Friday, February 28, 2014

Valentines Day Sapore (St.Kilda) 02/2014

The most impressive thing about dinners on festive occassions is usually the bill and for $130 a head I did not have great expectations for Valentines Day.
Whilst no one was sitting at the bar the place was packed.

A couple of tables had cloths 
while the rest were bare. The explanation was that the clothed tables had poor surfaces!!

On arrival we were presented with a glass of NV Pol Roger 'Brut' which was excellent..
The four course menu consisted of a choice of one of three of entrees, a Pasta course, main course and desert. Sandra chose Salt-and-pepper calamari with a salad of bitter leaves lemon vinaigrette and aioli. 

Whilst I had the grilled New Zealand scampi marinated with chilli, lemon and parsley shaved fennel and radish salad. We left the heirloom tomato salad, goat's curd and chive mousse, green olive tapenade, pangrattato and basil to the vegetarians. 
These were two pleasant entrees, well seasoned and tasty.The chilli in the scampi marinade was so mild as to barely noticeable. This was also a very tiny serve. 

We sampled two pasta dishes. Baked canestrone (pasta shells), filled with ricotta and lemon, slow braised veal ragu was particularly pleasing 

while the spaghetti with clams, garlic, chilli, white wine and parsley was pleasant enough it was a bit ordinary, again the chilli was barely noticable.

For my main dish I had the 200 g fillet, served medium rare, roasted kipfler potato, horseradish and caramelised onion, red wine sauce. I requested that the steak be served black and blue that is just seared and indeed they did as I requested most unusual situation. It was an extremely good dish. Every element was prepared exactly as I like it. The red wine sauce had not been over reduced, the meat was a little tough but enjoyable and the accompaniments as good as could be.
The crisp skinned Cone Bay barramundi with a grilled king prawn, blue swimmer crab bisque and the broccolini was another very good dish. The fish, a good size fillet, was cooked perfectly the skin crisp and the flesh moist and succulent.

 Deserts were not particularly impressive. 
Tiramisu the Lucchesi family recipe, was overly soaked in alcohol and we ended up leaving half of it.
The Limoncello semi-freddo with strawberry and prosecco sabayon and honeycomb was better that still nothing to write home about.

 The best choice was dark chocolate and amarena cherry 'tart' with kirsch custard. Rich an moorish.
The tariff, $130 per person was a bit expensive, but I guess that was what the market would bear. They were very obliging about me being nearly an hour late and, although they had two sittings and a queue out the door, they did not hurry us out.
Of all the big occasion meals that we had recently, despite its deficiencies, this was probably the best.

Score:14.25 /20

Signature Restaurant (Rockhampton, Queensland) 2/2014

Rockhampton is a city of with a population of about 60,000. There are lots of things of interest there but, although they offer a four year chef's training course at the local TAFE, one thing it is not is a mecca for foodies. As such I was not very optimistic when I arrived at Signatures to find that I had a choice of tables, every table!

An hour later another couple did come in for dinner but, attached to Central Motor Inn and Conference Centre 
it mostly looks after traveling sales people and rep's who mostly want to have a quick meal in their rooms and go to sleep. The menu is uncomplicated.

It's set in an attractive room. Tables are double clothed with white and black linen and napkins are also linen. 
They have a bar by the entrance and can seat about 60 patrons.
The menu is very basic, almost steak and mash. They offer a small and exceptionally reasonable wine menu with a Hardy's Shiraz on special for $15 and house wines $6/ glass. 
I was quite happy to order a chicken and sweet corn soup and a rib eye on the bone. 
My soup arrived quite quickly, served by Trish, an extremely pleasant lady. It was a very good soup made from fresh ingredients it was nicely seasoned and very flavoursome. The oven roasted bread that came with it was irresistable too.

Main course, rib eye on the bone with a cheddar and sweet corn filled potato and a garlic cream sauce was very good. Cooked as I requested, an unusual event, it was tender and juicy. Super.

I had a chat with the Chef, Lena who pointed out that in the last decade there had been a mass of fast food establishments  which had impacted badly on the restaurant business. Indeed I saw about a dozen of them with in a couple of hundred yards. 

