Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Josie Bones (Fitzroy) 11/2013

 Just two months ago Chris Badenoch and his new wife featured in the HeraldSun. They were struggling to pay their bills and customers were hard to score. For what they are, a meat specialty nose to tail style restaurant with a concentration on specialty beers, I thought they were pretty good, even though they did not make it into the 2013 or 2014 Age Good Food Guide.
Their menu is dsigned for sharing. It is divided into Bites, about $4 to $8, Charcuterie, Seafood, Vegetables etc, Meat and  Desserts $12, two of them, and cheese. Mains run from $16 to $25 with half a roast pigs head at $65.
They have a long bar and high tables with bar stools. There is one large table with chairs at the end of the room.
The place was packed with happy Gen X and Y drinkers and diners.
I would have liked the sweetbread nuggets with tartare sauce but they were off the menu so I started with a small plate of charcuterie ($18) The rabbit terrine was the best part of it but but everything on the platter was excellent. I especially liked the spicy sausage modified by the quenelle of onion jam between the pickles.

 The aged American cheddar and smoked potato croquette ($5) was quite good but not a mouth watering delight.

Chicken liver parfait ($12) was prettily decorated with edible flowers. It was very light but over sweet.
We particularly enjoyed a beetroot carpaccio with roast baby beetroot, grilled haloumi and smoked almonds ($15)
Chips were pretty good too.
Although not their normal practice the kitchen swapped the picalilli that is usually served with the grilled hop smoked ox tongue for a gratin of cauliflower and, I think, cabbage ($18). The gratin was great but the slice of tongue over grilled.
Mulled wine braised beef cheek with parsnip puree and crispy parsnip ($19)was an honest, tasty serve, the meat falling apart and the jus strong but not overwhelming. 
 The best dish of the lot was braised pigs trotter stuffed with sweetbreads and mushrooms with smoked potato mash ($25). Except that I did not get any smokiness in the mash the rest of the dish was perfect. Some may not care for the wonderful gluey texture of the braised skin but I loved it. The stuffing went well with the trotter giving it variety and balance.
They have a small wine list, about 250 beers, I had a Belgian Ale,
and a few soft drinks.
Service was amateurish but very obliging and the kitchen rather slow. I suits them that everything is designed to share so it is less important to coordinate the serving of dishes.
Score: 13.5/20

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Escoffier Dinner, Steer Bar & Grill (Prahran)11/2013

Before the days of Paul Bocuse, Joel Roubochon the Roux brothers and other great chef's there were two absolute giants of French cuisine. Carême, glorified today as the king of cooks and the cook of kings, and August Escofier who was a great organizer and codifier of French cooking. After some early training in restaurants Escoffier developed a relationship with Cesar Ritz, who had worked himself up from hotel groom to manager of some of the world's leading hotels. They went to London to cook at the Savoy where they were incredibly successful. He was later involved in setting up the kitchens and cooking at the Ritz Hotel in Paris and the Carlton in London. He organized the management of kitchens and was a most imaginative and creative chef. He created a dessert for Kaiser Willhelm 2nd which so impressed the Kaiser he told Escoffier that whilst he was the Emperor of Germany Escoffier was the Emperor of chefs! Escoffier created peach Melba in honour of Dame Nellie Melba and is reputed to be the originater of Tournados Rossini and many many other dishes.
He is perhaps best known for having produced reduced hundreds of sauces, many created by Careme to five 'mother' sauces. These are Bechamel, Espagnole, Veloute, Hollandaise and a Tomato based sauce. He appreciated that times were changing and diners had different requirements. To handle the greater numbers of diners and their needs for quicker service he simplified recipes and abandoned many of the labour intensive and time consuming decorative aspects of dishes. 
Escoffier's magnum opus was his book Les Guide Culinaire which has over 5000 recipes in it. He certainly simplified them, obviously presuming his readers knew something about cuisine. Here is a recipe for Salad Rejane, a salad he invented for a renowned French actress at the time.
Cooked rice,slices of hard boiled egg, grated horseradish and slices of truffle, lightly mix with whipped cream and season with a little salt!
In a brief preamble he notes that when rice is used as a main ingredient it should represent about half the total quantity.
Although he died more than 75 years ago he has left an indelible mark on French cuisine.
Steer B & G put on a special dinner 'The Beef Dishes of August Escoffier' accompanied by seven French wines.
The table were set with style featuring candelabras and good quality cutlery.

 Beginning with a Canape, Crayfish Newberg, a tasty deconstructed morsel which would have surprised Escoffier, and pleased us, 

 we moved to the first course - Double beef consomme, spring vegetable and herb crepes. The consomme had been cooked first with veal and then a second time with beef. Well clarified it was excellent.

The second course - Steak Americaine, Melba toast, sauce tartar, used a waghu steak. It was excellent too.

Third course - Pasture fed full blood Waghu, Sauce Chasseur, pommes Parissiene Cooked a little more than I would have liked but it would be boorish to complain.

Fourth course - Poached grain fed beef Endive salad, Fourme d'Ambert (a Cheese) dressing was nice but did not appeal to me greatly.

Fifth course - Beef Bourguignon, Duchess potatoes, asparagus fricassee is a classic. The meat was meltingly tender, the taste of the sauce not too strong and the mashed piped potatoes oven browned all made for a lot of work and a great dish.

 Finally a deconstructed Peach Melba.

I would not rave about the wines which were well suited to the dishes. They are available from Grand Millesme Wine and ranged from $18 to $70 a bottle. The most expensive was a 2009 Domaine Loew 'Ostenberg' Vendange Tardive Gewurztraminer from the Alsace area.
Score: 15.5/20

Monday, November 18, 2013

Giardino Pizza (Elsternwick) 11/2013

There is nothing reminiscent of a garden here, except the name, which is Italian for garden, but there is plenty reminiscent of Italy. The staff certainly, the three guys making the pizza's, but most especially the food itself. It is good solid Italian domestic cooking. No frills. 
The place itself is less than ordinary. Bare wooden tables, unremarkable chairs, cheap cutlery, paper napkins and lots of noise. Decor is simple and minimal with a couple of S.Pellegrino posters. I don't understand the second line from the bottom!

There are heaps of pizza's available, a small typical Italian menu accompanied by an inexpensive wine list. All Yellow Tail as far as I could see. A blackboard on the wall covers most of the wines and an adjacent one some specials on the food.

Prices are extremely reasonable so it is unfair to have excessive expectations.
We were pleasantly surprised. Thin crust pizza's were tasty and not overcooked, which has often been my experience.

Calzone was very good, well filled and very very tasty.

Flounder could have been a little larger and less cooked but was still good.
The last main we tried, a marinara risotto, was well filled with prawns, calamari, scallops and muscles. It was a substantial serve also very satisfying with a good creamy tomato sauce.
Service was slow but obliging.
What especially appealed to me was the flamboyant, very short, guy kneading the dough and spinning it into the air, like a flying saucer.


Good value for the price.
Score:13.25 /20

Sunday, November 17, 2013

David's (Prahran) 11/2013

 We had the pleasure of another of the Melbourne food festivals fine dining experiences at Davids restaurant last week. David's is certainly moving with the times. They have remodeled the restaurant, opening up the entry to the rear section, which is still separated by a piece of furniture used as a storage place for condiments, serviettes and so forth.

They now also offer home delivery over quite a wide area and advertise that on the bottles they use for water at the table.

Titled World Dinner – Beyond the Bund it was a five course meal featuring dishes from five different regions of China. The bund is in the wharf area of Shanghai filled with shops and restaurants of every kind and every quality. It has been a highlight for tourist visits for decades.
The menu included several very unusual dishes and appropriate beverages.
The following dishes were served:
Lion head – pork and chestnut meatball in chicken broth (Jiang Su) accompanied by a Blue Pyrenees sparkling, a very pleasant white. The meatball was fabulous, not dominated by either the pork or the chestnut, it was beautifully combined with the clear chicken broth.

Crunchy prawn clusters with a melted butter centre (Shanghai) came with a Tsingtao beer. This was another excellent dish one could see the melted butter, on biting into the centre of the prawn meat and it tasted delicious. The light beer was very appropriate.

Hard to see the little pool of butter in the centre of the prawn cluster.

Many guests thought that the next dish, crispy flash fried whiting smoked on caramelized leak (Zhejiang) was the dish of the night. It came with a slightly sweet seasoning. 
I found the fish very dry and thoroughly overcooked.
The Plantagenet Reisling from Mount Barker Western Australia was a good match for the slightly sweet fish.

The following dish, crispy beef with orange peel (Hunan) was the best of the night. It was quite spicy though the chilly was not overwhelming. I was pleased that it came towards the end of the meal as I find chilly spoils my palate for fine tastes. Here the meat was tender and exceptionally tasty and the strips of orange peel, which lacked any bitterness, help to balance the saurce. This was served with a Mitchell GSM Granache Sangiovese Mouvedre from the Clare Valley.

The last course Sichuan wok fried Chinese cabbage with dried chilies (Sichuan) was a spicy crunchy end to the meal. It left one with a good feeling of having had a very satisfying meal, almost fat-free, and with no feeling of discomfort that sometimes accompanies the end of a large meal. 
 This was served with Iron Buddha tea.
Apart from a deep knowledge of Chinese cuisine David is renowned for his knowledge of the curative properties of Chinese teas. There were no tasting notes however so I am unsure of what I have cured. One thing is for sure it has not cured my love of Chinese cuisine.
 It was a rather strange meal, a conglomeration of dishes, which I quite enjoyed. The first two courses were quite small, the fish was plentiful but needed something more with it. The beef was also plentiful but the cabbage was really what one might expect as a side dish rather than the last course of a five course meal.
It was a unique event but not one that I would recommend.
Score: 13.5/20

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Attica (Ripponlea) 11/2013

* Click on the pic's if you want to enlarge them.
Sometimes it seems that some of us are completely out of step with the rest of the army of Melbourne restaurant patrons. There is a lot of subtle pressure to get right back into step quickly, before too many people notice but we're prepared to resist the temptation to conform. 
Despite my irritation at having been compelled to pay a 10% gratuity last time I was at Attica a few weeks ago we decided to try it once more. Many dishes were the same and some of them have been on the menu for years. There were a number of small dishes before the eight course tasting menu ($180 per person) began. Two of these were old timers, the walnut purée which is delightful, served in the walnut shells and decorated with tiny flowers,
and the crumbed fried mussels served on a plate decorated with a hand painted muscle shell, which looks much better on the plate than this pic suggests. Apart from the shell this is very ordinary.

A bunch of edible leaves was greatly enhanced by a corn purée which was so good it did not really need the leaves.

Another taste delight was produced with, what I presumed was a pickled, Jerusalem artichoke.

Snow crab and Sorrell was the first course of the main meal. The crab meat was delicate and sweet under the sorrel leaves. A simple but very nice dish.

Meat from the Pearl Oyster is another product which was on the menu last year. It is a chewy textured meat, actually slices of the muscle with which the oyster closes its shell. It is reminiscent of abalone and most notable because it is so unusual.

Marron and ground greens was a very simple dish. Lightly cooked fresh marrons are always a delicacy and need only the lightest of saurces, even butter alone, to make them memorable. Of course, if you can get the product, this hardly displays the finest of chefs skills.

A simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown has been a signature dish of Attica for many years now. It is a great dish the first time you have it and a very good dish for quite a while after that but eventually I feel it should be replaced.

Cucumber, Holy flax, sauce of Burnet is a dish that I have not had before. It is nicely presented flavoursome and shows nice variety it tastes colour and texture. For all that it still seemed to lack some finesse.
Wallaby with herbs tended by the hands of our cooks seems a little odd since presumably everything on the menu has been tended by the hands of their cooks. This was served with a quandong fruit and a bunch of green leaves and small flowers which, to me, tasted a little like eating grass. As Sandra is reluctant to eat Skippy she was given a lamb dish. With my eyes closed I could not really tell the difference between these two meats although ordinarily I find lamb to have a most distinctive taste.
Blueberries, vinegar and a fresh cheese was a colourful presentation with a mass of white chrysanthemum leaves. This was quite an interesting and origional desert and I liked it but if it was on a regular desert menu I doubt that I would order it.
The final offering, raw strawberry jam was very sweet and acidic, I could not finish it.
At one point during the meal we were invited to visit the herb garden at the back of the restaurant. There chef Ben's Shewry was serving licorice ice cream which he dipped in chocolate and crushed rasberries. This was accompanied by a glass of cider which had been spiced and seasoned. It was a nice opportunity to talk about the restaurant which is now so very popular that it is largely booked out for the next three months. This is a remarkable turnaround as they struggled to survive in their early years.
I do not know why it is that I and the people with me felt so dissatisfied with this evening. There was nothing wrong with it and plenty right with it but it failed to ring those bells that chime when one experiences a truly excellent meal. It lacked excitement.
Although the staff did their very best to please the service was quite slow. After I requested the bill I had to wait so long that eventually I took my credit card down to the cash register myself.

 Score:15 /20