Demitri’s Feast – Richmond – Saturday 29 April 2017 – Dinner

Feta, honey and figs
Salmon, fennel and celeriac

Transformations don’t always work. There was a famous one in Sydney very recently where Rockpool turned into Eleven Bridge and closed in the same breath. Having been a customer here at Demitri’s Feast for a number of years, I know why this significant transformation will work.

There is more than a couple of reasons, but the two most significant are custom, and experience. Demitri himself has many terrifically loyal customers and I find it impossible to know whether they were friends through the old cafe, or independently. After 20 years of operating cafes, he decided a change was needed and turned Demitri’s Feast from a daytime cafe, to a late morning to late night mezze bar. Ask anyone in hospitality and deciding to go back to working nights is not a decision taken lightly.

Greek salad

The cafe naturally had to be fully renovated to be true to the new formula. The Richmond premiership posters are gone, along with the classic cafe counter, and bright tones. Now there is a tasteful bar, featuring tanned wood. There is more seating inside, using stools to make best use of the smaller space. Outside has been updated too, but keeps the same feel, though I have chosen to sit inside both times I’ve dined here.

Calamari

Over those couple of times, both alone, and with Catherine too, every dish I’ve tried has been good. There are selections of both smaller and larger share plates. Of the smaller plates, the broadbean keftedes stand out as both delicious and surprising. Demitri himself recommended them and he was right. They are full of flavour, the broadbeans obviously enhanced with a variety of spices. A combination of feta, honey and figs, is generous. Initially it looks like a lot of feta, but we seemed to keep coming back for more. More intricate is the salmon, fennel and celeriac offering, which pays attention to the subtlety of the salmon, enhancing it with a scattering of fennel.

Chicken skewers

On our way to the more substantial offerings, there is a Greek salad that is exactly the way it should be. Tradition dictating its make up, and it is particularly pleasing to see no lettuce being used as a filler. The calamari is a good size, plenty of golden, briefly fried pieces. The chicken skewers are given a good dose of spice, and are cooked beautifully over a flame. They are a highlight from the larger plates. So are the lamb cutlets, which find the right level of cooking, and again are oozing in flavour.

Lamb cutlets

Demitri’s is offering a collection of simply cooked meats, done well, and a bunch of smaller dishes that show a bit more subtlety and technique. This formula works, and this mezze bar is not looking to change it. There is a well constructed, reasonably diverse list of wine and beer, including a lager that Demitri’s brews themselves. There is no particular zone for each of the floorstaff so you see them all a number of times. Coordination is not so important as the dishes arrive in a dispersed fashion and you are never long without a drink.

Greek salad

The only pain point, and I use this literally, is for people who are not tall using the stools. There might need to be a rethink on them as shorter types like Catherine and I were in a bit of discomfort after the first 45 minutes. It is an easy fix by dining outside, but I do like the atmosphere of being near the bar.

Broadbean keftedes

It is normally a risk to change up a good formula, and let go of the amazing margins on coffee. In this case I am sure it will be a success. Demitri’s Feast is offering a great range of mezze and drinks, with a warmth of hospitality. It is a place where you can go regularly without breaking your budget too.

Demitri's Feast Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

French Saloon – Melbourne, City – Monday 10 April 2017 – Lunch

It is not every day a collection of restaurants has such an impact on a diverse range of dining and drinking experiences. The European, City Wine Shop, and most importantly The Supper Club (and Siglo), are three places that captured my imagination many years ago, and have held it to this day. It seems without even knowing it, the people behind these stunning establishments, have grabbed me in the opposite end of town.

Kirk’s Wine Bar is not a place that grabs your immediate attention. In fact, it looks like a lot of wine bars I’ve been to overseas. It is the feeling here that is special. Somehow many of those I’ve been with there, feel the same way too. The fascinating part is why I feel drawn to it whenever I’m in that part of town, whether shopping, after lunch, for pre-dinner drinks, or pretty much any other time.

Naturally, upstairs was always going to end up capturing my attention. It’s not the same, but the walk up the stairs is a bit like going up to the Supper Club. What is upstairs though is a tribute to the casual dining of France. Not that the French do anything that is actually that casual. The French Saloon is put together in this manner.

There is not a prestigious fitout, and the tables are not overdone, but there is a sense of bistro luxury and a feeling of belonging, even if it is just any other Monday in Autumn. From the greeting to the goodbye, there is an ease about this place. If only the menu were as easy. There was no debate, but after a fair bit of catching up, we really needed to order something.

Chris had his eye on the kingfish which I was happy to share. I like the sound of the spanner crab toast and we ordered one each. It was a great start.

The kingfish is served with delicate presentation, surrounded by thinly sliced cucumber. However, the staff direct you to mix it all up, allowing the sauce to combine with the oil and creating a smart combination. The spanner crab is curiously presented half adorned with avocado, and the other half with salmon roe. The toast works well initially, holding together, until it all falls apart in the last few bites. As you can imagine, using a knife and fork does not inhibit the delicate flavour.

For mains, we had decided to share the Cote de Boeuf, along with a side of fries and of the gem lettuce with anchovy sauce. Having ordered medium rare, the steak seems on the medium side, but was still beautifully tender and well seasoned. The strong jus was absolutely superb, lifting the steak to greater heights. The chips were excellent, while the gem lettuce could have been a touch too powerful with its anchovy dressing, to refresh and dull the impact of the steak and jus.

The Pinot Noir we were drinking from Gippsland was at the suggestion of our waitperson, as the bottle Chris selected was off the list. It was an excellent choice, not necessarily matching our choices perfectly, but versatile enough to enjoy with, or without food. In fact, the service on a reasonably busy Monday lunch was great.

As we finished lunch, I asked Chris about his phone call into 3AW, where he had shared with the breakfast presenters his insights from his experiences at Eleven Madison Park, which had very recently won the title of “world’s best restaurant”. When we walked downstairs Chris saw one of his friends at Kirk’s and he too got asked about the same conversation! Like so many meals, ending it with conversations about other meals seems fitting.

The French Saloon is different to the other offerings of this group, but it has the same hospitable feel and warmth. I’m sold on everything they do, though I almost wish I didn’t know they were all connected.

French Saloon Bar & Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thanks Albert – Mornington – Saturday 15 April 2017 – Dinner

Being reasonably familiar with the Mornington strip, it seems there is a period of renaissance down the Main Street strip. Breaking the habit of going to DOC is difficult, but tonight I felt like trying Thanks Albert, whose burgers have been held in good regard for several months.

It is a nice looking, unassuming space, that is casual enough for families to dine comfortably, but also for a slightly more intimate setting too. There couldn’t be more than thirty seats inside, and outside tonight is out of the question, the autumn chill taking hold over this Easter break.

We are here for burgers, and I’ve always thought the best indication of quality comes from the house burger. If you are going to name a burger after the establishment, it better be one of the better choices. Also after simplicity, Catherine orders the Thanks Albert too, something we don’t often do. Chips are obligatory, of course.

Thanks Albert burger

The main surprise is the quality and diversity of the drinks list. There are several choices for local, Australian and International beers, and the wine list has some nice choices. We settle on a glass of the Margaret River chardonnay on offer, and a pinot noir made in the Yarra Valley. Service, whilst in a very casual place, is actually great, our waitperson taking more time than normal to go through the specials, and some tips for beginners here.

One of those specials was a very reasonable offer of two burgers, and the Easter dessert special. We didn’t go for it, only because there was an earlier agreement for Tutti Frutti gelato afterwards, which is a fantastic, off-strip, gelateria.

When the burger arrived, our already eager appetite grew stronger. The patty, cooked medium, is doused in cheese, with good looking pickles, in a brioche bun. We had earlier commented on the number of great looking pickle jars on the wall used as a display, and were glad the signature burger included several thickly sliced ones. The first few bites, with our hunger at its peak, were probably the better ones, but it is good quality, and a generous serving. The crinkle cut chips with paprika dusting were excellent, filling up any last gap in our appetite!

As we walked off our burgers, going up and down the strip, we quickly realised it is not just Thanks Albert that is making a more recent positive impact on the quality of dining in Mornington. There are several great looking options and we must go more out of our way to try them. Two that looked particularly appealing were Mr Jackson, and Play the Fool. Thanks Albert must be a welcome addition for locals and tourists alike. Next time we’ll need to sample a few more of the beverages on offer too.

Thanks Albert Burger Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bar Lourinha – Melbourne, City – Monday 17 April 2017 – Dinner

Yellowtail kingfish ‘pancetta’ & lemon oil

Great places do not get old. They have a personality. Like people, some personalities wear thin after many years, and some become old friends.

While I’ve been many times, it wouldn’t add up to once a year since opening. I’m pretty sure the staff have turned-over in their entirety several times. Yet, there is something about this simply furnished restaurant with a dominant bar, that stays fresh.

At the time Bar Lourinha opened, it was a trend setter. Spanish tapas was not new, but it was waiting for a further push. Add to this novel concepts of the time like “no bookings”, the unusual location on Little Collins Street, and that added ingredient of intrigue, and you have a recipe for a hot restaurant.

Merimbula oysters

It has now been open for over a decade. While Bar Lourinha is no longer the trend setter, it is now part of a restaurant culture that makes Melbourne one of the best CBDs in the world to eat in. It is a part of my personal restaurant folklore, and I’m sure many other Melburnians.

Tonight it is yet another meal here, spending the evening with friends after a performance by Stephen K Amos during the Comedy Festival. Natalie is a pescetarian and there are heaps of non-meat options so we are covered. Her other half, Jason, thankfully chooses one meat dish after I twist his arm!

We share several plates that include some Merimbula oysters, fritters of salted cod (bacalau), kingfish, mussels, pumpkin, mushrooms, and chorizo. The Merimbula oysters are fantastic; but the fritters are a bit too dominated by the potato, to fully appreciate the flavour of the cod.

Roasted mushrooms & garlic cream

In a flash we have one of my long time favourite dishes here. The kingfish is simply plated, but always has a glorious flavour, like they get access to some of the best cuts. At the time it became a signature, you would not find kingfish on every second menu, and incredibly it is no less special here. The mushrooms are the other “everytime” dish. Sitting in a garlic cream sauce, they are always beautifully cooked, keeping firm and juicy.

Mussels, pimenton ‘El Angel’, burnt butter & bread

The mussels were recommended by one of our several waitpersons. Funnily, one of them was always about 20 seconds behind another one, sounding like a round musical composition of “row your boat”. We were asked for water twice, given the specials twice (which was fun trying to remember the ingredients), and eventually the entire system broke down literally. It seems they couldn’t catch a break as when we asked for the bill, they asked for us to wait a little (please). This does not mean the staff were bad, it was actually decent service, but there was a lack of coordination.

Back to the mussels, and the sweet paprika (pimenton) with burnt butter, and they are superb. A terrific recommendation, and a special dish. Like most tapas you are left wanting more. On the flip side, the heirloom pumpkin dish just didn’t work for me, even with some texture from the freekeh and chestnuts. A return came with the chorizo which was served as two sausages and a tenderly cooked potato. While the potato was nice, it was more of a filler, but the chorizo had the richness that we all love it for.

Cheese selection

With some great wines on both the by the glass and the longer list, we ordered a bottle of the Vinho Verde from Portugal by Quinta do Ameal. Catherine and I had come in for a drink the week before (which is where we got the idea to return for dinner) and this is a wonderful white wine with great mouthfeel and balance. I also tried the cabernet franc by the glass which I’d had my eye on the week before, and I’m keen to try some more!

Churros y dulce de laeche

Not quite completely full, we shared a cheeseboard and some churros to finish. The cheeseboard featured some gorgonzola, manchego, and a softer offering that I can’t recall. It is great to enjoy some cheese while still having an appetite. The churros on the other hand don’t require an appetite. I could keep going on these expertly prepared doughnuts in dulce de leche until the restaurant runs out.

I call Bar Lourinha an institution. That might be wrong, but to me it feels like one. I feel comfortable here and everything is familiar and fantastic. Sure, if this were my first visit it might not have that same exact character, but to me it is a favourite.

Bar Lourinhã Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Africola – Adelaide – Wednesday 15 March 2017 – Dinner

Octopus

It’s great to be back in Adelaide. It’s a hot and dry day and I’m on my way to Africola for the first time. I rarely have high expectations when I don’t really know what to expect, but that is the case tonight.

Having never looked at their menu, and only having walked past briefly some time ago, how could I have such high expectations? It comes completely down to the hype surrounding this establishment. Relating this back to Melbourne the hype is Chin Chin-esque.

Chickpea salad

The restaurant is wide-fronted and has a wide entrance giving that casual breezy feel, especially when it is still over 30 degrees. There is plenty of staff, all on the hipster side of the ledger. They are enthusiastic and knowledgeable throughout, but they are also not passive on the upsell.

Peri Peri Chicken

The menu is designed to share and I recommend deciding for yourself. While there is a $65 feed me option, having a couple of meat dishes, a veg, and a seafood, went the distance to my mind. The veg dish was a mixed leaf with deep fried chickpeas, and it was fine, but you don’t win friends with salad.

Flank steak

The octopus had much more to it, with a great spicy dressing. The flank steak was on the less generous side, but was perfectly cooked, and came with a huge piece of bone marrow which made the dish in my opinion. The beetroot and other accompaniments were terrific too. Finally, the peri peri chicken was nicely cooked, and the wilted radicchio worked well with the smokey, and well spiced chicken.

This is an enjoyable restaurant, but I am struggling to work out why it is the subject of such praise. The dishes, designed to share, have been very nice, but not one has really wowed me. The service too, has been good, but there is some uneasiness there too. In some restaurants you immediately feel comfortable. Here there is that little bit of pressure when the waitstaff suggest something that you don’t wish for. It is not like they are unfriendly, but there is a slight uneasy feel.

Adelaide is going from strength to strength in terms of its restaurant and bar offerings. The depth of great places that I want to try one by one each time I’m here is only growing. Africola has been one of those places for a long time, and I probably need to give it another go. Sometimes you cannot help but have certain expectations, and they were perhaps overinflated this time around.

Africola Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monster Kitchen and Bar – Canberra – Thursday 30 March 2017 – Dinner

“Striking” is a good way to describe more than one aspect of Monster Kitchen and Bar. In a way, it is aptly named because it is an absolute beast. It is not unlike stepping off the Millennium Falcon into a combination of the woods of Endor and one of the modern space cities.

It is impossible not to think of Jenga looking at the jumble of wood that is a theme throughout this new precinct that includes Hotel Hotel and its lobby restaurant, Monster. The reference to fun and youth continues, with our rhombus shaped table, which is surprisingly functional.

Heirloom tomatoes, peach, spiced feta, cumin oil, rose

It is at this stage as we are seated that the enormity of the space hits me. It is not the sole blame for slightly distracted service, but it must be a root cause. Floorstaff are not gliding as you often see in a restaurant of this calibre, but are almost trying to not loiter in any of the vast spaces. There were certainly some nice touches, but there were instances of amateur mistakes that you wouldn’t expect. Those mistakes had little impact on the meal as a whole.

We were eating as a group of four and eager to try a good number of dishes. Alice is a proper vegetarian, so it was important to select wisely, and she had done her research. One nice pick-up by our waitperson was the fact that one of the dishes with tofu actually contained a bonito (fish) based sauce, which was elegantly swapped with mirim.

38 hour pork neck bao, cucumber kimchi

Having ordered a serious selection of the menu, we were presented with our first taste, which was memorable. Michael, Catherine and I tried the 38 hour pork neck bao with cucumber kimchi, and it was seriously good. Then came a flurry of dishes containing a list of ingredients any farmer’s market would be satisfied with.

Honey roasted carrots, moghrabieh, harissa, almonds

Of the vegetarian dishes (tofu included), my easy favourite, and one of the better dishes I’ve tried this year, was the honey roasted carrots with moghrabieh, harissa, and almonds. The large cous cous style moghrabieh was so delightfully flavoured with harissa, and textured with almonds, that the carrots took a back seat. As often is the case with a lot of shared dishes, there are some left at the table never to be seen to again, but with this dish I went back for more until there was nothing left!

Fried tofu, pickled shitake, mirim soy, spring onion oil, sesame

The tofu dish was well constructed and pleasant; the heirloom tomatoes adequate; and the eggplant very good. The fact we had been discussing eggplant earlier at our friend’s house prior to dinner, and how difficult it could be, gave even more merit to this wonderful dish, accompanied by smoked goat’s cheese, katsuobushi, and sesame. It was about at this point where we had finished off a bottle of local Canberra chardonnay made by Mount Madura which was beautifully made, and paired well with the earlier dishes.

WA octopus, chorizo, corn, black garlic

Going on to a bottle of local Sangiovese from Lark Hill we began our journey of the non-vegetarian dishes, deciding after a lot of friendly debate on the octopus and duck. While the octopus was uninspiring, taking a back seat to the chorizo and blackened corn; the duck was very nicely cooked, bonding with the guanciale, fresh fig, and caremalised onion, to make for a terrific final savoury dish.

Pear, olive oil, lemon, thyme

It was at this point that a cleansing ale was needed, and the Moo Brew dark ale did a great job at that task, and worked fine with dessert too. We really didn’t need dessert, but after such a nice meal, we wanted to try! Michael and Alice shared the ”chocolate, sea salt, peanut, burnt butter ice cream” and we shared the “pear, olive oil, lemon, thyme”.

Chocolate, sea salt, peanut, burnt butter ice cream

The first thing that showed was the technique of the pastry chefs was clearly of a high quality. While I felt a bit of menu envy at the chocolate dish that had won praise, especially for the peanut caramel, I enjoyed the lighter tones of the pear and lemon.

Monster really hits you in a good way. Even the trip to the toilet is an adventure in design. It wasn’t until we left through a different entrance that we even realized we were eating in an open hotel lobby. There is nothing hotel-y in the feel at all and it is a quality package that is being offered in this unusual restaurant.

Monster Kitchen and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bills – Surry Hills – Saturday 1 April 2017 – Breakfast

A big change is needed for tourists enjoying holidays in the Sydney CBD. There are very few worthwhile breakfast options in the city that have great coffee and diverse food choices. Not loving the thought of eating at a hotel buffet, we had no choice but to go out to the inner suburbs.

It is surprising, but there are not a huge amount of must try cafes near the city, and several good options are shut on the weekend. In the end we took the easy option and chose to meet friends at Bills in Surry Hills.

Bills is an institution. It has all the ingredients that you need for a successful café. Fame, quality food, decent coffee, good waitstaff, and a nice good looking fitout. It is a script that Bill Granger has used around Sydney and as far as London. I can tell you right now that you could not do exactly the same in Melbourne and expect as much success.

We were here for a good time but not a long time, which factored in the obligatory 20 minute wait. Ordering quickly, most of us had scrambled eggs and bacon, which was good quality. Catherine changed up to avocado toast, and again it was a nicely executed classic. The orange juice was fresh and sweet, and the coffee was nice enough, albeit plain.

There are little things here that you need to deal with though. For a start, our friend Simon (a chef himself) couldn’t believe there was no option for eggs on toast other than scrambled. Putting two and two together it would appear that the chefs don’t want to do poached, or the kitchen is too small to do regularly, or a bit of both. There are poached eggs offered as part of some dishes, and fried too, but not simply with toast and a side or two.

I came here knowing these things, and still decided to come. The reason is simple. There are not a lot of good options on the way to Randwick and I know you can depend on Bills. There is a good chance I’ll be back again next time, or the time after.

Bills Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato