Tuesday, July 27, 2010

CHATTER 29 myTaste

Anonymity in expressions of opinion do not appeal to me. If I know the author of an opinion, even by reputation, I have a better idea of how to value it. Just as I know that if I pick up a book by Robert Ludlum I will not take it seriously whereas I will respect the views expressed by authors such as Stephen Jay Gould. Where blogs and the I'net are concerned it is always problematic as to the reliability to expect from unrefereed sites. Even Wikipedia has its problems as a reliable source in some areas.
That brings me to My Taste, a site that occasionally, and rather indiscriminately, uses posts from my own site. On one occasion they published a post about a restaurant that had been closed for months! I don't often look at it but today I did. They offer a section 'Top' restaurants for Australian Capital cities. I idly clicked on the Melbourne one and this list appeared

Bluefire in Docklands

Most of them have star ratings based on two or three reviews that can be followed back to the contributors and these vary in quality and enthusiasm BUT how peculiar that five of the top ten are in Docklands and how odd that not one of the generally highly regarded restaurants that feature in Gourmet Traveller or the Age Good Food Guide get mentioned. Even Attica, which achieved world wide recognition after one group of reviewers rated it 74th best restaurant in the world, missed out on myTaste's top 10!
It is not evident on what evidence this list of 'Top' restaurants is compiled, nor who is responsible for it.
Surely myTaste could call their
list something more appropriate than what it surely is not.

This sort of nonsense gives blogs a bad name.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cafe Qua (St.Kilda) 2010

There are at least a dozen establishments similar to Café Qua within a kilometer or two along this increasingly vital Balaclava shopping strip. Many have come and gone over the last 10 years but, for good reason, Café Qua is thriving. It’s inconspicuous, at 289 Carlyle Street, marking the far end of the strip, with a few aging tables under umbrellas on the footpath. Inside it is rather dark with a dozen or so small 5 ply topped bare tables. Daily newspapers are available for customers. A small hand written sign informs that it is a “cash only” business. One wonders why.
It’s a family business. Grandparents and grandchildren are often there, chatting and gossiping. They are inclusive and friendly. A pleasant atmosphere is also induced by attractive young serving staff who smile a lot and seemed pleased to be looking after us. The breakfast menu, available from 8.00 to 4.00, from Tuesday to Sunday,priced from $7.5 to $15 is extensive including a variety of poached and scrambled eggs, muesli and vegetarian dishes. Lunch, similarly priced, includes chicken, fish, pasta dishes and a variety of salads. Products are sourced from local shops. Serves are large. We’ve tried many of their dishes and not been disappointed. Salads are fresh and crisp, carbonara and cream sauces for pastas are very good. For breakfast I recommend Eggs Qua,
two perfectly poached eggs with firm whites and just cooked slightly runny yolks on muffins, baby spinach and shaved ham, topped with smoked salmon and Hollandaise sauce. Definitely good for an inexpensive, tasty, hearty meal in a happy atmosphere.
Score 13/20

Friday, July 23, 2010

Maze (Melbourne) 07/2010

Seeing Gordon Ramsay on TV and in the newspapers, not always because of his cooking, it's hard to avoid having an opinion about him. Many people detest him. I'm not one of them. I think it rare that a person rises to celebrity status without some special or unusual talent. Masterchef illustrates how hard it is to be a really excellent chef and to be successful, as Ramsay is, also requires managerial skills and judgment. For this reason I am delighted that he has opened a restaurant in Melbourne. The menu is created by his executive chef, Josh Emett, in Ramsay's style and in consultation with him. Emmett,
a charming and very smart chef, has been working with Ramsay for quite a few years and knows the sort of things he likes.
The restaurant is on the 1st floor of the new Metropole Hotel across the the road from the Crown Entertainment complex. It has the air of an extremely classy venue from the moment you walk through the door. The hotel decor is restrained in earthy tones. The restaurant is rather noisy despite the carpet, because of music piped through out the place. It is fairly dark although there are plenty of overhead lights in frames that looks a bit like lobster pots. Our watress offered a torch to help read the menu!
The walls are decorated with a sculpture that looks like tree branches, no trunks, with an irregular scattering of birds. Very gentle and pleasing to the eye. They have bare, good size, wood tables, white linen napkins and good quality cutlery. It is much larger than it looks seating over 100 not counting the Grill Bar. Service is prompt and attentive though questions about the bread, Steca di Bianca had to be referred to higher authority for answers.
So what about the food.
They provide an a la carte menu, about $17 upwards for each dish or a seven course 'Chefs Dinner Menu'. ($95) with matched wines for either $80, $100 0r $120. The first two are chosen from the wines available by the glass, which are about $12 to $18 and the more expensive options a better quality selection not generally available by the glass.
The tasting menu is from the main menu but presumably the serves are smaller. We started with marinated beetroot with goats curd, Cabernet Sauvignon vinaigrette, toasted pie nuts.
No amuse bouche here. This was a couple of beautifully presented, colourful, bite sized delicacies the variety in textures and tastes pleased all my senses. Of course it helps if you are partial to goats cheeses.
This was followed by a choice. Applewood smoked Kingfish, fennel, pickled celery, globe artichoke, Californian caviar, which I had, seduced by the ingredients, specially the caviar. The alternative seared yellow fin tuna, white radish, yuzu, enoki mushrooms, black garlic which Sandra selected and I tasted, and ultimately much preferred.
It was very delicate and meltingly tender with subtle flavour.
I barely noticed the caviar but it hardly mattered.
The Kngfish was barely cooked the balance of the tastes maintained by the proportions of the ingredients. Pan seared scallops, caramelized kelp, sugar snap peas, mussels, champagne, it was champagne foam!, again highlighted the soft touch of the chef. Strangely the scallops were a little over seared but remained succulent,
almost sweet, I cold happily have had a dozen. Another choice followed. I had the pan roasted barramundi, butternut squash, compressed cucumber, pumpkin seeds.
Crisp skin moist flesh, one needs to be a poet to describe the feelings these dishes produce. Equally mouth watering was the other choice, roasted quail with sage, slow cooked quince and glazed turnips. Quail is often hard to eat. This was boned and presented, like a miniature confit of duck.
Another exceptional dish, beautifully seasoned it only deficiency the small size of the serve. The last main was lamb cannon and shoulder, cauliflower puree, anchovy, stinging nettles which we did not taste because we wanted the "ox tongue and cheek" caper and raisin carrots, horseradish pomme puree.
The cheek absolutely melted in the mouth, it sat atop the slice of tongue which had been overcooked and as a result was hard though Sandra's was better. The jus looked heavily reduced but did not overwhelm the cheek. The small pot of pomme puree was excellent with a mild horse radish taste infused through it.

There were two desserts. The first an exotic fruit vacherin, passion fruit and bannana sorbet was disapointing after the fabulous preceding courses. The merangue was very hard and the 'exotic troical fruit' very acidic.
They failed to impress as anything special. The final course was a deconstructed lamington with rosella jam which appealed to me as the best way you could possibly have a lamington.
The chocolate and coconut are on the bottom, cream in the middle and the sponge of the lamington on the right in this photo. The rosella jam was behind the other ingredients.
The bread, it's in that silver bucket next to the candle, which we both loved, was served with a seaweed infused butter and a small dish of Maldon salt. It came early and often which was just as well as the volume of food for each course was tiny. I do think it would have been much better to have had 50% larger serves because without the bread many patrons would leave hungry.
Wines are expensive whilst cocktails are at ordinary prices about $18
The meal was exquisite in most regards and the service impeccable.
It is expensive by the time you add in the drinks and tip but it is a culinary experience that we thoroughly enjoyed.
I should add that each course came with half a glass of wine. The wines were:
NV Tattinger Prelude
2009 Delakle 'Unique' Sav Blanc Loire Valley
2008 Clonakilla Voignier Canberra
2008 Ata Rangi 'Crimson' Pinot Noir Martinborough N.Z.
2006 Barone Ricadoli Chianti Classico Riserva Tuscanny
2007 Dr Loosen 'Urziger Weirzgarten' Auslese Reisling Mosel Germany
2006 Inniskillin Cab Franc 'Icewine' Niagra Canada
The only one I was familiar with was Dr Loosens Reisling. They all matched the food and were pleasant enough but I did not have an urge to rush out and stock up on any of them except, perhaps, the Tattinger,
Any comments?
Score: 17.5/20

Monday, July 19, 2010

CHATTER 28 Masterchef

Ten green bottles hanging on the wall. If one green bottle should accidentally fall there'll be nine green bottles hanging on the wall.
There is a sad inevitability that every contestant but one will ultimately be eliminated in this wonderfully inventive show.
We get to like these contestants, we feel for them. The challenges they face, day after day are quite extraordinary. Like gladiators they go into battle against each other constantly displaying remarkable good will towards their fellow contestants whilst daily endeavouring to better them in the Masterchef kitchen.
Last night, facing a 'monstrous' challenge, Alvin struck out. It might have easily been Callum or Courtney, A marginal win to Jimmy gives him a substantial advantage in the next round. All the contestants have gaps in basic cooking skills which are revealed under pressure. I think Callum has been the luckiest to survive so far but doubt that he will get much further.
There is a lot of luck in the decisions both for the best and the worst dishes and worthy contestants get eliminated unreasonably at times. This is evident from the fact that both Courtney and Jimmy, who won their way back into the competition after earlier elimination a couple of weeks ago, have not yet been eliminated again. This is emphasized by Jimmy winning best eight layer vanilla cake whilst Courtney barely survived.
Sandra and I agree that Claire and Adam are the two most able performers. Adam is the most inventive and Claire perhaps technically superior. We think the winner will come from one of these two.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Orsini (Camberwell) 07/10

Orsini is an Italian name which belonged to at least three cardinals, a Northern Italian noble family and many other distinguished individuals but in this case it is the family name of the previous owners.The present owners go one better. They had a couple of Popes among their ancestors. Family aside they serve satisfying Italian cuisine. This pic, from their website,

is a good representation of the warm long narrow room where Orsini presents their customers meals. It was chilly outside and parking was difficult so we had a brisk walk before settling in for dinner. The atmosphere was amiably busy. Service was unexceptional. I started with a rather thick minestrone soup.
It had that flavour associated with warm memories of home cooking on cold nights. Sandra had a triple cheese tart which came heavily camouflaged under a blanket of rocket.
The tart had a still crisp pastry and inoffensive light cheesy taste. Unlike the minestrone I would not order that again. We tasted a range of mains The pork belly was super.
Crisp crackling, tender an moist meat with a moderate cover of fat, for want of a better word yummy. Beef cheek
was slow cooked to a tender delight, if you like that sort of meat, on a bed of lumpy mash with a fairly intense reduces jus. Battered flathead tails
were not as moist, sweet and succulent as they might have been. They loose flavour very quickly after they are caught and can very easily be overcooked. The tomato, olive and peppers were a nice change but if you want chips they had to be ordered separately. Theroast chicken breast
was boring but there was nothing wrong with it.
A good solid Italian dinner at average prices. You can get a discount too if you have an Entertainment Book!
Score: 14/20

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Luke and Guy Show

Luke Mangan and Guy Grossi, two celebrity chef's in Australia, well Melbourne and Sydney anyway, put on a show and dinner at the Regent Plaza ballroom
on Friday and Saturday night last week. About 300 foodies and fans paid anything from $150 to $375 to watch some low level buffoonery while these two 'stars' lapped up the adulation of several admiring young women. They cooked each of the courses on stage before teams of waiters poured out of the kitchen
to lay their offerings before us. There was plenty of pre dinner finger food, with Pommery champagne, in the foyer, which was just as well as it was a long wait for the first course. This was a carpacchio of Kingfish overwhelmed by a sweet ginger, citrus (orange) dressing with radish, coriander and Flying fish roe.
Give me sashimi next time please. This was followed, some considerable time later, by a red leg lobster angnolotti, with a barely detectable bit of lobster and no taste of it at all, accompanied by "passata", pecorino, fried basil, shallots. It looked good but the essential ingredient, a taste of lobster was AWOL. A slow cooked Hopkins River beef yearling eye fillet,
marinated then cooked in a vacuumed bag at 80 degrees for 40 minutes was terribly over cooked. You can do this at home Luke told us several times but who would want to. The smear of celeriac paste, hardly a teaspoon full, was thew best part of the dish. It came with a very ordinary feta salad. Finally the dessert called a St.Tropezian tart. I don't know how it got St. Tropez attached to its name. It was dry, heavy and desperately needed the quince and sauce Anglais.

Wines were supplied by Shelmerdine and were above average and water by Sanpellegrino. In my view it is close to criminal to buy bottled water in Melbourne where, I believe, the stuff that comes out of the tap is far superior, far cheaper and leaves a far smaller carbon footprint.
Kate Cebrano was supposed to provide entertainment. She managed one solo song and one with the company. In total the show was plebeian and the food was worse.
A final irritation was to find Luke's book on sale for $45 when two days before I paid $59 for the same thing at his gastropub!!! They say there's a sucker born every day, I've got May 27.
Score: 11.5/20

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Palace Hotel (South Melbourne) 07/2010

Palace is a name that invites entertaining superlatives headlines relating to royalty and things regal.Fit for a king and so on. Well you'll just have to go and see. The home of Luke Mangan's latest venture this refurbished gastropub serves "modern urban Australian food, whatever that means. The hotel is a peculiar curved shape with frontages on both City Rd and Pickles St. One passes the bar to enter the restaurant which was close to full on the Wednesday night we attended. The place was buzzing with diners in active, though bearably noisy, conversation. It occupies an odd shaped room, suitably decorated with several prints from Blackman's Alice in Wonderland series, depicting himself and his wife. Around two long wall there is soft cushioned seating facing bare wooden tables set with good cutlery and white linen napkins. In all a very good atmosphere. The waitress who served us was extremely well informed about the menu and the specials, of which there were quite a few.
Sandra started with a half a dozen oysters Kilpatrick ($20) followed by mushroom soup which was rich and creamy with lots of button mushrooms. The taste was unusually strong and I felt it might have been augmented with porchini powder. It was a very good soup. I had the crab omelette ($21)

which looked great topped with a mini Asian salad and miso mustard broth (are those enoki mushrooms really Asian?) but it was thoroughly over cooked making it a bit leathery. The crab flavour was quite fine but distinct and and I'd have it again. I had a second entree off the specials list. This was an salmon filled angelotti
with grilled prawns, tomato and asparagus. An outstanding bisque with superb prawn flavour arrived at the table after I'd eaten half the angelotti which only made it so much better. Passing my hand over a candle to pick up the sauce boat I promptly spilt half of it on the table. The staff cleaned the whole mess up very graciously. I had another excellent main course, a huge serve of fillet
on a truffle mash with cavallo nero. This was everything you would want from a fillet, extremely tender with gentle flavour. I don't think it is usual to get quite as big a serve as I had. Perhaps it was their last piece. Sandra had the duck a la orange. This lovely breast and leg were a bit light on orange
but we're extremely tender. It also came with a pleasant shiraz merlot blend glass of wine. To finish we had the dessert platter for two. Strawberries and cream, a rich hot chocolate fondant, a chocolate covered ice cream and an extremely fine creme brulle with almond biscotti. A very good meal and better than the average restaurant by far. A tribute to both Luke Mangan and his chef, who likes to be known as MJ.
One thing really annoyed me. I bought Mangans latest book, cover price US$35 for a rather extravagant $59 only to find it on sale for $45 at his RAW dinner with Guy Grossi at the Regent two days later! We hope to have more to say about that event very soon.
Score 14.75/20

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Comme Kitchen (Melbourne) 06/2010

This is a very popular restaurant with aspirations that are not quite realized. First impressions as we waited for our table that we had been assured would be ready and we would not have to wait if we were punctual, is of a large, rather bare, area adjacent to a bar.
The staff all all young attractive, courteous and knowledgeable about the food. On the other hand they were also a little disorganized, offered sparkling or still water but did not mention wine or cocktails, and took quite a while when, finally, we asked for some wine.
The menu, which is called 'Comme La Cuisine', nods to the French at several places with an assortment of French terms scattered through it for example Plat du (sic) jour, grilled lemon and jus gras and creamed parsley 'en croute'. It's a limited menu with six entrees, six mains and six side dishes. No vegetarian mains but there was an onion soup and a braised artichoke dish that, perhaps could have been served as a main. We started with six Burgundy snails,

braised in Chardonnay stuffed with garlic, parsley and Pernod butter. ($16) As they arrived the aroma of herbs and garlic was mouth watering. Indeed the sauce was rich in flavour and after the snails were gone we continued to soak up the buttery sauce with bread until it was all gone. I don't know if these snails could have been cut in half but they surely were the smallest snails I have ever eaten. Other entrees were not very tempting. Seared scallops, braised leeks, milk infusion and Avruga caviar ($25) might have been interesting and had the chiken liver and foie gras pate ($16) been a duck liver pate I would have had that - I never spoil a meal thinking about cholesterol!
Mains were two fish dishes, one salmon, one barramundi, one venison, one rabbit, one duck and one steak (Angus rump, an odd choice if you are going to have only one beef dish.) Prices ranged from $35 to $42. Sandra had the roast Aylesbury duck breast and croustillant of leg with beetroot creamed Savoy cabbage and Madeira sauce. ($38).

The verdict very nice presentation. Lacked any 'wow' factor. My roasted Western Plains rabbit loin stuffed with apple and Dijon mustard, Lyonnaise salad, soft boiled quail eggs (and blood pudding, not mentioned on the menu)
was really excellent. The rabbit was tender and moist there were no dominating flavours just a gentle, delicate combination that I would not be surprised to get at leading restaurants anywhere. A pear soufflewith cream fraiche ended a reasonable meal. Masterchef judges would have no difficulty finding faults, both with the service and the food, but they were fairly minor. The clientellle were very young and mostly considerate in regard to noise but if the voices were quiet the music replaced it!
A little way to get to the top bracket in our estimation
Score: 14/20