Daniel – Upper East Side – Thursday 14 June 2018 – Dinner

We have come from Brandy’s Piano Bar in the Upper East Side and life is incredible. There are certain times you have a meal and the first thing you think about as you go to bed is how you could ever do justice to describing it to your friends and family. Well tonight I’ll try before bed.

As I drink a sour beer from the craft beer shop down the road I am thinking of how to put the experience at Daniel into words. Firstly, it was not perfect, thank goodness. If there was not one small error made I would have nothing to strive for in dining terms. The imperfections were incidental and minor, so this is an absolutely huge night out.

Carotte – chilled carrot veloute with Peekytoe crab, chemoula cream, confit ginger and lovage oil

I’m thinking about the carrot veloute with Peekytoe crab. A cold carrot soup that is indescribably deep in flavour, showing off reasonably generous portions of crab, and slithers of carrot that are heavenly. Combining with the Premier Cru Beaune chardonnay (we got a half bottle), I am in my own little heaven.

Pigeonneau – roasted squab breast with oats, confit legs, barley risotto, fava bean savoury coulis, “Sauce Forestiere”

There is the second ten out of ten course in a row for me with the squab (pigeon) cooked medium rare, crusted in oats, with the most astonishing barley risotto I have ever tasted. The first thing I tasted was that barley, and then the mushrooms, layer on layer of perfectly seasoned flavour making me metaphorically blush for my own attempts at risotto. Then there are the several types of mushrooms accompanying the pigeon, and the chicken jus that is drizzled by the waitperson in a seemingly frivolous manner, but is as important as any other element. The burgundy chosen by the charismatic sommelier tops off the combination but in reality the wine is a bonus.

Saint Jacques – ceviche of Maine sea scallops, finger lime-wasabi vinaigrette, cilantro, avocado mousseline, white sturgeon caviar

At this stage Catherine is pretty much twenty out of twenty too. Her scallop ceviche melts in her mouth. This is not ordinary seafood. Again the seas have swept something special up, and Daniel Bould has elevated it with avocado, finger lime and white sturgeon caviar. The follow up is a fish that is new to us, Arctic Char, that is covered in avocado, and married with asparagus, fennel and sorrel cream to provide another intriguingly familiar but different experience.

Omble Chevalier – Arctic Char poached in a star anise “Court-Bouillon”, fennel, wild asparagus and sorrel cream

As we enjoy our third course, it is childish for me to say that I had a slight envy for Catherine’s wagyu even though I was enjoying the most beautiful medium rare veal tenderloin enveloped in gorgonzola that I’ve ever had. Along with the fregola and veal jus amongst other elements I was not in a position to be jealous. The Nebbiolo dominant wine from Northern Italy was a perfect match too.

Veau – roasted veal tenderloin with chalkidiki olives, toasted fregola, spinach subric, Gorgonzola emulsion with oregano

Catherine’s wagyu was simply outstanding. Looking at the menu it sounds like beef, potatoes and mushrooms. It is and it isn’t. The mushrooms are provided on thin strips of beautifully crisp potatoes and in the form of a “mushroom quiche” that looks more like a mushroom mille-feuille. They are all quite extraordinary. And she got the Graves’ Bordeaux that is Merlot dominant too. A serious winning combination that could rival the pinot-duck and fish-chardonnay match if it was more prevalent.

Wagyu – Scharbauer Ranch Wagyu strip loin, morels, pomme “Pont-Neuf”, green peppercorn sauce

Like interval at a performance, we were talking about where this particular meal stacked up. It is always difficult to determine at the time. All we can say is that dessert met (or was close) to its savoury counterparts. Catherine’s rhubarb dessert was superb from my one taste.

Rhubarbe – Benedictine poached rhubarb, aloe vera, iyokan confit, and rhubarb ice cream

My dessert was more like a work of chocolate art. The first one I finished, but the last that I tasted, was the peppery chocolate ice cream such was its addictiveness. In between the mousse was gorgeous, and the Equadorian grand cru fondant was my start and end with the cream in the middle, and gold leaf, providing the extra edge. A Hungary tokjii was also beautiful to combine, in my humble opinion.

 

As the petit fours of chocolates (pineapple, bergamot, blueberry and raspberry), and house signature Madeleines came out, we were not daunted. We had gone toe to toe with the bread basket too – the baguette, brioche, three grain, and parmesan, all doing their bid for supremacy and the salted butter showing off the beauty of simplicity.

Arriba – Ecuadorian grand cru fondant, timiz pepper cacao ice cream, sage chocolate mousse

Our waitstaff were superb. To fault them would be nitpicking. There was care and attention; professionalism and attention; delicacy and humour. We simply had a wonderful time. It is crazy to imagine there are people out there who get to enjoy this on regular occasions. Unlike that wagyu dish that I want more of, there is no jealousy. We’ve just had an experience that feels like it is once in a lifetime.

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

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Matilda – South Yarra – Monday 30 July 2018 – Dinner

Pink Lady apple tarte tatin, smoked vanilla bean ice cream

The many parts of a restaurant experience that come together in a few short hours are always difficult to capture. Ultimately they translate to an overall whole that dictates your first words to describe the experience, and the likelihood of whether you’ll be back quickly, or ever at all.

What sticks out initially is how we got to Matilda; or rather how we didn’t get to France-Soir. Thinking about an important occasion I had a sudden feeling I’d like to go back to try France-Soir so immediately Catherine called mid-week about 8.45pm to make a booking. The person who answered the phone with no introduction, and asked booking details with no friendliness and a fair bit of rudeness, left us so underwhelmed that we called back the next day to cancel.

Sure, it was during service, but what were we to do when the restaurant only takes phone bookings? You would think they would at least be adept enough to say the name of the restaurant and their own name and then use a couple of please’s and thank you’s. On the flip side a new and trendy restaurant with an online booking service provided a much better introduction to their restaurant!

On the evening of our dinner we were ready well in advance of our booking. We called ahead to the restaurant and the greeting was professional and courteous. The manager welcomed us to arrive early and said we would be seated on the bar and if that was okay to come down early. We love eating on the bar so we came immediately.

Bannockburn 2015 Pinot Noir

Adding to this initial dialogue, the entrance is warm and inviting, and with an equally warm greeting from the staff, plus some unusually endearing service, we were already feeling thoroughly charmed. This is the restaurant of Scott Pickett who has in recent times earned acclaim with Estelle by Scott Pickett in Northcote. Matilda is the culmination of several years of thought and planning, with a focus on cooking with fire, and native Australian ingredients and produce (without being over the top).

Ox tongue, horseradish & sauce gribiche; tartlet of salmon roe, bonito cream

The menu is modern with several dishes that can as easily be enjoyed to yourself, as they can be shared. With the promise of dessert always requiring some planning, we decided to have one starter each, share an entrée, and share one of the larger mains (that are for two). Catherine’s starter was a delicate tartlet of salmon roe with bonito cream, that had a taste that met its immaculate presentation. Equally as delicious, but nothing of the subtlety of the tartlet was my charred ox tongue, which was outstanding.

As we were finishing our glasses of Larrent-Perrier champagne, we enjoyed our entrée of spanner crab. Again, presented with flair, but this time rusticity, the crab was absolutely beautiful, lifted by butter seasoned with dried prawn which is smothered over charred flat bread.

Dressed spanner crab, prawn butter, flat bread

At this point we moved on to a bottle of 2015 Bannockburn Pinot Noir which is a tremendous expression of what Geelong wineries can do with their terroir. Combined with the duck for two, this is a little piece of heaven. The Macedon Ranges duck, presented with two generous strips of breast meat each, a leg, and a “duck taco” on lettuce, plus sides of potatoes and broccolini, is superbly touched by the flames, promoting the gaminess of the meat, but brought into balance with the charred blood orange.

Macedon Ranges duck for two, charred blood orange

We had been chatting to the staff on the bar, and a number of floorstaff who were all doing a great job at somehow providing a consistent experience even when our main waitperson took a break for a good portion of our meal. We always seemed to be in good hands. One of the chefs working the larder behind the bar was preparing the Pink Lady apple tarte tatins and we simply couldn’t resist ordering one.

The tarte is a great dish to share, especially when we ordered an extra scoop of the smoked vanilla bean ice cream to avoid any arguments! The texture of the apples find balance between being too firm and too soft; the tarte is beautifully cooked with not too much sweetness in the pastry; and the ice cream provides the traditional creaminess that you love with this type of classic dessert.

There is so much to love about this restaurant early in its life. The staff are engaged and seem to enjoy being here, motivated by the offerings of the kitchen. The fitout is classy and modern without unnecessary fine dining flourishes. The food is meeting a script that sounds simple, but when put under the microscope shows a high level of thought and knowledge.

In this part of Domain Road, across from the Botanical Gardens, good things can last the test of time. Based on this first taste of Matilda I have little doubt we will be visiting a fair bit in coming years, and hopefully decades. This restaurant has the potential to be hot for a long time and the use of fire is only one of the reasons.

Matilda 159 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Attachment – my Pope Joan story

Pope Joan – Black pudding, truffled polenta, fried egg & cauliflower

Four walls can be so much more. When I heard from my wife that Pope Joan is to close earlier tonight I thought “that’s sad” but it wasn’t until a few hours later that I felt compelled to write about it.

It is not wholly unusual for me, but I am emotional. The connection we sometimes build to places is incredible. Most of us know love in an object, such as our family home. I am sure there are many of us who build an emotional attachment to many more places, including our favourite cafes.

Doughnut with jam and cream

Pope Joan has been open for 8 years. When it first opened, Catherine and I used to go so often that some of my friends would roll their eyes when it was mentioned. Like any relationship we had our good times at Pope Joan, and our not as good times. The underlying quality of food, service and the intangibles such as the atmosphere, and the feeling you have when in the space, was the reason we kept going back and have for 8 years.

Pope Joan’s Kinda Full Breakfast

There are some obvious elements in a cafe, or any venue, that capture a following. For us, Pope Joan had more than the obvious. It was all of a 20 minute drive, sometimes worse in weekend traffic (even taking our backstreet methods that became a necessity!) Living in Richmond we were surrounded by great cafes within and close to our suburb, but we still ventured. To this day one of our favourite waitpersons worked at Pope Joan.

The Cuban

Matt Wilkinson has a love for what he does. I have not once spoken to him, but the passion and quality he brings is infectious amongst the entire staff. It is that intangible quiet confidence that is so difficult to replicate. Maybe it is just not being surrounded by Scandinavian everything? No, it is more than that.

Pope Joan omelette

I’ve sat around drinking coffee after coffee with friends, doing the form on the Monday before the Melbourne Cup. We have had an almost-Australia Day BBQ afternoon. We’ve been when it is pouring with rain and freezing cold; we’ve been out the back when you need sunscreen and a hat.

When it comes around, the crab omelette is brilliant. The Pope Joan (bacon and egg roll) is still one of my favourites. The rice pudding is a dish that I will still speak about when I have great-grandchildren.

I would like to say to Matt and his staff a huge thank you. At the same time I would like to remind other restaurateurs and hospitality staff that places only get this type of love when there is real passion and feeling. That wonderful purpose of being hospitable, and having an aspiration to be inspirational is the reason for success. Good luck in the future. We’ll miss this patch of Nicholson Road, Brunswick East.

Previous reviews:

Breakfast 2015
Lunch
Breakfast 2014

St Andrews Beach Brewery – St Andrews Beach – Sunday 18 March 2018 – Lunch

I still find a tear in my eye when I watch a replay of the 2005 Melbourne Cup when Makybe Diva became the first horse in history to win three Melbourne Cups. It is quite remarkable watching the gap open up on the turn as if the will of everyone in Australia parted the sea of horses, and she did the rest.

Here at St Andrews Beach Brewery, the Melbourne Cup is honoured with each old stable being allocated to one of the greats, including my favourite. Previously the luxurious stables of Lee Freedman, whoever decided to combine my love of beer, food and horses had a masterstroke.

It is blowing an absolute gale; pelting down with rain; and the place is pretty much packed full at midday. I’ve done the husbandly thing and dropped Catherine at the door to secure a table and now I’m stuck in the second “emergency” carpark deciding whether to brave the conditions now or wait a few minutes. The rain subsides long enough for a Bolt-like sprint up and down the hill and into the stables as if I have lost my strapper and am running home.

This stables turned brewery is huge, with outside (but undercover) stables for larger groups nicely heated, and inside polished concrete and a nice long bar are featured amongst high light-filled ceilings and a motley of tables. In the middle is a grassed area perfect for a cleansing ale (if it wasn’t freezing outside).

Pork sausage pizza

The food offerings are sensible for a place that must be putting out a huge number of meals. Pizzas are popular and with good reason. As with most purpose built pizza focussed restaurants it isn’t an afterthought that doesn’t have the necessary means (a big super hot oven). This is good news if pizza and beer are your thing.

On the beers, there are not tens available, but there is a good selection. Today somehow the American pale ale is not available, but the others including a pale ale, pilsner, golden ale and lager are all on. I tried a few including the golden ale and pale ale and I thought they are both great without being noticeable unique.

Pulled pork burger

The pulled pork is satisfactorily good without being anything special. We had some sweet potato chips to share and the chips are good too.

Even in this terrible weather, the drive out to St Andrews beach near Rye is worth it to enjoy some nice beers and food in a terrific setting. Those with places nearby, or securing a holiday house, will surely be there several times in a week, especially over summer. And I did notice as we walked out the TVs are set to the racing channel which is very cool for an enthusiast!

St Andrews Beach Brewery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Billie H – Claremont – Tuesday 20 February 2018 – Dinner

Roasted grapes, labneh, radicchio, chive oil

If I walk into a restaurant, and Dan Goodsell is there, I am immediately comforted that the food and wine options are going to be top notch, and the service naturally great too.

Over Christmas I did just that with my Mum at Billie H. We were here for a quick wine, but I had heard good reports about the food too. When I saw Dan, and later the enthusiasm of John Lethlean of The Australian, I had it at the top of my Perth list to try. Mum was keen too, the slightly chilled Sagrantino winning her over at first try. This is a little known grape variety from Umbria in Italy that is being made by Jamsheed in Victoria, and it is luscious.

Braised octopus, paprika, almonds, orange, chilli

The next time I was in Perth I was true to my list. I made a booking at Billie H for my aunty Sher, Mum and I. This wine focussed restaurant and bar has the modern Australian share plates theme nailed.

Rainbow carrots, farro, puffed grains, honey & mustard

It did take us some time to narrow down our choices. We ended up starting with the braised octopus, which was lifted with the crunch of almonds and the orange segments worked nicely for some citrus. I had heard the roasted grapes with labneh and my favourite bitter leaf, radicchio, is excellent and it didn’t let us down. I love how a dish that would cost the kitchen next to nothing is so flavoursome. This is eating.

Braised pork jowl, apricot, fennel

Next was my choice go-to share dish in the carrots, which are combined with farro and puffed grains. I am finding this style of dish on a lot of menus, including cafes, and it is equally as good whether on its own, or as a side. The natural sweetness of roasted carrots make them so easy to combine with offsetting herbs, adding the texture of grains or nuts makes sense too.

At this stage we were finishing our bottle of Sang De Pigeon Pinot Noir, from the Adelaide Hills, and moving on to the Rayos Uva Rioja, a blend of tempranillo and graciano. The beauty about wine bars that really focus on their list is the diversity you can find. Sure, it is good knowing the old trusties, but having the confidence to explore a list is comforting in its own way. We were in good hands and the wines were both terrific.

To finish the savouries we tried the pork jowl. Again this is one of those dishes that are win win for the kitchen and customer alike. It is a cheaper, but glorious, cut of meat, and one that you feel much better about indulging when not in your own kitchen.

Panna cotta, red wine figs, roasted white chocolate

The dishes are a good size and we together are not huge eaters. We probably didn’t need it but I insisted on dessert so we shared the panna cotta with red wine figs and this brilliant roasted white chocolate crumb. Everything was well executed, but the crumb was something else.

The restaurant business is one of the most fickle. With such a strong history of giving diners what they want, Dan is on to another winner here. Claremont is the richer for it.

Billie H. Supper Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rare Hare – Mornington Peninsula – Sunday 15 April 2018 – Lunch

Getting to lunch in Mornington, via two pickups, by 11.30am is a bit of a mission. According to our research, this level of commitment is required to secure a table at Rare Hare.

Today it is really windy and quite wet, with the worst of the showers launching themselves over the famed Jackalope statue right on 11.30am as we arrived. The bonus was a great part of a communal table right on the window looking out to the expansive vineyard. Not a great deal of time later and the restaurant was indeed full with a diverse crowd including a large group of ladies that made their presence heard, adding to that festive type of Sunday lunch atmosphere.

Lamb rump, cauliflower, currants, mustard vinaigrette

It’s a celebration, with Catherine’s sister’s birthday coming up, and her Mum’s not too long after that. Whatever the occasion, there is a warmth in the room; a convivial nature; that reveals itself when you are out of the big smoke, and surrounded by all things wine. Service is confident, with a style meeting the casual environment, different from the fine diner in the adjoining building.

There’s no shortage of good options jumping out in the typical modern Australian share plates menu. The usual negotiation finds a happy balance, with Sandra going for the eggplant, Stephanie for the kipfler potato salad and Catherine the roasted beetroot. Mains was lamb and fish, and dessert was a non-negotiable.

Salumi selection

To begin we shared the salumi selection, which is a great way to order as you peruse the other options. Often overlooked, the mortadella on this platter was my highlight.

Charcoal eggplant, red miso, furikake

The three shared entrees were all quality. It is hard to go past the eggplant, though it wasn’t the most generous serving. Not unreasonable for $16, though a bit more and a higher price would have been better. Everyone agreed that the taste was as good as eggplant can be; a little touch of chilli elevating it even further.

Roast beetroot, buttermilk, pecan granola, tarragon

The beetroot was a close second. A variety of textures, all were beautifully roasted, and the accompaniments combined for a terrific dish, especially the pecan granola. The aniseed punch of the tarragon was shared with the kipfler potato salad, which was again a top dish.

Snapper, lemon butter, many herbs; and
Kipfler potato salad, tarragon cream, dill pickles

Sipping the last of our chardonnay and gazing out the window there was a feeling things could not get any better. The mains lived up to the promise of the entrees and were good servings. The lamb nice and pink and the snapper relatively easy to serve from the whole fish presentation. There is a freshness to all of these dishes showing a kitchen that is confident in the offering, and taking full advantage of the produce grown locally, some of it likely on site.

Woodfired chocolate chip cookie, malt ice cream

After finishing the last of my red it was time for dessert. I changed my mind at least once and eventually settled on the woodfired chocolate chip cookie with the help of our excellent waitperson. Catherine had already chosen it too, and we probably should have shared because it is huge. It is a great idea to have a just-baked cookie in the cast iron pot; the sugary smell filling the room as it came out.

Rose pannacotta, buckwheat, raspberry jam

Steph enjoyed the milk chocolate brown butter tart that had some crème fraiche to cut through the richness. Sandra chose the rose pannacotta and having generously shared a portion I can tell you it was beautifully executed.

Milk chocolate brown butter tart, crème fraiche, citrus

The heavy rain was back as we prepared to leave the restaurant but nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for this first visit to Rare Hare. There is a strong chance it is even busier these days after Hilary visited but there’s nothing wrong with starting lunch at 11.30am. I even started with a quick espresso and the coffee is nice too!

Rare Hare Wine & Food Store Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hanoi Hannah – New Quarter – Richmond – Numerous Occasions

Fish wings

At times service is a factor only when it is exceptional or terrible. It is not absurd for it just not to be noticed, like children in the 50s. Service should be seen and not heard!

There are times where it can blow your mind. Times where you want to return because that compliment you received had to be genuine, or the charm of the maître’d was irresistible. Then there are the stories that you must tell even if it is focussing a touch too much on the negative, like when you witness a terrible car accident.

Lemongrass beef salad

I’ll tell you about the car accident soon but first let’s look at the positives. Hanoi Hannah’s New Quarter in Richmond is irresistible like the figurative maitre’d I mentioned just moments ago. It is literally the old and the new for both HH and this building which retains its character, but is completely redeveloped on the corner of Lennox and Swan. The positioning is a real estate agent’s dream. Location, Location, Location!

There are staff who have spent an hour getting ready to try to make it look like they didn’t try. The artistic maps sprawled across the wall of Richmond are a delight to behold while slurping your noodles. The windows look out to the restrained Richmond grunge turned fashionable, with more than a splattering of footy colours to add to the atmosphere. I love it.

Poached chicken pho

I’ve been multiple times; for lunch and for dinner; quiet weekdays and busy after-footy weekends. When I first tried the beef shortrib pho I thought it was indulgent, but difficult to navigate. The latter won out and it was taken off the menu but it lives in my memory. Catherine’s smoked chicken pho was not quite as decadent but definitely made for a repeat offender.

Beef short rib pho

The lemongrass beef salad is terrific too. All the learnings from Windsor, which again is a restaurant I’ve frequented, are clearly transported to Richmond. Elements you take for granted are expertly combined. Somehow every time I enjoy a salad with the multitude of herbs, vinegary sauce, and vegetables, that Vietnam and surrounds are famous for, I forget how well you feel after lunch (and how much you enjoy the flavours).

Peking duck rice paper rolls

Dining with a few friends and sharing is a great idea too. Because on this other occasion I got to try the caramelised pork hock in rice paper. And it was a good moment. So were the duck rice paper rolls; the chock-full-of-prawns spring rolls; and the spicy lamb curry. In fact, there hasn’t been a dish that has come out of the kitchen (which includes an offshoot that does takeaway lunch that we’ve also taken advantage of – pork belly bahn mi with crackling for $10!) that has not been good to very good.

Caramelised pork hock with rice paper

The service is fine on the whole, but definitely has that touch of “we work in a really popular place so aren’t we great” vibe. So when we were basically asked to order dessert on the spot or leave I took some serious exception to it.

Chicken and pork belly bahn mi

It is not a long story. We ordered a second bottle of wine and had finished half of it (ie, we were going to be here for at least 20 minutes longer). We got asked whether we wanted dessert and said “we would take a look”. The menu was provided immediately and the waitperson said “would you like dessert”. I said “we have a half bottle of wine so we can look at dessert and decide while we finish it”. She said “there are two desserts so you can choose now, or I can bring you the bill”.

I know the staff are under pressure to turn tables over. It is a busy night. But there are ways you do not treat anyone. Either my directness at the last comment was noticed, or sense prevailed, and our waitperson apologised reasonably sincerely (and quite profusely) but the damage was done. I said straight up to her that “I have never been asked to leave a restaurant like this before”.

There is never any excuse for making someone feel threatened and bullied. We spent $249 over a period of about 90 minutes including 2 bottles of wine. Anyone who reads my reviews knows that we ordered dessert (and the doughnuts were pretty good). We were not given a sitting time to begin with and we were walk-ins as Catherine expertly got us a table before the footy finished. I really can’t stand the way we were treated at a restaurant I supported 4 times in its first 6 weeks. Not again. Well maybe a bahn mi at the takeaway bit or a cheeky pho!

Hanoi Hannah New Quarter Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato