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

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Belle’s Hot Chicken – Richmond – Friday 19 February 2016 – Dinner

IMG_4762Complete confidence. In the product, in the delivery, and in the aesthetic. I had a feeling there was nothing wrong with going to Belle’s Hot Chicken‘s Richmond branch from the moment it opened. The teething issues you see in other openings were all dealt with in Fitzroy at the widely acclaimed original venue.

I would be surprised if I haven’t walked past one hundred times since the announcement that Belle’s was opening in Richmond. In the beginning, besides the attack of local graffiti artists, there was not a lot going on next to the Richmond branch of Meatballs. But once noticeable change started, progress was swift, and all of a sudden it was down to the finishing touches.

It is hard to say this, but my particular experience dining around 6.30pm on the first Friday night, was absolutely perfect. This type of perfection is not unattainable. After all, we are talking about quite a defined product and a relatively small restaurant with a good complement of staff. But it was perfect.
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Catherine ordered the Southern (no chilli) and I ordered the medium as the last time I tried hot it defeated me! We both did the tenders and chose sides of coleslaw and Old Bay fries. The chicken was cooked to the second; just done and not any more for maximum flavour. The sides were great as usual with no noticeable difference to the Fitzroy original.

To wash it down we tried the Belle’s Aperol Spritz and “The Arnaldo” which was my favourite – a Long Island ice tea tasting drink but with an iced tea and lemonade over a tequila only base. Service was superb with an obvious concentration to begin with friendliness and professionalism without an ounce of arrogance that could happen at a successful outpost.

It is needless to say that I’ll be back regularly and that I am going to have to exercise more as a result. As the bloke in his seventies next to us polished off his second basket of chicken I realised it was still possible to live a long happy life, especially when fried chicken is involved.

Belle's Hot Chicken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cumulus Up – Melbourne, City – Saturday 16 January 2016 – Dinner

600g O'Connor ribeye

600g O’Connor ribeye

There is a cost to popularity. Once you have a defined space, there is only so many chairs you can pack into it. After that, the only option to make larger profits is to increase prices or reduce costs. It is obvious that none of these measures is likely to work in the long term. It is this conundrum that must have restaurateurs constantly asking the question of “what’s next?”

Andrew McConnell asked this question over five years ago when Cutler and Co. was going great guns. He came up with a city restaurant with a bistro feel, with a no bookings policy, and dishes with many influences, often served to share. Cumulus Inc has been full ever since and never forget it came before Chin Chin, setting the scene for the strongest culinary street in Australia.

It is not unusual for a popular restaurant to expand in some way. Think about St Ali going across the street for a waiting room that was the antithesis of any other waiting room you’ve been in; or Cafe Di Stasio and its wine bar; or even earlier and Longrain in Sydney which was the first time waiting in their cocktail lounge was cooler than being seated. It seems Cumulus had only one way to go and that was Up!

Cumulus Up takes advantage of the second floor of the main restaurant. It has its own personality but began life as a place to grab a drink and graze while waiting for a seat downstairs. These days it seems it is almost as difficult to get in upstairs as it is downstairs. It is both intimate with low lighting and dark furnishings, as it is communal.

Cosberg lettuce, confit fennel, verjuice dresing

Cosberg lettuce, confit fennel, verjuice dresing

To be entirely honest, I haven’t been to Cumulus for a while and I did want to dine there tonight. The last time we missed out we had a double miss because Up was closed for a function. This time we are able to go up and we don’t hesitate. As we wait to be seated we are shown the menu and start our usual negotiation. However, once we are pointed to the blackboard specials our choice becomes simple.

The 600g O’Connor ribeye steak, which comes with a Cafe de Paris butter, is just the dish of indulgence we feel like tonight. Initially we were on our way into Richmond before one thing led to another and we had tried a cocktail at Romeo Lane before heading here after 8.30pm. With the addition of roasted potatoes and a leafy salad as sides we are set.

Roast potatoes, horseradish mustard & chives

Roast potatoes, horseradish mustard & chives

As we had ordered, the ribeye comes out medium rare. Other than a few fatty threads it is very tender, with a delicious salty char providing a burst in each bite. There’s enough of the butter and herb sauce to provide a softened texture and even more layers of flavour. When combined with the gorgeous roasted potatoes it doesn’t get much more comforting. Even the leafy salad was great.

Chocolate ice cream sandwich, butterscotch

Chocolate ice cream sandwich, butterscotch

After such a delicious main to share we took a short break before ordering dessert. I needed to try the chocolate ice cream sandwich, claiming the dessert at the same time as mentioning we could share. Catherine went for her second option for us to share with a refreshing combination of lemon verbena, fresh fruit and yoghurt cream. Whilst the latter dish was refreshing, the former took the honours by a mile and is the only one we would go back for. The butterscotch was the icing on the cake.

Yoghurt cream, lemon verbena & mango

Yoghurt cream, lemon verbena & mango

An unanticipated sojourn indulging in wine, steak and chocolate doesn’t get much better than this. Downstairs spawned Andrew’s next adventures into places like Golden Fields (now Supernormal) and Moon Under Water, just as it provided some of the impetus for the next generation of Flinders Lane restaurants. But when downstairs is full there should be no hesitation in going up.

Cumulus Up Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Udaberri – Adelaide, City – Friday 31 July 2015 – Dinner

IMG_4035_2Now living in Melbourne, I get the opportunity to go to Adelaide around once a year. It is a great place to explore new food and wine options, or return to the better places you have found. There is only one place however, that I go to on every single trip.

Stepping into Udaberri Pintxos Y Vino feels like you have set off for Barcelona, or maybe even San Sebastian. It is popular, a mix of people sitting at tables, on the bar, or standing around, most having a drink and many enjoying some tapas. It is quite dark, but for the well lit bar area, with several intimate spaces dispersed up and down stairs.
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I always manage to find staff who are having fun, mingling with the customers, and helping improve the experience for the uninitiated. This time when we sit down we notice a great looking drink being made and like a Mexican wave it flows along the bar, simply too good looking to turn down. That drink uses a gin from Margaret River called The Sabre by West Winds, lemon that is reddened in the centre, and rosemary, to create a G+T that is anything but ordinary.

We are still feeling satisfied from our platter and dessert in the Barossa earlier in the day but decide to get a small selection to try. White anchovies, bacalao croquettes, and patatas bravas is all we need with a good helping of fresh crusty bread.
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The anchovies are delicious but have a lasting garlicy effect that is hard to shake! The potatoes are perfectly fried and impossible to not finish, and the croquettes are filled with salted cod but have a light exterior and are quite simply excellent.

Every experience at Udaberri is fun, but there is certainly a lot of effort that goes into the final product, whether food or drink, to achieve that experience. It is part of an Adelaide food scene that goes from strength to strength.

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Grand Trailer Park Taverna – Melbourne, City – Saturday 25 July 2015 – Lunch

KSA and Mac and Cheese Croquette

KSA and Mac and Cheese Croquette

Hype is a wonderful thing. It does not come out of nowhere and is a sign of something worth trying, but it does set expectations higher.

At Grand Trailer Park Taverna you can smell the hype. In one of the most random refurbished upstairs locations in the city there is now a sanctuary for burger lovers overlooking the intersection of Exhibition and Bourke Streets.

I’m not sure how they got the trailers up there but it is a great look. The strong crowd is not a surprise but gladly the space, whether in caravan booths, on more usual tables, or benches with stools, is nice and comfortable. Here you order at the counter so after a quick assessment of the menu I decide on the Ivan Drago, Catherine on the KSA, and we also share some chips and a mac and cheese croquette.

The Ivan Drago and Hand Cut Chips

The Ivan Drago and Hand Cut Chips

My Ivan Drago has an Aussie beef pattie, cheddar cheese, black Russian tomato, streaky bacon, beetroot, McDowell sauce and comes in a brioche bun. The classic Aussie inclusion of beetroot is great and I’m guessing its name comes as a result of the Russian tomato. Everything works and the pattie is high on flavour. Catherine’s KSA has the same beef and cheese in a brioche bun, with normal tomato and butter lettuce, special burger sauce and American mustard. Again it is a delicious burger and a good option if you don’t want too many flavours in each bite.

The mac and cheese croquette is just indulgent comfort in a perfect little package. It is huge so the decision to share one with Catherine works for us. The chips are terrific but that is to be expected.

With a good selection of drinks available, there is plenty to quench your thirst and offset all that grease. It is not out of the question to see out an afternoon over a few courses and a few drinks but today we have Melbourne’s Open House to get involved in. The pie of the day will have to wait until next time.

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Le Bon Ton – Collingwood – Sunday 28 June 2015 – Lunch

Otway Ranges pork shoulder

Otway Ranges pork shoulder

When our waitperson was taken aback with my innocent statement “he’s a big eater” I was surprised. Equally, she was surprised having thought I’d said “he’s a big vegan”. As we had a laugh, we both nodded to the fact that you don’t bring a big vegan to Le Bon Ton.

Baja Fish Tacos - Smoked corn salsa, spicy avocado, radish & roasted poblano crema

Baja Fish Tacos – Smoked corn salsa, spicy avocado, radish & roasted poblano crema

Le Bon Ton is hallowed by night owls who grace the dining room through to the early hours of weekend mornings. Today, we are far more civilised venturing in for a late lunch. I had never been to the pub previously here, but it looks no different from the outside to all those years ago; grungy and a complete dive.

Fried Chicken - Southern style buttermilk soaked tenders with cracked pepper white gravy

Fried Chicken – Southern style buttermilk soaked tenders with cracked pepper white gravy

Inside however there is inventiveness and detail, especially in the beautiful bar area. There are several different areas that are spacious and comfortable. The floorstaff we encounter are friendly and know the menu backwards. Their guidance on what and how much to order is good, and it is easy to grab their attention for another beer.

This is Southern American barbecue, from Louisiana to Texas. We are hungry, deciding to order several dishes to share between myself, Catherine, and her aptly named brother, Angus. To begin we share Baja fish tacos and the fried chicken. The chicken is perfectly cooked, has huge flavour from the generous seasoning, and comes with plenty of jalapenos to provide some kick, softened by the white gravy. The tacos are a good size, with a finger of crumbed fish swimming in avocado and the cream of roasted peppers (called Poblano). The smoked corn salsa works in well for another punchy starter. Great beer food!

Lilypad

Lilypad

For main we focus on one of the meat dishes available and try several sides. We choose the Otway Ranges pork shoulder which like the other meats is cooked for twelve hours over iron bark and fruit woods. It is fantastic, the slow cooking making the meat extremely tender, and the marinade doing the rest. Along with the pork we tried the mac and three cheese, tangy coleslaw and fries. You can’t beat great fries, especially when they are this seasoned, teetering on the edge of oblivion, but not quite falling over it. The spicy ketchup served with them is addictive.

Of the other sides, amazingly I liked the coleslaw more, even though I could taste the onion for a while after finishing. The mac and three cheese wasn’t as creamy as others and probably needs to be served in cast iron, clay or the pan to keep it hot through the meal. Even average mac and cheese is good though and this one is duly finished off.

Mac and 3 cheese

Mac and 3 cheese

There is a good selection of cocktails, beers, wines and spirits (focussing on Absinthe). Catherine tried the lilypad which she enjoyed, served with a very interesting leaf on top that I can’t name but it is spicy! Angus and I stuck to some well known US beers like Sam Adams Boston Lager and Coors.
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It took a while to make it to Le Bon Ton. Now that I have confirmed it is a great place, hopefully my memory bank will remind me the next time I’m in need of a great feed at 2am after a big Friday or Saturday night. Though lunch or dinner at any time here is equally exciting.

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Ace Pizza – Highgate – Sunday 17 August 2014 – Dinner

Creme brûlée doughnut

Creme brûlée doughnut

“Break-ups are never easy” is a line used so often for such an obvious observation. But what about restaurant favourites.

I am seriously considering taking Ace Pizza out of my favourites on Urbanspoon. Sure, I definitely like you, but I just don’t feel the same spark. You let me down bad last time, and I’m not sure the fire in your pizza oven burns as brightly for me anymore.

I am not the world’s biggest restaurant critic. I don’t want to be. I like food too much to want to find faults that are not already obvious. But burnt and at the same time soggy pizza? Please.

We had to tell our waitperson. And they didn’t really comprehend but we told them we’d prefer another one please. I saw her conversation – firstly with the humble pizza chef, then the chef de partie, then the head chef. I was too far away but I don’t know if they saw a huge issue because the waitperson never came back to explain. Put it another way. It was so burnt that the burnt base had come though to the, hardly covered in anything, top of the pizza (the black on the right of the pizza in “take one” is not olives).

Lincoln Lady pizza take one

Lincoln Lady pizza take one

The next attempt was better but the oven is overcooking without crisping up the pizza and the result is nice ingredients being left on a dark and dirty, soggy base. I’m sorry, but it’s over. And I loved you so much a few months ago.

Lincoln Lady pizza take two

Lincoln Lady pizza take two

The save is the before and after. Before we had the fried macaroni and cheese and it is decadent genius. After we had the creme brûlée doughnut and that is just crazy good. A doughnut filled with creme brûlée and covered in toffee. The only thing that could possibly go wrong is medical in nature and we can’t talk about food in those terms if we are enjoying it.

Fried macaroni and cheese

Fried macaroni and cheese

Fried macaroni and cheese

Fried macaroni and cheese

It’s not like the service here is bad. It is actually pretty good. But come and say we are sorry the chefs burnt your pizza rather than “was that one okay?” It’s not like I want it for free or we ate half of it to begin with.

Ace Pizza is no longer a favourite but I would never discourage anyone from trying it. I like the vibe, the staff, and most of the food, not to mention the drink selection. But it is a pizza place and that aspect has to be perfect every time.

Ace Pizza on Urbanspoon