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

Advertisements

Africola – Adelaide – Wednesday 15 March 2017 – Dinner

Octopus

It’s great to be back in Adelaide. It’s a hot and dry day and I’m on my way to Africola for the first time. I rarely have high expectations when I don’t really know what to expect, but that is the case tonight.

Having never looked at their menu, and only having walked past briefly some time ago, how could I have such high expectations? It comes completely down to the hype surrounding this establishment. Relating this back to Melbourne the hype is Chin Chin-esque.

Chickpea salad

The restaurant is wide-fronted and has a wide entrance giving that casual breezy feel, especially when it is still over 30 degrees. There is plenty of staff, all on the hipster side of the ledger. They are enthusiastic and knowledgeable throughout, but they are also not passive on the upsell.

Peri Peri Chicken

The menu is designed to share and I recommend deciding for yourself. While there is a $65 feed me option, having a couple of meat dishes, a veg, and a seafood, went the distance to my mind. The veg dish was a mixed leaf with deep fried chickpeas, and it was fine, but you don’t win friends with salad.

Flank steak

The octopus had much more to it, with a great spicy dressing. The flank steak was on the less generous side, but was perfectly cooked, and came with a huge piece of bone marrow which made the dish in my opinion. The beetroot and other accompaniments were terrific too. Finally, the peri peri chicken was nicely cooked, and the wilted radicchio worked well with the smokey, and well spiced chicken.

This is an enjoyable restaurant, but I am struggling to work out why it is the subject of such praise. The dishes, designed to share, have been very nice, but not one has really wowed me. The service too, has been good, but there is some uneasiness there too. In some restaurants you immediately feel comfortable. Here there is that little bit of pressure when the waitstaff suggest something that you don’t wish for. It is not like they are unfriendly, but there is a slight uneasy feel.

Adelaide is going from strength to strength in terms of its restaurant and bar offerings. The depth of great places that I want to try one by one each time I’m here is only growing. Africola has been one of those places for a long time, and I probably need to give it another go. Sometimes you cannot help but have certain expectations, and they were perhaps overinflated this time around.

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

Monster Kitchen and Bar – Canberra – Thursday 30 March 2017 – Dinner

“Striking” is a good way to describe more than one aspect of Monster Kitchen and Bar. In a way, it is aptly named because it is an absolute beast. It is not unlike stepping off the Millennium Falcon into a combination of the woods of Endor and one of the modern space cities.

It is impossible not to think of Jenga looking at the jumble of wood that is a theme throughout this new precinct that includes Hotel Hotel and its lobby restaurant, Monster. The reference to fun and youth continues, with our rhombus shaped table, which is surprisingly functional.

Heirloom tomatoes, peach, spiced feta, cumin oil, rose

It is at this stage as we are seated that the enormity of the space hits me. It is not the sole blame for slightly distracted service, but it must be a root cause. Floorstaff are not gliding as you often see in a restaurant of this calibre, but are almost trying to not loiter in any of the vast spaces. There were certainly some nice touches, but there were instances of amateur mistakes that you wouldn’t expect. Those mistakes had little impact on the meal as a whole.

We were eating as a group of four and eager to try a good number of dishes. Alice is a proper vegetarian, so it was important to select wisely, and she had done her research. One nice pick-up by our waitperson was the fact that one of the dishes with tofu actually contained a bonito (fish) based sauce, which was elegantly swapped with mirim.

38 hour pork neck bao, cucumber kimchi

Having ordered a serious selection of the menu, we were presented with our first taste, which was memorable. Michael, Catherine and I tried the 38 hour pork neck bao with cucumber kimchi, and it was seriously good. Then came a flurry of dishes containing a list of ingredients any farmer’s market would be satisfied with.

Honey roasted carrots, moghrabieh, harissa, almonds

Of the vegetarian dishes (tofu included), my easy favourite, and one of the better dishes I’ve tried this year, was the honey roasted carrots with moghrabieh, harissa, and almonds. The large cous cous style moghrabieh was so delightfully flavoured with harissa, and textured with almonds, that the carrots took a back seat. As often is the case with a lot of shared dishes, there are some left at the table never to be seen to again, but with this dish I went back for more until there was nothing left!

Fried tofu, pickled shitake, mirim soy, spring onion oil, sesame

The tofu dish was well constructed and pleasant; the heirloom tomatoes adequate; and the eggplant very good. The fact we had been discussing eggplant earlier at our friend’s house prior to dinner, and how difficult it could be, gave even more merit to this wonderful dish, accompanied by smoked goat’s cheese, katsuobushi, and sesame. It was about at this point where we had finished off a bottle of local Canberra chardonnay made by Mount Madura which was beautifully made, and paired well with the earlier dishes.

WA octopus, chorizo, corn, black garlic

Going on to a bottle of local Sangiovese from Lark Hill we began our journey of the non-vegetarian dishes, deciding after a lot of friendly debate on the octopus and duck. While the octopus was uninspiring, taking a back seat to the chorizo and blackened corn; the duck was very nicely cooked, bonding with the guanciale, fresh fig, and caremalised onion, to make for a terrific final savoury dish.

Pear, olive oil, lemon, thyme

It was at this point that a cleansing ale was needed, and the Moo Brew dark ale did a great job at that task, and worked fine with dessert too. We really didn’t need dessert, but after such a nice meal, we wanted to try! Michael and Alice shared the ”chocolate, sea salt, peanut, burnt butter ice cream” and we shared the “pear, olive oil, lemon, thyme”.

Chocolate, sea salt, peanut, burnt butter ice cream

The first thing that showed was the technique of the pastry chefs was clearly of a high quality. While I felt a bit of menu envy at the chocolate dish that had won praise, especially for the peanut caramel, I enjoyed the lighter tones of the pear and lemon.

Monster really hits you in a good way. Even the trip to the toilet is an adventure in design. It wasn’t until we left through a different entrance that we even realized we were eating in an open hotel lobby. There is nothing hotel-y in the feel at all and it is a quality package that is being offered in this unusual restaurant.

Monster Kitchen and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

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

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