Saturday, January 20, 2018

Point Leo Restaurant, (Point Leo Estate - Merricks) 01/2018

When someone spends $50 million on a sculpture park, an winery and an architect designed modern restaurant and then engages a bevy of chefs with pedigrees that include Rockpool in Sydney, Attica in Melbourne and other excellent restaurants you must expect something pretty special. That is what John Gandel, of shopping centre fame, has done at Point Leo Estate, some 85 Km out of Melbourne.
From the outside the place is gorgeous with a stunning entrance leading into an attractive 110 seat restaurant. 
After passing reception, and an impressive sculpture, (This pic is from their website), 
The restaurant is run by chef Phil Wood.
seating is arranged around a curved venue with floor to ceiling glass walls looking out over a sculpture garden featuring over 50 works by modern Australian and International artists.

The room itself is attractive 

although the bare wood tables do not suggest fine dining. At present it is also very popular so it's always crowded and noisy. 
We started with a Goat cheese tart ($19). The menu is set out as "To Start" basically small dishes from $5 to $9.5, "Entrees"  $19 "Pasta" (only one) $26 Mains" $36 to $49 and "Sides" $9 to $15.
This was very mild and  rather characterless.

We followed this sharing the pasta dish.
 This looked a bit meagre. Three small smoked Flinders mussels for each of us on a bed of hand cut al dente linguini. There was so little sauce that the spoon provided proved totally unnecessary. There was a lemony tasting succulent in the dish which did not appeal to me but Sandra loved the whole dish. She felt the thick sauce enriched the dish.
Our next course, Tempura whiting with eggplant, smoked fennel and cashews. ($36)

was a very good size serve. The batter was excellent though it still had a lot of fat in it. The smoked fennel was a nice addition though the smoke was not obvious to me. What made it really good was the combination of the fish with the eggplant which almost melted in the mouth and cut down the fat in the batter.
The side of shoe string chips ($9) 

came with no mayo, aioli or tomato sauce. When requested it took so long to come it was barely needed.
Our last course, pork belly with glace citrus and nettle gremolata, ($37)

was another extremely good dish, imaginative and technically excellent. The small squares of glace citrus was brilliant - looked good, tasted good and blended well with the pork. A great advance on apple sauce. Although I got little taste from the nettles the gremolata garnish it did help keep the dish more moist and palatable.
A glass of 2016 Point Leo Shiraz was extravagantly expensive at $18. Twelve dollars would have been reasonable.
We were too full for cheese or desserts.
On the negative side it's noisy +, it's expensive and the service is slow and the tables reminiscent of a cafeteria. On the positive side the cutlery and glassware are excellent, the food is very interesting, locally sourced, super fresh, cooked with imagination, in unusual combinations and nicely presented combined. Lastly, service was very friendly.
Score: 15/20
For more information about the sculptures go to the Pt. Leo Sculpture app.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Vue de Monde Another Vue (Melbourne CBD) New Year Eve 2017

New year eve (NYE) is an occasion for celebration, like a birthday. It's also a time for resolution and reflection. Mostly I've been pretty disappointed in the fancy restaurants we've visited for fine meals for NYE. Per se in Manhattan overwhelmed us with foie gras and caviar, Pierre Gagnierre destroyed our palates with 25 year old Pied de Cheval oysters, we've also celebrated with indifferent meals in Amsterdam and in Israel over the last few years. Now, for a change, we're eating at home, well in our home city anyway.
Here are the dishes. 
Summer vegetables, cooked in paperbark , with an avocado dressing.

Moonlight flat rusty wire oyster, wrapped in asparagus in an asparagus sauce with salted riberries berries.

  Kingfish with green tomatoes Port Philip Bay clams and lemon aspen.
 Mudcrab wrapped in kohlrabi in a squid ink sauce, decorated with daisy petals.
 Flat bread and damper, (but not damper) served over coals, with a vegemite flavour.
Followed by marron in a corn sauce,\ and kelp.
accompanied by the stuffed marron head.
Davidson plum sorbet, served on a bed of edible flowers frozen with liquid nitrogen at the table and crushed with a pestle - the traditional VdM palate cleanser. 
David Blackmore grade 9 ribeye, muntari berries and beetroot
Aged duck glazed in leatherwood honey with sides.

A selection of cheeses. Not on the menu but generously offered to us as we found some of the food unpalatable
Marshmallow roasted over red gum.
Chocolate souffle with Christmas fig leaf ice cream.
The usual perfect souffle.
Yarra Valley cherries, cultured cream, lovage.
Summer melon and four pillars gin.
We drank a very good Eva Fricke 2012 Schlossberg Spatlese through the meal.

While many aspects of a meal we ate resemble what might have been served five or ten years ago in fact it is a superficial resemblance. Of course the venue is fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. 

Kangaroo skin covered tables, too wide for easy conversation are the same, the Cristofl cutlery is there as are the vine root fork and spoon stands and the stone salt and pepper dishes. The glassware is excellent. 
The European crystal Plumm glassware added to the pleasure of the wine.

The emphasis, however beyond being fresh, local, organic, and so on has moved away from those distinctive characteristics that distinguish French cuisine toward an increasing Australian emphasis. 
Examples of this are clear in the damper and flat bread with Vegemite flavour and the sausage sizzle, a DIY seafood hot dog with separate brioche roll and accouterments, which are becoming signature dishes. Unfortunately in this move towards political correctness in the Australian context, the use of quondong and Australian plums and berries adds a sour note to sauces which, for us spoiled the pleasure of an excellent piece of Waghu beef the flavour of which was lost. Similarly the perfectly cooked slice of duck breast also had a vinegary taste that detracted from the dish. Other dishes also suffered from the sauces they were served with. The marron was served on a corn based sauce, far too heavy for the delicate marron.
There were a very large number of kitchen staff working extremely hard to plate up dishes 

which were mostly striking in appearance, pieces of art really, for example the crab in kohlrabi covered with a neat row of daisy flowers but again the combination of crab with kohlrabi simply did not go well together. 
Not only did the guests make a fair bit of noise but there was a great deal of shouting from the kitchen - not quite in the same class as Ramsay but getting there.
There was a large contingent of floor staff who all tried very hard to provide the sort of impeccable service one only gets at top of the line restaurants.They did as well as it is possible to do. Although we have been to VdM four or five times times this year I recognized almost nobody. Somehow they have lost the personal touch which was a feature of the place in the past. They were extremely attentive to our requests and replaced a couple of dishes. In fact we were offered an additional dish of cheeses, not on the menu, to make up for our dissatisfaction with the dinner. Incidentally of the six cheeses all, bar one, were from Australia. What was missing was a sort of intimacy between the kitchen, the floor staff and the patrons, an intangible je ne sais quoi.
VdM has moved with the times but for me,
Score: 16/20