Saint Urban – Richmond – Saturday 30 January 2016 – Dinner

Smoked pork hock terrine and lentils with lemon cream

Smoked pork hock terrine and lentils with lemon cream

I was having lunch at Reunion recently when the owner came up to the table next to me and applauded the lady sitting there for her restaurant. Overhearing a little more I realised her restaurant is Saint Urban, one that I’ve pondered going to enough for this conversation to promote it towards the top of my list.

This particular Saturday night we were actually looking for a cheaper option but the first place we walked into was not enticing (had a smell) and I took the leap to suggest Saint Urban which is a bistro slash wine bar. As we walked in we quickly realised that there was a chance it was already booked out given the number of tables already full. Luckily we got seated on the bar which is quite comfortable.

Confit duck leg, parsnip puree, honeyed pear, sorrel

Confit duck leg, parsnip puree, honeyed pear, sorrel

On the way there we had been for a drink at “Richmond Yard” which is a grungy, post apocalyptic themed trailer park with a few food van options and a bar open on Saturday nights in summer. This meant we could launch straight into the menu, ordering a pork hock terrine, the half chicken roasted in Calabrian spices, and the confit duck (all to share).

The terrine was a delicious start, and more and more this was feeling like the Richmond equivalent of Fitzroy’s Gertrude Street Enoteca. Next came the chicken and duck dishes to share. The spice rub made it for the chicken, but along with that it was perfectly roasted. The duck was almost as perfectly prepared. Both were generous serves with smart accompaniments.

Half chicken roasted in Calabrian spices with roasted bell pepper

Half chicken roasted in Calabrian spices

With some cakes from Beatrix waiting at home we will need to come back for the carrot cake or one of the other appealing desserts. It may not have been the cheap meal we initially set out for, but it was certainly not expensive, and given the quality of the venue and service, the price makes it entirely reasonable to dine here regularly.

Saint.Urban Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Varnish on King – Perth City – Wednesday 27 January 2016 – Dinner

Roasted jalapeños with black pudding & goats curd

Roasted jalapeños with black pudding & goats curd

It is overwhelming walking through the Perth CBD and noticing all the changes in the seven years since I left. Places that had stories I attach to them – some special, some weird, some quite intoxicated. Many of these places have changed in huge ways.

Perth has definitely improved as a city and continues to. Some of the boom might have faded, but the underlying base is enhanced in its wake. There are too many changes to mention, and while it had started before I left, even just walking down King Street there is no longer its namesake cafe, Hudson’s is gone and has been remarkably changed, and there is now a beautiful basement room across the road at 75 that is Varnish on King.

Pan fried brussel sprouts with maple & blue cheese

Pan fried brussel sprouts with maple & blue cheese

I was told about Varnish a while ago and tonight I get to half cross it off the list. Half because I am dining alone, precluding me from ordering several good looking larger dishes.

First cab off the rank is the Brussel sprouts. They are nicely presented and the combination is great, especially with the maple not dominating and just giving a hint of sweetness. It’s naturally a large serve as this is food to share, but I don’t mind coming back to it while I enjoy the two other dishes I order.

Next comes the cholesterol – a large serve of bone marrow. It is awesomely fatty and luckily there is a bit of balance from the crumb. I’m glad I ordered it, but my next check up will be interesting! Ask me whether I ate all three pieces and I’d have to plead the fifth.

Bone marrow with grated venison heart & lemon

Bone marrow with grated venison heart & lemon

Last I try the jalepinos with black pudding. Each element is excellent and put together this is a fantastic dish. Topped off by the sauce (which can be added to with three different chilli sauces), this is another fun dish that is surprisingly not too hot, though I was warned not to go too close to the stem.

There is a great deal of risk putting out some of these combinations. Each one needs to hit the mark. There would be many punters having a snack with their whiskey, or other beverage of choice, and the likelihood of returning could depend on one dish. Here the skill of the chefs and their technique averts that risk. Each dish was excellent and these are not your usual suspects.

The enthusiasm, and obvious knowledge of my waitperson almost convinces me to order a whiskey, but having walked here on a warm day I go for the tried and tested. A glass of the Vasse Felix Chardonnay followed by the Delinquente Vermentino from the South Australia Riverland shows equal care in the selection of wines. It is nice to have such skilled service. Across the floor and behind the bar the staff are genuinely enjoying themselves and are doing a terrific job.

Walking though the intimidating door, down into the intimate basement was the only time I felt self-aware here. After that, even though I was dining alone, this was a very enjoyable experience from all angles. I’ll be back with a crowd.

Varnish on King Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Uncle – St Kilda East – Sunday 17 January 2016 – Lunch

Tumeric duck curry with kipflers, sweet potato puree and roti

Tumeric duck curry with kipflers, sweet potato puree and roti

Vietnamese is hot right now. There is so much to like about this cuisine. There’s the use of fresh ingredients, sauces with punch, and deep, deep flavours.

In recent years the basics haven’t changed in Australian Vietnamese food. Though the addition of modern thinking using similar ingredients and flavour combinations with some added finesse has surely broadened the audience, and added much more interest to those who already supported.

Uncle has been around for some time, and in a way can lay claim to some of this modern trend. We’ve been wanting to try Uncle for ages but it wasn’t until we were catching up with friends from Elwood that we made the drive.

Bahn mi - crispy pigs ears with pickles and peanuts; and Ha Noi fish with turmeric, dill and mayo

Bahn mi – crispy pigs ears with pickles and peanuts; and Ha Noi fish with turmeric, dill and mayo

There are so many options on the menu that we need to leave it aside a bit while we have a drink. With some help from our waitperson we decide on a few dishes knowing that we can reassess. To start we tried the obligatory rice paper rolls. These are vegetarian, featuring banana blossom, mustard leaf, enoki, coconut, and miso dipping sauce. The mushroom is almost meaty, but I still can’t help but think they are better with some prawn, duck or other meat inside.

Next the pretty Szechuan spiced beef tartare arrives on a large rice cracker. It is good but having had some amazing tartare, this is not as inspiring by comparison. On the other hand, Uncle’s modern take on bahn mi is stunning. Using this classic flavour combination in brioche sliders, and enhancing with the crunch of pig’s ears, makes for more than a couple of bites of complete indulgence.

Szechuan spiced beef tartare with Fuji apple, crispy tripe, celery leaves, rice cracker

Szechuan spiced beef tartare with Fuji apple, crispy tripe, celery leaves, rice cracker

The market fish today is snapper which we opt to have served whole, accompanied by green mango, puffed wild rice, a herb salad, and a sweet & sour ginger dressing. The freshness of the snapper stands out, this beautiful fleshy white fish coming away from the bone in generous proportions for the four of us. Having reassessed, we needed just one more dish to top us off. The tumeric duck curry did just that. Again, it was a generous serve, and with some steamed rice on the side, made for a great finish to the meal. Both of these mains really impressed.

There are three distinct dining areas and being upstairs but inside was the right position for a hot Melbourne afternoon. If we were staying later the outdoor section would be a terrific place for an evening drink and a few snacks, or something more filling. It is well designed for the theme with overflow at busy times going to the less exciting downstairs entrance.

The thing I love about Uncle and its modern Vietnamese is that I can go back to this food regularly. During the following week I thought about going for Vietnamese more than once. With so many options that illustrates its appeal.

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

Cumulus Up – Melbourne, City – Saturday 16 January 2016 – Dinner

600g O'Connor ribeye

600g O’Connor ribeye

There is a cost to popularity. Once you have a defined space, there is only so many chairs you can pack into it. After that, the only option to make larger profits is to increase prices or reduce costs. It is obvious that none of these measures is likely to work in the long term. It is this conundrum that must have restaurateurs constantly asking the question of “what’s next?”

Andrew McConnell asked this question over five years ago when Cutler and Co. was going great guns. He came up with a city restaurant with a bistro feel, with a no bookings policy, and dishes with many influences, often served to share. Cumulus Inc has been full ever since and never forget it came before Chin Chin, setting the scene for the strongest culinary street in Australia.

It is not unusual for a popular restaurant to expand in some way. Think about St Ali going across the street for a waiting room that was the antithesis of any other waiting room you’ve been in; or Cafe Di Stasio and its wine bar; or even earlier and Longrain in Sydney which was the first time waiting in their cocktail lounge was cooler than being seated. It seems Cumulus had only one way to go and that was Up!

Cumulus Up takes advantage of the second floor of the main restaurant. It has its own personality but began life as a place to grab a drink and graze while waiting for a seat downstairs. These days it seems it is almost as difficult to get in upstairs as it is downstairs. It is both intimate with low lighting and dark furnishings, as it is communal.

Cosberg lettuce, confit fennel, verjuice dresing

Cosberg lettuce, confit fennel, verjuice dresing

To be entirely honest, I haven’t been to Cumulus for a while and I did want to dine there tonight. The last time we missed out we had a double miss because Up was closed for a function. This time we are able to go up and we don’t hesitate. As we wait to be seated we are shown the menu and start our usual negotiation. However, once we are pointed to the blackboard specials our choice becomes simple.

The 600g O’Connor ribeye steak, which comes with a Cafe de Paris butter, is just the dish of indulgence we feel like tonight. Initially we were on our way into Richmond before one thing led to another and we had tried a cocktail at Romeo Lane before heading here after 8.30pm. With the addition of roasted potatoes and a leafy salad as sides we are set.

Roast potatoes, horseradish mustard & chives

Roast potatoes, horseradish mustard & chives

As we had ordered, the ribeye comes out medium rare. Other than a few fatty threads it is very tender, with a delicious salty char providing a burst in each bite. There’s enough of the butter and herb sauce to provide a softened texture and even more layers of flavour. When combined with the gorgeous roasted potatoes it doesn’t get much more comforting. Even the leafy salad was great.

Chocolate ice cream sandwich, butterscotch

Chocolate ice cream sandwich, butterscotch

After such a delicious main to share we took a short break before ordering dessert. I needed to try the chocolate ice cream sandwich, claiming the dessert at the same time as mentioning we could share. Catherine went for her second option for us to share with a refreshing combination of lemon verbena, fresh fruit and yoghurt cream. Whilst the latter dish was refreshing, the former took the honours by a mile and is the only one we would go back for. The butterscotch was the icing on the cake.

Yoghurt cream, lemon verbena & mango

Yoghurt cream, lemon verbena & mango

An unanticipated sojourn indulging in wine, steak and chocolate doesn’t get much better than this. Downstairs spawned Andrew’s next adventures into places like Golden Fields (now Supernormal) and Moon Under Water, just as it provided some of the impetus for the next generation of Flinders Lane restaurants. But when downstairs is full there should be no hesitation in going up.

Cumulus Up Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mama Tran – Claremont – Saturday 2 January 2016 – Dinner

IMG_4547There is a significant amount that has changed about the now Claremont Quarter since my childhood going to Big W, and my uni days going to The Conti/Red Rock/The Claremont, and of course, Club Bay View. There is certainly a different atmosphere about the whole Bay View Terrace strip which is accentuated over the Christmas break.

One thing I cannot remember having access to in those earlier days was a cheap (but tasty) option for a sit down meal. And no, Hungry Jacks does not count. Tonight we get to try one of the branches of Mama Tran, which is a Vietnamese hawker cafe.
IMG_4548
There is nothing unusual or different about Mama Tran. It has the rice paper roll, bahn mi and pho options you would expect amongst a smattering of other dishes incorporating one of either rice or noodles. It is clean and tidy and there is a decent crowd eating for this time of year.

Catherine and I try the prawn rice paper rolls and a pho each; Catherine with her usual choice of chicken and me with the rare beef option. Everything is good with that freshness that you expect from Vietnamese food. The serves are generous and the beef broth I’ve tried has a good amount of flavour, along with rice noodles that have a nice firm texture. Really, for the price it is a very good feed.

This style of Vietnamese is one of the biggest trends in recent times with dozens of restaurants opening up across Australia. It is a trend I’m pleased with as the competition, both within the theme, and with similarly priced options, is only going to make everyday dining better for the consumer. Bring it on Mama Tran!

Mama Tran Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nunzio’s – Fremantle – Sunday 3 January 2016 – Dinner

Tagliatelle, porcini mushrooms, sundried tomatoes

Tagliatelle, porcini mushrooms, sundried tomatoes

Italian dining in Fremantle. How Fremantle is not nicknamed Little Italy I’m not sure, but the “Cappuccino Strip” on South Terrace is testament to how closely this area is related to Italian dining and culture.

At times it has been more cheap and cheerful, than anything else, but across Australia diners tastes and preferences have been changing over the years, and this extends here. Think places like Little Creatures that took up the challenge and won by incorporating their ideas in a manner consistent with the breezy Freo culture. Bread In Common is another good example of the growth and I’m told The Mantle complex is another good addition.

Skewed grilled prawns and squid

Skewered grilled prawns and squid

One thing I have always been skeptical of is the Italian restaurants in Freo and whether they are resting on their laurels. When you naturally compare to my new home (of seven years) in Melbourne, you have no choice but to be skeptical because the pastas are homemade, and cheaper, and better quality pizzas are available in most suburbs. However, an excellent meal at Nunzio’s in the old Essex shows that things are changing.

Take the tagliatelle and spaghettoni that Catherine and I tried respectively. Both homemade, both served perfectly al dente (mine a bit firmer due to the thicker nature of my pasta), and both served with simple, but delicious accompanying sauces. On the spaghettoni I had a lamb ragu, cooked for a good amount of time and quite deep in flavour. Catherine had porcini mushrooms that were glorious, along with sundried tomatoes, which is a bit old school, but worked.

Spaghettoni, lamb ragu

Spaghettoni, lamb ragu

Before this we had shared a starter of skewered prawn and squid, which featured fresh lightly cooked and crumbed seafood. They were good, but the side salad on the plate was a little awkward (and yes, quite old fashioned).

Honey cake

Honey cake

Dessert is ordered from a selection on the trolley. While there is a theme to the traditional, quite old fashioned dining experience, there are aspects from that time that are charming and enticing. The dessert trolley epitomises the charming side. Knowing we are eating Catherine’s Mum’s tiramisu in a couple nights, we had liberty to order outside of the favourites and went with the honey cake, and the apricot jam tart. The honey cake is simply outstanding, and the tart was excellent though overshadowed by the cake.

Apricot jam tart

Apricot jam tart

Another aspect in this heritage restaurant, converted from a house that has stood for over a century, was the friendly and well organised floor staff. It would be easy for such a beautiful white walled, linen clad restaurant to fall into a certain stuffiness, but the staff were down to earth, eager, and importantly, well versed in the menu.

At one stage one of the waitstaff mentioned to a table that they were the third table from Yorkshire he had served that week. The tourist element must be one of the reasons for the wine list being tailored to no one in particular, yet very well priced, and with just enough by the glass to get by.

Reflecting on a great meal, walking away from Nunzio’s on a balmy Perth evening, there isn’t a great deal I would change about our experience. A place where you can dine slightly off the busy strip, and continue to go back to without hesitation.

Nunzio's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Must Wine Bar – Highgate – Thursday 31 December 2015 – Dinner

Twice baked Blue Manna crab soufflé, crab bisque sauce, soft herbs

Twice baked Blue Manna crab soufflé, crab bisque sauce, soft herbs

New Year’s Eve may be just another night, but it is one of the few dates in the year where you generally remember what you did, even if only for the past few years. It is an excuse to celebrate and it is an excuse to indulge.

After particularly impressive pre-drinks across the street at The Queens, we ventured the short distance to Must Wine Bar to see what was about to be served in the lead up to 2016. We were in good spirits from a combination of the ten dollar prohibition cocktails on offer, and the enthusiastic performance of the staff, all dressed in prohibition theme, and genuinely enjoying their night, albeit at work.

Starters included Gin cured salmon fillet, cucumber remoulade; and oyster natural with pickled carrot salad

Starters included Gin cured salmon fillet, cucumber remoulade; and oyster natural with pickled carrot salad

While we are on a high, over the road at Must it is a different story with the staff. It seems they’ve had a difficult time getting the first sitting away from their tables, meaning they are about fifteen minutes behind time for our 9pm sitting, and you can tell that they are stressed. In fact, they keep their head down and not once in that prevailing fifteen minutes are we given a quick “sorry” and a shrug, or even a joke to lighten the wait. In fact, this would have been the perfect time to serve the “on arrival” glass of Perrier Jouet.

Once seated, the offerings we read on the menu are enough to quickly forget the greeting, or lack thereof. There are great options for entrée, main and dessert, making it difficult to decide, and requiring some coordination. In the end most of us have the crab soufflé or the pork belly for entrée; the Harvey beef or barramundi for main; and the pavlova or cherry dessert.

Slow cooked pork belly, chick pea & chorizo braise, apple & radish salad, pork crackle crisp

Slow cooked pork belly, chick pea & chorizo braise, apple & radish salad, pork crackle crisp

To begin we are all served with an oyster with a carrot and dill dressing, a corn croquette, and a spoon of gin cured salmon. None of the starters is remarkable, but they are all quite okay. The bread is amazing though, and it always has been since opening over a decade ago.

Grilled barramundi fillet, heirloom tomato, basil & chat potato salad

Grilled barramundi fillet, heirloom tomato, basil & chat potato salad

Quickly the food ascends to excellence, with a twice baked Blue Manna crab soufflé that is delicate, showing off the crab filling and its subtle flavour. The small amount of bisque surrounding the soufflé is tasty in itself but we expect the small amount is to ensure the soufflé is not overwhelmed. The pork belly is also very nice, and well executed, but not quite as different and exciting as the soufflé.

Slow roast Harvey beef fillet, beetroot risotto, feta whip

Slow roast Harvey beef fillet, beetroot risotto, feta whip

I was second to order my courses, and had ordered duck initially, only to immediately change to the Harvey beef such was the tension in my choice. But I think I did the right thing. The beef fillet is superbly cooked medium rare, consistent across the three of us who ordered it, and complimented by a robust beetroot risotto. The barramundi is beautifully cooked too, a staggering job by the kitchen keeping in mind that we have a full restaurant, and all of us have sat down at the same time.

The food had eclipsed any issues with the initial service, though it was a theme that the staff were not really very engaging, or friendly throughout. With great company and excellent wine, it really didn’t matter in the end. In particular, a 2013 Devil’s Lair Cabernet Sauvignon was absolutely delicious, with the classic notes you get from Wilyabrup Cab Sav and plenty of layers of dark berry fruit. It was a sophisticated way to see out 2015.

Vanilla cream, Weiss chocolate crumbs, Manjimup cherry sorbet

Vanilla cream, Weiss chocolate crumbs, Manjimup cherry sorbet

As we approached midnight we enjoyed the dessert and petit fours which were terrific chocolate truffles. My vanilla, chocolate and cherry dessert was excellent providing beautiful tastes and textures, without going to far outside the box. When the clock struck midnight we entered the new year with a full belly and a nice alcoholic glow!

Much is made of new year’s eve because we make much of it. To me, the recipe for a great new year is to do what you enjoy during the rest of the year, and Must put on a show that I would go back for on a more ordinary night, hopefully with happier staff.

Must Winebar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato