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

Bar Lourinha – Melbourne, City – Monday 17 April 2017 – Dinner

Yellowtail kingfish ‘pancetta’ & lemon oil

Great places do not get old. They have a personality. Like people, some personalities wear thin after many years, and some become old friends.

While I’ve been many times, it wouldn’t add up to once a year since opening. I’m pretty sure the staff have turned-over in their entirety several times. Yet, there is something about this simply furnished restaurant with a dominant bar, that stays fresh.

At the time Bar Lourinha opened, it was a trend setter. Spanish tapas was not new, but it was waiting for a further push. Add to this novel concepts of the time like “no bookings”, the unusual location on Little Collins Street, and that added ingredient of intrigue, and you have a recipe for a hot restaurant.

Merimbula oysters

It has now been open for over a decade. While Bar Lourinha is no longer the trend setter, it is now part of a restaurant culture that makes Melbourne one of the best CBDs in the world to eat in. It is a part of my personal restaurant folklore, and I’m sure many other Melburnians.

Tonight it is yet another meal here, spending the evening with friends after a performance by Stephen K Amos during the Comedy Festival. Natalie is a pescetarian and there are heaps of non-meat options so we are covered. Her other half, Jason, thankfully chooses one meat dish after I twist his arm!

We share several plates that include some Merimbula oysters, fritters of salted cod (bacalau), kingfish, mussels, pumpkin, mushrooms, and chorizo. The Merimbula oysters are fantastic; but the fritters are a bit too dominated by the potato, to fully appreciate the flavour of the cod.

Roasted mushrooms & garlic cream

In a flash we have one of my long time favourite dishes here. The kingfish is simply plated, but always has a glorious flavour, like they get access to some of the best cuts. At the time it became a signature, you would not find kingfish on every second menu, and incredibly it is no less special here. The mushrooms are the other “everytime” dish. Sitting in a garlic cream sauce, they are always beautifully cooked, keeping firm and juicy.

Mussels, pimenton ‘El Angel’, burnt butter & bread

The mussels were recommended by one of our several waitpersons. Funnily, one of them was always about 20 seconds behind another one, sounding like a round musical composition of “row your boat”. We were asked for water twice, given the specials twice (which was fun trying to remember the ingredients), and eventually the entire system broke down literally. It seems they couldn’t catch a break as when we asked for the bill, they asked for us to wait a little (please). This does not mean the staff were bad, it was actually decent service, but there was a lack of coordination.

Back to the mussels, and the sweet paprika (pimenton) with burnt butter, and they are superb. A terrific recommendation, and a special dish. Like most tapas you are left wanting more. On the flip side, the heirloom pumpkin dish just didn’t work for me, even with some texture from the freekeh and chestnuts. A return came with the chorizo which was served as two sausages and a tenderly cooked potato. While the potato was nice, it was more of a filler, but the chorizo had the richness that we all love it for.

Cheese selection

With some great wines on both the by the glass and the longer list, we ordered a bottle of the Vinho Verde from Portugal by Quinta do Ameal. Catherine and I had come in for a drink the week before (which is where we got the idea to return for dinner) and this is a wonderful white wine with great mouthfeel and balance. I also tried the cabernet franc by the glass which I’d had my eye on the week before, and I’m keen to try some more!

Churros y dulce de laeche

Not quite completely full, we shared a cheeseboard and some churros to finish. The cheeseboard featured some gorgonzola, manchego, and a softer offering that I can’t recall. It is great to enjoy some cheese while still having an appetite. The churros on the other hand don’t require an appetite. I could keep going on these expertly prepared doughnuts in dulce de leche until the restaurant runs out.

I call Bar Lourinha an institution. That might be wrong, but to me it feels like one. I feel comfortable here and everything is familiar and fantastic. Sure, if this were my first visit it might not have that same exact character, but to me it is a favourite.

Bar Lourinhã Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tulip – Geelong – Saturday 28 January 2017 – Lunch

Grilled octopus with charred cucumber

Have you ever gone to a restaurant in a bad mood? I’m sure you are not surprised that it happens a lot. I have known a lot of waitpersons over the years and try as they might, the customer’s mood is difficult to change. Unfortunately they often get the brunt of it through lack of appreciation, or worse, straight up rudeness.

Well, today started well. We had a nice drive to the beach but the wind had changed and a gale was blowing by mid-morning. So we decided to go to lunch instead of coping mouthfuls of sand. We didn’t realise it was the Cadel Evans ride and found ourselves in traffic for an hour to get from Ocean Grove to Geelong, which is hard to take.

Kingfish

It didn’t help that I missed a turn and ended up in insurmountable traffic on the wrong side of the railway tracks. Not moving, we pulled over and started walking to the restaurant in the heat. We were not upset with anyone, but were clearly upset with the situation. The floorstaff at Tulip were understanding for our late arrival, which was not surprising with a quite empty restaurant.

I don’t like being the patron in a bad mood, which makes me self-conscious! It was hard to hide. After a few deep breaths, and having perused the enticing menu we were on our way to turning it all around. It felt like our waitperson read the situation and let us take our time. They were either attentive or lucky!

Beef short rib

Kingfish, octopus, beef short rib, a grain salad were ordered, and we were happy we came, our mood improving considerably. This is a sister restaurant to Gladioli which we tried last year, and we have been eagerly anticipating a visit. The food lived up to our expectations; maybe it surpassed them.

The kingfish dish was beautifully presented, and the roe and avocado worked fine with this fantastic white fish, but I wasn’t sure what the pig face succulent brought to the flavour. The flair of presentation was equally shown in the octopus, with charred cucumber a nice addition, along with texture and colour from the blackened light cracker.

Next was the big surprise. The grain salad was absolutely delicious, more than just a side, it is a great dish on its own. The cauliflower, and almonds, along with several other additions, all playing well together, creating a terrific flavour profile in each bite. Not to be outshone, the beef short rib with eggplant puree and spring onion, is a well executed meat dish, big on flavour as you would expect from short rib, and a satisfying main to finish.

Grain salad

It could have been the Cadel ride, an unusual Saturday lunch, or just an odd day, but the restaurant was very quiet. We were sure it must be generally popular and it should be. The food is great, the waitstaff are professional and accommodating, it is a nice looking venue, and it’s on the main strip.

Geelong is tricky but there are more than enough quality options these days to keep day trippers and weekenders more than happy. Tulip is one of the top picks. They can even positively swing your mood.

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

Gladioli – Inverleigh – Wednesday 23 March 2016 – Dinner

Potato, eel, wild roquette

Potato, eel, wild roquette

There are only a few rooms available in Inverleigh to stay in at a local bed and breakfast. This charming town is becoming a destination for food lovers due to the rise of Gladioli and there is no doubt in years to come there will be more rooms becoming available to stay.

It is a thirty minute drive from Geelong where we are staying and with the benefit of hindsight on the wine matching, we are glad to have taken a reasonably expensive taxi to and from the restaurant. The charming little town translates into the restaurant. Set in an old house, it has been lovingly transformed into a small fine dining operation.
IMG_4885
Wednesday night before Easter was never going to be busy and three tables are booked, all for anniversary celebrations. This means we have a situation where we have at least one-third of the attention of the lone waitperson. Unsurprisingly he does an excellent job. However, it is his intense interest in fine dining that sets him apart from many others just happening to work in great establishments. It seems the whole Gladioli staff have been to some top Michelin restaurants across the US and Europe.

Radish, and trout skin with daikon

Radish, and trout skin with daikon

We have the choice of a la carte, and five or eight course tasting menus. We go for the latter along with matching wines. While there were plenty of highlights, the standout dish of my night was the ‘potato, eel, wild roquette’. Saying the potatoes were perfect is a dramatic understatement for this versatile and much loved vegetable. Combined with the sauce, and the strong flavour of the eel (akin to using bacon in a potato salad), you have a familiar combination, with outstanding taste and texture, focussing on the sous vide potatoes. Matched with the 2014 Austin’s Chardonnay, there is balance between the earthiness of the dish, and this elegant wine that spends less time in new French Oak (6 months) than many of its peers.

Zucchini, snow peas, ricotta

Zucchini, snow pea, ricotta

While the meatier mains were my next favoured dishes, the completely vegetarian first course showed off some great ingredients. Grilled zucchini is lightly cooked, and when combined with fresh ricotta you have an absolutely gorgeous starter. This had closely followed some amuses that included a beef cracker (the tendon), trout skin with julienne daikon, and best of all, a delicious raw fresh radish. The local olives from down the road were a nice touch to begin with as well.

Duck, blackberries, rose

Duck, blackberries, rose

Back to the favourites, and the final main course could not have been better prepared. Incredibly beautiful duck is combined with a blackberry sauce, and stunningly touched beetroot, and the presentation matches the taste. There is a lot of interest here, but it also fits the brief of providing a more wholesome finish to the savoury courses. Just prior came a delicious disk of pork mainly from the cheek but also including jowl. Put next to bitter greens it is a familiar combination, perfectly seasoned, with an elevated taste.

Strawberries, almond, fig leaf

Strawberries, fig leaf, almond

The desserts are quality. The first was the sweeter of the two with macerated strawberries, alongside almond ice cream. There is a lot of technique here, but most important is the balance of sweetness between both elements. The crumble, which provides sweetness with that crunchy texture, will live in Catherine’s memory for a long time to come. Even more complicated, but far more on the savoury dessert front, is the last course of layered apple, chestnut cream, and rosemary. Here it is all about a terrific and inventive combination of tastes and textures, and it is somewhat addictive, especially when washed down with the dessert style sauvignon blanc by Mitchell Harris. Every bite is brilliant. The previous dessert was with pedro and that can never be bad at dessert time!

Apple, chestnut, rosemary

Apple, chestnut, rosemary

There were no average dishes but two in particular could have been improved. The kingfish itself was immaculate; easily the best seared kingfish I have eaten, but the plum was inconsistent with some firm and some soft. Similarly, the prawns were perfectly cooked, but had their tract intact, which particularly put Catherine off. It was a pity because the dish is beautifully presented.

Prawns, kohlrabi,

Prawns, kohlrabi, seawater

The wine matching is magnificent, balancing between intrigue and familiarity, and leveraging on the locals, which are known Australia wide. As an example, the use of the 2008 Bannockburn Vineyards ‘Gladioli’ Shiraz which is grown close by is intelligent. Bannockburn is a stunning winery, and Gladioli must reduce cost by having a portion grown just for them.

There are a couple of wines that don’t hit those same heights, such as the Best’s House Block Riesling with residual sugar, but they still work well enough, in this case with the kingfish. One slant that I enjoy is the use of some Italian varieties in local wines (vermentino by Bellwether from Heathcote with the zucchini), or even Italian wines produced by Australian nationals (Fletcher Langhe Rosso with the pork). Naturally many of these varieties are good with food. It was the most I’ve enjoyed the wine matching for some time.

Kingfish, plum

Kingfish, beach mustard, plum

Gladioli has real heart. It took me back to past experiences, even reminding me of Poland when the potato and eel was served (which was a lot like their bacon and cubed potatoes, only much better quality!). The service was informed and conversational, and the food and wine glorious. There is not much further to go, but I’m keen to follow the journey, knowing how amazing the last step could be.
Gladioli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Penfolds Magill Estate – Magill – Thursday 30 July 2015 – Dinner

Kingfish, Ponzu, Radishes & Turnips

Kingfish, Ponzu, Radishes & Turnips

Penfolds conjures up some of the most enduring images of my romance with wine. When I think of the Barossa, I think of Penfolds, and then I think of Grange, and then I think of the Barossa. They are intertwined in a way that is unique.

Magill Estate is where it all started in 1844. However, Magill Estate is not in the Barossa and is only about twenty minutes from the Adelaide CBD. A pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. As you enter the drive you feel a long way out of the city, driving by softly lit vines, and the original homestead of Dr Penfold.

The bread was amazing!

The bread was amazing!

The heritage feel provides the initial impact. Entering the Penfolds Magill Estate restaurant you return to modern times with slick furnishings, well spaced tables, and a view over the vines that is breathtaking. On the table is a thick vine cutting that is like a toy to a wine enthusiast. The wine focus is obvious; judging on the interior the food is likely to be modern and pretty. Touches like the bag stool are the rule rather than the exception.

We are given a menu and explained the wine matching options. There is an exceptional, but expensive, premium matching, but I opt for the “Sommelier’s Choice” which still has great Penfolds wine offered, a little more cheaply. Catherine is driving tonight so after some advice from the sommelier, she asks to begin with a chardonnay and end with a shiraz. And what a shiraz it was!
IMG_4001_2
While this is not only an oasis for wine lovers, it does help having a keen interest. The sommelier is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic, enhancing the experience. On the other side, the rest of the floor, and especially the maitre’d, are not just experienced and professional, they are astute. There is a rhythm between them, and when a beat is skipped, the maitre’d pivots with poise. A performance worthy of a standing ovation.

Some amazing wines

Some amazing wines

The structure of the tasting menu is modern with a selection of small dishes to start, several small to medium entrée sized dishes, and a couple of desserts, before petit fours to finish. A glass of 2006 Seppelt Salinger starts us off with snacks including King Brown mushroom and wagyu tartare sided by a crisp wafer, cute jam doughnut looking puffs that are filled with goats curd with beetroot in place of jam, and pork tail. It was a nice start without an overwhelming dish, but that may have been because from the moment we entered the restaurant everything had been amazing.

Marron, Cultured Buttermilk and Horseradish, Ice Plant

Marron, Cultured Buttermilk and Horseradish, Ice Plant

One of the prettiest dishes I’ve seen came next and was served with the herbaceous 2012 Cellar Reserve Semillon. Kingfish sashimi is nothing new to fine dining, so it has to be incredible to stand out. One of my favourite fishes, the kingfish is delightfully fresh, and generously cut. Covered by radishes and turnips that are not just beautifully prepared, but excellent accompaniments, all this dish needs is a great dressing to bring it together and that is where the deep flavoured ponzu comes in. This is a wonderful dish; immaculately plated.

Salt baked Celeriac, Spit roast Chicken essence & Black Truffle

Salt baked Celeriac, Spit roast Chicken essence & Black Truffle

While the first couple of wines were both top quality, the 2010 Cellar Reserve Chardonnay steps it up a notch and we are starting to enter new territory. It is well made, and has aged well as a result, developing restrained honey notes that pair nicely with the marron. While the kingfish was superb, in line with the wine, the marron stepped up, whether on its own due to perfect technique, or with the beautiful buttermilk and horseradish sauce. The ice plant, which is new to me, but incidentally was on the menu a couple of nights later at Orana, is crisp but juicy, with a flavour of its own. It is a succulent that is named after the icy frost look that forms on its skin, and naturally is good with seafood given it grows in close proximity to the water.

When I think about my favourite pinot noir, I think about earthiness and the 2002 Cellar Reserve from the Adelaide Hills has that in balance with good fruit and elegant aged tannins. Excitement from the wine turns to intrigue with the disk of black truffle topping thinly sliced and baked celeriac, and gorgeous spit roast chicken, the broth providing a hit of decadence.

Mayura Wagyu, Pine nut & Macadamia emulsion, Chicory

Mayura Wagyu, Pine nut & Macadamia emulsion, Chicory

Drapped Mayura wagyu is chopped into finely formed bite sized pieces with pinenuts, macadamias and chicory that when combined together have a great impact. Not to be overshadowed, the second oldest wine we tried for the night was the 1995 Old Vine Shiraz Mourvedre Grenache which is a Southern Rhone style that is full of fruit, but naturally soft through the aging process. At this stage Catherine gets the opportunity to try a 1987 St Henri which I sneak a sip of and it is even better.

Venison, Hay smoked Beetroots & Red elk

Venison, Hay smoked Beetroots & Red elk

Venison does not get any tenderer than what is dished up for our final savoury course. When served with a natural accompaniment in beetroot, this dish accentuates and builds on a classic with impeccable technique. I was a little overwhelmed when firstly being poured the 2008 RWT Shiraz, and then offered a complimentary (and generous) taste of 2009 Grange to compare it to. Both wines are magnificent. Although very young, the Grange has all the layers you would hope for in such a highly regarded wine. It doesn’t eclipse the RWT though, with its different makings, the RWT would be some tasters favoured wine. I was in heaven.

Baked Cheesecake, Pickled Apple & Muntries

Baked Cheesecake, Pickled Apple & Muntries

Lemon curd, Jersey cream and meringue starts our entry into dessert. It is delicious; the meringue’s sweetness easily balanced by the soft cream and curd. A pear cider accompanies the first dessert, which refreshes you for the next instalment. Beautifully presented, a long slice of baked cheesecake ice cream, comes with a good amount of pickled Granny Smith apple, and muntries. A native berry, the muntries add a burst of sourness complimenting the other ingredients, and painstakingly sliced walnut provides the final touch to a dessert both incredible to eat, and look at. The sticky Viognier is a nice match.
IMG_4019_2
Not to be finished with, the petit fours are a dish in themselves. We ate every single one as we reflected on a brilliant display of food and wine, served with professionalism and flair. This is a restaurant that feels at the top of its game. Outside of its proximity to internationally important wine regions, it is yet another reason to travel to Adelaide.

Click to add a blog post for Penfolds Magill Estate on Zomato