Tedesca Osteria – Red Hill, Mornington Peninsula – Monday 7 November 2022 – Lunch

The plaudits have come from seemingly everywhere for a relatively new destination restaurant, with attached accommodation, a leisurely hour or so drive from Melbourne. As with many acclaimed venues, the reasons are somewhat intangible. Sure there must be magnificent food (and wine), service, atmosphere, and environment, but there is often something else that adds the bow needed to be truly great.

Here at Tedesca Osteria, Graceburn House, and our accommodation for the evening, Glasshouse, there is a quality that I need to spend time articulating. Saying there is a friendliness that only the country can provide is too simple. Saying Bridgitte Hafner’s cooking is stunning is true, but her food has been exceptional far earlier in her career than this latest venture, including at a pop-up which gave some indication of her future intentions back in 2015 at Avani Winery. The feeling in the dining room is not uncommon in country dining settings either. Certainly, the majority (if not everyone) in this room is here to have a wonderful long lunch in very capable hands.

It is fair to say there is no fussing in this entire dining room, and zero stuffiness, which naturally puts you at ease. It does mean to not expect incredibly attentive service, but you are not looking around for long, and requests are never met with any resistance. As an example, a few months ago when booking we passed on Catherine’s gluten intolerance. While the staff didn’t openly say they had it noted down, when Catherine mentioned it, they also didn’t make her feel uncomfortable. It was remembered throughout the service, including serving the seafood minus pasta because it sounded so great as a dish and she told our waitperson she didn’t want to miss out.

There is an extensive cellar and the wine knowledge of the waitstaff is impressive. Towards the end as I looked to pair a red with the suckling lamb course, although it was a little heavier on tannins, the fact I was interested in the Dolcetto d’Alba was encouraged by our waitperson. I liked this style where you are assisted to make a decision without feeling obliged to follow one person’s opinion, and actually guided to go with your gut. There was zero upselling.

As you are introduced to the restaurant there is a playful statement that acts partly as a warning, “lunch will last around three and a half hours”. The staff knowing we are staying the night surely helped, but no doubt you cannot finish lunch in less than two and a half hours and we went for four! So playful yes, but true, definitely. Even with our free flowing conversation we did sometimes pause and say “I wonder when the next course is” and it normally arrived momentarily, as if the staff were listening out (but I trust they were not). The utterly delicious bite of a “zeppola”, with the most incredibly pronounced anchovy encapsulated in the Italian deep fried pastry, is not followed immediately with the snacks course, so we enjoy sipping on our Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs Prestige NV. The champagne is impressive, and the first time we have tried this House.

After a leisurely wait, the snacks come out in all their glory. The Cypriot pita with pumpkin and cinnamon is my favourite for its depth of flavour, and delicate exterior, but everything is delicious with the focaccia really accentuating the various dips and sauces. While the carrots and artichokes straight out of the extensive restaurant garden are delightful, the grilled octopus wows with its perfect texture that is a pleasure to eat.

This is the kind of restaurant that you cannot help walk around and look at the art, and take a deep breath outside of the fresh Red Hill air. On our way outside earlier we caught more than a glimpse of the pasta (sorpresine) which look like tortellini but without any filling. This is served as our next course with king prawns and mussels in an elegant and flavoursome crustacean and romesco broth. What a revelation this dish is to me. Having grown up with loaded “spaghetti marinara” from South Terrace in Fremantle which had the elegance of a sledgehammer, this pasta and seafood from Tedesca is easily the best, and perfectly restrained version I have ever eaten. I openly told the waitstaff that I was thinking of licking the bowl but showed the same restraint the kitchen must to not overdo this dish.

As if knowing the follow up is as important as the star dish (in my opinion), the Bowen coral trout comes out looking like a starlet too. Oh my this is about as good as a little fillet of fish gets. The charred spring onion sauce and pickled shiitakes are terrific too, but nothing takes away the limelight from the trout. We are nearing the end of our Moorooduc Estate Robinson Chardonnay, which has turned out to be a nice selection from a nearby vineyard. It is a premium offering by Moorooduc which is a winery I’ve now had two outstanding bottles from in as many weeks (the other a Pinot Noir at Aru).

I’m now on to the Dolcetto d’Alba (E. Pira by Chaira Boschis) and while the waitperson was right that it is a touch tannic for the suckling lamb, I’m glad I tried it. The lamb is another excellent dish, but I cannot help but think the serving size is to accommodate far bigger eaters than Catherine and I. You don’t get tasty lamb with chickpeas and chorizo often, so we managed to finish every last mouthful in any case. The side salad is also completely finished, suggesting it is far better than average, with the orange really lifting it.

With Catherine’s fresh mint tea, and my coffee ordered, dessert arrived and whilst more petite than our final savoury course, the torte with a filling of rhubarb, strawberries, and fig leaf ice cream, was a tremendous finish to an utterly superb meal. We had nowhere to be except Glasshouse next door to relax for the evening (and enjoy our charcuterie platter we ordered too; post bath!) A long, leisurely, luxurious lunch left us with lasting memories, plans to come back with a group (perhaps in the private room for twelve), and a rather full belly. Monday has never been so good.

Tedesca Osteria (and Graceburn)
1175 Mornington Flinders Road, Red Hill
https://www.tedesca.com.au/
bookings@tedesca.com.au

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Attica – Ripponlea – Saturday 30 July 2022 – Dinner

Our third time in the hallowed dining room of Attica feels more comfortable. We know certain aspects will take care of themselves. The heights of attentive service are assured, and we have already long since paid for the food, which is required upon booking.

Whilst comfortable, there is certainly no feeling of “been there; done that” whatsoever. Part of the script is to continue to evolve and change, and the native Australian ingredients are probably no more prevalent in everyday dining than they were the last time we dined here in 2016. There is always intrigue in the dishes to come.

As I write, I realise that already more than three weeks has passed since our experience, and yet much of it is more vivid than normal dining, because it is so unique. Four hours passes effortlessly, with the only confrontation the occasional ingredient which especially puts Catherine on the back foot.

An example is the parfait, which in this case lives up to its French meaning. You don’t need to look far to find someone who is a bit hesitant to eat liver. So what’s the consensus on Emu liver? Utterly exceptional and my favourite dish of the evening!

The wine is delightful throughout the evening, but the kitchen remains easily the star of the show, and there is some theatre here. Later in the evening, the now usual foray into the back courtyard reveals a camp setting this time around, with the most delicious Basque cheesecake our first dessert. Cooked over the fire, it is still semi-molten, and lives in my memory so vividly I can almost taste it.

Crocodile ribs appeal in a manner hard to imagine. The look, texture, and taste, with the barbeque used to compelling effect, is just really cool. It’s a dish served early on, but I’m not pacing myself tonight, and every piece of flesh is valuable. The wattle dahl is just the same. I’m not leaving a trace.

The final savoury course is another winner, but it is difficult to pick my favourites after the parfait. Here we have a skewer of delicately treated kangaroo, served with frites, béarnaise (Aussie style with local thyme), and a rich pepper sauce too. There’s a spray bottle of vinegar for the frites for obvious reasons. It is so very good. My wish is that in some later stage of life we go to the local pub for kangaroo almost this good, instead of cow.

From interesting, difficult to ordinarily obtain Rose Champagne by Pierre Paillard, to 2013 Lethbridge ‘Allegra’ Chardonnay, to 2021 Jasper Hill Shiraz, there is exceptional wine by the glass to suit any palate, and it is possible to have glasses for less than $20 if you like, or even to try some half glasses. The sommerlier does a superb job, and assisted us several times. Showing an interest always helps.

Attica is expensive. It is a tribute to the restaurant that we’ve been three times and couldn’t imagine not continuing to go back. It is not comfort food, and does not remind us of travel and holidays. It does however make me somehow feel more connected with Australia. How beautiful that a New Zealander writes a menu, and his team execute it impeccably, and it takes you to a place you already live in.

Attica
74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea, Vic 3185
https://www.attica.com.au/
+61 9530 0111
meet@attica.com.au


Past reviews:
Attica in 2016
Expectations of Attica prior to our 2016 visit

Dessous – Melbourne, City – Friday 3 June 2022 – Dinner

There are times where you remember how difficult the restaurant game is, and how much genius and luck is involved when it all comes together perfectly. The important elements can be dissected into incredibly granular detail, most of which are standing side by side like dominos. This doesn’t indicate how Dessous, French for “underneath”, is going during its infancy.

It struck me recently how many restaurants are now around $200 a head for an indulgent meal, where you order whatever you feel like, and drink particularly well. This is even for smaller appetites like ours, and particularly in Catherine’s case, not more than a few glasses of wine. Divergent from other great cities to dine out is the fact that lunch costs the same as dinner in most cases too, so there’s no respite.

How do these separate ideas come together? Dessous was relatively expensive (though not up to the $200 a head mark) but sits where, back only a few years ago, upper-end of the middle-tier (UEMT) restaurants would aim. I’ve completely made this up, but UEMT in my mind is those places with nice fitouts, fine food (as opposed to full fine dining), and relatively attentive (but not perfect) service, that is going to set you back about $100 a head. In this respect I think the goal posts have moved, and are starting to impact how I dine.

In this famous area of Flinders Lane you can find Hazel upstairs, Supernormal almost next door, Kisume and Nomad across the road, and Gimlet up on the corner. You need to be on your game and providing a point of difference to attract a substantial clientele and have a consistently full restaurant. Tonight, Dessous is full, and from my booking experience, it appears to be consistently popular.

As we are seated, besides the charm of the basement level restaurant, and high revelry, there is a darkness that creates an atmosphere of indulgence. I wonder what it is like when you can see? As Angus holds his phone’s torch to the menu, we peruse the menu and sip on our drinks from a nicely balanced list.

The menu is designed to share, and as a result, is split between snacks, smaller, and larger dishes. I cannot recommend enough a focus on the snacks. One taste of the crab doughnut has me penciling Dessous for future bar excursions. Unlike the lobster roll at Supernormal, where I’ve had several, I can only judge on two bites, but this is a destination snack. Directly prior I had my three bites of a scallop sando that was not far off. As I sip my Adelaide Hills Fiano by Oxbow, this is a tremendous start.

The pork hock croquette, pickled Spring Bay mussels, and the red curry corn fritters were great, but they need to step aside for the doughnut and the sando. Expectation levels are growing as we order glasses of the Spider Bill Chardonnay, also from Adelaide Hills. Our smaller share dishes are the double baked gruyere cream soufflé, roasted bone marrow with sticky rice (which I insist upon), and char-grilled albacore (long fin) tuna in chilli sauce with pippies.

The latter of the three is the winner. The tuna is perfectly cooked, with a spice that creeps up on you, making perhaps a more aromatic wine a better match. Sticky rice is uncomfortably sticky with the bone marrow; and it’s hard to top the classic toast and parsley of St John fame, but it is still a dish I would prefer to have tried than not. Lastly the soufflé is disappointing, lacking the full flavour and perhaps seasoning, that is necessary to lift the gruyere cream.

Prawns and pork belly with baked vermicelli is the first of our two larger dishes, and the better of them. While there could always be more prawn meat, there is a good dose of favour in the sauce, and the vermicelli work in well. Wagyu rump cap with XO spinach, and Cipollini onions closes our savoury courses, along with a side of buttered cabbage. I’m not sure if it is luck, but I’ve now had several beef dishes at a series of well regarded restaurants that are just not hitting the mark. It appears that in this case it is the beef, rather than the way it has been cooked, which seems soundly executed by the chefs.

Almost making up for the low point of the beef, is a delicious Sangiovese from Umbria by Cantina Margo. On reflection it seems the general trend of the meal was downhill, but it was not a steep slope, and not without some nice inclines. We were comfortable with the amount of food, and decided to just try one dessert in the form of the jasmine rice pannacotta with citrus syrup. I liked the dish; both refreshing with evident citrus, and comforting with sweet pannacotta. A dish reflecting the cultural influences of the broader menu, and a level of creativity that could elevate the menu over time.

If you accept where Dessous now sits in terms of expense, it is a nice proposition. The concern I have in this day and age, where there are other pressures on disposable income, is whether inflation is going to reverse the dramatic and welcomed swathe of restaurants hitting Melbourne. In any scenario, continuous improvement and growing attention to every detail, could see Dessous part of our dining scene for many years to come.

Dessous – https://www.dessous.com.au/
164 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm
+613 9070 4939
info@dessous.com.au

Audrey’s – Sorrento, Victoria – Friday 22 April 2022 – Dinner

We like to be organised and we are not huge risk takers when it comes to choosing a venue. As we walk through the plush surroundings of the newly renovated Continental in Sorrento we feel like astronauts in outer space. It almost is as if we are walking in moon boots.

To make matters more surreal, the first person we see at the pass is Scott Pickett. I’ve never met him, but having been to so many of his restaurants I can’t help but say “Scott” like an old friend and extend my hand. We explain that we really enjoy his menus, especially at Matilda, and that we were on the wait list tonight and got the call up only a few hours prior.

We were going to come to Audrey’s anyway, and try for the bar, but we really didn’t think we’d get in so our mindset was more fancy pub menu downstairs rather than a $150 per head tasting menu. Seated in a luxurious restaurant, Catherine on a gorgeous banquette, we are looking around like we had not seen a fine diner before.

We settle as we sip on our glasses of Tattinger Champagne and familiarise ourselves with the tasting menu to come. Snacks arrive in the form of bbq abalone, Coopers Island oysters with finger lime, and mussel escabeche. The abalone stands out for its boldness, avoiding its inherently chewy nature, showing real adventure by the kitchen.

As part of the snacks the baguette is also outstanding alongside three butter options. Next comes along the spanner crab crumpet. I have come to realise that an extremely large number of fine diners are serving spanner crab, and to be completely open, I will order it almost every time. The subtlety of the crab needs to be honoured, and in this case, while the crumpet is delicious, it is also delicate enough to not overpower. The eel reminds Catherine of our meals at Lake House. We are starting to relax on this adventure.

We are looking forward to a bit of a seafood extravaganza to come. For good measure we have thrown in the optional Great Ocean Road duck option later as a half serve each to try. The first of three seafood courses is delightful Yellowfin tuna under a sheet of glutinous shiso, with white radishes in the mix for both its flavour and texture.

By this stage we are enjoying a glass of Marc Rougeot-Dupin Bourgogne Chardonnay from Burgundy. Mornington Peninsula squid comes looking like finely handled fresh pasta. Alongside is the most deeply flavoured shiitake XO ragu, that is singularly incredible, but somehow enhanced with the squid. The combination shouts signature of the house for years to come, and perhaps is one to specifically ask for on future booking requests? Last of the seafood trio is King George whiting. Perfectly cooked, elegantly presented, this marriage of fish and butter sauce is long lasting and spectacular.

As we move to the duck I make sure I order the Eldridge Estate Pinot Noir quick smart. While there are mainly positives on the service, this is a restaurant in its infancy, with a lot of less experienced floor staff (though well trained and eager), and our first request for our second wine did go forgotten for our entire Yellowfin tuna course. Yes we are in Sorrento, but the tasting menu is expensive, so some minor critiques are not unreasonable. As the floor gets more used to the menu, and the expectations of guests, I expect their training and eagerness to translate to smoother service.

There is no critique regarding the duck from across the ditch mind you. The half serve is perfect for us with dessert and petit fours to come. Bathed in a good helping of flavoursome jus, and paired with cubes of golden plum, there is only contentment.

Lately I’ve found that restaurants are on script with dessert. The days of overly savoury offerings have subsided and dessert is once again a celebration of sweetness. Audrey’s vacherin of rhubard, apple and ginger, fits the modern script. It’s pretty, delicate, sweet, and nicely executed. Though petit fours in the form of jellies and truffles are definitely an indulgent treat in themselves, this dessert makes for a great ending to the main event.

There’s a feeling of excitement to have an opportunity to dine at Audrey’s at the last minute. There’s also a feeling of appreciation that what appears to be a powerhouse entertainment venue at the new Continental, also appears to have a marque dining venue that rivals anything on offer in the city. Maybe Society isn’t the biggest opening of the past 12 months afterall?

Audrey’s – https://thecontinentalsorrento.com.au/#audreys
1 Ocean Beach Rd, Sorrento
Lunch: Wed-Sun; Dinner: Thurs-Sat
+61359351250
bookings@thecontinentalsorrento.com.au

Hubert – Sydney, City – Saturday 9 April 2022 – Lunch

Excited. Super excited. For an excitable person this is the most excited I’ve been about dining in some time. Despite the driving rain as we decide to skip our State Library glimpse, waiting 15 minutes for Hubert to open its doors this morning is no issue whatsoever.

By the time the doors open our umbrellas are closed, and we have caught a little glimpse of Circular Quay instead (it is the only classic Sydney glimpse we see today). Downstairs we descend, momentarily held up by the mid-level display of thousands of spirit miniatures, before entering the dining room slash jazz room. It is lit up with long candles on each table and just looks perfectly inviting as no empty room has ever looked.

Perhaps I made a mistake by booking on the bar, with no direct view of the jazz performance, but there are many reasons why it simply didn’t matter. The primary reason is the food which is the most stunning spectrum of traditional French bistro classics I’ve encountered in Australia. Then there is aspects of the service, not entirely perfect, but entirely Sydney, and the maître d’ who is as close to perfect as any restaurant manager could be.

Yes, I’m possibly embellishing, but it has been several days since we were dining here, and I’m still marveling at the experience. We wait a little for Catherine’s Tom Collins, and my (unbeknownst) cheap and delicious gin martini with a twist. Suddenly we are enjoying spanner crab with brioche toast, beautifully presented, alongside half a dozen Merimbula oysters. It is an appealing start.

We move into some Dauvisssat Chablis for Catherine, and some Clusel-Roch Gamay for me. Murray Cod a la Hubert is lashed with brown butter, capers, and lemon; and roasted Wollemi duck is layered on a plate ensconced in a balanced orange sauce that is jazz to my ears. Are we clapping for the performance, or the mains, or both? Even the frites, as you might expect at an exceptional bistro, are addictive. The endive mesclun salad eases the guilt.

Not being big eaters we don’t need dessert, but dessert has never been necessity. Watching Catherine say half way through “that is enough” of the crème caramel, only to continue going back for more is akin to my addictive personality, which includes the horses I’ll be backing a little later at Randwick. For me there is no hesitation in demolishing the passionfruit soufflé with cultured cream. When a soufflé appears on a menu the chances of it getting out alive are extremely remote. Both desserts are first class and it is consistent with the rest of this deliciously indulgent offering by Hubert.

We have four group one races in front of us, and some wine at 10 William Street, but I could easily end this day trip right here. One day I’m going to come here for lunch and stay for dinner. Then I’m going to try to hide upstairs near the many cases of wine and do it all over again the next day.

Restaurant Hubert – https://www.swillhouse.com/venues/restaurant-hubert
15 Bligh Street, Sydney
Lunch Wed-Sat from 12pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 5pm to late
Phone +61292320881
Email reservations@restauranthubert.com


Aru – Melbourne, City – Wednesday 23 March 2022 – Lunch

Walking into Aru we have the strange feeling we’ve been here before. Is it the old Review on Little Collins? If it was, it is remarkably changed, and we are happy to try it on, just the same way Catherine has tried on many a Review dress back in the day.

The long rectangular room has sleek furnishings, mainly wooden, with a metallic curtain divider giving a modern, clean feel, much like the forthcoming food, and smooth service. The bar looks inviting for another time, maybe an evening cocktail and snack.

We are in the mood to celebrate and enjoy a big lunch out in the city. Bookings are not easy to get these days and we got this one a few weeks ago. We must admit it wasn’t the first we tried to make, checking sister restaurant Sunda (only open for dinner) as part of our efforts. Now we are here and we are ready!

We have a new floor person today about three weeks in. He’s keen and is ready to extend the hospitality of the restaurant with a smile on his face (under the mask). It’s okay to be nervous if you are caring and hospitable and he certainly is.

We begin with the duck sausage sanga. This is genuinely a snack not to be missed, and another time at the bar is in our not too distant future. I’ve heard it is a take on a Bunnings hotdog, but it is far prettier and much tastier, leaving no feeling of guilt.

Next, the scorched salmon is meltingly good, and we are getting on a roll. By this stage we are on to our next wine. We have a terrific sommelier who has already poured us a Reserve Gosset Champagne which is a rare offering, and a first for us at a restaurant. It sets us on a path with this very expensive wines by the glass list. The Chardonnay by Salem & Co (Oregon) is exceptional with elegance and complexity from low/no irrigation. The Fiano from Campania is also a beautiful expression, despite the price tag.

Skull Island Prawns hit the table, introducing some subtle heat and deep flavour, with generous prawn meat. Having negotiated hard on potential side options, we erred on the side of indulgence with the spanner crab fried rice and it was unmissable in hindsight. This is a beautifully executed rice dish.

The side took the limelight, but the actual main was still delicious. The Hiramasa Kingfish may have been the lesser of the various savoury dishes, but it went to show the overall abundance of quality here. The buttermilk dashi lifted it, but perhaps it was on the pan for half a minute too long.

Dessert arrived in the form of a tapioca pudding, and a pavlova, which we shared. Both have excellent attention to sweetness. The tapioca felt richer and deeper in flavour with the butterscotch and wattle honeycomb. The pavlova was beautifully presented, with the usual visual appeal of careful blowtorching.

It is starting to feel less unusual getting out and about, and we couldn’t be happier about that. We were ready for a great meal and it presented itself in an odd spot on Little Collins. Our experience at Aru was outstanding.

Aru Restaurant – www.aru.net.au
Tuesday to Saturday – 12pm to late
Phone +61399398113
Email info@aru.net.au
268 Little Collins Street, Melbourne

Patsy’s – Melbourne, City – Saturday 8 January 2022 – Dinner

Would I have done this ten years ago? Most probably not. There are two main reasons: quality; and perception. Back then the quality was nowhere near as good, and the perception was bad.

So as Catherine, my toddler Sydney, and I, walk into Patsy’s, why is dining at a vegetarian restaurant no longer a faux pas. Why are we comfortable (actually excited), and why do we have reasonable expectations?

Personally, my main reason is because some of the best dishes I’ve had in recent months are vegetarian, and over the years I’ve had many experiences where those dishes have been extremely good. Catherine is excited because she really likes the sister restaurant in Flinders, Donna Maria, which does quality Italian (but is not vegetarian).

Patsy’s is on the big round-about close to Queen Vic Market on Franklin Street. It is filled with vintage furniture, simple quaint decoration, and a white and green courtyard backdrop. Instantly I feel comfortable.

It’s not a big place, and sells itself as a wine bar too, with that friendly but professional enoteca type service. There’s no place for stuffiness, and that includes the customers.

On the menu there are a range of options, with the modern sharing style format. We decide to share the snack “Pinzimonio di Verdure”, which consists of various preserved vegetables with a hazelnut and olive bagna cauda, which is a traditional dipping sauce made of oil, butter, anchovies and garlic. It is a nice, fresh beginning.

A lot more decadent, the “Zlikrofi” is two Slovenian potato and chickpea dumplings, sitting in a sweet wine and rich shallot sauce. By the end I had ‘vinegar cheeks’ but was loving it; the firmness of the dumpling perfect for my taste.

We are certainly not big eaters, and mains were substantial as we had the Boudin de betterave along with two sides. The Burgundian beetroot sausage is an absolute full flavoured winner. With Cafe de Paris emulsion, and wrapped in vine leaves, it is just delicious. Some would say you better’ave it!

Kipfler potato mash, with its gorgeous smokiness, is a terrific addition. As is a collection of different chargrilled beans with ajo blanco, which is a Spanish soup (in this case more a sauce) made with bread, almonds, garlic, water and olive oil. This is a beautiful array of vegetarian cuisine.

While we are completely content, we are going to order dessert no matter what. At this stage we’ve really enjoyed the wine too. The native grape of Santorini is rare to find by the glass so we both indulged in a glass of Assyrtika (by Gaia Thalassitis), and by now I am onto the less complex, but deliciously juicy Xinomavro red which is also Grecian.

Dessert is curiously presented, but pretty, with the Fragole con Zabaione perfect after a substantial meal. Marinated strawberries, and strawberry ice cream, are served under the Italian combination of egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine.

Even at an early dinner, there is a great vibe here, and staff are atuned to it. We have a growing banter with the waitstaff and enjoy learning more about this culturally diverse restaurant in its early days. Vegetarian is no longer a restriction, and offerings like Patsy’s continue to make a case for its beauty. I even got to have a sausage!

Patsy’s
213 Franklin Street, Melbourne
Phone – 03 9328 7667
Bookings – OpenTable
Instagram

Nomad Restaurant – Melbourne, City – Dinner – Tuesday 30 November 2021

As if travelling back in time ten years, Flinders Lane is yet again one of the coolest restaurant strips in the world. Multiple high profile openings, and the buzz to deafen the most serious hype.

Tonight I didn’t even realise until we booked our parking, that we were going to the old Ezard dining room. This basement oasis of turn of this century dining excellence is once again a hot ticket. It is Tuesday night and this illustrious, completely restyled venue, is very busy. We’ve waited 16 minutes after our 8pm booking, with no drink, so this Nomad place better be worth it. Having been recently pushed out of early restaurant bookings, we held our nerve, and our judgement.

I noticed the kitchen is now mainly at the back of the long rectangular room, with a larder at the front. It’s dark and minimalist, and seems a bit tight to walk along the pathways but staff are quick to step aside. Tonight we are thankful to have one of the experienced Sydney sister venue staff as our wairperson. While she leaves Melbourne to go back to Sydney soon, we certainly noticed all staff are well trained on the menu, waiting etiquette and have a friendly persona. The speed, and depth of explanation about the gluten free options on the menu, were very impressive.

We began with some rock oysters and the wood roasted plant escabeche. The oysters were delicious and the flavour profile in the escabeche was diverse, even if the nature of a marinated dish means a soft texture.

The combination of baked ricotta, Ortiz anchovies, and wood roasted peppers, worked so well I was imagining tapas in San Sebastian. Smoked mussels, piment d’espelette, and a pure garlic puree called toum were superb, only topped by the perfect accompanying hash brown. It may not be an exaggeration to say that pure garlic might be the toum-stone for your date, but here we felt it wore off reasonably quickly.

For our main dish, Murray cod is presented skin side up to keep the crispy texture, topped with saffron butter, and sided by spring vegetables and vine leaves. Cod is an outstanding fish, with its meatiness and depth of flavour, not to mention its versatility. On that front, my Gamay by Sentio in the King Valley was a decent red match, while Catherine’s Mulline Geelong Chardonnay was a natural winner. The Roman beans as a side were more of a hit with Catherine, but I did like trying a side that was a bit different, even if I got a few chewier ones.

Earlier I’d tried the versatile Sutton Grange Fiano and was not disappointed. Catherine had the “gin drink” to start as her cocktail, and it was terrific, but we almost went mad with staff trying to remember the song that talks about “the whisky drink”. It is Tub Thumping by Chubawumba!

The olive oil ice cream sandwich is already signature, and we got a separated gluten free version where I got most of the gluten part, and half of the creamy ice cream. Down the road at a restaurant where Coda now resides is where I tried my first olive oil ice cream 13 years ago, and maybe that is the best way to summarise the impact Flinders Lane dining has had on me.

In one triangle on Flinders Lane we had been to three venues in barely over a month. This has to be one of the great times to dine out between Swanston and Russell. Inventive, risky, but surefooted, and focussed, Nomad is making its mark.

Oakridge Estate – Yarra Valley – Saturday 13 November 2021 – Lunch

Put aside the logistical challenges with dining an hour from home, and from the time you come up the drive, there is nothing quite like lunch at a winery. The open spaces filled with leafy vines, the sense of calm, and the same air about the floorstaff. The feeling of privilege in being away from home.

Oakridge Estate epitomises this feeling. The expansive rectangular building with floor to ceiling windows running the length of the dining room, the space between the tables, and the restraint to focus on the view, are important elements in a superb dining experience. The food is exemplary, and the winery recently received Halliday’s Chardonnay of the year, so wine is covered with aplomb. Today, those elements share the limelight with service.

Accompanied by our little boy for an 11.45am lunch, we had a waitperson who was simply a star. Her demeanour, especially with Sydney, made our meal better in a way that is difficult to describe unless you have felt that pressure before. Dining with a toddler is neither an art or a science. It basically doesn’t work and there is no simple equation that offers a solution. Our waitperson navigated this imperfect situation, and went some ways to solving it.

The other element of service that I appreciated is the absence of any stuffiness, but the awareness of fine dining expectations, and when those expectations should be flexible. One aspect of good service that is often overlooked is the rule to not serve a course without all diners being at the table. Awareness by the diners can help, but I have often seen people get up at an inopportune time and the waitperson have to make a 180 degree turn back to the warmth of the pass. In our situation, Sydney needed to go to the toilet when entrees were close to being served. Another waitperson got to the table and realised, but assessing the situation decided to check with me before putting down the dishes. I made sure they were comfortable to break the rule on this occasion.

Fortunately the food and wine was equal to the standard of service. We began the lunch menu with a relaxed share course of salumi, pickles, and charred asparagus, with a healthy serving of sourdough, which set our appetite on its way. My quail and smoked bacon cannelloni then put an accent on presentation, with an interesting contrast of radicchio and nasturium to the softness of the cannelloni, and its subtle filling, that grew on me to my last bite. Catherine’s gluten free option of Jerusalem artichokes with a nut puree, and smoked nuts, was on the other hand huge on flavour, and did have me a little jealous, despite the beauty of my dish.

For mains I chose the kangaroo loin, topped with a thin slither of kohlrabi, drizzled in a sauce, and accompanied by saltbush and cherries. It was perfectly cooked, and technically very well executed, but didn’t have quite the depth of flavour I’ve enjoyed in some kangaroo dishes. Again, Catherine’s rainbow trout stole the show, with another intense flavour offering consisting of a miso and smoked trout soy, with onion weed and sesame. Perfectly cooked trout has been on the menu several times when we have dined out lately and it has been, on each occasion, a big winner.

Catherine had the lead but I paired it back somewhat with dessert. My meyer lemon tart with burnt fennel, whey and honey, was pure delight. Perfect technique, and just the right amount of sweetness, were evident in this delicious dessert. The brie icecream, beautifully presented on a disc of chopped strawberries, with pinot vincotto and lemon thyme, was a terrific dessert too though.

Knowing (having asked) that we could take home the residual of a bottle of wine here, we chose to invest in the 2018 864 Block Chardonnay (that won the Halliday award) and we were pleased we did through lunch, and even more as we shared a final glass back home. It has that wonderful balance of elegance and intensity, that I find can be a feature of great chardonnay. I also was recommended a glass of the Syrah for my kangaroo, which was perfectly matched, and also a tremendous soft expression of shiraz.

Having thought back to this lunch and the contrast with Levantine Hill, I’ve realised that service today, post our lockdowns and loss of great international staff, is even more key now. The competitive advantage of talent on the floor is far more pronounced. In Melbourne and surrounds it used to be taken for granted. Now you need to be weary. Oakridge delivered on all fronts and I can’t wait to visit again.

Oakridge Wines Cellar Door and Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Levantine Hill – Yarra Valley – Sunday 14 November 2021 – Lunch

There is no doubt in my mind that you can have a very enjoyable lunch, think you could return again in the future, but not recommend to others going in the first place. If you are confused that is my intention.

The situation is not complicated, but there are a series of levers that are pulling my thoughts on Levantine Hill in different directions. My conclusion, which I rarely begin with, is that this was a disappointing experience. Most of the elements that lead to this conclusion are quite distinct to each other.

Expense is something that I do not talk about in my writing, because I find it often is polarising, and rarely impacts my level of enjoyment of a meal. Here, the value is quite simply appalling. Yet I was so determined to try Levantine Hill that even after Catherine called the restaurant to confirm how the menu works, I insisted on going. Why was I so determined? I know Teage Ezard is no longer connected, but I was hoping his lengthy tenure would still be a creative influence.

There are different options, and a caution that this is better for groups from the outset. However, it was Catherine and me, along with our toddler. For $90 per person you get shared snacks, and the choice of two dishes. Given our penchant for dessert, this meant one main, with some additional sides, and dessert. Conservatively this meant our main was a $100 dish. It was not.

Before I get to the food, which was good to pleasant, with some particular highlights, the service from one of our waitpersons was a concern when contrasted with the prior day at Oakridge Estate. Unfortunately she was simply flat about being at work. Not rude, maybe a little abrupt, but simply not concerned with how our meal was. With a menu description of “Persian spice poached chicken, mushroom oil, barberries, broccolini, tahini labne” I wasn’t sure how the main would be presented so I asked “is there a lot of broccolini, or do you think we should order the salad as a side”. She said the broccolini was chopped up and there was a decent amount, but not a lot. What she didn’t say is that the poached chicken basically comes out as a salad. She allowed us to buy a side salad for a salad!

In a sense that is a pretty mild critique, but she also hit my chair countless times as she walked past the table, and eventually we did our best to interact with the other more attentive staff. One in particular was terrific and seemed to notice the level of our service was not acceptable at a high achieving restaurant. The main floor manager was also terrific and showed a lot more enthusiasm for our little boy, which is always a nice touch.

The poached chicken dish was pleasant but did lack the flavour intensity you would hope for. It was honestly quite akin to a cafe chicken salad. We had been told the fries were beer battered and intense, but not for Catherine who is less gluten tolerant, but I wanted them anyway. Again, in trying to be accommodating our waitperson brought more normal fries, but obviously hadn’t heard I wanted to try the others. It was innocent, but unattentive. She hadn’t mentioned a gluten-free option and we still paid the amount for the gangster fries that I never tried.

The snacks to begin were generous with delicious hummus, and a pomegranate drizzled labne. Normal and gluten-free bread for the table, olives, and some other offerings including cucumber with taromasalata, and a “chickpea crisp” which was a real highlight, showing the flavour intensity the kitchen had the ability to achieve. Slight touches again were missed, with no extra bread offered, even though we’d noticed most tables receiving it without even asking.

Perhaps we took too long with our snacks because, as the staff whisked our remaining dips away, we received our mains. Immediately. At exactly the same time. I’ve spoken about the chicken. Naturally we asked for a break before dessert, worried that our mains would be cleared and dessert would appear on the table simultaneously. We were offered a break, but reminded we needed to leave by 2pm. The question on our mind was if we had of selected the four courses how would we have eaten everything in a bit over two hours. It dawned on us that the staff were under pressure to get us to move on, and that is the only explanation why we would not receive a break at all between snacks and our main. It was not comfortable dining.

The hazelnut semifreddo, with rose water pastry, strawberries, honey roasted nuts, and white chocolate, was a fitting dish for a reputable dining destination. It was a sweet way to end proceedings, and again highlighted the flair of the kitchen. We’d had a break and could enjoy the dish, and relax a touch before we ventured back into the windy and rainy Sunday weather outside.

Through lunch I had really enjoyed the Levantine Hill Estate Pinot Noir, and in a serious bonus, was presented with a bottle for free, simply for paying with an Amex card! Catherine had a couple of glasses of the Katherine’s Paddock Chardonnay, which is their flagship, and it is an elegant, French leaning Chardonnay. The restaurant’s polished concrete floors, half barrel looking group tables, sleek design, and views out to helicopters landing for lunch, is quite stunning.

I can imagine others raving about their experience, which is why I might still return even if I can’t recommend this restaurant on my one experience. What I think might have tripped up the restaurant is the change to a Middle Eastern slant, and the format of the menu. I honestly do not think it fits at the moment. The comforting, sharing nature of this cuisine, cannot work with rushed dining, and the prices are extravagant for what you get. It is the first time in a very long time that I felt ripped off, and that was before the 15% on weekends and public holidays.

Levantine Hill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato