Friday, March 27, 2009

Brown & Do (Albert Park) 09

This little restaurant seating about 40 in its front room

and 10 at the rear, at the former home of L'Oustal on Bridport St., has been getting a lot of publicity lately. Talented chef Greg Brown, who trained at Trois Grois has
redesigned the menu to the extent that there is no longer any Vietnamese element in the eight course degustation menu that we ate. What matters most, though, is the food rather than its ethnicity and that is really good. First came a Prawn "Magic Mushroom" with apple and sherry mousseline. This is a beaut combination of sweet apple with its own texture contrasting with the mousseline, which could have been a little lighter, set off by the mushroom in its centre. A great starter. It was served with brioches,

formerly one of Greg's signature products. Tomato tea with olive tomato pearls and field mushroom crisp was worthy of any restaurant. As with all the dishes served it was colourful, nicely presented, very tasty (the tomato tea a clear consomme absolutely first class), and offered a range of textures that combined well. Diablo of lobster and scallop with fried leek, lobster oil and mustard had a very delicate flavour.

It needed a lighter surround to get the very best out of it. I would have liked bread to sop up the oil after the rest was eaten. Luscious. Oyster on spaghetti with champagne sauce is a rather meager serve as a course.

Regardless it could not have been better for taste. The pasta is under the oyster. The champagne sauce unbeatable. Braised belly of pork on lentils had been slowly cooked for 4 to 6 hours resulting in a moist and tender meat with what might once have been tough skin and fat melting in the mouth.

The Pui lentils were a perfect accompaniment. Daube of ox cheek was served with a heavily reduced very rich red wine sauce. Quite salty, served with an onion and a rolled sheet of pasta, I would have preferred something like mashed potatoes to lighten up this dish. Recalling Brillat-Saverins' dictum that a meal without cheese before the dessert was like a beautiful woman with only one eye we added a cheese dish. Two French ash and vine wrapped goats cheeses one two and one four weeks old. The older slightly stronger, both typical of that style of cheese. Dessert selection included a quite strong lemon souffle, a caramelised apple a scoop of ice cream and a small dish with cherries and a few squares of mango (I think) allowed modification of tastes according to the order in which things were eaten. Quite nice but so many calories.
Degustation is $85 Wines by the glass $8 to $12 Mains $36 but you would want side dishes
Comments: We enjoyed a good meal which was close to excellent. By the time we left the place was full but the noise level remained acceptable. Their lunch menu Friday and Saturday, is more Vietnamese influenced.
Score: 15/20
If you're lucky you might also get to see Greg's dog!


It's over for another year. The one, two and three star celebrity chefs and aspiring star gatherers have gone back to where they came from, and the star gazers can now sit back and slowly digest a most extraordinary banquet of food and wine, talks and discussions. For us this was a seriously stimulating gastronomic event encouraging us to think about adding such things as cooking sous vide to our repertoire and also to think about the relationship of technology and technique, talent, training and imagination to the creation of memorable meals. We will write about Rene Redzepi and his astonishingly successful concept restaurant Noma in Copenhagen and about the Neil Perry moderated discussion withThomas Keller

Heston Blumenthal in another post.

For now a few words about Dan Hunter.

Starting in Melbourne Hunter moved to Spain where he worked at El Bulli before moving to Muigaritz. Working with Andoni Luis Aduriz in a kitchen staffed by 25 he became head chef, one of only four actually receiving a salary! After moving back to
Australia and a stint in Melbourne he decided that it made more sense for him to realise his philosophy in a kitchen in the country rather than in a large Metropolitan centre. he chose The Royal Mail about 3 hours out of Melbourne, with a population of about 200! Hunter was aware that many of the very best restaurants were well away from large metropolises. He wanted to be close to the products he uses and immediately started a garden which has now grown to be quite large. His chefs all work in the garden and someone is usually working there for some four hours every day. Going back to nature does not stop him using all the modern technologcal stuff so constant tempeature water baths allow for cooking sous vide and at his demo/talk we got to taste some Hiramasa kingfish cooked for 12 minutes at 68 degrees with cucumber two ways and wild rice, saffron which was fantastic. After that a Pacific oyster, gree lip abalone, marine essence, actually a fabulous hot consomme provided in a test tube for us to pour over the seafood, was another great palate pleaser. The oyster had been seared on one side for one minute - so easy so delicious.
Comments Of course not everything about the MFWS was fantastic. Some of the chefs were almost unintelligible, some of the sessions ran late making it hard to get to the next one if it was at another venue, and the lunches were terribly dull but all in all it was agreat weekend and I am already looking forward to next year!
Finally a score: 17.5/20

Saturday, March 21, 2009

CHATTER 17 Obsessed with Food MFWF 09

Over the weekend 21/22 March several 100 gastrosophers, chefs, media people and foodies of every kind gathered at The Langham to listen to some of the most renowned and innovative chefs on the planet. In a series of Master Classes at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival an extraordinary variety of dishes were prepared and served to the accompaniment of explanations and discussions. We started with Jean-Paul Jeunet , looking a little nervous here, who spoke lovingly of his eponymous two Michelin star restaurant and hotel in the Jura mountains in a session called 'Secrets of the Jura'. He prepared three excellent dishes with Phillippe Mouchel translating as required. Eminently suitable for the home cook his Ragout of snails and liquorice,

a far cry from the usual butter and garlic, was fantastic

the liquorice giving it something very special. He also made sautes scallops and a pan seared veal fillet, parsnip puree and veal jus which made us want to head for France on the next plane! We next went to Sat Bains, another Michelin starred chefs session 'The food of New Britain' His recipes are a little more complex but he made a scallop-pork belly-peanut-pear-turnip dish that had the most fabulous pork belly which combined beautifully with the scallops and pear in place of the traditional apple. He followed this with a hare dish

with which he used popcorn shoots, a liquorice flavoured shoot available from the mushroom stall at Prahran market.
His dessert of chocolate cream-rapeseed oil-toast-sea salt was another variation on the salt sweet combination currently so popular. Shane Osborn, an amiable fellow despite his angry look here

Australian born, but now established with his two star restaurant Pied a Terre in England, brought his outstanding former apprentice Markus Eaves for his session on 'The Evolution of a Dish' Over the last few years he has become allergic to seafood and eggplant but this does not seem to have limited his creativity. He started with a slow poached quail egg,
crushed peas, smoked butter emulsion

a dish that should be easy to make at home and makes a great starter to a meal. This was followed by rabbit and carrot

which was simply excellent, using every part of the rabbit. Lastly poached sea trout
with fennel cream, olive and vanilla veloute, fennel and olive tuille. A beaut dish. The Nocella olives especially notable. Our last session was Carlo Cracco.

His restaurant, Cracco, is yet another two star venue rated in the top 50 in the world (43rd last year). With Guy Grossi translating Carlo explained how he has transformed the most common and universally available hens egg into something no one has ever thought of and uses it in a variety of recipes. He separates the yolks and marinates them in coarse smoked salt, sea salt would do, and sugar and a bean puree for about 8 hours. The eggs can then be used in a wide variety of ways. He made a dish of parmesan fondue, basil seeds and tomato.

Later he flattened the left over yolks and put them through a pasta machine to make egg spaghetti

with tomato's and sardines. He also prepared a risotto
with oil of anchovies, lemon cocoa and chili. These dishes were at the extreme of innovation and had great visual appeal. unfortunately, and this may have been a fault emanating from the kitchen, I found them all too salty. The addition of a dash of horseradish juice was quite special in the risotto. This was a fascinating day worth every bit of the $275 ticket price. This included endless tea coffee pastries and fruit during breaks and heaps of salads

for lunch. Four more sessions tomorrow WOW
Score: 19/20 so far

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hibari (South Yarra) 09

Hibari, at 479 Malvern Rd., continues to be an extremely popular Japanese restaurant despite low ratings from the Age Good Food guide. It is one of the very few places that get a guernsey in both the AGF and CheapEats. It is small, seats 30, and noisy, with simple wooden tables and uncomfortable wood chairs. Despite these deficiencies booking is advisable. We arrived for a midweek meal about 8.30 pm and after a short wait were shown to a recently vacated table. There we waited and waited and waited! I walked down to the business end of the restaurant and picked up some menus. We made our selections, still no attention, so I walked back and took some glasses and a jug of iced water and inquired if it was self service as we were ready to order! A waitress then came back to the table with me. We ordered gyoza, they promised five but sent six,

here's a lone one

spring rolls, they promised three but sent two cut in half, and a potato and crab meat entreee, three as promised,
were particularly good. The gyoza were very nicely flavoured, the spring rolls had extremely crisp thin pastry but were a bit thin and dry but the potato and smooth and moist under a layer of crumbs, they were a subtly flavoured delight. For mains the sukiaki beef was numero uno with a raw egg to stir in if you wished,
I did, and a lovely slightly sweet well balanced sauce. The beef and crumbed pork curry was gently flavoured.

Mild and light and unoffensive I enjoyed it. The mixed seafood served in a pot at $22 the most expensive thing on the menu,totally bland, despite some sort of putsy sauce which did nothing for it. Very disappointing. Ready to go, and experienced now, I went straight to the cash register. The person in attendance apologised and I paid the remarkably small bill. ($83 which included $4 corkage and a couple of extra bowls of steamed rice.
They have a modest and inexpensive wine list but also accept BYO.
This would rate as the worst service ever. It is a busy little restaurant, full when we arrived and I'm sure this level of neglect is unusual but it certainly makes one feel distinctly unimportant. The food was good and I would go back to try some other dishes regardless of the initial poor experience. I'm glad tipping is not, as in America, virtually mandatory.
Score 13/20

Saturday, March 07, 2009

KoKo (Crown) 09

Wishing to share a quality but different dining experience with friends visiting from overseas we thought a Teppanyaki dinner at Koko would be the perfect solution. If there could be such an answer it was half correct. The setting is really lovely. "...the tranquillity of the water garden ... takes pride of place in the stunning interior by internationally renowned designer Tony Chi." It's scattered artificial water lily leaves and still, shallow, water provide a restful background in a sophisticated venue. Patrons respond to it with respect helping maintain a totally pleasing atmosphere where conversation is possible without strain. Wikepaedia tells me that the name teppanyaki derives from teppan an iron plate

and yaki which means fried or boiled, and that the style of having the griddle in the middle of the table and the chef cook at your table only began in a restaurant in Japan, Misono, in 1945
There are a range of teppanyaki menus available at KoKo from $70 for the simplest up to $198 for Mori (which means wind) which we were told was distinguished by better quality food, and more courses so that's what we chose to eat. The meal began with Zensai Three kinds of daily specials prepared by chef in this case an oyster in vinegar, noodles in cream anda delicate white fish on crisp green beans with a tiny pickled sea weed salad. The noodles were exceptional.
A very nice palate teaser. Sashimi
was two quite thick slices of three fresh fish - Kingfish, tuna and salmon with a sushi roll centred on soft shell crab and another tiny salad accompanied by a dipping sauce.

Another quite pleasant but not very special dish. It was served with and greatly improved by, Dobin mushi , a dashi conommé with seafood, chicken and mushroom served in a clay teapot came with a wedge of lime and a small thimble size pile of dashi to drop into the teapot. I refilled my little tea cup time and again to enjoy the great flavour of this soup and finally ate the mushroom and seafood in the pot.Tempura of Alaskan crab claw with the traditional dipping sauce turned out to be deeply disappointing.

I have relished these huge crab claws in America. They can easily span 6 feet and are caught in the north of Alaska under dangerous conditions which might explain why they cost $65/kilo at Prahran Market, or $55 at Richmond Oysters. With a texture finer and much sweeter than lobster they are a gourmets delight, but not this time. The tempura batter was not very good and the crab itself quite lacking in that fine flavour that normally makes it such an exquisite delicacy. Teppanyaki - supposed to be prawns, salmon, scallops began to move away from the promised menu.

The salmon was replaced by sea perch which was a very fine white fish with good structure. We had to ask our chef, a very pleasant Sri Lankan who had learned his cooking at the restaurant, not to over cook the fish. Prawns were efficiently beheaded an shelled on the hot plate and the legs cooked till very crisp. The prawns were very overcooked

and there was a seafood dipping sauce and a light tomato chilli sauce to use with them. I was not offered any scallops!! A choice of Australian Wagyu tenderloin of beef or Australian Wagyu, foie gras and enoki beef roll prompted some discussion. Assured that the foie gras was actual goose liver and not pate I asked for a little more liver and to omit the Wagyu and the mushrooms. They were quite happy with that. The liver then sat on the hot plate, at 338 degrees I'm told, until it was indistinguishable from overcooked lambs fry.

When I explained how I thought foie gras should be cooked the chef produced two more pieces of the product which had been imported, precooked and frozen, from France. If there was such a thing this would be a crime against gastronomy. It bears very little resemblance to fresh foie gras,and is fiendishly expensive. At the very least the menu could come with an appropriate disclaimer.
omething like This dish is served on an attractive plate, it has been precooked and bears no resemblance to fresh foie gras being more akin to pate. I barely noticed the sautéed spinach. It was nice to watch the fried rice being made at the table but again it was overcooked.

and the handsome splash of soy sauce made it too salty.
Generally the Chinese do it better. Dessert: Supposedly a trio of ice cream or Japanese red bean pancake with white sesame honey ice cream. We asked for the icecream trio and after a long time it arrived - one scoop of ice cream and some sliced fruit!!
Ultimately the best thing we had all night was the dashi soup. A request for the menu, so we could check what we were eating, was forgotten.
We drank Moet Chandon ($110) on special. There is a moderate wine list. They also have an a la carte menu which seems reasonably priced but I suspect the serves are small
Comments: I recall that Bob Hart had what he called a really excellent meal with matched saki, including one $1500 a bottle match, for only a few dollars more than we paid. All of our cooked items were overcooked. This was a very very expensive price for a very poor meal at a lovely venue. There are, after all, a lot of lovely places that you can look at for free and pleasing restaurants at a quarter the price!
Score: 12.5/20