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