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

Hanoi Hannah – New Quarter – Richmond – Numerous Occasions

Fish wings

At times service is a factor only when it is exceptional or terrible. It is not absurd for it just not to be noticed, like children in the 50s. Service should be seen and not heard!

There are times where it can blow your mind. Times where you want to return because that compliment you received had to be genuine, or the charm of the maître’d was irresistible. Then there are the stories that you must tell even if it is focussing a touch too much on the negative, like when you witness a terrible car accident.

Lemongrass beef salad

I’ll tell you about the car accident soon but first let’s look at the positives. Hanoi Hannah’s New Quarter in Richmond is irresistible like the figurative maitre’d I mentioned just moments ago. It is literally the old and the new for both HH and this building which retains its character, but is completely redeveloped on the corner of Lennox and Swan. The positioning is a real estate agent’s dream. Location, Location, Location!

There are staff who have spent an hour getting ready to try to make it look like they didn’t try. The artistic maps sprawled across the wall of Richmond are a delight to behold while slurping your noodles. The windows look out to the restrained Richmond grunge turned fashionable, with more than a splattering of footy colours to add to the atmosphere. I love it.

Poached chicken pho

I’ve been multiple times; for lunch and for dinner; quiet weekdays and busy after-footy weekends. When I first tried the beef shortrib pho I thought it was indulgent, but difficult to navigate. The latter won out and it was taken off the menu but it lives in my memory. Catherine’s smoked chicken pho was not quite as decadent but definitely made for a repeat offender.

Beef short rib pho

The lemongrass beef salad is terrific too. All the learnings from Windsor, which again is a restaurant I’ve frequented, are clearly transported to Richmond. Elements you take for granted are expertly combined. Somehow every time I enjoy a salad with the multitude of herbs, vinegary sauce, and vegetables, that Vietnam and surrounds are famous for, I forget how well you feel after lunch (and how much you enjoy the flavours).

Peking duck rice paper rolls

Dining with a few friends and sharing is a great idea too. Because on this other occasion I got to try the caramelised pork hock in rice paper. And it was a good moment. So were the duck rice paper rolls; the chock-full-of-prawns spring rolls; and the spicy lamb curry. In fact, there hasn’t been a dish that has come out of the kitchen (which includes an offshoot that does takeaway lunch that we’ve also taken advantage of – pork belly bahn mi with crackling for $10!) that has not been good to very good.

Caramelised pork hock with rice paper

The service is fine on the whole, but definitely has that touch of “we work in a really popular place so aren’t we great” vibe. So when we were basically asked to order dessert on the spot or leave I took some serious exception to it.

Chicken and pork belly bahn mi

It is not a long story. We ordered a second bottle of wine and had finished half of it (ie, we were going to be here for at least 20 minutes longer). We got asked whether we wanted dessert and said “we would take a look”. The menu was provided immediately and the waitperson said “would you like dessert”. I said “we have a half bottle of wine so we can look at dessert and decide while we finish it”. She said “there are two desserts so you can choose now, or I can bring you the bill”.

I know the staff are under pressure to turn tables over. It is a busy night. But there are ways you do not treat anyone. Either my directness at the last comment was noticed, or sense prevailed, and our waitperson apologised reasonably sincerely (and quite profusely) but the damage was done. I said straight up to her that “I have never been asked to leave a restaurant like this before”.

There is never any excuse for making someone feel threatened and bullied. We spent $249 over a period of about 90 minutes including 2 bottles of wine. Anyone who reads my reviews knows that we ordered dessert (and the doughnuts were pretty good). We were not given a sitting time to begin with and we were walk-ins as Catherine expertly got us a table before the footy finished. I really can’t stand the way we were treated at a restaurant I supported 4 times in its first 6 weeks. Not again. Well maybe a bahn mi at the takeaway bit or a cheeky pho!

Hanoi Hannah New Quarter Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kisume – Melbourne, City – Saturday 10 March 2018 – Dinner

Kingfish sashimi, truffle soy, black truffle

I will admit it. I just don’t know enough about Japanese food to feel entirely comfortable critiquing it. I do know about restaurants and I do know what is good though.

There is no aspect of Japanese food that I do not like. Tempura, nigiri sushi, sashimi, yakitori, ramen, you name it; I love them all. When they are done at the highest level of quality it sticks out. There may only be a sparse number of ingredients, making it less obvious to differentiate, but when the component parts are superb, it is something of beauty.

Take that tradition of few ingredients and incredible fastidiousness, and add some modern flourishes and you have “modern Japanese”. Like other modern takes on traditional cuisine, it is not a complete transformation, but does make a statement. The other ingredients here at Kisume is a rockstar sibling restaurant in Chin Chin that is still attracting lines of people many years on, a glamourous space over a couple of levels, and that intangible cool that is a magic of its own.

We had the tasting menu with the deluxe sushi upgrade. The food is by no means flawless, or even close. The service is chaotic at times, but generally okay. No one seems to care that much because this is one of the hottest tickets in town. The experience feels similar to when you see your favourite band – even if they are not the best they could be, you are so excited you don’t care that much.

Tonight I’m dining with three friends and we all have different views on Japanese cuisine. “Chef” as we know him, is not a devotee and, unsurprisingly, this is not his best experience. Jarrod loves Japan and Japanese food, but was unmoved by several dishes. Trav has been to Japan multiple times too but had a more positive response.

Chargrilled edamame

The tasting menu started with edamame. We had already been suggested to try some as we decided what we would order, and whether we would try the tasting menu. They were very nice, chargrilled with salt and garlic oil. After opting for the tasting menu we were told that was the first course anyway. Then we received a further two bowls. Three bowls of edamame for four people? We felt bad leaving one completely untouched but the staff didn’t admit it was a mistake, and either way that is a lot of edamame to eat.

Crispy pork kimchi gyoza

Next were some delicious pork gyoza that some at the table were saying are equaled at several other venues in Chinatown, but I thought were terrific. Kingfish sashimi that is first class comes next. Truffle soy and black truffle elevate the flavours, but the kingfish is top of the range. When kingfish is this good it reminds you why variations are so popular on restaurant menus. It was my favourite dish of the evening.

Sushi course with deluxe upgrade

The sushi boxes have some serious diversity. There is sashimi, nigiri sushi, and several other tastes and textures including the uramaki (inside-out roll). The issue here is the varying degrees of enjoyment from the food. At the bottom end some of the sashimi is chewy in an unpleasant way, and the combination of uni, pastes and roe in the middle is difficult to understand (and not explained by our waitperson). The large pieces of cucumber are a distraction. On the plus side, the nigiri is excellent (wish there was a lot more) and some of the sashimi was beautiful too.

Miso soup with chrysanthemum tofu

I appreciate the skill involved in the chrysanthemum tofu, and I like the silken texture, but the miso is plain. Anything but plain, the grass fed beef tenderloin from O’Connor’s is almost completely covered in foie gras. As an ingredient, foie gras is the epitome of richness, but there is an issue with the beef. Experience of beef in Japanese restaurants has always involved an awe about how it can be so tender and juicy. The richness of the foie gras simply doesn’t mask the fact that the beef is not up to the quality we would expect.

Foie gras and beef

The hapuka fish with a puffed black rice crust is easily the superior of the two mains. The crust works really well against the firm and juicy fillet. Add the spicy miso and chive oil and you have a very nice dish. The side salad of cucumber, cucumber and more cucumber was pleasant enough with its vinaigrette dressing and good measure of coriander. However, did we really need three of them for four people. Generousity is one thing, but wasting so much cucumber felt wrong, especially after our three serves of edamame.

Spicy miso hapuka with puffed black rice, spicy miso, and chive oil; cucumber salad in the background

The dessert to finish lacked impact. Three puffs of cream with some additions for texture. It was sweet, and we ate it (in under 2 minutes), but it felt like an afterthought.

On this one experience I wouldn’t go back to Kisume, but I’ve heard enough good things about the Chef’s Table (exclusive to 12 people) and there were some serious highlights. There’s little doubt that with a restaurant this spoken about it will get another chance, but I hope it is better the second time around.

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

Flower Drum – Melbourne, City – Friday 23 March 2018 – Dinner


Most people have a Flower Drum story, and a view on its merits as a big night out. Back when I first ventured there in my mid-twenties it was a three star restaurant still at the height of reverence from most dining circles.

It was described to me at the time as a destination restaurant even for people living in China. Naturally, I took that statement with a degree of skepticism, but when your waitperson has been at the same restaurant for 25 years, there is an instant knowing that something is going particularly well, in a world where a year is a milestone in hospitality.

Fast forward almost one and a half decades and the knowing is of a different kind. These days I know that you should expect flawless service, and that the tasting menu will include Peking Duck and beautifully cooked beef. In the lead up, the reception when I mentioned Flower Drum was anywhere between excitement and a feeling the place is now passé.

It’s almost as if, in this dynamic world of constant change, that doing something well, over and over again, might be overrated. In a sense I can be guilty of this too, but an understanding of why focus and precision is beautiful in cooking terms was strengthened from my trip to Tokyo last year, and a few other instances here and there (often in relation to Asian food).

To my surprise, there was one change to the “four course” tasting menu tonight, which was no san choi bao, replaced by a crayfish omelette. This was the first course and a delicious introduction into the meal to come. The dish is perfectly seasoned (salt and pepper is provided, but not needed), with large chunks of juicy crayfish smothered by a fluffed egg white omelette. For a long and generous tasting menu, the richness of this first course is felt later in the meal, but I wouldn’t be offering a spoonful of that crayfish back.

Skipping over the service at Flower Drum would be like going to the Taj Mahal, taking a photo, and walking back out. It is intrinsic to the atmosphere in the room, almost prompting a sense of Zen. Like many things of beauty, it is hard to put your finger on exactly why the service here is spoken about like it won an Olympic gold medal. While tonight there is little chance our waitperson, Vincent, has been working at Flower Drum for 25 years like one of my first experiences, he is thoroughly trained.

Saute crayfish omelette

The dedication and commitment to excellence here is astounding, but it doesn’t lead to a loss of personality. A good example is towards the end of the evening when we complimented Vincent on how well he handled our AGT Vouchers (I get a discount through work which is great, but the paper voucher has caused some issues!) Rather than accept the compliment with the same humility he had shown throughout the evening, he humorously said “thank my Manager” with a grin that he would have had no idea what to do.

Wok fried wild barramundi fillet

The next course we enjoyed was the barramundi, with a glutinous shiitake mushroom sauce, and asparagus. I could see Catherine looking at the whole fillet of fish, and back at her chopsticks, and I was instantly brought back to the first time I ate fish here. “Don’t worry, it falls apart easily” I assured her, and sure enough, the fish parts in bite sized pieces perfectly held together for less sophisticated chopstick enthusiasts like myself. Besides the perfect fillet of lightly battered barra, the sauce shares the limelight with a huge lift that doesn’t mask the fish, but does add some punch.

At this stage we were finishing our Moorooduc Estate Chardonnay, displaying a good level of oak and some old school malolactic fermentation that we quite like. Next we switched to a half bottle of the Paringa Estate Pinot Noir from 2013. The Pinot is glorious, especially with the upcoming dish.

That dish is the famous Peking duck which these days is presented with some hoisin art. It’s a bit gimmicky, but delightful at the same time. Once you taste the Peking duck your mind shifts to how succulent the duck is, and how perfect the pancake packaging is. One day I would like to be able to be a regular here just to have the Peking duck. For now my two tastes, matched with the Pinot, are just gorgeous, leaving me to hunger for the next time I’m here, which will be sooner than 13 years.

Peking duck

Next comes the beef, and I really don’t remember it being this large? You are basically presented with a small steak, Asian greens, and a side of unforgettable fried rice. I like this fried rice better than both Lung King Heen and RyuGin, both owning three Michelin stars in Asia. There is a choice to upgrade the beef from local Black Angus to Wagyu which at $40 per head we didn’t do this time, and we were not regretting our choice because it is hard to imagine how the beef could be that much better. Using chopsticks, each piece melts in your mouth, the technique better than most steakhouses, and practiced for a considerable period of time with this 43 year old restaurant.

Grain-fed eye fillet with black pepper sauce, and fried rice

For dessert we are given a choice, which is never a great idea because the negotiation is intense. From the beginning I wanted to have the mango crepes and something a bit more on the edge. Serious contemplation followed as we tried to let our savoury courses digest. Vincent became involved in the conversation and incredibly swayed us to try the fried ice cream! According to wiki the origin of this dessert is America, but to my mind it has become something of a suburban Chinese restaurant cringe dessert.

Vincent was right. Not only did he realise we were going to share dessert (so organised for it to be split between our plates) but he was spot on that fried ice cream can be elevated to an adult dessert. This one is surrounded by sponge cake that has been compressed and then surrounded by breadcrumbs. It is complimented by a berry sauce and I will never say anything bad about fried ice cream again! The crepes are very nice, just as I remember them. Plenty of sweet mango filling, even though the season in Queensland has apparently come to an end.

Mango crepe; and fried ice cream

The hours had passed and all of a sudden the buzz in the restaurant had dissipated as one-by-one the guests had made their way back on to Market Lane. As I finished my Grandfather Port (yes, a traditional meal needs a traditional port!) and Catherine her Jasmine tea, we knew we’d had a night to remember. There is something comforting about Flower Drum, and there’s no need to feel guilty about it.

Flower Drum Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato