Tuesday, August 30, 2011

RACV and Henchke Dinner (Melbourne) 08/2011

There has been a long association between organizations related to motoring and promoting food, and to a lesser extent wine. The Michelin Guide, originally given away free, was probably the first. This tradition is continued in many forms today including the food and wine dinners at The Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. This was a special occasion both because of the outstanding wines supplied by Henchke, and also because this is the last meal at which executive chef Massimo de Lucca will presiding at the RACV before leaving for a European holiday.
The event took place in the Presidents room. Well spaced nicely decorated tables for ten accommodated about 50 guests.

Starting with canape and a fine pinot noir, single grape, bubbly. This is a pleasant wine, Lenswood Blanc de Noir described as:

Appearance: Vivid pale gold with green hues.

Nose: The complex nose is sweet and creamy, exhibiting lemon, stone-fruit and potpourri with nutty, toasty, yeast autolysis aromas; exotic with créme caramel hints.

Palate: A complex, full, rich and creamy palate with layers of spicy strawberry/raspberry flavours; excellent intensity and great acidity carries through to a zesty finish. Excellent bead.

Lenswood Blanc de Noir NV

suitable for any occasion but there is a lot of competition from French champagnes in this price range.
We had the opportunity to taste two Rieslings with the first course of pressing of cured trout, cucumber salsa, lime emulsion and a prawn and caviar carpaccio.
Both 2010 the 'Julius' Eden Valley was a fruity light wine whilst the Lenswood 'Green Hill' was dryer with mineral tones.
The second course, Morroccan spiced leg of lamb, chickpea crust, labna and rib cassoulet was served with the 2007 and the 1999 'Cyril Henchke"
Cabernet Sauvignon.
These wines were well matched to the lamb. The '07 was superb, described as "Deep magenta in colour. Sweet vanilla and cedar aromas mesh beautifully with the bouquet of blueberries, violets and cassis. The palate presents tight, well-integrated fine grained tannins balanced perfectly with lush, dark berry fruit flavours. The 'cork topped 99 was definitely showing it's age with a musty, bouquet which, to me, smelled faintly of aldehyde. The wine makers described it as
Deep crimson in colour. Sweet lifted cassis, redcurrant, anise, tar, violets and cedar with liqueur chocolate hints. A complex bouquet of bright black briary forest berry fruits with lush dusty aromas. Sweet fruit, rich, complex, compact, concentrated palate with fruit and dusty tannins; fleshy with firm fine-grained chewy tannins on the very long finish..” These 10 + year old wines age differently in the bottle and I think it would be a risk to buy them unless you can be sure they have been cellared in the best conditions.
A slow roasted beef strip loin beetroot puree, oxtail and liquorice pie, confit shallots

came with an '08 and a '99 'Hill of Grace' Shiraz
.This was a very tasty dish, the pie being outstanding. The '99 had maintained it's flavours well. The '08 was gorgeous, described as intensely fruited palate, concentrated, rich and lush with excellent balance, velvety tannins and a long finish'.
A dessert of L'Etivas d'alpage, AOC with truffle poached grapes and puffed rice
went extremely well with the '06 'Hill of Grace"
Shiraz but not quite so well with the '98 example which I felt deserved a good steak for company. There are times, as the gentleman next to me remarked "when the food interferes with the wine" Robert Parker said of this wine
!! $650.00

"It is hard to find a more compelling red than Henschke’s 1998 Shiraz Hill of Grace. Made from 100% Shiraz (from vines averaging 52-144 years of age), and aged in primarily new American and French oak for 18 months, it is unquestionably profound. Its dense ruby/purple color is followed by a gorgeous perfume of blackberries, graphite, and subtle wood. Dense and full-bodied yet extraordinarily well-defined and layered, it remains young and backward, with tremendous potential. It is the finest Hill of Grace I have ever passed over my palate and down the gullet. Anticipated maturity: 2006-2020+." Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate – 97 points. "

It is still early days for the '06 but critics universally applaud it. Here is James Halliday's remarkable comment :

"Bright red-purple; highly fragrant spice, cedar, red and black berry aromas, oak evident but not excessive; it has a silky, velvety texture and mouthfeel to a beautifully balanced medium-bodied palate brimming with black fruits; wonderful length and finish. Surely one of the best Hill of Graces. Screwcap. 14.5% alc. Drink Now - 2026." James Halliday - 97 points

This night of remarkable wine tasting and very respectable food was a rare experience made better by the excellent assistance of sommelier Christian
and the information provided by Henchke's own representative.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Estelle (Northcote) 28/08/2011

A few days ago we enjoyed a great truffle night here at the birth of the Melbourne Fringe Food Festival. The meal was tempting enough for us to book in for a Sunday lunch. They have three menu's; three courses ($45) five courses ($60) or seven courses ($80). Naturally, not having eaten for over an hour, we gravitated to the full deal. Wine matching is also offered. This is a menu based on what is available, not only from the purveyors of fine food but also from scavenging for edible plants. Of course they take account of patrons particular food aversions, sensitivities or allergies. There is no menu which frees the chef to do anything he wishes. Ryan Flaherty was in the kitchen.
A preliminary little container of sweet bread nuggets with chick pea chips and a dipping sauce

was presented before the main menu began with a charcuterie plate. Two of them really. We had thoroughly enjoyed charcuterie at PM24. This was even better with a wider range of items to taste.
A mild Chorizo, pork jerky, duck rillette, Spanish ham and a small radish, with onion jam and a beetroot jam on one platter,
Bresiola,a terrine, an extraordinary duck pate, air dryed Wagyu, shaved leg ham, a quail egg with firm white and runny yolk, a tiny tomato and a little shredded celeriac with a remoulade dressing on the second platter
all served with a very lightly toasted brioche.
This was followed by a vegetarian dish surrounding a ball of soft white goats cheese rolled in ash.

Foraged wood sorrel, a garlic flower and tiny carrots decorated the colourful baby beets and pickled beetroot making up the dish Next we had a dish of three elements which went together to unify the course. A lemon foam sat on blue eye which had been poached in milk and thyme, which sat on a bed of fennel which had been cooked in cream with sugar and salt.
Each elements, eaten separately, had a strong character and taste. Together they combined to make an interesting dish. This was followed by a second fish course, mackerel,
served with yogurt, celery and spices. Uncommon in restaurants, previously I have only had it smoked, it,s texture was quite firm and it did not seem as fatty as this fish usually is it fitted well on this menu. The last main course was pork medallions topped with an oh so moorish beurre blanc accompanied by tiny Brussels sprouts, parsnip puree, fennel, oyster mushroom and mizumi. Fabulous. The meal was completed with two desserts and coffee.A musk ice cream on a rhubarb base with an orange blossom flavoured frozen yogurt was my sort of dessert.
Distinct flavours, not to sweet and very refreshing. A salt sweet caramel ice cream with frozen cream provided a totally different taste experience.
This was an outstanding meal. It rated highly on every element that I look for in a meal. It was attractive varied in every aspect of taste, texture and temperature, serves were sufficiently large, service was friendly, helpful and quite efficient, although it was a leisurely meal. Towards the end of the meal the chef joined us for a chat. He is a most charming fellow and I feel sure he will have a great future. Clearly he and Scott Pickett make a great time.
Score: 17/20.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Estelle (Northcote) 08/2011

Some seeds lie for years before they germinate whilst others fall on fertile ground at propitious times and take off like Jack's fairytale beanstalk. It seems that we are about to see an example, a variation transplanted from other areas of the arts, a Fringe Food Festival, which is just beginning to sprout. They have a winning formula - low cost niche food events. For more information see www.fringefoodfestival.com.au or go to info@fringefoodfestival.com.au
Last night there was a preliminary event, a truffle dinner prepared by Scott Pickett
and Ryan Flaherty, who has a c.v. to make any chef jealous (including time with Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, with Feran Adria at El Bulli and working in the lab at Arzac in San Sebastian, not to mention a period at The Point!).
The Estelle was packed with food bloggers and assorted other food lovers. It's quirky decor,
patterned tiled walls
and table tops and bar made from floor of the now defunct Northcote Bowling Club. The bar has dents in it from spots where the bowling balls hit it.
The meal began with one of Flaherty's creations, sardine fossil.

The sardines have been incorporated into tapioca chips and they are presented in a lightly yoghurt like cream in a glass. They were accompanied by deep fried chips which I could not recognize, but it was not potato.
The dish had a great aroma, a great way to eat sardines.
The first truffle course was a Jerusalem artichoke veloute

with a wagyu bresaola topped by a quail egg.
Plenty of Tasmanian black truffle on the veloute
Copious wines were supplied by Foster e Rocco from Heathcote and Lincoln
and Adam spoke briefly about them. They were very easy drinking, though I felt they were to light for the dishes. Unlike other set price dinners these bottles seemed to be bottomless. We began with a 2011 Rose.
Perhaps we should have been looking for a motel in walking distance.
Next course was 'Old School Egg' with Western Australian black truffle.

You don't need sous vide cooking at 49.25 degrees for 12 minutes and 39 seconds or whatever to make a great egg made even better with the added truffles and the 2011 Sangiovese.

Hand made farfalle, king brown mushrooms and cauliflower in a creamy sauce came with some very earthy, musty New South Wales black truffles.
This dish had a nice variation in textures.
Dessert was a rice pudding with puffed rice and beetroot and
Western Australian black truffle.
A bit of an odd combination which was not enhanced by the truffles, or was it the wine that depreciated the food. The French grenache with the unlikely name Monsieur Foster L'Imposteur was, I thought, the best match for the food.
The last course was stunning,
a French cows milk soft ripened cheese, Jean Perrin fromage des clarines, with Otway Ranges black truffles with thick, light toast was to die for. For a small additional fee I had both a 3 point Rutherglen Tokay and, for a little more, a 5 point Hungarian Tokay. Both of these were as good as a Sauterne.
The take home finale was, of course,

a truffle chocolate.
This was a meal of outstanding dishes but it was a one dimensional meal, not so much because each dish had truffles but because of the lack of colour in the dishes and the concentration on cream sauces.The variation in the strength of the truffle aroma from different areas was very subtle. There is a lot of variation in truffles at any time, depending on a variety of circumstances.
I will write a short essay on the subject soon.
Meantime the score: For the Fringe Food Festival 20/20.
For value for money: 20/20 (It was $85/person)
For the truffle dinner 15/20

Monday, August 22, 2011

Joseph's (Wheelers Hill ) 08/2011

We ended up at this restaurant for reasons more related to geography than any thing else. It's attached to the Best Western Wheelers Hill International, in which is actually quite close to the population centre of Melbourne. It's a pleasant clean, rather sterile, utilitarian venue.

We had the opportunity to experience a good range of their food. Entrees, ($15-$17) mains, ($25-$30) and desserts ($9-$11) are all very reasonable as were their wines. We had Train Traks Shiraz @ $34 /bottle and there is a small range available by the glass.
In brief everything was OK, nothing was notable. Here are some pic's

Tempura Calamari, not exactly what I expect for a tempura batter.
Chili prawn spring rolls.
Fettuccine marinara. A meagre serve.
Scotch fillet (350 gm). Probably the best choice.

Bread and butter pudding.
Cheese cake. Chocolate tart.
Comment: We got here by accident. I prefer to avoid accidents.
Score: 12.75/20