Friday, July 31, 2009

Chinta Ria Soul (St.Kilda) 09

Love and health I think he said in response to my question does chinta ria translate into anything in English. I'm not to sure if we left with any more of either than we came with but if you add happiness that we did achieve and it was the food that did it. This place, 94 Acland St., has been a restaurant for over 50 years and the dimly lit,undistinguished , shop front could certainly do with a make over but it has a friendly atmosphere with a background of pleasant jazz meant to match both the name and the painting at the end of the room
featuring jazz greats like Ella, Fats, Dizzy and more. They're named which is just as well because you'd be hard pressed to actually recognize most of them. It certainly looked unimpressive and my expectations were low. The menu is supplemented with specials on blackboards around the walls. We started with a couple of entrees Ella’s Wrap (2 per serve) $8.2

Plump prawn encased with herbs, vegetables & prawn mince sealed in a
fine pastry then snap fried served with a mild sweet chilli sauce, which were excellent and Lohbak (2 per serve) $7.9. Minced chicken blended with a subtle seasoning of five spice, wrapped in a bean curd skin then snap fried leaving them crisp on the outside and moist and tasty inside the wrap. Excellent, hawkers style food to start. For mains we had Sotong Ria $20.5.
Sliced calamari lightly coated in rice batter and wok tossed in soya and gula melaka sauce topped with sesame seeds and fresh coriander. Tender and balanced slightly sweet it very good choice followed by
Boneless Duck $23.0.
Half boneless braised duck in honey soy with an assortment of herbs. The sauce for this dish was very thick but hardly detracted from the extremely good duck. A sago dessert with palm sugar and coconut milk finished a particularly pleasing meal.
They have a range of chicken, seafood, beef, lamb and noodle dishes as well as soups and we also enjoyed an excellent Chinese style fried rice. For us Chinta Ria Soul has an very high returnablity factor. Reasonable prices, reasonable size serves of
very good food I will be happy to try again and again.
Score: 15.75/20 for the food. 14/20 for service and 13/20 for the rest.

Balzari (Carlton) 09

Reading the AGF one would think this a first class restaurant, just short of one hat. Not in my book. It's pleasant enough in most respects,
though the chairs are not very comfortable.
Where it really fails is the food. Their best dish seems to be fried curly bread with olives which are placed on the table as soon as the patrons are seated. An entree of gnocchi
was so salty it was inedible and returned to the kitchen. The replacement - Baccala a salted cod on mashed potato was much better
though opinions varied as to if it could be considered particularly good. Another entree of spaghetti marinara,
not on the menu but obligingly made for us was again quite ordinary. A main course of house made paparadelle with rabbit was just O.K
The pasta was unevenly cooked which detracted from the already rather plain dish. Veal shank was better
than the usual lamb but hardly worth going out for. A side dish of beans
was over cooked for my taste and a serve of radichio,
which we did not order, was not popular but would be fine if you like bitter tastes. A dessert of quince crumble, vahlronna chocolate mousse and panacotta
was excessively sweet. No we're not that hard to please but we are hard to impress and here Balzari failed.

Score: 13/20

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vue de Monde (Melbourne) July 09

Last Saturday the Australian Magazine featured a scathing description of a meal at The Grange, supposely one of Adelaide's leading restaurants. At the end of that review John Lethlean gave a nod of acknowledgement to a few restaurants like Quay and Vue. How right he is. We have, in Shannon Bennett, the person I regard as the most innovative and imaginative chef in Australia. A meal at Vue is an exciting adventure in gastronomy. Nothing else in Melbourne really comes near it. That is not to detract from some excellent restaurants and first class chefs but Vue is special. It strives for the very best and gets closer than any other. From the moment you enter the place it speaks of style. Front of house staff, presentation, crockery, cutlery the table settings, glasses, lighting it's all good or much better than that, and then there's the food. It's best to sit where you can see the meals being plated up by a team of chefs working under a large mirror, as used in some cooking schools. Not everyone gets the same dishes because of personal choices but everything is very good or excellent.
This is what we had the other night:
Jicama salad
NV Ruinart Rosé Reims Champagne, France

~TRUITE FUMÉE Delightful

OCEAN TROUT with horseradish and baby beetroot, smoked at the table. Out of this world really fantastic.
2006 Gilles Barge Condrieu La Solaris Rhône Valley, France

Tartare of kangaroo with pickled navet, quail egg, pecorino and pear. Kangaroo 4 ways you might say- interesting

Waldorf salad with yabby, abalone and king crab accompanied by foie gras yoghurt. A beaut dish
2006 Bodegas Cal Raspallet Penedes Nun Vinya Dels Tauss Catalunya, Spain


Potato ravioli with cep sauce and shaved Manjimup truffle
1956 Château Cornella Rivesaltes South West, France
Five minute infusion of blue fin tuna stock with kaffir lime, fennel and tarragon flowers served with tuna tartare, rillette and seaweed salt
2000 Dom Pérignon Champagne Épernay, France And after the bouillon

Liquid verjus at - 8°C


Beef with Roquefort ravioli and swede, horseradish purée with beetroot oil
2004 Antonio Argiolas Korem, Sardinia, Italy
Roast Kurobuta pork belly with pork rillette pancake and panada stuffed baby apple Mouth watering.
2006 Domaine du Vissoux Brouilly Beaujolais, France
CANNELONI À LA BOLOGNAISE ET LIÈVRE POCHÉ An incredible architectural construction good taste and texture to.
Hare bolognaise filled cannelloni served with poached loin and pea purée

Epoisses Berthaut
Pont L’Eveque
NV Larmandier Bernier Brut Tradition Vertus, Champagne

Fruit salad
Poached Rhubarb with cheesecake foam and raspberry bubbles
2006 Inniskillin Icewine Cabernet Franc, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
Tartare of strawberry with white chocolate and mascarpone mousse, finished with basil oil
2006 Charles Hours Jurançon Uroulat, Jurançon, South-West, France
Calvados soufflé served with green apple and prune and armagnac ice cream

A selection of coffee, teas, infusions and petits-fours
Handmade chocolates to take home
Score 19/20

Saturday, July 25, 2009

C'est Bon (Port Melbourne) 09

It's over a year since our last excursion to this suburban French outpost which I had remembered quite fondly. Memory refreshed it will be a long time before we go there again. The place looks pleasant but the very abrupt service set up a displeasing atmosphere. After sitting for a short time while studying the menu a request for bread, one of my favourite parts of many meals, was met with the strange statement "The bread is served after the entrees are ordered"! Eventually it arrived, hot out of the oven, and quite good. Our waitperson, waitress actually, failed to mention that they were having special regional French cuisine, this week from Lorraine, and I did not see the black board with that menu on it until I got up to leave. An amuse of slightly to cold duck meat pate with garlic on a toasted slice of a bread stick

was a very ordinary start - it didn't set any specially titivating tone for the meal. We then tried the mixed entree for two ($38)

The presentation lacked any style or subtlety and was matched by the food. Two snails in garlic sauce, two home made pumpkin gnocci, a house speciality, two scallops with an very ordinary sauce, about an ounce of duck liver pate and a tomato carpachio with some course green leaves as edible adornment presented on coarse crockery. The pate was good, the tomato very good and all down hill from there to the snails, which I usually love, on this occasion awful.
For mains the rib eye was OK,

the rabbit stew OK

and the fish stew OK

but I would never order any of them again. Cheese plate, 60 gm slices ($9/slice) included a triple Nomandy Brie, a washed rind goats cheese and a Comte.
Unfortunately for dessert we ordered the souffle early so as not to wait 20 minutes for it at the end of the meal and it was served before the cheeses. This misunderstanding didn't help ending a very ordinary meal on a too sweet note for the cheese.
Score 13/20

Friday, July 17, 2009

Embrasse Restaurant

It's pretty unusual to get up from a restaurant meal with the feeling that you've had a quite excellent dining experience. That is exactly what we felt when we rose from the table at this reincarnation where Andrew McConnell formerly had his restaurant Three one two. Chef Nicolas Poelaert

has created a menu style based on "purity and simplicity" using the freshest of ingredients with a light touch to capture fine tastes with varied textures especially concentrated on herbs and vegetables. He grows many of his own herbs, but not in mid winter, and gets vegetables from a nearby farm. The decor has been only slightly altered with new curtains, some vertical mirrors and chandelier and light fittings and a bar at the end of the room.
The stone floor encourages noise but despite being near full the guests were more considerate than usual and all spoke quietly not disturbing other diners. White linen table cloths are contrasted with black napkins. Cutlery is good quality but is inclined to slip into the very large plates. Butter, which is salted, is served on stylish little wooden platters with a wood butter knife and the bread, sourdough or white was served hot, crisp and fresh. The menu is plain but the food is certainly not. Entrees ($15-$17) included smoked ocean trout, pork belly and a selection root vegetables as well as the two we chose. Yabbies, pacific oyster, muscovada infuse consomme shellfish glass/ balsamic powder, borage, is a superb modern variation on a bouillabaisse with delicately lightly poached oyster and the best yabbies and shellfish I can remember. The calf sweet bread, was prepared with a delicate touch the sweet breads rich and tender a super dish. Seven mains ($29-$38) give a lot to think about. We left venison, John Dory, lamb an vegetarian dishes for another day. My Wagyu, Spanish flat beans, black sesame, braised onion, nasturtium

supposedly grade 6 rump was tough and could have had some sauce, very lightly cooked it was well flavoured but, a bit disappointing. The accompanying veggies were very interesting and as with everything displayed a fine touch. The farmed roasted partridge, confit leg, cabbage, wheat, giblet jus, eucalyptus was a great dish.

Very nicely presented it was not excessively gamey the vegetables unusual and quite excellent. That alone is worth a return visit. We also enjoyed two OUTSTANDING side dishes, a cheesy mashed potato ($11), eat your heart out Joel Roubochon, and a wonderful lightly fried Zuchini salad ($8). Cheeses are mostly French $22 for three or $34 for five,
attractively presented. we were happy with a Roquefort, a Brie and a super conte. Four desserts each $16 all looked appealing on the menu but we settled for Mandarin, gateau de Gene, marmalade. If I thought we were getting a slice of mandarin flavoured cake I was mistaken.
It was a sort of sweet mandarin flavoured flaky creation, looking a bit like orange snow flakes with tiny mandarin flavoured cakes and miniature meringues. It was quite nice but I think we might try the Quince almond gateau or the chocolate parfait next time, and there will be a next time. You can also have four Petit fours ($5) with your tea/coffee ($4). Nicolas' wife Tara runs the front of house. She's very keen to please but not overly well informed about details of cooking. Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday, lunch12-2-00pm Friday and Saturday and Sunday brunch 09.30-2-00pm. Score 17/20

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bistro Thierry (Malvern) 09

There has been some discussion recently about the ethics of food bloggers. Some apparently demand favours or special attention from restaurants and some write damaging reviews after only one visit to a venue. We often frequent restaurants but only rewrite reviews if there is a change worth remarking. Restaurants such as Ripples, Imperial Kingdom, France Soir, Oliviers, have barely changed for ages. There are comparatively few changes at some of the high end places that we favour such as Jacques Reymond and Vue de Monde but they do continue to surprise. Matteo's has reinvented itself several times and guest chefs can add an extra dimension. When we offer a review it is a description of our experience on that occasion. I think it can be generalized and, with exceptions such as meals destroyed by unusually ear splitting diners at adjacent tables, provide a fair idea of what you might expect. These are personal views and there are times when readers strongly disagree, or support what we have written. We have eaten at Bistro Thierry several times in the last few months. Since we reviewed it some years ago it is very little changed. It looks the same, it feels the same, the service is similar and largely, so is the wine list and the menu, except for the far right hand column. For starters we tried the scallops,

which were lightly seared delicate and sweet. Lamb brains, wrapped in prosciuto was less successful,

the best thing about it being the size of the serve! The beef daube was also just OK but I've had much better.
It was a little dry and lacked that essential quality in good food namely flavour. The fillet steak was cooked as requested and served with extra Bernaise sauce.

Definitely the best choice. We finished with a cheese platter which was pleasing with three good size pieces of French cheeses that vary from time to time. The Brie was too cold and not quite ripe, the Roquefort particularly good. In all it remains a good example of French bistro dining with plenty of atmosphere though I prefer the food at France Soir. About $50/person for two courses. Score 13.5/20

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Capaldi at Matteo's

Tuesday nights for the next month or so are featuring Raymond Capaldi as guest chef at Matteo's cooking a series of meals featuring different national foods. Last night, being July 14th, Bastille Day, was a French night. The place was packed for this degustation dinner. Three courses for $60 an extra lobster veloute with Pui lentils $18, matched wines $36 add a free Kir Royale if you take the extra dish. Very reasonable. From the start the waiters were under pressure and the kitchen wasn't always helpful, taking an extra 15 minutes to serve the third veloute when we slightly rearranged our menu. It was worth waiting for, very rich and creamy, too buttery for some, served luke warm, it had a great aroma from the lobster.

The lentils had been blended into the soup and provided a distinct but not too strong additional flavour and the tender pieces of lobster tail made for an excellent dish. The next course was a mixed terrine

of largish pieces of pork and chicken, white asparagus and carrots bound in a lightly salted bacon. Not the usual but another good variation. The main course as a beef daube

slow cooked for 14 hours 19 minutes and 12 seconds, yep some chefs do have a sense of humour, and it was the BEST daube I've ever eaten, served with a rich wine jus, I loved it which has not been the case on most occasions I've had it. I couldn't resist the side dish of Joel Roubochon mashed potato,

he's famous for these super creamy delights with a light brown sauce, and a Nicoise salad,

both $8. If the salad did not look like the usual rendition it did make me think of the delights of a night in Nice. Another Capaldi variation on the traditional it had most of the usual ingredients with sardine in place of anchovy. Dessert had another surprise a sorrel cream with a piece of baked apple and a hot apple pie
Beaut. Coffee/tea added $4 to the bill served with a very ordinary Madelaine. On the down side the bread was stale and the waiter forgot to bring the sauterne that was matched to the dessert. Service was slow. Despite the crowd it was not excessively noisy and apparently Capaldi was in a bad mood but it was a good night with a meal quite different from what gets served up at the usual Bastille Day dinner. Next week, July22 it will be Spanish!

Comments: I find these 'one night stands' high risk and often disappointing but Capaldi's innovative spirit infused this meal with interest and a pleasing overall quality.
We found the wines pleasant but uninspiring.
Score: 16/20