The Grand Hotel – Richmond – Friday 8 May 2015 – Dinner

Bombolini

Bombolini

Dining at The Grand Hotel in Richmond feels like a rite of passage event for a local. It simply needs to be done. Preferably, multiple times.

This oasis in a busy pub, the square room on the front right corner, is warm and inviting, with some familiar faces that have been here since my first experience almost a decade ago. Back then you needed to explain to many what a gastropub was, although I must admit the word still doesn’t really sit well for me. What it encapsulates, on the other hand, does it for me every day of the week.

Now, there are many gastropubs and a handful are probably better these days, but this was my first, and remains special. While the room is well spaced, there is hardly even room for the maitre’d to greet guests. Tonight we are close to the entrance, which isn’t quite as intimate as the back wall, but is still very nice.

Tagliatelle con ragu bianco

Tagliatelle con ragu bianco

There are minor hiccups on service such as not asking what water we’d like, and a bit of delay at certain times on ordering or food delivery, but what stands out is the down to earth nature of the floor staff, and genuine effort to help you enjoy your meal.

The touches you like and expect of good Italian such as olives, and bread with olive oil, are part of the experience. The pasta is homemade and we have to try at least one. We order the main sized venison and beef ragu with tagliatelle to share for entree. The pasta is al dente but on the border line of being too firm in the first few bites. Once the sauce has had some time to further cook the pasta, each mouthful gets better and better, with the richness and depth of flavour in the ragu absolutely delightful.

Anatra arrosto con gnocchi alla Romana

Anatra arrosto con gnocchi alla Romana

For main Catherine orders the duck and I get the goat which is a special tonight. We also share the zucchini and parmigiano as a side. My goat is stewed and the meat is delicious but such is the trickiness of goat that finding the meat amongst the bones is an adventure in itself. The potatoes, cherry tomato, and olives in the sauce are fantastic. The fried polenta is great to start but gets a bit heavy and I think soft polenta would combine better with the sauce.

Catherine’s duck was generous in size, basically a half duck covering the plate with a nice orange and juniper berry sauce, and semolina gnocchi. The duck is roasted, perhaps a touch overcooked, but still has plenty of gamy flavour. It definitely needed the side to balance some of the rich flavour, and the zucchini was nicely grilled. Given the duck was a touch dry it would have been better with some more sauce, but a good dish all the same.

Goat with fried polenta

Goat with fried polenta

We washed our main down with the particularly luscious Terre Del Barolo Barbera D’Alba 2010 from Piemonte. Sometimes I wouldn’t mention the full name, but this is as much a note for me as the review as I’ll be going out of my way to find this wine for the personal collection. That savouriness and body that I love in many Italian wines, along with fruit that is elevated when combined with food.

For dessert we tried to, but could not go past, the bombolini, which are crema pasticcera filled doughnuts with a side of caramel ice cream and honeycomb for some texture. They used to be filled with ice cream, but I like the new take, which is still perfect to share. Every component is well made and together this classical combination just makes perfect dessert sense.

Whilst in a pub (albeit a classier one than the usual), this dining room has a sense of luxury and elegance that is hard to manufacture. The food continues to be well above par, and the service meets the brief. The Grand continues to be an important part of Richmond dining.

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Porgie + Mr Jones – Hawthorn – Sunday 3 May 2015 – Breakfast

Golden folded scrambles with goats cheese, chilli + basil on grain toast

Golden folded scrambles with goats cheese, chilli + basil on grain toast with a side of bacon

It is okay that someone is on their second day of service. It’s not easy finding waitstaff and everyone has to start somewhere. Support should be given to the newbie, and mistakes corrected. Initial training wouldn’t go astray either, like familiarity with the food and drink offerings.

There is a gap here and I’m not blaming the new waitperson. I am going to blame the support, and overall structure of Porgie + Mr Jones which was once at the top of its game and seemingly now is resting on its laurels.

I asked what the single origin is and got a blank look so I said I thought I saw on the board that there is one offered. Our waitperson apologised and said they didn’t know what a single origin was and would check. All fine. When they confirmed there was one, I duly ordered it.

My golden folded scrambled eggs with goat’s cheese, basil, and chilli came out neatly presented. Each mouthful was delicious, especially those with a good helping of the gorgeous goat’s cheese. I had a side of bacon that was nice and crispy, and adding it certainly didn’t take anything away from the other flavours.
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Catherine and her Mum tried the McPorgie which I had recommended to them. A while ago I could have sworn these were cooked fresh to order, but these days they certainly are not. The flavours of the Emmental cheese, ham off the bone, and scrambled eggs, are still nice inside the muffin, but not amazing. The egg is a little greyish inside confirming they are not fresh, and they are not consistently warmed inside either. When I used to order them they came out almost steaming with fresh golden scrambled eggs (like mine today) that melted the cheese into a gooey consistency.

Prior to receiving our food I started to wonder where my coffee had gotten to. I ordered as we had sat down, even before Catherine and her Mum ordered their juices. It eventually arrived after I asked (the table seated ten minutes after us already had their lattes so I knew it had been missed) but the juices didn’t come until after all of us had finished or were close to finishing our meals.

The second waitperson we had asked just expected they’d arrived (fair enough), but realised they were missed again just after we’d had to ask a third waitperson. It couldn’t have been an issue on juicing with at least one because it was out of a pre-packaged juice bottle (for $7). While Catherine’s Mum’s green kale based juice didn’t leave a sour taste in her mouth, the wait left had one in mine. We don’t often get an opportunity to take her to breakfast, and were a little embarrassed at placing our trust here.

I’ve been to Porgie at least five times. It is generally good, and started off great years ago, but you can’t have issues like this, not offer any apology or explanation (between three waitstaff), not offer any consolation whatsoever, and expect for me to come back. This type of thing only slips through when there is a more prolific issue underlying the operation of a cafe. There are too many other great cafes around Melbourne to let this experience pass through to the keeper.

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Reunion & Co – Richmond – Saturday 2 May 2015 – Breakfast

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There is instantly a reason for coming back here. The Vic Meats bacon, is cut thick, and oozes with flavour, and the fat is rendered beautifully. It is not the only delightful ingredient being plated here though.

Being a regular to the area close to Lumberjack and Touchwood it was never going to be long before trying Reunion & Co. What I didn’t initially appreciate is that Reunion has only been open for six days!

When several of us tried to grab a table for lunch on Wednesday it was full. I noticed then that there is a lot of space in the cafe, and that the predominant table setting was for two. It’s a lovely old room, previously a furniture store, but with more history than that, and gorgeous stained glass windows welcoming your entry. Coming back this morning I thought Catherine and I must be a good chance for a table for two and we were only waiting for a couple of minutes when that table came up.

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The Allpress coffee is a good standard, well made by the barista using a La Marzocco machine. Juices are supplied by Noah’s; Catherine’s “Summer Lovin'” very nice with apple, mango, peach, kiwi and lime. The food is the focus here though.

Catherine asked about the bircher, which is done in a coconut milk, and our waitperson confirmed it was quite sweet so she opted instead for the staple bacon and poached eggs. I decided to adventure this morning, and ordered the “house cured trout congo & kipfler potato, beetroot relish, goats curd and poached eggs on toast”. The house cured trout was superb, the absolute star of the dish, and combined well with the other ingredients, especially the relish and curd. I’d suggest the generous serving of potatoes is reduced a touch, and cut thinner, as several bites were dominated by it, until I decided to leave half of them alone, and let the trout sing without competition. The presentation of the dish is immaculate.

The bacon serving is extremely generous, and is amazingly flavoursome. Catherine’s poached eggs were cooked perfectly too. The only critique would be toast that is not buttered, and then having to wait over a minute to get any butter. Personally, I think the toast should be buttered, but if it is not, at least have butter on the table.

Which brings me to the service. The maitre’d is great and was pinch hitting for some of the misses by the floor, which is good to see. Not realising the cafe was doing its first Saturday I can accept some of the service misses, especially since everyone was polite and friendly. I’m confident a few aspects will be ironed out quickly but I did notice issues from delivery to the right tables, to providing the right bill, but as I said it is the first week and nothing overly important impacted our enjoyment of our breakfast.

It’s good to see another attractive cafe in Richmond that is serving some differentiated dishes, good coffee, and has the makings of a potential regular.

Reunion & Co on Urbanspoon

Bourke Street Bakery – Surry Hills – Numerous Occasions

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Rarely do we fall in love at first sight when it comes to restaurants. Many times we have an amazing experience, but cannot afford to go back any time soon, or want to try a new experience given the price tag.

Is that why we often say we “love” places like bakeries and gelaterias when trying to explain our affinity towards them? Many times I have said I love Messina or Beechworth Bakery and well and truly adding to a reasonably long list is the Bourke Street Bakery. There are numerous outposts but Surry Hills is the original.

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More than once over the Easter weekend, we were here for lunch or afternoon tea. It was Catherine’s first time and the way I described it was “everything is good – pies, croissants, cakes, breads – everything!” Luckily I didn’t ruin her experience with a heightened expectation that could not be met. Even the coffee is pretty good here.

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The pistachio creme brûlée may have been the ultimate sweet from the selection we tried over a few days but only a short margin away was the brandied prune custard tart, rhubarb and almond tart, and the lemon curd tart.

While on Good Friday we tried a vegetarian sausage roll with eggplant, the best savoury was our pie with beef brisket on the Sunday which had enough red wine sauce (and mushroom) to not need any of the tomato variety added.

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Something that made some of these treats taste even better was eating them at the harbour beach in Vaucluse. While it might be called “Shark Beach” there is nothing dangerous about it – one of the great inner harbour beaches Sydney has to offer, complete with a shark net just in case.

This bakery makes a beeline towards complete and utter happiness, not to mention yet another love.

Bourke Street Bakery on Urbanspoon

Sunday roast at Four In Hand – Paddington – Sunday 5 April 2015 – Dinner

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A few years before Four In Hand became better known for its executive chef, it was better known for honest rustic British food celebrating the nose to tail concept. While it is now better known in broader circles for Colin Fassnidge of the reality television show, My Kitchen Rules, the locals have continued to flock to the warm pub and dining room.

On Sunday’s, a roast is offered for an extremely reasonable $24. Having no idea how long we might have to wait on Easter Sunday for a feed, Catherine and I got to the pub a little after 5pm and had no trouble finding a table in the pub dining room, tucked away from the main bar. There is plenty of atmosphere with standing room only in the main bar, most watching one or both the rugby and AFL on TVs around the venue. At this stage, the main dining room is just being set up for the evening’s more formal punters.

If it wasn’t for the great feeling of the pub, its applauded food, and the opportunity to catch some of the game, this pub in the suburban part of Paddington could be missed by most. Even on the third visit it still feels like you have uncovered a hidden secret. We go up to the bar to order our roast but it has changed from the pork belly (that looked amazing on some other tables) to the beef.

We will never know how the pork belly tasted, but the beef was cooked perfectly for most tastes (medium rare). The rustic plating true to what we experienced in country England for similar meals included huge roasted carrot, pumpkin, onion, and some small potatoes. All of the vegetables were beautifully cooked and seasoned, with a good amount of caramelisation. The gravy was good, but definitely not generous enough given the quantity of the main ingredients, meaning the only critique would be the last few mouthfuls having almost no sauce at all.

Whether washed down with a glass of red wine, or a pint of beer, there is warmth and reassurance about a Sunday roast this good. It’s not rocket science to do a great roast, but how often can you find this type of amazing and honest food at your average pub? If Four In Hand were around the corner, down the road, or within a few suburbs, I would be there more than once a month. The locals here are extremely lucky.

Four in Hand on Urbanspoon

Coffee and scrambled eggs – part 2

Still feeling wanting from my scrambled eggs miss from a couple of days prior at Sprolo I ordered the same again.

Boucla Kafenion is a cafe I’ve occasionally grabbed a coffee from while visiting Jean Claude Patisserie for any one or more of baguette, pie, cake or bread. The coffee is passable and not bad but the focus is not specifically on coffee so my hope is the food is excellent.

It’s a nice place and sitting out the front on a sunny morning is perfect. It is busy and the staff are in good spirits. However it is also the sixth cafe I’ve visited in a row in Perth that has no table service. I still don’t understand why it is so hard?

So as I eluded to, I ordered the scrambled eggs on toast. They are presented in a cool rustic terracotta plate with high edges. Once I got over the fact that again the bread was not buttered (and further no butter was offered) I then had to wait for some salt and pepper. Now I was ready and all I can say is breakfast was plain. I needed to add salt three times which I never ever do, nor should need to.

I don’t want to go on, but I can do passable scrambled eggs at home, adding a touch of Parmesan for extra flavour and making sure they are slowly cooked to retain moisture and fluffiness. It is not hard but yet I can never match the best cafes and their cream additions and extra saltiness that many home cooks just can’t morally throw in. It is one thing to know what is added, and another thing to add it yourself! Well, I can beat (pardon the pun) these eggs, and I can butter toast.

I won’t be back at Boucla. It really is a nice spot but around the corner is Little Pantry and there are other places I haven’t yet tried. It’s time for some surprises and improvement.

Boucla Kafenion on Urbanspoon

Coffee and scrambled eggs – part 1

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Normally coffee on my way to work in Perth is via Hay Street’s Bench Espresso. However, Perth is in a state of grand development along Riverside Drive and as usual, where there is development, traffic flow stops as a result. Tired of coffee becoming an outlandish adventure through crosstown traffic, new options were needed.

Introduce Sprolo on Canning Highway in South Perth. Easy parking and the promise of some of Perth’s best coffee led me there but would the change bring rewards or regret?

Focussing on the coffee, it is indeed superb. The guys here seem to tag team as baristas and are both very good at their craft. There are several types on offer between blends and single origins. The long black comes in a small cup which is perfect for me, preferring not too much hot water in addition to the just extracted espresso. Normally in Perth I have to order “half full” but not here.

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The barista chooses the coffee to match your order and in this case selected the Etude blend by Blacklist Coffee Roasters for my long black. It is almost like syphon coffee in its subtlety and continuity of flavour, without the robustness normally associated with black coffee. I came here two mornings in a row and was pleased to be remembered by the guys on the second morning, with the barista offering for me to try a single origin but such was the coffee the day before that I opted for the blend again.

Back to the first morning though and I was here early. The coffee machine was naturally on and ready as the opening time is 7am. However, the kitchen opens at 8am. Needing to eat at 8am or just after at the latest I asked whether the chef could organise my breakfast earlier if they were to arrive before 8am? I was a little bemused to hear that the chef was there out back but was prepping for the day. Sprolo is going well, but that is almost like throwing money out the door for someone who can’t wait. I can’t think of one place in Melbourne where I’ve been told similar.

I’m pleased to say that my scrambled eggs and toast arrived at 7.50am which is a credit to the staff for breaking the rule. Unfortunately in this coffee temple, the food in this case took a backseat. The toast is not buttered (a pet gripe), but worse than that, with the scrambled eggs presented in a side bowl, there was a watery residue surrounding them in the bowl that may have escaped had they been presented normally. The presentation was not bettered by the taste and even with the addition of a lot of salt and pepper, I just couldn’t finish. It was like eating scrambled eggs out of a buffet bain marie.

On the one hand this place has superb coffee that I will continue to go back for on future visits to Perth, but on the other, misses with simple breakfast dishes are unforgivable. It is time for the food to match the coffee without any exceptions.

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