Thursday, 25 October 2012

Pei Modern- The Louvre of Collins Street

With all of the positive press and of course the recent raft of accolades and awards bestowed upon Pei Modern in The Age Good Food Guide 2013, visiting them at the Sofitel Hotel on the Paris-end of Collins Street has been a priority. Sure, it only took me a couple of months, however the wait was worth it.

As usual, I arrived with the intention to eat, drink and be merry with one other person and no booking. Both front of house and the barman greeted us and exclaimed that it would be no problem whatsoever to seat us in the dining room. That was music to my ears as I was very hungry and thirsty.

The dining room can best be described as cozy. Not all of the tables were occupied during my visit but considering the configuration of the tables, I suspect cozy would be an understatement if the restaurant was at capacity. The white plastic chairs where comfortable enough and throughout the long dining experience that I undertook, I never started squirming or feeling uncomfortable.

There is an outside area that borders the Sofitel hotel driveway. I was hoping to spot some quality automobiles but there was no such luck. I did spot the self-important people pacing up and down in the area shouting into their mobile phones however along with a few people outside with coffee and smoking. It appeared to be a relaxed area despite the occasional car and taxi traversing the driveway from the hotel.

The restaurant is broken up into three areas. The dining room which would hold about 50 people, the outdoor area and the bar area which has its own limited menu which includes jamon iberico. Throughout my lunch, I would walk past the bar area and the tables would always be filled with people chattering, drinking and eating. It would make for a good casual and impromptu place to conduct an ad-hoc meeting, or even drink and have some bar food. I will be calling into the bar before I see another film at the Palace Cinemas next week, which are located next to the restaurant.

Beautiful house-made sourdough bread with freshly churned butter, water, menus and the wine list were presented to us by Lisa, who was quite friendly and as we would learn, very professional after we were shown our table. My first impression was that the menu was concise so my expectations effectively were raised knowing that they must specialise in a limited number of dishes. All of them should be amazing. I ordered a Lord Nelson Three Sheets whilst I reviewed the wine list.

Service was very keen to take our orders and I had to explain that we were in no rush and were very keen to relax and try many things and not act like conventional diners. The service then adjusted and we were left to our own devices where we were attended to when the appropriate visual cues were made. I appreciated that.

For wine, I stayed local and ordered the 2011 Bindi Composition Chardonnay and I was impressed with how it paired with my first of three starters (no, I do not share being an only child) which was the wonderful Almond Gazpacho with Blue Swimmer Crab which I found amazing. I am highly critical of dishes with Blue Swimmer Crab as I think it is overused in restaurants however a favourite of mine that usually is destroyed when preparing it with vacuous elements. Pei Modern has a winner with this dish and I was so pleased in the end that I commenced proceedings with this dish.

There are so many starters that I wanted to try, it made it difficult to choose so I just kept going. My guest ordered the Steak Tartare and I opted for the Burrata, Blood Orange and White Anchovy. I really didn't know what to expect as logically I did not know how the white anchovy would be presented in a dish like this but once again I was not only surprised but impressed. The anchovy was pressed and made to appear like a flat-bread which was perfect and so nicely paired with not only the 2011 Bindi but also the blood orange and Burrata.

I was advised that the Steak Tartare was divine and better compared to what you get at Movida. Since I do not share, I ordered this dish next. Once again, another winner. I would rate this on par with Movida and also it would be chasing the tail of what you get at Rockpool Bar & Grill.

Sadly as I knew that my stomach was rapidly filling and the wine was leaving me in probably too good of a mood, we decided to order mains mainly so we had an excuse to return and try more entrees and the exciting bar menu. I ordered the 9+ Wagyu, Nettle Puree & Tuscan Red Onions for my main. What a fine cut of meat. It was prepared without a fault and matched very well with the Nettle Puree. There were copious amounts of red onions, some of which were abandoned when I was finished with the steak, which was a generous amount of meat in its own right. This dish certainly was contending for my favourite dish of the evening however that honour would have to be bestowed on the Almond Gazpacho with Blue Swimmer Crab as it is something unique and a dish you will not find anywhere else.

I suppose that expectations were high for this restaurant, not only from me but the usual people in the press since Pei Modern is the love-child of Mark Best of Marque fame in Sydney. After dining at Marque a few times, I certainly see his influence at Pei Modern. More importantly I was able to sit at a table at this restaurant for four hours, feel comfortable and never realise the time and instead I was absorbed into having pleasant conversation, eating, drinking and being taken care of by the staff. I am certainly looking forward to returning soon.

Pei Modern, Collins Street, Melbourne
Pei Modern
Link to review
45 Collins Street Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 8545
My Rating: 15.5/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: Best new restaurant in Melbourne

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

When I made this post originally, 76% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked Pei Modern. I am not surprised why the figure is so low.

Pei Modern on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Rosetta - Neil Perry's New Stone at The Crown

Spending five hours at the newly opened Rosetta at Crown after a very relaxing four hour long relaxing lunch at Pei Modern was not so much a challenge but a test of my intestinal fortitude. In the end my senses won on all fronts.

Neil Perry has spent a fair amount of capital to design and retrofit Rosetta. It is now one of my favourite places in Melbourne when I think about ambiance. It is a very smart fit-out where the red lounge backs encourage you to order more, the subtly patterned carpet makes you want to eat more and the enthusiastic and very professional staff make you want to drink more. Given that I visited Rosetta on its opening night, I felt that the place had been open and succeeding for years. That is the Perry formula once again delivering for all of us in Melbourne. Seeing him in the restaurant and doing what he does best makes me want to have him as a permanent fixture in Victoria.

Proceedings commenced with cocktails followed by Riccoila de Pacifico (Hiramasa kingfish, capers, tomato and chilli) ($26) and the Insalata di Mare (Seafood salad) ($35) which was a cold yet vibrant way to start tasting the gamut of dishes matched with the 2011 Jankarra Verminino from the south of Italy. I must admit, that I have never fully appreciated food from this region however starting this way left me longing for more. After consulting with the sommelier who is ex-Waiting room (The Waiting Room has since matriculated peacefully from the Neil Perry empire to Crown)  I knew this was going to be a long-haul experience for appreciating everything that Neil and Italy had on offer. I was not disappointed.

The Ricotta Fresca ($16) followed and I have to say it was the best bloody Ricotta that I have ever had. It continued to successfully pair with the 2011 Jankarra Werminino whilst the service remained extremely professional and cheerful. Throughout the night we would be serviced by three people, 90% by the primary server, Mario, who was one of the most professional servers that I have encountered in my life. I appreciated the fact that he introduced himself when he greeted us, shook our hands and appreciated us as gentlemen and remained patient if not amused whilst we slurped wine and ordered across the menu like a drunken sailor shooting arrows at a dugong. The art of service introducing themselves I thought was long-gone but Neil Perry has resurrected this concept and for that I am pleased if not grateful.

Lobster roasted tomato, mint and chilli Fettuccine ($65) was ordered next and matched with a 2010 Terre Metre Nerello Mascalese... a Rose of all things. Such a brilliant pairing that it made me giddy. Poor jokes were then told. I offended the people around me and they left as I was so boisterous and happy. I don't think my neighbours were big tippers because our server Mario did not seem phased and more interested in taking care of our hedonistic needs. I apologise to them now for making too much noise and being too happy.

We reverted back to Antipasti and had a very tasty Brasato di Tonno (Braised tuna with green peppers and farro) ($29) and I found the way the kitchen used the peppers with the fresh tuna a cheeky and absolutely perfect compliment. This is not spicy or Mexican food per se, but it is a chilli extenuating tuna. It is hard to describe but it is something worth trying. You will not regret it.

Meatballs then had to be ordered en lieu of dessert. The Polpette al forne (Meat Balls oven baked in a tomato sauce) ($19) was finally ordered. This is when I used blasphemy and regretted ever visiting Meatball & Wine Bar.  No offence to Meatball & Wine Bar but Rosetta's meat balls are simply the most aromatic as I have ever had the pleasure of smelling and as firm as a woman's breast after getting an implant. I could have started and finished with these and have been one happy man regardless of the wine matching, service or ambiance.

My stomach was so engorged at the end of this epicurean journey that I could not bare ordering more and believe me there were heaps of offerings available that I wanted and I still long for whilst writing this. I really can't wait to return and I will leave a trail of saliva from my unit to the Crown and I can only hope that the council will clean up after me since Rosetta is going to make me act irresponsibly and also be my new local since The Waiting Room is now a thing of memories.

I predict that Rosetta will not only get at least two hats in the next Age Good Food Guide 2013/2014 but I will be so bold to predict that Rosetta will win "Best New Restaurant" - Neil has another winner and I am so happy he has another restaurant in Melbourne now for all of us to enjoy.

Link to review
8 Whiteman Street Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 8648 1999
My Rating: 16.5/20
Service: 4.5/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: Best Italian food in Melbourne

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

When I made this post originally, 100% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked Rosetta. I am not surprised why. A small sample though...

Rosetta on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Virginia Plain - Nothing Plain About It

There has been a fair amount of press about Virginia Plain which has been good, bad and indifferent over the last few months so after viewing "Killing Them Softly" at the Palace Cinema, I thought I would visit the restaurant without a booking last night.

Located next to Cumulus, finding the stairs that need to be ascended to get to reception was easy and my first thoughts as I entered this grand long room was that it is unlike anything that I had ever seen before. Thoughts of The Overlook Hotel from The Shining came to mind though. A very long bar which is reminiscent of what you would find at Cookie is the focal point and the dining room is compartmentalised into two areas seemingly. We were immediately greeted and shown to our table and asked if we wanted tap or sparking water. There was no dawdling, and I appreciated that since I was parched.

The wine list was presented to me and it was quite a good read. I digested the introduction and a familiar name appeared: Raúl Moreno Yagüe. I did not know this man was the sommelier at Virginia Plain and after learning this trivia, I instantly knew that this wine list was going to be special. Raúl was once the sommelier at Vue de Monde and is responsible for getting me drunk, er.. I mean complementing Shannon Bennett's masterpieces with beverages on at least 24 occasions. I was hoping to shake Raúl's hand and say "g'day Spaniard" but he was not in sadly. I selected a Slovakian wine - the 2007 Klinec Medana Rebula froom the "Orange" list and I was very impressed. Raúl first introduced me to Slovakian and Lebanese wine for that matter at Vue, and I was happy that his influence has transcended the Bennett empire and continues to influence me.

After the euphoria of the first taste of the wine passed, we decided to order the seven course degustation for $89 p/p. The chef, Andy Harmer is also ex-Vue de Monde, so it was appropriate to see what he had on offer without presumption.

The first dish, a variant of poached eggs on toast, certainly reminded me of something that I had experienced at Vue de Monde in 2007 however Andy's offering is much more playful and relaxed. This is a good thing. The chicken sauce really brought the flavours together and I thought it was a great dish to start off with.

Ocean trout cured in raspberry vinegar with puff sesame seeds and blood orange followed. At first glance, it looked like Tetsuya's signature dish in Sydney however the fundamentals are completely different and exciting. When I lived in Brisbane, I really got into Philip Johnson's various menus at E'cco Bistro and developed a passion for seafood complimented with citrus elements. I fancied them so much that I bought his cookbooks and have tried my hand with various fish and oranges over the recent past however what Andy has created was exceptional. The blood orange complimented the raspberry ocean trout so well that I want to now try my hand at replicating it at home.

A tomato tart followed which certainly matched the Slovakian wine. Both delicate and intense enough to cleanse my palate and prepare me for probably what was my favourite dish of the night, the cod which swam in a sea of darkness; a broth-like soup that is very hard to describe but along with the cut asparagus complimented each other so well. You are deceived because you assume that the dark liquid will not pair well with the fish, but in the end it does - and oh so very well.

The final savory dish was pork jowl and neck. This might not be everyone's taste however I thought the inclusion of this dish to be very appropriate. I have had so many degustation journeys spoiled by the last savory dish which usually is some odd cut of meat. I enjoyed the pork, especially the light and fatty jowl which matched perfectly with the Slovakian wine.

Unpasteurised cheese and a banoffee finished this epicurean journey and I was left in awe, wondering why I had not been in this place before this sitting. Music played (there is a large stash of vinyl records and a turntable behind the bar I noticed) and the music fit the mood of the place and complimented the evening and ambiance. For those of you who have read my review of Nobu, or even the Meatball & Wine Bar, you will know that my pet hate is obnoxious music being played whilst dining and what was on offer at Virginia Plain was classy and appropriate.

We were attended to by four members of staff throughout the night. I found all of them cheerful, pleasant and good humoured and they certainly complimented the food and beverage. Unlike other places that I have dined at recently, service looked to be enjoying themselves and took pleasure in delighting the customers, which we were throughout the 2.5 hour experience.

I noticed subtle influences from the old Vue de Monde on Little Collins Street in the design and of course the food and beverage. Given the cost of the seven course degustation, I honestly think this is the best value for money that I have experienced since I started this blog. Mix that with the professional service and quality of the dishes, I think we have a true winner here.

Virginia Plain
Link to review
31 Flinders Lane Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 7545
My Rating: 16/20
Service: 4.5/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 4.5/5
Comment: Great value 7 course degustation

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

When I made this post originally, 80% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked Virginia Plain.

Virginia Plain on Urbanspoon

Monday, 22 October 2012

Breslin Bar & Grill - A Work In Progress

En route to the Pinot Palooza I thought it would be wise to fill my stomach so I would be fully prepared to take on all of the vintners at this very special and anticipated wine show. Walking down the Southbank Promenade, the epicurean emo and I decided to call into the Breslin Bar & Grill. It is the newest addition to the strip of restaurants and I was keen to see how yet another steakhouse would stack up against other anchors in the area like Pure South and the ethereal Meat & Wine Co

I was extremely hungry and I had a massive headache so unlike my other adventures to restaurants in the area, and in general, I wanted to operate on the "no dawdling" rule. We decided to sit inside because it was very windy and I really do not need to look at the murky Yarra River since I live in Southbank, I see it enough. We were offered to pick a table so we chose on away from the large group of people with the pram conveniently parked in the aisle and also the other family not far away where the child was climbing on the table with another pram parked in the aisle. This seems to be a very family friendly restaurant and also good for large groups of people considering the table configuration.

Having pulled two pills out of my pocket, I immediately ordered a Fat Yak and the epicurean emo ordered a Bees Neez. Both beers were served in Peroni glasses though. I thought that was strange but I was most interested in getting the pills in me to get rid of my headache so I could be fighting fit for Pinot Palooza. After reviewing the menu, we both decided to try the pork belly with scallops and also share a meat plate.

The restaurant smelled nice and that was the first sense that was piqued. A pig was spinning on the spit in the kitchen and it smelled lovely. It would seem if you bring in ten people, the whole table can enjoy the beast for $150 per person with matching wine.

It wasn't long before the shared meat plate arrived. Steak, liver, chicken and sausages graced this board and you were given three different kinds of mustards to dress the meat with. I am still confused as to why just mustards are provided. I thought it was queer that this board would also arrive before the pork belly starters.

We started to enjoy the meat, which I did particularly because I was ravenous. Whilst chewing on a piece of chicken, the pork belly and scallops were served. It was awkward timing. The dishes could not conveniently be placed on the table without adjusting the meat board by 90 degrees, which I took the liberty of doing. After tasting the liver, which left a metallic taste in my mouth, I decided to try my starters.

The metallic taste of the liver was replaced by the poor taste of the scallop. It was cold on the inside and really the sort of food that I fear. I thought back to my previous trip to Sydney and the amazing scallops that I enjoyed at Jamie's Italian and compared these poor morsels to what I had at Jamie's and also at the Stokehouse. They were just that. Poor. The pork belly was average and nothing worth salivating over.

It seemed the staff were not enjoying themselves. When I queried various people as to how their day was going, looks of indignation were given and the responses were not very positive. The staff that I spoke with obviously wanted to be elsewhere, which made me want to be elsewhere also.

I believe this place has potential and perhaps because they have not been open very long that they have not settled in and worked out the bugs. I certainly will go back at some point as there are other items on the menu that I want to try and also see how the service evolves. In the next couple months I will update this post and assign some scores which would be the fair thing to do.

Breslin Bar & Grill
Link to review
3 Southbank Boulevard, Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9626 2110

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

When I made this post originally, 76% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked Breslin Bar & Grill.

Breslin Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon