Friday, 8 March 2013

The Point Restaurant Albert Park - Shadows Behind... Light Our Way With Lanterns On

Not long ago, I planned to catch up with my learned friend and council and suggested that we dine at The Point Restaurant in Albert Park, or should I say, on Albert Park Lake. He expressed some consternation, if not confusion, and claimed that the last time he dined at the restaurant two years ago he was not impressed and it was a forgettable experience that he did not want to relive. I was reminded that the restaurant recently lost a hat and only had one left as per the latest Age Good Food Guide and was interested to understand why I would want to frequent such a place that has seemingly lost its way like the federal government. I explained to my learned and curious friend that a gentleman called Bryan Lloyd took over as General Manager for the restaurant (fifteen months prior to this post) and knowing his reputation, I expected great things from within the new Reich, including head chef Justin Wise, who was awarded "Young Chef of the Year 2009" and was also at the helm of George Calombaris' The Press Club when it received its second hat. Justin later worked as Executive Sous Chef under Josh Emett at the now defunct Gordon Ramsay's Maze at Crown Metropol, which was a restaurant that I always rated when I was playing tourist in Melbourne. In retrospect, perhaps the reason why my experience at The Press Club was so ordinary was because Justin was no longer responsible for leading the kitchen there. The mind boggles.

I first crossed paths with Bryan Lloyd when he was the general manager of Vue de Monde when they were still housed within Normandy Chambers on Little Collins Street and was continually impressed by his devotion to service and his people management skills. The reputation of The Point being a incidental factor, after my learned friend and council went missing by choice, I turned up for my rescheduled booking at The Point with the epicurean emo. We were greeted at the door by Bryan and taken to our table which bordered one of the floor to ceiling windows that overlooks Albert Park Lake, the high rise buildings on St Kilda Road and the Melbourne CBD in the distance. The sun was beginning to set, the ducks were frolicking in the water and a buzz filled the premises with smartly dressed customers, a few tables accommodating group bookings and activity that would leave any other restaurant that was not full a bit jealous.

Bryan explained to us that at The Point, they exploit a novel concept in dining. It is called a "menu" which I have a reputation of not wanting to consult. Having the foresight to accommodate my desire to not tire my eyes on the written word, he fortuitously devised an eight course degustation menu ($310 p/p and aptly called "Tasting Point") with the kitchen which we were very keen to experience. We opted for matching wines ($250 p/p) including a bottle of 2002 Pol Roger Champagne from France to start proceedings and to enjoy in between courses but ultimately match with two of the forthcoming courses.

A scallop ceviche with Avruga caviar (which is not really caviar in the true sense of the word as it is made with herring and does not contain fish roe) and fennel was the first dish to match with the 2002 Pol Roger. The edible bivalve mollusk was not only delicately poised on the plate but when matched with the herring flavour inherent with the caviar along with the champagne made for an exciting way to start dinner. The unlimited supply of San Pellegrino sparking water ($11 p/p) relieved the thirst that was gained from wandering around the F1 motorcourse before arriving at the restaurant and the champagne took the edge off and allowed me to enter my happy place where the professional service, which included eight people attending to our table.

A tomato terrine with cumin creme fraiche followed with an Ortiz anchovy and tonburi salad dressing matched with a non vintage Chateau d'Esclans "Whispering Angel" Rose from Provence, France, followed. The southern Rhone blend went well with the simple yet powerful tomato terrine and enhanced the flavours of the creme fraiche. The cumin was a bold touch and combined with the the Ortiz anchovy, which I hunt down regularly at the bar at Cumulus, and made for an awesome course where the Grenache and Mourvedre showcased the food. I was concerned at the decision made by the house to introduce a dish that matched with a Rose and then ultimately progress to a chardonney at the next course but those concerns were ultimately dispelled.

A nicely presented fois gras is hard to find. I prefer what Ian Curley has on offer at The European; the simple presentation and bold flavours are ingrained in my mind so I was intrigued to see how Justin was going to tackle this. Pan seared fois gras with roast quail, a Rouennaise sauce (a Bordelaise sauce with the addition of puréed duck liver) and shavings of black truffles adorned the plate and a glass of 2008 Domaine Maume Gevrey Chambertin "Aux Etelois" from Cote de Nuits, France, was liberated to complement the course. After recently observing quail being served rare on My Kitchen Rules I couldn't help but slice up my morsels and as expected after visually inspecting it and tasting it with the fois gras, it was perfect. I love quail and when it is done correctly I quickly turn into a randy teenager when I mix it with a decent French wine however the taste of the creamy fois gras and stinky truffles really played well and deceived my palate repeatedly. A playful guessing game of what was dominating my senses was enjoyed which ultimately led to a clean plate where I was scrambling to get every sliver and crumb of the truffle off of it.

Just off the Great Ocean Road in Victoria lies Port Campbell and the source of the crayfish for the next course which was accompanied by mussel veloute and caviar. Very large, plump and flavoursome crayfish were plucked out of the sea merely four hours before ending up on my plate matched perfectly with the 2009 Domain Michelot, Puligny-Montrachet from Cote de Beaune, France. The butter and banana smell of this simple but exotic chardonnay really highlighted the quality of the seafood. Before having this dish, I would long for the "lobster roll" from Golden Fields (which is really crayfish) and could live for a week on Andrew McConnell's delectable delights but this locally sourced crayfish takes the prize. The wine match was symbiotic and certainly complimented the dish, which I ultimately deemed my favourite of the night and early morning.

Western Plains suckling pig, radish, blood plums and liquorice sauce along with a 2004 La Riaja Alta "Viña Arana" from Rioja, Spain (blend of 95% Tempranillo and 5% Mazuelo) made its way to our table next. The contrasting textures of the crisp cooked skin and the gelatinous pale and tender meat were exciting. The colours were pleasing, the collagen in the young slaughtered infant pig made me thirsty for wine and the Tempranillo was a good match. I was thought that the wine would overwhelm the delicate meat but they paired like a treat. This particular wine is one of those "cheap and cheerful" wines that you would find in Spain (or even Tesco in the UK) however sometimes simplicity is best when you want to focus attention on perfectly cooked and presented swine.

Yarra Valley pasture fed lamb, shiitake mushrooms, pommes Anna with a red cabbage salad was brought out next and accompanied by Bryan who was once again garnishing the truffle shaver. More thinly sliced black gold was strewn over the lamb whilst I watched with eager anticipation. We were originally quizzed if we would be keen for lamb, pork or David Blackmore's fine steak when we commenced this epicurean journey. Flashing back to my experience at Vue de Monde, given that my last course was a David Blackmore steak and given my recently activity at Rockpool Bar & Grull, I suggested that pork or lamb would be more adventurous and suitable and the kitchen did not disappoint. More locally sourced meat which was beautifully presented, complimented by the black truffles was almost an aside as the potatoes (pommes Anna) combined with the cabbage salad nearly stole the show. The 2009 Les Trois Croix Fronsac from Bordeaux, France was almost another aside and was left to relegate on the boundary as this great course which was again full of competing and exciting bold tastes put me in sensory overload.

A cheese cart was not needed to deliver the simple and smartly selected Hervé Mons Camembert cheese from Normandy France along with the resurrected bottle of 2002 Pol Roger. Simple, effective and a great pairing of the strong earthy dairy and furry rind and alcohol set the dénouement of the experience in motion.

Quark cheesecake, raspberry, soft hazelnut and lemon sorbet and Richter's 2007 Max Ferd, Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling from Mosel Germany concluded this epic adventure. So soft and beautifully complex, the Quark cheesecake has always been my preference to the Philadelphia cheesecake and the kitchen once again did not disappoint. The fruit and sorbet went extremely well with the cheesecake and I really wanted more when it disappeared from my plate.

Despite being the last ones in the restaurant and it being 1:00 AM, we agreed with the sommelier that a cognac was required to finish the experience. Not just any cognac, but a Tesseron's Lot 29 ($75 p/p) which is the only cognac to have ever been awarded 100 points on the Parker Points scale. A magnificent meal and experience in general deserved to be finished on a high with a cognac that is near perfection to equal the aforementioned long and relaxed experience at The Point.

So there may be a perception that The Point is a shadow of its former two-hatted self and is only good to host functions or to act as a serene yet out of the way tourist trap. Perceptions, if not preconceived notions will lead to ambiguity and disappointment to those that hold these beliefs so I am happy that I turned up with an open mind and allowed the new Reich of Bryan and Justin to take our senses on a journey that I will talk about for ages to come. The overall experience was just as good as some of the better experiences that I had the pleasure of having at Vue de Monde when it was on Little Collins Street and knowing Bryan, he no doubt has a long list of tasks to continuously improve this restaurant and I suspect that the lost hat will be quickly found this year.

Currently The Point has one chefs hat in The Age Good Food Guide, and is the third restaurant this year to be added to my "Top 2013 Experiences" list along with Vue de Monde and Longrain.

The Point Restaurant, Albert Park, Melbourne

The Point Restaurant
Aquatic Drive, Albert Park Lake VIC 3206
(03) 9682 5566
My Rating: 16.75/20
Service: 4.75/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

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

At the time of this post, 78% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like The Point Restaurant.

The Point Restaurant on Urbanspoon