 For what is, in effect, a steak restaurant the food here is very well prepared. I'd be happy to eat here any time
Score: 13.75/20 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Montrachet (Brisbane) 02/2014

At short notice I made a quick trip to Brisbane. Anxious to find a good place to eat I googled the best 10 restaurants in Brisbane and choose Montrachet because it had a French style degustation menu and sounded good. It came as a surprise to me that three Brisbanites, including my cab driver, had never heard of the place. 
It's in Paddington, quite close to the city, in a street crowded with cafe's and restaurants. It's decor is French Bistro style with about 10 tables set with white linen tablecloths and good quality cutlery, crockery and glassware and a well stocked bar
with seating,

which is where I had my meal.
Service was pleasant and prompt. Chef Thierry Galichet, a jovial well rounded gentleman, came and introduced himself to me soon after I arrived. He is an extremely hospitable, gregarious and exuberant character. One of seven children he was drawn to cooking from an early age and has spent over 30 years, mostly in his and his wife's own restaurants. It is a tribute to his cooking that he has succeeded in this very difficult environment.
Montrachet offers a choice of either a seven course degustation meal ($95) or an la carte menu. I was happy to try the degustation.
First course was a prawn in a light herb crust served with a slice of lime. This tasty morsel was excellent. the herbs adding flavour, the crust just right and the prawn fresh and meaty.
This was followed by Manuka smoked salmon on a bed of fresh crab salad. A nice entree but nothing special.
The next course was interesting. Seared Japanese scallops on a pesto risotto with crispy bacon. This is a simple sounding dish with every element offering the possibility of problems. In fact every part of the dish was excellent, the scallops barely cooked, were sweet and moist, the risotto creamy with every grain of rice well cooked but firm, the flavour not overwhelming. A really good dish.
Glacier 51Toothfish, named after Australia's only glacier, is sustainably farmed around Heard Island, in the Australian sub Antarctic. It is not often seen in fish shops or on menus. The firm flesh of the fish is snow white, flakes easily, reminiscent of cod, and has a delicate flavour. Served here with a butter sauce on a tomato relish and topped with strips of crisp onion it was excellent.
Next came the 'Piece de Resistance'! A nice piece of fillet steak served on a bed of spinach and truffles and topped with a good size slice of foie gras de canard. This was in a very good jus which, thankfully was not too intense. Absolutely superb. The only failure was that I asked for the steak to be cooked 'black and blue' that is just seared on the outside and only warm inside. In this case it was medium rare. Otherwise it would have been welcome at any Michelin star restaurant. 

 While I was mulling over the choice of cheese, a triple cream Boursault from Normandy or a Chaumes a pale mellow full bodied cows milk cheese from Perigord I was releived of the problem as a handsome serve of both appeared before me. Both the cheeses were super and the truffle honey that came with them could not have been better.

The final course was the very French Crepes Suzette served with vanilla ice cream.
 As their web site puts it Montrachet’s creators Carol and Thierry Galichet love to share good times with others and a measure of the success of all of their restaurants must lie with their genuine attitude of hospitality. They rarely advertise, preferring as Thierry puts it .. to “advertise on the plate”, and after a quarter of a century of success he would be justified in his thinking.They invite you to taste their world through French eyes.
They serve seriously good food cooked with attention to detail, presentation and well matched flavours. Fully licensed they carry a fair selection of French wines. 
Thierry is a warm, gregarious larger than life character with a love of cooking and eating.

Score: 16.5/20

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Another Unpublished Letter

I wrote this years ago.
Of course the Age did not publish it but I think it worth repeating.
I feel standards are improving at our 'better restaurants'

For many years I have devoured restaurant reviews like a starving man. With keen anticipation I have come to restaurant after restaurant all to often to be bitterly disappointed.
What matter if the clever architect has made a ceiling that looks like a thousand stars at night if the space between tables is so small that the waiters constantly bump into you, if the seats are uncomfortable how can you enjoy food, if near by diners roar with laughter and speak so loudly that conversation is impossible?
One hostess told me a couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at a leading Melbourne restaurant comfortable in the knowledge that it would be impossible to talk to each other during the meal!
Waiters who bring the wrong meals, who give incorrect information about dishes, who argue with patrons I’ve experienced all of this and more.
It is not reviewers fault if Melbourne diners lack courtesy and faults in restaurants abound but they should tell us
Eating at a “good” restaurant should be a total experience. Everything counts – the atmosphere, the décor, the table settings, cutlery and crockery, the attention and service, the presentation and of course the food.
Owners, chefs, waiters, diners and reviewers too; we all have to do our part.
You do your bit, I’ll do mine.
Here’s to a good dinner.

Elliot Rubinstein