Saturday, 25 May 2013

Gills Diner - Boomerang

Easily accessed via a laneway at the rear of 360 Little Collins Street you will find Gills Diner. The style of the fit-out screams Melbourne with its high ceilings where the farmhouse-like architecture of the converted old bluestone building is a highlight combined with light colours along with the blackboard menu affixed to the cold stone wall.

Presenting ourselves as per our scheduled reservation time did not matter as there wasn't much activity in the restaurant on this night. At first the front of house disregarded the fact that a booking was made as if it was incidental. Given that there were only a handful of guests, I was bemused when they attempted to seat us near the front door and of course be exposed to the cold draft that would inevitably blow in. I quizzed service and asked politely if we could be allocated a table in the rear of the eatery, far away from the door, and they were happy to oblige. After quickly perusing the drinks menu, we ordered one of my favourite ciders, a Henry of Harcourt Duck & Bull ($12.50 for 500ml), produced by the Henry of Harcourt Orchardists and Cidermakers in Harcourt, Victoria. A beautiful cider that gave us the courage to further explore the wine list and examine the blackboard menu behind me with undivided attention.

The house cured gravadlax with chive crème fraîche ($22) was the first starter and we decided to match it with a bottle of 2012 Farr Rising Saignee Pinot Noir Rose ($50) which was the only Rose on the wine list. What impressed me though is that the markup on the wine on offer at this restaurant is quite low and very reasonable. There was a surprising amount of salmon, a big dollop of crème fraîche and when mixed together it made for a great starter. The wine from Geelong was pink, smelled sweet and matched well. I was very impressed with the way things were starting off.

Farmhouse terrine with chutney and cornichons ($19) was next delivered from the kitchen. A very rustic and large slice of loaf that was not only visually stunning but really worked well across the palate with the Rose. Like with the gravadlax, I was impressed by the portion sizes but disappointed at the same time as I like to order multiple dishes of food to experience more tastes and although what I had consumed at this point was great, I was frustrated because the volume of food would limit my tasting goals.

This is about the time things became a bit queer. The spaghetti marinara with seafood and chilli ($33) was ordered along with a bottle of 2008 Hanging Rock "Three Dudes" Pinot Noir from Kilmore, VIC. I had previously sampled this wine at one of the Federation Square wine tasting nights and was just impressed with this wine from the relatively unexplored Macedon region of our great state. When delivered, the marinara itself was prepared from a recipe that did not include tomatoes. Although this happens at times, I was a bit surprised. Regardless when I tasted the pasta itself it was very undercooked. There was no way that the pasta would finish cooking in the sauce, so I sent it back. This was the first time since writing this blog I have sent something back so it was indeed a first and it certainly was not for dramatic effect. Service kindly did not charge me for this dish and instead of getting a replacement, I ordered a selection of the sorbets and ice creams ($12) which was a pleasant enough way to end this meal along with the fruity wine.

Service was hospitable and consultative. Given there are limited menu items, all highlighted on a blackboard where the focus is to promote and best utilise local produce, and what I found, wine, I appreciated the attention. How service dealt with my undercooked pasta was proactive and professional. Sometimes it is interesting to see how restaurants deal with small issues and I was pleased that the professionalism of this place was highlighted through this minor indiscretion. I would happily return to Gill's Diner again and am most intrigued about their bread which they sell as an aside and also the bar that has quite an intriguing cocktail list.

Gills Diner was awarded one hat in the 2012/2013 The Age Good Food Guide.

Gills Diner, Little Collins Street, Melbourne

Gills Diner
360 Little Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9670 7214
My Rating: 14.25/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 4/5

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

At the time of this post, 83% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Gills Diner.

Gill's Diner on Urbanspoon

Friday, 24 May 2013

MoVida Next Door - Everyone Needs Good Neighbours

It is no secret that I have a love affair with MoVida. When I posted my end of year 2012 wrap-up, I boldly stated that if I could choose one restaurant and eat there daily for the rest of my life it would be MoVida. Surprisingly up until very recently, I had never visited its little brother, aptly called MoVida Next Door mainly because the place is always filled to capacity when I walk past. Strategically after missing both breakfast and lunch and after meeting the epicurean emo at Bar Ampere for a couple of tasty beverages, we presented ourselves at MoVida Next Door precisely at 5:00 PM when they open for service as they do not accept dinner bookings. We were given the opportunity to pick whatever seat we wanted being the first ones to enter the restaurant so of course we took the corner table that borders the window looking out onto Flinders Street and Federation Square. We would nest here and call it home for the next three hours.

A room with high ceilings where the bar is the focal point makes good use of space and maximises the amount of diners that can enjoy the hospitality of the restaurant at any given time. This also means during the busy times that you may have to share a high table with others, but that is all part of the fun.

Glasses of Moritz lager ($8) and sangria ($10) were ordered and we would remain predictable throughout the rest of the evening and just keep requesting refills of these tasty beverages. I did not want to constrain the items on the interesting menu that would pair with any given type of wine so instead just opted for the safe option, beer.

The blackboard that borders the bar and acts like a static ticker had some curiosities advertised so we couldn't help to briefly ignore the menu and pick and choose items that looked as if they would be good to warm up the palate with. My old friend the Gamba ($24 for 4) or the simple prawn, lightly charred but full of flavour made its appearance first. The nefarious looking Pescadillo ($15) which are small and lightly battered whole fish that you use a fork to gently remove the flesh from the bone came next. Working for your food has never been so rewarding. Although it proves to be a mild taste when compared with the prawn, when you match it with the Queso ($8/each) a bold cheese and the huge bulbous tortillas ($3.50/each) you have a wonderful match and are left in the mood wanting more.

The restaurant has a good selection of Conservas, food served in tins. I couldn't help but order the white belly tuna ($13.50) which melted in my mouth in oily perfection. Some people confuse tinned food as being substandard but that is not the case here with their CUCA range of canned goods served with pickled garlic and bread. Call in, take a seat at the bar, order a single tin of food and a beer. Your life will be enriched by the experience.

Much like its neighbour, MoVida, a great Tapa menu is on offer. Designed to share, we started with the Anchoa ($5.50 each) which is a simple anchovy with goats curd, capers and tomato gazpacho jelly. Only one word can sum this up. Amazing. We would order this a few more times as the day turned to night and it turned out to be one of my dining highlights. The Anchoa is also available direct from the tin ($15) however the taste of the beautiful fish is certainly enriched by the goats curd. Pollo ($8 each) which is chicken grilled on charcoal and served on skewers was also great and had a nice charcoal taste and smell. Pulling the meat off the skewer with a fork and washing the bird down with the beer seemed so primitive but satisfying at the same time.

Raciones, which are just larger servings of tapas, is what keeps me coming back to MoVida for more. What Next Door has is just as impressive and exciting. I never say "No" to Oreja ($12.50) which is the ear of the pig. The texture and taste, combined with the Paletilla Inerico De Bellota ($28.50), the 24 month aged front leg of the ham were paired nicely. The front leg and ears of the pig may seem like unconventional things to eat and if you haven't ever tried them, most notably the famous Spanish ham, again you are missing out.

Whether it would be considered gluttony or just over-indulging of amazing food, we were unable to order desserts. There was a good atmosphere in the restaurant and despite how busy they were, staff always remained very attentive and interested. We never went without alcohol and despite staggering our multiple orders, food was presented very timely. For me good food and beverage leads to pleasant conversation and when you add in a buzzing dining room and if you are lucky enough to be able to do some people watching on Flinders Street, it makes the experience all the more fulfilling. The toilets are located next door at Movida which I did not find inconvenient and oddly it was interesting walking through the restaurant and bar area there a few times just to see what was going on and also admire the street art on Hosier Lane whilst traversing back and forth for the sake of my bladder. Although I ignored Next Door for some time, I will not be making that mistake again.

Movida Next Door, Hosier Lane, Melbourne

Movida Next Door
164 Flinders Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9663 3038
My Rating: 15/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

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

At the time of this post, 86% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Movida Next Door.

MoVida Next Door on Urbanspoon

The Deck Southbank - Play On Words

As the rain was pouring, I selfishly scheduled a meeting at The Deck in the the Southgate complex in Southbank mainly because I didn't want to walk very far. The person I was meeting did not read my SMS fully as I did indicate I would be at this specific restaurant, across from Walters Wine Bar. He instead walked to the Quarter Deck Cafe on Flinders Street. I was laughing and cavorting with the server when I heard this amusing information and we both reflected that at least he did not end up at The Deck bar at Crown Casino, or even worse, The Deck at Melbourne Pub Group's, Circa at the Prince of Wales hotel in St Kilda.

Walter's Wine Bar used to occupy the space where The Deck is located now. In 2004, the restaurant was seriously damaged by fire, smoke and of course water after a raging inferno started in one of the kitchen canopies and spread into the ceiling. At that time, Walter's also operated the Food Store across the hall so Walters's reopened in its current and more view-friendly location and now The Deck occupies the previously damaged space. One would assume that with a name like The Deck, there would be a magnificent outdoor area but what you find is a small dining and smoking space that can hold about 14 people seated comfortably. There are glimmers of the Yarra River if you go out of your way to look however you are situated in the plaza near the Quay West building which doesn't leave you in awe. Most of the restaurant is attached to the shopping plaza however a small dining room does connect the deck and the bar area. It is a really weird configuration.

Not being able to resist the $39.50 for two courses deal withh choices from a "special" menu, I ordered the cured salmon, avacado, pickled radish with rocket pesto and matched it with a 2012 Gran Sasso Pinot Grigio from Abruzzo, Italy. The produce was fine and the avacado smear was intense and although acting as some sort of artistic design on the plate, went with the cured salmon well. The glass of wine was included in this special however it was nothing remarkable and is a varietal that you would find being sold in bulk quantities from Grey's Online.  For the price, this was a good enough way to start a two course lunch. Other choices for the first course include macerated figs and duck terrine.

I followed up the cured salmon with braised ox cheek with a horseradish bearnaise, silverbeet and cherry tomato and matched it with the 2011 Gran Sasso Montepulciano from Abruzzo, Italy. The ox cheek was rather bland and rigid. I could not detect any horseradish in the bearnaise and like with the previous glass of Pinot Grigio, the Montepulciano was less than impressive. The extra glass of wine was not included in the fixed price deal. The other options available for the second course include the fish of the day, pork belly and pasta. Should you wish to splurge an additional $10, you can include a dessert course but we did not bother and instead went to the Belgian Beer Cafe for a modest quencher.

Overall, it was an unremarkable experience at The Deck. Service remained cheerful and consistent however I suppose since I didn't have any expectations to begin with, I wasn't disappointed. It served its purpose as a meeting spot however with some of the other "lunch deals" in the Southbank area, I will be exploring my options further in the future.

The Deck, Southgate, Southbank

The Deck
Upper Level, Southgate, Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9699 9544
My Rating: 12.25/20
Service: 3.25/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 3/5
Value For Money: 3/5

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

At the time of this post, 83% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like The Deck.

The Deck on Urbanspoon

Monday, 20 May 2013

PM24 - A Blend Like No Other

"Philippe Mouchel at 24 Russell Street" in case you were wondering is the meaning behind the name of this French restaurant which is part of George Calombaris's Made Establishment of Melbourne eateries. Head chef Philippe Mouchel has been at the helm of this French-inspired restaurant since 2010 and is located at the old Murasaki site for those that remember back to that bygone dining era. Mouchel was head chef at The Brasserie at Crown Casino before PM24 was launched. After his departure from The Brasserie, it became Bistro Guillaume after Guillaume Brahimi took over that restaurant for trivia purposes.

You experience a rustic French ambiance after entering the restaurant and are quickly greeted by the staff. A high ceiling, light colours and reminders that the chef has a cookbook for sale as it is on display at various strategic places confronts your senses at first along with the wonderful smell of the kitchen. This would prove to be my second extended dinner at PM24. I had every intention of writing a review after my first visit as I was impressed by the food, drink and service but the comprehensive French wine list got the best of me and I was barely in a state to get home and I did not remember all of the nuances from the previous experience. It was a pleasure to be returning again after only a couple of months and fortunately for those that read this blog, I left with my memory intact despite enjoying a few bottles of wine and cocktails this time around.

As I was entertaining someone from Sydney, there was no excuse not to run the whole gamut of not only the food menu but also start with aapéritif. I ordered a Kir Royal ($21) which is a French cocktail made with blackcurrant liqueur and champagne. Along with San Pellegrino water ($6) we were suitably hydrated when we placed the first of our food and wine orders. A bottle of 2011 Jamsheed Roussanne ($68) along with orders of sardines, snails and oysters which were all deemed suitable to start the evening off after previously enjoying beer at both the newly renovated Duke of Wellington and also Ponyfish Island. 

The tin of French vintage sardines ($18) was served open with a side of bread. The little fish are easily spread onto the bread, full of flavour and possessed both a beautiful texture and smell. I prefer French sardines over Spanish ones in general just because they are so easily manipulated. The Roussanne proved to be light, balanced and showed some citrus undertones and proved to be a good match for the first of our three starters.

Twelve oysters were delivered next. Six were Petite Claire ($4/each) and six were Rusty Wire ($5/each) which both varieties proving to be slightly acidic and salty with a mild taste. One of the Petite Claire oysters smelled a bit strange however the restaurant was happy to take it away and not charge us for it. The Roussane from Beechworth, Victoria, proved yet again to be a good match with the oysters and there was no regret ordering a local wine despite so many wonderful foreign vintages being available.

A tray of escargot - snails served in a garlic and parsley butter ($16.50) was the last of our starters. Snails are one of my favourite things to eat and the kitchen did not fail me. Served nearly sizzling filled with potential energy and at a temperature of 100c in a metal tray, I had to constrain my enthusiasm for the gastropod just so that I wouldn't scorch my mouth and take away my ability to taste the wine, which when paired with this garlic-laden mollusk was really nice. At one point the server poured a wine that belonged to another table into my dining companion's glass by accident, effectively making a new blend which he tasted and did not like at all. The glass was quickly replaced and a new pour of our Roussane was enjoyed. Mistakes do happen.

Having vacated the bottle of Roussane, we moved on to a Pinot Noir next. A 2005 Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay ($245) which although was complex and meaty, which proved to be a good match for our next dish, the steak tartare ($35.00) could have used a few more years aging in the bottle. The sommelier was indifferent as to whether this vintage should be decanted so I am now intrigued as to how much the wine would have changed if it was allowed to open up. For a pinot it was a good wine though and when matched with the raw hand diced beef wagyu which I scooped up using pommes frites made for a good bridge and an opportunity to turn up the conversation a notch. I would have enjoyed the tartare a bit more if it was spicier or served with a tabasco sauce but that is just a personal preference

As our pleasant conversation seemed to draw out, so did the patience of the kitchen so we were quizzed that if we wanted to order one of the made to order special rotisserie meats, either the chicken or the lamb. After being prodded we opted for the lamb mainly because we had a half a bottle of pinot to enjoy still. The rotisserie rack of lamb was delivered about thirty minutes later with vegetables ($39.50) and was simply beautiful. My eyes and nose loved it but not as much as my mouth. A perfect medium-rare with flavours that were only enhanced by the wine and vice-versa paired with the vegetables proved to be a hardy yet beautiful course.The lamb and chicken are considered signature dishes and for good reason that I discovered.

Finishing off the evening with a Hendricks gin and tonic ($13) was a nice way to digest a great meal and get the courage to take on the elements on the wild and wanton Melbourne streets. We ended up being the last ones in the restaurant and after four hours of eating and drinking, we bid everyone a fond farewell and retreated to the Croft Institute for cocktails. I enjoyed my second trip to PM24 more than my first but that is probably because I remember the whole experience. There were a few technical difficulties with service but nothing that caused alarm where the quality of the food in general supersedes any brief disappointment that was experienced with the noisome oyster or the special wine blend.

PM24 was awarded one chefs hat in the 2012/2013 The Age Good Food Guide.

PM24, Russell Street, Melbourne

24 Russell Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9207 7424
My Rating: 15/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 4/5

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

At the time of this post, 87% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like PM24.

PM24 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Borsch, Vodka & Tears + Burch & Purchese = Chapel Street Ampersands

Some consider it a Chapel Street institution; a stalwart that has withstood the test of time and numerous intoxicated patrons after they indulged upon the niceties of their extended vodka list. Many consider it a place to get hardy polish-inspired food (and other morsels from that countries neighbours) however I think of Borsch, Vodka & Tears on Chapel Street as a fun place that you really can't take too seriously. Not in the sense that the food or anything is a joke per se, but because it is a fun atmosphere that doesn't try to exude an attitude or be something that they are not.

A heavily stocked bar with vodka from both Poland and the general area around its borders greets you before service tends to. Most of the time you are left to choose a table to your liking however it is a small dining room so the few choices by the window will either be already taken or dirty, which was the case when I turned up on a recent visit. A seat was happily taken in the rear of the restaurant which is a bit more calm as if you sit too close to the door you are subjected to the foot traffic entering and exiting, people paying their bill or just being a nuisance of themselves in general.

The staff ask to take drink orders quite quickly. In my case I barely had the chance to begin inspecting the 100+ entries on just the vodka menu before I was quizzed. I ended up ordering a standard shot ($6.50) of vodka whilst deliberating the short menu. Ultimately after being asked a few times if we were ready to order and placating, or should I say, buying some additional time to chat and review the menu further by ordering another vodka, we thought the vegetarian Russian Pierogi ($17) and the Potato Blintzes ($11.50) would be a good way to start. The Pierogi are potato dumplings of sorts with baked cheese, fried onions, sour cream, mint and a few minced gherkins. This was tasty and very filling and perfectly matched after taking on the cold and blustery climate outside. It wasn't an explosion of tastes as you can't really do exciting things with a potato (unless you are Ben Shewry) but it made for a good starter and lined the stomach for the never ending shots of vodka. The potato blintzes are "traditional" potato pancakes with sour cream and dill. The blintzes are not as exciting as the Pierogi, which doesn't say much really, and really reminded me of the potato cakes that you get from the Maccas in the morning and brought back memories of getting loaded with carbs first thing before hitting the slopes of Thredbo.

We both thought the Hungarian Lamb Ragout ($15) would be appropriate and fit in well with the general theme. Served with rye bread, this dish of lamb, peppers, tomatoes and sour cream is something homely that you would expect in Budapest or even the wartime era. It is very hardy and very filling however bland and I found myself adding sea salt which was provided on the table. More vodka helped take off the edge and service was happy to top up my shot glass at the table whenever it was empty.

This is a fun and vibrant restaurant where you can't take anything too seriously. Music plays from all different eras and various oddities hang on the wall that are there to amuse, such as:

Borsch Vodka & Tears, Prahran VIC
First Dr(i)nk For Health
Second For Pleasure
Third For Tears
Fourth For Madness

The hefty list of vodkas and associated cocktails is impressive. My drinking partner ordered the "20 Cent Lemonade" and thought it was brilliant - so much a second was ordered however I think that he was just trying to keep up with the shots that I was enjoying.

There is outside street dining available which is draped in plastic so there is some protection from the elements and of course is an option if you are a smoker however the volume of foot traffic on Chapel Street would make for dining outside a bit annoying, but that is really just my opinion. Being seated close to the bar ensures that your glass is always filled with alcohol and that you are not left to go wanting.

After the heavy and rustic food enjoyed at Borsch, Vodka & Tears, we staggered begrudgingly two kilometers toward the river and the serenity of Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio, also on Chapel Street. This is the place you want to go for chocolate, ice cream, custom cakes and assorted jams. Although I was on a mission to purchase a bottle of spicy pineapple jam ($14) I couldn't help ask for an "explosive" raspberry ice cream, milk chocolate and pop rocks ($8.00) on a stick. I needed something cold and frankly something with a very sweet taste to counter the food (and vodka) that was enjoyed earlier at Borsch, Vodka & Tears. Burch & Purchese is one part store and one part laboratory led by owner and one of the more prominent pastry chefs in Australia, Darren Purchese, where his team prepares their confectionery on-site. Despite cooling down thanks to the sublime ice cream covered in chocolate, being greeted at the door with samples of popcorn honeycomb chocolate crumble was not only nice but could easily lead to an addiction. This place puts the typical "cake shops" in neighbouring St Kilda to utter shame and your life in Melbourne will not be complete unless you visit Darren's studio.

The aforementioned are two contrasting places that can be visited on Chapel Street should you have the time and strength especially after indulging upon the demon drink but it is a rather inexpensive and worth while journey, that for me at least is always worth the effort.

Borsch, Vodka & Tears, Chapel Street, Prahran Melbourne

Borsch, Vodka & Tears
173 Chapel Street, Windsor VIC 3182
(03) 9530 2694
My Rating: 12.75/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 3.25/5

Burch & Purchese, Chapel Street, South Yarra

Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio
647 Chapel Street, South Yarra VIC 3141
(03) 9827 7060
My Rating: n/a
Service: n/a
Ambiance: n/a
Quality: n/a
Value For Money: n/a

Note: Online ordering is now available.

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

At the time of this post, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Borsch, Vodka & Tears. A further 91% of the reviewers also like Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio.

Borsch, Vodka & Tears on Urbanspoon Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio on Urbanspoon