Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Grain Store - Gentrifying The King Street Precinct

There has been a fair amount of positive press about The Grain Store which recently opened on Flinders Lane. Enough so that my curiousity was piqued so much that I collected one other and made it a lunchtime meeting venue the other day with the hope that a cheeky bottle of wine and some fresh food would help kill the flu-like symptoms that I was trying to fight off.

The Grain Store, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
The Grain Store Dining Room
The "new" appearance shines through literally in this clean dining room with white walls complementing the wooden tables, chairs and exposed white ceiling. The name of the restaurant which pays homage to the bygone era of Melbourne when The Grain Store Tavern stood steadfast around the corner satisfies a much needed injection of quality into the business-end of Flinders Lane in an area that is populated with "gentleman's clubs" and dodgy pubs on King Street.

We were enthusiastically greeted at the door and queried if we were interested in drinks (I am assuming coffee) or a long and relaxing lunch. Of course I was interested in the latter so we were taken to a table and provided menus that were concise but enticed you as everything looked to be quite intriguing on paper. Whilst I browsed the menu and enjoyed some light conversation, I had the chance to try a True South Pilsener ($8/schooner) which is produced by a microbrewery in Victoria with the same name. A very drinkable golden beer which I consumed quickly and then ordered a bottle of Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X Pinot Noir ($64) which seemed appropriate. Oddly Ten Minutes by Tractor on the Mornington Peninsula was in the back of my mind strangely since I had just posted a review of my degustation experience at that restaurant earlier that day on this blog. The Iron Bark Pumpkin Soup ($11) was my first choice as this winter warmer, combined with the wine, I was hoping to affront not only my senses but fight off my flu-like symptoms. The wine softened my palate and allowed me to taste the sage oil and beautiful Chantilly cream intermixed with the pumpkin which went down my gob without any hesitation. Whilst devouring this first course, I spotted service moving whole pumpkins back to the kitchen ironically which was a testament to the freshness of this very reasonably priced dish.

The Grain Store, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
The Grain Store, Dining Room
The Romsey Range "Buttery" Beef Cheeks ($23) was delivered in time for me to match with my fair share of the wine. For some strange reason I was ravenous on this cold day and despite the excessive and lively conversation being had at the table, there was not much delay in cleaning out the bowl of soup remnants with the toasted bread that was provided so when the tender cheeks from the Romsey (Macedon) Range arrived, I quickly ascertained that they were so tender that I could cut them with the back of my knife. The Russian red kale and vanilla parsnip puree added some colour and additional excitement to this dish which would have easily held its own, especially when matched with this particular pinot noir. My dining companion had a simple beetroot salad ($16) and enjoyed it and also ordered a side of Brussel sprouts ($7) with pancetta and confit garlic which I was invited to share. Once again, the produce was fresh, crunchy and full of flavour which complimented a healthy serve of beef cheeks.

Service was very friendly and happy to talk about the restaurant, the area and the entirety of this new and popular venture. The enthusiasm was infectious which led to an interesting conversation about food and wine. Besides being a seemingly popular destination for quick business meetings over a coffee, this venue is best enjoyed when you can sample not only the fresh food but the overall service experience. Sadly the restaurant closes at 4:00 PM but hopefully the popularity combined with the fact that the business end of Flinders Lane needs a quality eatery after hours, they will extend trading into the evening soon. At least I can hope.

The Grain Store, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
The Grain Store
517 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9972 6993
My Rating: 15/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 4/5

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

When I made this post originally, 90% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like The Grain Store.

The Grain Store on Urbanspoon

Porgie + Mr Jones, Hawthorn - Quirky

A weekend visit to Hawthorn should inevitably involve some time being spent at the venerable Porgie + Mr Jones, a very quirky cafe on Auburn Road. I took time out for lunch with one other on a recent trip to the area, as it is always good for a relaxing laugh and some extremely fresh and tasty food.

Despite being open for dinner and having a small degustation menu available two nights of the week and having a bit of a reputation for a killer breakfast, I found myself there for a relaxing Saturday lunch mainly because I slept in after an enjoyable night prior listening to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (presenting Rachmaninov's Third) and of course enjoying some alcoholic beverages, as one does.

Wanting some sugar, I ordered a Coke however an organic "SOHO" cola was presented. Personally I can't stand the taste of organic cola so I didn't drink it and instead offloaded it to my dining companion. Porgie + Mr Jones takes the produce that they purchase and ultimately sell very seriously so I wasn't surprised that something organic was being flogged as a substitute. We started our lunch with the crostini with sardines ($16.90) which was served at the same time as the steak standwich ($22.90) and the Porgies parma ($21.90) as we were feeling especially hungary.

The Lillydale-sourced chicken probably made this parma one of the more robust offerings that I have ever had. Slices of apple complimented the ham hook, cheese and roasted tomatoes where the perfect amount of sauce made this lush, moist and huge piece of bread crumbed chicken a contender for my forthcoming "best of" commentary. The crostini translated as "little toasts" were accompanied by three dollops of roasted tomato salsa, avacado and a herby sour cream respectively. The avacado was amazing and you can easily tell that everything is freshly prepared which makes the journey to this cafe really worth the effort.

This is a very active and popular place and we were fortunate to only have to wait for a minute before securing a table. Besides having a takeaway counter for desserts and coffee, the cafe is segregated into areas with noticeably different themes: quirky hipster cafe, more formal dining room with lighter colours, a room for events and a garden terrace that is popular regardless of the weather it seems. You are certainly spoiled for choice.

Besides needing to source street parking in the area which is always a challenge, you need to remember to bring cash as credit cards are not accepted. Conveniently located next to the restaurant is a Commonwealth Bank ATM, so payment doesn't turn out to be a drama at all.

I really like Porgie + Mr Jones. It has something for everyone, is a relaxed place with a buzzing ambiance and after you enjoy some hearty yet fresh food, you ultimately will leave happy.

Porgie + Mr Jones, Auburn Road, Hawthorn

Porgie + Mr Jones
291 Auburn Rd  Hawthorn VIC 3122
(03) 9882 2955
My Rating: 13.5/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Cash only

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

When I made this post originally, 81% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Porgie + Mr Jones.

Porgie and Mr Jones on Urbanspoon

Portland Hotel - Tumbleweeds

I had a 2:00 PM meeting so I really couldn't languish around in a restaurant and eat and drink as per usual, so one other hungry bloke and I opted to have lunch at the Portland Hotel which is on the corner of Little Collins Street and Russell Street in the Melbourne CBD.

What was strange about this place was that when we first entered this pub/hotel/restaurant, there was were absolutely nobody else eating or drinking. A virtual wasteland of empty tables and of course a bar and when I was approached by a member of staff my first query was whether or not they were in fact open for service. When he responded "yes" and let us choose a table, I wondered why there was nobody else in this place.

I ordered a pint of Porter as I thought that would accompany the "steak and kidney" pie quite well. My dining companion would ultimately enjoy bottle of cider and the "clubhouse" sandwich. It is always awkward having the only occupied table in a restaurant as I always think that the chef and kitchen staff will become annoyed that they have to do something. The "clubhouse" sandwich was prepared quickly and placed within sight under the heat lamp whilst presumably the pie was prepared. After the sandwich enjoyed getting its fake tan for about fifteen minutes and we watched the tumbleweed blow past, service brought out the food. I was advised that the "clubhouse" sandwich was quite dry. I wouldn't have thought fifteen minutes under the lights in the kitchen would have made that much of a difference but I could be wrong. the "steak and kidney" pie was rather underwhelming and it left a metallic taste in my mouth. With the single round of alcohol the total bill came to $70, which I thought was really excessive for what we got and given that the experience lasted just under an hour which would have been a choice regardless of whether I had a meeting or not.

