Friday, October 31, 2008

La Luna Bistro (Carlton Nth)

Melbourne now has a very large number of pubs and bistros serving food that varies from indifferent to excellent. Last night we tried La Luna which, I had heard, served most excellent rabbit. Unfortunately it was not on the menu.

We started with a squid risotto nero ($33.5) made from a fine small grain Australian arborio rice.

We shared this main course of squid risotto nero ($33.5) as an entrée and found it very very good in both taste and texture. Our waiter later told me they were more noted for their gnochi which was the alternative to the risotto! Too late. La Luna is particularly noted for its aged beef which they also sell to customers. If they have time the chef will also show you their cool room. 

It is stuffed with aging sides of beef, air drying prosciuto and other goodies.
We had a scotch fillet ($36.5 for 320 gm) cooked to perfection, in a red wine jus with mashed potato and topped with a large mushroom. Our second main was a shoulder of pork wrapped in crackling on a bed of cabbage with a few slices of carrot and topped with mash ($35.5) an excellent piece of meat tender and very juicy - I loved it.

This was also in a heavy red wine jus which had a slightly burnt taste. This is a large and 
very satisfying meal that I would recommend. We finished with a rich chocolate ganash ($14/5).

I have two minor criticisms – bread, which was a bit dry, and butter is happily provided but is not offered. You have to ask for it. Secondly the jus while appropriate for the steak was not a good combination with the pork. I think a butter sauce would have been better.
Price: Marginally dearer than some of its' inferior competition
Wine: They have a reasonable list by the glass. After a Marlborough pinot gris I very much enjoyed the Wanted Man Heathcote Shiraz
This is definitely at the top end of bistro dining and well worth a revisit and I don’t think I need to wait for the rabbit!
Score: 15.25/20

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Argo (South Yarra)

I enjoyed a sound meal in the quiet dining area at the front of the restaurant which has been recently refurbished. The menu is small but has quite a lot of variety. The entrees are small - pork hock nicely presented but undistinguished

delicate scallops slightly overcooked

This filletof Mulloway, normaly an excellent fish, was overcooked and too dry

The duck was the pick of the main dishes

Prices are about average for this sort of pub dining. Entrees about$18-21, mains about $29-32, sides about $8
Wine: They have a reasonable list by the glass or bottle

Comments: There is now a lot of competition at this level of bistro/pub dining. This is perhaps a little overrated in the AGF
Score 13.75/20

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Quanjude (City)

In another first Melbourne is host to the first Quanjude restaurant outside China. Part of a huge chain, over 500 I'm told, it resides at 299 Queen St. This was the space designed by Nonda Katsalidis for the former Ondine and Quanjude is a worthy successor. From the moment you enter everything says you are in a classy Chinese restaurant.

The attractive waitresses
are dressed for the part
and the ambience is richly Chinese.
From the wall decor, including a huge wall sign telling something of the story of Quanjude,
to the table settings,
with individual centre pieces.

The chain is most renowned for Peking duck which is made to a secret recipe over 100 years old. Once, when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was hosting important foreign guests at Quanjude, one of the guests asked, “What does Quanjude mean?” Premier Zhou answered with a smile, “Quan (全) means perfection without a flaw, Ju (聚) means gathering without departing, and De (德) means virtues to be supreme.” Therefore, Quanjude together implies perfection, union, and benevolence. (Wikepedia).
That's nice so what about the food? We had an exotic banquet meal which would have to be pre ordered. All the dishes are on the regular menu but normal serves are much larger. We started with Beijing Quanjude cold platter which included duck liver, duck tongue and giblets in a light chilli sauce with coriander and pickles.
The duck liver was like very fine smooth foie gras and gave unusual texture and mildness to this strange dish. This was followed by braised duck breast with South China sea cucumber drizzled with yin yang sauce. The sea cucmber has a chewy texture and was tasteless in contrast to the handsome piece of duck breast. The delicate dark and light coloured sauces were separated by a lightly cooked bok choy
Quanjude Peking duck came next, served with considerable ceremony. First the chef appeared and held up a duck for our inspection and then went about the task of carving - first ony a few strips of skinand the the thin slices of duck breast with a small amount of skin for the pancakes. These were paper thin and we folded our own with the spring onion, green vegetable and plum sauce. The ducks used here are Australian sourced from Luv-a-Duck
They are cooked in very large fan forced ovens at 190 degrees hanging head down for 45 minutes after which they must not be cooked longer and must be served.

This oven is capable of cooking 15 birds at one time. Traditionally fruit wood was used to fire the ovens but now only one Quanjude restaurant in Beijing uses wood!
We were presented with a dish of bones and a small serve of extremely tasty duck soup.
The meal was accompanied by Pi Lo Chun a very mild Chinese tea.
A small dish of steamed duck breast with duck web and Bailing Mushroom with rice wine sauce was very bland the web being texturally slightly chewy and all the taste coming from the sauce

Steamed wild Barramundi fillet, saturated with duck consomme and served with house vinegar was extremely tender an unusual and interesting dish

Sauteed scallops with Kung Po Chilli is a combination which I don't care for - scallops being sweet, tender and delicate I prefer a more delicate sauce, never the less this proved to be very palatable. An unusual variation was the inclusion of macadamia nuts.

This was followed by Wok fried Wagyu beef, oyster blade, with special soy and garlic served with soft noodles and Beijng pork sauce
Very tender, grade 8, the taste of the wagyu was recognizable thru the sauce which made for an excellent combination. Finally a Beijing pumpkin cake and white sesame cake served with red bean ice cream was a pleasant end to the meal.
A small error in the kitchen meant I did not get the red bean paste filled white sesame cake.
Two chefs were pleased to step out from their kitchen duties for a few minutes Price: Entrees are $8 up, regular mains about $32, Prawn and scallop dishes $39.50, and Peking duck $55 for a half or $88 for a whole duck. They also have three very good value lunch specials from$18 to $33
: Flavours are mild and food is well presented. This is a sophisticated restaurant that deserves to succeed but the environment for 'fine dining' is under serious threat from the difficult economic stresses.
Score: 15.5/20


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Guiseppe Arnaldo and Son (Crown- Southbank)

Yet another bistro restaurant in the Crown complex with an entrance from both the Yarra walk at Southbank or from the ground floor at Crown. I have waited for the smoke and fire that accompanied the opening of this restaurant before paying it a visit. They have a policy of no reservations but when you arrive they tell you about how long you will have to wait.There is a wall of coloured paper sheets offering a variety of generally complementary or amusing comments at each end of the restaurant.Tables are small and parties of three are seated at tables barely big enough for two.The menu looks interesting and the the cooking certainly didn't disappoint. We started with Ribollita described here as a classic minestrone, risini, air dried ricotta. ($15)I have always thought of this as a reboiled soup from the previous day with anything left over added to the pot. This often makes for a better tasting soup than it started. Regardless GAS make it extremely tasty. We followed this with Clams Casino' a mixture of clams, periwinkles, guanciale,chicory and hot ciabatta Served in a heavy, le creuset style pot which kept it warm this simple dish is a main course ($29) but it's not large and we split it as an entree. It's fairly bland with interesting textures. The eggplant 'Parmigiana' baked eggplant, tomato, basil and Parmesan ($14) one of the cheapest things on the menu is a very decent serve, well prepared
- a good solid farmers entree excellent for eggplant lovers.
The most expensive thing on the menu is the 'Bistecca Fiorentina' 1 kg T-bone 100% grain fed Angus, salsa verde, anchovies for 2 or more people ($88), minimum 35 minutes was one of the best steaks I have enjoyed. We specified how we wanted it cooked - warm blue as usual and that's exactly how we got it.and we loved it!
You can wait up to an hour if you want your steak well done!
This was well described by John Lethlean in the Age (Melbourne) Magazine Oct 08 as follows "It is seasoned with olive oil Sicilian salt, Murray river pink salt then served covered in fresh herbs with a pair of anchovies.Served with the bone but cut into manageable chunks ....... sitting on a plain metal dish in a pool of olive oil"
After that we shared a reasonably ordinary but nicely presented spaghetti 'Arrabiata' crab, tomato, chilli baked in a paper bag ($29)

The dessert 'Cannoli' 3 ways, sweetened ricotta, Mocha zabaglione, vanilla custard ($15) was excellent the cannoli being particularly good
Comments: There were a few off notes about this place. I found the waiters in their clinical looking laboratory coats and the oddest assortment of tennis shoes unattractive in a restaurant. The menu is completely inflexible - no variations. The absence of any sort of sauces Bernaise, Hollandaise or whatever failed to impress. Despite the architectural input the place is crowded, the tables are too small and even though larger tables became available the waiters were almost as inflexible as the menu and only moved us with the greatest reluctance.
The food is good solid Italian, it could be called rustic, peasant or farmers food. It's well prepared and we did thoroughly enjoy the meal.
Score: 15/20

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sho at Crown Casino

Introduction: I have not been a great enthusiast for accepting invitations from restaurants for dinners, not that I get that many. I was more than pleased that I accepted when Crown offered bloggers an opportunity to try their fare.
The evening began with a traditional chinese tea ceremony. This really deserves a separate entry and I will try to do that before too longThe ceremony takes place on this beautifully carved wooden tray with most attractive utensils. This was followed by a masterful exhibition of kung fu with a boiling teapot with a spout almost 2 metres long.
A noodle pulling demonstration
preceded our meal which we had served at the bar. The restaurant has a large open kitchen area where everything is cooked. This is surrounded on three sides with a bar comfortably wide enough for food and drinks. There is a 'mountain of tea' at each end of the bar. On each side there are also tables and chairs for those that prefer them.
The table settings are simple and unclutteredThe initial offering of three dumplings were silky smooth and very fine.
This was followed by a selection of tender and tasty cold cuts - chicken, pork and duck with a sweet plum and hoisin sauce
Next came a lobster dish - rather dry
and a deep fried fish cooked till crisp on the outside but moist and tasty under the light batter.
The beef randang was mildly spiced and served with a tower of riceand this was soon followed by a very mild, almost tasteless, noodle prawn dish which would have been much better served before the spicy beef A plate of greens and a sweet chilli chicken dish from which the red chilli could easily be seen and avoided if desired came nextThe rolled up mat is actually the tea menu. Sho has about 20 different teas. Tea, for the Chinese is comparable in some ways to wine in the West. There are hundreds of varieties and grades, there are competitions and top teas sell for $1000's / kilo. We tried several including the 25 year standing. My palate for tea is quite untrained so I could not appreciate the qualities of these beverages.
Finally we had a triple mango dessert - fruit, custard and ice cream.Unlike other restaurants at Crown this Sho is actually in the Casino. It is ideally placed for patrons to enjoy a quick meal or a more extensive good quality banquet.
It has a a very clean open feeling.

Service was efficient with explanations on request

Wine: After a champagne with tea and I think, a touch of plum sauce we enjoyed a pleasant slightly dry T'Gallant Pinot Gris and a Stonier 2007 Pinot Noir between a variety of Chinese teas.

Comments. A good addition to the Crown stable. I'm definitely going back for another meal

Score: 14.5/20