Napier Quarter (and Bar Liberty) – Fitzroy – Saturday 16 December 2017 – Dinner

Charcuterie and heirloom tomatoes

Fitzroy continues to be one of the most exciting areas in the country. The impossible-to-keep-up-with openings have softened a touch, but the mainstays of recent years are going from strength to strength. If you add the places in Collingwood, many across the road along Smith Street, you have a vibrancy that is difficult to equal.

2010 Domaine de Roqueforte Petit Salle Clairette from Provence, France and 2015 Alice & Olivier de Moor Chitry Chardonnay from Burgundy, France

Early this evening we start on Johnston Street at Bar Liberty. This wine obsessed bar and restaurant has the versatility we have come to love in modern times. The wine list introduces you to wines that are not common, whether due to the variety, the maker, or the region. Throw in a delicious, but slightly over-peppered cacio e pepe bucatini pasta as a snack to graze on and we are very comfortable indeed.

Bucatini cacio e pepe

I was back at Bar Liberty in early February trying some new wines, and tried out Drinkwell, the new aptly named outdoor bar behind, which is a bit more casual. Tonight however there was more wine drinking to be done over at Napier Quarter.

On a beautiful warm early summer evening, Napier Quarter’s tiny outdoor tables are worth the compromise. A more traditional, but still creative, wine list allowed us to go back to our favoured varieties. We had whiled away the early evening and were approaching sundown, so it was time to order more substantially.

We chose the heirloom tomatoes, the Cuca Spanish anchovies and the charcuterie board. The latter was good value considering its reasonable price, displaying three meats that were a combination of local and overseas cured. The heirloom tomatoes showed off several varieties, textured by chorizo pangrattato. The quality of tomatoes around Australia just continues to grow, and these, drizzled with plenty of quality olive oil, are no exception. I would have been as happy with them on their own.

Cuca Spanish anchovy

The anchovies were the biggest hit though. Simply served on bread with plenty of parsley, a chopped boiled egg, and a mayonnaise style sauce, this is a classic wine bar offering. It’s the kind of dish that you are eating and thinking “we need to make this at home” but we never seem to getting around to it! If only Napier Quarter was around the corner.

Napier Quarter Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato



Canteen Pizza – Cottesloe – Sunday 24 December 2017 – Dinner

Idyllic sums up the scene at Canteen Pizza. Across the road from my favourite beach in the world, this addition to the Cottesloe strip is exactly what the doctor ordered.


Tonight is Christmas Eve and the Freo Doctor is only lightly wafting through the expansive open windows of this corner block. Transformed into a vibrant restaurant in an enviable position, the lessons learned from Il Lido down the road are everywhere.

There is the excellent translation of beachside casual comfort, a natural link between the feel across the road into the restaurant. You can be quite comfortable in boardies and thongs, but won’t feel out of place in jeans and a shirt too. There is the focus on the product offered, and plenty of well trained staff enjoying being part of something new and a little bit different.


Before sunset it can be very bright in the restaurant, meaning there are lots of people in sunglasses looking like they might just as well be poolside in Italy. Not many meals offer sunset as a complimentary side and we are pleased to accept, along with a couple of pizzas, a baby cos salad, and a few choice summer beverages.

Both the Bufala and Salame pizzas are excellent. That traditional Italian thin crust that wasn’t heard of during my childhood, provides a crisp base that has been pulled from the oven just at the right time, before crispiness turns into charcoal. The San Marzano tomato base is fresh and properly seasoned, and all the various ingredients on both pizzas are classically combined. The only improvement would be a bit more topping near the crust.

Baby cos salad

The baby cos salad is simply served in collections of full leaves, dressed with vino cotto (sweet and balsamic like) with parmesan scattered in between. To wash it all down I try both the WA brewed Gage Roads Single Fin, and the Victorian craft Stomping Ground Pale Ale from Collingwood, with the latter my preference. Really I should have done the Italian thing with an Aperol Spritz like Catherine did!

As we walk out of Canteen Pizza packing a couple of delicious Sicilian cannoli for later, the night sky is taking over. This is a fabulous addition to the dining scene in Cottesloe, with reasonable prices making it a regular proposition for locals, and large gatherings.

Canteen Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Burnley Brewing – Richmond – Sunday 3 December 2017 – Dinner

Pale Ale

There can never be enough breweries. This is one statement that all my beer loving friends would wholeheartedly agree with.

Craft brewing has been exploding for years and like an extended fireworks display I don’t think we’ve seen the best of it yet. In recent weeks I’ve been to Mountain Goat in Richmond, and both Temple Brewing and Foreigner Brewing out Brunswick way. A few days ago I had a Stomping Ground pale ale at Canteen Pizza in Cottesloe on the other side of the country from where it is made in small batches in Collingwood!

The latest brewery to land in Richmond (well, the Burnley part at least) is Burnley Brewing on Bridge Road down the Yarra end. After a reasonably extensive renovation of the old Romulus and Remus site, BB took over but kept the R&R kitchen, along with its focus on Italian.

Pea and haloumi fritters and arancini

I can see BB being very popular. While it lacks a large outdoor space like the Bridge Hotel two doors down, it makes up for it with large windows fronting the street, and a big airy space with high ceilings, as you would expect from a brewery. The renovated room is clean and restrained, with good mixed spaces, and a long bar for the many who will have a drinking preference.

Eggplant parmigiano and salad

Tonight we are checking it out with Catherine’s sister Stephanie, and their Mum, Sandra. While it is an early dinner, there are plenty of punters both having a drink, and getting a bite to eat. We decide to share some starters and a pizza between three of us, with Sandra opting for the eggplant parmigiano, which she loved.

Capricciosa, ham, olives, artichoke, anchovies, mushrooms and fior di latte

The pizza hasn’t changed here, and it was always good quality, without being amazing. Our capricciosa is a good size, with plenty of topping, and is cooked right. The arancini is great, with a good dose of gorgonzola adding to the saltiness. On the flipside, the pea and haloumi fritters are a little bit weird with not a great amount of flavour.

Mini donuts

With a little bit of room left, we shared the donuts with chocolate coated vanilla ice cream, which is simple but effective for a shared dessert. More importantly, at this stage I’d tried a couple of the beers, and they are good, with the IPA a little ahead of the pale ale in my opinion. The only disappointment was the double IPA running out, but it should be back early next year.

With enthusiastic and energetic service, a comfortable space, and some freshly brewed beers, backed up by a kitchen that has always done a nice job, Burnley Brewing should enjoy plenty of success.

Burnley Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Cafe Di Stasio – St Kilda – 8 November 2017 – Dinner

Classic should never be interpreted as boring, though in our fast-paced world, it sometimes has a double meaning. Done well, the classics, and classic places, reveal some of our favourite experiences.

It is certainly not that I forgot about Cafe Di Stasio. It appears year after year on the list of restaurants I want to go back to. Unfortunately it is a very long list, such is the quality we enjoy in Melbourne.

The cliches come thick and fast for touristy St Kilda. It’s one of those places that I’ve always enjoyed, but rarely get to. There isn’t the edginess that Fitzroy has, or the dynamic nature of the city. Perhaps it feels too much like the places I grew up in – beachy, safe and friendly like Perth.

Somehow, in the busiest part of Fitzroy Street, as you walk through the doors of Di Stasio you are transported thousands of miles to an Italian oasis. Yes, there is a St Kilda vibe of calm, but there instead of laid back beach charm, there is the sophisticated charm that only profession and experience can create. If it sounds like I am bubbling with praise for this institution, I am!

Capisante Gratinate – scallops baked in their shell with bread crumbs, parmesan and parsley

I’ve been here with groups, and by myself, but tonight it is with Catherine to celebrate the anniversary of our first date. Several years later we really combine well for dinner, knowing each other’s dining habits intimately. By virtue of that understanding, it doesn’t take long for us to agree to share a starter, pasta, main, and dessert. This isn’t for everyone, but too many times people miss the balance between trying several courses and dishes, and feeling uncomfortable at the end of the meal.

The first dish we select is the scallops baked in their shell, with a simple parmesan crumb. Done well this can be an outstanding dish while on the other hand it can be a good way to ruin a great scallop. Here, it has been done thousands of times and the result is delicious. After a great start we next choose the fresh pasta of the day with a mushroom sauce.

Freshly made spaghetti with mushrooms and sage

Draped with sage, this is the ultimate of mushroom sauces over a spaghetti that doesn’t get much finer when made fresh, though I wouldn’t have described it as angel hair like the kitchen had. The depth of flavour, without going overboard on seasoning, is exceptional from the first bite to the last. Sharing is not an issue to presentation either; the chefs happy to plate separately without being asked.

Agnello alla Romana – lamb slow cooked with white wine, anchovies, rosemary and garlic bruschetta

Our love of pasta means our main was never going to top our previous course, but the slow cooked lamb is beautiful anyway. With a generous grilled garlic brushetta to mop up the white wine, anchovy and rosemary sauce, this was a perfect expression of rustic fine dining. Halving the serve (again being plated separately) meant our final tastes were not stretching our stomachs and there was plenty of room for dessert.

Torta di Vaniglia – White chocolate and mascarpone tart

Throughout our meal I enjoyed some well selected wines by the glass, which is expected given Di Stasio has a bar that is as frequented as much as the restaurant. Service had been excellent too. The only exceptions were later in the meal trying to get a red wine before my main arrived, and organising the bill. These are only minor, and had a bit to do with our awkward table position, but still probably shouldn’t happen.

There are some nice sounding desserts, and while none jumped right out at me, Catherine had her eye on the white chocolate and mascarpone tart. Simple, not “deconstructed”, and full of flavour, I was glad to have tried the tart. It’s a beautiful dessert, and while rich, it is an excellent way to finish a superb meal.

Café Di Stasio Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


RyuGin – Tokyo – Tuesday 13 June 2017 – Dinner

Normally I write about a three star meal in the few days that follow the experience. There is a degree of excitement and anticipation that keeps alive when you get to deeply think about the meal that was. Occasionally, especially on holidays, it is just too hard to find the time. That is not to say a serious delay is a negative measure.

After a great meal you have a glow. You can still almost taste some of the most exquisite dishes and smell the scents. Over time you lose many aspects, and those that last are often with you for life. Add in the travel element, and you are much more likely to remember some dining experiences with even more fondness. They are connected to holidays; less stress; more indulgence.

The weight of evidence suggests tonight is going to be an experience to behold. Good friends have been here and recommended it, but it wasn’t just them. In Tokyo, many restaurants do not accept foreign bookings, so our hotel was responsible for organising our visit to RyuGin. Walking up to the door there is nothing that suggests this is one of the best restaurants in this huge city.

As in all Japanese establishments, the welcome is warm and respectful. We are early to make sure there are no hiccups travelling to the quiet part of Roppongi, so we are shown upstairs to wait for our sitting. Funnily enough, with some nice green tea and a splendid room (more on this later) we suggest getting here early is a good idea.

Once led into the dining room we realise that the restraint of the entrance is no different here. It is very nice, and there are some dominant features, but it is certainly not elaborate. Given we are in a non-English speaking country we don’t expect to understand everything, but generally the staff deal well with our lack of Japanese.

Sea urchin, broadbean, green soybeans

Our first course is sea urchin packaged in crispy batter and seaweed, with broadbean and edamame soup. It is quite sensational. The sea urchin is unrecognisable and brings out softness and that subtle flavour, while the broadbean is beautifully seasoned. The soup is simply stunning. Salt is around the edge of the cup and I can’t stop until it’s gone, continuing to run my finger around the edge for more of that salty hit! The abalone in the second dish is the best I have ever tasted, in a deep cloudy broth with a white paste we’ve seen elsewhere but have no idea what it is.

Abalone, lettuce, yam, water chestnuts

Earlier we had been sitting in the waiting room admiring firstly the gigantic owls and then the video of the head chef’s exploits with cooking amazing produce. The dish we were presented with showed fabulous technique in the form of divine knife skills allowing eel to blossom like a flower. The flavours, especially the broth of Mt Fuji water, and glutinous vegetable scattered throughout, were probably too different to fully appreciate, but it was still a tremendous dish to eat.

Pike eel, eggplant, water shield, green yuzu

Our sashimi course has challenge, beauty and intrigue. The challenge is the crab which is chewy and not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it all the same. The Benito is absolutely gorgeous with not one flaw. It is the equal of the ootoro tuna sushi I earlier tried near the fish market as my best fish for the visit. The intrigue is the flat fish which is again a different texture to what you associate with sashimi, but is delightful and beautifully matched to the accompaniments, this one being salsa like.

Ocean delicacies

The frightening looking fish, called Ayu is served next in the theatrical style some love and others despise! I love it, the challenge in presentation, and the impact it brings. The instructions given are three bites – one over the head to the wing, the next over the wing, and the last over the tail. Wow, the first bite is scary. Then you taste the impact of the char, reminiscent of great squid or sardines over charcoal in say Portugal. Then you calm and the next bite is delicious and all of a sudden you are dipping into the watermelon based sauce like a pro and absolutely loving it, trying to work out the next time you will eat Ayu again!

Specialty swimming ayu fish

As Catherine would describe, the first half of our meal is different and confronting. But the second half is basically just awesome.

Noodles and broth

We are almost onto our beef course and we’ve already gone through about $160 on 4 glasses of premier cru Montrachet so spending another $130 on two glasses of red was a stretch but you only live once. If I had a critique it would be that the wine, as sublime as the limited options are, is nevertheless very limited and all very expensive. Finding some glasses to offer that are nice for $30 would really help our wallet! We only had the choice of two reds and both were very expensive by the glass.

One of the incredible owls in the waiting area

Prior to the beef we had a surprise in the form of noodles and broth, a dense egg yolk sitting atop the noodles, looking very proud, and eating wonderfully. The terrific floor staff directing us to dip the noodles into the broth, which is consistent with the way connoisseurs would eat their noodles here in Japan.

Sanuki olive beef, onion, white asparagus

The beef course was something to behold. Presented over a steaming contraption, it was completely rare and slowly being cooked above an onion, with a semi-glutinous broth and asparagus. It was so delicious it was gone in a flash, even with trying to have a sip of red between each taste. Left behind, the onion was about as great an onion I’ve eaten. And I never ever finish an entire onion portion.

Chicken rice

We were really getting into a groove. This is thoughtful modern Japanese food and maybe a bit above our abilities, but intriguing and indulgent at the same time. The next course was chicken rice with a miso soup. The miso has an ode to the chrysanthemum flower which is a Japanese icon, and you could not believe it is tofu! Not only that, the miso is wonderful. The chicken rice has intricate knife skills being shone on the dish, but the flavour, whilst very nice, is not one of the better profiles of the evening. The chicken is fabulous though.

Chrysanthemum soup

This took us to dessert. Absolutely no offence to Asia, but desserts here are different, and often more savoury than many other cuisines. So imagine our surprise when a deliciously balanced but sweet mango ice dessert with sweet mango concentrate comes to our table. It is hard to describe how good this was, but knowing this combination well, I can honestly say it was the best I’ve ever had, including several goes in Hong Kong.

Shaved ice with mango

Then to follow up and smack it out of the park comes a double take on sake, leading to me having a double take on how good these desserts were! A soufflé of sake and a sake ice cream hit the high notes. The soufflé is perfectly constructed and deep in the vessel, with a textured top, and soft bottom, with just the right balance of egginess. The ice cream keeps its form and actually tastes of the key ingredient. Knowing how difficult it is to achieve this I take my hat off to the chef and his team.

Sake souffle and ice cream

We finished with a matcha green tea as the night was ending, reflecting on a second half that was definitely more settling. It goes to show that in both Western and Eastern fine dining, being brought to the edge of your tastes by the chef is part of the experience. Sure, it should still be comfortable on the whole, but a few dishes outside your comfort zone brings the meal to an entirely different level. Several months later I look back at our time at RyuGin with fondness and respect.



Doot Doot Doot at Jackalope – Mornington Peninsula – Thursday 7 September 2017 – Dinner and Breakfast

Infinity over the vines

So much beauty is hard to take in over a 20 hour period – we do our best.

Jackalope boutique hotel and its restaurant, Doot Doot Doot, opened on the first of April this year, and is the most beautiful art inspired hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. There is no pomp and ceremony here, but the fine detail, and incredible wonder of design is breathtaking.

Behold the Jackalope!

There is a country vibe but not in a “laid back” fashion, with professionalism not watering down the hospitality. Being boutique is not just down to size. The front of house have time to see you to your room and show you around, and you feel comfortable to have a chat as you do the obligatory walk around for photos of the Jackalope itself (a mythical creature), the infinity pool overlooking the vineyard, and the design elements that see a merging of functionality and art.

Besides the beautiful rooms, some complete with Japanese bath, all with a free mini-bar and sublime furnishings, there is a restaurant that is becoming increasingly renowned, despite its name. Doot Doot Doot is the flagship restaurant. By night, Doot Doot Doot is an edgy fine dining restaurant, and by day it operates as the anything-but-ordinary breakfast venue.


If this hotel isn’t luxurious enough, the distinct advantage of staying here is the short stroll to dinner, via a cocktail hour drink at Flaggerdoot. The bar for Jackalope is extraordinary with its artistic vice, combined with several comfortable spaces, and a bar surrounded by huge vessels filled with paraffin wax. Somehow the obscenity of the fitout comes together seamlessly.

The fascinating light installation

Back to the restaurant. We are seated in the middle, with Catherine on the banquette, which forms a divider in the room. Above us are hundreds of amber coloured light fittings that brighten and fade in a slow rhythmic pattern. Across in the back corner is the envy of the restaurant with a table for two that has gigantic lounge style chairs with high backs stretching almost to the roof. We missed out at breakfast the next morning too, but never mind.

Pea, broadbean, goats curd, capers

There was something about the hospitality here too. It was almost as if the sommelier had been chosen to provide an actor (with great wine knowledge) that could work with the eclectic feel of the room. We had some great conversation in a way that only a long dining experience can allow. There is that country hospitality, and it only needs a slight sharpening to be perfect.

Quail eggs

Bread made with cumin, fennel and linseed was a sign that the food was going to be good. After the amuse (a cracker with quail egg), the first course added to the intrigue. A deliciously fresh beginning of peas and broadens with goat’s curd, capers and a lemony dressing. After one beautifully presented dish, the scallops looking amazing was not a surprise. Thinly sliced into three pieces of sashimi, this scallop is served with ginger and finger lime, completed with a fabulous sauce.

Scallop, ginger, finger lime

Then came one of the highlights of the night. A generous serving of spanner crab sitting in a potato puree. Bottarga adds to the depth of flavour, with furikake used as a seasoning to further enhance the dish. We were enjoying the 2015 Robert Weil ‘Trocken’ Riesling which had been selected by the sommelier for the first few courses, but especially for this one. I would quite happily return to Doot Doot Doot just for this dish, and this wine.

Spanner crab, potato, bottarga, furikake

Not reaching the heights of the spanner crab, the beetroot soups were still an attractive and tasty dish. One side was yellow beetroot, infused with saffron, and the other was the more traditional kind. In the middle sat a hay infused cream. I think it may have acted as a cleanser between dishes, but was probably a touch too large.

Beetroot soups, hay cream, coffee, sunflower

Tuna quickly seared but over a high temperature hit our table next. It was served simply with some Japanese salt plums (Umeboshi), olives, and mushrooms. By this stage the skill of the kitchen was obvious, and the Japanese slant of the hotel intricately applied to the food.

Tuna, umeboshi, olive

As we finished our 2013 Willow Creek Chardonnay, which also showed the winery next door is no slouch. The tide turned with a dish of sweetbreads, shiitake mushrooms, clams and walnuts in a crumb. Matched with the 2005 Cabernets by Yarra Yarra (wonderful) this expression of offal is a dish to behold. That earthiness, savouriness, gaminess, and downright rusticity, cannot be beautifully presented, but that doesn’t detract from this being one of the dishes of the night. Yes there is more than a hint of Asian there, but it takes me straight to the backstreets of Rome, dining at Checchino dal 1887. Stunning.

Sweetbreads, clams, shiitake, walnut

Thankfully for Catherine we were back in more well-trodden territory next, finishing our savoury courses with flank steak, cooked medium rare, with a spectacular pumpkin puree, and onion rings. As you would expect, a cut like flank steak that is done well, exhibits so much flavour, and this one hits the mark. We wash down the remainder of the red wine, turning our thoughts to dessert.

Beef, black sesame, onion, pumpkin

With a figurative bang, out comes the toasted marshmallow with rhubarb and blood orange sorbet. It is a little dismissive to call this a refresher, when it is as good as most desserts going around. The toasted marshmallow coats your tongue and you are taken back to other times in the country around a camp fire.

The main dessert is comforting, but in a fine dining way. The malt ice cream again bringing back flavour memories of childhood, with a very grown up honey sponge, and meringue scattered through. A satisfying way to finish.

Malt, burnt honey, dark ale

The whole meal had been engaging and entertaining. With terrifically executed dishes, excellent wine service, and art filling the restaurant, it is a fascinating take on modern dining. With our senses fulfilled we strolled back to our room, ready to do it all again tomorrow morning for breakfast.

As breakfast goes, the biggest surprise here is picking up the menu to find a treasure trove of stylish offerings. There is nothing of the hotel classics (using the word classics quite loosely). It is actually akin to the fine dining take on breakfast that is so beautifully done by cafes in Melbourne like Top Paddock and Higher Ground.

Five spice and pistachio waffle – berry compote, vanilla cream, Oreo crumb

I think I was being a good sport leaving Catherine to order the five spice and pistachio waffle, but at least I got a few tastes. Complete with berry compote, vanilla cream, and Oreo crumbs, the waffle is quite spectacular to see, and to taste.

Spanner crab omelette – served with shiitake relish, chicken dashi

No less fancily presented, my spanner crab omelette is served with shiitake relish and chicken dashi (but curiously no toast). The omelette is perfectly constructed, and the spanner crab is gorgeously generous, making for a highly indulgent breakfast. Funnily enough this dish would not be out of place on the dinner tasting menu such is its quality.

It is wonderful that a hotel can do this menu at breakfast. It is not an out-of-this-world concept, but it is so rarely done that it is extraordinary. As we wander around the grounds of the hotel, walking off the omelette and waffles, it reveals that there is nothing ordinary about any of this experience. Simply stunning!

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


Thanks Albert – Mornington – Saturday 15 April 2017 – Dinner

Being reasonably familiar with the Mornington strip, it seems there is a period of renaissance down the Main Street strip. Breaking the habit of going to DOC is difficult, but tonight I felt like trying Thanks Albert, whose burgers have been held in good regard for several months.

It is a nice looking, unassuming space, that is casual enough for families to dine comfortably, but also for a slightly more intimate setting too. There couldn’t be more than thirty seats inside, and outside tonight is out of the question, the autumn chill taking hold over this Easter break.

We are here for burgers, and I’ve always thought the best indication of quality comes from the house burger. If you are going to name a burger after the establishment, it better be one of the better choices. Also after simplicity, Catherine orders the Thanks Albert too, something we don’t often do. Chips are obligatory, of course.

Thanks Albert burger

The main surprise is the quality and diversity of the drinks list. There are several choices for local, Australian and International beers, and the wine list has some nice choices. We settle on a glass of the Margaret River chardonnay on offer, and a pinot noir made in the Yarra Valley. Service, whilst in a very casual place, is actually great, our waitperson taking more time than normal to go through the specials, and some tips for beginners here.

One of those specials was a very reasonable offer of two burgers, and the Easter dessert special. We didn’t go for it, only because there was an earlier agreement for Tutti Frutti gelato afterwards, which is a fantastic, off-strip, gelateria.

When the burger arrived, our already eager appetite grew stronger. The patty, cooked medium, is doused in cheese, with good looking pickles, in a brioche bun. We had earlier commented on the number of great looking pickle jars on the wall used as a display, and were glad the signature burger included several thickly sliced ones. The first few bites, with our hunger at its peak, were probably the better ones, but it is good quality, and a generous serving. The crinkle cut chips with paprika dusting were excellent, filling up any last gap in our appetite!

As we walked off our burgers, going up and down the strip, we quickly realised it is not just Thanks Albert that is making a more recent positive impact on the quality of dining in Mornington. There are several great looking options and we must go more out of our way to try them. Two that looked particularly appealing were Mr Jackson, and Play the Fool. Thanks Albert must be a welcome addition for locals and tourists alike. Next time we’ll need to sample a few more of the beverages on offer too.

Thanks Albert Burger Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato