Laura – Pt Leo Estate – Mornington Peninsula – Sunday 28 July 2019 – Lunch

Hawkes Farm potato duchess, cauliflower, shiitake

Inventiveness is in the eye of the beholder. As we experience an incredible lunch, I cannot help but think aspects of Pt Leo Estate, and it’s flagship restaurant, Laura, have been done before, but feel completely new.

It might be the combination of the winery, restaurant, and sculpture garden, but it’s not. As I walk in, I have a Port Phillip Estate feeling; the sculpture garden and outlook has a McClelland Gallery and Jackalope vibe; and the winery with its long rectangular shape, featuring floor to ceiling windows, has been done before. The view is magnificent by the way. Whatever it is, this place feels special. It feels different.

 

Nori tart, creme fraiche, bottarga; Rice bun, The Fruit Forest medlar relish

It has the persona of a country restaurant that is run by experienced heads who have seen it all and decided they would rather the countryside ocean views, instead of the cityscape. We got a sense of the journey and ethos of Laura during our several courses of the tasting menu, but it was barely scratching the surface.

Cochranes celery, pear, oyster, Brazilian starfish tabasco

Laura is versatile. With so many sensory delights you have enough going on around you to be comfortable to not have any awkward pauses on a first date; or in our case, parents who’ve left their infant for the first time catching up, and getting caught up in the amazement of it all. You could make a long day of it too, with the cellar door doing extensive wine tasting, the sculpture garden providing plenty of distraction, and a nice long lunch rounding out the adventure.

We make a start on proceedings with some brioche buns that we double up on through the meal. It’s a nice touch and we did notice sourdough being offered to those who don’t subscribe to the beauty that is brioche. Like much of the produce, the olive oil here is local to the region from nearby Cape Schanck.

Starters consist of a spoonful of potato and Main Ridge Daily dumpling with radish, scattered with cheese; a nori tart filled with homemade crème fraiche and sprinkled with bottarga is absolutely gorgeous and salty; and a rice cake with unusual fruit called medlar produced into a relish, again shows off the local small producers.

Roast Great Ocean Road duck, Port Phillip scallop frill, Mossy Willow lenticchie

Western Port Bay Wagyu beef, almonds, polenta

For our first entrée we are presented with a nice combination of thinly sliced pear, oyster, mushrooms, celery stalk and leaves, in a creamy sauce with a touch of tabasco. It is an intriguing combination which I tried with, and without, the pear, and settled on the pear being a key component. Equally a fruit perhaps a touch less sweet would be good too.

Thoughtful sides of sliced pumpkin, and eggplant

Incredibly well thought through Hawkes Farm potato is presented duchess style with beurre blanc sauce surrounding. Salmon roe, and sturgeon caviar (as a supplement option) top the potato, which is filled with shiitake mushrooms and cauliflower.  This is a beautiful combination and appears to be a signature of this menu. It brings back memories of the famous Attica potato dish, but is presented more like Attica would today, as opposed to yesteryear.

As we struggled to decide between four main courses that all had their enticing qualities, we asked for help and got the response we didn’t expect, but hugely appreciated. “Why don’t you choose two and split them between you?” These mains both came out as separate courses, plated for each of us. It was a tremendous way to do it, both with half glasses of wine which they also accommodate.

Custard fondant, last season’s berries, liquorice

The Great Ocean Road duck is roasted and classically presented, with a less classical Mossy Willow “lenticchie” which is described (and tastes) like a minestrone broth. Next door, the Port Philip scallop frill is a Swiss chard leaf filled with lentils and chickpeas. It is beauty on a plate.

The secondary cut of Western Port Bay Wagyu blade is corned and thinly sliced, oozing with flavour and enveloping a perfect polenta. A delightful veal jus is used as the sauce, with slithered almonds scattered on top. Nothing is out of place and the flavours work seamlessly together. Even the sides are thoughtful with some extra depth of flavour and inventiveness.

Following a superb refresher, our beautiful dessert consisting of a custard fondant and foam of liquorice with last season’s berries and some tiny meringues has the sweetness we love, and the technique only great pastry chefs can achieve. That technique is further proven with a superb white opera cake, which is presented as a birthday bonus!

Wines we chose included the 2011 Chardonnay and 2016 Pinot by Pt Leo Estate, as well as a Bordeaux Cabernet blend which were all fantastic. Aperitifs consisted of Four Pillars G&T and the house mocktail which is also beautiful.

As we enjoyed quality dish after quality dish, we had begun to question whether the service was the perfect match to the food. There were some clear misses. While the sommerlier, Andrew, was personable and polite, he did go missing after we had ordered our aperitif. In fact, we didn’t actually get asked whether we wanted the matching wines, or if we needed help selecting glasses for our various courses.

What made up for some of the time trying to catch the floorstaff’s glance on more than a couple of occasions, was the overall professionalism and balanced demeanour shown, which showed a good amount of broad experience. Our best waitperson had a background at Attica, Cutler and Pei Modern, for example.

While there are some improvements that could be made, this is a class act at Laura. Strolling around the sculpture garden following lunch (complimentary for those dining at Laura) is a fabulous way to reflect on a top meal. These are views that you could never tire of and a restaurant that is equally as attractive.

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

Advertisements

Tansy’s – Kyneton – Friday 28 June 2019 – Lunch

A stir has been created by an unassuming restaurant a little over an hour outside of Melbourne. I was not in Melbourne in the last decades of the twentieth century, but I have been aware of the legend that is Tansy Good for a few years. As if fate had dictated, when I arrived as a fresh faced thirty something at GE, little did my colleagues know that a food lover was in their midst, and little did I know they had a big secret hidden out the back of our office building!

It turned out that down the lane at the Burnley Horticultural Campus of Melbourne Uni, a famous chef was making delicious soups and chicken sandwiches in the Campus café. Along with her other half, John Evans, they made an interesting team with an air of confidence about them. Until it was explained to me by my learned colleagues, I had no idea why the food was so far above standard.

Roasted Jerusalem artichoke and celeriac soup with seared Abrolhos Island scallops

There are multiple reasons for my excitement about our adventure to Tansy’s in Kyneton. Yes, a long lunch in the countryside awaits; and I have a day off; but my fellow diners are all family – wife, Mum, Aunt and son – which is a first given little Sydney is eight weeks old!

Herb and lemon soused sardines

The warning that things move slowly at Tansy’s is completely tempered by the fact we have an infant in attendance, and we are happy to settle in to this gorgeous cosy restaurant for the rest of the afternoon. It takes time for John to warm to us but we win him over and get to have a good chat as the rest of the tables vacate, with minimal disruption from Sydney (maybe a little). It’s nice to also have a chat to Tansy towards the end of service and compliment her wonderful dishes.

After all, the food is what we are here for. The menu is that perfect balance of variety and brevity. As we taste each others entrees there is the feeling of content that you have when you know you’ll be back to try the dishes you missed, or wanted to have more of. The best example of Tansy’s prowess is Catherine’s soup. Beautifully seared Abrolhos Island scallops, sitting in a roasted Jerusalem artichoke and celeriac soup, is presented with flair that we didn’t necessarily expect, and the depth of flavour is immaculate.

Goats’ cheese and herb tart

My goats’ cheese and herb tart is one of those dishes that once upon a time was new and exciting. Perhaps the over abundance since removed some of that joy, but this tart is seriously good, and I ordered it because I had confidence it would be an excellent example. The pastry is thin and crisp, and Tansy gets the balance right between too fluffy and too dense. The subtle flavours are enhanced with perfect seasoning, next to a simple leafy salad that screams experience with the right flavour and amount of dressing.

Both Sher’s sardines, and my Mum, Libbi’s, rabbit and pork rillette, are classics, which need to be very well executed to meet the next level of cookery – and they are next level.

Fillet of beef with crispy potatoes and red wine sauce

With entrees hitting such heights it was hard for the weightier mains to meet the same realms. While my fillet of beef with crispy potatoes and red wine jus was fantastic, the comfort factor could have been lifted by some extra sauce. Catherine ordered the snapper with braised fennel, mussels, and saffron sauce. My taste of her dish brought back the recent memory of the entrees, where classic flavours combined, and the beauty of executing something difficult, but making it seem simple, was again brought to the fore. Sher and Mum followed suit getting the beef, and snapper, respectively.

Snapper fillet, braised fennel, mussels and saffron sauce

We were all very satisfied at this point. On top of all this great food we had shared a Barbera d’Asti along with a few aperitifs (mine a sour beer by La Sirene; Catherine’s a Tassie sparkling rose). Nothing was going to stop me trying the strawberry and rhubarb tart on the bench near the bar service area. We all shared it, and added some extra scoops of the homemade vanilla ice cream, and strawberry swirl ice cream. Not a crumb was left from a delicious tart that we noticed some locals had stopped in for specifically as afternoon tea.

Rhubarb and strawberry tart with vanilla ice cream

The small personal connection I have with this couple definitely added something to lunch, but there is a feeling in this restaurant that is pure comfort anyway. You are outside of the big smoke and on one of the most beautiful country streets in Victoria dining in a character filled room with a view out to the garden which will be even more stunning in spring. The other waitperson on the floor was terrific and similarly lives close by. Tansy and John moving here to be closer to their family and grandchildren is a big win for Kyneton which has always batted well above average for restaurants. We are already thinking of the next time we can day trip there with Sydney for some more of what Tansy’s cooking.

Tansy’s – 91 Piper Street, Kyneton – Open Thursday to Sunday – Sunday is lunch only – call for bookings on (03) 5422 1392 – no website, or Zomato listing

Lupo – Collingwood – Saturday 8 June 2019 – Lunch

hare capelletti, celeriac, chestnut, mustard fruits

There are many reasons we are trying out Lupo in its first week. Chef Scott Pickett, a good experience at Saint Crispin a few years ago, our love of Italian food, and getting out with our five week youngster for a (hopefully) long lunch. Not without flaws, previous experiences at Estelle, Matilda and Saint Crispin are much better than average, and the trust is there to go when things may still be settling down on the restaurant floor.

Lupo is described as “relaxed” Italian, though I thought relaxed might be a redundant word next to Italian because most Italian experiences are “free from tension and anxiety”! I’m a bit simpler in my description, because I would say Lupo is great. The relaxed part is the feeling that you are in a cute Italian restaurant, that would be as easily run by Nonna, as it would be by Scott Pickett. Here the room is almost kitsch with worn photo frames housing beautiful black and white photos of Italian landmarks and monuments. Even the toilet has its charm.

gnocco fritto, garlic, grana padano

The menu follows the classic segments of antipasti, pasta/risotti, secondi, cortoni and dolci. The dishes however have accents of the contemporary, and are anything but relaxed. The theme is flavour, much like the depth of Matilda, with recognisable Italian dishes that have a tangible difference without going overboard.

sardines, lemon olive oil, fennel pollen

Our first extended lunch with our little boy, we found great hospitality from the first call to make the booking, through to the exit from the restaurant. Earlier in the day I had a friend send me a photo of their hotel room view over the Pantheon in Rome, and now I’m looking at photos of iconic places like Pisa. I feel like I’m in Italy and my wife is half Italian to seal the vibe. When we taste the amuse of gnocco fritto with garlic and grana Padano, we have had a great start. Just that little bit of inventiveness, but so delicious we couldn’t come here without getting them again. Garlic bread will never be the same.

The Laurent-Perrier Champagne, and Italian Soave, are sliding down beautifully, and our antipasti of sardines with lemon and fennel pollen is another dish to come back for over a drink. The sardines are delicate, but the accompanying slow cooked fennel meets the brief. I move to a Nero D’avola and Catherine to a refreshing mocktail.

Brussels sprouts, farro, guanciale

The expert service was responsible for guiding me between two dishes I couldn’t choose between. While I’ll be back for the crab lasagne, the hare capelletti won my vote by a short margin. Neither choice could be wrong, but I was very pleased with the four large parcels of rabbit ragu encased in al dente pasta with the mustard fruit asserting itself in the celeriac and chestnut sauce.  Combined with the Italian red, I again transported out of Melbourne once again.

hand rolled garganelli, nettles, pine mushrooms, macadamia

Catherine’s pasta had a penne styling to it, but it was freshly rolled and longer. The hand rolled garganelli was presented with nettles, pine mushrooms and macadamias. The combination feels unique and it works. The side of Brussels sprouts is ridiculously good, with guanciale (cured pork cheek) and farro, providing that easy lift that Brussels sprouts enjoy.

tiramisu

We felt the serves had been reasonable, and went for dessert anyway! Here we had a hit and a miss. The hit is the tiramisu which has some modern flourishes, but stays true to the flavour profile. It is excellent and the wafer provides an enjoyable texture. The “oops I made a vienetta” needs some work. The name is confusing because it is more a chocolate chip semifreddo with poached quince in their own syrup and slightly salted popcorn to provide some texture. I like sweet desserts but the syrup does dominate it, and the vienetta novelty is lost.

“oops I made a vienetta”

As we finished with some espresso (Nespresso machine, unfortunately) and peppermint tea, we were presented with petit fours to finish. Classic panforte, torrone, biscotti and amaretti (that is awesome) is the perfect end to a delightful lunch.

Lupo is already an Italian magnet on Smith Street early in its life. It feels like it has the makings of an institution, but will Scott Pickett’s imagination allow it to play out in that direction? Let’s hope so.

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

Monk Bodhi Dharma – St Kilda – Saturday 20 April 2019 – Breakfast

I’m entering into dangerous territory writing about vegan / vegetarian food, like a meat-eater watching Dominion. Is there an ulterior motive in the friendly greetings, and the attentive morning service? Based on some earlier coffee / pastry only experiences I can conclusively say there is not.

This is a safe place. There is no need to push an agenda; the agenda is superb coffee and excellent food. Looking around Monk Bodhi Dharma (the cafe, not the person who brought Buddhism to China) you can tell this isn’t your normal cafe. For a start it is not all sleek lines and modern Scandinavian influenced minimalism; it has character. Wooden (read sustainable) stools, benches and tables are jam-packed into a small intimate space.

Chai latte

Suggestively, like bringing Buddhism to China, I have entered a vegan cafe and I’m willing to give myself to it for a meal. I am confident I will not be let down. For a start the coffee is delicious as ever, and two long blacks is a minimum requirement.

On the menu there is a variety of the usual breakfast staples. It is one meal where certainly meat is not a pre-requisite, and the inventiveness or initiative taken in the dishes is dashing. If Catherine didn’t order the zucchini hotcakes, there was a very good chance I was going to, especially having seen another couple of diners enjoying them.

Zucchini hotcakes

They are served in a stack of three, along side beetroot relish, and pickled cucumber dressed with chilli oil, with a side of vegan sour cream (made of mainly cashew, along with soy). The beetroot relish is a winner, with the raisins adding this defined sweetness that lifts each taste of the fritters. The only issue for Catherine was the chilli which is medium, but impossible to get around (because it seeps into the fritters too). If you are not into chilli take note.

Umami mushrooms

I took no time in ordering the umami mushrooms instead. A combination of king oyster, shiitake, oyster and Swiss brown mushrooms are served on pumpkin and polenta bread. A sauce of goats cheese, thyme and red chilli oil, surrounds and engulfs the main elements, making it feel like a close cousin to baked eggs. I took a few bites to decide that I like this dish, and had no trouble finishing. The query I often have with vegetarian food is the liberal use of chilli to add flavour. My only suggestion would be a bit more salt and a bit less chilli, but that is personal preference.

It was an added bonus that Catherine’s chai latte was just as good as my couple of coffees. This place is famous for the quality of its coffee, and certainly that introduction gave me confidence that the food would not let it down. There are several other dishes that we would be happy to try on the likely repeat breakfast visit.

I’ll never be a vegan or a vegetarian but I could survive on this type of existence. As much as I love meat, it is often nothing more than a filler to better elements in a dish. Several times a week we eat vegetarian at home without even thinking about it as such. In a world where excesses, combined with reducing quality of food to meet supermarket demands is the norm, I truly believe we all need to change our habits. Breakfast at MBD is a great way to start!

Monk Bodhi Dharma Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Le Bernardin – New York – Monday 18 June 2018 – Lunch

Lobster – Baked Lobster; Creamy White Corn Polenta; Red Wine-Gumbo Sauce

Wonderful meals are one of a smattering of events that you will never forget. Vivid memories of the best food imaginable, while already in the throes of a relaxing holiday, linger long after the occasionally enormous bill has been paid.

One of the conundrums I have as an eager writer of my restaurant experiences, is when to put the figurative pen to paper. Too many months later and the feelings are still there, but the ability to paint the picture has diminished. Too soon and I might be still basking in the glow of the glorious food (and wine!) I must admit, with my memory, usually without photos or notes I might as well just share someone else’s review.

On this day I can still remember the unrelenting heat. A holiday walker from way back (I did 25km in this incredible city in November in one day) I usually refuse to get transport, but it is very warm, and with a jacket required in the dining room, walking would potentially ruin the day. Even getting out of the Uber and walking to the front door, a curiously unassuming entrance, I was starting to perspire.

I can remember looking around as Catherine, looking amazing as always, and I, walked in to a business-like atmosphere. If it wasn’t for the flashes of ornate furnishings, and comforting banquettes, you could be transported straight from a holiday Monday lunch to a boardroom table sandwich listening to the latest corporate training. The trick, which is not difficult, is to focus on my wife, and not on the boisterous chest-thumping discussions nearby.

Crab – Dungeness “Crab Cake”; Old Bay Crisp; Shellfish-Cardamom Emulsion

I am not making a point here, except that the meal is so vivid. The reason is the whole package is irresistible for anyone who loves the best in food and dining. Gladly lunch involves a prix-fixe arrangement that is not extraordinarily expensive.

Salmon – Barely Cooked Faroe Islands Salmon; Meyer Lemon Confit; Miso-Horseradish Emulsion

Besides the immaculate presentation of close to an entire lobster, the main memory I have of Le Bernardin is the depth of flavour in each dish, and the exquisite sauces that bind the elements together. There was the shellfish-cardamom emulsion that surrounds sublime Dungeness crab cake, topped with a crisp to add both an accent on the presentation, and some texture. There is the colour of barely cooked Faroe Islands salmon, dressed with miso-horseradish emulsion; each taste naturally melting in your mouth.

Lobster – Lacquered Lobster Tail; Tagliatelle; Black Truffle Sauce

Tagliatelle that could not be bettered by an Italian restaurant we have been to, has to share a starring role with lacquered lobster tail, a black truffle sauce gloriously combining the two in an Academy award winning performance. Yes, Catherine was in love with her dishes, but when my own baked lobster arrived there was no envy, just applause. Not only is it the most lobster I’ve enjoyed in this kind of setting, it is the most delicious. The claw looks so good it is difficult to interfere with, but once I have, it is addictive. In between, more than several tastes of the tail, polenta, and red wine gumbo sauce, have me in rapture.

Banana S’more – Warm Chocolate Cake with Caramelized Banana, Smoked Meringue, and Coquito Sauce

As you can sympathise with, dessert could not be better than the savoury courses, but it was not overshadowed by them. Catherine’s banana s’more, and my coffee caramel crémeux, were both insanely good too. Rich, flavour packed, indulgent desserts, are our style, and these ticked all the boxes. The warm chocolate cake, meringue and coquito sauce, are a marriage in heaven; the crémeux, with roasted almond mousse, and bourbon froth spooned at the table, is presented so beautifully that you are initially torn to break in.

COFFEE – Coffee Caramel Crémeux, Roasted Almond Mousse, Bourbon Froth

As you would expect and hope for, service was utterly professional and pleasant throughout. The aspects that you want from a three Michelin Star restaurant are here and are seemingly effortless. As Catherine puts it “you didn’t want for anything” because it was already there. There is a calm, business-like manner in the dining room, and that is not surprising given this is a Monday at lunchtime.

Sometimes when I get to almost a year after an experience I do not feel I can provide an account of that experience authentically. Here the memories live in a special place because the quality of this meal puts it firmly into one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had.

Le Bernardin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Vertue Coffee – Carlton – Numerous Occasions – Breakfast & Lunch

Tamarind Prawn Toast

It is true. I get very excited about what some people think is a necessity. I’m talking about food. While eating well, and drinking good coffee, isn’t a “necessity”, it is really important!

Pea Smash

Well, like my old mate Big Kev, I am excited! Vertue Coffee was actually on my list for so long I had the old name still noted down. “Vertue of the Coffee Drink” was definitely a little bit long for a cafe name. From what I can tell, that is the only mistake the owners have made here. It is cafe heaven and I’ve put my reputation on the line taking some good friends over the past six months.

Funnily enough, Inward Goods, just off Swan Street in Richmond, is the reason Vertue became a must visit. They stock Vertue roasted coffee, changing the single origin every week or so. It is beautiful coffee, and well made by the team at Inward Goods which is one of the crop of bike/cafe venues.

Carlton is not that far from where I live, but the cross-town traffic can be exactly what Jimi talks about. I’ve put that aside and been here four times in about seven months. First on my lonesome, next with Catherine, then good friends Guy and Laura, and finally with my mate Puch. All of the food I’ve eaten here is top quality cafe fare. Dishes like the “Return of the Mac” and “Tamarind Prawn Toast” are quite unique. As you would expect, the coffee is superb.

Return of the Mac

At the back corner of a petrol station, and down a laneway that is pretty ugly, this is a very unusual location. Once inside you are in perfect comfort with an industrial feel, and very high ceilings, allowing daylight to come through in good measure. Service is good on the whole, with the manager particularly attentive to customer needs.

Chai Latte

Catherine’s tried the fried chicken burger, and the pea smash a couple of times. The burger is huge; a brioche bun filled with delicious buttermilk chicken, house slaw and corn aioli. Again a generous serving, and beautifully presented, the pea smash comes with hummus, toasted pepita, and dukkah. It is flavoursome and fresh.

Fried Chicken Burger

My favourite dish is the Tamarind Prawn Toast because it is such an interesting take on what is more of a western Chinese ‘classic’. That flavour from the fried goodness of sesame toast filled with juicy prawns, the freshness of the young coconut apple salad, peanuts, and the gooey fried egg yolk saucing it up. What did initially get me back was the need to have a big appetite to go after the Return of the Mac. This is serious. Mac and cheese croquettes, slow braised ham hock, beetroot puree, beetroot hollandaise and a poached egg. You don’t need me to tell you it works.

Tamarind Prawn Toast (Mac Croquette side)

Vertue has quickly firmed itself into my list of favourite cafes. Food, coffee, service, and venue, all marry each other in perfect harmony.

Vertue Coffee Roasters Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Red Door Corner Store – Northcote – Breakfast

Brioche French toast

I realise I have been to Northcote several times in my ten years in Melbourne. Never do I feel unwelcome, but equally it feels outside of my comfort zone. That all ended at Red Door Corner Store.

Maybe it is the off-High Street aspect? More likely it is because there is nothing to be uncomfortable about in this area any longer. It has changed. No longer only for the hippest Melburnians, Northcote has slowly diversified, offering more, and suiting a wider range of tastes.

Back to Red Door Corner Store. Catherine found it through some research when we felt like something new to try in an area we hadn’t been to for a while. We encountered a nice, warm cafe, nestled in the suburb, with friendly staff, and happy customers.

On that occasion I tried the brioche French toast and I was instantly taken with the dish. The presentation, the champagne poached strawberries, the orange blossom custard, and everything else thrown in, but in beautiful balance. Grilled peach, toasted almonds, mint and maple creme fraiche top it all off. Catherine’s diet has been restricted by pregnancy, but she was pretty envious to say the least.

Homemade crumpets

Both times we’ve been she has settled for the homemade crumpets, which are very nice all the same. Served with Lescure butter, jam and rooftop honey, the jealousy was eased considerably. On the second time around I gave the breakfast staple of poached eggs and bacon a go and was again impressed, albeit by a simpler dish.

The coffee is great too. Both my usual long black, and the heat soothing cold brew, are terrific. Catherine enjoyed her chai lattes as well.

It is always easier to create atmosphere in cafes that use old houses (or corner stores) with their little nooks, and cute outdoor areas, whether in the front, back, or both. Red Door Corner Store captures this with precision, adding great food and coffee, and friendly service, to provide the complete breakfast package.

Red Door Corner Store Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato