Thursday, 9 August 2012

Gin Palace - Down The Rabbit Hole

Gin Palace Russell Street Melbourne
Look for this sign over the big red
doors on Russell Lane
The first time I visited Melbourne as an adult a decade ago, it was suggested that I drink at the Gin Palace. It saddens me that I can not remember the rogue that recommended this bar so that I could thank him now and return the favour. This is the bar that by far I have frequented the most in Melbourne, have the most poignant memories from, has been the site of immeasurable good times and caused a hangover or two as a by-product of exchanging money for gin-based alcoholic beverages and a martini from time-to-time.

Unlike the Croft Institute, the journey to Gin Palace is rather simple. It is next to Sarti on Russell Place off of Little Collins Street. You can't miss the big red doors which will lead you down the rabbit hole into a darker world with half hidden alcoves, comfortable furniture, nooks and crannies where very attentive table service will encourage you relax, converse and drink some very professional prepared cocktails, my favourite being the Winston Churchill Martini. This boozer is not all about gin-based drinks and Martinis though. Dusty bottles of wine are gaoled in the walls, locked away and gather dust just waiting for you to break them free. The wine list is very special however it is not often that I see anyone drinking it at this place as there is a time and place for everything. Unique beers are on offer and the most memorable is curiously named Vergina.

When the music is on, it never overwhelms and it never distracts from the conversation at hand. Whether it is Thursday at 4:00 PM or Friday at 1:00 AM, the service remains consistently efficient and professional. Many times I have encouraged the bar team just to make my party whatever they are in the mood to make, even to experiment at times, and they have never disappointed. I find it relaxing to be able to leave the decisions to the bar where the product is ultimately ferried out to you on a silver tray.

Some places have to be experienced in person. It is hard to articulate a decade of good times experienced in this alternate world so you will have to take my word that it is a wonderful place and try it for yourself. I am told that the chicken sandwich is to die for late in the evening however I have not tried it and frankly I never knew it existed, so there is something new to look forward to when I visit late in the evening or early in the morning, next time around.

Gin Palace, Melbourne

Gin Palace
Link to review
10 Russell Place Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 0533
My Rating: 16/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 4/5
Comment: Try the Winston Churchill Martini

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

As of this writing, 88% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like this place.

Gin Palace on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Maedaya - Japanese Whispers in Richmond

After a particularly long spell at Der Raum, I am not sure if their bar team was trying to get rid of us because we were doing irreputable damage to their catalogue of spirits, but they recommended that we visit either Maedaya or Fonda for some quality food. Being adventurous, and a bit over Mexican food at the time (shocking but true) we wandered the road like prostitutes in the night over to Bridge Street in Richmond with an intention to try a compilation of a sake bar and yakitori grill in what the Japanese would call an "izakaya" instead of a restaurant. 

Maedaya was packed and when the sonic boom of noise, good cheer and greetings exploded when I opened the door, I thought I was at a One Direction concert instead of The Cure, but after my senses regulated, I realised there was some order in the chaos and it was just thirst after the 1km walk from Der Raum on Swan Street that caused me to feel disoriented. Although the very helpful and attentive staff were not able to seat us immediately for foodstuffs we were quickly provided drinks and in my case I opted for a can of sake. Yes, a can, which is something that I have never had. I could not knock it back as quickly as a Cherry Coke, but it was surprisingly sweat and easy to drink and very authentic. I suppose most things would have been after an extended session at Der Raum in retrospect, but that is not the point. I knew that I had found a winner. I never thought about drinking sake out of a can. To me it was like drinking wine out of a can so after I got out of my comfort zone and bias, it went down easily and thankfully.

Surviving the blast of cold every time the door opened was made easy by the constant flow of sake and an environment that just made you happy and want to socialise. After fifteen short minutes, we were escorted to our table and a very long laundry list of food was presented. It wasn't as simple as the menus of Japanese food that all looked the same in Lost In Translation but a comprehensive bible of sorts. There is no sushi or sashimi, but items that originate on the grill (yakitori) or in the kitchen directly. You are encouraged to have many small servings of different things. There were no awkward moments when service appeared with food, would look at you whilst you have a full mouth or talking and are unaware that there is no longer any real estate on the table to place the many dishes that you are bound to order. Everyone was very efficient (I mean very!) and professional.

Sake master and owner Toshi Maeda (Maedaya is translated as "House of Maeda") certainly knows his product and I left the experience a better and more informed person albeit a bit pissed. Not having spent much time eating in an izakaya, it really made my previous experiences elsewhere feel substandard and really feeling ripped off. This high quality, fun and professional experience was very inexpensive in comparison and upon seeing the bill, I nearly fell off my chair in shock. It certainly wasn't from indulging in the sake since I still remember what great value for money it is, which is probably the greatest value for money experience that I have found since moving to Melbourne. If I had not polished off the sake, the restaurant will happily store it for you and make it available on your next visit. Now that is what I call service.

Kampai to Maedaya!

Maedaya, Richmond

Link to review
400 Bridge Road  Richmond VIC 3121
(03)9428 3918
No web site
My Rating: 15/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 4.5/5
Comment: Great vibe and excellent value for money

Twitter: @epicurean3006
hate mail or love letters: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, a whopping 89% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked Maedaya. I am certainly one of them.

Maedaya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Bistro Guillaume - Monarchy and Empire

ABC1 had interesting programming last night. The usual unbalanced reporting on the 7:30 Report was expected. Four Corners had a very interesting story on the corruption in the horse racing industry where Tony Mokbel seemingly played a starring role. Q&A was more irritating than usual. The audience almost appeared militant and the breakdown included the following recognised members: ALP 28%, Coalition 43%, Greens 15%. This adds up to 84%. Can one assume that 16% of the audience members were Katter's Australian Party or no longer aligned? One of the panellists, Debbie Kilroy, purports to be a prisoner's rights advocate and was quite vocal with respect to Campbell Newman making various cuts to various programmes. Strangely in 2007 she was admitted by the Supreme Court of Queensland to practice law despite being imprisioned for drug trafficking in 1989 for six years. I was always under the impression that to be admitted to practice law that you had to be of good character. I know of one person who was afraid to urinate behind a tree in Brisbane after leaving a pub for fear of being collected by the coppers and deemed one of bad character. As he was a law student, he believed having a conviction like that would preclude him from practising law. Certainly getting caught urinating behind a tree can not be as bad as drug trafficking but as learned when I lived in Brisbane for a while, it is indeed an interesting place and logic does not really apply.

Bistro Guillaume, located in Southbank at the Crown Casino had been on my list of places to try for some time. I have a great amount of respect for Guillaume Brahimi as a person and find him one of the more down to earth figures in the world of the celebrity chef. I met him at last year's Rockpool Winter Truffle Dinner and enjoyed a conversation with him. He did not exude pretension like some in the industry and he not only took an interest in what I do (which is hard to describe on the best of days even when not under the influence of good wine) however he is both interesting and quite savoir-faire. After dining at his flagship restaurant in Sydney a few times, I was very interested to see how he translated the winning formula, which included a view of Sydney Harbour into a bistro-like setting at the Crown Casino which overlooks the dirty Yarra River.

The first thing you will notice about Bistro Guillaume is the decor. Even a cursory glance into the place as you wander past will leave you with a mad desire to visit. It certainly is not revolutionary or stately but almost whimsical with its lime green and white colours. I never thought that I was in Paris, but I did like the ambience. It made me want to sit down, have pleasant conversation and just hang out. A bistro should engage a customer in such a way, so I give Guillaume some bonus points for psychologically manipulating me in a positive way.

I took advantage of the lunch special where you can enjoy three courses for $55. The highlight of these courses was the steak tartare. It wasn't the best tartare that I have ever (Neil Perry's offering at Rockpool Bar & Grill is currently my favourite) but it does come in with a high distinction. The rack of lamb met expectations but the highlight oddly enough was the zucchini flower that accompanied it. I chose cheese for the dessert course and although it was not really high quality, it complemented the experience and encouraged conversation and assisted in making the afternoon enjoyable.

Upon sitting down, the service was very attentive. A couple of glasses of Mumm champagne was ordered for $20/glass. It started proceedings until a bottle of wine could be liberated from their stock and enjoyed with the food. Funnily enough, the champagne was served in Mumm glasses. The following day I purchased a Costco membership. The same bottle of Mumm, that strangely came packaged with two Mumm branded champagne flutes sold at Costco for $44. Quite a healthy mark-up at the restaurant.

As the dining experienced progressed, service did not remain as enthusiastic as when we started. We were abandoned for periods and both our sparking water and wine glasses went dry at various points. It never got to the point where we were going to dehydrate or became annoyed but it was curious.

I certainly look forward to returning to Bistro Guillaume and trying the roasted chicken with paris mash. I hear it is great. I certainly want to gorge myself with more steak tartare however I may drink one of my bottles of Mumm and a bottle of San Pelligrino that was sourced from Costco before walking over just for financial relief.

Bistro Guillaume, Crown Casino

Bistro Guillaume
Link to review
Crown Casino, Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9292 4751
My Rating: 14/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Try the speciality chicken

I still can be found on twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail is: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
I registered a domain, it should be easier to remember:

As of this writing, only 76% of the reviewers like Bistro Guillaume on Urbanspoon.

Bistro Guillaume on Urbanspoon

Monday, 6 August 2012

Ponyfish Island Bar - A Pontoon In The Yarra

Under the pedestrian walkway that connects Southbank to Flinders Street Station there is a staircase that you follow down to a pontoon that wraps around a bridge pylon that is known as the Ponyfish Island Bar. It certainly can not be mistaken as something that belongs in the Whitsundays, but I think it is an interesting concept. It is easily found if you follow the music when on the footbridge.

Being in such a convenient location attracts the corporate drinkers after 5:00 PM weekdays and especially on Friday night, weather and cold be damned, it doesn't matter, the punters flock here. The tourists and shoppers seem to like it on the weekend. The bar is rather simple, much like the decorations and furnishings. I have never been enticed to languish here for hours because the majority of the seating involves you perching on a wooden crate. My arse is not that doughy so it can become uncomfortable during an extended session.

When I last visited, watching the ferries putter up and down the dirty Yarra, I felt conflicted.. When it is raining, I can not guarantee you will not get wet. It may feel cold in Southbank when you are walking around but it seems much colder when you are sitting on a crate and enjoying a Carlton Draught in a plastic glass or a muddled wine from the cash only bar that does not offer table service.

With all of the options in the area, Ponyfish has an edge because it is different. It is the only place where you can eat, drink, smoke, laugh and listen to music on an island outside in the Melbourne CBD and is very convenient to meet people at. There are plenty of other places in the area that include table service, have comfortable seats and are the same price along the Southbank Promenade though, so mood and weather will dictate frequenting this place most of the time. Speaking of moods, when I fancy a couple of beers and I am in transit across the Yarra River, I do stop at this place but again, a long session does become an uncomfortable and sometimes wet chore. As it warms up, this place will be a more attractive venue, at least for me, however at the price you pay for a beer, you would expect for it to be served in a proper glass and not a plastic one. The food is pretty cheap and cheerful. The staff are good fun. The views are cool and the people that converge here tend to be happy, which really for me is what attending a bar is all about.

Ponyfish Island Bar, Southbank

Ponyfish Island Bar
Link to review
Southgate Pedestrian Bridge  Melbourne VIC 3006
0426 501 857
My Rating: 10.5/20
Service: 1/5 (bar service only)
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: They do a good bbq

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

At the time of this blog post, 87% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like this place.

Ponyfish Island on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Vineyard - The Human Zoo Known as St Kilda

vineyard restaurant st kilda
Photo courtesy of  Gary Medlicott, The Age
After reviewing my earlier post on The Den and The Atlantic Oyster Bar, I have to apologise as I could have done much better. I woke up with a bad hangover and very tired and if it wasn't for an alarm that was set I would probably have slept until the sun set today. I still have fuzzy memories of cleaning up my kitchen at 3:00 AM with a glass of Absolute Vodka, Absolute Vanilla and Chambord (so classy I know) as John Cusack was holding an old ghetto blaster over his head with Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" playing in Say Anything in all hours of the morning. With such quality media, I am not surprised that I was motivated to clean, do laundry and act like a pork chop in the wee hours and I am sure that it is understandable also.

The Vineyard on Acland Street in St Kilda is a great place to "hang out" and watch the human traffic that usually resembles a procession to the cemetery which ironically is not far away. Hipsters, bogans, alternative types, bikies, goths and emos all seem to converge at this place and strangely enough, appear happy as they languish outside braving the four seasons in one day, smoking fags and being merry. I have found a trip to St Kilda is not complete unless you dine and sit outside at The Vineyard, which certainly will fill a void in your life if you enjoy watching people that are unconventional. When I was a tourist in Melbourne and used to call Circa my favourite restaurant, I would frequently use The Vineyard as a breakfast location as it is a short stroll from The Prince and is a recommended venue if you are in the area.

Dining and drinking outside comes at a price. When I think of value for money, the term is completely lost on this place. I recently enjoyed a bottle of Melbourne Bitter and a pair of wagyu mini-hamburgers for around $28. The hamburgers satisfied my hunger but I was bemused by the mushroom gravy that was added. I have never had mushroom gravy (or a soup perhaps) added to a patty that purports to be wagyu and I am sure never will again, but honestly you really do not come here for the food or service. The human traffic both in and outside of this place will leave you amused for ages and you may even find it acceptable to get rained on since the drama that plays out is certainly more interesting then anything that happens in Summer Bay or on Ramsey Street.

I find it interesting that in 2006, a man threatened to burn the restaurant down. After being ejected from The Vineyard, he went to a service station where he bought a fuel can, filled it with petrol and returned to the restaurant where he tried to ignite the fuel. Security apprehended the man and the place did not catch fire. This is just some of the sordid trivia that is attached to this place and I am confident if you sat outside long enough you would witness many interesting things. There seems to be an overarching theme involving restaurant arson in Melbourne. First it was The Swagman and later Jamie Oliver's Fifteen was torched. Fortunately The Vineyard survived to feed and amuse the masses and hopefully it will continue to for decades to come.

Be prepared to start a tab or pay as you go though if you do sit outside as there seems to be a problem with people ordering, eating and then fleeing. The old juvenile concept of "dine and ditch" seems to have affected the bottom line of The Vineyard, so now you must excuse the inconvenience. I think it is a great policy though as you are forced to think about your spending which can quickly go out of control if you are not careful.

This is a place you come to meet mates, have a laugh, have a few drinks, listen to music, have "a feed" and watch the world go by. If you want to take service or food seriously, I would encourage you to go elsewhere however what you get is on par with expectations but what I promise, you will have fun.

The Vineyard Restaurant, Acland Street, St Kilda

The Vineyard
Link to review
71A Acland Street  St Kilda VIC 3182
(03)9534 1942
My Rating: 10/20
Service: 2/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 3/5
Value For Money: 2/5
Comment: Pay first if you sit outside

Twitter: @epicurean3006 
I answer e-mails and appreciate suggestions, recommendations or tips if you send them to epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

Only 67% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked this place at the time of this post. Sad but true.

The Vineyard on Urbanspoon

The Den - One of Inequity

After the awesome long lunch last Sunday at the Bohemian and still being in the zone after an extended session at other venues around Southbank, I felt the need for oysters and vodka.The first place that I thought of attending was the Oyster Bar at The Atlantic. Being in a malleable mood, I also wanted to experience what The Den had on offer after seeing it advertised so often by woman that possesses a head that resembles a fish (literally) in the venue's advertising.

The service in the Oyster Bar is just as professional as what you will find in the restaurant and is consistent with what I described in a previous post when I visited the restaurant which was surprising. I was expecting the service not to be as professional since you are in the bar area but that was not the case. After observing another table consume a seafood platter, I was both jealous and frothing at the mouth as it looked substantial and beautiful. My overwhelming desire for oysters did take a hold in the end though. What I did find curious is that you must order three of the same type of oyster where in the restaurant I believe you are only constrained to having to order two from the same region.

Not being content to rest on my laurels, I wanted to explore what was on offer at the bottom of the staircase. I paid the bill and with the epicurean emo in tow, we stumbled down the stairs like thieves in the night into The Den.

I had never seen a photo of the bar and I did have a preconceived notion of what it would be like since we were in Crown Tower of all places. What I found was completely opposite to what I expected. The Den is set up like a stately study, a place that you would find in a mansion in Toorak or the set of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. It was a pity that I did not spot Nicole Kidman sipping a wine in the corner as the table was occupied by hipsters sharing a glass of Coca Cola as they waited for their table to be made available in the upstairs restaurant sadly.

The barman proved to be quite knowledgeable and very amusing. He recanted tall tales as he poured glasses of 666 vodka. It was not only comfortable but convenient to do our duty by holding up our end of the bar whilst relaxing in a place that defied expectations.

There are hundreds of places that you can drink in the area. You can not compare and contrast the quality of the product as that remains constant, but it is easy to segregate different levels of service. Like with the Oyster Bar and the restaurant upstairs, the service in The Den, remains constantly professional, efficient and amusing when required. Besides The Waiting Room, I can not think of a place that affords the customer this type of service in Crown or the general area for that matter.

Like with the restaurant and the Oyster Bar, quality and service comes at a price, but if you are looking for a relaxed time out and away from the madness of the casino, The Den can not be beat. I am looking forward to returning on a Thursday or Friday night to hear the piano being played. It just seems like the right thing to do.

The Den at Atlantic, Crown Casino
The Den at The Atlantic
Link to review
Under "The Atlantic", Crown Casino
(03) 9698 8888
My Rating: 16/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: Great list of spirits and love the decor

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