Sunday, February 27, 2011

Embrasse (Carlton) 02/2011

We first came here shortly after it opened, two years ago. The chef, Nicolas Poelart, was in the kitchen and his wife was holding the fort in front of house. Chef Poelart is still in the kitchen but now he has at least four, black attired, well informed, wait staff serving at the dozen downstairs tables.
They offer an a la carte menu or a five ($90) or eight ($125) course summer degustation menu for the table. Of course we want to try everything so it was the eight courses for us. They do offer up to $45
off the a la carte menu for Entertainment Book subscribers.
Beginning with a small offering of an amuse bouche, two very delicately flavoured morsels.
The spoon on the right has a Brazil nut in a mild garlic and herb infusion while the one on the left had and very lightly flavoured herb which I enjoyed but about which I cannot illuminate you further, never having heard of it and not quite getting it's name.
The first course was Meli Melo of vegetables, emulsions and purees, home grown and foraged herbs and flowers. Served warm this marked the major element in the character of the rest of the meal.

The whole meal was a triumph of artistic presentation and of mild but distinct though delicate tastes. No single part of each dish was a dominant taste, except the meat dishes, and all blended beautifully. Some emulsions are hidden here but they included garlic, black and green olive, pumpkin. Edible flowers and thin sliced vegetables, a floret of cauliflower and broccoli, green leaves with no hint of bitterness and more. $22 on the menu it was SUPERB.
Slow cooked king prawn and avocado, sea water cream, cos, crispy rice, barbecued zucchini, flakes of soured milk, ($20) had fabulous tastes of the sea. It was also remarkable for the variety of textures combined on the plate. This dish also came with a mixed very gently dressed salad.
On the menu John Dory semi fried semi steamed in capsicum, spinach, cauliflower, had different emulsions
including a surprising burnt carrot which did not offend at all with it's slightly burnt flavour. Stained by the peppers,the fish was white inside and very delicate.
They served three breads, an olive a sourdough and a smoky bread which I found particularly interesting, unusual and appropriate to the meal.

It's the round one.
Pork fillet glazed with fennel syrup, garden peas, apple/olive puree, wild flower pollen and red onion plum ($42 on the menu)

was a mouth watering tender succulent piece of meat with lovely accompanying flavours which would not be out of place in a 3 star restaurant.
A Warnambool lamb loin with beetroot, bergamon and soy milk

was supported by a serve of the famous Aligot, a cheesy mash potato.
This is a side dish not to be missed.
A cheese platter

was followed by a dessert of local berries, organic honey custard, 'broken glass', not the real thing, and coriander. These few sprigs were a pleasant contrast to the sweet berries,

even for someone who, generally, does not care for coriander.
Finally a chocolate and hazelnut parfait, forest floor, sorrel and mint granita

provided any extra calories for the trip home in the most palatable way. For a better viewThe reasonably priced wine list has been upgraded since their new maitre de, Cam, formerly at Attica, took over. Matched wines are available for the degustation menus - $65 or $95 and Cam's expertise is always available. We enjoyed a Lillee and a 2009 Best's cab/sav which was much better than the 2006 version of the same wine I had a few nights ago.
I'm not yet used to my new camera and these pic's no way do justice to the presentation of the dishes. If Embrasse was good two years ago it's even better now. The AGF has seriously under rated it with only one hat. It's knocking on the door for three.
Score: 17.5/20

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Madeira (Brighton) 02/2011

This was a meal that started badly but ended well. Madeira serves Portuguese influenced cuisine in the heart of Bay St. The restaurant is simply decorated with framed pictures of Madeira Island on one wall and a couple of oil paintings on the opposite wall. Tables are reminiscent of Mediterranean provincial settings with red over white linen cloths. They offer several lunch specials including a $20 two course meal including a glass of Sangria and half price Espetadas. You can get a 25% discount if you have an Entertainment Book voucher too.
There is a short, inexpensive list including several wines from Portugal. We tried the house wine which was light and unremarkable
and the Sangria which was very sweet and more like lolly water than wine.
Our difficulties arose over whether the chef would very lightly cook the barramundi espetado and if he could make the espetados without chili.
The meat had been marinated in a chili containing marinade and the fish had been floured so neither request was possible. He was not prepared to make a fresh espetado either. We thought this pretty inflexible but it was explained to us that if we gave them 48 hours notice everything was possible.
We began with snails in a garlic Parmesan cheese sauce ($17).

The half dozen snails were lost in the large amount of cheese. It was very mildly flavoured and inoffensive, not anything I would rush to order again although it did come with a super toasted garlicTurkish style bread. We then indulged in a sea food platter ($36)
which was very well prepared, not at all dry or over cooked, with scallops, prawns, fish and mussels,accompanied by a large dome of saffron rice and a garden salad. In all a very good and tasty dish. Next we had a rump steak espetada with potato chips and a similar salad..
I cannot describe espetadas better than Suite101 did when they wrote

Espetada is Madeira’s signature dish. Marinated in garlic and herbs, these long beef skewers are placed on an open fire then rushed across to the dining area and hung high above the table. Only the finest cuts should be used and juices dripping into a saucer can be soaked up with bread"

This was attractive and fun.
The steak was medium rare and very tasty. The marinade, with only a touch of chili, very much to my taste.Usually $33 as part of the $20 lunch it was great value.
Finally we had the custard tarts with ice cream for dessert ($12).
The rest of the meal was good but these were the very best custard tarts that Sandra or I have eaten in Australia. It is worth going to Madeira for this alone.
The cooking is uncomplicated, unpretentious and well worth a return visit.
Score 13.75/20

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hare & Grace (Melbourne CBD) 02/2011

Raymond Capaldi is a chef for whose cooking I have the greatest admiration. We ate often at Fenix when he was there, thoroughly enjoyed the menu he designed at Persimmon and ate his food at a number of restaurants where he made guest appearances for special meals. His cooking was modern, adventurous and exciting with attractive flavours and appealing presentation. Not surprising then that we were very keen to try his new venue on the corner of Collins and King Street.
The restaurant is split between a bar and table area at the front and a well spaced seating area facing the open kitchen. Tables are made from recycled blonde wood packing cases with mysterious stencilled information on them.

They are spacious and seating is comfortable. Overhead lights are largely obscured by the simple ceiling decor, which is pleasantly inoffensive, made up of clusters of bare branches which are hung upside down.

Our waiter ushered us to a table and, I suppose in an excess of hospitality, inquired if we would like something to drink before we had sat down.
Menus have become another art form in restaurants. They vary from the elaborate, with descriptions in French and English to the barest minimum of information, such as that at 11 Madison, which names only the main ingredient leaving the waiters to elaborate on the dishes, to the totally non existent, supplied only on request, some days after the meal. H & G take the middle ground. The basic cooking method is followed by a list of what you will get on the plate. This works well. There are entrees, about $17, principle dishes, about $37, and sides, $8 or $9 as well as wood fired grills, beef, lamb or chicken or a choice of a three or six course 'Providores Banquet' for $80 or &120. and desserts, about $17.
Circ fried ham hock finger, celery, parsley, white peach, caper cream had the meat picked from the hock and cooked up in a crisp breaded pie.

It was quite nice although the crust was very thick. All the things promised on the dish were easily identifiable and made a nice combination . A yabbi 'sandwich did not cause any great excitement.
For mains braised roast short ribs, pickled tongue, 1000 island garnsh, bone marrow cream, despite each thing being excellently prepared, also lacked any excitement.
This remained a weakness through out the meal. A fillet of roast ocean trout served with a fried egg, hazelnut, peas, sausage sauce was also well prepare but uninspired.
Neither the wood fired eye fillet (250gm) nor the Gippsland grain fed T Bone (600 gm) carried any taste of the wood which made them rather ordinary although I found the meat quite excellent.Side dishes were especially good and I would have the peas with roasted buckwheat, fregola blue berries and sorrel oil every time.
A dessert of chocolate bar Pedro Ximenez jelly and was the most enjoyable part of the meal. The jelly absolutely outstanding.
They have a small and very reasonably priced wine list. We enjoyed a bottle of Freeman secco ($52)

This was a good meal but we really expected a bit more than that.
Without deciding the relative importance of these things we might score Ambiance 7.5, Service 7,Noise 6 , Food 6.5, Presentation 7, Returnability 5, Value 6.5 all out of 10
I should add that Raymond recognized us when we arrived and we accepted a glass of very pleasant champagne at his expense.
Score 13.5/20

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Byblos (World Trade Centre, Melbourne ) 02/2011

This dinner was courtesy of Byblos who are keen to become known to a wider audience..

Open for only a few weeks, and largely hidden from passers by, this waterfront Lebanese style restaurant was not what I expected. Facing the Yarra and the Jeff's shed
it is most accessible from Siddeley St. Three areas there offer after hours parking for $5, $9, or $10. My car could not tell the difference so I was quite happy to go cheap! A short walk through the WTC Wharf building
brings one to the waters edge, and the restaurant. It looks like an pleasant space with a bar facing a casual area which opens on to a broad path with more tables.
In fact it is a much bigger area than it first appears to be with a richly furnished private room
as well as a couple of other areas for casual conversation over a drink
and upstairs there is a bar with more tables all of which have attractive mosaics set in them, reminiscent of ancient decor.
.There are other reminders of Byblos, regarded by many as the oldest continually occupied city in the world such as the reproduction pottery shards
Papyrus, on which the early bible was written, was traded in Byblos which is where the word bible comes from!
We tried quite a few dishes including:
Fattoush, a light mixed green salad with radish, tomato and cucumber finished with toasted Lebanese bread and bold lemon and garlic dressing ($11.90)
This sounded as if it would knock you over with it's 'bold' dressing but it was quite mild and not dominated by any individual ingredient.
Tabouleh, finely chopped parsley, tomato, onion, rich olive oil and a splash of lemon juice ($11.90) This was unusual as the primary ingredient, Burgul wheat was missing. Perhaps the menu writer forgot it but so, it seemed to me, did the chef.
A trio of dips, from the right, Labneh, a soft home made cheese blended with garlic and mint, Hommos, a blend of chickpeas, lemon juice and tahini and Baba Ghanouj, smoky char grilled egg plan troasted garlic, tahini and lemon juice. ($13.90)
contained no surprises. Every dish up to this point had a slightly lemony flavour but this was not excessive. They were all were well balanced.
Rekakat, filo pastries filled with soft feta and mozzarella cheese, freshly chopped onion and zesty herbs ($12.90 for four) again illustrated what I now regarded as the hall mark of Byblos that is gently seasoned mild tasting delicate cooking.
Batata Harra, hand cut potatoes sauteed in lemon, olive oil, chopped coriander and a hint of chili
fell into the same category of pleasant and inoffensive dishes.
Samak Harra, fresh John Dory with roasted red pepper ratatouille, pine nuts and lemon dressing, served cool ($14.50)
was another very pleasant mildly flavoured dish. Even the escargo sauteed with fresh coriander, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and chili barely roused my taste buds although the snails were plump, tender, but slightly chewy
and, as a stand alone dish, quite excellent. Another mild dish, Makanek, home made Lebanese spiced sausages sauteed with fresh lemon and finished with olive oil and pine nuts. ($14.50) is largely defined by textures.
Our last main course was skewers of chicken tenderloin, Shish Tawook, marinated in olive oil,
believe it or not, with garlic, coriander and lemon juice and Lahim Meshwi, marinated lamb in olive oil, traditional Lebanese herbs and spices.
We finished the meal with Lebanese coffee
served from an attractive finjan, by Meagan, our most attentive, and attractive, waitress.
and a platter of mixed middle Eastern sweets.
Everything was served with plenty of Lebanese breadThere is an extremely pleasant atmosphere about the place, open and unhurried.
Ihere are many combination dishes and platters on the menu for about $28 so that a good range of dishes can be tasted without exessive expence.
They also have a reasonable wine and cocktail list.
Score: 13.5/20