Saturday, 6 October 2012

A Stub: The Cricketers Arms Hotel in Port Melbourne

As I need to leave for the airport shortly, I thought I would do a quick post about somewhere that I found recently where it doesn't seem appropriate to compose the same amount of prose that you would find in the first chapter of a Charles Dickens novel - like you will find in my other blog posts.

After my visit to NSHRY the other week, I found myself staggering into The Cricketers Arms Hotel in Port Melbourne. It is truly a hole in a wall, found on Cruikshank Street, which is a residential area. Locals and old timers prop up the bar. The hounds race on Sky however there are no TAB facilities. Everyone seems to know everyone else. We stumbled in to this place on the walk back to the CBD and just wanted one beer, which seemed like a prerequisite for the long walk back. However if I did not go on the hunt for the toilet, I would never have come across the beer garden out back.

What a great outdoor area. There is a bar outside, televisions and ample room for about 100 people. Two spits were working away. One had a pig and the other a lamb twirling about, being cooked for the evening festivities. A plate of the respective beast is $15 and a roll is $7.50. I wanted to hold out for a roll, which required about four more beers before it was served. It was great and worth chilling out outside on the balmy spring evening (which was the only one so far this season) having pleasant conversation and just enjoying life.

The lesson learned though is to get in the queue early to get your allocation of the beast otherwise the wait is pretty long as my mate found out.

I would recommend visiting this hole in the wall if you are in the area. It was a fun and relaxing experience.

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

When I made this post originally, 88% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked The Cricketers Arms Hotel.

Cricketer's Arms Hotel on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 October 2012

Stokehouse - The Relaxing Long Lunch Lives

I had been holding off returning to Stokehouse in St Kilda as I wanted my visit to coincide with the first hot day of the season. Knowing that temperate weather was predicted by David Brown since last Sunday, it is with that intelligence in mind, I made a booking and intended to try to achieve the elusive mid-week relaxing lunch. Stokehouse is a Melbourne institution when it comes to the relaxing lunch and after my accelerated dinner at Nobu earlier in the week, I really wanted to truly languish around and enjoy the afternoon.

The ground floor of the restaurant is currently being renovated so there was no problem with securing a table "upstairs" which is the place to be normally. We were greeted at reception and were asked if we wanted to enjoy a drink on the balcony before sitting at our nominated table next to the window. "But of course!" I proclaimed and we were led outside and glasses of Veuve Cliquot soon arrived. Sitting in the sun watching the rogues of the day traverse the St Kilda Promenade and people frolic on the beach evoked a sense of calm in me. I thought then and there that I was truly relaxed, which is probably the first time I have had that feeling all year.

After a second glass of champagne on the balcony, we retired to our table. It was by the window so were able to continue to watch the comings and goings on the promenade and also the beach. Not wanting to make any serious decisions, we ordered six freshly shucked oysters from Tasmania with white gazpacho dressing and two serves of foie gras with Reisling jelly, walnuts on gingerbread toast. The oysters were medium sized and the dressing complimented them well. The gazpacho was the first dressing in a while that I thought "worked" well with oysters as normally I choose to have them natural. The foie gras with the jelly and walnuts on the gingerbread toast had to be the most tastefully presented and unique pairings of taste that I have ever had with a foie gras dish. I was ready to put the menu aside knowing that I could just eat this splendid foie gras all day.

The ambiance oddly made me think of being on Hamilton Island. I am not sure why as the upstairs doesn't remind me of any restaurants there per se but I think it was because of the weather and actually seeing water whilst eating, which is a rare feat in Melbourne, that I was transported elsewhere. The sommelier, Lincoln, introduced himself and we had a good chat about wine. I took him up on his recommendation to match our next dish, the seared Atlantic scallops with morcilla sausage and brioche crumb, parship and baby cress. I normally shy away from scallops in restaurants since they are rarely prepared properly, but I took a gamble and it paid off. Perfection. I ended up cutting the scallops into very small pieces just so I could not only enjoy them longer but continue to explore the compliment of them with the Pinot Gris on my palate. To finish the wine, we ordered Kingfish ceviche, mandarin, pistachio and cucumber salad with horseradish and cauliflower cream. The kingfish and mandarin melded nicely together and further enhanced the Pinot Gris - or perhaps it is the other way around. I certainly felt impressed at the conclusion of my adventure with the entrees.

Lincoln returned and we advised him that we were thinking of continuing on with the Rabbit leg ravioli, chestnut cream, mancetta, brussel sprouts, provolone and mustard sauce. We also talked about mains, and given that I was interested in the lamb rack, he suggested we pair these with a Gamay. For me, besides the foie gras earlier in the day, the Rabbit leg ravioli turned out to be the highlight of the experience as when matched with the Gamay it was magical. Not taking away from the beauty of the three point lamb rack and confit shoulder, pepperonata, Ortiz achoivies and kohl rabi puree, as it was great and prepared a perfect medium rare.

After retiring to the balcony again to drink wine after the lamb rack was devoured, we were informed that dessert service was going to end soon. It was nearly 4:00 PM and I was surprised that the 3.5 hours that we had been there had gone so fast. We returned to our table and after consulting the dessert menu, we ordered "The Bombe" which was not only visually stunning but also delicious. It was sweet without being excessively sweet and given there is ice cream in the centre of the dish, it complemented not only the warm day but also wrapped up everything that we had with a burst of flavours that cleansed the palate.

The relaxing lunch does exist and it can be found at Stokehouse. It certainly is one Melbourne institution that I will be making my own on hot blustery days this spring and summer and I suspect for many more years to come.

Stokehouse, St Kilda
Link to review
30 Jacka Boulevard  St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 9525 5555
My Rating: 16/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: Fois gras + rabbit ravioli = win

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

When I made this post originally, 77% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked Stokehouse.

Stokehouse (Upstairs) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 4 October 2012

MoVida - Amazing

Yesterday I found that I have a fair amount in common with the pure bred heritage Iberico pig which feeds on acorns, which is known as "bellota" during the peak fattening period. As I hammered my way through the MoVida menu, which included 50 grams of the legendary Carrasco Jamon Ibericode Bellota that literally brought tears to my eyes because it was so damned good, I could feel my stomach engorging at the same rate that credit card balance is expanding as of late.

MoVida greeted us and were happy to accommodate two hungry and thirsty blokes with no booking. It wasn't long until we were reviewing both the wine and food lists after being seated by the friendly staff. I had to take a pragmatic approach to the list of tapas and raciones since everything looked amazing on paper so I was bold and ordered two of everything on the tapas menu. That was nine dishes. I also requested the special celery and white anchovy soup along with the aforementioned 50 grams of Jamon. It took a bottle of Moritz lager for me to read through the wine menu and decide on a bottle of 2008 Lanzaga Tempranilli Rioja ($98) which would also be consumed quickly and then ordered again to finish off two servings of Bistec Tartar De Wagyu.

Everything that was ordered was divine. Starting with the Anchoa ($4.50 each) with is a hand-fillet anchovy on a crouton with smoked tomato sorbet took to me to my happy place. The wine flowed as dishes continued to be presented. The Atun ($4.00 each) of the sashimi grade Bincho tuna with Piquillo pepper followed. This dish was just as good as anything that I had at Nobu. I was afraid that the Tempranillo would overpower the fish but it didn't. The Mejillone En Escabache ($4.00 each) was a surprise as the pickled Spring Bay mussel with carrot and onions was concealed under a pastry that was dressed with squid ink to make it look like a shell. It was so delicate and your senses are confused when you break the pastry and enjoy it along with the mussel. The squid ink certainly complements the mussel, carrot and onions and the wine for that matter. The Caballa Ahumado ($5.50 each) is presented in small coffin-like vessels and when the lid is removed, you can't help sticking your face in the smoke and inhaling as much of the smell that you can. Once the smoke clears and you come down off of your high, you will see the beautifully presented house cold smoked Spanish mackeral and pine nut gazpacho sorbet. Simply stunning. My senses were in overdrive trying to process the experience as a whole.

Music played in the background and it complemented the experience. The ambiance made me feel like I was in Spain in a bygone era after Franco died. The atmosphere was lively and as I got stuck in to the second bottle of Lanzaga, the Air Baguette ($4.00 each) arrived. It is 9+ score Wagyu with air baguette and horseradish. It certainly complimented the Tempranillo. The Alcachofa ($4.00 each) stunned me as it was a fusion of tastes that most resembled a potato however finely balanced to almost conceal the fact that it is in fact a roast Jerusalem artichoke with crisp onions. I do enjoy it when the restaurant can tease me in such a way.

The Gamba En Sal (4.00 each) followed which is a salt baked South Australian prawn. When I shelled it, the bits of salt went flying playfully over my dining companion and the bar and I laughed like a madman, probably a bit like Franco back in his day. I certainly was having fun as I consumed the Oreja ($3.50 each) which is crispy pig's ear with compressed apple. You would never know it is the ear of the pig as it is finely diced. Some people think the Spanish eat the ear as a whole like you would with a tortilla chip, but that is not the case but the thought does amuse me. We finished the tapas courses by enjoying the Pollo Escabache Al Miguel ($4.50 each) which for me was one of the highlights of this culinary masterpiece. Spiced chicken Escabache tapa on crisp crouton. This chicken was special and makes my pitiful attempts at making it at home even cause me now to hang my head in shame as I write this.

As there was more wine left in the second bottle, we each ordered Bistec Tartar De Wagyu ($18.50 each) which is the spicy steak tartare of wagyu beef. It was a great way to end my raciones experience however I would have liked it to be a bit spicier however that is just a personal preference.

The wine and experience as a whole finished with a plate of cheeses. Three hours went by quickly and I enjoyed everything - and I mean everything that MoVida had to offer. The highlight was the Jamon and the runner-ups were the Pollo Escabache Al Miguel and the Caballa Ahumado, although it is really hard to say that one dish was just more amazing then the other fantastic dishes. This is truly the best tapas that I have had in my life and it would have to be the best in this country.

Movida, Hosier Lane, Melbourne
Link to review
1 Hosier Lane  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9663 3038
My Rating: 16.5/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 4/5
Comment: Jamon Iberico. Enough said.

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

When I made this post originally, 84% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked MoVida also.

MoVida Bar de Tapas on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Nobu - From Malibu to Melbourne

When part owner Robert De Niro quietly slipped into the country earlier in the year and opened Nobu at Crown in Perth, there were effectively 25 Nobu Restaurants around the world. Most people do not realise the size of the Nobu Matsuhisa juggernaut and if you factor in his non-Nobu restaurants, cookbooks and other merchandise, his net worth is in the same realm as that of Gordon Ramsay. Perhaps because Nobu isn't seemingly everywhere shouting, swearing and playing out his personal life in the tabloids that the masses in Australia haven't bothered much with his "new style" Japanese cuisine.

My first experience at Nobu was in Malibu, California. The restaurant is small, dark and intimate. During the meal, my mate pointed out that Alicia Silverstone was at the table next to us. I glanced at her. She glanced at me. I then returned to the age old practice of dropping slivers of yellowtail down my gullet. It was a magical night.

Flash forward to 2007 when Nobu opened at the Crown Melbourne. I could barely contain my excitement. It was not long before I had made a booking and fled Sydney, frothing at the mouth in anticipation. Perhaps it was because I romanticised my experience at Nobu Malibu or was clutching to memories of a bygone era, but what I found was completely different than what I expected.

Over the last five years, I can count the amount of times that I have returned to Nobu Melbourne on one hand. Once I had planned to eat there after a very long relaxing afternoon at Walter's Wine Bar but I was too intoxicated and instead opted to visit Maccas. There was another failed attempt to enjoy a relaxing lunch there a few months ago however I arrived too late for service and instead retreated to the Meat & Wine Co. However I did finally get my act together recently, made a dinner booking for two and only enjoyed three beverages from The Den before presenting myself 45 minutes early for my reservation at the restaurant.

We were escorted to seats at the bar by a very attractive and vivacious hostess and informed that our table would be ready shortly. I stated that there was no rush especially since we were so early and I was confident that the barman would look after us. After walking 20 metres from The Den to Nobu, we had developed quite a thirst, so a carafe of Hokusetsu Daiginjo cold sake was ordered and delivered in hollowed out piece of bamboo.

Later we were led downstairs to our table by yet another attractive hostess. This is where the experience becomes conflicting. Nobu Malibu was dark and intimate. Downstairs at Nobu Melbourne is a larger busy room that can get loud and it isn't just the patrons that one must contend with that creates the noise. Strangely they play music through wall mounted speakers and at times you feel like you have to talk over the tunes which doesn't nicely integrate into the ambiance. It works well at Izakaya Den but it serves as an annoyance here. This is what I remembered primarily after my first visit in 2007 and things have not changed as of this writing. With such beautiful and sometimes delicate food, I find the ambiance a bit of a turn off and it distracts from the great fish.

On my last visit I experienced a nine course set degustation menu and the restaurant managed to present all of the courses to us within one hour. Although I left full, after paying the bill I thought that it was not a relaxing experience and felt very rushed. I was looking forward to ordering individual items this time around with the hope that the routine would be drawn out a bit.

The first dish that was delivered was the Tuna Tatake with Tozasu. It looked and tasted great. I thought it was a perfect start and was ready to forgive them for playing the music as because the dining room was not packed, it was not that loud. Like magic, as soon as the six pieces of tuna were devoured, one of the two Nobu signature dishes, Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapenos arrived. It was truly a work of art and polarising tastes fought to be noticed in my mouth. I wanted to lick the plate clean however at this point I still had not drank enough sake to begin acting like a fool.

After finishing the amazing Yellowtail, a minute later the Sashimi Tacos arrived. There were four mini tacos, each filled with a different variant of sashimi: yellowtail, lobster, crab and salmon. Sadly the taco shell overwhelms the taste of the fish and you are left wondering what it is you ate after adding some of the salsa that was provided. I really wanted to like this dish because of my love affair with Mexican fish tacos, but I just couldn't.

Before taking on the last three highly anticipated dishes, we enjoyed a Nobu Shooter of Uni, which was delightful. The most expensive ($45) cold dish, the Toro Tartare with Wasabi, Soy and Cavier then arrived. This dish, like all of the others was presented beautifully. The first taste transports you to a happy place where thoughts of gridlock, social media, sin and vice literally disappear from your being as you savour this delectable tartare. As it is delivered in a small bowl of soy, to enjoy the last remaining morsels you are forced to be rude and drink from the bowl, or should I say slurp up the last bits up like a heathen. Sometimes being rude and exhibiting a table manner related crime is acceptable and in the case of this dish, it really is.

The Swordfish with Grape Spicy Shiso Ponzu then arrived. I looked at my watch and only 45 minutes had lapsed since we sat down. Once again, I started feeling rushed but then again, I could not wait to start deconstructing the last of the cold dishes that we ordered. This was the best presented dish and if there was ever one that I wanted to take a photo of and post on this blog, it would be this one. Another stunning dish, both visually and on your palette. You are left wanting more.

There are two "signature" Nobu dishes. The first being the aforementioned Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalepeno. The other is the only warm dish that we ordered, the Black Cod Miso. Although it is not visually stunning, the fish literally melts in your mouth and resembles dealing with soft butter in a hot pan. It was perfect.

Not wanting to leave, we ordered some sushi and after being informed at 9:45 PM that the kitchen was closing, decided to pull up stumps. In the end, the experience lasted for 90 minutes downstairs in the restaurant, which was still a bit abbreviated and I still felt rushed. At one point the empty Uni shooter glasses, the dish that used to have the Toro Tartare and the Black Cod Miso adourned our table as our offerings were coming out fast and furious.

Wonderful food is let down by the ambiance and for me the big time rush where I was never able to relax. Sometimes though, it is really the food that matters and if you are looking for Japanese food that will impress, this is the place.

Nobu, Melbourne Crown
Link to review
8 Whiteman Street  Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9292 7879
My Rating: 13/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 2.5/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 2.5/5
Comment: Black Cod Miso will change your life

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

When I made this post originally, 79% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked Nobu.

Nobu on Urbanspoon

Neil Perry's Waiting Room - Leaving the Rockpool Empire

I have been advised after enjoying last drinks, management of Neil Perry's Waiting Room at the Crown Casino will be changing hands on 14 October 2012. Crown will be taking control of the space and what is certain it will become another iteration of a hotel-casino bar with no soul but just without the influence of Mr Perry and his fine food will make it a void that can not be properly filled. The staff it would appear will be matriculating to Rosetta, the new Italian influenced restaurant that is opening with the Neil Perry name on 21 October 2012 if there are no further delays.

One buys some space and sacrifices another. I do look forward to dining at Rosetta but I am now sullen that I am going to have to give up my local. As the kids say these days, #cutting

My first review of The Waiting Room is here. The second, here

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

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Black Pearl - A Diamond In The Rough

On a recent trip to Fitzroy, I found myself throwing open the door of Black Pearl on Brunswick Street after a few beverages which were enjoyed at both Naked for Satan and Mana Bar. I had heard whispers from people "in the know" over the last few months that recommended this place as a drinking venue when I was looking for something new and was in the general Fitzroy area. Those whispered voices certainly did not lead me astray.

One of my favourite places to drink in Brisbane is a bar called The Lark. It seems to be well known by the afficiandos of fine beverages and I found it set a "Melbourne standard" when it came to quality, service and atmosphere. It was one of the few highlights in Brisbane and I was sullen after I found it as it took me around a year to get out to Paddington to try it out. It wasn't long after making the discovery of this fine drinking establishment that I moved back to Sydney.

The reason for the aforementioned preface is that when I entered Black Pearl, it reminded me of The Lark. It had a number of customers but it did not feel packed. People were enjoying themselves but it was not loud. Barflies languished at the bar however there was still room to place an order after having a chat with the barman. The bar remains a focal point on the ground floor and it doesn't matter if you are relaxing in the lounge area or watching the sketchy characters wander past through the window, the bar never seems far away. It is well stocked and the menu has some unique concoctions and an excellent cocktail list.

I found the barman to both know and have drank at The Lark in Brisbane as he lived near the boozer at one point. When I told him that I thought the Black Pearl resembled The Lark, he took that as a compliment and a bond was formed. The other barflies overheard our conversation and I got to chatting with other strangers of the night and found everyone to be very pleasant and interesting. The "vibe" is much different here compared to places in the CBD like the Gin Palace as there is no feeling of pretension, which really doesn't exist in Melbourne as it does in Sydney anyway, but I just had a more relaxed feeling and experience here.

The service was extremely professional and when we were not discussing the best parts of Brisbane or Adelaide, some very potent and refreshing drinks were prepared. I enjoyed a perfect Winston Churchill Martini using gin that was sourced in Western Australia. I thought it was great and on par with what you would get at the Gin Palace. The cocktails also did not disappoint and found a certain amount of bliss drinking the "Condelezza" which should not be confused with the former US Secretary of State.

Follow the stairs up one level and you will find the toilets and another drinking area aptly called "The Attic" which allows you to enjoy a more intimate setting. Both levels though were indeed quite a find; a diamond in the rough so to speak in an area where I did not expect to find a place of such superior quality and service mixed with a fun vibe. It proves that expectations will only lead to ambiguity and disappointment if you do experience anything new without an open mind.

Black Pearl, Brunswick Street, Fitzroy Melbourne
Black Pearl
Link to review
304 Brunswick Street  Fitzroy VIC 3065
(03) 9417 0455
no web site
My Rating: 17/20
Service: 4.5/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 4/5
Comment: Excellent cocktail list

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

When I made this post originally, 89% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked Black Pearl. I think you will too.

Black Pearl on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 October 2012

Punch Lane - Punch Drunk Love

I accidentally came across Punch Lane on Little Bourke Street a few months ago by chance. After visiting Chin Chin, we were looking for somewhere "new" to drink and after stumbling past Punch Lane the cold light of day, we decided to take our chances as it looked like a cool place and whenever I see the words "wine bar" I get especially excited. I was so happy after my first experience, it was my mission to return at some point to eat, drink and be merry, where I could devote the requisite time for my epicurean cause, test to see if the liver and credit card still worked in tandem and if the service remained consistently excellent. When I visited Punch Lane again last week after a few cleansing ales at Beer DeLuxe after watching Evermore perform in Federation Square, I certainly was not disappointed.

After navigating through Chinatown, upon entering Punch Lane, you feel like you are in another part of the city, let alone somewhere else in the world. No longer are you confronted with the mobs or people enqueued for yum cha, restaurant workers thrusting their menus in your face, tourists shoulder charging you and the smell of old ducks hanging in the windows. Punch Lane is nothing like that. High ceilings adorned with wine bottles, dark colours, large comfortable chairs, chalkboards and happy staff are found once you enter this oasis. After entering and the formalities are out of the way, water and menus arrive. Enthusiastic service consults with you instead of just takes your order. Everyone seems to be very knowledgeable, especially when it comes to the very complex and savoir-faire wine list that not only impressed me but left me with reading material that distracted me from my growling stomach.

Being intrigued by the "5 Course Tasting Menu" for $69 which changes daily it seems, I ordered it after the staff briefly described what was in store. I asked for a bottle of Spinifex to complement this mini-tour de force.

Chef Luke Croston certainly thinks outside of the box and delivers. Whenever I start a meal with quail, I always hope that I am in for something special since I love eating the little bird and in this instance, what was delivered accompanied with cracked wheat, bacon and a pickled shallot dressing was just... yum! The second dish, the calamari followed with a blue cod tartare which was mixed with a jumble of scallops, chirozo, pickled rhubarb and most interesting apple. It was a complex taste and I never thought pickled rhubarb and apple would match so well with cod and scallop let alone chorizo but I was pleasantly surprised and this dish was the highlight of the gastronomic journey that I undertook. The fourth Wagyu dish was then followed by a Pear and vanilla custard which lived up to the hype as I was torn between that and the chocolate hazelnut brownie.

It was easy to get lost in the large chair and let the restaurant take care of us. Other diners, including the large group by the window appeared jovial and I know that we certainly were when we ultimately left and found our way to Bar Americano. Throughout the night I thought about the blue cod tartare dish with the chorizo, apple and pickled rhubarb. It was like a ghost haunting me and constantly reminding me that I had better return soon or else I may never be able to experience it again. I really hope that is not the case. I did realise when I went to get some cash later to pay the bill at Bar Americano, I had left my credit card at Punch Lane. After the amount of alcohol that I had enjoyed in the afternoon and into the evening, I wasn't too pleased walking back however the restaurant had happily secured it and returned it to me with a smile.

Punch Lane, Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
Punch Lane
Link to review
43 Little Bourke Street  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9639 4944
My Rating: 15/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: Award winning wine list + chef's choice

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

When I made this post originally, 90% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked Punch Lane. I am not surprised. You will too.

Punch Lane on Urbanspoon