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