Noir – Richmond – Saturday 5 September 2015 – Dinner

Caramelised Atlantic scallop, cauliflower veloute, black truffle and pecorino

Caramelised Atlantic scallop, cauliflower veloute, black truffle and pecorino

Neighbourhood restaurant as a tag seems a limiting, not to mention obvious, way to describe a place. Put in a positive light it merely means somewhere that is accessible to regular visits by locals, that has a comfort in belonging. It is rarely used in a negative sense the way “suburban” often can be.

In Richmond, only a couple of kilometres outside the CBD, there is a growing population of diverse restaurant offerings. One staple that felt missing for many years was a bistro the likes of France-Soir, or Thierry’s, but Noir swept in and filled that void. Naturally it is not as traditional, but the feeling here as you walk in is akin to those friendly convivial environments.

In a sense we have missed out in participating in the establishment of Noir’s reputation. For one reason or another, the eight minute walk down Swan Street ended up taking a couple of years to convert into a visit, but now we are here. As you would expect, the original cheap ($15!) entree, and almost equally reasonable ($35) main have been replaced with higher price tags, but the tasting menu listing five enticing courses, is still value at $100, and there is also a very reasonable menu du jour for around $65.

When I go to a bistro and look down on the menu to see duck, lamb, gnocchi and chocolate on a tasting menu you can stop the presses on the rest of the offerings. With one tweak, care of Catherine’s early menu reading habit, we chose the tasting menu without hesitation. That tweak was to replace the kingfish (which sounded excellent too) with a scallop dish that had taken her eye in a big way.

thyme gnochetti with king brown mushroom fondue, nettle and black truffle pesto

thyme gnochetti, king brown mushroom fondue, nettle and black truffle pesto

That was our first course and what an entry into the meal to come. A beautifully pan fried caremelised Atlantic scallop surrounded by a cauliflower veloute that dreams are made of, black truffle and pecorino providing further elevation. Next came the thyme gnochetti with king brown mushroom fondue, nettle and black truffle pesto. A terrific follow up, with a huge amount of gnochetti for a tasting menu, and another banging sauce.

Duck

Crisp breast of duck with licorice, fennel and orange

There is really only a small list of savouries that a bistro needs to do well for me to be back. The biggest test is duck. Noir’s crisp breast of duck with licorice, fennel and orange ticked all the boxes. While the classic flavours pairing with the duck are very important, the way the duck is cooked is by far the most important aspect of this dish. It was cooked perfectly, and the way it looked on the plate, juicy and inviting, was the way it tasted.

Lamb

Roasted rack of lamb with pumpkin, pumpkin seed praline and parmesan

Our last savoury course was the roasted rack of lamb, with pumpkin, pumpkin seed praline and parmesan. Again the chefs showed great touch with the lamb, but in this case the pumpkin took an equally starring role.

Service, while quirky (which we liked), was utterly professional. I had to ask where our waitperson had come from previously and learned he had worked at many fine establishments across Melbourne for a long time. Good signs for Noir if it can attract this calibre of talent. The wine list is good without being unforgettable, and could even be viewed as a little pricey for a bistro, but we found some nice options starting with champagne, into chardonnay and then a pinot noir. When in Noir.

Chocolate marquise, blood orange macaron, pistachio and hibiscus

Chocolate marquise, blood orange macaron, pistachio and hibiscus

For dessert that was where the wine list became limited as I would love to see a Pedro, Muscat or Tokay to match with the chocolate marquise, served with blood orange macaron, pistachio and hibiscus. Dessert was good, but we couldn’t help noticing how much better the soufflés looked, coming out around the same time, so we will be going after one of those next time. When will deconstructed desserts have finished their time?

The biggest surprise for me is that Noir is not covered in Australian Gourmet Traveller’s restaurant guide. While it might be a tiny “neighbourhood” restaurant, it is much more than that, and is hopefully not far off being noticed more broadly. I’m equally hopeful that it keeps doing what it is doing, providing an offering that is right up my alley.

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

Dumpling King – Richmond – Wednesday 9 September 2015 – Dinner

Duck san choi bao

Duck san choi bao

A brave move is the best way to phrase any new restaurant opening on Swan Street in Richmond these days. With competition getting to an untenable level it is scary to take on the host of established eateries in this area, but equally where there is risk there is reward.

Dumpling King is a chain (or franchise). The name is a little misleading given the offerings on the menu going far beyond just dumplings. The expectation before tonight was that the sole focus would be on dumplings.

We started off with pan fried pork dumplings, but that is where our dumpling journey ended as we also started with steamed pork buns and duck san choi bao. The san choi bao was nicely presented. While quite tasty I had trouble with the lettuce to filling ratio, and the finely minced duck, which lost some of the flavour. The steamed pork buns were quite good but the filling was a bit light on. Luckily the bun was nicely prepared and fluffy.

Steamed pork bun

Steamed pork bun

The pan fried pork dumplings are good, with a taut wrapper, and particularly generous and tasty filling. While you should expect this from a restaurant called Dumpling King it is never a foregone conclusion.

With four of us sharing dinner we ordered some of the larger dishes on offer. The Mongolian beef was easily the highlight, served on a sizzling plate and adorned with onions and a rich sauce. On the other hand the satay chicken can be best described as reasonable surburban Aussie Chinese, though the pineapple had no place anywhere. The surprise it provided when expecting potato was unfortunate.

There was some uncertainty and nervousness shown by the staff when we were ordering, but they were polite and friendly. There is no attitude which is always nice, but there is also no polish. It is a skill to understand what you are offering to customers, and to execute with confidence.

At Dumpling King there is a nice base quality of dishes on offer, much more diverse than the name suggests. To survive on Swan Street more thought needs to go into the fitout and more confidence needs to be shown by the staff. Starting from scratch I’d reduce the number of tables, and use what they have done at Jimmy Grant’s, or even Anchovy, for some inspiration, particularly the long bar offering tap beer, and the separation of the counter (where takeaways are collected, which is currently in the back corner) and the restaurant.

Dumpling King Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jimmy Grants – Richmond – Numerous Occasions – Lunch and Dinner

IMG_4137Unusually, Jimmy Grants has barely been open a few weeks and I am already past my third sitting. Such is the pull of a genuine souva that every time a hat drops I seem to be back.

That’s not to say that it is some impeccable gastro temple. In the end it is a comfortable place to eat what would ordinarily be categorised as takeaway style fast food, or worse, “late night snacks”! However, like many simple things in life, the ability to focus and provide the punters with exactly what they want is going to be attractive.
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I have decided I like Mr Papadopolous better than Nonna Maria’s souva, the lamb in my experience deeper in flavour than the chicken, but I’ll be continuing to compare. The well seasoned chips protruding from the pita on top of the lamb or chicken reminds me of my time in Athens and Santorini, and the cooked onion and parsley are enough to sustain me for lunch or a lighter dinner. The pita itself is excellent most times.

The chips have always seemed to be perfect, and when ordered as a side come with garlic oil, feta, and oregano, just to add to the guilt. If you want salad you can order it on the side, or in the souva, but I haven’t tried that yet. Grabbing a wagon wheel for later or immediately after is also an option. They are pretty good but for me best to share.
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One aspect that is much better than Fitzroy is the layout. It is much more functional given there are seemingly equal numbers dining in and taking away. Staff are reasonably good in the first few weeks but we have had one time where orders were mucked up with a quick resolution showing good initiative. One thing they might want to do less is hover. Sometimes you are still chewing your last bite when they are clearing your plate. Nice to keep a tidy restaurant, but also nice to not annoy the patrons.

I have been waiting for Jimmy Grant’s in Richmond for some time. For around a year there was a sign on the wall that “Jimmy is coming” and the entrance has been nothing short of spectacular. The ability to now get off on the corner of Swan and Church and have access to Jimmy’s, Fonda, Messina, Meatball, Meatmother, and Hunky Dory, not to mention the soon to arrive Belle’s, all within a couple of minutes walk, is just heavenly.

Jimmy Grants Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Miss Chu – South Yarra – Sunday 6 September 2015 – Dinner

Traditional beef pho

Traditional beef pho

Having walked past a few times before visiting there is something enticing about the entrance to Miss Chu. The model of having the takeaway at the front and the restaurant at the back doesn’t always work but in this case there is something comforting.

The fitout for this Vietnamese diner uses every inch of the long and tight rectangle room. It is funky and functional. The menu doubles as an order form immediately bringing memories of places like Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong. While we are here for soup, there are just too many enticing dishes to completely focus there.
So we begin with rice paper rolls. Beautiful, tight wrapped rice paper covers a generous roast duck filling. Combined with the rice wine vinegar based sweet chilli sauce you have way more than a snack. This could act as a light lunch.

Roast duck and banana flower rice paper rolls

Roast duck and banana flower rice paper rolls

Next we try the prawn and crab net spring rolls. Again, it strikes me that you can actually taste the prawn and crab through its generousity, which should be the usual case, but just isn’t in reality. Each bite is delicious and again the dipping sauce adds a hit of heat.

We now have our traditional Vietnamese pho filled with beef. The broth is great, but certainly no better than many on Victoria Street. What does set this pho apart is the noodles which are perfectly formed and have that elasticity and texture that puts them in the exceptional basket. The beef is tender enough, but still could be cut a little smaller in the kitchen. Put another way, it’s probably not a first date dish.

Prawn & crab net spring rolls

Prawn & crab net spring rolls

With a good selection of drinks available, Miss Chu provides a terrific dining experience. While you write your own order, the service is still interactive, and on this occasion, quick. For the price tag it is one of those experiences where you are already planning future visits as you slurp the last of those awesome noodles.

Miss Chu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Trentham Estate Winery – Trentham Cliffs – Wednesday 29 July 2015 – Lunch

IMG_3989_2A visit to the cellar door is always a good idea, time permitting, prior to lunch at a winery. Today we have fifteen minutes to spare and it’s not too busy. The cellar door at Trentham Estate Winery overlooks the Murray River on the NSW side. It’s a novelty for me that our impending lunch is in NSW and dinner is in Victoria.

We have an opportunity to try several whites and reds on a list that must run into twenty wines, most available for tasting. They are all reasonably priced and I really should have grabbed a bottle of the nebbiolo which I quite enjoyed. However, we run out of time and need to be next door for lunch, leaving a very comfortable pot belly fire in our wake.

The restaurant is nice and warm, and the welcome matches. Naturally, the focus of the tables is towards the gorgeous view of the Murray and lawns outside. The room itself is simple, with wooden furnishings and natural tones. Deciding between the diverse types of dishes is proving a challenge. Catherine narrows her choices down to two and I can’t decide so I offer to order the Murray cod and she can get her other choice of the gnocchi.
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My decision proves a winner but unfortunately her decision does not. The gnocchi is served with green beans, asparagus, broccolini and green peas. The gnocchi itself is finished off in the pan before being covered by the green sauce which, except for the peas, is all combined. There is not a great deal to like about this dish with quite doughy gnocchi, and a sauce that is not well seasoned, tasting of little given the spectacular fresh offerings in this region.

The Murray cod is on the other hand fantastic. Fresh and just cooked through, the flesh of the fish is beautiful. When combined with an expertly prepared lemon beurre blanc, boulangere potatoes, and fresh asparagus, every mouthful is divine.
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When our waitperson comes to clear our dishes and notices Catherine’s half eaten gnocchi she politely enquires whether there is any issue. As nicely as possible she describes the lack of flavour and doughy gnocchi and our waitperson instantly, against our protests, takes the dish off the bill. A terrifically fast response to customer feedback.

We decide to stick on and try the millefeuille which is a good choice. The sheets of pastry are nice and crisp and in between is plenty of sweet cream with a tasty raspberry sauce. It is not incredible but it is very nice.

Trentham Estate Winery is a pleasant place to enjoy a relaxing lunch overlooking the Murray. While the food let us down today, the response and the service in general was excellent.

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Mildura Brewery – Mildura – Wednesday 29 July 2015 – Dinner

IMG_3997_2The area around the Grand Hotel Mildura is a feast of culinary options. Wanting something a little more casual, we opted for the Mildura Brewery which is housed in what was previously the Astor Theatre.

It is hard to think how the conversion of the theatre into a brewery could have been done better. Many of the hallmarks of the theatre are not only present, but accentuated, and even the backdrop of the beer vats deserves a standing ovation for any beer drinker.

Having tried their Astor Ale and IPA this evening, I can vouch for the quality of these brews, the Astor in particular delicate but flavoursome, a beer that has some complexity without taking away from the ability to have a few. The IPA is bold as you would expect, a robust option that fits the bill of many red meat dishes.
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Catherine’s Mildura Brewery cider is one of the better ciders I’ve tried, but I must admit I am not a big cider drinker. The crispness of the apples in the region are definitely reflected in the cider though.

On a Wednesday night in a country town, we thought we might get away with strolling in without a reservation. We were wrong; restaurant and bar are packed and we have to wait about thirty minutes for a table which was a good chance to enjoy the lounge area at the front. From the initial welcome of the maitre’d to leaving the restaurant, the service was excellent. Warm, knowledgeable, and attentive.
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Choosing between the dishes is difficult with a combination of pub classics, homemade Italian (the influence of Stefano di Pieri always present), and French bistro, all in good measure. Catherine chose the homemade lasagne, while I decided on the scotch fillet. Perfectly cooked to my medium rare instruction, the scotch fillet is big on flavour, and comes from one of the locals, Naz Tassone. The char in particular is delicious. The mash is great, but the vegetables are tremendous.

Catherine’s lasagne is excellent too. Homemade pasta sheets separated by a generous and rich ragu, with the béchamel sauce and cheese all delivering on flavour. Even the side salad, featuring simple fresh ingredients jazzed up with a bit of radicchio, is great and you get to dress it yourself Italian style with Stefano’s olive oil and balsamic.

I am a huge fan of brewery dining. There is something special about it in Australia particularly. We love a beer and have an infatuation with the brewing process and the equipment so it makes sense we like to eat in the same place. Places like Little Creatures, and Bootleg Brewery, are close to my heart but I think I’ve just found one that offers even more on the food front.

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Spoons Riverside – Swan Hill – Tuesday 28 July 2015 – Lunch

IMG_3971_2Three hours into our drive to Mildura we had taken the slightly longer route to try Spoons Riverside in Swan Hill. It is a nicer drive along with Murray so the extra twenty or so minutes is worth it.

The reputation of this café proceeds it, and we know a number of people who have recommended it. There is plenty of room at lunch on this cool Tuesday in winter. However we couldn’t resist braving the cold in consideration for the magnificient view of the Murray River and surrounds.
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The waitstaff are fantastic at not forgetting about us even though there is less than a handful of tables being utilised outside. Catherine orders the avocado, quinoa, tomato, and feta on Turkish bread and I opt for the pie special.

The pie is great, particularly the pastry, encasing a creamy chicken and carrot filling, alongside some mash. The side salad was nice and fresh and the chutney worked well. Catherine’s avocado toast combines all the ingredients nicely with a good splash of balsamic. It is fresh, flavoursome and vibrant like this classic combination should be.
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While we need to get back on the road soon, there is nothing that can stop us from taking in the view for a little longer. Eventually the cool air gets the better of us, but this was a terrific place to stop by.

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