Thursday, July 31, 2008

Taj Tandoori

Introduction: Ambitiously this suburban Indian restaurant, at 281 Glenhuntly Rd Elsternwick, strives to provide diners with "a divine dining experience."
Ambience: Very clean with double table cloths and napkins Taj looks like an expensive place but is actually extremely cheap. It has a pleasant atmosphere. A place at which you would be happy to spend a couple of hours over dinner Most entrees are $9 and mains $12. They also offer a series of banquets from $20 to $35
Service: Friendly and obliging
Food: By getting the $35 banquet we got to tasting a variety of dishes. It began, after we had demolished a small tray of tasty dips, - mint, mango and pomegranite, with a platter of Tandoori chicken and samosas on a bed of lettuce and onion. Not specially good,not specially bad.
Next came a prawn masla so sweet it would have a diabetic reaching for his glucometer, a lamb korma, a dish of seriously overcooked vegetables, a butter chicken and a bowl of over sweet Raita. Whilst these dishes are very colourful they are not very photogenic!The only really outstanding dishes were the Gulab Jamon and the mango and pistachio Kulfi which had that peculiar texture one gets when one makes ice cream from clotted milk
Wine: We brought our own but a glance at the list reveals an inexpensive smallish range

Price: Competitive in fact very inexpensive

Comments: A very well kept restaurant serving pedestrian Indian food

Score: 12.5/20

Friday, July 25, 2008

Grossi Florentino

The upstairs restaurant at Grossi Florentino is one of the most elegant and refined dining spaces in Melbourne. The Sepia coloured representations of Italian scenes above dark wood paneling, the wonderful ceiling with it’s two central chandeliers and the imitation ruby red gas lights around the walls all create this fine ambience.
In keeping with the carpeted room there are double white linen clothed tables and good cutlery. The uniformed waiters provide impeccable service – all this at a price of course.
The menu is quite wide ranging including goat, rabbit, tripe, as well as the usual staples of duck, fish and so on.
Once again we chose the degustation menu and, as usual it began with an offering from the chef- a clear tomato consommé topped by a cheese pastry. I would have preferred more acidity to prepare my palate for the first course
This was a rather bland zucchini and mozzarella terrine with
pickled mushroom, radish, watercress “salsa verde”, snails, singular in my case, with parsley and farro The pickled mushrooms and snail added some taste and textural variation still needing a bit more seasoning I enjoyed the octopus, Foie Gras custard baby beet, rice biscuit, cayenne praline, cabernet vinegar. The stack of octopus was very tender and was served well by the accoutrements. Next came Southern rock lobster, porcini, sweetbreads, young sorrel, goats cheese, shallot. The sweetbreads were excellent but the small piece of lobster had lost its sweetness and was dry and hard
Jamòn flavoured marrow ravioli had a small column of marrow between two small ravioli filled with shredded meat braised veal shank, ( which I thought was beef) “gremolata”. Gremolata is a typical accompaniment to Italian braised veal shank or osso bucco and usually consists of finely chopped or grated garlic, parsley and lemon zest which is sprinkled over the finished dish. In this instance a rich jus was also poured over it all at the table. An indifferent dish
Rabbit “in porchetta” was nicely presented but again rather ordinary, boned and rolled, speck, spices, “agrodolce”, fennel and orange, peas. An alternative small stuffed pigeon was too small to get a good taste of the pigeon. Served from the a la carte menu the pigeon is much bigger
Castricum lamb bread stuffing, baby artichoke, sweet pastry, salt and pepper was two very excellent lamb chops, which, after the less seasoned previous dishes was surprisingly saltyGelato a seasonal selection was lemon, balsamic, which I liked best, and valrhona chocolate was a nice change almost a palate cleanser before the main dessert Valrhona chocolate soufflé campari and orange ice cream and chocolate syrup. The meal was completed with Vittoria coffee and pastries
We drank Chandon Brut bubbly from an extensive and reasonably priced wine list
This is a sophisticated expensive restaurant. I have been critical where it has failed to achieve the levels I would expect. It's good, perhaps very good but not really excellent.
Score 15.75/20

The Albert Park Hotel

This once run down but recently refurbished pub has a bistro syle restaurant serving contemporary food is matching culinary swords with quite a few restaurants in the vicinity.
On the corner of Dundas and Montgomery St. it is a stones throw from l'oustal and Ricardo's and has a quality chef, Cath Kalka, who trained with Greg Malouf at O'Connels, to match the opposition.
There are several other dining areas including an outside area and bar dining.
Being the only diners there was nothing of the bustling, energy one sometimes gets in bistros but rather a sedate laid back feeling. The trendy decor is rather more utilitarian than exciting.
The menu is exciting and I looked forward to the pasta with mushoom which was a good size tasty serve covered with shavings of cheese. Good for a hungry diner
The chicken liver pate was very good, smooth textured, lightly cooked - just what I think it should be like. An excellent start. It must be hard to make anything special with fish and chips but I live in hope (Bistro Guillame does pretty well) Here the best thing was the home made Tartare Sauce. The Trevaly was not bad but not good being a little dry and the batter reasonable. I think a more adventurous choice might have worked better The crispy duck was very crisp - more than a little overdone and stringy-
It had very little fat and did not have a good duck taste. If you like crisp you could not do better
Dessert: Creme caramel was not at al good, it had the wrong texture and was too sweet, and could not be saved by the pear and ice cream accompanimentHouse red and whites are very ordinary though they are served in large, delicate tumblers, Reidel I suspect, which are almost to big to pick up in one hand!
In all it was a pleasant meal in a pleasant place
Price: Average for pub restaurant prices. We had a special 2 course lunch with a glass of wine $30, an extra course is $10 more and that is very good value.

Score:Barely 13.25 /20

Thursday, July 17, 2008


According to Wikepaedia libertine has come to mean one devoid of any restraints, particularly one who ignores or even spurns religious norms, accepted morals and forms of behaviour sanctioned by the larger society. Famous adherents included the Marquis de Sade, Casanova, Lord Byron and Jim Morrison, It has a strong association with the French and seems like a good name for a French restaurant prepared to be unrestraied and adventurous with its food.
Libertine, the restaurant, at 500 Victoria St. North Melbourne, flaunts a small footpath blackboard announcing Viva France with chalk written Liberty, Equality Fraternity announcing it's French connections.
The restaurant is described in this mornings Age by Dani Valent as " a gorgeous dining room: cosy and unashamedly French, with the requisite tasteful nude, mirrors, sumptuous tapestries and a wall lined with empty wine bottles, each like a diary entry of a good meal and a great time." I couldn't have said it better.
We were even more impressed with the attention we got from the staff and for once the other diners were exceptionally considerate maintaing conversations quietly. In the background Edith Piaf added still more to the extrmrly pleasing ambience.
The menu is interesting and we went for a special entree described as cabbage wrapped pork mousse in a bouillon. It was more like mince than mousse - perhaps I misheard. Regardless it was an interesting and would have been a good tasting dish, had not been so over salted, in an excellent bouillon. We also tried the grilled whole langoustines, truffle butter & waldorf salad (18.5) A small but extremely appealing entree. The light crunchy Waldorf especially good.
I resisted the temptation to have the slow braised red venison shank, shallot suet dumpling in favour of another special - pheasant cassoulet on a bed of borlotto beans and spinach with a home made bourdan sausage ($34.5)The pheasant, slices of breast, was very dry and not very distinguished and I thought the sausage was to homogenized. this is not a dish Iwould recommend.

The game bird for two was a liberal interpretation of duck a la orange ($70) The duck was drenched in honey and there was no flavour of orange. The whole bird was brought to the table before being carved and, on request we were also given the carcass to enjoy with some extra sauce. The duck was slightly undercooked and, unusually these days, very tough with very little 'ducky' taste.
A side dish of creamed spinach was a good choice if you like that sort of thing.
Soufflé au chocolat ($14.5) was pleasant but unexceptional and could have been sweeter and the quince tarte tatin, muscatel & vanilla parfait would have been better had the pastry base not beeen completely soft. The muscatels provided excellent contrast in the parfait

With a little help we settled on a very reasonably priced French Lafage shiras.
Libertine have a lunch special 2 courses + glass of wine, $29.50; (3 courses + glass of wine, $36.50)
has an exciting menu but I didn't find any of the dishes specially good
Score:13.5 /20

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Esposito at Toofeys

I have become very cautious about getting carried away by expectation and eager anticipation of great experiences in restaurants. Previous visits, trusted friends recommendations, newspaper reviews, the Age Good Food Guide and even bloggers cannot be relied upon except when they are critical.
Still at 192 Lygon St. Carlton, I have had positive experiences at Esposito when it was Toofeys with Michael Bacash at the helm and again after he left. I was keen to go again now with Maurice Esposito in charge.
We reserved a table upstairs. The carpeted room is sedate with square cloth covered tables, white walls, high ceiling, with a modern chandelier (no crystal) and large curtained windows looking over Drummond Street.
We were comfortably seated, offered drinks, our waiter proved to be very knowledgeable about the wines and bread and olive oil arrived soon after. A request for butter was acknowledged but no butter was seen until a further request 10 minutes later.
It was getting very chilly in the room and my partner asked for her coat. The waiter offered to bring a mobile heater but failed to do that nor did the reverse cycle air conditioner get turned on as it ‘blows onto the adjacent tables’! I was struck by the gentleman at the next table who kept his fleece lined jacket on throughout his meal. Soon after I took this snap the lady opposite him donned her coat too. After a lengthy wait, over an hour after our arrival, perhaps 40 minutes after our orders, entrees arrived.
Ravioli of Tasmanian crayfish with slow cooked tomatoes, micro basil and basil froth ($28) was very bland. It needed something to give it a bit of character
The Quail saltimbocca,
one of their signature dishes was quite reasonable, this is not a fine dish but very well put together on a bed of radichio with carmelised pear and vinacotta sauce to combat the bitterness $19. After a small battle with the thigh bones it left me looking forward to the next dish.
We tried a variety of mains.
The duck,
roasted Bendele Hinterland organic breast and confit leg, Iranian fig and pepper jam$38, was just OK. The breast a little tender enough and the confit of a smallish thigh both short on taste.
Line-caught whole King George whiting roasted with bay leaf and garlic, Ligurian olives and preserved lemons$36 looked appealing
but again lacked taste and was very dull and the hand-cut spaghetti with calamari, fish, scallops, prawns and oysters; a concentrate of cherry tomatoes, chilli and garlic$26/$38, a spaghetti marinara, suffered from the same problem – taste was not up to the appearance.

Ocean Trout wrapped in Istra prosciutto; rosemary roasted prawns, tomato sugo and asparagus$38 is an odd combination. The salmon, quite a small piece, was, as requested, just seared and accompanied by a large barbecued prawn. The prosciuto did nothing for the dish. These offerings looked very lonely as they came on a very large plates that crowded the table and left little space for condiments, wine glasses and tumblers for water.
I tried the rhubarb terrine with ice creamThe rhubarb was very sour. Another good looking but disappointing dish.
I also sampled the white chocolate tart and the and tasted the best raspberry ice cream I’ve had for some time
We enjoyed a Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes-du-Rhône – ($41)
Comment: A beautifully presented meal in pleasing, but cold conditions, disappointingly lacking flavour. The one waiter for the area did his best but couldn’t keep up.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Walters Wine Bar

At some time WWB was given one hat by the AGF guide but they don't have it now. They have been celebrating a recent purchase of paintings commissioned from an artist(e) and former waitress - Alex Rowland
and, after a long absence, we thought another visit was due.
Not particularly comfortable chairs, bare tables, bread, after we asked for it, served in unattractive metal bowls with a very small rectangle of butter. The long, narrow venue looking out over the Yarra at Flinders St. Station and the city hasn't changed and, despite the paintings, doesn't have the feel of a place at which you would like to sit and relax over a long meal.
After some explanations from our waiter who perhaps took an instant dislike to us, we placed our orders and were served quite quickly.
French onion soup , gruyere toast & croutons - $19 was better than most served at French restaurants but the bread in it was totally soggy, there was not enough Gruyere and the croutons could not be found, Still the taste was very good, and there was plenty of onion.
Baked lamb koftas ( middle eastern meatballs) with tomato, egg & pinenuts - $21.5 an outstanding dish. We asked the waiter to find out what spices were in it but he forgot to come and tell us. The fine mince is bought, already spiced, from Turkish butchers and WWW add pine nuts a touch of coriander and possibly other things to produce a tasty, texturally varied meat ball, the pine nuts go specially well and the accompanying tomato and egg go together really well
For mains we had curried seafood pie, homemade puff pastry, crushed peas & kaffir lime - $36.5
This was well cooked but disappointing more like a light and mild vegetable curry with a little, very little, seafood in a rather soupy mixture. The pastry was very good and the peas with coconut milk infused with the kaffir lime excellent. Again our waiter failed, initially stating that the crushed peas were in the pie and later claiming that there were some peas in the pie which there were not. Expecting no accompaniment we ordered a side dish of mash, bacon & brussel sprouts - $13.5 which was very good - I'll make it at home!
Roast chicken with pancetta, mushroom risotto & truffle oil - $37 was a very ordinary chicken breast on a SUPERB risotto. For dessert we could not go past the raspberry souffle, raspberry sauce with vanilla & coconut ice cream (made to order) - $22 Despite being dominated by the raspberry sauce, and very sweet, it was extremely light and also combined well with the coconut ice cream.
They offer some very inexpensive meals - $22 for a main course and a glass of wine, which looked like a very good pre theatre deal.
Wine: We drank Merlot by the glass. The bottle never came to the table so we don't really know much about it but at $9/glass it was quite presentable. The waiter, most unusually, failed to reappear to offer replenishment so we settled for one glass of wine.
Comments: Had the service been better I would have been much happier but I might go back because all in all the cooking was so good
Score: 13.5/20

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


In a sharp break from my usual practice of talking about other peoples food I'm going to describe a dinner we had at home.
The stimulus for this meal came from the series of less than satisfactory French onion soups (Fos) that I've suffered from at almost every restaurant at which I've ordered them.
Could I do better than these restaurants?
Haute cuisine it had to be.
The recipe comes from Cordon Bleu Cookery Course first published in 1968.
It produces both an great Fos and a substantial main course because we made a Pot au feu (pot on the fire) to produce a sensational broth. Pot au feu has a very long history and the meats used in it are varied according to the region in which it is made. Recipes for it appear from about the mid 18th century. A pot au feu may seem a little like a stew but it is really quite different. It never has potaoes in it and the vegetables are cut into quite large pieces.
3 lb rolled beef (with the bones)
1 lb knuckle of veal or veal bones
1 dessert spoon salt
about 5 pints of water
2 large carrots, quartered
2-3 onions, one stuck with a clove
2-3 sticks of celery
1-2 turnips quartered
a large bouquet garni
Put the meat into a very large pan, a heavy based pot is best, with salted water and washed bones and bring slowly to the boil without a lid. Skim off the scum as it rises to the surface. As it reaches simmering point add a coffee cup of cold water and bring to the boil again, skim once more and add a further cup of cold water. This can be repeated until the broth is clear.
Simmer for 30 -40 minutes, partially covered, and then add the vegetables and bouquet garni. Continue to simmer, skimming again if necessary, until the meat is tender which may be up to 3 hours. In our case it only took an hour and a half.
Remove the meat and vegetables. They can be served as a main course later.
Skim off the fat and put aside
Sieve the broth. If you wish you might reduce it further for a stronger taste.
Now for the soup
5 onions
2 1/2 ounces of butter (about 80 gm)
2 1/2 pints of the broth from the pot au feu
salt and pepper
1-2 glasses of champagne, preferably flat (optional, we used a brut Australian bubbly - Snow Road)
3 oz each of Gruyere and Parmesan grated
1 slice of french bread / person
1 egg / person
Have ready small earhenware soup pots with lids
Slice or chop the onions finely (I sliced them about 3mm thick), fry in butter until golden brown.
Bring the bouillon to the boil and add the onions. Season and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the champagne if using it.
Bake the bread in the oven until crisp. Mix the cheeses and sprinkle over the bread.Place one slice in each bowl.
Each guest should have a small bowl with a raw egg and another with some extra cheese
The soup must be really boiling as it it poured over the bread the egg is broken into the soup, We broke the egg into a bowl first,extra cheese added and beaten with a fork
The egg cooks a little and thickens the broth adding character to its taste and texture.
We added a couple of minor variations - partly melting the cheese under the grill before placing it in the bowl and we used a Fontina, an Italian melting cheese.
The meat and vegetables can be served as a main course, bread being crisped in the oven with a good smear of the fat removed from the bouillon
This Fos was so superior to anything I've had in Australian restaurants that it left me astonished.
It did take a long time but it was magnificent
I strongly recommend it for a dull cold Sunday. It will lift your spirits!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The French Brasserie

Open now for 11 weeks at the site formerly occupied by the Italian this refurbished long narrow room with an outside dining area and a mezzanine has gone so far from Italian that there are no pasta dishes on the menu
When we arrived, punctually at 8.00 pm our waiter asked, with a twinkle in his eye, if we had a reservation. At the time there were no other diners but soon after a few more tables filled.
The place is comfortable, the tables, mostly square now, are a good size, the linen is covered with white paper stamped on a corner with 'The French Brasserie' for those who might forget where they are.
Food: There have been some flattering reviews from Bob Hart and Stephen Downes for this new French Bistro so I found the menu surprising - no duck a la orange, indeed no duck at all. No cassoulet, no coq a vin indeed no chicken of any sort. Not a very French menu at all.
Never mind they had snails and French onion soup so we ordered them.

Sadly the snails, served in the shells, were very small, dry and lacked the usual slightly chewy texture and could not be saved by the garlic butter sauce. The soup had a slightly burned taste and was over sweet, possibly because the onions were over caramelised.
From here on things got better, much better.
The mains come with pomme frits and green salad.
The rib eye was a substantial piece of steak, tender and succulent, cooked as requested a really good piece of meat,
and served with a choice of mustards
Even better was the rack of lamb. Three very large, very tender, very juicy pairs of chops sat on a lightly herb spiced coarse mash potato. I have never eaten a better rack.

A dessert of apple tart with poire William ice cream was another surprise it was so very good. The pastry perfect, and cooked through, the apple filling excellent.
We drank wine by the glass. A Cote de Rhone vin blanc and an Australian Shiraz at very reasonable prices.
The last major surprise came with the bill.
I looked twice when I saw the large bottom line. The touch screen on their computer was a bit sensitive and put us down for several more dishes than we ate!!
Corrected with apologies and some humour, I hope the waiter is not really now unemployed, he was delightful in every other way.
Price We ended up paying $150 for two and did enoy the night
Comments: They promise more cassical french dishes and I'll be happy to try them again
Score: 14/20