With the abundance of choice in the immediate area, I can think of at least ten other places that I would be happy to return to in the future and not feel annoyed that I ultimately had to part with money for minimal enjoyment. In future I may just visit on the weekends or evening where you can enjoy many different offerings of the James Squire range before heading elsewhere for nourishment.

Portland Hotel, Little Collins Street and Russell Street, Melbourne
Portland Hotel
115-127 Russell St.,  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9810 0064
My Rating: 10/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 2/5
Value For Money: 2/5

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

When I made this post originally, 64% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like the Portland Hotel.

Portland Hotel & James Squire Brewhouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Mercy Bar + Eatery - Virginia Plain Reborn

After meeting up with a mate who was down from Sydney for work at the Transport Bar in Federation Square, I was warned that he could not enjoy a "big" night as a meeting was scheduled for 7:00 AM the following day on St Kilda Road. I was told that any dining experience that I organised would not be able to be "over the top" but he knows me well enough, as do most, that is simply a prerequisite to going out in this fine city with me. Having been interstate myself when Mercy Bar + Eatery opened its doors to the public mid-June, I was very curious to see what exactly the old Virginia Plain transformed itself into to so it was without too much convincing we took on the cold and had a wander up Flinders Lane.

At the top of the stairs we were greeted by Mat Beyer and I noticed the familiar face of Andy Harmer in the kitchen. Sommelier Raúl Moreno Yagüe was noticeably absent after leaving the Virginia Plain venture which would become evident after examining the truncated wine list. Mercy is attempting to reign in their wine list after having some rather expensive and rare vintages on offer in its previous incarnation which is smart considering that they are trying to rebrand the restaurant to cater for both the casual beer drinker but also the smart and savvy diner that isn't necessarily looking for a Vue de Monde type of experience. Andy Harmer, being ex-Vue de Monde himself I learned in the Virginia Plain days knows how to walk the fine line of value for money and quality so I was excited to see that a small five course degustation menu ($65/pp) was being offered. I was certainly intrigued to see what the kitchen could and would produce for such a small amount of money. It was perhaps one of the best value of money degustation menus in Melbourne before when the kitchen was pumping out seven courses before for a mere $89 whilst music played from the legendary turntables.

After we finished our Aaoni IPA ($13.50) from the Yoho Brewing Company, we were convinced that the restaurant is taking its lateral slide to wanting to appeal to beer drinkers seriously. Yoho produces craft beers in a can in Japan and they are hard to find in Australia. The happy blue face on the can that would stare at us and ultimately the bottle of 1981 R. López de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia (D.O.C.) from Spain soon took pride of place on our table. It didn't take much convincing for Mat to talk us into ordering this 32 year old bottle which would turn out to be wonderfully balanced, complex and earthy. We were earmarked to "help" the restaurant decrease their stash of wine bottles and we in turn were happy to oblige. As we allowed the wine to open up it developed even further and I would soon learn that it provided a very nice pairing with the first course, a modest serving of French onion soup. Topped with a very appealing Gruyère cheese that was purveyed by the Swiss affineur Rolf Beeler and a playful cheese foam made this first offering from the busy kitchen not only contemporary but modified to merge into what Mercy is trying to communicate: a relaxed environment where you should be taking conversation instead of the food seriously. You can see the Vue de Monde influence on this dish but it is in turn simple, full of flavour and certainly helped line the stomach in preparation for a further assault by the Rioja.

Quail and mushroom terrine with raisin puree and chestnuts would turn out to be my favourite course. Besides never having enjoyed a quail terrine, this was really amazing paired with the wine. Both creamy and a consistency that melts in your mouth, the flavours of the little bird were only complemented by the mushroom and the raisin flavour and provided a natural transition to match with the Rioja. I was really impressed with this dish and I was left wanting to take a loaf of terrine home with me to spread on anything and everything.

Having made quick work of the bottle of Rioja, we were offered a bottle of 2007 Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie Blonde. It is a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier with great characteristics however it was a bit presumptuous to order yet another bold wine knowing that a delicate cod fillet from Cheltham Chatham Island (an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean about 700 kilometres southeast of New Zealand) with French green lentils (lentilles du Puy), carmalised endive and saffron sauce was indeed the third course. Much like how I reflected that the green lentils made the dish when they accompanied the Flinders Island Wallaby recently at Ten Minutes by Tractor, the lentilles du Puy was the highlight of this dish for me. Not discounting the delicate and tasty fish, the lentils seemingly matched better with the earthy wine. Note, I was recently publicly corrected on Twitter for misspelling the name of Chatham Island, for which I apologise for.

However when the Syrah-Voignier blend was experienced with the next course, roasted bone marrow. I was impressed. Unlike my dining companion, I quite enjoy the texture of marrow and had fun scooping it out of the bone. Although some would argue it is not the most substantial amount of food, the colour and the taste are amazing and makes for a wonderful course when matched with a bold wine or even beer.

A simple pear and chocolate dessert provided for an amusing and tasty finale. Soft pear and rich chocolate is always a winner when matched together and did not require much thought or distraction from the other courses that ultimately provided both nourishment and left a positive impression.

Some wine racks have been removed in the restaurant and street art has been left in their place. Most of the 120-person long dining room remains the same however some high and long tables have been strategically placed near the bar which will encourage the after-work crowd to pull up a pew and have a few quiet ones whilst ultimately being tempted from the food menu. Mercy goes out of their way to make things convenient for the drinkers and diners which is smart as once you enter this long room and notice the grand bar, you will not want to leave after smelling what is being prepared in the kitchen. Tables are spaced well so even when you are in the proximity of a rambunctious crowd, it doesn't feel like you are being invaded by the hordes and I am confident, vice-versa.

Service always remained very cheerful, engaging and consultative and although I didn't get around to talking Mat into switching out the vinyl that was spinning for The Cure, the Virginia Plain tragics will be happy to learn that the turntables are still in operation. Oddly with the subtle transformation, I am more inclined to visit Mercy and leaves itself as a serious contender for your dining (and drinking) dollars as it sits regally next to stiff competition in the form of both Cumulus, Inc. and Cumulus Up.

Mercy Bar + Eatery, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Mercy Bar + Eatery
31 Flinders Lane Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9290 0400
My Rating: 15.25/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 3.75/5
Value For Money: 4.5/5
Comment: Great value 5 course degustation

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

When I made this post originally, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked Mercy Bar + Eatery however there was only a small sample of 27 votes to date.

Mercy bar + eatery on Urbanspoon

Kenzan - Sterile

After I finished the task of getting my haircut on a lazy Monday afternoon, I arranged to catch up with a mate at Bar Ampere on Russell Place for a quiet drink. We both admitted that we had been too busy (lazy) to enjoy either breakfast or lunch for that matter on that particular cold day so we decided to source some food at an early hour. Given it is more of a challenge to find a restaurant open on a Monday evening, we settled on Kenzan at 45 Collins Street which is at the "Paris End" of Collins Street, within Collins Place.

After a drink was enjoyed at the bar inside Pei Modern, we presented ourselves at 6:00 PM on the dot frothing at the mouth and wanting fish. Heaps of raw fish for that matter. We were given two seats at the sushi bar and a wine list almost immediately. It didn't take long to realise that this Japanese restaurant is devoid of character. The intensity of the light shining down us was a bit extreme and the cold dead corpses of the fish at rest within the refrigerated sushi case were minimal at best. The wooden bar contrasted with the general dining room that is partitioned from the sushi bar area by a wooden lattice. This is a transitory yet rated eatery according to the latest The Age Good Food Guide and is notably frequented by Sofitel hotel guests who want to "work at the table" which contrasts with the look and the feel of the restaurant completely.

As we drank our Asahi ($8.50) we decided to order a 720ml bottle of Hatsumago Junmai honkarakuchi "Makiri" Sake ($85) which is pretty pricey compared to the retail cost. The server was a bit shocked that we ordered the 720ml bottle. At first my dining companion thought it may have been a 1.5L bottle and was relieved to learn I didn't pull that old trick however we were both confident that we would polish off that volume of cold sake without a drama.

In the spirit of making things easy, we decided to order essentially everything besides the vegetarian options on both the "sushi" and "sashimi" menus. Once again the server was shocked and claimed that it was a fair amount of food. I exclaimed that we were starving from not having eaten all day and that we would be fine. She communicated our order to the sushi chef and he looked equally surprised. There was what appeared to be a tense conversation behind the sushi bar and then the chef began work on our feast.

The soft sake and its citrus taste was "easy drinking" and when we received our first plate of maki - sushi - I would find the sake to be a good match and also it being thrown down my gob at an accelerated rate. Unagi Maki (Freshwater Eel - $9.90), Tekka Maki (Red Tuna, $7.70), Sake Maki (Salmon), California Roll Maki (Avacado and Prawn, $9.90), Spicy Tuna Rolls ($11.00/each), Tobiko California Roll Maki (Avacado, Prawn and Flying Fish Roe, $13.00) and Ebitem Maki (Prawn Tempura, $22.00) all appeared at the same time and made for a small feast. I did not find the tuna or salmon especially oily and besides for the grilled eel, everything to be rather uneventful and simply just filler which I realise is a bit extreme to say.

After quickly consuming the sushi, a plate of sashimi was delivered. Ebi (Cooked Prawn, $6/each), Hotate (Scallop, $5.50/each), Tuna ($6/each), Ikura (Red Salmon Roe, $5.50/each), Unagi (Freshwater Eel, $5.50/each), Toro (Tuna Belly, $8.00/each) and Uni (Sea Urchin, $7.00/each). The standouts which were a bit "special" and full of flavour was the raw tuna belly and the sea urchin. Although not the premium "o-toro" the belly of the tuna was so good that we would order three repeat orders of both that and the tasty sea urchin before we vacated the bottle of sake.

Although service was attentive, it was not over the top in my humble opinion. Sometimes I have found when sitting at the sushi bar in other premium restaurants that service would frequently reach in and interrupt your conversation to refill the sake from the bottle that rests on your table. This didn't happen at Kenzan and the lack of extended service may put some people off however I find this sort of attention very distracting so I appreciated what I got at the restaurant. I was hoping for more "special" kinds of fish on offer however this shortcoming combined with the dull and sterile ambiance where nothing was really a stand-out simply made me feel that I was filling my stomach in the end. It was all certainly good, but special? No.

Kenzan received one chef's hat in the 2012/2013 The Age Good Food Guide.

Kenzan Restaurant, Collins Place, Melbourne

Kenzan Restaurant
Collins Place
45 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 8933
My Rating: 14/20
Service: 3.5/5
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, 88% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Kenzan Restaurant.

Kenzan Japanese on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Ten Minutes by Tractor - Mornington Peninsula Indulgence

Besides having the intention of visiting a plethora of wineries on my recent day trip to the Mornington Peninsula, I wanted indulge my senses at Ten Minutes by Tractor. Their degustation menu had come highly recommended from multiple sources and far be it for me to ignore people in the know with excellent taste. Combined with the fact that the restaurant added an additional chef's hat to their collection in the latest The Age Good Food Guide and the fact that they are sourcing wallaby from Flinders Island Meats made this destination in Main Ridge almost impossible to pass up.

The small dining room is situated behind the winery's public cellar door which has a few vintages on offer to taste before you are ultimately escorted to your reserved table. Fortunately for us we were seated on the perimeter of the restaurant with direct views out to the vines and the sheep that methodically followed each other up and down the rows of grapes chewing on grass however every table in the house has a good view. It is an idyllic and relaxing backdrop that merges well with the fit-out of the contemporary dining room. 

There were two different degustation menus available and surprisingly, I opted for the more limited five course option ($109 + $62 for matching wines) only because I knew if I enjoyed the hospitality of the restaurant all afternoon I would fail in my task of visiting four of the wineries that I really like being Stonier, Eldridge Estate, Oceans Eight and Paringa Estate.

A simple but powerful goats' cheese from neighbouring Red Hill with pickled mushrooms, toasted brioche, apple and walnut kicked off proceedings. The produce was regional, fresh and exciting as the tastes competed for position on my palate. My customary West Winds Gin and Tonic ($10) placated my thirst and I was left contemplating the cheese thinking that I needed to source some from Red Hill on my journey back to Melbourne. This was an outstanding way to start this degustation experience and the woes of the world took a back seat as thoughts and conversation turned to food, wine and everything associated with the epicurean journey that was ahead of us.

Roasted Hapuka, a deep sea wreckfish from the southern waters off of South Australia appeared next with cauliflower, curried quinoa, crystal bay prawns and romesco. I was not only impressed with the produce but also with the presentation. Matched with 2009 Ten Minutes by Tractor Estate Chardonnay really complemented both the Hapuka but also the prawns very well. The curried quinoa gave the needed kick to make the fish go from good to great across the palate without distracting you from the taste of the fish. Service demonstrated their professionalism by keeping the table orderly and not interrupting our ruckus conversation and ensuring that I always had some wine in my glass to drink.

Quail was next sacrificed to satisfy our hunger. The little bird was smoked and served with pumpkin, black rice, kaiserfleich and macadamias. The kaiserfleich is ham made from the eye of pork loin supplemented the tender meat of the quail and had a thought-provoking taste which I pondered both silently and later verbally as I enjoyed it with a 2010 Turners Crossing Shiraz Voignier, the wine being sourced from Bendigo, Victoria. I had never thought of merging these tastes together and I was really happy that I got to experience it in such a lovely venue paired with such a bold wine.

Ten Minutes by Tractor, Wallaby, Flinders Island Meats
Flinders Island Wallaby
I was excited knowing that the next course was in fact Wallaby sourced from Flinders Island Meats. At this point I had enjoyed their fine product at Attica, Vue de Monde and Jacques Reymond and I really enjoy seeing how top chefs work with this meat. In Chef Stuart Bell's case, he devised a sublime dish with French green lentils (lentilles du Puy), heritage carrots, quince marinated potatoes, tarragon and minted peas. Although I adored the wallaby, I really think that the lentils is what made this dish work so well. The texture of both of the elements, interestingly enough paired once again with the Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X Chardonnay, however this was the 2011 vintage, really worked. I thought the wallaby despite being brilliant would have been more appropriate being served rarer however that is just a personal choice.

The aptly titled "Avant Dessert" being a vanilla creme brulee with baked apple espuma and raspberries proceeded the decadent Michel Cluizel chocolate and rhubarb ganache with rhubarb panna cotta and a cointreau ice cream. I don't have many favourite dessert "flavours" but the kitchen can seemingly read minds and put everything that I like on a plate where the presentation just
Ten Minutes by Tractor, Chocolate Rhubarb Dessert
Chocolate and Rhubarb
blew me away. Regular readers of this blog know that I rarely take photos of food (I find it rude but in this case I was able to take photos of not only the Wallaby but this Chocolate and Rhubarb dessert without being noticed and of course without the flash being on) but this particular course deserved to be immortalised for all posterity. Paired with a Topaque Cambells from Rutherglen, a sweet wine of kings that matched perfectly with the rich chocolate. The rhubarb ganache left me wanting more and when combined with the simple flavour of the alcohol-infused ice cream, I found another contender for a "best dessert" of the year award.

We finished the 2.5 hour meal with various cheeses - more amazing goats' milk and hard cooked cheese both hailing from the Main Ridge Dairy.

Service remained very hospitable and throughout the experience went out of their way to make us comfortable. They made it seem like nothing was ever too hard and that our one or two requests would of course not be a drama at all. Both my wine glass and the water glass always remained filled and the homely yet rustic ambiance really set the mood for a relaxing lunch that is destined to be one of my highlights for 2013. I am looking forward to not only incorporating Ten Minutes by Tractor into my frequent wine tasting excursions on my frequent trips around the Mornington Peninsula but also taking on the more expansive degustation menu on a future visit.

Ten Minutes by Tractor was awarded two chefs hats in the 2012/2013 The Age Good Food Guide.

Ten Minutes by Tractor, Mornington Peninsula, Main Ridge

Ten Minutes by Tractor
1333 Mornington Flinders Road
Main Ridge, VIC 3923
(03) 5989 6080
My Rating: 17.5/20
Service: 4.25/5
Ambiance: 4.25/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 4.5/5

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

At the time of this post, 82% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Ten Minutes by Tractor.

Ten Minutes by Tractor on Urbanspoon

Café Vue 430 Little Collins Street - Fifi Box

With five of Shannon Bennett's café's dispersed around Melbourne, you are never far away from sampling his fabled "lunch box" and on a recently cold and blustery day, I arranged to have a lunch meeting at the site of the old Vue de Monde mothership at 430 Little Collins Street, where Café Vue shares its space with Bistro Vue. There are advantages to frequenting this particular Bennett café as you have direct access to the heavily stocked bar in the Bistro next door and every Friday night (subject to confirmation on their website) Café Vue puts on a cocktail degustation where five alcoholic drinks are paired with five small courses for the tidy amount of $95. There is a reason to stay in the CBD after hours when you combine music, cocktails and small servings of food but I digress.

At both breakfast and lunch you need to arrive with a certain amount of resolve and patience to take on the masses not only on the hunt for takeaway coffee and desserts but be ready to snatch a table when ultimately one becomes free. There are roughly thirty seats at tables in the small dining room, including some high stools that border the glass wall. There are a few tables that would be considered "outside" of the café, but they are not truly outside, just essentially comfortable areas retrofitted in the corridor connecting the entrance and Bistro Vue.

Staff do a good job keeping both the diners at the tables and those having takeaway requirements under control. I intended to spend over an hour here but it turned out to be two because of the ability to order drinks from the Bistro Vue bar, as ultimately I enjoyed three rounds of Hendricks Gin and Tonic ($11.50/each) all whilst enjoying pleasant conversation. The menu is simple and effective but I noticed that it leads customers asking a vast array of questions about the various dishes. How many questions can you really devise about a sandwich or a salad? People manage to at this place simply because they are looking for the full Shannon Bennett Vue de Monde experience but wait, this is Café Vue.

The 48 hour lamb leg ($24) with Yorkshire pudding, battered mash and mint salad seemed appropriate to order considering the weather. Normally I would purchase a lunch box as they all contain a starter, salad, savoury and sweet items for a reasonable $20. There are also vegetarian and gluten-free lunch box options which only compounds the popularity of this café when the lunch whistle sounds but that is what gives this space such charm. I could cut my lamb leg with the back of my knife and the pudding along with the mash made for a hearty single course lunch whilst I sipped my Hendricks & Tonic.

Not being a stranger to Café Vue during the day, I find the service consistently "busy" satisfying everyone's needs which does tend to lead to some delays if you are a seated diner. An LED television is affixed to a wall so you can keep up to date on the never-ending Labor leadership crisis also.

When I want a quick fix of Shannon Bennett's fare, I head to Café Vue. Knowing that on days where I just get a lunch box to takeaway, I just have to part with a single orange note is refreshing in a way as I can live my life vicariously through what is happening on top of the Rialto tower through a few morsels that not only evoke memories of the past but further entice me back into the warm arms of the Bennett empire.

Cafe Vue, Normanby Chambers, 430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne

Café Vue
430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9691 3899
My Rating: 13.25/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3.5/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

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

At the time of this post, 80% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Café Vue at 430 Little Collins Street.

Café Vue on Urbanspoon

Sarti - Reborn

It is almost with a sense of amusement I think back to the circumstances as to how I ended up at Sarti on Russell Lane recently. I was walking across the pedestrian footbridge with the epicurean emo and we were musing about where to get some food and wine. I checked Twitter and saw that the most recent tweet from a restaurant was in fact Sarti stating that their Peroni representative was in the restaurant and that those hungry, thirsty or just curious should stop by. Not having been to Sarti since the recent renovation and and change of the head chef, I was intrigued.

We were greeted and given a table despite not having a reservation. It had been a few years since I dined at Sarti and the recent renovations are not only immediately noticeable for anyone that has had the pleasure of dining at this Italian eatery in the past but now the introduction of warmer and brighter colours that effectively makes the bar in the centre of the restaurant a focal point all the more interesting. Not being distracted by the inviting bar, which one could easily exploit for a few glasses of red and a cheeky dish on the side, we took our assigned table happily and were quickly provided bread and a wine list. Not wanting to be immediately concerned with wine pairing as we were provided a glass of Peroni courtesy of the on-site beer agent, I opted for the 2010 Hauner Salina Rosso Rose ($64) which is from the island of Salina in the Aeolian Islands off the northern coast of Sicily. What would be regarded as a "cheap and cheerful" wine, this matched well with our first course, a "Mixed Board" ($29) which included a selection of salumi and buffalo mozzarella. I was not only impressed with the volume of the meat but also the quality of both it and the cheese which was classified D.O.C. as you would expected. Morsels of the spicy salumi matched well with the spices inherent in the wine and given that the grapes were produced from a volcanic region, I found the tastes to be complimentary.

Sarti Restaurant, Russell Place, Melbourne
Mozzarella Roll
The Mozzarella roll ($19) which included cured ocean trout, mascarpone, avacado and Avruga caviar followed. I was enamored by the simple beauty of the dish but also the substantial amount of produce which was just not limited to avacado. The caviar and ocean trout were not only refreshing but also paired well with the wine. Fortunately the great mixture of tastes matched the high quality of presentation.

We were advised that one of the entree specials was in fact a venison carpaccio ($16) which I was very interested in trying. After recently enjoying some beautiful venison over two courses at Grossi Florentino, chef Paolo Masciopinto (ex-Sosta Cucina) certainly had to meet let alone exceed some very high expectations for this dish of raw meat. Alll I can say is - Wow! Once again I was amazed and my expectations were exceeded. So much so, I ordered a repeat serving of this dish just because it was so amazing. Repeating orders is a rare occurrence for me and to this day I am haunted and sullen that I did not opt for a third round.

Spaghetti alla Chitarra ($28) which is a combination of black ink pasta, Western Australian blue spanner crab, fresh tomato, garlic, chilli was the final dish to find its way to me from the kitchen. Paired with a 2012 Dal Zotto Rosato ($9/glass) I found this dish not only full of flavour which was highlighted by an appropriate amount of ink, but also the substantial amount of blue swimmer crab. Everything just worked so well and the chilli was just the right amount not to overwhelm the pasta or kill the wine. I really enjoyed this dish - in fact I really enjoyed everything at Sarti.

The recent facelift of Sarti combined with a new head chef has caused Sarti to evolve positively. Between the comfortable bar, the layout of the tables which are far enough apart that you do not intrude upon other diners and a relaxing outdoor patio that is easily accessed, this restaurant has the ability to satisfy even the most demanding of patrons. The smart yet consultative service was always at hand to provide advice, especially with the wine list and later the menu to ensure that our bizarre and greedy palates were satisfied and they succeeded. I walked out of Sarti after spending 2.5 hours there much happier than when I arrived which was not only refreshing in itself but certainly put the restaurant on the forefront of my radar where I look forward to returning soon and often.

Sarti received one chef's hat in the 2012/2013 The Age Good Food Guide.

Sarti Restaurant, Russell Lane, Melbourne

6 Russell Place, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9639 7822
My Rating: 16.75/20
Service: 4.25/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4.25/5
Value For Money: 4.25/5

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

At the time of this post, 71% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Sarti.

Sarti on Urbanspoon