Sunday, August 31, 2008

Aya (Armadale)

Aya looks exactly the same today as it did when I reviewed it nearly three years ago , clean lines with tables separated by partitions down a long narrow room serviced by attractive Japanese waitresses. The food however is distinctly better.
We began with a series of entrees Gyoza ($13),

which are really much the same everywhere, crab dumplings ($13.5), five lightly flavoured delicacies, deep fried soft shell crab ($16.5) again much as usual, and a tasty and texturally pleasing eggplant with miso sauce ($13.5) This was a very good start to our main courses - a sushi/sashimi platter ($32)with the freshest and most delicate variety of raw fish beautifully presented followed by a seafood and tempura platter ($28.5) with a crisp light batter and a tempura dipping sauce. We then had a wonderfully tender eye fillet in a fine BBQ sauce ($34) and a teryaki white fish, kingfish ($28.5) which, on this occasion, was not overwhelmed by the sauce.

Dessert of sticky date pudding ($9.5) was rather ordinary as were the two large towers of sesame and green tea ice cream ($8.5) Wine: Prices are very reasonable by the glass or bottle. We drank a King Valley Pizzini Pinot Grigio ($34), which retails for about $18.5/ bottle. This a crisp, clean finishing wine well suited to the food.
Price: whilst a little on the expensive side in the past prices are now very average for a good restaurant.

Comments: Good Japanese food without being earth shattering at fair prices - well worth a visit.

Their web site is currently contaminated with a Trojan virus
Score:13.5 /20


While wandering around the net for other purposes, which may or may not be revealed at a later date, I came across The Gillies Club - Australia which was formed in NSW in 1977. I was impressed with the 'Rules" for the club as follows:
1. The name of the club shall be The Gillies Club - Australia (not The Gillies Club of Australia, as this might restrict future activities)
2. The Gillies Club - Australia shall have but one rule, and that should be "There are no rules".
3. Members of The Gillies Club - Australia are gentlemen (as distinct from "men", as there are no rules, and, therefore, ladies may become members.)
4. Meetings will be held every so often.
5. There shall be one accepted law (as distinct from "rule"), and that shall be "No member may drive a motor vehicle away from a Gillies Club meeting".

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Botanical (South Yarra)

Unchanged in the several years since I was last here the Botanical still features it's 'wall of wine, bare tables on hard wood and marble floors. Still a noise trap and although the place was full we were fortunate to have a considerate lot of diners.
The menu describes, at some length, five varieties of artisan oysters ($3.75 - $4.5) which I did not try in favour of their signature entree -warm poached egg with Reggiano, new season Yarra Valley truffles and soft polenta ($29.5). This is a glorious dish. The truffle flavour was distinct as was the Reggiano, the egg just right as was the polenta.The Burgundy style ham hock terrine ($20), on special with soft boiled baby chicken egg, pea puree, cauliflower remouladeactually came with a small green salad, coleslaw and wasabi producing a good variety of tastes and textures although the terrine was a little fibrous.
Botanical is really a specialist steak house although they do have a range of seafood and a vegetarian offering. We tried the spit roast 120 day grain fed Darling Down New York strip steak with cauliflower macaroni, spinach puree and onion 'frites' ($45) which came with an impressive unserrated Portugese steak knife. Cooked medium as requested it had good taste, with a very good sauce, and the cauliflower macaroni was good enough to serve as a dish in its own right. Similarly the BBQ 450 gm dry aged T-bone with cotechino sausage and broad bean salsa ($48) was a fine piece of meat and served warm blue a condition few kitchens are able to achieve.The salsa was surprisingly hot and dominated the other tastes.
The wood roasted miso caramelised Patagonian toothfish with tempura oysters, native lime and wasabi dressing ($48.5)also came on a lotus leaf with strips of pickled ginger and had a spoonful of green roe. The wheel shaped vegetable is lightly fried lotus root. A very delicate textured fish this was moist and succulent - I have never had better.
we had a side serve of hand cut chips with Provencale salt and aioli ($8.8). These red russet potatoes had been blanched, dried and pre cooked at a lowish temperature in duck fat before the final cooking in canola oil. I certainly preferred them to the usual French fries
For dessert we had the blood orange cream caramel with blood orange sorbet and chocolate filled crepe Suzette ($17.5)The blood oranges have a special taste which was very good but the texture of the creme caramel was a little firm.
The hazelnut and coffee creme brulee with warm chocolate donut and biscotti ($19)tasted as good as it looked - a great dessert.
Wine: We drank by the glass The Pepper Tree reserve merlot ($14) and the New Zealand pinot gris ($14) were both excellent but the shiraz needed more aging.
Service was pleasant, not so slow as previously, despite the crowd, and informative in response to questions.
Comments: It was particularly nice to sit by the open kitchen watching the chefs plating up a variety of dishes - The shanks with harissa looked wonderful.
I think the AGF got it right it deserves its two hats, or the two stars from Gourmet Traveller, however from the terminology I get the impression the same person wrote both reviews!
Score: 17/20

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Brasserie by Philippe Mouchel (Crown)

Phillipe Mouchel and Alain Farbregues, from the Loose Box in Perth, hosted a ‘Truffle dinner, last night at the Brasserie at crown. A quick look at the internet will tell you that the Loose Box is one of the finest restaurants in Australia although Gourrmet Traveller has not been so enthusiastic, occasionally, but infrequently, giving it one star.

This was a one night stand at the end of the Western Australian truffle season (July and August) destined to be repeated next year. There was some early indecision about the menu which ended up as six courses plus coffee/tea and truffles. It began with an exquisite amuse bouche a cod fish ball in squid ink, deep fried with an edible decoration of fried parsley to accompany a pleasant Hanging Rock NV Brut Cuvee XII, Macedon bubbly wine which was also served with the first course – a warm Parmesan custard, quail egg, truffle and winter broth. Perfectly prepared and presented I found the truffles did not add it. The light custard had excellent texture and taste and combined well with the egg and broth, although it is not something I particularly like. Phillipe was responsible for the first course and they alternated after that. The following course (Alain’s) was beef carpaccio served with truffles julienne, white champignons, sugar peas, apple, basil, parsley, horseradish and olive oil. The carpaccio was unbelievably thin, melted in the mouth and delicately combined with the other ingredients. The only disappointing thing was the truffle, a thin slice rather than julienne , perhaps because it was too cold, it’s texture was as expected but it lacked aroma. The 05 Moss Wood Pinot Noir, Margaret River was ready to drink and did not overpower the food. The remaining wines were all Moss Wood and all the truffles were Manjimup black truffles. This was followed by pan seared scallops with truffle and brown butter vinaigrette. Here the truffles came into there own . Every element of this simple dish combined beautifully scallops lightly cooked to succulent perfection – a top quality dish well matched to the 08 Semillion Sauvignon Blanc. I was starting to really enjoy this meal! Then followed a glazed porchini and chanterelle mushroom terrine with truffles served with a lightly wooded 07 Chardonnay. It was challenging to find the chanterelles which were incorporated into the terrine. I originally mistook the Shimeji for them. An unusual and interesting dish with several different mushroom tastes and textures. The final main course was a pan roasted lamb medley with truffles and vegetables served with an 05 Cabernet Sauvignon which I liked best of all the wines. In a meal where there were exceptional elements to every course this was merely good. The dessert served with an 02 Chateau Pinsan Sauternes which toned down the sweetness of this Fabregues special,iced nougat with hazelnut and pistachio and truffles served with caramelized crème anglaise. This attractive creation was as pleasing to my palate as to my eye- a fitting end to a fine meal though once again the truffles made only the faintest contribution to the dish. Both chefs came around, separately, and chatted freely with the diners. Alain , who came to Australia for a visit over 20 years ago, and stayed, is a jovial host whilst Philippe was amiable but more serious

Meals like this stand alone and cannot be readily compared to others. I was a little disappointed with the contribution of the truffles to several dishes but it is possible to find fault with almost anything. I would rate this as a very good experience.
Price including generous wine service was $250/ person.
Score 16.5/20

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kin (Nth Carlton)

This was an Italian wine tasting night run by the Medical Wine Society and began with a Venetian dry but fruity bubbly- Rizzardi Proseco. Each dish was serveed with a bracket of two masked wines
Kin501 is a restaurant that I find it not possible to categorize. It has an uninformative web page, useful to reserve a table. They use organic and chemical free ingredients where possible, they use first, cold pressed olive oil, non hydrogenated fats and are under the delusion that their sea derived salt contains no Sodium Chloride. The chef was reported by some reviewer as cooking ‘what my mother cooked’ it has Italian origins and this is apparent from the menu which calls small dishes Assagi and are definitely Italian but as for the rest – well this is what we tried after an offering from the chef of a tasty ?cauliflower paste on a dry thin slice of bread:
Three crumbed mouthfuls, one a gratinated mussel with light chili flavouring, cauliflower dumpling, deep fried, and one a small pipe of risotto called suppli rustici none of which I would cross the road for. Two whites- a n aromatic 05 Angelo Negro Rodero (Piedmont) was preferred to the Venetian Tamellini Soave which had an slightly bitter finish.This was followed by another set of small serves – pan fried calamari over rocket with house roasted chilli aioli and crudo of Petuna Ocean trout with Asian style dressing and wasabi mousse. A Vialone nano risotto followed with artichoke and peas served very al dente. Two Barbera's an 04 Dunn's Creek (Mornington Peninsula) and a Elio Atare D'Alba 05 (Piedmonte) were beautiful full bodied rich reds with good tannins and long finishes and then an organic cavatelli with slow cooked meat ragu, a pasta in meat sauce! I found the Heathcote 06 Vinea Marson Sangiovese more to my taste than the tuscan 04 Isole e Olena Classico Chianti, and got them mixed up tooPan seared kingfish on wilted endive had been cooked too long and had become dry and char grilled black Angus eye fillet with truffle over mashed potato was very nice but not special at all and the truffles added nothing to the dish. Strangely neither the double decanted 97 'Moccagatta' Barbaresco, which was open for 12 hours, nor the 04 Marchese de Gresy Niebiolo left much impression on meThe finale was a ricotta canoli with pistachio and a Kin tartuffo which my sweet toothed partner assured me was the best dish of the night. Whilst I did enjoy the sweet Castellare di Castellini Vin Santo '00 (Tuscany) I definitely prefer a sauterne

They are noted for having lotsof interesting specials and I believe all that we had, except the wines, is generally available.
Moderately expensive, n entree , main, side dish and a couple of wines ill run out at about $80.
Score: 13.5/20

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Some of Melbournes very best restaurants were represented at the Age and Emirates sponsored Taste of Melbourne at the Exhibition Building 21 to 24 August.
For whatever reason they chose to sell $2 coupons called Crowns which had to be used instead of money leaving many people holding unredeemable bits of paper at the end of their visit! Most offerings were entree size or smaller costing $8 to $12. Not particularly unreasonable if you are sitting in a nice restaurant but this was effectively 'take away' with almost no where to sitand some of the dishes were tiny. Since it also cost $25 to get in it produced an experience which I am unlikely to want to repeat. Of course not everything cost. there were tastes of fine cheeses from Enoteca Silena, Greg Malouf's spices Chapman Hill olive oils and moreWe had Grossi Florentino's Porchini mushroom and sage risotto, excellent, Longrain's Yellow chicken curry with cucumber relish, 312's roast quail in vine leaf, cracked wheat, almond and poached lemon, I could have done with more of that, and their apple confit, burnt butter ice cream, salted caramel, Circa the Prince's slow cooked sher Wagyu meat pie, truffled coleslaw, licorice spiced pumpkin, (Very good) Stokehouses blue swimmer crab chowder, Verge's slow cooked pork belly 'nan ban zuke' shitake and seaweed, and Fifteens' signature rotolo with baby spinach, baked ricotta,majoram, mushroom and sage butter, one of the best things served as also was their olive oil chocolate mousse with candied pistachios and grappa marinated strawberries.
Almost every dish was very good to excellent but long queues, large crowds - some dishes ran out mid afternoon, made our best restaurants perform like a Hawkers market. Not the best way to showcase excellence.
A programme of talks by leading chefs was booked out very quickly
With a few glasses of wine this added up to a couple of hundred dollars for the afternoon. Other restaurants represented included Nobu, The Press Club, Interlude, Stokehouse, Botanical and The Court House.
Vue, Ezards, Attica, Matteo's and Tempura Hajime were some restaurants that were not represented. For those who may want to go to Tempura H. be aware they are closing at the end of the year!

After the Tears, Vodka Bar (Elsternwick)

Sister to Vodka Borscht and Tears in Chapel St. this restaurant has taken over from the former Sinatra's adjacent to the Classic Cinema. The food is the same as VB and T and so are the large range of vodkas'. Quite cheap, specially if you like borscht ($9.50). There are a range of soups and I found the Russian borscht with smoked bacon extremely satisfying and filling. Apart from the beetroot, cabbage and smoked bacon it had fruit, dill and sour cream and was served with a basket of rye bread. They have a vegetarian version as well as barley and chicken soup which suffers from having been frozen and thawed leaving the pieces of potato in it with a displeasing textureand so on.
Pirogi are another prominent feature on the menu either as entree - four ($13.50) or main, six ($19.50) meat or potato filled they came fairly dry and failed to excite. Veal goulash, wrapped in a large potato cake, had plenty of sauce and good taste - a very pleasing winter dish. ($21.50).Crockery is hand painted Polish peasant style and goes perfectly with the bare wooden tables. Desserts are solid, domestic style serves.
The place looks like it has been decorated out of a garage sale at a railway yard. The massive lights are quite extraordinary,

Score 13.25/20

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


A new restaurant serving the most unbelievable food ptrsented by a superb team at very teasonable prices. No such luck.
This is a place where you, and I, can make comments or talk about anything to do with food or wine, reviews or restaurants. Recommendations or gongs criticisms or accolades or whatever.

Heres an inexpensive gourmet pizza joint highly recommended by my friends.
Lucky Coq
179 Chapel St
Anyone been there?

Cerone;s (Malvern)

Cerone’s, the eponymous café/bistro at 111 Glenferrie Rd, around the corner from Wattletree Rd, has a menu offering a good range of Italian style dishes as well as breakfast until noon, lunch specials for $15, a main and a glass of house wine, and a series of salads gourmet salads ($9.50 – $16.50) including Tandoori, Caesar, Greek, Thai and Garden salad until 5.00 pm.
While examining the menu outside the front door a young waiter came out to invite us to come in and a moment later Tony Cerone himself, something of a character, came out and enthusiastically offered us four things – great food, great atmosphere, great service and great prices. An offer too good to refuse.
The long room becomes darker as you progress toward the back. It looks like a tired café. This becomes even more obvious as you approach the toilets which are also used for storing some odds and ends. On a more salubrious subject the cutlery is solid good quality, the crockery heavy and serviceable We started with the giant ravioli filled with crab and prawn in a sauce with field mushrooms, according to the menu, which looked more like champignons. Five good size ravioli tasted very home made with a good flavour from the crab but could have had more sauceand the scattering of rocket did nothing for the dish. The scallopini on a bed of Rosemary potatoes had been beaten very thin and were a bit past ‘milk fed’ but, they were tender.Served on a cold plate they were in an excellent creamy sauce making it a very good, although cool, meal. We opted for a glass of cab/sav, $9, because the Pepper Jack had been open since the day before. The glass of wine was brought to the table already poured so we really have no idea what it was.
Other offerings include a range of pasta dishe $15.50- $19.50) s, risottos’ ($17.50-$19.50) and parmigianas’. Mains max out at $21.50. There is also a kids menu Mr. Cerone delivered to some extent on the food but the atmosphere, not improved by a background of casual music, the service and the price were very ordinary.
Entertainment book owners will enjoy a discount if they bring the appropriate coupon. All in all not a bad place for a casual domestic style bistro meal.
Score: 13.25/20