Wildflower – Perth – Thursday 28 December 2017 – Lunch

Whipped Bahen & Co chocolate, river mint, wattle seed cream

It was the best of food, it was the worst of service. Sitting four floors above St Georges Terrace, the main question I have is how does this happen? That, and “can we please leave now?”

Normally in situations like this I would describe how brilliant each dish tasted, and looked, to begin. This is one time where the level of uninspiring service cannot be tolerated when you are in one of the best restaurants in the country, Wildflower. The reason we want to leave isn’t because of the food, which was outstanding.

The reason is our friendly, but inexperienced, and ill-hired, waitperson, has taken all of ten minutes to correct the bill. It must have been a big problem; now he has then brought it back and I’ve found another mistake. He has disappeared for another ten minutes in a restaurant with two tables left. When he comes back he comps our tea and coffee due to the second mistake, which is a nice touch so I still leave a small tip hoping it gets split amongst the staff (including the kitchen) evenly. We say thank you and begin to leave.

Artisanal Western Australian cheeses with pink lady gelee, oat cakes & lavosh

However, the restaurant manager cannot work out how to use our Australian Gourmet Traveller vouchers (not the plastic card, but paper vouchers that we paid hard currency for through my work benefits program), so she asks a bar person to make us complimentary kir royales while we wait. At this stage of proceedings this was not an off-moment; it was a theme.

Wood grilled Arkady lamb, Jerusalem artichoke, salt bush, dripping emulsion, peppermint tree leaf dressing

Mistakes happen. It was the demeanor of the restaurant manager that was the issue, not her ability to try to smooth the matter by providing a drink while we waited, or the fact Mum saw her visit most other tables during our three hour sitting (but not ours or any of the other tables further to the west of the restaurant). And once she rectified the problem and used the vouchers to pay the remaining $550 of our bill, she didn’t come over and apologise and say “it worked now, thank you”. No, I had to come to her fifteen minutes later to see how it was going.

Strawberry gum cheesecake, candied outback lime, raspberry, coconut charcoal & bottle brush

This sounds like a rant, but anyone who has read my reviews more than a few times would realise I value food far more than service, and rarely have significant critiques. There were so many mistakes at this beautiful, expensive restaurant, that it really needs to be discussed. So many that only a list can be used without going to another page.

1. Sher’s water glass had lipstick on it. The sommelier didn’t apologise, left the water glass on the waitstaff table for most of the meal, and didn’t offer a new bottle of sparkling water (since the first glass of the Cape Grim bottle had to be removed).

2. Our waitperson was new to the restaurant (and we think to hospitality, which is not his fault, but is a mistake of the restaurant’s hiring policies). He was very nice and friendly, but just not up to scratch. Simple things that you take for granted in fine dining restaurants (like grabbing the menus as people ordered for example) were not done. Harder aspects were mismanaged as a result.

3. When my Mum asked him what jelly came with our first dish he had to be asked again an hour later, and still didn’t come back immediately to reveal it, but did eventually come back. It was the only ingredient we asked about the entire meal (we were not asking constantly in other words about everything, or being annoying customers in any way).

4. I asked for a 2015 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay and got presented with a Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, which was a fine error. But then the sommelier came back with the chardonnary and explained that only 2016 was available (fine again). Then we were charged $10 more for the Curly Flat 2014 Pinot Noir on the bill and it was blamed on the wine list changing (so check your bill). It took ten minutes for the wine list to be checked to confirm it was an error, in an empty restaurant at 4.30pm.

5. Three courses was $88. Because you order dessert after mains, the first two courses were correctly shown as $68 on the bill. However, underneath this item showed “4 @ $20” for dessert, but then had below it “$30… $120”. We were the last to leave the restaurant so it is quite possible that everyone who had the three courses got charged $10 extra per head because the error was automatic.

6. Catherine’s tea cup had pronounced coffee stains on it, which were blamed on “the finely made cups are difficult to clean” which would be fine at a dinner party, but seemed odd at a fine diner.

7. The sommelier seemingly refused to fill our wine glasses after the initial pour. This meant we had to ask our waitperson (the bottle is not on the table), which meant he was a bit torn (knowing he shouldn’t be pouring, but realising it had been forever since sommelier even batted an eyelid at our table).

8. It wasn’t until the end of our meal that we realised the restaurant manager was not the person who greeted us. The restaurant manager was not the person who led us to the table, and the person who greeted us walked to the opposite end of the restaurant at a brisk walk, leaving my aunty Sher and Mum literally 15 metres behind. It didn’t dawn on me until later that it was not the best way to open proceedings, but the issues across the board brought it out.

There’s no justification for these issues in totality. It has simply not happened at a Gourmet Traveller top 100 restaurant that I’ve ever visited. So, besides company, what saved our experience?

Shark Bay Blue Swimmer Crab, avocado, kohlrabi, sea blight (blite), native basil dashi, finger lime

The food was inventive, beautifully presented, exquisitely executed, and absolutely delicious. Shark Bay blue swimmer crab is generously served under thinly sliced kohlrabi, in a gazpacho style of native basil dashi, and given zing with finger lime, and mild sweetness with a limey tomato jelly. Sea blite adds bite, and the avocado pairs with the gorgeous texture of the crab, which shows off as the star of the dish against the backdrop of competing, but balanced elements. It is absolutely superb.

Berkshire pork is incredibly tender considering the perfectly executed crackling, that somehow balances its salt content. While a little more jus could have been warranted, the soft sweet white onion, scattering of quandongs, and sides of bitter greens, and Paris style mashed potato, were all excellent.

Berkshire pork, sweet white onion, sour quandong and mustard

As if the savoury courses being perfect was not enough, the kitchen’s take on an after-dinner mint includes the best mint gelato imaginable. Sitting next to whipped Bahen & Co chocolate, and atop wattle seed cream, the combination is unashamedly classic, but still innovative, without breaking the modern movement in plating desserts.

Once we eventually received the right bottle of chardonnay, the 2016 Cape Mentelle was outstanding with restrained use of new French oak, and a refined palate. Just as spectacular was the 2014 Curly Flat Pinot Noir; an expression of this variety that seems to find the right part of the spectrum between fruit and game.

Food first. It is the reason I go to restaurants instead of staying at home. But there are natural elements you expect when paying $610 for lunch. I wouldn’t normally mention the amount, but it brings into view the importance of providing service that is fit for the food. I haven’t read other reviews (I rarely do before going to a restaurant to keep my own perspective) but if there are any themes here they need to be rectified quickly at this flagship of Perth restaurants that is thankfully not at the all-too-dominant Crown. Go for the food and all the best with the service. Did I mention the view?

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

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Oter – Melbourne, City – Wednesday 6 September 2017 – Dinner

Tamarillo Millefeuille + Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Time passes by so quickly. Now almost three months back, Catherine and I had our first experience at Oter since it replaced Yu-U. Across from its sister restaurant, Coda, the space has been thoroughly renovated.

The feel is not dramatically different thanks to the large bar focussed seating space, and the fact the restaurant is partially below ground. Back in the Yu-U days it was a little claustrophobic though, but now it is quite open and airy. We are happy to sit at the bar, which seems to be the place to be, not to mention the view of three tarts of the day is close to irresistible!

Moulton Sea Urchin + Kohlrabi Noodle

The menu is interesting in its diversity, and the prices are reasonable for some sophisticated dishes. Service is knowledgable and quite attentive, though the whole bar dining concept is a bit confused here with the majority of service coming from the floor, rather than from behind the bar. The bar does give the chefs (largely working further back and not right in front of you) the opportunity to present dishes to you, which has a charm to it.

Blue Spanner Crab + Pickled Cucumber, Hazelnut

To begin we tried one of the Moulton sea urchin on top of a bundle of kohlrabi noodles. Served cold, the sea urchin has that soft texture that can put people off, but when paired next to the firm vegetable noodles, the subtle flavour was able to show itself off. Next we shared the blue spanner crab with pickled cucumbers and slithered hazelnuts. Presented with a cucumber foam, the dish looks delightful, and the flavour is its equal. At this early stage we were growing in excitement for the dishes to come.

The wines by the glass have many points of interest. We started off with a champagne by Piper Heidsieck, before moving into a Chardonnay by Salo. I hadn’t heard of Salo before but it is made by two of the best winemakers in the Yarra Valley, as part of a project to make natural wines. As we got towards our mains we chose a Cabernet Franc by Crawford River. All three glasses were fantastic, pointing to a well thought out wine list.

Alsatian Bread Dumplings + Onion Sousbise, Boudin Noir

We had to ask our waitperson a bit about the Alsatian bread dumplings because they were something we hadn’t encountered. There was just something about bread dumplings, onion sauce, and blood sausage that really piqued our interest. In the end it was a very hearty and satisfying treat prior to our shared mains.

Kurobuta Pork + Confit Celeriac, Lardo

We decided on two mains that we would share to avoid any menu envy. The Kurobuta pork was served perfectly pink, with a whole slow cooked confit celeriac really making its presence felt. The Gippsland duck was served with a pretty beurre blanc sauce, scattered with charred baby leeks. Both were excellent, with some nice contrasting features for us to enjoy while sharing. The pork soft and tender; the duck with that crispy skin around the drumstick, and a more generous sauce.

Gippsland Confit Duck + Charred Leek, Beurre Blanc

Earlier in the night we were craning our necks to check out the amazing looking tarts of the day. One of the floor staff saw us and instantly brought them closer to us, sitting them on the bar touching distance away (we refrained!) There was no doubt one of us had to order one of those slices of heaven. With Catherine keen to try the tamarillo millefeuille, it was up to me to chose a slice, and I went with the chocolate, pistachio and blood orange. As delicious as the tart turned out, with some reduced milk ice cream accompanying it, the millefeuille won the day for its taste and immaculate presentation.

Tart of the day – chocolate, pistachio and blood orange + reduced milk ice cream

Reflecting on our experience at Oter provides memories of some beautifully executed modern Australian dishes that walk the tightrope between bold rusticity and fine dining pizazz. Eating on the bar is not for everyone, but it is the way modern dining is going. With a few tweaks to give some more life behind the bar, Oter could deliver and even tighter experience. It’s not out of the question to go past just for the tart of the day, but stopping in for several courses like we did is well worth it.

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

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

Neighbourhood Wine – Fitzroy North – Friday 7 July 2017 – Lunch

Neighbourhood Wine

I love eating on the bar. There is a propensity for diners to automatically expect to be offered a table when dining at a restaurant. This means a lot of us are missing out on the experience of eating at the bar.

When I was 25 years old, I went around the world on my own for 10 weeks. Luckily, I was already a fan of eating alone, so meal time was not as confronting as it could have been. Back in Perth, it was almost as if the waitstaff serving me would be more uncomfortable about my dining habit than I was, often almost forcefully trying to provide reading material (which I declined).

When I got to New York City, I found an almost endless supply of restaurants featuring (on purpose) a bar for overflows and loners. I was in heaven. My most memorable experience was at Union Square Cafe. As well as the magnificent bar staff, I remember taking a photo half way through a three course meal, and my part of the bar was adorned with bread, wine, and cognac. Many times whilst dining at a bar back in Melbourne I think about those experiences. As you would know, the bar concept is now a feature of Melbourne dining.

Red wine and gnocchi

Tucked away just off Nicholson Road is Neighbourhood Wine. We don’t have a booking which is dangerous on a Friday, but we have the choice of two tables, or the long stretch of empty bar space. In sync, Catherine and I choose to sit at the bar, although we were questioning the look of the actual bar stools.

It turns out, the bar stools are very comfy, and beautifully coordinate with the look and feel of this unusual space. Every nook and cranny is filled with bottles of wine, and where not dedicated to wine there is something kitsch in its place. Even the space just outside the toilet has a few dozen bottles of wine.

Wine by the glass is generally natural, with organic featuring heavily. Both of the reds that we try are excellent. The first is a Nebbiolo that has accentuated classic flavours and body that you associate with this variety. Second is a medium bodied Cinsault from the Barossa that takes a little time to open up, eventually showing good length.

The bar person pouring our wines and generally serving us knows his wines. However, he is more bartender than my New York experiences of bar servers. He is quietly spoken and lacks energy, slightly impacting our time here.

Beef ragu croquette, mustard aioli

On the flip side, the food we order is outstanding. We begin with beef ragu croquettes and they are as good as they sound. Next we share the duck and brandy parfait. It comes out as two generous scoops on grilled sourdough. While the serve of this indulgent food could be smaller, I wasn’t complaining! We easily managed to finish it all off.

Duck and brandy parfait, pickled pine mushrooms, grilled sourdough

For our final dish we shared the pan-fried potato and ricotta gnocchi with butternut pumpkin, leeks and pine nuts. It was another good dish, and generous too. It is all too obvious when a kitchen puts out amateur gnocchi and this was certainly not the case. There is confidence in the combination with the pumpkin and pine nuts, and I would be quite happy to have this dish and a nice glass of red any day of the week.

Pan-fried potato & ricotta gnocchi, butternut pumpkin, leeks and pine nuts

We seriously enjoyed our first taste of what Neighbourhood Wine has to offer. With a thought provoking wine list, and plenty of great food options to match, there is more here than just a strong local. With some work on the rapport side with customers on the bar it would be a complete experience.

Neighbourhood Wine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ten Minutes By Tractor – Red Hill, Mornington Peninsula – May 2017 – Lunch

Catherine, and her Mum, Sandra, in the garden

Is it possible to feel like a regular when your second visit to a restaurant is eight years apart? Perhaps that is a KPI for Ten Minutes By Tractor. Without any facade, the staff have you feeling completely at ease in an instant.

Looking around the room, the recent renovation has been nicely undertaken, not making a big statement but certainly leaving a very comfortable dining room to spend three hours over lunch. The seats in particular are the perfect choice, both well designed, and like your favourite couch. As you can imagine, there is plenty of emphasis in having a good view of the vines in this beautiful part of the world.

Notwithstanding first class service, and a terrific newly renovated dining room, I want to talk about one dish. Offal has never been the flavour of the month. It has been lauded for reason over a long time, but has never escalated to the heights of true popularity. Perhaps it never will be. When you look at a “balanced” restaurant menu you would ordinarily expect certain main star ingredients, some choice of secondary stars, and then something surprising. I’m afraid while beef, chicken, and fish take that staring role, offal has always been kept to the “surprise” meaning it gets a gig only on occasion.

Veal sweetbreads, mushrooms, charred baby leeks, chestnuts

While livers take the cake, sweetbreads (which actually sound like a cake) must be the second most unsexy ingredient going around. I mean they actually gave them a name that tries to confuse the customer into having a go! Ten Minutes By Tractor are serving veal sweetbreads for entree, and like a kid in a candy shop, I’m excited. To serve offal, you need to honour the flavour, but present it looking delicious (in spite of itself) and with complimentary accompaniments (more than other dishes).

Slow cooked goat, beetroot pasta, pickled beetroots, Main Ridge caprinella goats’ cheese

That is why I’m focussing on this dish. It came out on a black plate, showing off fabulous presentation skills of the chefs, but not hiding the sweetbreads, and actually highlighting them. The visual sear on the sweetbreads translates to the taste. Soft but deep gaminess, cooked in balance, and enhanced with the sauce and complimentary earthy mushrooms. I was not completely sold on the chestnuts in the dish, but this was close to perfection.

Cauliflower and mushroom, mushroom and cauliflower royal, black pearl barley

There are some choices to be made on the menu with a tasting menu, and a prix fixe option of two or three courses. We chose to have three courses ($99). It is best to not have any plans following the meal, with an amuse to begin, and a pre-dessert, making for a long and enjoyable meal. As well as having the sweetbreads, there is good diversity in the menu. Catherine’s Mum Sandra tried the roasted cauliflower to start. With a variety of mushrooms, a flavoursome theme on the menu, black pearl barley, and a “mushroom and cauliflower royal”, this is a nicely executed vegetarian dish. For her entree, Catherine opted for the slow cooked goat with beetroot pasta, pickled beetroot and goat’s cheese. Again, presentation is superb, and backed up by the taste.

Smoked breast of Great Ocean Road duck, mushrooms, celeriac, walnut crunch

Not easily put off by rich gamey dishes, next I was trying the smoked breast of Great Ocean Road duck. The duck was nicely cooked, and as I got further into the dish, the sweet walnut crunch dulled, starting to combine and balance the richer flavours of the mushrooms and celeriac. Both Catherine, and Sandra, tried the roasted hapuka which is a fish I’ve always loved. Here it is cooked with skill, and combined with both a persillade (mainly parsley) and lovage puree. The cauliflower is thinly sliced on top and it all makes for a delicious dish.

Roasted hapuka, lovage puree, heritage cauliflower, persillade

There is some serious flair here. A meal is more than a simple three courses. When the blood orange sorbet refresher comes out we know we are being spoilt. The flavours are as intense as you would like for a refreshing, but indulgent, interlude between mains and dessert. Then there is dessert itself. The colours, textures, tastes, and look of these dishes shows why it is a good idea to limit options on a menu. Make every dish exceptional and choice is not so important. Probably the only critique is the length of time it took for dessert to come out, meaning my 3.30pm conference call was a bit of a rush.

Poached pear, cashmere ice cream, candied chestnuts, slow roasted grapes

Michel Cluizel chocolate pave, cassis mousse, beetroot and creme fraiche ice cream, chocolate cake

Poached estate quince, candied ginger, sable, verjuice gel

Sandra’s came with the classic acknowledgement of a special day, but the combination was hard to beat. Quince from out the back seems healthy enough, but when combined with the sponge, crisps, gels and sorbets it is something else! My chocolate everything with cassis was its equal on the richer side. I’ve never rated food based on size, but this was a classic dish for sharing. Then there was Catherine’s poached pears which is not as popular as a few decades ago, but is a classic for a reason. Modern desserts have similar balance, texture and composition, but they don’t get much better than these.

Blood orange sorbet

I knew Ten Minutes By Tractor was a great place to dine. Though it had been several years since I’d had the experience first hand. At this stage of the day, albeit running out for a work call, I couldn’t quite believe how good today’s lunch actually was. It is still sinking in.

Ten Minutes by Tractor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

French Saloon – Melbourne, City – Monday 10 April 2017 – Lunch

It is not every day a collection of restaurants has such an impact on a diverse range of dining and drinking experiences. The European, City Wine Shop, and most importantly The Supper Club (and Siglo), are three places that captured my imagination many years ago, and have held it to this day. It seems without even knowing it, the people behind these stunning establishments, have grabbed me in the opposite end of town.

Kirk’s Wine Bar is not a place that grabs your immediate attention. In fact, it looks like a lot of wine bars I’ve been to overseas. It is the feeling here that is special. Somehow many of those I’ve been with there, feel the same way too. The fascinating part is why I feel drawn to it whenever I’m in that part of town, whether shopping, after lunch, for pre-dinner drinks, or pretty much any other time.

Naturally, upstairs was always going to end up capturing my attention. It’s not the same, but the walk up the stairs is a bit like going up to the Supper Club. What is upstairs though is a tribute to the casual dining of France. Not that the French do anything that is actually that casual. The French Saloon is put together in this manner.

There is not a prestigious fitout, and the tables are not overdone, but there is a sense of bistro luxury and a feeling of belonging, even if it is just any other Monday in Autumn. From the greeting to the goodbye, there is an ease about this place. If only the menu were as easy. There was no debate, but after a fair bit of catching up, we really needed to order something.

Chris had his eye on the kingfish which I was happy to share. I like the sound of the spanner crab toast and we ordered one each. It was a great start.

The kingfish is served with delicate presentation, surrounded by thinly sliced cucumber. However, the staff direct you to mix it all up, allowing the sauce to combine with the oil and creating a smart combination. The spanner crab is curiously presented half adorned with avocado, and the other half with salmon roe. The toast works well initially, holding together, until it all falls apart in the last few bites. As you can imagine, using a knife and fork does not inhibit the delicate flavour.

For mains, we had decided to share the Cote de Boeuf, along with a side of fries and of the gem lettuce with anchovy sauce. Having ordered medium rare, the steak seems on the medium side, but was still beautifully tender and well seasoned. The strong jus was absolutely superb, lifting the steak to greater heights. The chips were excellent, while the gem lettuce could have been a touch too powerful with its anchovy dressing, to refresh and dull the impact of the steak and jus.

The Pinot Noir we were drinking from Gippsland was at the suggestion of our waitperson, as the bottle Chris selected was off the list. It was an excellent choice, not necessarily matching our choices perfectly, but versatile enough to enjoy with, or without food. In fact, the service on a reasonably busy Monday lunch was great.

As we finished lunch, I asked Chris about his phone call into 3AW, where he had shared with the breakfast presenters his insights from his experiences at Eleven Madison Park, which had very recently won the title of “world’s best restaurant”. When we walked downstairs Chris saw one of his friends at Kirk’s and he too got asked about the same conversation! Like so many meals, ending it with conversations about other meals seems fitting.

The French Saloon is different to the other offerings of this group, but it has the same hospitable feel and warmth. I’m sold on everything they do, though I almost wish I didn’t know they were all connected.

French Saloon Bar & Bistro 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