D.O.C. Pizza & Mozzarella Bar – Carlton – Sunday 13 November 2016 – Dinner

San Daniele

San Daniele

I’ll keep this short since I recently wrote about D.O.C. Mornington, which is the sister of the original in Carlton.

D.O.C. Carlton is special to me for many reasons. Mainly because it is the venue of my third date, with my now wife, when she took me to Nova for the first time, and pizza afterwards.

It is actually hard to think of better places for a date. You turn up when the restaurant is already full (hopefully not too full) and wait your turn while having a chat on a nice evening outside, or huddled on the tiny bar, dodging the waitstaff as you sip on your aperitif. An aperol spritz, a prosecco, or even a glass of chianti perhaps? Then you get to enjoy great food in an atmospheric restaurant with the fantastic service you associate with Italian restaurants.

Radicchio salad

Radicchio salad

Tonight we’ve arrived early; very early actually. A movie out at Rivoli in Camberwell was sold out so instead of late afternoon popcorn we changed up to late afternoon pizza. We ordered the San Daniele pizza that is full of its namesake prosciutto, and DOP Mozzarella cheese on a tomato base. It is outstanding in its simplicity, its execution, and more importantly, its flavour.

The Salsiccia pizza has D.O.C. Deli made pork sausage on a base of creamed broccoli, and we ordered extra DOP Mozzarella too. It is also a nice pizza, but the broccoli cream is a bit too healthy, and to be honest we didn’t realise it would be the main ingredient. Like last time we were in Mornington, we ordered the radicchio salad which includes orange segments, walnuts, gorgonzola and fennel, with a balsamic dressing. It is an excellent combination, perfect to break up the heaviness of the pizza, but certainly not lacking in punch.

Salsiccia

Salsiccia

I’m driving but my Peroni Leggera (3.5% alcohol or 0.9 standard drinks) is fine, and Catherine’s Aperol Spritz is excellent. We are surprised how many people are here eating dinner before 6pm. It is certainly a healthy business and that shows the product being provided over many years is high quality.

Whether it is a date, or several years of marriage, kids, or otherwise, D.O.C. Carlton fits the bill for a quality traditional Italian pizza restaurant.

DOC Pizza & Mozzarella Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cherry Tree Hotel – Cremorne – Wednesday 19 October 2016 – Dinner

Scotch fillet with rosemary potatoes, vegetables, and beef jus

Scotch fillet with rosemary potatoes, vegetables, and beef jus

Normally when I dine out it is in the knowledge that my meal is much more likely to be good than average. I learned many years ago that wandering around, and just walking in on a feeling, only works for people who are really easy to please. I’m not a person who goes to dinner looking to critique, but I also know what is purely sustenance versus something that has real flavour.

I’ll admit that there is good personal reason why I haven’t eaten at the Cherry Tree Hotel until now. I have lived close by for several months, and I’ve enjoyed many beers here outside in the sun, or inside near the fire. The reason is that, for no reason, I’m worried my first meal will be average and I won’t want to go back again!

To keep my views in check (because I was always going to be as positive as I could be), I have brought my mate we affectionately call “Chef”, because he is the harshest (often unreasonably) critic I know. Chef has been a chef for over three decades and his experience is extensive. Sometimes in areas you would not expect given his English heritage; like Chinatown and dumplings, cheap steak nights, and simple bacon and eggs.

Well tonight is the Cherry Tree Hotel’s steak night. Potentially an absolute steal at $15 for a scotch fillet with roasted potatoes, steamed vegetables (or chips and salad), and a pepper or butter sauce. It’s quite busy following the earlier after work drinks rush (there’s a huge buzz on Friday nights especially) which is a good sign.

The other good sign is the presentation on the plate, with a certain brightness and shine to the potatoes and vegetables, which taste as good as they look. But we are here for the steak, both having chosen medium-rare. Medium-rare is the steak lover’s go-to when ordering at a non-steak restaurant for the first time. It is the same as making sure you shallow dive in a new pool, even if you are sure you’re at the deep end.

Hallelujah! The steak is medium-rare, and the scotch fillet is a good cut, with reasonably consistent tenderness. I’m pleased and already thinking about the numerous occasions I’ll be able to catch up with friends around the corner for a good quality $15 steak. Having let the dust settle the next day I texted Chef for his rating out of five and his four didn’t surprise me for a normal person, but for Chef to give a four means this is far more than just your average cheap pub steak.

The Cherry Tree Hotel is an awesome place to have a drink and I’m a proud local. With a steak night like this, Wednesday cooking at home could be put on a bit of a back-burner given the number of great sunny evenings coming up over summer. The craft beers, and great kick-back atmosphere, only adds to the equation.

Cherry Tree Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Noi Thai – Richmond – Saturday 15 October 2016 – Dinner

Massaman beef

Massaman beef

It is rare that the phone conversation when booking makes such a difference to your meal as a whole. Tonight, Catherine and I, were tossing up several options including hopping on the train to the city.

We ended up at Noi Thai, pleased to have an early dinner booking at late notice, and rapt with the BYO wine option that was explained to us on the phone. The care shown in that conversation translates into the friendly and adept service throughout the evening.

Noi Thai had been suggested to us by other locals several times. It has been around for many years and continues to have excellent support and patronage. The menu is definitely more traditional Thai, rather than the now popular (and expensive) modern slant.

Aunty Moo's chive dumplings

Aunty Moo’s chive dumplings

With the meat samosas off the menu tonight, we decided to try Aunty Moo’s chive dumplings. The dumplings are an interesting take, with the usual gelatinous texture, but also lightly crumbed and briefly shallow fried. They are nice but next time I would order differently.

We really feel like curry tonight and we don’t hesitate to order both the beef massaman curry and roast duck curry. The beef massaman has large chunks of beef, which easily shred with tenderness, though the middle is a touch dry due to the size. The sauce is gorgeous and this curry is Catherine’s favourite for the evening.

Roast duck curry

Roast duck curry

Whilst fairly hot, the roast duck curry is definitely my favourite for the night. The duck is beautifully cooked and generously served, with delicious spices. There are a couple of surprise lychee and pineapple pieces that are not described on the menu (and probably not needed), but the dish is superb and a speciality of the house for good reason.

The BYO option makes an already affordable restaurant a cheap night out. There is no doubt why Noi Thai is a favourite amongst locals and the only disappointment I have is all the years I’ve overlooked it.

Noi Thai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Atlas Dining – South Yarra – Friday 11 November 2016 – Dinner

Octopus, sweet potato,, pomelo

Octopus, sweet potato, pomelo

Is there a secret formula to obtaining buzz about a restaurant opening? I couldn’t be sure, but I would bet that marketing / restaurant consultants swear by it. How ever it might come about, there is a definite buzz around Atlas Dining.

I’ve seen it in The Age’s Epicure liftout on a Tuesday; I’ve heard friends randomly mention it; and I’ve seen it come up on Instagram. One of those friends said his mate had been once a month since opening! Little to question on that score when purely studying the prices, which allow you to get out of the restaurant at less than $100 per person for 4 courses, matching wines, some unlimited sparkling and a tea or coffee!

Short story is that the head chef and owner has worked everywhere, spanning several countries, and somehow has a restaurant on Commercial Road in South Yarra at the age of 22! The question is has he jumped in the deep end too early? Having chosen the 6 course option with matching wines, we sip our champagne while enjoying the combined bread and amuse which is served charred with a duck parfait drizzled with honey that is delicious. First course in the form of octopus is confirmation that Charlie Carrington and his chefs can cook.

Asparagus, egg, iceberg

Asparagus, egg, iceberg

Actually, while all the dishes are great, the octopus dish is my favourite. It is beautifully charred, and the accompaniments lift it even further. The vinegar from the pickled diakon and the acid of the pomelo, is softened by the slightly spicy and deeply flavoured puree of sweet potato. All together it is an inspired dish, and the first of six that pay homage to Vietnam. Did I mention that every four months, Atlas Dining, will change its cultural theme, the next instalment being from the Middle East.

Mackerel, pickled vegetables, Vietnamese mint

Mackerel, pickled vegetables, Vietnamese mint

The next dish, features chopped asparagus, a warm slow cooked egg, iceberg lettuce, and a delightful butter sauce. Again the combination is terrific, with some classic flavours combining through excellent technique. Our third course is mackerel, the strength of this fish being exhibited in all its glory; but it is not for everyone. It is a generous serve, sleekly presented, and I enjoy it with the pickled diakon and carrot, but it doesn’t have the punch of the previous dishes.

Wagyu beef pho tartare

Wagyu beef pho tartare

We are back on a winner with the wagyu tartare which is more deconstructed than traditional tartare which normally combines the ingredients until they are almost indistinguishable. Here you have just slightly cooked wagyu, the slow cooked egg similar to the second course, spicy crackers, onion, herbs and spices, coming together with a reduced pho as the sauce. Again the presentation met the flavour, with the cracker shavings over the black plate having a great visual impact.

There is an easy flow to service, which is excellent across the board. There is a consistency in the feel which is casual and approachable; there is belief. Our waitperson in particular, and the sommelier, do a fine job, and some dishes being brought out by the chefs is a nice touch.

The wine list is on point with the theme, offering diverse and interesting options. While we could have happily had the Geoff Weaver Chardonnay, we decided to do the matching, and we were pleased we did. There were some interesting (and delicious) wines early in the night. The best was a subtle German wine from Baden in a White Burgundy style, that opened up beautifully with the octopus. However, my favourite glass was a Chilean pinot noir by Montsecano that really hit it off with the wagyu tartare.

Lychee, grilled cucumber

Lychee, grilled cucumber

Our first dessert was a refreshing grilled cucumber and cucumber and lychee granita. Nicely presented, it was really more an entree into our second dessert, which showed the restraint you often associate with Asian sweets, but with wonderful balance. White peach served both grilled, and julienne, with a buffalo curd infused with coriander. Again, a few ingredients, in a combination that seems simple but is actually deceiving, showing that the chefs know how to use technique without demonstrating the complications to the customer.

Peach, smoked buffalo curd, coriander

Peach, smoked buffalo curd, coriander

Even without knowing the back story it is hard not to get swept up by Atlas Dining. The challenge of the restaurant business is being met by a young chef and a professional outfit head on. It is a business though, and the test only becomes more challenging (but also rewarding) over time. The ingredients are certainly there for our fantastic experience to be repeated over a lengthy period, and I’m looking forward to seeing Charlie’s take on the Middle East.

Atlas Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato