Three Bags Full – Abbotsford – Sunday 29 July 2017 – Breakfast

Three Bags Benedict – Poached eggs on a truffled rosti with green hollandaise, apple cider ham hock and herbs

When I reflect on some of the cafes that have opened early on during my time in Melbourne, and realise they’ll be breaking ten years soon, it is a little scary. I associate Three Bags Full with the same vintage as Proud Mary. While I have kept on going back to Three Bags Full, it remains what I would say is an underrated cafe in comparison.

This is not to say the owners are struggling with this business. Many years ago it expanded to the premises immediately next door, and it has continued to be full ever since. Besides that, I haven’t notice a huge amount of change. With a great menu, a fashionable vibe, excellent coffee, and knowing staff, why should it?

Today the same ingredients that made TBF successful over many years are still going strong. My Benedict with ham hock and green hollandaise over perfectly poached eggs is terrific. This dish is now quite a modern Melbourne breakfast classic, and this particular one is nicely done.

Sweet potato and carrot fritters – two poached eggs, whipped goats curd, shaved pickled fennel and pomegranate salad, almond dukkah and herb oil

Catherine’s sweet potato and carrot fritters with goats curd, and a fennel and pomegranate salad, are great too. The almond dukkah is not overpowering but adds distinct flavour. The fritters were expertly cooked to the right consistency, and the freshness of the salad added the right amount of zing.

TBF is always busy, so as much as we’d prefer the main room of the cafe, we always accept the likelihood we will be in the second room. It is still nicely fitted out, and there is something satisfying about being in a pre-Scandinavian movement cafe, complete with warehouse surrounds in Abbotsford.

The only reason we are not here more often is the depth of new, and closer, cafes in our area. But there’s little doubt we will keep coming back from time to time to enjoy the familiarly great offerings here.

Three Bags Full Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Advertisements

Oter – Melbourne, City – Wednesday 6 September 2017 – Dinner

Tamarillo Millefeuille + Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Time passes by so quickly. Now almost three months back, Catherine and I had our first experience at Oter since it replaced Yu-U. Across from its sister restaurant, Coda, the space has been thoroughly renovated.

The feel is not dramatically different thanks to the large bar focussed seating space, and the fact the restaurant is partially below ground. Back in the Yu-U days it was a little claustrophobic though, but now it is quite open and airy. We are happy to sit at the bar, which seems to be the place to be, not to mention the view of three tarts of the day is close to irresistible!

Moulton Sea Urchin + Kohlrabi Noodle

The menu is interesting in its diversity, and the prices are reasonable for some sophisticated dishes. Service is knowledgable and quite attentive, though the whole bar dining concept is a bit confused here with the majority of service coming from the floor, rather than from behind the bar. The bar does give the chefs (largely working further back and not right in front of you) the opportunity to present dishes to you, which has a charm to it.

Blue Spanner Crab + Pickled Cucumber, Hazelnut

To begin we tried one of the Moulton sea urchin on top of a bundle of kohlrabi noodles. Served cold, the sea urchin has that soft texture that can put people off, but when paired next to the firm vegetable noodles, the subtle flavour was able to show itself off. Next we shared the blue spanner crab with pickled cucumbers and slithered hazelnuts. Presented with a cucumber foam, the dish looks delightful, and the flavour is its equal. At this early stage we were growing in excitement for the dishes to come.

The wines by the glass have many points of interest. We started off with a champagne by Piper Heidsieck, before moving into a Chardonnay by Salo. I hadn’t heard of Salo before but it is made by two of the best winemakers in the Yarra Valley, as part of a project to make natural wines. As we got towards our mains we chose a Cabernet Franc by Crawford River. All three glasses were fantastic, pointing to a well thought out wine list.

Alsatian Bread Dumplings + Onion Sousbise, Boudin Noir

We had to ask our waitperson a bit about the Alsatian bread dumplings because they were something we hadn’t encountered. There was just something about bread dumplings, onion sauce, and blood sausage that really piqued our interest. In the end it was a very hearty and satisfying treat prior to our shared mains.

Kurobuta Pork + Confit Celeriac, Lardo

We decided on two mains that we would share to avoid any menu envy. The Kurobuta pork was served perfectly pink, with a whole slow cooked confit celeriac really making its presence felt. The Gippsland duck was served with a pretty beurre blanc sauce, scattered with charred baby leeks. Both were excellent, with some nice contrasting features for us to enjoy while sharing. The pork soft and tender; the duck with that crispy skin around the drumstick, and a more generous sauce.

Gippsland Confit Duck + Charred Leek, Beurre Blanc

Earlier in the night we were craning our necks to check out the amazing looking tarts of the day. One of the floor staff saw us and instantly brought them closer to us, sitting them on the bar touching distance away (we refrained!) There was no doubt one of us had to order one of those slices of heaven. With Catherine keen to try the tamarillo millefeuille, it was up to me to chose a slice, and I went with the chocolate, pistachio and blood orange. As delicious as the tart turned out, with some reduced milk ice cream accompanying it, the millefeuille won the day for its taste and immaculate presentation.

Tart of the day – chocolate, pistachio and blood orange + reduced milk ice cream

Reflecting on our experience at Oter provides memories of some beautifully executed modern Australian dishes that walk the tightrope between bold rusticity and fine dining pizazz. Eating on the bar is not for everyone, but it is the way modern dining is going. With a few tweaks to give some more life behind the bar, Oter could deliver and even tighter experience. It’s not out of the question to go past just for the tart of the day, but stopping in for several courses like we did is well worth it.

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

Shobosho – Adelaide – Friday 8 September 2017 – Dinner

Spit roast Teriyaki Clare Valley chicken, eggplant cream, shallot bread

I have mixed feelings about our visit to Shobosho. Putting aside the obvious (who you are dining with) when I go to any restaurant, it is always predominantly for the food. However jovial the experience, the food dictates.

The reason I have mixed feelings, is because generally the food was excellent at Shobosho. I can’t help but feel, through a combination of the table we were seated at, the unusual demeanour of the service, and just a vibe, that there is improvement that can be made.

Shiitake “chawanmushi”, toasted grains, dried shiitake, oyster mushrooms

And one element restaurant design that I’ve never really thought about, is having every table in view of the floor staff, or at least the floor staff having a regular need to be overseeing the tables. On a cold night in Adelaide, the position of our table, outside of the main area of the restaurant, but next to the opening, was not ideal.

Honey glazed pork steamed baozi, chinkiang vinegar

In the end, little of this detracts from my personal rating of Shobosho. With some exquisite food, such as nine hour lamb buns, aged wagyu skewers, incredible Japanese custard, and very nice five spice roasted chicken, it is hard to really be critical.

We had plenty of service attention to begin with, but like many catch ups, we spent a lot of time initially chatting rather than reviewing the menu. It’s little wonder why we were left alone, but equally there are very few places that do the restricted time early sitting well. It always feels like there is some sort of hurry to get to ordering, rather than relaxing into the meal to come. Yet for most of the times I’ve done the early sitting at restaurants, we have stayed longer than our allotment, without any consequence for the restaurant or the next set of diners.

Xinjiang style wood roast lamb bun, and Mayura Station 9+ wagyu kushiyaki, yaniniku sauce

As I mentioned, the food was delicious. The shiitake “chawanmushi” Japanese custard dish was one of several recommended by our waitperson, and she was completely correct that this odd sounding dish is beautiful. The Xinjiang style wood roast lamb buns were full of flavour; the blackened crust of the bun adding a great smokiness.

There were dishes like the honey glazed pork steamed baozi that you only expect from a specialist dumpling house. Contrast that with some delightfully plated raw yellowfin tuna, charred edamame, black rice, topped with bonito cream, and you have both rustic and finely presented modern Asian side by side. Though the bonito cream was a touch too much for the softness of the tuna.

With the spit roast Teriyaki chicken to finish, and a satisfying accompanying filler in the shallot bread, we were just too full for dessert. The savouries had done their job, and we had already overstayed our time, eating into the Richmond v Geelong final on at the nearby pubs.

Shobosho was well worth a look. Next time I’ll specifically ask for a table up the top, hoping to get some more consistent attention from the staff, and being away from the door. Some of these dishes would be hard to not order again, which is a big tick for our time here.

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

Osteria Oggi – Adelaide – Saturday 9 September 2017 – Lunch

There is something beautiful about Osteria Oggi. The striking entrance lined with bar stools; the communal style room to the back right that feels like you are dining in a secret cave; the promise of some of Adelaide’s best Italian.

Veal tongue, anchovy, tuna mayonnaise, fried capers

The four of us are here to have a lunch feast prior to the AFL final later tonight at Adelaide Oval between Port Adelaide and the Eagles. There is that finals buzz in the air on a nice sunny day. People are happy here, and the service staff vibrant and enthusiastic.

Coffin Bay oysters

We order a bunch of entrees and mains, some to share, and some to ourselves. Coffin Bay oysters are an absolutely delicious way to start, definitely in tune with the celebratory feel. The veal tongue is rich, served generously, and done like a veal tonnato, but probably best for just a taste.

Bra sausage polpette crostini, pecorino

On the other hand, the sausage polpette was a dish that you could probably keep eating and eating. Meatballs, tomato, pecorino cheese, and bread, is a combination that is always some degree of good. In this case it was exceptional. Not far off were the sardines. Again, something so simple, but so delicious. I was already making plans to come back here the next time we are in Adelaide.

Sardines, charred bread, fennel

In a similar vein, my main of housemade pappardelle with shaved pork liver, is about as rich as it comes. Then pasta is beautiful, and the deep flavour of the liver makes for an incredible dish. Towards the end I was struggling, but that wouldn’t put me off ordering it again. It was a seriously good pasta.

Housemade pappardelle, pork livers

Trav ordered the spaghetti carbonara, which uses guanciale (cheek), to lift the dish to even greater heights. I think it may have been one of the better pastas Trav had eaten. Catherine and Kerry both couldn’t go past the gnocchi with lamb and peas, a parmesan crust, and celeriac puree. While they found our pastas delicious, they really enjoyed their gnocchi. In particular, Catherine had it above Tipo 00’s which is no mean feat.

Gnocchi with lamb and peas, celeriac puree

As satisfied as we were, nothing was going to get in the way of our dessert. Front and centre, the Oggi take on tiramisu, with coffee anglaise, chocolate parfait and vanilla zabaione, was as delicious and decadent as it looks. A heavenly end to a heavenly meal!

Tiramisu affogato, coffee anglaise, chocolate parfait, vanilla zabaione

Osteria Oggi is a very impressive place to dine. There are obviously a lot of Italian restaurants in all the capitals of Australia. This one is in the top echelon and wouldn’t be out of place in Italy itself.

Osteria Oggi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Woodland House – Prahran – Sunday 5 November 2017 – Lunch

It was many years ago that I experienced my one time at Jacques Reymond. Getting there at night didn’t do justice to the beauty of the surrounds, but the care and attention of the staff was memorable.

In recent years, the restaurant has changed hands and names, but its prestige has not. Woodland House isn’t the latest and greatest, but neither is fine dining. A beautiful dining room, overlooking a stylish courtyard for a pre-lunch drink, give that feel of a great meal to come. This is something that will never go out of style.

Lunch here on the Sunday following Derby Day for our annual “recovery lunch” is quiet. In fact, while we are a relatively polite group of gentlemen, there is no doubt it is probably unusual for the other few couples here, with a large group of us in the centre of the restaurant. This is one of the reasons I love this lunch!

Very early on it is obvious that our main waitperson is going to split opinions in our group. Personally I like an eccentric waitperson/sommelier to make things more interesting, but I equally understand some of my friends who found him on the pushy side of enthusiastic. In the end, he did have care and attention for us, and some of our experiences were great.

Tasmanian salmon, broad beans, beurre blanc

A few examples. I was looking at an aged chardonnay for the first few courses and he guided me towards a lighter Chablis for the balance of the dishes. At the same time he didn’t deter me from a Bannockburn Pinot for our second bottle, even though he may have wanted to. On the flip side, one of our fussier mates asked for a Hendrix gin and tonic and he instead half-insisted on another gin. While I probably would have been happy with that, the seaweed accompaniment to the gin chosen was not to my mate’s personality or taste.

Spanner crab, confit red gurnard, potato foam

When the first course came out and I tasted the generous serve of spanner crab, my excitement levels for the remaining several courses elevated. While foam might be a dirty word of late, the potato foam, combined with the spanner crab and fish (red gurnard) was absolutely delicious and probably my highlight of the meal.

Nicely cooked and stylishly presented, the Tasmanian salmon with a beurre blanc sauce, was a simple but tasty second course. The let down of the meal was poached and roasted chicken. There was nothing terribly bad about this dish, but merely executing  sous vide technique is not enough. The skin was soft and fatty, rather than roasted to that crispness you expect, which was enough to make it texturally unsound.

Poached and roasted chicken, parsnip, mustard sauce

Instant improvement came with my second favourite dish of the savouries, with Western Plains sucking pig looking glorious, and tasting incredible! Here, the crispiness of the crackling made the dish, with a globe artichoke puree adding to the flavour profile. This was the kind of dish I love, balancing between the rustic flavours of the pork and the need to present with some flair.

Western Plains sucking pig, globe artichoke, tamarind

With similar groundings, the short rib from Cape Grim, also had the balance right. Here is an incredibly tender meat that is often served in large portions with no pizzazz, but is usually delicious. For a group of blokes, having this on offer at the end of the savoury courses is exciting, and we were not let down.

Cape Grim short rib, preserved plum, horseradish

We decided to pause before dessert with the cheese board as we finished our Franklin River cabernet. Once dessert came around we were ready for something sweet. The creamy nut ice cream, combined with caramel sauce, and some texture from milk skin, is a crowd pleaser. Sweet desserts are something I can handle at the end of a long meal and this did the trick.

Beurre noisette ice-cream, whipped caramel, milk skin

Rocking up first to lunch, sipping on a gin and tonic in the courtyard waiting for the boys, and reflecting on a great Derby Day, set the scene for a long and enjoyable lunch. There is always a place for the good aspects of fine dining, and I think Woodland House exhibits most of the good traits.

Woodland House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Doot Doot Doot at Jackalope – Mornington Peninsula – Thursday 7 September 2017 – Dinner and Breakfast

Infinity over the vines

So much beauty is hard to take in over a 20 hour period – we do our best.

Jackalope boutique hotel and its restaurant, Doot Doot Doot, opened on the first of April this year, and is the most beautiful art inspired hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. There is no pomp and ceremony here, but the fine detail, and incredible wonder of design is breathtaking.

Behold the Jackalope!

There is a country vibe but not in a “laid back” fashion, with professionalism not watering down the hospitality. Being boutique is not just down to size. The front of house have time to see you to your room and show you around, and you feel comfortable to have a chat as you do the obligatory walk around for photos of the Jackalope itself (a mythical creature), the infinity pool overlooking the vineyard, and the design elements that see a merging of functionality and art.

Besides the beautiful rooms, some complete with Japanese bath, all with a free mini-bar and sublime furnishings, there is a restaurant that is becoming increasingly renowned, despite its name. Doot Doot Doot is the flagship restaurant. By night, Doot Doot Doot is an edgy fine dining restaurant, and by day it operates as the anything-but-ordinary breakfast venue.

Flaggerdoot

If this hotel isn’t luxurious enough, the distinct advantage of staying here is the short stroll to dinner, via a cocktail hour drink at Flaggerdoot. The bar for Jackalope is extraordinary with its artistic vice, combined with several comfortable spaces, and a bar surrounded by huge vessels filled with paraffin wax. Somehow the obscenity of the fitout comes together seamlessly.

The fascinating light installation

Back to the restaurant. We are seated in the middle, with Catherine on the banquette, which forms a divider in the room. Above us are hundreds of amber coloured light fittings that brighten and fade in a slow rhythmic pattern. Across in the back corner is the envy of the restaurant with a table for two that has gigantic lounge style chairs with high backs stretching almost to the roof. We missed out at breakfast the next morning too, but never mind.

Pea, broadbean, goats curd, capers

There was something about the hospitality here too. It was almost as if the sommelier had been chosen to provide an actor (with great wine knowledge) that could work with the eclectic feel of the room. We had some great conversation in a way that only a long dining experience can allow. There is that country hospitality, and it only needs a slight sharpening to be perfect.

Quail eggs

Bread made with cumin, fennel and linseed was a sign that the food was going to be good. After the amuse (a cracker with quail egg), the first course added to the intrigue. A deliciously fresh beginning of peas and broadens with goat’s curd, capers and a lemony dressing. After one beautifully presented dish, the scallops looking amazing was not a surprise. Thinly sliced into three pieces of sashimi, this scallop is served with ginger and finger lime, completed with a fabulous sauce.

Scallop, ginger, finger lime

Then came one of the highlights of the night. A generous serving of spanner crab sitting in a potato puree. Bottarga adds to the depth of flavour, with furikake used as a seasoning to further enhance the dish. We were enjoying the 2015 Robert Weil ‘Trocken’ Riesling which had been selected by the sommelier for the first few courses, but especially for this one. I would quite happily return to Doot Doot Doot just for this dish, and this wine.

Spanner crab, potato, bottarga, furikake

Not reaching the heights of the spanner crab, the beetroot soups were still an attractive and tasty dish. One side was yellow beetroot, infused with saffron, and the other was the more traditional kind. In the middle sat a hay infused cream. I think it may have acted as a cleanser between dishes, but was probably a touch too large.

Beetroot soups, hay cream, coffee, sunflower

Tuna quickly seared but over a high temperature hit our table next. It was served simply with some Japanese salt plums (Umeboshi), olives, and mushrooms. By this stage the skill of the kitchen was obvious, and the Japanese slant of the hotel intricately applied to the food.

Tuna, umeboshi, olive

As we finished our 2013 Willow Creek Chardonnay, which also showed the winery next door is no slouch. The tide turned with a dish of sweetbreads, shiitake mushrooms, clams and walnuts in a crumb. Matched with the 2005 Cabernets by Yarra Yarra (wonderful) this expression of offal is a dish to behold. That earthiness, savouriness, gaminess, and downright rusticity, cannot be beautifully presented, but that doesn’t detract from this being one of the dishes of the night. Yes there is more than a hint of Asian there, but it takes me straight to the backstreets of Rome, dining at Checchino dal 1887. Stunning.

Sweetbreads, clams, shiitake, walnut

Thankfully for Catherine we were back in more well-trodden territory next, finishing our savoury courses with flank steak, cooked medium rare, with a spectacular pumpkin puree, and onion rings. As you would expect, a cut like flank steak that is done well, exhibits so much flavour, and this one hits the mark. We wash down the remainder of the red wine, turning our thoughts to dessert.

Beef, black sesame, onion, pumpkin

With a figurative bang, out comes the toasted marshmallow with rhubarb and blood orange sorbet. It is a little dismissive to call this a refresher, when it is as good as most desserts going around. The toasted marshmallow coats your tongue and you are taken back to other times in the country around a camp fire.

The main dessert is comforting, but in a fine dining way. The malt ice cream again bringing back flavour memories of childhood, with a very grown up honey sponge, and meringue scattered through. A satisfying way to finish.

Malt, burnt honey, dark ale

The whole meal had been engaging and entertaining. With terrifically executed dishes, excellent wine service, and art filling the restaurant, it is a fascinating take on modern dining. With our senses fulfilled we strolled back to our room, ready to do it all again tomorrow morning for breakfast.

As breakfast goes, the biggest surprise here is picking up the menu to find a treasure trove of stylish offerings. There is nothing of the hotel classics (using the word classics quite loosely). It is actually akin to the fine dining take on breakfast that is so beautifully done by cafes in Melbourne like Top Paddock and Higher Ground.

Five spice and pistachio waffle – berry compote, vanilla cream, Oreo crumb

I think I was being a good sport leaving Catherine to order the five spice and pistachio waffle, but at least I got a few tastes. Complete with berry compote, vanilla cream, and Oreo crumbs, the waffle is quite spectacular to see, and to taste.

Spanner crab omelette – served with shiitake relish, chicken dashi

No less fancily presented, my spanner crab omelette is served with shiitake relish and chicken dashi (but curiously no toast). The omelette is perfectly constructed, and the spanner crab is gorgeously generous, making for a highly indulgent breakfast. Funnily enough this dish would not be out of place on the dinner tasting menu such is its quality.

It is wonderful that a hotel can do this menu at breakfast. It is not an out-of-this-world concept, but it is so rarely done that it is extraordinary. As we wander around the grounds of the hotel, walking off the omelette and waffles, it reveals that there is nothing ordinary about any of this experience. Simply stunning!

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

The Independent – Gembrook – Sunday 8 October 2017 – Lunch

The Independent

We’ve just finished lunch and I have the rare ability to write a review during the hour long drive home. Today is the perfect day for a Sunday drive, and the main feature is an even better reason for a drive.

The Independent in Gembrook is a place I’ve been keen to try for a couple of years. Our friends organised a group lunch a bit over two years ago but Catherine and I only got to join for a drink, following a huge morning with a win at auction after six long months of failure. The reviews that day were overwhelmingly positive, putting The Independent high on our list of day trip possibilities.

Cordero – Slow roasted Gippsland lamb shoulder, carrots, chilli, coriander + peanuts

Two year’s later we’ve made it for lunch and on this particular Sunday the large, good looking restaurant, is seemingly less popular (but still quite busy). The drive is very close to an hour from the city meaning a nice lazy morning before the midday drive.

It is a strikingly well thought out restaurant space. Lots of tables but not crammed in; open kitchen on one side and bar on the other; and a great use of light both from the opening in the roof, to the windows overlooking the garden (and playground) out back, and to the street out front. There is no hesitation from the staff to seat us at a table for four, giving us plenty of room to stretch out.

Pork croquettes

We are ready to eat. The pork croquette special is impossible to resist as a starter, and we are choosing between the chicken, lamb and short rib beef for mains. Whilst warned by the learned waitstaff that the lamb would be too big for two, the opportunity to take any leftovers home meant a guilt-free decision. The maple carrots accompanying the dish were the sealer.

The pork croquettes were delicious, filled with heaps of juicy pork and nothing added merely to fill out the mixture. The serve of five is extremely generous too. Next came the shoulder of lamb which was impressively presented for a sharing style dish.

Lechuga – Lettuce, mustard dressing + cheddar

The lamb was everything we hoped for. Falling off the bone, beautifully cooked, and paying tribute to the Argentinian roots of the restaurant. When combined with the maple, chilli and peanut roasted carrots we really felt indulgent. To soften some of the richness we opted for the lettuce salad, topped with a large helping of cheese, and finished off with a well made vinaigrette.

As usual it was too much food for Catherine and my relatively small appetites. The takeaway option won the day, but we had already had two servings, suggesting that equally small appetites could have an outrageously good lunch between four people for about $25 a head! Even though we were overly satisfied, we did have to try the dulce de leche ice cream dessert.

Helado – House made dulce de leche ice cream + cookie crumb

Even sharing, this is a very rich and decadent dessert, complete with caramel sauce and a harder almost fudge-like caramel. With the help of some peppermint tea (made with fresh mint), and a double espresso, we did make it through and I’m not one bit upset that we did.

During lunch I tried a white from Argentina and a 2015 pinot noir by Rob Dolan from the Yarra Valley. As striking as the fitout, the exteremely reasonable prices for wine add even more merit to doing a weekend in Gembrook and really indulging in a few nice bottles.

The Independent has now been around for a few years and from what we experienced, the reviews are true. It is definitely worth a nice Sunday drive whether in the cooler months of winter, or during the warmth of Spring and Summer that we are all looking forward to.

The Independent Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato