Saturday, 16 February 2013

Touché Hombre - Fun

I have had the pleasure of visiting Touché Hombre on Lonsdale Street two times now. The first was an ad hoc experience after eating at Hofbrauhaus as when we wandered past Touché Hombre I was drawn in by the music, the retro-80's references, the video game consoles and of course the Mexican cantina setting. My first experience involved solely drinking margaritas, and I mean many jars, yes jars, of them, whilst playing old-school video games like Space Invaders and Frogger. The lesson learned from the first experience is to buy jugs of margaritas instead of individual jars. You will save a fair amount of money (which then can be used to by more jugs) but I digress. My latest adventure to the restaurant actually included trying their food along with the requisite alcohol consumption and activity in front of the video game console to end a lazy afternoon.

The multiple long tables and DJ booth allows this place to thrive in the evening. I have walked past it and each time it was bursting at the seams and was very loud. You wouldn't want to have a deep and meaningful conversation with anyone whilst the DJ is spinning the funky beats at 140dB so I made the strategic decision to join one other for lunch at the bar. The venue is just as popular at lunch with the corporate groups, who are always relatively tame. There is outside seating which was popular because of the splendid weather occurring at the time in Melbourne.

Interestingly enough the bar reminded me of one that you would find in Baja California, south of the Mexican border. Intentionally haphazard but at the same time a bit aloof gave it a bit of style. The barman was an interesting and amusing chap who quickly took my drink order. Avoiding the tequila as if I started in with that temptation at lunch, I would have ultimately passed out in front of the state library naked and that would have helped the Melbourne tourist drive or my spotless criminal record so I intentionally avoid it and the worm. I opted for Dos Equis beer and my drinking companion began ordering a blend of salsa with Sol beer. Think of a Bloody Mary but the primary alcohol is beer. He enjoyed it and had four of them as we ate tacos and played video games.

Touché Hombre's menu is primarily tacos. There are a selection of tostadas but for those inclined, the serve a snapper ceviche but also chargrilled sweet corn, fatty lamb ribs and of course tortilla chips with guacamole. We instead opted just for the tacos as it seemed the most appropriate considering the weather and the fact that we wanted to get stuck into the beer.

Carnitas ($6.50) which is 16 hour roasted pork shoulder, chipotle, chargrilled pineapple and pickled red cabbage was the first taco to be consumed. It was fine once some hot sauce was added as I found it a bit bland. The kitchen are very generous with the ingredients so it is certainly value for money but because of the quality of the tortilla, you end up eating some of it out of the carboard tray with a fork as the tortilla broke on both occasions. The pork was a bit soggy which led to the destruction of the tortilla.

The Pescado ($7.50) is fish, but it is battered and not grilled. The taco also has caper and dill pickle mayo, white cabbage and pico de gallo. The fish was fine but a chunk of it battered was a bit awkward, especially since you eat all of the fish after taking the first bite of the taco. That was my biggest gripe about the Newmarket Hotel - the kitchen provides you with a good flavour but it is constrained to one taste when it should be experienced throughout the lifecycle of the taco.

My favourite taco, La Cabra ($7) is braised goat, iceberg lettuce, radish, spanish onion and agave dressing. Fresh, simple and to the point. Although I did add some hot sauce to spice it up a bit, I ultimately ordered this again to have with the third or fourth beer.

I like the cheekiness of the restaurant. The final option on the taco list is "El Secreto" which is the secret taco. You find out what it is after you order and eat it. I took up the challenge. It ended up to be chorizo and beans. I liked the playful element and it encouraged the staff to engage with me more. This was good for the restaurant as it ultimately got us to order another round and for me the aforementioned additional goat taco.

It was easy to spend four hours at Touché Hombre when you add playing video games at the old 80's stand up console as part of your itinerary. Seven beers, six tacos and countless gaming losses made time fly. The decor is sometimes amusing and sometimes bizarre and in the case of the family photo that is located behind the bar, just shocking. There is a fair collection of tequila lining the wall. It turned into a fun and social afternoon which in a perfect world is all I really want on a daily basis.

Touche Hombre, Lonsdale Street Melbourne

Touché Hombre
Link to review
Corner of Lonsdale Street and Tattersalls Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9663 0811
My Rating: 13.25/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

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

At the time of this post, only 69% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Touché Hombre.

Touché Hombre on Urbanspoon

Friday, 15 February 2013

Maha Restaurant - Brave New World

Maha Restaurant is part of the Made Group of restaurants (The Press Club, Little Press & Cellar, Hellenic Republic, PM24, St. Katherine's and Mama Baba) and for me, is the most unique find that I have stumbled across in a while both inside this select group of restaurants and frankly out and about in Melbourne. 

As usual, I turned up with one other in the bowels of the Bond Street basement location with no reservation and was happily escorted to a table. I quickly became accustomed to the beautiful smell of spice and was seated in the back dining room amongst the gentle purr of the other patrons.

Before ordering the six-course "Latifa" tasting menu with matching wines ($130 p/p) we tasted two iterations of Raki, which is a Turkish national drink - an unsweetened, anise-flavoured alcoholic delight. After adding some water and a cube of ice to dilute it, the taste reminded me of absinthe with a strong taste of licorice. Not to be confused with ouzo or sambuca, it was a nice way to set mood.

I didn't proclaim to be an aficianado in Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine and that did not surprise the very helpful and attentive floor staff. They were not only happy to explain and educate, which for us was a curiosity regarding the origins of the food and the inspiration behind Shane Delia's menu along with the resulting wine matches which I would ultimately find quite stimulating and intriguing.

Chicken kibbeh matched with a 2007 Marsovin (sparkling wine from Malta) made its appearance first and foremost and what an impression it made. Perhaps because I have visited too many "Modern Australian" and "Mexican-inspired" restaurants as of late but both the smell and texture of the chicken matched with a wine from a region that I had never drank from - ever - left me feeling like a randy teenager seeing his first "R" rated movie. If this was setting the tempo for what was to come, my expectations were effectively in the clouds.

My favourite dish came out next with a familiar wine, the 2011 Tamellini Soave Classico, Soave from Veneto DOC, Italy. It recently made its appearance when I had the Melbourne Onion Soup at Vue de Monde and thought that it paired nicely then and once again, it was a winning match at Maha with the prawn and octopus tagine. What a flavour explosion. Once again the smell and  texture made me giddy and I intend on going on the hunt for Shane Delia's cookbook in the hope of being able to replicate this dish in some way at home. I know that I would not be able to do it justice, but the smell still haunts me and if I could make my residence smell like this dish for a few days, I would be in a perpetual state of bliss. The 2011 Tamellini has proven to be an easy drinking wine and flexible enough to effectively match with a variety of tastes.

The "boat smugglers stew" which consists of prawn, red mullet, pork belly, tamarind, saffron and tomato was another taste sensation and when matched with the simple 2010 Domain de Bieville chablis, I found it quite robust yet pleasant. It was obvious that the wine was taking a trip around the world showcasing not only the scope of the list but also demonstrating that many regional varietals pair well with food inspired from the Middle East. The stew, was a cornucopia of tastes and I found the combination of the mullet, belly and especially the tamarind to take centre stage. Yet another dish that I want to try to attempt at home, especially in the winter with the mighty Magpies on television on a Friday night.

Perhaps because my palate was overwhelmed by this time, but the next dish, the seven spiced angus short rib did not make the same impression on me that the previous offerings did. I was rather indifferent to this, most likely because the 2012 Eldridge Estate Gamay was big and earthy and the beetroot that was fused into the ribs just seemed to overwhelm the dish. I have 2012 Eldridge Estate Gamay in my personal cellar so it was good to see such good representation from Mornington Peninsula.

The 12 hour roasted Mt. Leura lamb shoulder was tender and easily was pulled apart. The green olive tabouleh was a great complement and this time a 2007 Colognole Chianti (district east of Florence) matched it but it did not do the lamb justice. In my humble opinion the wine was not bold enough (and actually is quite a cheap and cheerful wine) but I really did enjoy the dish.

Strangely the crescendo for this meal was achieved with the single dessert. A beetroot sponge and beetroot ganache with milk chocolate peppermint crisp ice cream all hidden inside a watermelon rosewater ice. Matched with an Israeli wine - the 2010 Yarden muscat from Galilee, the smell of citris combined with the easy drinking nature of this muscat made the ganache just awesome.

Maha turned out to be a great experience, not just highlighted by the plethora of new flavours and tastes, but it was also an adventure, which dining really should be. Every dish and wine match I was excited for which then encouraged conversation that had nothing to do with work or anything too serious which resulted in a relaxed experience. Throughout the journey, service remained very attentive and cheerful, happily refilling the unlimited supply of Aqua Penna water and were genuinely regaling with us in our brave new world with a certain sense of satisfaction.

When you finally decide to break away from the warm bosom of the restaurant and pay the bill, you are provided with some literature about the Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation and if you are keen, you can doate $1 p/p to support this worthy foundation which invests in research and education programs to help food allergy sufferers. They also sponsor research to develop the world's first nut allergy vaccine.

Maha Restaurant received one chefs hat in the 2013 Age Good Food Guide.

Maha Restaurant, Melbourne

Maha Restaurant
Link to review
21 Bond St  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9629 5900
My Rating: 15.5/20
Service: 3.75/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4.25/5
Value For Money: 4/5

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

At the time of this post, 86% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Maha Restaurant.

Maha Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Rockpool Bar & Grill Melbourne - Is Simplicity Best?

Over the years I have found not only comfort but solace in frequenting the Queensbridge end of the Crown Casino as Neil Perry's Melbourne properties occupy the corner of the entertainment complex. Rockpool Bar & Grill was the first member of the Rockpool Group of properties to be established in Melbourne and to this day, it remains a shining light in the sometimes dull dining scene along the Southbank Promenade.

As you enter the restaurant, your senses warn you of impending death as the lights are noticeably dimmer compared to the pedestrian thoroughfare in Crown which gives a moody yet sensual vibe as you walk past cases of meat carcass and seafood. You have the option to dine in the wine bar, which is where you can order the fabled Wagyu burger which is all of the rage at all hours of the day or continue into the grand dining room, which we opted to on this occasion. Some natural light was protruding from the blinds that give you a protected view of Southbank Promenade and fortunately for us we were provided a table next to a window so that when conversation ultimately diminished to a murmur, we were able to watch the comings and goings of the human beings outside.

Whilst pondering both the multi-faceted food menu but also the comprehensive wine menu, we ordered a round of steak tartare with chips ($25) which has always been at the top of my list for quality and taste of any steak tartare that I have ever had. Although I really enjoy the complexity afforded to the tartare at Movida, the simplicity of the tartare here combined with being able to scoop it up with large hot chips has always appealed to my basic instincts as a carnivore.

As I missed by trip to Adelaide to see watch the cricket and tour McLaren Vale in November 2012 because of a leaky pipe at home, I am biased to wine from that region at the moment to make up for lost time. I selected a 2010 Kay Brothers Amery Block 6 Shiraz ($145) thinking that a big and bold, if not earthy wine would match well with the steak tartare. The server was happy to send over the sommelier to consult however since we were going to just enjoy the one bottle (amazingly, I know) I didn't think it was necessary this time around. That match turned out to be a success and the tartare tasted brilliantly and was enhanced by the young wine which was not decanted.

After much deliberation about the menu, I ordered a Cape Grim 350g rib-eye on the bone (grass fed and dry aged for 36 months) simply to add a bit of variety in my diet as I had dined at the Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney the previous week and enjoyed a David Blackmore full blood wagyu then and also as the last course in my recent trip to Vue de Monde. A bit of variety is good and I wasn't disappointed with the cut, or the way it came out. Oddly it seemed to be more than 350g of steak and for the most part it was already cut up into smaller morsels for me.  On its own, the steak was a bit dry however a multiplicity of sauces are provided (which I refused) but when paired with the Kay Brothers Shiraz, it was nice.

One of the signature side dishes is the Macaroni and Cheese ($15) which was ordered along with a Tomato salad ($9) to accompany my steak and the duck ($39) which was ordered by my dining companion. The Neil Perry interpretation of Macaroni and Cheese is a comfort food that although would add weight to my already expanding waistline quickly, would make the ultimate discomfort and associated ridicule completely worth it.

Given that the restaurant is in the Crown "Entertainment Complex" has its disadvantages. There is more of a transient dining crowd which leads to more drama, excessive noise and more outrageous behaviour as the result of the patrons - my observations are not just constrained to this visit. I could tell that service was not too enthusiastic and was probably a bit overworked even though the guests were all herded into one part of the restaurant.

You don't always have to take your chances with the masses in the formal dining room. The wine bar serves a comprehensive and intriguing menu including freshly shucked oysters, the aforementioned David Blackmore Wagyu burger and Jamon Iberico. Sometimes simplicity is best and not just simply the easiest.

Rockpool Bar & Grill, Southbank Crown Casino Melbourne
Rockpool Bar & Grill
Link to review
Crown Entertainment Complex
8 Whiteman St., Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 8648 1900
My Rating: 15/20
Service: 3.50/5
Ambiance: 3.75/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.75/5

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

At the time of this post, 82% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Rockpool Bar & Grill.

Rockpool Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Vue de Monde - The Sun King

When I started writing this blog seven months ago, I deliberated with myself when it would be appropriate to complete a post on Vue de Monde. After visiting the Little Collins Street location more times than I have fingers and toes combined, the combined collective historical experiences engrained in my memory at Shannon Bennett's flagship has been the subject of many deep and meaningful conversations, some of the best dining and drinking experiences of my short life and have led to many poignant interpersonal situations both inside the restaurant and out. Living for the moment at Rialto Tower is where it is at now, an exciting and visually appealing space both in the restaurant and the Lui Bar that has been lauded about in all of the usual places. I will try to add some further insight with this diatribe.

Some may remember Level 55 of the Rialto Tower in Melbourne to be a dodgy coffee shop and viewing platform that drew plenty of tourists into its bosom where the unsuspecting traveller was also enthralled as the City of Melbourne screened a cheesy tourist video in the Rialto cinema which for me when I saw it amused me to no end before taking the express lift to the top of the building. The one time that I visited the top of Rialto to enjoy the "view" and have a coffee as a tourist, I thought that so much more could be done with the space. Obviously Shannon Bennett and I shared that thought.

The express lift to the top of the building remains intact and once you disembark, you are greeted by a phalanx of smiling faces ready to take you to either your table or up the ominous two steps to the Lui Bar. I shared a quick hug with Jess and some pleasantries before she showed us to our table, escorting us through the wine cellar, where you run the gauntlet of beautiful bottles of the demon drink until you transition from the darkness into the light of the main floor of the restaurant.

Many have romanticised the view from the restaurant. A vue de Melbourne which for some is their world with aspects to the west (Docklands, Yarras Edge, Etihad Stadium, Patrick Wharves) and to the North (Carlton Gardens and beyond) however the best views are had from the Lui Bar, with its Port Melbourne to Southbank perspectives.

Near the toilets, which virtually connect the restaurant and the bar, there is an outside observation deck suited for smokers, photographers, drinkers and base jumpers. In May 2012 there was some excitement as four fellows scaled the tall plexiglass that borders the edge of the observation deck with death and base-jumped from the platform. They lived to tell the tale however I did forget to inquire with Sebastian at the Lui Bar if they bothered to pay their tab.

The tables are large and the seats are comfortable. Should you be a party of two you will have the pleasure of sitting at a table that could easily accommodate four. It makes it for a comfortable experience but not an intimate one. The clusters of seven light globes (with one exception of one cluster of six) dangle from the ceiling and between your eyes taking notice of the kangaroo-hide table tops, the massive open kitchen and the view outside you are nearly overwhelmed when service appears and consults with you about the various epicurean journeys, options, prices and drinking options available. For me it was easy, a ten course degustation menu with cheeses, matching wines, sparking water and a glass of 2002 Dom Pérignon Épernay Champagne to start, which ultimately cost $600 p/p without tip.

Given that the way you are seated you lose yourself in the view at times, I find it fundamentally distracting as you forget that you should be focusing on the fine food, beverage and most importantly conversation with others. The late summer sunset will provide those that are budding photographers plenty of opportunity for shots especially from the observation deck, but it also means that you will be subjected to different degrees of glare until the sun actually sets. Some diners were wearing sunglasses, which I thought was unnecessary but I still understand their motivation.

After attending (and writing about) both Attica and Jacques Reymond, the other three-hat restaurant winners in greater Melbourne in December 2012, I was anxious to identify the subtle differences. Like with Attica, after you announce your dining and drinking intentions, you are quickly brought four amuse bouches. I was excited to see that one of the appetizers was salt-cured wallaby from Flinders Island. I first had wallaby at Attica, and it quickly became one of my favourite foods. Jacques Reymond then had his hand in interpreting how it should be served in a main dish and although I was happy to see it on Shannon Bennett's menu, I was hoping it would come out as a main instead of an appetizer. Not to discount the taste afforded to you with the bite-sized goodness that you get at Vue de Monde however it did set my expectations much higher in anticipation of the red-matching courses if wallaby was being excluded. All of the amuse bouches were awesome: the smoked eel with white chocolate and caviar was a standout however I liked the peas, pistachio and strawberry morsel just as much as the oyster that sat in my periphery for a couple of minutes before ending up down my throat.

One of my favourite foods made a surprise appearance as the first course. Spanner crab with kohlrabi (cabbage), avocado and beach herbs matched with 2011 Frankland Estate ‘Isolation Ridge’ Riesling from the Frankland River, Western Australia. A perfect way to start with a very appropriate wine match. I never had spanner crab with cabbage before and I really enjoyed it.

Toasted marron with tarragon butter followed and it was meant to be eaten as finger food. The hint of salt and the fresh seafood flavour complemented the 2008 Domaine Meo-Camuzet ‘Clos st Philibert’, Haut-Cotes de Nuit from Burgundy, France well. The sommelier was quickly turning into my new best friend.

The next dish was one that involved a prop. Not the type that Joe Hockey uses in parliament, but a device that uses the heat vacuum extraction technique to remove the flavours of the produce into a broth that is then poured over the onions in your dish to make a Melbourne onion soup. When matched with the 2011 Tamellini Soave Classico, Soave from Veneto DOC, Italy, it was an unexpected flavour explosion. Fresh bread and butter (presented and exhumed from a large bucket) are provided so that you can enjoy every last drop of soup. Some Shannon Bennett dishes seem so simple when they are articulated to you that you fail to comprehend why they are served in a three hat restaurant, but when you see the process involved and taste the elegance, you quickly understand there is a method behind the madness. The art of subterfuge reigns supreme in this restaurant.

The next dish was a case in point. A single sweet baby corn adorned with Gascony butter arrived next. My first thought was... seriously. Was it from Dame Elisabeth Murdoch's personal garden? Was it grown in a vacuum in space? I was confused but then appeared a chef holding a black truffle from France to which he quickly took his slicer to and covered the exposed corn in its husk with the black gold. Matched with 2006 Brokenwood ‘Maxwell’ Semillon from the Hunter Valley, New South Wales I thought was a really bold move considering the smell but it only complemented the truffle and of course the corn further. It was probably the best single piece of baby corn that I ever ate and I honestly never thought I would be writing (or talking) about corn in such a way.

The adventure further into white wine territory continued with a 2000 Yarra Yering ‘Dry White Wine No.1’ from our backyard in Victoria matched with a duck yolk, pork, green beans and mint. With produce hailing from Shannon's gardens in either Heidelberg (there is a Cafe Vue in that sleepy suburb) or the Dandenong ranges, I could easily tell how fresh the mint was and how wonderful it paired with not only the duck yolk and pork. The dry older wine was a nice touch and once again, the sommelier continued to impress.

In another first, some of the best barramundi flesh would appear on the next dish along with a large king prawn. Matched with 2007 Pascal Marchand ‘Avalon’, Bourgogne Rouge from Burgundy, France, this made for one of the most surprising dishes of the night just because how much I thoroughly enjoyed the fish. It dissolved in my mouth as it was so tender and delicate and both the prawn, which I took my time cutting up into three gram morsels to extend the taste sensations were again complemented with the wine. When it was all consumed, I was sullen however afterwards, as part of the script, the chef appeared with the dissected fish that was imported from the Northern Territory, showed it to us and then cut the cheeks off and served them in a leaf of lettuce. I was not only pleased to be able to contiue the experience but also get my hands, or should I say mouth, on the delicate fish cheeks since the chefs usually hoard them for their personal enjoyment, and deservingly so.

Moving into the realm of red wine matched courses, my friends at Flinders Island Meats (who supply the wallaby) have provided lamb from the same island and is prepared with olive, Australian anchovies and mustard and aptly matched with a 2005 Yarraloch ‘Morpheus’ Merlot, from the Yarra Valley. I have not only great respect for this supplier but the meat that they farm is top-notch. Another highlight of this experience as the lamb, highlighted most notability by the anchovies, was tender and perfectly cooked. The mustard I found strangely brought out the characteristics of the wine.

The second and last of the red courses was a David Blackmore Wagyu with beetroot, saltbush and BBQ sauce. This was the dish I was hoping would be wallaby, which would have been a bit more exciting and fit in appropriately with the bush ambiance that Vue de Monde exudes. Not discounting the Wagyu or its big and bold wine match, 2005 Henschke ‘Henry’s Seven’ Shiraz, Grenache, Mouvèdre, Eden Valley, South Australia, I just thought that ending the mains on this note was a bit boring.

The cheese cart was then wheeled out and never one to say no, we choose nine different varieties of cheese which were served with an assortment of breads and jams. The beetroot bread went extremely well with the stinky roquefort cheese and the presentation was very visually appealing. Two wines,  2010 S.C. Pannell Grenache, McLaren Vale from South Australia and a 2005 Château Broustet, Sauternes-Barsac AOC were matched with the varying degrees of cheese intensity.

After another palate cleanser, a delicate and rich strawberries and cream dish made its appearance and was matched with a NV Alvear, 'Vino de Licor', Moscatel, Morikes de Montilla, Spain. It was a very appropriate transition to go from the meaty mains to something much lighter and fruity and once again the wine match was intriguing and left me dry quickly so I greedily asked for a refill.

Sometimes Vue de Monde gets carried away with its desserts (once they brought out four different ones before the petit fours!) and I was pleased that there was only one final dish left for this experience since I had resulted to holding my stomach in earnest. They certainly saved the best for last. A Tonka bean soufflé with smoked cocoa ice cream would not be able to be enjoyed in America because the Tonka bean has been banned as it has been known to cause hallucinations. The soufflé was perfect and the match of NV Chambers ‘Grand’ Muscat, Rutherglen, Victoria I thought was a nice touch. Being able to end a wine degustation back in Victoria is always in my opinion good to say the least.

The toilet is worth reflecting on. It is located in a centralised area that you share with the bar. There is a curious urinal that reminded me of something out of Star Trek, where a triumvirate of blokes stand in a circle and relieve themselves on a wall of metal but all have the pleasure of looking at one another and sharing a word or two. In my case, an affable bloke told me about the good old days of when Shannon Bennett ran the first incarnation of Vue de Monde in Carlton. All this whilst I vacated my bladder. Try to avoid the urinal closest to the entry though as your manhood will be on display considering the line of sight in most cases to anyone who dares enter this room of relief. There is also a large curious pipe that will drizzle out deionised water so you do not need soap to wash your hands. Getting it to activate by dancing in the proper place in the watchful eye of the sensor though is another thing though. It is probably the most bizarre restroom that I have seen in a restaurant since I encountered the urinal disguised as lips.

The fortunate thing for dining and drinking afficianados in Melbourne there are plenty of choices at the top end of the scale. The service at Vue de Monde has always impressed me as the staff seem to be highly choreographed and usually have a great sense of timing. Sometimes I have had to ask service to slow things down as at times dishes would come out too quickly. On this occasion at times I felt things were being rushed along and on certain courses I still had the remnants of wine left over from the previous course when the sommelier brought out the next glass. Sure, taking one last gulp before continuing proceedings is not a big deal, but it in turn rushes the conversation. The petty things aside, you are mad if you can not enjoy an experience at Vue de Monde. I experienced the best dining and drinking experience of my life at the old Little Collins Street location in December 2007 and this experience came close to exceeding that evening. Shannon Bennett, like the bottle of Brokenwood that I enjoyed with the black truffles and corn just seems to get better with age. This is my first "Top 2013" experience and I am sure it will not be the last one at Vue de Monde this year.

Vue de Monde, Melbourne
Vue de Monde
Link to review
Level 55, Rialto/525 Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9691 3888
My Rating: 18.25/20
Service: 4.75/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5
Quality: 4.75/5
Value For Money: 4.25/5

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

At the time of this post, 82% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Vue de Monde.

Vue de Monde on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Newmarket Hotel - The Bastardisation of Mexico

Continuing my quest for fantastic Mexican-inspired food, led me to the Newmarket Hotel in St Kilda. This is yet another Melbourne Pub Group property which has eluded me until recently and I was encouraged to seek it out after my pleasant experience at its newborn sister, the Acland St. Cantina last month. Chef Paul Wilson is responsible for both the menu at the Newmarket Hotel and the Acland St. Cantina, so I knew that I wasn't in for a surprise, but more so a continuation of the goodness that was afforded to me at the aforementioned cantina last month.

Walking along Inkerman Street and spotting the façade of the Newmarket Hotel, I thought I was in some sort of Margaret Atwood penned dystopian fiction where the multinationals had turned the suburbs into industrial ghettos so I was really surprised when I set foot into the place and found both an ambience and setting that contrasted completely with the outside façade. One certainly should not judge a book by its cover.

Open plan dining is certainly on offer and you are able to take advantage of good weather when we have it in Melbourne by enjoying drinks or ultimately food and cigarettes on the deck that borders the perimeter of the restaurant. The front dining room can take advantage of the abundance of fresh air when the sliding windows are fully open and there is a small amount of natural light that enters the restaurant in the forward area.

Like with the other Melbourne Pub Group properties, the bar takes centre stage and is a focal point of the dining room. It sits further back in the restaurant though and given that both smaller tables are littered in between high wooden tables, it makes for not only a smart fit-out but is appealing to the eye with the high ceiling.

The menu changes noticeably between the afternoon and the evening and at lunch there are $5 tacos on offer. After commencing with the guacamole ($5) which has pineapple infused into it, made it one of the best guacamoles that I have had served to me in a restaurant, I ran the gamut of most of tacos that were available since I continue to look for the stand-out place in Melbourne that does the best "street food" which included those that were on special and others that were more adventurous.

Paul Wilson is inspired by his travels in California and Mexico and has a menu that clearly demonstrates a fascination for the area. These days Mexican-inspired cuisine is blended between California and Mexico despite without regard to a national border but because of the high Mexican population in California, the cuisine has gradually been bastardised. The grilled snapper taco, heirloom tomatoes, rocket and new season garlic aioli ($8) is an example of the bastardisation. The quality morsel of snapper that occupies 25% of the taco enables you to effectively have one taste of it even though it takes a total of four bites to finish the product leaves the diner satisfied because the fish is prepared perfectly combined with the quality of the produce but it really doesn't substitute for "street food" where some whiting is quickly grilled and pulled apart so that every taste allows the punter to enjoy the taste of fish throughout the experience.

Moving on to the soft shell crab taco, guacamole, shaved fennel, spicy corn and tomatillo salsa ($8.5) certainly allows the California influence shine and it was recommended by the server who when we heard like spice, thought this would be a great way to showcase the merging of the flavours and heat. She was right and I did not feel the need to add any habanero chilli sauce to this (or any of the tacos for that matter) as there was an ample amount of seasoning and I enjoyed the quality of the produce which is not usually so prominent in Mexican-inspired food.

A soft taco with pork carnitas, baby gem, pickled pineapple and hot adobe sauce ($8) was one of my favourites. Once again, there was a fair amount of heat and the carnitas was presented in a chunk instead of being pulled over the entire taco. I enjoyed the carnitas however I would have liked to have tasted it with every bite and not just one.

Two of the specials, the pig soft taco ($5) and also the poached chicken ($5) were also ordered. The pig was probably the most tame of the all of the meats that was consumed and it shouldn't be confused with the pork carnitas. The poached chicken was once again another example of the California influence on Mexican food. Although it was tasty, you really expect a grilled flavour to be the primary taste however the great fresh produce was a healthy if not surprising pleasant alternative.

I am looking forward to returning soon and not only getting stuck into the pitchers of alcoholic beverages but also trying Paul Wilson's wood roasted goat. That dish has been evangelised in the press and it certainly gives me a reason to return - if not to further enjoy this interpretation of Mexican and California foods. Bastardisation is a good thing should the fundamentals align, and like with Acland St. Cantina, Paul Wilson has perfected the approach in a very good and bold way.

Newmarket Hotel, St Kilda, Melbourne

Newmarket Hotel
Link to review
34 Inkerman St  St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 9537 1777
My Rating: 14/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3.75/5
Quality: 3.75/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

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

At the time of this post, 79% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like the Newmarket Hotel.

Newmarket Hotel on Urbanspoon

Monday, 11 February 2013

The Melbourne Supper Club - Fat Liver and Stomach

In the back of my mind, I always know that The Melbourne Supper Club above the European on Spring Street is seemingly always open and avoided my attention until just before my recent trip to Sydney. Not wanting to jostle for position at a communal table at Longrain, we thought it was prudent to enjoy a feast at the Supper Club as I had not been in there for some years.

After you climb a flight of stairs once you find the entrance which is a virtually unmarked door next to the European, you will receive a friendly greeting and be quizzed as to whether you simply want a drink or a long and lavish indulgence. Being rather hungry, we opted for the latter and were shown to what could be arguably the best seat in the house in the corner near the window. From here you have glimpses outside but can also keep an eye on the comings and goings of the restaurant but also Siglo Bar which is located yet another flight of stairs up.

Commencing proceedings with a glass of Bollinger Special Cuvee ($25) we decided to start with Pâté de Foie Gras, pear chutney and toasted brioche ($26) because I always find it such a stand-out dish downstairs at the European. Joselito Jamon Iberico ($40) and Escargot ($12) along with a bottle of Domaine Leroy Maison Bourgogne Rouge 1999 ($105) was selected to match these appetisers. Domain Leroy is a wine producer in Burgundy with properties in several Grand cru vineyards of Cote d'Or and is known for biodynamic farming. Everything matched well and I could go on for hours about how much I enjoyed the pâté and the jamon iberico, as I always devour these staple items when I find them, but the stand-out for me were the snails. I was impressed that they were already de-shelled and when matched with the wine were simply amazing.

As they were offering an interpretation of tacos on their "finger food" menu, I had to give them a try. Chickpea battered soft shell crab tacos with smoked mango and pickled cucumber ($14.50) was a bold combination and the mango certainly highlighted the taste of the soft shell crab, which was also a generous portion. I liked how the soft shell tacos were served with a clip keeping the elements secure whilst they were delivered. The roasted pumpkin and padron pepper tacos with goats curd ($10) may be appreciated more by a vegetarian and after my recent trip to Trippy Taco, I really fundamentally believe that a taco should have some sort of meat in it to be considered a taco. This dish could have been served more as a "tostada" in salad form at least for me to get around the psychological roadblock I had with it.

More jamon iberico ($40) was ordered to compensate for the vegetable tacos along with son-in-law eggs, which are soft boiled and fried with Asian herbs and chilli caramel ($12) and a Reuben - a corned beef sandwich with sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese and Russian dressing ($16.50) was matched with a bottle of 2004 La Rioja Alta Vina Arana ($105) which although the server was recommending against, I ordered anyway. I should have heeded his advice. Although I love Tempranillo, and this wine is an 80% Tempranillo blend, it didn't match the best with the Reuben and eggs and I should have instead ordered a pinot. I often just find myself falling into the Tempranillo trap because I enjoy it so much. It is never a value for money wine to purchase in Australia though which is sad.

After spending over three hours of eating and drinking at the Supper Club, I had the opportunity to chat with Simon, the very affable server and sommelier. He shared a great amount of knowledge and led me down the original path of choosing the Domaine Leroy which was amazing choice and matched perfectly for the first round of food that we devoured. Despite not following his advice and ordering the Tempranillo to follow up his choice, he remained cheerful, if not amused by us throughout the night providing excellent service and good insight into the menu and all things epicurean.

When it was still legal to smoke cigars in places like the Melbourne Supper Club many years ago, I recall having quite a few late nights relaxed on one of their many lounges puffing away and even enjoying birthday celebrations there one year. Although that bygone and cheery era has sadly passed us, the lounges remain and this place continues to trade and serve their full menu into the early hours of the morning. Just knowing that Escargot it available, I do forecast spending some early mornings here after making my rounds in the boozers in the area in the short term.

Melbourne Supper Club, Spring Street

The Melbourne Supper Club
Link to review
Level 1/161 Spring St  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 6300
no web site
My Rating: 14.75/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3.5/5
Value For Money: 3.75/5

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

At the time of this post, 90% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like The Melbourne Supper Club.

Melbourne Supper Club on Urbanspoon