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

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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