help to see the similarities to the dish of the same name that you can get at Nobu. The patron ends up with more quantity of of fish though at Sake Restaurant whilst the quality remains consistently high.

Moving on to the Sushi Maki (cut rolls) part of the menu next, we ordered a couple rounds of dynamite rolls ($16) which include spicy tuna, shredded onion and cucumber with spicy tobiko. I could eat dynamite rolls like tortilla chips when they are prepared correctly and Sake Restaurant did not disappoint. Again, there was a fair quantity of fish, and rolls for that matter on offer, where the quality again remained high. Being in a cut roll mood, we then moved to the aptly named kingfish double crunch ($16) which incorporated the flavours of the signature dish, kingfish and jalapeno mayo with coriander, cucumber, tempura crunch (both inside and out) accompanied with a sweet soy and spicy tobiko. Again, a highly addictive roll and offering that made me lick my lips and down the sake like a madman in appreciation. Finally we ordered the nixon ($22) which consisted of a grilled eel enhanced with cream cheese, cucumber and tempura crunch mixed with jalapeno mayo once again but rolled inside out with avacado. A good reuse of the core ingredients and they complimented not only the sake but the eel and the cream cheese.

Throughout my visit, which lasted about three hours, the service remained engaging and professional. Once they realised that we both had dined at a Sake Restaurant incarnation before they were happy to leave us to our own devices to interpret and take pleasure from the menu at our own pace which was appreciated. I was not in a rush and the restaurant was happy to continually provide a consistent level of good service in a very clean and sleek setting. When thinking about Nobu and Koko and my recently experiences there, I would not only chose Sake Restaurant but recommend it with no hesitation.

Sake Restaurant in both Sydney and Brisbane are consistently awarded chef hats in the respective Good Food Guides and I believe that the Melbourne location has replicated the same winning formula so I am sure we can all look forward to another hatted entry in The Age Good Food Guide next year.  

Sake Melbourne Hamer Hall
Sake Restaurant and Bar
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
100 St Kilda Road, Southbank VIC 3004
Phone:(03) 8687 0775
My Rating: 14.75/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.75/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 70% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Sake Restaurant.

Sake Restaurant & Bar (Hamer Hall) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Jacques Reymond - Take Me Home

When I first threw open the front door to Jacques Reymond, which is located in a stately Victorian mansion on a leafy suburban Prahran road a little over a year ago I knew that I found somewhere special. After returning last week to placate my hungry self with their degustation and matched wine option, it not only felt like I never left but it reminded me of home. Don't assume that I grew up in a Victorian mansion but I use the word "home" in the romanticised way that we dream on occasion of having a kept life filled with wonders and perfection. I know that I strive to get closer to that goal on a daily basis and since reintroducing the world of Jacques Reymond into my life, I have effectively moved one step closer to living the dream.

It had been over a year since I dined in the restaurant and I didn't even live in Melbourne at the time. Seeing familiar faces working on the night is a testament to the restaurant as they are able to retain quality staff for long periods of time. The familiarity in turn immediately brought a sense of calm as we were escorted by the maître d', a very affable chap called Gareth, that not only recalled my last visit to the restaurant but assured me that the same table near the fireplace and most importantly the Dom Pérignon branded card was being made available for the festivities which I suppose I have garnered quite the reputation for enjoying.

As we settled into the corner, the sommelier provided us glasses of 2003 Dom Pérignon to take the edge off not knowing that we had assimilated into the comfortable seats in my favourite corner of the world quickly and easily. It was with no hesitation that we announced that we would be enjoying the nine course degustation with matching wines and after uttering the one sentence, the biggest decision of the day was made. Jacques Reymond also serves from I can tell quite a stellar and comprehensive vegetarian-based degustation menu. After David Chang made headlines when he proclaimed that he would not cater for vegetarians (which I am not close to being but I know a few) it is refreshing to see a renowned restaurant and chef making the effort to cater for this lifestyle choice.

Proceedings commenced with a contrast of ocean trout - both slow cooked and smoked being matched with a 2010 Kientzler Gewürztraminer from Alsace Ribeauvillé, France. Stark contrasts with the trout and a very aptly paired wine along with the sharp, knowledgeable, professional and engaging restaurant team made the first course perfect in every way. The sommelier was always happy to top up the wine glasses and seemingly had eyes in the back of his head as he always knew when my allocated supply was about to be exhausted.

Moreton Bay bugs on fresh soba noodles, wild succulents with carmelised black vinegar followed along with a 2009 Peregrine ‘Rastasburn’ Riesling, Central Otago, New Zealand was next to make its grand appearance. The carmelised black vinegar really brought out the flavour of the bug. At first I thought the vinegar would kill the dish but I was dead wrong. The Kiwi wine was a safe match and worked well. It would have been interesting to see a match from Queensland just to keep the theme alive however the fruit in the Riesling really shined, as decent selections usually do from across the ditch.

Perhaps it is just a preference, but I always find John Dory boring. The restaurant has taken this wallflower and dressed it up like a high class lady of the night with Szechuan pepper, smoked palm sugar, lemon and black olives and effectively made the fish into a very exciting offering where you are tempted to go in and enjoy each bite more and more. The Szechuan pepper really brought this fish to life and matched with Jacques Reymond's own 2010 Toolangi Estate Chardonnay from the Yarra, I was extremely impressed.

Flinders Island Meats must be working double shifts over the festive season as Flinders Island wallaby has not just found its way onto diners plates at Attica but also at Jacques Reymond. The wallaby course here took on a more elaborate fare being accompanied with a lamb dumpling and served in its own juices. A 2009 Poulsard, Jacques Puffeney from Arbois, Jura, France was paired with the rare beef and like when I visited Attica, made the wallaby dish my favourite for the evening. I still ponder the contrasting flavours as Ben Shewry matches his Wallaby dish with an Italian wine where Jacques Reymond instead chooses the darker and bolder French wine. Two distinct styles along with methods to prepare the beast - however both interpretations were liked by this plebeian.

Not to be outdone, one of the more bizarre food pairings took place next. Highland venison tataki and spanner crab. Spanner crab, when prepared properly is one of my favourite dishes but I was excited yet nervous to see it accompany venison tataki especially since it was being matched with the big and bold 2009 Poulsard, like with the rare wallaby. All I can say is "Bloody amazing!" and when dressed with the fresh Tasmanian wasabi, I understood why Jacques wanted to follow the Wallaby with this dish and the same wine.

Liguarian honey glazed Pekin duck with picked cherry and barbajuan was then presented with 2009 Monthelie 1er Cru ‘Sur la Velle’ Domaine Rèmi Jobard from Burgundy, France. Not to be confused with "Peking" duck, the Pekin duck is primarily used for egg and meat production. After the huge flavours associated with the venison and wallaby, the duck brought my palate back down to Earth. The honey and cherry flavours emboldened the 1er Cru wine whereas the duck, continued on with the "wow" factor that remained consistent with all of the courses throughout the evening.

Veal fillet dolce forte with sea urchin butter and lard potatoes followed. I tend to like my sea urchin raw and accompanied with a quail egg in Japanese restaurants and I was most impressed with the sea urchin butter and how it made the veal fillet taste. The lard potatoes were appropriate to serve with this flavour intensive course and matched with an old and classy 1993 Lindeman’s ‘Limestone’s Ridge’ Shiraz Cabernet, Coonawarra, SA, I really had to start questioning whether or not the wallaby was ultimately going to be my favourite dish in the end as this one was certainly a contender. The nuances afforded by the veal when matched with the sea urchin butter are just sublime.

A white chocolate mojito with apricot, mango and strawberry was the first of two dessert courses to arrive. This one was matched with non-vintage Billecart-Salmon Demi Sec from Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, France. This was was followed by Venezuela origine rare chocolate and Mt Buffalo hazelnuts, passionfruit, infusion of tonka bean and Tahitian vanilla. This was matched with a Bareito Malvasia Full Rich 5 years old Madeira. A variety of flavours that settled us down where we ultimately concluded the evening with a couple of glasses of Armagnac.

This has to be one of the most comfortable dining experiences that I have had in years which was certainly encouraged by the very attentive, intelligent and amusing service team. My palate in the end was challenged by the combination of new tastes that I never thought would complement one another where some quality wines were enjoyed, some new intelligence was in turn found and most importantly the entire experience led to the four and a half hours to fly by as pleasant conversation was in turn motivated by all of the positive experiences. What impressed me to no end that everything from the food, drink, service and ambiance was elegant and not flashy. Haute cuisine does exist in Melbourne and it is found at Jacques Reymond. 

Take me home.

Jacques Reymond Restaurant, Prahran, Melbourne
Jacques Reymond
78 Williams Road  Prahran VIC 3181
(03) 9525 2178
My Rating: 18.75/20
Service: 5/5
Ambiance: 4.75/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 4.5/5

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Jacques Reymond.

Jacques Reymond on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Three Bags Full - Eddie McGuire Laughs

Another Sunday and another much dreaded breakfast. The only thing that I insisted on is if that I was going to have to go for breakfast that it was going to have to be somewhere new and supposedly cool like Three Bags Full in Collingwood. I reflected the other week when I vistied Chez Dre that I normally do not partake in breakfast unless I determine that I am going to be a social outcast unless that I partake or of course I need some fundamentals before watching the Cricket all day. Fortunately for me the latter was true on this rainy Sunday and I found myself at Three Bags Full in Collingwood after taking the train from Southbank.

Three Bags Full is situated on the leafy Nicholson Street in the home of the mighty Magpies. Housed within painted brick walls you will find a crack team of professionals servicing primarily hipsters but they seemingly never segregate against us city dwellers let alone the fashionable members from the South. Amusing local art hangs from the whitewashed walls whilst simple beats play from the speakers which are not offensive but actually add to the ambiance whilst hounds bark and babies cry.

It only took ten minutes to secure a communal table. I had not enjoyed a communal table since attending the Hardware Societe, but it gave us an opportunity to blend into the restaurant: one that did not require us to evoke the ghost of Eddie Maguire or even the bet that I lost on the Magpies two years ago with the locals to be able to fit in - we were able to fit in by default.

I ordered the special - Buckwheat crepes with pulled braised lamb shoulder, poached eggs with mushrooms and a mint yoghurt. It seemed like a bold call for a breakfast but it sounded so bold and tasty. I was not disappointed. Oddly everyone else at the communal table also received their respective dishes at the same time that we did and all I could notice was how colourful and appetising that everything looked. After I invaded my poached eggs with my clean fork and watched them bleed over my crepes, consuming the mushrooms with their faux sunshine I knew that I was in for a treat. Matched with the harsh black long black coffee, I knew that my journey by train was worth it.

The service was very efficient and knowing that the other offerings on the menu were very attractive if not tasty judging from what the others at the communal table were saying, I am upset at myself for not attending to Three Bags Full sooner. Sadly my aversion from the train kept me away but that will not be the case in the future when I want to enjoy a breakfast. Hell, I could walk there and it would be worth the sweat.

Although The Hardware Societe and Chez Dre remain close to my heart when I think of places that I can enjoy a Sunday breakfast before the Cricket, Three Bags Full shines through because of the awesome food, coffee and service. Still knowing that all three are on offer on rotation, regardless if the Cricket is on, make me a happy guy - and I am not even a bloke that enjoys breakfast. For those that do, you not only have a choice but are in for a treat.

Three Bags Full, Abbotsford, Melbourne
Three Bags Full
Link to review
Corner of Nicholson St and Mollison St  Abbotsford VIC 3067
(03) 9421 2732
My Rating: 12.75/20
Service: 3.25/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 3.25/5

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Three Bags Full.

Three Bags Full on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Station Hotel (Footscray) - Inclusive

Not to be confused with the Station Hotel in Prahran which incidentally is closing at the end of December 2012, the Station Hotel in Footscray is a magnificent if not random find. I knew it wasn't far away from Costco in Docklands but for whatever reason it wasn't until just the other day that I ventured there for a late lunch.

Looking at the building on the corner of Napier and Hyde Streets you would think that you were in a small country village in England. It looked quaint and nothing like I imagined that I would find in multicultural Footscray of all places.

I had to reference a Psychology textbook when considering the Station Hotel and what I observed after entering. We are all familiar with "locals" that frequent bars and pubs, and in this case, the trendy term can be applied, "gastropub" where locals are "Insider's" and all the others are considered "outsider's" which are in turn highly evocative terms. Insiders are supposed to be "in the know," which sounds positive, but they may also be seen as having an unfair advantage. Outsiders are ambiguous, often being seen as being excluded and negative, but occasionally as having an objectivity or freedom not possessed by people who have a stake in their membership in a class or system. An outside observer of a family or business may be an "outside agitator" but may also make observations and offer good advice because he or she is not so involved in the rewards and punishments of the system. I suppose I am the outside observer of sorts.

Since starting this blog five months ago, I have frequently seen the "Inside/Outside" contrast alive and well in places that I normally would not visit and all too frequently in places that I either like or actually consider myself a local. With the all that in mind, this concept although seemingly valid by looking around the venue, once you dig deeper, chat and listen, I have found it to be one of the few places where you can feel included despite how you are dressed, what you may do for a living (some patrons were on furlough from an office building, others appeared to have been doing roadworks in the morning) or if you are a tourist, hipster, local or even an interested party like me looking for good value, good times and good food. It was refreshing and humbling to say the least.

Having only have heard good things about the steak on offer at this place, I instead opted for the Gippsland lamb rump with pommes boulangeres, local asparagus and sauce Navarin ($38) and I am so pleased that I did. It arrived a perfect medium rare, with a nice charred flavour and cooked simply which I would be so bold as describe as the Heston Blumenthal technique. The lamb had obviously been rested and it was the perfect temperature when served. The asparagus was fresh and crunchy and full of flavour. After my recent trip to Attica, I wondered if this produce was farmed in Ben Shewry's garden as it was so good. My dining companion enjoyed the Penne, spicy bolgnaise, peas and fresh ricotta ($18) and he couldn't stop saying how good it was and was slightly taken back by the large portion size.

I kept myself hydrated with 4 Pines and Mountain Goat Beer whilst enjoying this gastropub experience. There is a small beer garden of sorts that would have made a relaxed place to dine and hang out however on this occasion it was raining so I thought better of it.

If only the Station Hotel was within walking distance to Southbank, I would make it my local. I haven't felt at "home" as much as I did in this pub since I lived in Sydney and made the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel my home away from home. The great thing about the Station Hotel though is this exciting menu where I look forward to returning many times. I was also happy to learn that The Wayside Inn is its sister venue which is within walking distance from me so I am keen to visit it and as you would expect, report back on here soon.

Station Hotel, Footscray, Melbourne
Station Hotel
Link to review
59 Napier Street  Footscray VIC 3011
(03) 9687 2913
My Rating: 13.5/20
Service: 2.75/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 3/5

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like the Station Hotel.

Station Hotel on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Attica - Blown Away

Attica always seems to remain off my radar because I know that I have to take private transport (or good god, public transport) to get to it in Ripponlea from the Melbourne CBD. My twelve minute or thereabouts ride on the train though seemed minuscule really when you think how long it takes to walk to various Melbourne eateries when you factor in the traffic on the footpath in and around town. Not to be hard done by the train though, we presented ourselves early for our 8:30 PM booking.

An enthusiastic yet professional greeting was had upon introducing ourselves at the door. Like with my recent experience at Ezard, we were not given the best table in the house but it was by far from bad. Attica can best be described to have a cosy table configuration in the centre of the restaurant where the best tables in my opinion border the perimeter. I had the pleasure of dining a table on the perimeter however it was the closest to the front door. In the winter, I would hate to experience the blast of cold from the outside as the elements would frequently invade the restaurant when the door was propped open for long periods of time as diners oddly made their exit and had to communicate their platitudes to all and sundry. As it was a warm evening in Melbourne on the night I had the pleasure of dining at this place, I took no notice of this malfeasance if not inconvenience for some.

We announced our intention to enjoy the eight course tasting menu with the matched wines to our server, Michael, who throughout the night remained not only professional but good-humoured and informative.

As the various amuse-bouches, yes, plural, were brought out in rapid fire I took the time to absorb the ambiance. The fit-out of the restaurant, albeit cosy  has not changed much since I last attended two years ago however as I sipped the sparking water that was being refilled almost by magic I mused as to what chef Ben Shewry was trying to communicate with the dark colours, minimal yet aggressive lighting and the configuration of the restaurant in general. I thought of the last play that I saw at the Malthouse Theatre as I pondered the surrounds and the lighting. Strangely though as I watched service deliver food and beverage to other happy diners that were seemingly in various stages of their respective degustation experiences, I thought of this restaurant as a stage of sorts. Not in the bogus sense that the diners were the audience though, but quite the opposite. The kitchen who are armed with a large centrifuge in the background peaks out at times on us diners, or should I say, us actors and actresses in the play which they have written and executed where we are left to our own devices to interpret. The track lighting making the diner the star in a very well orchestrated production that is brought to life by the superior service and support staff. Still in retrospect I suppose the play that Ben has intended is a comedy of sorts where the kitchen and staff are able to be amused at us plebeians grunting, pointing and making sounds that resemble "ew and aw" and in turn reflecting whether or not they really like what is on offer.

The highlight of the amuse-bouche phase for me being the walnut reduction served inside a walnut shell, where the innards of the shell are exposed to you by service. Subterfuge is alive and well at Attica and as you start your journey through the menu, you discover that the walnut especially will prepare your palate for the first dish - Snow Crab, Shiitake, Twelve Basils matched with a Sake from Nagano, Japan - Chikuma Nishiki 'Kizan Sanban' Junmai Ginjo, which is not only high quality Sake, but it brought the Snow Crab to life. Already having the walnut flavours on my palate heightened my appreciation of this dish and my glass of Sake had to be refilled so that I could continue to enjoy it and the residual effects of the crab. This would become a recurring theme as there is a small duration between when you receive your matched alcohol and when your dish appears.

We then were taken to Austria where a 2006 Welitsch 'Ex Vero' was provided to match with the Marron and Fermented Corn that would soon follow. Another excellent dish with a beautiful smell. I would soon learn that the majority of the produce is sourced from gardens outside of the restaurant or at the furthest extreme, Ripponlea Estate. Colourful, crisp and exciting flavours are yielded and for once it was refreshing knowing where all of the ingredients were actually sourced as a diner (or in this case an actor in Ben's play) you really take it for granted when you are at a restaurant usually unless you are made aware, usually inconveniently.

I have seen some lampoon the next dish online, the matter-of-factly called "A simple dish of Potato cooked in the earth it was grown" matched with a 2007 Dario Princic 'Bianco Trebez" from Friuli, Italy. There is nothing silly or pretentious about this dish. The potato is cooked in the earth that it was grown in and I will be so bold as to say it was the best potato that I have ever had. I sliced it thinly whilst I used my tongue to compress it against the roof of my mouth where it soaked up the residual evidence of the wine as I consumed what was on offer and had another glass whilst I ruminated this technique. If Coles had not only potatoes but the actual dirt for sale, I would buy it and use it to prepare them. The dish and the preparation technique is quite exciting, if not intriguing.

Ben's wicked garden must be thriving as the next dish, a zesty offering of Cucumbers, Sauce of Burnet and Dried River Trout was presented along with a sample of the 2011 Gaia "Thalassitis" Assyriko from Santorini, Greece. My biggest complaint when I left the Press Club was that the wine man never educated my clever mate and I about the few Greek wines that were on offer so up until this point I never had a clear appreciation of anything from Greece as the wine had never been effectively marketed to me - anywhere really. I found it queer yet amusing that Banjo Harris Plane choose a Greek wine of all things to match with this produce-intensive dish however after having the wine introduced and then tasting it with the produce, I really understood and was grateful for the pair. The wine certainly highlighted the bold yet crisp taste of the crunchy and fresh cucumbers but the sauce is what matched well and nothing overwhelmed the dried trout but in fact only highlighted its simple and clean taste. This was one of the stand-out dishes of the night and it would not have been the case if the wine match was not so effective.

The King George Whiting in Paperbark followed along with 2010 Yeringberg Marsanne/Rousanne from our own Yarra Valley. The fish came wrapped in bark and when it was exposed a myriad of smells were released and my senses were piqued. I separated the fish with my fork slowly and fed myself at a snails pace whilst I enjoyed the wine attempting to drag this experience out as long as I could. I would spent at least 15 minutes eating the fish a few grams at a time and immersed myself in the smells of the food and beverage - a beautiful dish which challenged and enlightened me.

When I stopped my preoccupation with sights, tastes and smells and when the pleasant conversation took an intermission I heard KC & The Sunshine Band playing "Get Down Tonight" which I thought was fitting. Not since I was last at Virginia Plain did I find a background soundtrack so appropriate but yet not intrusive at all as it took a number of courses before I would even notice it. The next song was "Porcelain" by Moby which eased me into the most exciting dish that I have had in years.

Flinders Island Wallaby, Bunya Pine and Ground Berry. Who would have thought? I knew Shannon Bennett was serving Wallaby on occasion at Vue de Monde however this was the first time that I experienced the beast. Matched with an Isole e Olena "Cepparello" from Tuscany, I savoured small tastes and would ultimately need my wine glass refreshed once more to finish this bold course. When you are seated you are informed that Wallaby is on the menu and the particular nuances involved with bringing it from Flinders Island to your plate. Some people it would seem are offended by this dish or have some sort of preconceived notion about it. All I can say it is bloody (sic) amazing and it is now one of my favourite dishes that I have ever had.

After a bit of a break, proceedings continued with Native Fruits of Australia matched with a Maidenii Vermouth 'Aperitif' from Bendigo. It was very refreshing and invigorating, yet another testament to Ben's respect for produce and the way that it is grown, prepared and presented.

The aptly named "Plight of the Bees" followed, which is a multi-layered dessert where honey is used as the primary ingredient however once all the layers are merged across your palate, when paired with the 2009 Gunderlock 'Nackenheim Rothenberg' Auslese Goldkap, it was an orgy of flavours that probably can be classed as my favourite dessert that I have ever had. I am not a big dessert person however this simply blew my away.

I did not want the experience to end so I requested more wine and also suggested that if the kitchen had anything that they were experimenting with that they could part with, we were happy to try it. Michael delivered an "Afghan" which looked like a bowl of breakfast cereal, but in fact was another dessert that contained a myriad of sweet sensations. I recently reflected after I visited Chez Dre that I do not normally eat breakfast however if this was on offer every day, it wouldn't matter if I used a spoon, my fingers or my tongue, it would end up in my stomach. Of course on the flip-side after a while my stomach would be engorged but knowing that I would have to step up the frequency of my visits to the gym to compensate is a small price to pay for this delight.

Much to my surprise, there was another twist in the play. The finale turned out to be Pukeko eggs served in a nest. Not real eggs from the purple Swamphen of New Zealand, but white chocolate egg shells complemented with brown spots to mimic the appearance of the real thing which are filled with salted caramel. You are also provided an information sheet about the Pukeko which I thought was an interesting and insightful touch as it provided a further insight to the psychology of Ben Shewry, who is a native of New Zealand.

The last meal that I reference as being the "best" that I have had was enjoyed at Vue de Monde in December 2007. The awesome degustation experience that I just wrote about comes very close to usurping Vue de Monde for its top stop in my humble opinion and it will at least be remembered for years to come. Fortunately for me I can and will come back regularly to now that I live in Melbourne and this place will consistently be referred to as one my "favourites" often.

Attica is ranked #63 on the current San Pelligrino World Restaurant rankings, has been awarded three chefs hats by The Age and for what it is worth, is ranked #1 on my list of restaurants that I have reviewed to date on this blog. 

Attica, Ripponlea, Melbourne
Link to review
74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea, VIC 3185
(03) 9530 0111
My Rating: 17.5/20
Service: 4.5/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 5/5
Value For Money: 4/5

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 84% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Attica.

Attica on Urbanspoon