Fratelli Fresh – Sydney – Saturday 1 April 2017 – Dinner

Fratelli Fresh is an enormous Italian restaurant in the heart of the Sydney CBD on Bridge Street close to the tourist mecca of Circular Quay. It has had a long standing reputation of providing quality Italian at a reasonable price and enjoys healthy crowds as a result.

Tonight is no different and the five of us sit at a high table towards the back of the restaurant in relative comfort, except for the lower bar of the table that is at leg height when on a stool. Everyone who serves us is friendly and helpful, but they are clearly under the pump, often having to politely ask to come back, and rarely pro-active.

Tagliatelle meatballs

We ordered some shared entrees to start because the number of options for mains is immense. Those entrees gave a good insight into why Fratelli Fresh is still a popular dining option. Each of the zucchini flowers with five cheeses, margarita pizza, and calamari, were flavoursome and well made.

Unfortunately the same issue I have had in one of three experiences at Melbourne’s newer version of Fratelli Fresh occurred tonight – the pasta was bland. I don’t say that lightly because I like the basis behind the now restaurant chain, but it is hard to forgive a linguine panigrattato that relies on few ingredients for its flavour, to be under seasoned, under oiled, and under lemoned.

Linguine pangrattato with QLD prawns

On the flip side Catherine’s beef and pork meatballs with tagliatelle was why I like Fratelli. It was well executed, fresh pasta, with a nice topping. Nothing like the best Italian, but still better than average, especially at the price point. We were dining with friends from Melbourne and Perth, and Dino, who speaks Italian fluently had a great time with the staff, while Matt was getting ready for the National Championships for his shotput, and pasta was perfect for the next day.

Fratelli signature banoffee torta

We stayed for dessert, even though we were all very satisfied already. The Banoffee pie was a good option to share, with richness from the toffee being softened by the cream, in a dish that is becoming a classic far and wide for good reason. Dino, Matt, and Simon, also shared the tiramisu which comes out in a large coffee cup, which is novel.

We had good fun and there are many aspects I enjoy here, but I don’t think I’ll personally be back in a hurry. With so many great options in Sydney, a miss on a main dish like tonight is hard to take.

Fratelli Fresh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

L’Hotel Gitan – Windsor – Wednesday 22 March 2017 – Lunch

The difference of opinions when it comes to restaurants, and each particular experience, can be incredible. It dawned on me that my first experience at L’Hotel Gitan was not characteristic of this good looking venue. So, a couple of years ago I didn’t share my thoughts, but I am now.

Whereas my first experience was in a large group, upstairs in the private room, this time was downstairs where it’s at. I often discount group experiences because the most usual setting is a table of two to four people. While today we have seven for a group leaving lunch, the restaurant is not even half full, so there’s no pressure on the chefs or floorstaff.

The first thing noticed by the table was that the L’Hotel version of Gitan is a bit fancier than the Bistro version. It is a stylish room, that feels adequately French. The banquettes are comfortable, and the semi-private booth looks very cool indeed.

We are here to relax and see off a good friend and colleague. Three courses are a must. Personally I find the menu a bit finicky with a lot of choices, and a touch of confusion between sharing or not. In the end a few of us decide to share some entrees, but we all have our own main.

My shared entrees are the crispy duck, lamb skewer, and king prawn. The latter is perfectly cooked, with a crisp quick fried tempura style batter. The lamb skewer is tiny, and definitely not packed with enough flavour or richness, to compensate. The crispy duck is a curious dish too, not because you expect more for the spend, but there is a questionable amount of duck.

For my main I selected a scotch fillet steak, and I was happy with the product. It was medium-rare, and most mouthfuls were good. Across from me, B2 had ordered exactly the same steak, cooked the same way, but it was not as good. Seems I was the lucky one today! The bearnaise was well prepared, and the chips great too. For around $40 though you might expect a bit more impact.

The chocolate millefeuille was a big way to finish. Presented in style by the pastry chefs, this take on a millefeuille is generous and rich, exactly what you want at the end of a French meal. The use of a biscuit base, over the traditional lighter pastry, is probably the only fault, because the pastry is normally there to provide some balance.

I can see reasons why locals would like the comfortable and warm setting, but there was little to rave about. Some tweaks are needed to take L’Hotel Gitan to the next level. On the whole, this was a pleasant lunch, with nice food, and good service.

L'Hotel Gitan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tomahawks – Bright – Wednesday 29 March 2017 – Dinner

Cauliflower + mozzarella fritters, Moroccan ketchup

Bright is a very nice town. There is an obvious pride that the community has put into many aspects, and the scenery surrounding is beautiful. Walking around and checking out some of the restaurant menus for tonight, we noticed a sophistication above the usual associated with a town over three hours from Melbourne.

Having worked out where dinner would be, we enjoyed a drink at the Bright Brewery. I wanted to try several beers but still be fit to drive, so the tasting paddle of six beers was the perfect option. All of them are nice beers, but my favourites were the porter style (Staircase), and the Belgian style wheat (Razor) was quality too. Catherine had the drier style of cider (Alpine) from locally grown apples, and was pleased with the choice.

After a nice relax, we made it to Tomahawks for dinner and sat on the bar. One of the staff recognised us from earlier in the day immediately building rapport, and luckily he was right that we didn’t need to book. The small restaurant is set in a long rectangle that has a bar as the main feature. We noticed that while it was relatively busy, the turnover meant that no one was waiting for a table, but during the evening most tables had two sittings. It’s a sign of a strong business, especially given it opened late last year.

Slow roasted lamb shoulder bruschetta, hummus, pickled red cabbage, zucchini, salted ricotta

We were urged towards the twelve hour lamb shoulder bruschetta and given I was already more than halfway there, it became one of our mains, along with a cheeseburger to share. I thought we better have some vegetables, so we started with the cauliflower and mozzarella fritters with Moroccan ketchup. They were not quite the refreshing vegetable dish we were looking for, but they were delicious and indulgent, which is better in our book.

Sevens Creek Wagyu Cheeseburger, habanero mustard, pickles, maple bacon

The chefs helped us out by halving both the lamb shoulder bruschetta and the cheeseburger, and it didn’t impact the presentation. The lamb shoulder is beautifully slow cooked on a grilled piece of light bread. It had us reaching for more, even with the burger in our midst. The burger too was great, but Catherine found the patty to be a bit fatty for her taste. Personally I liked the fattiness, and the fact the bacon was dispersed through the patty, but I can agree that the occasional chewy bit was less pleasant.

We were very satisfied from the savories and decided to forgo the ice cream sundae which looked pretty good. Besides, Catherine’s cocktail to begin was a bit desserty with the sherbet surrounding the glass on the Tiki Sour.

Tiki Sour

Tomahawks did a terrific job, making it more than clear why it is so popular in a town adorned with good places to eat. If we were in town a few more days a repeat visit would have been likely, but we’ll have to wait until next time.

Boston Sub – Windsor – Thursday 9 February 2017 – Dinner

The Nelson

If you go to New York, chances are someone will recommend you trying a place with a secret door. There’s the snobbery of PDT (Please Don’t Tell) where you enter through a phone booth if you can bypass the uptight front of house, or the more down-to-earth Beauty & Essex where you enter through a pawn shop. A novel entry seems to have you in a good eager mood for lots of drinking!

Boston is not far down the road from New York in a relative sense. Boston Sub on the other hand is in Windsor, far closer for the average Melburnian. A quite stark white takeaway joint has a refrigerator door on the right that opens into a cocktail bar. Even knowing this is the case, the first time you hesitate before opening as if you might enter the joint’s cool room. The second time you are a pro and go straight through.

Classic poutine

It is hard to work out whether this is a cocktail bar with food, or a takeout joint with cocktails, but I’ll go with the former since the cocktails are skilfully made, and the surrounds are much more comfortable than your average Subway. Having tried a couple of them, I can say the subs are pretty good. Full of the main protein (I’ve tried The Nelson (pork) and The Ali (beef)), with the choice to add crackling (yes!), in light hotdog style buns for generally $7.50! They also have several poutines that seem to be chips with plenty of gravy and cheese, and other odds and ends smothered over them. The deluxe is entering instant heart-attack territory unless you are sharing with a few.

The Ali

The cocktails are well made, and diverse. There is a bit of a kooky element to some of them with the added 80s frills like fruit and umbrellas. It’s fun. The only drawback last time was one of the bar staff had a constant cough, meaning the attractiveness of ordering a second was reduced to zero.

It is not a large place, but there are both undercover, and outdoors tables, with a combination of comfy couches, bar stools, and mini stools. There is very little not to like with the exception of the *cough*.

Boston Sub is entered in a novel way with cheap (but good) eats and quality cocktails on offer. It is a combination that has caught on, and is sure to only get more popular.

Boston Sub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tulip – Geelong – Saturday 28 January 2017 – Lunch

Grilled octopus with charred cucumber

Have you ever gone to a restaurant in a bad mood? I’m sure you are not surprised that it happens a lot. I have known a lot of waitpersons over the years and try as they might, the customer’s mood is difficult to change. Unfortunately they often get the brunt of it through lack of appreciation, or worse, straight up rudeness.

Well, today started well. We had a nice drive to the beach but the wind had changed and a gale was blowing by mid-morning. So we decided to go to lunch instead of coping mouthfuls of sand. We didn’t realise it was the Cadel Evans ride and found ourselves in traffic for an hour to get from Ocean Grove to Geelong, which is hard to take.


It didn’t help that I missed a turn and ended up in insurmountable traffic on the wrong side of the railway tracks. Not moving, we pulled over and started walking to the restaurant in the heat. We were not upset with anyone, but were clearly upset with the situation. The floorstaff at Tulip were understanding for our late arrival, which was not surprising with a quite empty restaurant.

I don’t like being the patron in a bad mood, which makes me self-conscious! It was hard to hide. After a few deep breaths, and having perused the enticing menu we were on our way to turning it all around. It felt like our waitperson read the situation and let us take our time. They were either attentive or lucky!

Beef short rib

Kingfish, octopus, beef short rib, a grain salad were ordered, and we were happy we came, our mood improving considerably. This is a sister restaurant to Gladioli which we tried last year, and we have been eagerly anticipating a visit. The food lived up to our expectations; maybe it surpassed them.

The kingfish dish was beautifully presented, and the roe and avocado worked fine with this fantastic white fish, but I wasn’t sure what the pig face succulent brought to the flavour. The flair of presentation was equally shown in the octopus, with charred cucumber a nice addition, along with texture and colour from the blackened light cracker.

Next was the big surprise. The grain salad was absolutely delicious, more than just a side, it is a great dish on its own. The cauliflower, and almonds, along with several other additions, all playing well together, creating a terrific flavour profile in each bite. Not to be outshone, the beef short rib with eggplant puree and spring onion, is a well executed meat dish, big on flavour as you would expect from short rib, and a satisfying main to finish.

Grain salad

It could have been the Cadel ride, an unusual Saturday lunch, or just an odd day, but the restaurant was very quiet. We were sure it must be generally popular and it should be. The food is great, the waitstaff are professional and accommodating, it is a nice looking venue, and it’s on the main strip.

Geelong is tricky but there are more than enough quality options these days to keep day trippers and weekenders more than happy. Tulip is one of the top picks. They can even positively swing your mood.

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

Thirty Eight Chairs – South Yarra – Monday 13 March 2017 – Dinner

Finally! This is the third time I’ve been to Thirty Eight Chairs and finally I’ve remembered to take some photos before scoffing down my pasta and can write a review that befits this establishment.

I’ve walked along Chapel Street many times as a tourist and many more times as a local. I would not describe the South Yarra part as a dining destination, even though there is the occasional top spot. One day a colleague suggested an Italian joint just off Chapel on Bond Street and instantly I had my reservations about their reservation.

I was wrong. It was a fabulous meal and a subsequent journey there for lunch again proved the first experience was no fluke. My first dinner further demonstrated the virtues of an almost all-Italian staff, handmade pasta, and a cosy (you guessed it) 38 chair restaurant. Incidentally there is now another venue next door for overflow, so I’m not the only punter enjoying the show.

Tonight, we both chose to enjoy a handmade pasta made “Nonna style”, which is explained to be fresh, but not al dente. Mine was fettuccine with wild mushrooms and truffle oil. I don’t say this lightly, but it was the best mushroom pasta I can recall and that includes my several trips to Italy (though I note it is not my usual choice to have just mushrooms and pasta). While not al dente like a dried pasta can be, it is still great firm pasta, taken out of the water just at the right time.

Catherine enjoyed her handmade curly style pasta with a duck ragu. It had that rich deep flavour you associate with slow cooked Italian meat sauce, along with porcini mushrooms. To balance our rich pastas, the classic parmesan, pear and rocket salad works perfectly as an accompaniment.

This is better than a go-to local Italian joint. It is up there with many of the finer, more expensive, city establishments. Outside of Tipo 00, I’m quite happy going to Thirty Eight Chairs, or Supermaxi, both outside the CBD, for great Italian food, served by terrific hosts.

Thirty Eight Chairs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sepia – Sydney – Friday 31 March 2017 – Dinner

Autumn Chocolate Forest – soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, rose petal cream, blackberry sorbet, Black Genoa fig jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, crystallised bronze fennel, native voilets

The full circle. One thing is constant though, I have always wanted to dine here. Originally when it opened it was above the Sydney office of the accounting firm I was working for, and I wasn’t sure the feeling I would have dining below work. Last year I heard rumours it was to close, and I wasn’t sure it would be on its A game.

Green tea, tarragon, yuzu “chiffon”

This year I was more than enticed and booked early, as you need to do. We were staying a block away, and it just made sense. Earlier in the day of the encounter I heard that it was to open in Melbourne, and not long after we finished our meal, I realised that the restaurant was actually closing in December and moving to Melbourne!

Snacks from left – Tempura Oba Leaf; Hiramasa Kingfish; Saikou (best) Salmon; Bonito and purple yam

I’m ecstatic for two reasons. I live in Melbourne, and there is something special about this experience that is bigger than the city it resides in. Sepia is a big night out, a special occasion, a celebration, and an event in itself. It has built an envied reputation for a very good reason.

Somehow, on a non-descript, almost ugly corner of the Sydney CBD, the inside of the restaurant and wine bar, is a world away. It is dark and sexy, open yet intimate, with some fine dining features, and bistro style flourishes. The banquettes are comfortable, and the dark wooded tables nice and large, giving an air of luxury.

Service, especially from our sommelier, is exceptional – equal parts professional, comfortable and approachable. There is one draw back though of a very dedicated and diverse floorstaff. Some of the descriptions of the food are difficult to decipher whether by accent, noise or a combination of the two. This means that without a menu you have only a partial understanding of what you are eating. Purposely I have written this review without looking at the menu as I think that is a better way of describing my personal take on the incredible dishes we ate during the evening. However, the captions on the photos are the chef’s descriptions you receive later as you leave (unless you request earlier).

The other potential drawback with not having a menu is you are either at the mercy of the matched tastings (which we rarely do) or the sommelier. Luckily we all worked together, Catherine and I suggesting what we would like to drink, and our sommelier confirming which styles would suit multiple courses during the evening. She was spot on.

Tuna, egg yolk, fromage blanc, unpasteurised soy sauce, wasabi

After our Melbourne Gin Company and tonic aperitif, we started with a glass of the Thalassitis Assyrtiko from Santorini by Gaia. It was indeed versatile with light fruit and great balance, something which was needed with our four snacks to begin. Those snacks included some delightful minced kingfish surrounded by a crispy seaweed (which turned out to be tatami iwashi – a dried flat sheet of sardine), that was a strong accompaniment. There was a leaf above a prawn cracker like wafer with a version of seafood sauce atop. It was a nice beginning.

Next we had a glorious folded piece of tuna, with some dollops of egg yolk and a puree that tasted like creamy artichoke. When you cut into the tuna out splashed some soy sauce, not unlike what happened to my wallet a little later at the end of a great meal.

Spanner crab, heirloom tomato, brown butter emulsion, sake vinegar jelly, pea and horseradish

Our next course was a more substantial parcel of generously portioned spanner crab, which was probably the highlight of my savoury courses, but not by any great margin given the excellence shown by the kitchen. The presentation included some dusting at the table which struck the thin vegetable layer topping the crab with a cool punch, providing contrast and interest between hot and cold, soft gorgeous crab, and the slightly firmer vegetable (which was actually heirloom tomato).

Butter poached black cod, pink and white turnips, finger lime, ice plant, smoked soy dashi

We had what looked like a small piece of fish served with a broth in a little bowl, but turned out to be densely packed and huge on flavour, the portion just right given the richness. The dashi was addictive and I almost finished the last drop. The fish was firm, but delicate, with a pronounced flavour, reminiscent of cod. Some of the vegetable additions in the broth didn’t add to the flavour, but did create some textural balance. By now we were on to a superb chardonnay by Benjamin Laroux from Bourgogne and it delivered an exceptional match, but was expensive.

Chargrilled lamb breast, roasted garlic emulsion, Mexican sour cucumbers, sweet bamboo, daikon

One of the dishes I found a little weaker, but still of a high standard anywhere else, was the torn lamb. One of my pieces was a little chewy, and while the flavour was actually quite intense, the accompaniments just didn’t work for me as well as the other dishes. The second meat dish however ticked all the boxes. Wagyu needs skilled cooking and it received it. The pine mushroom and cream also intensely flavoured, but pairing perfectly. With these courses I tried a wine called Meandro from the Douro in Portugal that had a good lick of alcohol, leading to some slightly jammy fruit on the palate. Catherine went with the Nero d’Avola and I was a little jealous, the savouriness exhibited perfect for finely tuned wagyu.

David Blackmore wagyu sirloin, pine mushroom, kombu, mushroom cream, grilled baby kale leaf

We love dessert, and it appears the team behind Sepia do too. You could hardly call either of our two pre-desserts inferior to the main dessert, in fact, we both were left wondering how it could get any better. The first was a version of strawberries and cream, using alpine strawberries. Just amazing. Then Catherine’s favourite of Sepia’s version of chiffon cake arrived, and as well as being beautifully presented, it was divine.

Alpine strawberries, salted white chocolate chantilly, frozen strawberry and yoghurt

For the main dessert we had a choice and we both chose differently to get a taste of each offering. Catherine had the “apple”, and I had the “chocolate”. It was a bit of trickery, with the apple coming out in a half shell of chocolate, with apple ice cream topped by a medley of tastes and textures. Mine came out looking like a pear in the woods, but was actually a quenelle of chocolate, on a bed of dried fruits, crumbs, and more chocolate. It is a signature dish, and for obvious reason. There is a confidence exuded from the presentation, and the incredible technique used to execute the flavours and textures cannot be easily expressed in words.

Chocolate, caramelised apple cream, artichoke, blackcurrant, cocoa nib, pecan brittle

As I sipped the last few drops from my ten year old Madeira by Henriques and Henriques it became quite apparent that this was one of the top meals I’ve enjoyed in my lifetime. While the memory is obviously vivid, I expect on further reflection in coming months and years that this should easily make my top 10 experiences. Not to mention it is moving to Melbourne, just like I did almost ten years ago. While loving where it has come from, I’m sure it too, will never look back.

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