Woodland House – Prahran – Sunday 5 November 2017 – Lunch

It was many years ago that I experienced my one time at Jacques Reymond. Getting there at night didn’t do justice to the beauty of the surrounds, but the care and attention of the staff was memorable.

In recent years, the restaurant has changed hands and names, but its prestige has not. Woodland House isn’t the latest and greatest, but neither is fine dining. A beautiful dining room, overlooking a stylish courtyard for a pre-lunch drink, give that feel of a great meal to come. This is something that will never go out of style.

Lunch here on the Sunday following Derby Day for our annual “recovery lunch” is quiet. In fact, while we are a relatively polite group of gentlemen, there is no doubt it is probably unusual for the other few couples here, with a large group of us in the centre of the restaurant. This is one of the reasons I love this lunch!

Very early on it is obvious that our main waitperson is going to split opinions in our group. Personally I like an eccentric waitperson/sommelier to make things more interesting, but I equally understand some of my friends who found him on the pushy side of enthusiastic. In the end, he did have care and attention for us, and some of our experiences were great.

Tasmanian salmon, broad beans, beurre blanc

A few examples. I was looking at an aged chardonnay for the first few courses and he guided me towards a lighter Chablis for the balance of the dishes. At the same time he didn’t deter me from a Bannockburn Pinot for our second bottle, even though he may have wanted to. On the flip side, one of our fussier mates asked for a Hendrix gin and tonic and he instead half-insisted on another gin. While I probably would have been happy with that, the seaweed accompaniment to the gin chosen was not to my mate’s personality or taste.

Spanner crab, confit red gurnard, potato foam

When the first course came out and I tasted the generous serve of spanner crab, my excitement levels for the remaining several courses elevated. While foam might be a dirty word of late, the potato foam, combined with the spanner crab and fish (red gurnard) was absolutely delicious and probably my highlight of the meal.

Nicely cooked and stylishly presented, the Tasmanian salmon with a beurre blanc sauce, was a simple but tasty second course. The let down of the meal was poached and roasted chicken. There was nothing terribly bad about this dish, but merely executing  sous vide technique is not enough. The skin was soft and fatty, rather than roasted to that crispness you expect, which was enough to make it texturally unsound.

Poached and roasted chicken, parsnip, mustard sauce

Instant improvement came with my second favourite dish of the savouries, with Western Plains sucking pig looking glorious, and tasting incredible! Here, the crispiness of the crackling made the dish, with a globe artichoke puree adding to the flavour profile. This was the kind of dish I love, balancing between the rustic flavours of the pork and the need to present with some flair.

Western Plains sucking pig, globe artichoke, tamarind

With similar groundings, the short rib from Cape Grim, also had the balance right. Here is an incredibly tender meat that is often served in large portions with no pizzazz, but is usually delicious. For a group of blokes, having this on offer at the end of the savoury courses is exciting, and we were not let down.

Cape Grim short rib, preserved plum, horseradish

We decided to pause before dessert with the cheese board as we finished our Franklin River cabernet. Once dessert came around we were ready for something sweet. The creamy nut ice cream, combined with caramel sauce, and some texture from milk skin, is a crowd pleaser. Sweet desserts are something I can handle at the end of a long meal and this did the trick.

Beurre noisette ice-cream, whipped caramel, milk skin

Rocking up first to lunch, sipping on a gin and tonic in the courtyard waiting for the boys, and reflecting on a great Derby Day, set the scene for a long and enjoyable lunch. There is always a place for the good aspects of fine dining, and I think Woodland House exhibits most of the good traits.

Woodland House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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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.

Flaggerdoot

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

Impressions from the AGT Restaurant Guide for 2018

Orana – Crab & yoghurt sorbet, codium & sea purslane

My favourite restaurant guide has been released for yet another year. When you narrow down the thousands of restaurants in Australia to a top 100, there are naturally some surprises, but in the end, every single one of those restaurants is a terrific place to have a day or night out.

Getting down to the pointy end is exciting. There are only eight restaurants in the whole of Australia that get three stars. They set themselves apart by doing the basics perfectly, and innovating in a way that is remarkable. They are not always the obvious, but equally, they are certainly not places you stumble over by accident.

Attica – Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl

Take Orana in Adelaide. If you were to turn up unannounced one evening and somehow get a table, you would initially be skeptical of the price tag, and then be wondering whether you are on “candid camera” as you open your mouth to allow a spoon of green ants to greet your tastebuds. What about Brae in Birregurra, near Geelong. If you were dropped off outside this homestead and farm, you might be searching for the nearest uber to take you back to civilization.

Cutler & Co – Roast chicken, house ground polenta, baby corn & miso

These are not ordinary, everyday experiences. There is a touch of discomfort. It might be the cost, the reverence, the soft gasps, or the sheer oddity of three star dining. But like most experiences, when you are out of your comfort zone, or at least on the edge of it, the memories are bigger than the moment.

Vue De Monde

When Shannon Bennett says that he wants his customers to have a comforting experience, he doesn’t mean eating meat and three veg in your tracksuit in front of the television. He means he wants the experience to be memorable for different reasons, and for his staff to do everything to make such a potentially awkward meal something to aspire to do again, and to relive in stories for the meantime.

Momofuku – beef, radish, fermented black bean

There are the unassuming places. Momofuku Seiobo looks a bit oddly placed in The Star casino and entertainment complex. The Bridge Room is almost quaint. Attica is in the suburbs. Cutler & Co sounds like a ye olde medicinal shop, placed in one of the quieter parts of Fitzroy. They were not dining destinations before the owners set up shop and created something special.

The Bridge Room – Aerated passionfruit, roasted nougatine, passionfruit ice cream, passionfruit seed powder, glass biscuit

Then there’s Quay. That is the one that stands out because it is entirely appropriate. A restaurant overlooking the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House serving food with Ferrari price tags. The achievement of Peter Gilmore keeping this restaurant at the top of its game is surely not lost when you eat at some of its neighbours.

Brae – Egg yolk, potato and jerusalem artichoke, sauce of comte and vin jaune

It is the first time I’ve been to all eight of the three star restaurants. I believe they all deserve a spot for what they have achieved, and what they are currently doing. I love the fact that really none of the top five have a view (sorry Brae, the farm is actually very serene), and I love the fact that with all of these restaurants while the basics are done very, very well; it is the food that is the reason they are so brilliant.

Well done to Australian Gourmet Traveller on a sensational list. A real statement has been made by putting Orana as number one whether the Sydney and Melbourne dominant audience likes it or not. I have never had a meal like it, and that is what separating yourself is all about.

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

Stokehouse – St Kilda – Thursday 23 March 2017 – Dinner

There are a host of reasons we love to go out to eat. In a relative sense, there are not many restaurants that create more than the experience itself. Every now and then though, something more comes out of a visit. For Catherine and I, our first date at Stokehouse continued through to marriage!

Yellowfin tuna ceviche

I remember our lunch far better than I normally would. It was an incredibly hot November day. So hot that I brought a backpack with a towel so I could have a swim afterwards. St Kilda was pumping, and my taxi took at least 20 minutes just to get down Fitzroy Street. Catherine looked beautiful and had gone to a heap of effort.

We started off with oysters and I had no idea it was the first time for my guest. The things you do on first dates! The restaurant had a celebratory feel the day after Stakes Day at Flemington. Every aspect was wonderful and it goes without saying that it was the best first date (and the last) I’ll ever have.

Poached marron salad

When we found it had been razed by fire there was a sudden sadness. We knew with such an iconic place, rebuilding was likely, and that is why we are here tonight, a few months after the reopening. It is modern. These days, recreating the original would probably be as difficult and expensive as making a bold new statement. The design is stylish, making great use of the beach view, with enough detail inside to keep interest in both.

Our greeting, through to the goodbye, were warm and friendly. It seems the floor has found its feet. We took up the offering for a drink on the terrace to begin. Watching the sun go down is one of those added extras that is difficult to value. As long as the view doesn’t outshine the food, or give the restaurant something to hide behind, it is extremely valuable to the way you are feeling as you begin your meal.

Heirloom tomato salad

Once seated and reading through the menu, I realised that Stokehouse wasn’t primarily about seafood anymore. In fact, only two of the six mains are fish. I was in the mood for seafood and ordered both the special ceviche of yellowfin tuna, and a couple of Sydney Rock oysters to begin, plus the fish and chips for my main. Catherine ordered the marron salad which would have been my choice, and also the market fish of Barramundi. We were undoubtedly going to try dessert too.

Fish and chips

Our sommelier was particularly helpful at providing alternatives to the bottle I was thinking of, but in the end we stayed on course with the Louis Michel Premier Cru Chablis. He was right that the wine is quite light for a chardonnay, but it is exquisitely made, and was a pleasure to drink, especially with our entrees. The yellowfin tuna ceviche showed off the star ingredient. It had a pleasant amount of citrus, and was superbly presented. Interestingly the dusting on top was bayleaf, and that worked too. The Sydney Rock oysters were exactly what you want to eat on the beach and would be a great entree alone this evening. Catherine’s poached marron salad with a motley of fresh vegetables, was a brilliant way to start. The marron beautifully cooked and working nicely with the finger lime cream and rhubarb vinaigrette.

Barramundi with smoked almond puree, beurre noisette and carrot reduction

The fish and chips are not my usual order at a restaurant like Stokehouse but tonight I really felt like fish, and I wanted to try something different to Catherine. Her Barramundi was a perfect serve with a good fillet of fish, perfectly cooked, in a smoked almond puree, with a beurre noisette (brown butter) sauce, and carrot reduction. Each bite I tried was delicious, though I was very happy with my own choice. The lightly battered whiting, on top of a picket fence of thick chips in a pool of tartare sauce, was exactly how fish and chips should be, but rarely are. Our waitperson had suggested the heirloom tomato salad to cut through the oil, and that was a good idea, with several kinds of tomatoes all exhibiting good flavour. A simple enhancement would be some more basil throughout.

‘The Bombe’

We definitely had room for dessert, and we needed it! Catherine’s ‘The Bombe’ was a terrific take on the classic dish. The white chocolate parfait in the centre, next to the strawberry sorbet, all housed in a well executed meringue, were all delicious and beyond. We like desserts that don’t hide the fact that they are sweet and this was a prime example, without being sickly (though it is a large serving). On the flip side, my dried lime cheesecake, was more restrained on the sweetness, but still delivered in spades. This version wasn’t your classic, but it wasn’t so much deconstructed as just not having a base. The mango and coconut curd are friends with the creamy cheesy lime, and while again it was a good serving, I could have kept going.

Dried lime cheesecake

The original Stokehouse felt a bit more sleek at times, but the new version is still finding its feet. One thing is for sure, all the floorstaff were eager to make our night memorable, and they succeeded. The food we ate was up to scratch for what you expect of a place with the reputation Stokehouse must carry. That reputation creates expectation so we were careful, but it is impossible to not be excited by the potential embodied by this restaurant. Thinking about the experience brings a smile to my face.

Stokehouse St Kilda Beach Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Attica – Ripponlea – Thursday 28 July 2016 – Dinner

Emu's Egg

Emu’s Egg

Expectations are one of the most important ingredients in any restaurant experience. Try as we might to lower them to a reasonable level, the more hype, and the longer the wait between booking and dining, the more difficult it is to not over inflate. For me, tonight’s dinner at Attica is the most prone to setting expectations to unreasonable levels, so I jotted them down in the hope of being objective.

Cook's Leaves

Cook’s Leaves

There are many obvious, and a few less obvious reasons, why I expect to have one of the best restaurant experiences of my life here. Of course, Attica is Melbourne’s highest ranked restaurant on any number of guides, over a number of years. The less obvious reason is that I already rank Ben Shewry’s temple as one of the top experiences I’ve had in Australia, and around the world. But that was five years ago. Now that it is mentioned in the same breath as some of the world’s greatest restaurants, you hope for the small (but important) improvements you’ve read a little about to take it to the next level.

Chicken Carrot

Chicken Carrot

As we walk out the back to the restaurant garden, to be greeted by one of the pastry chefs, and are offered tea and a home made mint slice biscuit (that is delicious), we get a chance to reflect on one of our great meals in the cold winter air. So far, in the lead up to dessert, we have tried twelve snacks, and four courses of savoury dishes. There are highlights; but there are no lowlights. It is hard to imagine being happier with a meal. Attica is putting an emphasis on native Australian ingredients, in a completely approachable manner, with hardly an ounce of pomp.

Catherine with her Cuppa Tea (post mint slice!)

Catherine with her Cuppa Tea (post mint slice!)

Personally I like challenging food that makes you think and take notice, and there are different ways to achieve wonder and awe. At Orana, which also has an Australiana focus, you are presented with ingredients like green ants that do taste great, but are challenging to approach. I think Attica is making you take notice in a different way, with more subtlety, and some familiarity in the flavour combinations.

Gazza's Vegemite Pie

Gazza’s Vegemite Pie

An example that has stuck in my mind for this past week is the saltbush fed lamb pie. Classical Australian presentation (resting on a brown paper bag), the pie has some manchego grated over it, and there is vegemite in the filling with the saltbush lamb. It is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and I can’t stop thinking about it. There is some challenge in a few ingredients though.

Aged Santa Claus Melon

Aged Santa Claus Melon

To preface, I haven’t mentioned service yet, but our waitpersons use the perfect balance of professionalism and friendliness, along with genuine care. Towards the beginning we have a conversation about the meal ahead. It is the type of discussion that puts you at ease because you realise that your waitpersons are there to guide and improve your experience, and there doesn’t seem to be this overarching will of the chefs being pushed upon you, like some other fine dining establishments.

Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya

Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya

Our waitperson explains that one thing they need to confirm we are comfortable eating is the kangaroo tartare. Here we are talking about raw meat, and a particular meat that isn’t eaten often by most people. We are happy to try it as we trust the ability of the chefs and the quality of the ingredients. Catherine did hesitate though. As it turns out, our first savoury course is one that you really do not want to miss. Cleverly the raw roo is hidden under a beautifully presented collage of thinly sliced red carrots. Not only does the carrot work for presentation, it adds texture to the dish. The roo is beautifully seasoned and it seems this is a terrific way to eat this meat, which is always a difficult one to cook.

Smashed Avo on Toast

Smashed Avo on Toast

An ode to our breakfast culture comes in the form of “smashed avo on toast” with minced avocado, tiny mint, finger lime, and apple, on a crisp cracker. It evokes memories of the first time you tried this now staple café dish, and the intricacy pushes the boundaries of what is already a wonderful classic combination.

Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl

Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl

Alongside the playful, and the intriguing, is the classical. Glorious marron from my home state of Western Australia, is perfectly cooked, and comes with a lemon myrtle sauce, which is a feature ingredient of several dishes, including the equally sublime scallop snack. We were having wine by the glass off a reasonably priced and diverse list, and with this dish the elegant Domenica Roussanne Marsanne 2013 from Beechworth, worked beautifully.

Hand Dived Scallop

Hand Dived Scallop

There were some other wine highlights, starting with the 2008 Lark Hill Sparkling from Canberra, which had the versatility you need with several courses of snacks. The Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir 2011 from Iron Bay Pot in Tasmania was also particularly good with the kangaroo tartare.

Stemware by Zalto

Stemware by Zalto

The famous potato cooked in its own soil has been replaced by an equally gorgeous “all parts of the pumpkin” dish that is a familiar concept having seen a similar focus at O.My recently. Texture from the seeds; richness from the flesh; and complexity from the sour beer cream infused with juice from the skin. It comes together in a dish that makes you feel like Shewry could turn his restaurant vegetarian tomorrow, and it would still be just as good.

All Part of the Pumpkin

All Parts of the Pumpkin

There is little theatrics, but a lot of novelty done in an intelligent way. The wallaby blood pikelet sits atop a playful recipe that is not so much a recipe, but a larrikin’s tale. The crumbed mussels have some extra crunch from the pig face succulent topping, but are not as intriguing as the painted mussel shell. The carrot, which curls when put in freezing water, is presented in a hollow rooster dish, but the flavour of the chicken minced with sorrel, kale and tarragon, is impeccable, far outshadowing any of the fun presentation.

Wallaby Blood Pikelet

Wallaby Blood Pikelet

The other dish that stands out from earlier is the plainly presented pork neck. This is meat that sings. Astounded by the flavour I have to ask how it is done and learn that there is a combination of different cooking techniques over a 24 hour period, including smoking and grilling, to get to the depth of flavour that you only get a small but memorable taste of. We finish our chat outside, cut a tulip for our first dessert course, hand it to the chef, and resume our seats.

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pork

We are at the back of the restaurant in a smaller slightly separated room, laden with black curtains that do a good job to reduce noise levels. You feel a world away from Glen Eira Road outside, and it is a good looking restaurant, without that aspect being a particularly topical feature. It is more about minimising distraction from the food, and the good lighting is an example of the focus.

Tulips DIY

Tulips DIY

Our Tulips DIY comes out as our first dessert. We have just been told that there are only five edible tulip varieties in the world and the rest are very poisonous! Luckily these are edible and the fruit and cream cheese inside is delicious. If we thought that was a pretty dish, the next was almost as pretty, and definitely intricate.

Byron Sunrise and Fresh Coconut Cream

Byron Sunrise and Fresh Coconut Cream

Three thimbles of apple, sitting in coconut cream, make for a more savoury dessert, but one that is still very nice. Crying out for something a bit sweeter, our prayers were answered with a decadent chocolate sponge, soaked in chocolate sauce with a yoghurt ice cream to soften the richness.

Cheftales

Cheftales

Finishing with another playful, and delicious taste, our “cheftales” are another ode to an Aussie classic, but again the take by Attica is better than the original, and comes with a “Who am I?” related to one of Australia’s numerous great chefs. There really has been absolutely nothing that didn’t work tonight. Quality through and through.

Lance Wiffin's Mussel

Lance Wiffin’s Mussel

We go to restaurants for many reasons and we bring our expectations with us. All of my lofty expectations were realised, or even exceeded tonight, and that is no mean feat when you are off to one of the world’s great restaurants. With some good measuring sticks to compare some of the native Australian ingredients and their use (namely Orana and Igni) I can see the subtle reasons why Attica is rated at the top of the pile.
Attica Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rockpool – Sydney, City – Friday 1 April 2016 – Dinner

Valhrona chocolate with macadamia, glazed fig, malt and peach leaf ice cream

Valhrona chocolate with macadamia, glazed fig, malt and peach leaf ice cream

Fifteen years is a very long time by any measure. Restaurants do not enjoy anywhere near the average life span that most of its customers do. So coming back to a restaurant after fifteen years between meals is rare.

Early in this millennium I ventured to the Rocks in Sydney to enjoy, at the time, one of the very best meals of my life. Incredibly new to this echelon of fine dining in Sydney, I didn’t even realise the table next door featured the man himself, Neil Perry, until I was reading the Qantas magazine on the way home to Perth. Not many men have a ponytail like Neil’s and I was a fan having only recently cut my own long hair off! It was unmistakably him.

Rockpool is no longer in the Rocks, but is close by on Bridge Street, a few streets behind Circular Quay, in an old building that is quite breathtaking. While my last visit was long ago, Rockpool has actually been going since 1989 (which has been added to the name to ease the confusion from the similarly named Bar & Grill). That is unique for any restaurant, but this isn’t a family restaurant in the suburbs, this is one of Australia’s consistently best, and most expensive.

Coorong yellow eye Mullet, cooked in turmeric leaf, sauce amandine

Coorong yellow eye Mullet, cooked in turmeric leaf, sauce amandine

Reinventing and changing is required for any going concern to continue with the enthusiasm of youth. While Rockpool matures in experience, I’m fascinated by the creativity on the plate, and the energy of a relatively new location. The reverence to the food is now matched by the splendor of the room, dominated with magnificent arch windows, not needing any dressing up to reveal their beauty. We are dining upstairs and there is cast iron, dark wood, and excellent lighting on the tables, revealing the food, but still keeping a high level of intimacy.

It needs to be a big night out as there simply isn’t the access to funds for most of us to come here as much as we’d like. Eight courses (plus the usual surprise extras) costs $185 and then wine, whether matched, or by the glass (like we chose) is not cheap either.

Roasted Goose from Llangothlin with hot, sweet and sour sauce

Roasted Goose from Llangothlin with hot, sweet and sour sauce

I remember some of the flavours and ingredients from my first visit many years ago, but the refinement of how some of those same ingredients are used is stunning. One of our favourite dishes during the night was mullet wrapped in a turmeric leaf, with a burnt butter, curry leaf, and almond sauce. Part of the taste was familiar like burnt butter and sage on gnocchi; and part of the taste was surprising as if you had discovered a secret combination. How could this perfectly cooked fish go so well with this sauce?

Blue Mountains Wagyu softly grilled, served with oxtail sauce, wasabi and fresh lime

Blue Mountains Wagyu softly grilled, served with oxtail sauce, wasabi and fresh lime

There is a beef dish using nine score wagyu that is as good as beef can possibly taste, combined with another sauce using oxtail that is reminiscent of teriyaki, but different in a way that makes you pine for this sauce the next time you go back to usual, tried and tested.

Kingfish sashimi on enriched Koshihikari rice with Japanese peach and mirin dressing

Kingfish sashimi on enriched Koshihikari rice with Japanese peach and mirin dressing

Mirin and Japanese peach dressing surround generous pieces of kingfish sashimi, the effect of the oily sauce perfect both in presentation, and then to flavour each taste. The familiar texture of Chinese dumplings are captured in a ball of prawn pieces, and eggy prawn mousse, wrapped in delicious crumb, sitting on a squid ink sauce. These are magnificent dishes.

King prawn mousse, rolled in pangrattato, on squid ink sauce

King prawn mousse, rolled in pangrattato, on squid ink sauce

There are some dishes that don’t hit the same heights but are certainly well above average. The first was the smaller size dish of scampi and gooseberries which is sitting in a herb sauce that is a touch too strong for me. The other one was the goose which is beautifully cooked, and rolled in Asian spices, but just doesn’t have the same impact as other game could. I did enjoy the hot, sweet and sour sauce though.

Scampi with grilled cucumber and sherry dressing

Scampi with grilled cucumber and sherry dressing

Besides the excellence in the food, two aspects stood out during the savoury courses. Each waitperson provided professional and friendly service, but the performance was disjointed as a team effort. There were some amusing issues such as getting the hot towel at the beginning of the meal twice from two different floorstaffers. There was also a lightbulb that needed changing on another table which was a little awkward considering all the lights were connected by the same wire, meaning for a few minutes it was more like a disco! Nothing that occurred took away from the evening, but it would probably cause management and Perry to cringe a little. The other aspect to note was the brilliant wines on offer by the glass.

Having started off with a West Winds Sabre G&T we were then recommended a Grüner Veltliner from Canberra which was a good match and something interesting to try. The wine then got to a very high level of quality with Catherine’s Cobaw Ridge Chardonnay from Macedon and my Marsanne/Roussanne blend by Yeringberg which had some age to really lift its impact with the mullet.

With wine service so prompt on each occasion, we decided to order a glass of the Nebbiolo as our goose hit the table. After waiting, and then slowly enjoying each bite, we finished the dish before the staff found the wine (we could see several looking around the upstairs bar). While it left the sommelier less than impressed having finally found the wine, we decided to change our order to a Garnacha/Mataro/Tempranillo from the Great Southern region of Western Australia. It was amazing with the wagyu and we did the right thing stepping up from the lighter red.

Vacherin of Pandan custard with lime granita and mango sorbet

Vacherin of Pandan custard with lime granita and mango sorbet

It was time for dessert and they could not have been more impressive. To begin, mango sorbet sits atop a stunningly presented meringue wrapped around lime granita, coconut, peanuts and pandan custard. In an age of less sweetness in desserts, finally we were eating a dessert with a savoury edge, but still with a level of sweetness that you need after a great number of savoury courses. The combination was absolutely delicious with all flavours having their time in the sun.

Presentation doesn’t get much better than the Valrohna chocolate dessert. With so many technically challenging elements coming together, this dessert was photogenic like no other dish of the night, the glass shard glistening next to the malt and peach leaf ice cream. We were not done with, ending the night with petit fours in the form of a delectable date tart that is apparently a signature of years gone by at Rockpool, and a macaroon with white chocolate.

There were some astounding moments tonight. The precision in technique and execution shown in many of the dishes we tried must be put down to years of refinement, and an obsession with perfection. While that same attention to detail was not exhibited in all aspects of the experience, it is plain to see why Rockpool is spoken about in terms of the best Australia has to offer.

Rockpool Est. 1989 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato