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

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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

D.O.C. Pizza & Mozzarella Bar – Carlton – Sunday 13 November 2016 – Dinner

San Daniele

San Daniele

I’ll keep this short since I recently wrote about D.O.C. Mornington, which is the sister of the original in Carlton.

D.O.C. Carlton is special to me for many reasons. Mainly because it is the venue of my third date, with my now wife, when she took me to Nova for the first time, and pizza afterwards.

It is actually hard to think of better places for a date. You turn up when the restaurant is already full (hopefully not too full) and wait your turn while having a chat on a nice evening outside, or huddled on the tiny bar, dodging the waitstaff as you sip on your aperitif. An aperol spritz, a prosecco, or even a glass of chianti perhaps? Then you get to enjoy great food in an atmospheric restaurant with the fantastic service you associate with Italian restaurants.

Radicchio salad

Radicchio salad

Tonight we’ve arrived early; very early actually. A movie out at Rivoli in Camberwell was sold out so instead of late afternoon popcorn we changed up to late afternoon pizza. We ordered the San Daniele pizza that is full of its namesake prosciutto, and DOP Mozzarella cheese on a tomato base. It is outstanding in its simplicity, its execution, and more importantly, its flavour.

The Salsiccia pizza has D.O.C. Deli made pork sausage on a base of creamed broccoli, and we ordered extra DOP Mozzarella too. It is also a nice pizza, but the broccoli cream is a bit too healthy, and to be honest we didn’t realise it would be the main ingredient. Like last time we were in Mornington, we ordered the radicchio salad which includes orange segments, walnuts, gorgonzola and fennel, with a balsamic dressing. It is an excellent combination, perfect to break up the heaviness of the pizza, but certainly not lacking in punch.

Salsiccia

Salsiccia

I’m driving but my Peroni Leggera (3.5% alcohol or 0.9 standard drinks) is fine, and Catherine’s Aperol Spritz is excellent. We are surprised how many people are here eating dinner before 6pm. It is certainly a healthy business and that shows the product being provided over many years is high quality.

Whether it is a date, or several years of marriage, kids, or otherwise, D.O.C. Carlton fits the bill for a quality traditional Italian pizza restaurant.

DOC Pizza & Mozzarella Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Port Phillip Estate – Red Hill, Victoria – Monday 8 June 2015 – Lunch

Barbara pumpkin angolotti, lemon, Amaretto, sage

Barbara pumpkin angolotti, lemon, Amaretto, sage

The first time I walked into Port Phillip Estate I was stunned with the modern architecture. It stood out from the rest of the more rustic, traditional, Red Hill wineries at the time. While it created a trend in the area, it is still unique in its scale.

That day was not the day for fine dining but inspired me to one day return and enjoy the incredible view over lunch. Years have passed, but several positive reviews illustrated the dining room had settled into a high performance groove. I was eager to say the least to have a try for myself.

Pan seared scallops, lentil salad, parsnip puree, bitter leaves

Pan seared scallops, lentil salad, parsnip puree, bitter leaves

It is not cheap to eat in the dining room, especially on a public holiday, with a prix fixe for two or three courses. Thankfully there are many exciting options, and the descriptions of the food have the potential to live up to the expense. Catherine and I both order the Kooyong flagship Chardonnay (the Farrago) which has only just begun to be offered on the menu by the glass. It is an elegant, high quality expression of a local vineyard that shares the cellar door with Port Phillip.

Aylesbury duck, organic beets, almond, quince, Earl Grey

Aylesbury duck, organic beets, almond, quince, Earl Grey

It is time to start eating and I have done an extremely gentlemanly gesture and ordered one of the two dishes that Catherine couldn’t choose between. The “Barbara pumpkin angolotti” consists of one large piece of al dente filled pasta, simple but delicious pumpkin, with balance to the creaminess provided by lemon, and a nice infusion from sage. Catherine was torn but ordered the pan seared scallops. Large, beautifully seared scallops, slightly translucent, are served with a lovely parsnip puree. The lentil salad seems an unusual accompaniment but it works alongside the bitter leaves which are a more regular compliment.

After a terrific start, our main courses took it up a notch. My Aylesbury duck, the breast in particular, was incredibly well cooked. The beetroot sauce combining with the duck like a classic should, and the quince providing the slight sweetness that is so well married to game. Presentation stood out, but the taste was an escalation.

Catherine was taken by the sound of the ricotta salata gnocchi. Another delightfully presented meal, with the puree of Chanteney carrots a highlight on the plate in more ways than one. Everything worked nicely together with the gnocchi. There is a great deal of thought that has gone into each of the elements.

Ricotta salata gnocchi, roasted Chantenay, barley, nettle vinaigrette

Ricotta salata gnocchi, roasted Chantenay, barley, nettle vinaigrette

Normally after such tremendous savoury courses you could forgive the desserts not being as intricate or well thought through. Forgiveness was not needed as I tasted my first mouthful of the roasted Red Hill figs, rice pudding infused with more fruit, and chunks of honeycomb. Huge on flavour and while rich, not a dessert that overcame me by the end with too much creaminess.

Caramelised honey panna cotta, poached estate quince, roast almond ice cream

Caramelised honey panna cotta, poached estate quince, roast almond ice cream

While enjoyable, the caramelised honey panna cotta probably missed the mark a touch on the star component which was presented in a flat circular dish, rather than in the usual pyramid form. It was set, but you couldn’t get the usual creamy mouthfeel from each taste. However, the poached quince was amazing, meaning a reconfiguration could be all that is needed to take the dish to the level we found in the rest of the menu.

Roasted Red Hill figs, aromatic rice, honeycomb

Roasted Red Hill figs, aromatic rice, honeycomb

Expectations are sometimes the most difficult element to meet. The food had well and truly exceeded my expectations even though Port Phillip Estate is recognised as one of the best on the Mornington Peninsula. The clean lines of the restaurant and amazing architecture naturally lead you to believe the service is going to be equally classy. It has many fine dining features, even including a small stool being brought out for Catherine’s bag.

While the maitre’d did an excellent job, and on more than one occasion pinch-hit for the floorstaff, it was not enough to overlook some of the oversights. When your waitperson has said more than twice “thank you for your patience” normally it is regarding the food. In this case the kitchen was keeping up with a three-quarter full restaurant on a public holiday, but our waitperson was not keeping up with the simple things. As an example, while we waited quite some time to order dessert, eventually Catherine had finished her sparking water, and the rest of which was in a bottle a little while away to keep the table uncluttered. We sat there for several minutes waiting for her to notice that we needed to order and/or have our water topped up but to little avail. The same happened with the bill and we actually took it up to the maitre’d on our exit. At these times when we patiently waited, our waitperson was on the floor clearing plates, or getting drinks for the larger tables; just not ours.

Service faults aside, we had an excellent meal. The food was fantastic and the view impeccable in this dining room that was purpose built for the surrounds. The experience here is exceptional whether for a day trip or while holidaying on the Peninsula.

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Manhattan In Mornington – Mornington, Victoria – Saturday 30 May 2015 – Dinner

Polenta chips with gorgonzola dipping sauce

Polenta chips with gorgonzola dipping sauce

Group dinners are always interesting affairs to organise, especially when you haven’t got the hundreds of restaurants in the inner city to choose from.

Tonight’s dinner is for one of Catherine’s best friend’s birthdays and there is a good gathering of us at Manhattan In Mornington. You find MiM just off Main Street but in a dark and quiet area.

Inside, the restaurant quickly fills up, including in the mezzanine upstairs. There is no design awards being won for the decor but there is nothing essential that is missed and the atmosphere is great. In fact, there must be at least five birthdays tonight judging by the singing – there may be more! Initially there is attentive although inexperienced service which tapers off as the restaurant gets busier and eventually gets a little frustrating.

Duck pappardelle

Duck pappardelle

One out of the box is the polenta chips with gorgonzola sauce. We were warned that they are great, but I would not be ashamed to call them stunning. Any return trip would call for at least an extra serving of them.

I chose the duck pappardelle for main once I was informed by our waitperson that it is homemade. The pasta is impressively made, keeping firm and grabbing the flavoursome duck, cherry tomatoes and pesto, to combine into a delicious dish. Catherine equally enjoyed her lasagne. It has good richness and plenty of cheese, which was a definite theme in several of the dishes. While it could be seen as heavy handed, there is nothing wrong with that when it comes to lasagne.

Lasagne

Lasagne

MiM is an excellent venue for a group in Mornington and that was self-evident. The food is high quality and reasonably priced. I know it is difficult to get good staff as you get further outside the city, but their attitudes were good, so a bit more training and they might be more attentive. It is not always necessary to up-sell – I actually wanted a coffee, but by the time someone came to take my order I had asked for earlier, it was time to go. Outside of those types of flaws there is plenty of reason to return to Manhattan in Mornington.

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