Saturday, 22 June 2013

Siglo - Parfait, Caviar and Red Wine

When I was recently posed with the question of where one can eat and drink but also smoke cigarettes, I thought of the tables outside of European on Spring Street however knowing that Siglo, which is the rooftop terrace bar above both European and Melbourne Supper Club would not be as packed - or at least I didn't not expect it to be as packed, would make a good alternative that satisfied the simple yet smelly prerequisite that was given to me.

Once you emerge on the rooftop after walking up a flight of stairs that takes you past the Melbourne Supper Club dining room, you are greeted by service. Walking past the bar en route to a table is when you first see the view of both St. Patrick's Cathedral and the top of Parliament House. Plants and heat lambs provide unnatural barriers between your table and other guests and as I would find the smoker puffing away and sitting rather regally whilst he waited for us to join him and order both beer and wine.

My original plan was to stay at Siglo for an hour but time seemingly got away from me and it turned into a four hour eating and drinking marathon. Starting off with many bottles of Alhambra ($11.50) a beautiful beer from Spain that is a golden lager that is very drinkable on a cold winter night, we moved onto glasses of 2010 Artadi Tempranillo. This is when I thought I would only be at Siglo for an hour however this biodymamically produced wine that hails from the north of Rioja, Spain was excellent and either made me lethargic or encouraged conversation (I suspect both) so ultimately I made myself comfortable and stayed for the long hall. 

A very reasonably priced dish of escargot ($12) was arranged by the kitchen. Not simply served in garlic butter, but it also had hints of parsley and cognac, made these morsels of our garden friends very tasty and I would soon find paired well with the bottle of 2010 Bird in Hand Nest Egg Shiraz ($139) from the Adelaide Hills. Interestingly, this vintage was awarded Winestate Magazine's "Best Shiraz in the World" which I find intriguing. In this competition, 720 wines were judged and 20 of them were awarded five stars. This being one of them but this vintage also took out top honours curiously. Given the price point, it makes this bottle great value for money however is it the best Shiraz that I have enjoyed from 2010? Probably not however it was great to see the Adelaide Hills win an award of this type.

Truffled duck liver parfait, pear chutney and toasted brioche ($15.50) appeared on the mish-mash of tables that were assembled before us next. What always impresses me about Siglo, let alone European and Melbourne Supper Club is when you order a parfait, you get an adequate amount of bread. There is nothing as annoying as not having a good ratio of elements as it is very inconvenient when you ultimately must wait to have your foodstuff topped up so you do not have to act uncivilised. Prawn and lemongrass wontons with sweet chili ($13.50) contrasted the smooth flavours of the parfait and ultimately the oil inherent with the wanton would thankfully further coat my stomach as bigger and bolder things were being planned to come.

Caviar (30g for $250 at market price) would arrive next with a bottle of 2008 Domaine Faury Côte-Rôtie Syrah ($150) from Northern Rhone, France. The tart taste of the wine when matched with the caviar, literally left an explosion of complimentary tastes across my palate. This wine had great structure and made for a fantastic pair with the caviar however if I was in a more lucid state before this course of sorts, I would have enjoyed a shot of vodka just to cleanse my tastebuds from the niceties that were previously enjoyed.

Service remained more intrigued if anything because we were hitting it hard with reckless abandon however as my learned friend said, you have to live while you are young. Although in general we were tasked with topping up our wine glasses, this did not matter in the end because of the crowded nature of our little area. To have service constantly turning up to undertake this duty would have been inconvenient for all involved. Although there were only a handful of people at Siglo at 6:00 PM, the entire rooftop was buzzing at 10:00 PM. There were enough heat lamps running so we never noticed that it was the dead of winter but at the same time we did not bake.

I like Siglo. I like everything in this building actually and given the late, or should I say early morning opening hours, it makes for a good destination to finish your night or even quite the opposite as it is easy to lose track of time especially when you have such good food, wine, service and of course pleasant conversation to distract you.

Level 2, 161 Spring St., Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 6300
My Rating: 14.75/20
Service: 3.25/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

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

At the time of this post, 82% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Siglo.

Siglo on Urbanspoon

Monday, 17 June 2013

Quay, Sydney - Three Hats and Counting

For those of you who read my tribute to Marc and Cher Thompson of Bistro Lilly yesterday, you would have learned that for many years whilst I lived happily in Sydney, it was in the quiet and secluded harbourside suburb of Millers Point. Bordering The Rocks and only a stones throw from Circular Quay gave me ease of access to not only the restaurants but the bars in this picturesque tourist mecca. When I was part of a "gentlemans club" which is essentially four arseholes (sic) that met up once a month with the intent to go fine dining and talk about important topics like women, the ASX, wine and sport (not in that order) the last venue that we attended was Quay in Circular Quay West before I moved to Brisbane. It had been roughly three years and many chefs hats, a plethora of awards and an abundance of accolades that had been thrust on both the restaurant and Executive Chef Peter Gilmore since I last sat in this restaurant so it was with not only morbid curiosity but a sense of nostalgia that I chose to dine at Quay last week with a client. My sole intention for my day trip to Sydney was to take this particular client out to lunch so he was thrilled to be invited to Quay as it was his first visit and was high on his bucket list. After recently dining at the best that Melbourne has to offer over the last six months I was most interested in comparing and contrasting the overall epicurean experiences and left talk about transformation and other boring topics take a back seat.

Sydney Opera House, outside Quay Restaurant, Sydney
Sydney Opera House - View from outside Quay
As rain pelted down in Melbourne last Wednesday and the inhabitants of the best city in the world shivered with their Collingwood scarves lovingly draped around their necks like a noose, I escaped to the Harbour City and after the fog cleared, Qantas came to my rescue and delivered me at a reasonable hour in the morning after Virgin Australia cancelled my scheduled flight. If it wasn't for Qantas, I would have missed this much anticipated client lunch and would have been charged for not turning up for the scheduled booking at Quay. It turned out to be a mild 22c in Sydney. The sun was shining and all signs were pointing to a relaxed lunch with spectacular views of the harbour on offer.

We were greeted at reception with a smile and taken to our table. Fortunately it was in the area of the restaurant that offers the best view of not only the harbour but also the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the touristy restaurants at Campbell Cove. Drinks orders were taken and I requested a Hendricks Gin & Tonic ($15) which is turning out to be quite a ritual when dining these days whilst we socialised the menus and had small talk about the wonderful Sydney weather. Although an a la carte menu was available, most of the dining options articulated were also part of an eight course degustation menu which we quickly agreed was the best option moving forward. Of course the client knew that I was on the hook to pay so he was happy to agree to anything I would imagine. There were also two options for matching wine, we opted for the more expensive "premium" wine match, so the total degustation with matching premium wines was a reasonable $400/pp. This is on par with the higher end tasting menus available at Jacques Reymond and Attica so I wasn't too surprised by the cost.

Interior Quay Restaurant, Sydney
Inside Quay
It wasn't long until the first course was delivered. It would become my favourite course and set the standard for everything that was served later. Congee of Northern Australian mud crab with fresh palm heart and an egg yolk emulsion. The broth with the added consistency of the emulsion was absolutely amazing and certainly brought out the amazing flavour within the mud crab. Matched with a 2005 Keith Tulloch Semillon from the Hunter Valley, I thought was apt and a wonderful choice that allowed both the food and wine pair without giving an extraordinary amount of emphasis to either one. I seem to be partial to white wine matched with seafood these days so I am not surprised this turned out to be my favourite dish however my interest in the rest of the menu was not only piqued but I was left hungry wanting more. Service was happy to give us refills of wine, not only whilst enjoying this dish but we would find that it was no problem to get "top ups" whilst experiencing the remaining courses.

Salad of albino and chioggia beetroots, preserved wild cherries, goats curd, scorched beet leaves and violets were then matched with a 2010 Revendy 'Terre de Maimbray' Sancerre from France. Revendy is a very small producer but has the most awards for Sancerre, and like the small producer, the theme knocks on to the small yet delicate wild cherries, cold morsels of goats curd and smatterings of leaves, beetroots and edible flowers. This is a very pretty dish and the both the curd and beetroot brought out the flavours inherent in the wine. The dish properly matched with the view of the harbour as an aside. This is one of the few restaurants where you will find that visual stimulation is taken just as seriously as evoking your other senses.

Red claw yabbies with a garlic scented custard and yabby velvet was then matched with a non vintage Gosset Grande Rose from Champagne, France. A rose that was made intentionally as opposed to being thrown together as an aside was a great choice to match with the yabbies as it gave the allure of being a bit sophisticated, but not too sophisticated as not to outclass the yabbies. Yet another visually stunning dish that was full of flavour, further complimented by the choice of wine made this another contender for "favourite" further enhanced by the sommelier being generous with the refills allowing us to take the pain away from discussing business and action items.

I was most intrigued by the next dish as I had never had goose before. Besides calling one of my best mates this waterbird and seeing them chase children in various parks, I have never been offered one to eat. Roasted with "forbidden" rice, a black miso and hatsuka radish, it was matched with a 2010 Bass Phillip 'Estate' Pinot Noir from Gippsland, Victoria. In ancient China,  black rice was considered the finest grain and only served to the Emperor, thus the name "forbidden" rice which was a novel touch to accompany a bird that is not commonly consumed by the masses. A subtle gaminess was enjoyed but the black miso really made this a special and a different taste that defined why you go out to eat - to try new things and I am now hooked on goose. I will never look at my mate the same way again. It was nice to see a wine from Victoria represented in this tasting menu and I can't think of a nicer match. This fruity Pinot Noir really complemented the goose and they both turned into a conversational highlight.

Smoked and confit pig cheek, shiitake, shaved scallops, Jerusalem artichoke leaves, bay and juniper followed with a 2010 Algueira Merenzao from Riberia Sacra, Spain. This is a decadent dish - a fatty dish with an amazing texture. I am so used to eating parts of the pig at Movida however I had never experienced the pleasure of the pig cheek. The scallops and artichoke leaves really added to the mystery of this dish as my palate didn't know what to make of it at first but then when you pair it with the bold Algueira, it made for a complete contrast to the goose and really took you on a trip from Australia to Spain. This was my dining partner's favourite dish and nearly mine.

Pasture raised veal with a bitter chocolate black pudding, green walnuts, slow cooked wallaby tail, salsify, smoked bone marrow and chestnut mushrooms was the final savoury dish matched with a 2010 Luke Lambert 'Reserve' Syrah from our own Yarra Valley. What a cornucopia of tastes that all jostle for position across your palate. The wallaby tail, from a producer in the southern NSW highlands (note: Flinders Island Meats supplied the wallaby and have corrected not only be but advised the restaurant that the server advised me with wrong information) was not so different than any other wallaby offering that I had enjoyed in Melbourne, yet was equally as good. The bone marrow was rich and along with the veal and pudding, the mix of tastes and texture were very intriguing and bold - along with the big and beautiful Syrah, this was a perfect winter warmer as the sun shined on my back.

Andalucia citris and almonds along with a 2011 Joh.Jos. Prum 'Wehlener Sonnenuhr' Auslese Riesling from Mosel, Germany essentially acted as a palate cleaners and first sweet course and was followed by a Guava snow egg and a 2009 Pegasus Bay 'Aria' Riesling from Waipara, New Zealand. A simple dessert that had a controlled amount of flavour that effectively acted as a denouement and brought my senses back to earth. I liked that a rich and bold dessert was not served to finish off this experience and that the biggest and boldest tastes were left to make an impression with the last savoury dish along with the black pudding that paired with the wallaby tail and the Yarra Valley Syrah.

After petit fours, we clocked up nearly four hours enjoying both conversation and this tasting menu. It proves that business can not only appropriately mix with pleasure but when you add a venue such as Quay and a wonderful degustation menu, time can literally get away from you.

The Quay ambiance has always been a matter of contention for me. Sure, you experience a great view and you are effectively distracted from the minimalist surrounds which I think is appropriate for the restaurant. The view of the harbour is first and foremost and can lead to distraction from your guests (as I have noticed in the past) but it certainly does add a certain amount of tranquility to the experience as you watch the ferries and tourist vessels move back and forth. When you make a booking in the summer, I would advise you to confirm that a cruise ship will not be docked in the harbour otherwise you will have the pleasure of looking at the side of the boat however in the past I have equally enjoyed dining experiences at Quay without the view as in the end, I at least am there for food, wine and conversation with a view as an afterthought. This is why I was a bit sullen when Shannon Bennett moved Vue de Monde from the humble Normanby Chambers on Little Collins Street to the opulent top floor of Rialto Tower in Melbourne so he could truly get a view of the world. Both Jacques Reymond and Attica have not fallen into that trap, or even gimmick, and in the end manage to excite your senses by having them focus on the matters at hand instead of what is happening outside.

Service throughout the four hours remained attentive, consultative and kind. I have frequently been caught out holding Sydney service to a different level than you experience in Melbourne and once again, I thought although service was great and for Sydney standards and it was top-notch, however when held against my Melbourne standards, it was just above average. I have always found the "top" restaurants to be a bit more service-focused in Melbourne and I noticed the small nuances once again at this trip to Quay. The dining area also became a bit warm. I noticed this on all of my previous visits when dining in this same area including in the evening also so it just wasn't because the sun was shining brightly in. I can only imagine what it would be like on a hot 40c sunny Sydney day.

I did really enjoy my trip to Quay and have always considered it one of my favourite restaurants in the city that I used to call home. Would I choose it over the Melbourne three hat restaurants, Vue de Monde, Attica or Jacques Reymond if I was given a complimentary free night out or if I won the Lotto? The easy answer is no however I do still rate this experience as one of the best that I have had in 2013 so far.

Quay received three chefs hats in the SMH 2012/2013 Good Food Guide and won restaurant of the year in 2011 and 2012. Quay was also ranked #48 in the world according to the 2013 San Pellegrino "World's Best" list.

Quay Restaurant, Circular Quay, Sydney

Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal
5 Hickson Rd  The Rocks NSW 2000
(03) 9251 5600
My Rating: 17.75/20
Service: 4.25/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5
Quality: 5/5
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 like Quay.

Quay on Urbanspoon

Lobster Cave Beaumaris - Motion In The Ocean

South of Sandringham and Black Rock, you will find the sleepy suburb of Beaumaris with a simple shopping strip with the Lobster Cave a distinct architectural highlight, nestled in next door to a Pizza Capers franchise. Despite people raving about this place and both the quality and volume of seafood that is in offer, a visit elluded me until I was out driving around with someone else where I was the passenger. I was in the area picking up a snowboard and boots for the forthcoming snow season (please, let it snow!) so I offered to pick up the tab at the Lobster Cave knowing that I could get stuck into wine and not have to worry about driving home. 

We were given a table outside under the bright and hot heat lamps. After exploring inside the restaurant, I was grateful that we were seated outside as it was calmer despite the footpath that separates the outdoor tables from the restaurant being used by random people. Service was quite welcoming, almost too welcoming, indicating they were singing from a hymn book.

Drinks orders were taken. I ordered a Hendricks Gin & Tonic to start off things. A small bottle of  Bombay Sapphire, a small bottle of tonic and a glass of ice was brought out and the elements were all placed in front of me on a small tray. So I was tasked with making my drink. Weird. The same sort of odd service was wrapped around serving the sparking mineral water. Two empty glasses, two glasses of ice with tongs and two bottles of water were placed on the table. I have never met anyone in my life that requires a certain variable of ice cubes in proportion to the volume of water so all I was seeing was a bit of extravagance just for the sake of it and far too many glasses on the table especially after I quickly knocked back the G&T and ordered another one, this time articulating that I wanted Hendricks gin. The wine list was procured as was the food menu and it took some time to read about all of the options available.

We decided to order the "Ultimate" Combination Platter with Whole Rock Lobster ($299.90 for two) and I requested a bottle of chardonnay from the Yarra (honestly, I can't remember what I ordered as I lost the scrap of paper I wrote it on) and when I quizzed service rather facetiously as whether there would be enough food, we were offered fries and a salad, to which we declined. About twenty minutes later, the bonanza of seafood was delivered. As expected, it was a massive amount of food. There was one two level riser with two plates of assorted delights, a plate of fried seafood and a plate with the Rock Lobster, rice, bivalve mollusks and other assorted condiments. This was a table for two and after all of the food was delivered, there was absolutely no space left (note my comment about the exceptional amount of glassware earlier) which left some of the plates dangling precariously over the side as our eyes attempted to digest the task ahead of us.

Lobster Cave "Ultimate" Combination Platter with Whole Rock Lobster
Whole flame grilled Rock Lobster was apparently the star of this performance. At least given the name of the restaurant and the striking beauty of this crustacean which was cut in half so that we could easily pull the meat from the cavity. I really like lobster. I especially like it when it is pulled from the tank, slaughtered in front of me and the meat ends up on rice in a sushi bar within one minute of its death. I also like it boiled and steamed at Chinese restaurants. For some reason though, this grilled Rock Lobster did not do much for me. It seemed a bit dry and I did not want to disrespect its memory by dressing it with condiments. 

Whole seared cray tail infused with lemon, garlic, parsley olive oil and the Queensland (Mooloolaba) jumbo cooked tiger prawns were some of the highlights of this feast. The kitchen conveniently sliced the sharp exoskelton of the tiger prawns in the kitchen so it was convenient to remove the flesh.

Pacific oysters served three ways - crab meat and caviar, horseradish cream and smoked salmon with pearls and mornay bordered two of the large dishes. An interesting and tasty take on classic oysters and the horseradish cream was a nice touch especially since I was looking for something to excite my palate a bit.

Returning to the fried food which was quickly filling my stomach, the salt and pepper squid was another highlight and perhaps my favourite if you can believe it. The hot chilli steamed black mussels were served in a large bowl and they were all perfectly cooked in a mild sauce where I only came across one mussel that did not open during the cooking process. The grilled Kangaroo Island abalone was also filled with flavour and unlike the lobster, I enjoyed this mollusk grilled and it was probably the best abalone that I have ever had.

Refreshing the palate with watermelon and rock melon intermittently during this war on the seafood stocks, the whole grilled Moreton Bay bugs were devoured quickly and in between bites of fruit my share of Hervey Bay scallops on the half shell and the whole crumbed and fried soft shell crab was consumed. Wine was drank. The night being spent on the street of Beaumaris was turning into a festive occasion.

At this point we were looking at each other with consternation and agreed that we could not finish all of the food so tactical decisions had to be made. The Western Australian scampi, smoked Tasmanian salmon with caviar pearls and the tempura tiger prawns were polished off. Despite wok tossed blue swimmer crab being available, I found it too difficult to get any meat out of them and the quest for some of my favourite flesh from the sea was quickly abandoned.

We had to fully ignore the Thai style South Australian baby calamari salad and the beer battered King George whiting fillets. The latter mainly because these fillets were huge and we could not tolerate anything fried after some of the wonderful tastes of seafood available on these four huge plates.

Service was a mixed bag. One of the servers was amusing, pleasant and engaging. He was ultimately succonded to the wealth of diners inside as by the time our "Ultimate" platter was nearly polished off, there were but a handful of diners outside. I overheard another server be told to check on us every 15 minutes but that did not happen. Yet another member of service kept appearing asking if we wanted tea or coffee however I wanted more G&T's and kept ordering them. The attack of the empty glasses started in again and by the time I had my dessert which consisted of a fourth G&T after polishing off the bottle of wine, the table looked very unkempt with remains of seafood, rice, serviettes and empty glasses that the infrequent service did not really pay much attention to.

When the bill was requested, that was brought out quickly along with a fair amount of propaganda relating to the Lobster Cave "Gold Medallion Club" where we were advised that the one-time $99 joining fee had been waved and that we should hand over all of our personal details so that we can join said secret society. The benefit would have been should we return, we would be entitled to a free bottle of wine to takeaway provided that we spend a certain amount of money. Like with Taco Bill, I am not a fan of these sorts of gimmicks so I couldn't be bothered signing up.

Given this is the Lobster Cave, I expected to see tanks of lobsters respectfully hidden within the walls inside the restaurant. There are tanks with tropical fish and an LED television on the wall with an "under the sea" screen saver, but I did not see any evidence of what was on offer and the seafood presumably rests behind the scenes somewhere.

Although the Lobster Cave is impressive and would make for a good venue to host a doo, I find it quite inconvenient to get to so it would be a challenge to end up there again under favourable circumstances.

Lobster Cave
16/18 North Concourse, Beaumaris VIC 3193
(03) 9589 6329
My Rating: 13.5/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

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

At the time of this post, 65% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Lobster Cave in Beaumaris.

Lobster Cave on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Bistro Lilly Sydney - A Tribute to Marc and Cher Thomson (RIP)

I experienced a fair amount of shock and an extreme amount of sadness when I was first told that Marc and Cher Thompson, the owners of Bistro Lilly in Millers Point, Sydney, took their own lives. I then read the article in the Sydney Morning Herald and wondered how a restaurant - a business, could drive two seemingly happy and vivacious people, that had a true passion for their restaurant to commit suicide.

I had known the Thompsons since 2005 when Bistro Lilly opened at the base of Observatory Tower - the tall green tower that used to be the IBM buiding in the days of old, which casts a shadow on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Not only does Paul Keating call this particular residential tower home but so does Lisa McGuigan who operates Kent Street Cellars at the street level. The Bistro Lilly restaurant superseded two other cafes that came and went in the previous few years and after visiting it for the first time, I really hoped that this French-inspired cafe would be successful as I was hooked.

Being a resident of Millers Point and living across the street until 2010 enabled me to call Bistro Lilly my "local" if a restaurant can in fact be considered one, but given the amount of times that I would take up residence at the small bar, chat with Marc and Cher for hours at a time and madly try to catch up on work e-mails throughout the evening whilst drinking a tremendous amount of wine, I suppose it is a suitable qualification.

When the evening service stopped, Marc, Cher, sometimes the service and frequently the chef and I would lament about life and times outside on the patio. Not only the challenges of opening and running a restaurant in highly competitive Sydney was a topic frequently discussed, but also politics, love, lust, food, wine and ultimately tall drunken tales early into the morning.

I spent more time speaking to Mark and Cher outside late at night compared to my own parents since I officially became an adult. They were truly lovely and genuine people that I considered not only neighbours but also friends. They will be missed.

On my last trip to Sydney I made a point of walking to Observatory Tower to leave some flowers outside of Bistro Lilly. The sad part is that there is so much corporate foot (and bicycle) traffic flowing from the pedestrian tunnel that connects Kent Street, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Clarence Street and York Street that would never have had the pleasure of stopping in at Bistro Lilly, enjoying the hospitality of the owners or the ever changing degustation menu that was always great value for money.

Regardless of the Sydney dining scene losing a fantastic bistro, friends, residents of Millers Point and the human race lost some fantastic people and for that I am both sad and angry.

The lesson learned is to support your local restaurants. Take time to get to know the owners and make these public places part of the community. Sometimes the people behind what ends up on the table are what is truly remarkable about a place.

I hope Marc and Cher can rest in peace.

Taco Bill South Melbourne - The Voucher King

I knew that Taco Bill was a franchise but I was rather shocked to learn there are roughly thirty of them. When I was recently in Warrnambool, I was looking forward to some "good times" as the result of imbibing in classic margarita punchbowls and some attempt at food with flavour but recently that franchise reverted to the "Cactus Jack" banner (which turned out to be a decent enough meal in the end) so it was with some consternation really that I presented myself at Taco Bill on Clarendon Street in South Melbourne before going to the Albert Park Driving Range with the intent to test out my new club.

Fortunately I was able to drag one other person with me mainly because I had a 25% voucher that always seems to be lurking on the back of a Coles docket if you can be bothered to pay attention. I suspect that the promise of hitting some golf balls excited this bloke more than the promise of food and drink though.

There is always some gimmick at Taco Bill's. Whether it is a free sombrero if you purchase a $30 margarita in a fishbowl glass which ironically only has three nips of tequila because of the licensing laws, pencils and forms on the table for you to provide the restaurant with your birthday so they can get in contact you with freebees or as I would learn upon paying the bill, sealed envelopes that you can bring back in the month of July that would be opened by the restaurant that contained a voucher. The only thing I really wanted was some decent food and alcoholic beverages before smashing some golf balls so my requirements and expectations were quite low. I didn't want all of the distractions, just some food and drink.

The menu listed Corona beer as being the only listed Mexican beer available and that you should ask your server for other beer that may be on offer from Mexico. I opted for the Dos Equis Lager ($7.50) which fortunately they had in stock after I quizzed the server as I just can't stomach Corona. We laugh in Australia that Fosters beer tastes like cat piss. Well, in Mexico the same joke and observation is made about Corona.

The board of specials listed a Carne Asada Taco ($5.50) which appeared impressive along with other items I was not interested in, like a beer battered fish taco which proclaimed to be "Authentic Baja" style. Whilst travelling Baja California I never witnessed anywhere sell beer battered fish tacos. This is a haven for resorts and street food, especially on the 1000km drive between the California/Mexico border and Cabo San Lucas and I do not think anyone could possibly be bothered to beer batter anything let alone destroy the delicate taste of the fish that the pescadores haul in from the sea. I really don't know why some "Mexican" restaurants beer batter the fish before putting it in a simple tortilla - it is really confusing. The taco proved to be quite average and bland. The meat was tender however the tortilla was mass produced. There was nothing special about the produce and I needed to add spicy green sauce to the taco to give it some kick. Was I surprised to see that both the red and green sauces supplied on each table have Taco Bill's own label on them? Yes, for a small price you can buy their brand of hot sauce too. Speaking of which, whilst you wait for your first order of drinks, you are provided a handful of tortilla chips and salsa to set the mood. This salsa is also mass produced and in generally it is not nice. It is the same salsa that I have seen in other Taco Bill's which is disappointing as it doesn't take much effort to make a decent salsa with fresh (or canned) tomatoes, onion, garlic, white vinegar, chillis and a blender as a baseline. I really don't like it when I find restaurants being lazy and substituting something that would only take a few minutes to prepare and substitute it for something very inferior.

I would soon learn that the Chicken Quesadilla Suprema ($21.50) that I ordered would inherit the generic products that I just lamented about. This time the mass produced and supplied flour tortilla contained a fair amount of chicken but once again, it was bland. The salsa claimed to be "house made" but it was the same type that was served previously with the tortilla chips. A smattering of cheese, rice, beans and guacamole, which also was not seasoned rounded out the experience. Fortunately I was able to enjoy another Dos Equis lager before departing to hit some golf balls very hard.

Sometimes I get really angry after allowing myself to fall in the trap of the Taco Bill's of this world. With all of the other dining options on Clarendon Street, including pubs at my disposal, I decided to visit this place simply because I had a voucher and really because it was close to the driving range. It proves that marketing techniques work and the ability to save $16.50 on the bill I suppose made it taste better in the end however this is not Mexican food. I proved to be just as lazy in securing a more suitable dining option, much like Taco Bill is guilty of mediocrity.

Taco Bill, Clarendon Street, South Melbourne

Taco Bill - South Melbourne
375 Clarendon St., South Melbourne VIC 3205
(03) 9690 2077
My Rating: 11.25/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 2.75/5
Quality: 2.5/5
Value For Money: 3/5

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

At the time of this post, 71% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Taco Bill South Melbourne.

Taco Bill Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

La Camera Southbank - A Room in Southgate

La Camera is translated as "The Room" and is a recently renovated faux-Italian restaurant in the Southgate complex with views out to Southbank Promenade. Not to be confused with the recently transformed Der Raum, which is translated as "The Space" in Richmond, this is one of the restaurants that I would expect to end up on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares if Gordon ever brings his travelling circus to Australia to film some episodes.

As it was the Queens Birthday public holiday the day that I frequented this restaurant with one other, we were presented a menu with a few specific specials but also prices that were commensurate with the reward rate. An amazing $24.20 for a very ordinary Bunga Bunga pizza was just one example of the outrageous prices. I probably wouldn't have been so annoyed by the bloated prices for food and beverage if the service was equally exceptional. They were not. Despite seemingly being fully staffed, it took twenty minutes for service to bring our drink order. This involved simply opening a bottle of Peroni Red ($9.20) and a bottle of Rekorderling cider ($17.30) and having them carried three metres from the bar. During this hiatus, I observed the table on one side of us be served items they never ordered which they rejected. Ultimately when they did receive the pizzas that they in fact ordered were provided with a wheel-type pizza cutter so they could cut it themselves. The table next to us got tired of waiting for the menus presumably and left. All of this time was spent musing about the political landscape and looking at the food that had been left on the floor that nobody seemed to care about cleaning up.

Eventually we ordered Salame Cacciatore ($13.80) and Mozzarella di Bufala ($20.70) to start. Given the price of the cheese, I asked the server if it was D.O.C. Denominazione di origine controllata ("controlled designation of origin") is Italy’s certification system to identify and protect cheeses produced within specified regions within the country. Regional specificity is just one requirement; to achieve certification cheeses must also be produced using exacting, predefined ingredients and methods, and must meet rigorous quality standards. This cheese I would later learn was not classified D.O.C. No matter really, I wasn't surprised but with so many other places that are flogging D.O.C. cheeses which are cheaper, it really just set the mood of this experience at La Camera.The Salame was spicy thankfully and I was grateful to have a bit of taste with the bland Mozzarella di Bufala and made me long for more Red Peroni, which came out quite quickly when I ordered my second round and later the third round.

My Linguine Al Granchio ($36.80) came in a timely manner after we had finished the meat and cheese. For the price I wanted something amazing and in turn received something mediocre. Although the pasta was prepared perfectly, the "Australian crab meat" was really disgusting. The seafood was supposed to make this dish but the kitchen killed it. I had the opportunity to taste the Bunga Bunga pizza ($24.20) which the server was kind enough to slice for us. It was good, but nothing that you would feel comfortable paying that much money for. After recently having amazing pizzas at other venues around Melbourne, I was rather disappointed to say the least.

There is outdoor seating however being wintertime, the balcony is protected by a dirty shroud so there is really no view available of the beautiful (sic) Yarra River. This is a puzzling restaurant which left me sullen. Given all of the hands on deck to provide service which ultimately did not bother, the condition of the dining room and the high prices for rather mediocre if not substandard food, I thought this place would be a good candidate for Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. I would imagine this restaurant survives off the tourist dollar given the high rent for the property and position within the Southgate complex which disappoints me in a way as aforementioned tourists will ultimately judge the dining options of this great city, which is known for its epicurean offerings on an experience such as what you are bound to have at La Camera. Now that is what makes me sad.

If you are a tourist and reading this, check out Sarti or Rosetta as an alternative, you will thank me later.

La Camera, Southbank, Melbourne, Southgate
La Camera
Shop MR2 Mid Level East End/Southgate Ave, Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9699 3600
My Rating: 10/20
Service: 2.5/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 2.5/5
Value For Money: 2/5

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

At the time of this post, 73% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like La Camera.

La Camera on Urbanspoon