Africola – Adelaide – Wednesday 15 March 2017 – Dinner

Octopus

It’s great to be back in Adelaide. It’s a hot and dry day and I’m on my way to Africola for the first time. I rarely have high expectations when I don’t really know what to expect, but that is the case tonight.

Having never looked at their menu, and only having walked past briefly some time ago, how could I have such high expectations? It comes completely down to the hype surrounding this establishment. Relating this back to Melbourne the hype is Chin Chin-esque.

Chickpea salad

The restaurant is wide-fronted and has a wide entrance giving that casual breezy feel, especially when it is still over 30 degrees. There is plenty of staff, all on the hipster side of the ledger. They are enthusiastic and knowledgeable throughout, but they are also not passive on the upsell.

Peri Peri Chicken

The menu is designed to share and I recommend deciding for yourself. While there is a $65 feed me option, having a couple of meat dishes, a veg, and a seafood, went the distance to my mind. The veg dish was a mixed leaf with deep fried chickpeas, and it was fine, but you don’t win friends with salad.

Flank steak

The octopus had much more to it, with a great spicy dressing. The flank steak was on the less generous side, but was perfectly cooked, and came with a huge piece of bone marrow which made the dish in my opinion. The beetroot and other accompaniments were terrific too. Finally, the peri peri chicken was nicely cooked, and the wilted radicchio worked well with the smokey, and well spiced chicken.

This is an enjoyable restaurant, but I am struggling to work out why it is the subject of such praise. The dishes, designed to share, have been very nice, but not one has really wowed me. The service too, has been good, but there is some uneasiness there too. In some restaurants you immediately feel comfortable. Here there is that little bit of pressure when the waitstaff suggest something that you don’t wish for. It is not like they are unfriendly, but there is a slight uneasy feel.

Adelaide is going from strength to strength in terms of its restaurant and bar offerings. The depth of great places that I want to try one by one each time I’m here is only growing. Africola has been one of those places for a long time, and I probably need to give it another go. Sometimes you cannot help but have certain expectations, and they were perhaps overinflated this time around.

Africola 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

Atlas Dining – South Yarra – Friday 11 November 2016 – Dinner

Octopus, sweet potato,, pomelo

Octopus, sweet potato, pomelo

Is there a secret formula to obtaining buzz about a restaurant opening? I couldn’t be sure, but I would bet that marketing / restaurant consultants swear by it. How ever it might come about, there is a definite buzz around Atlas Dining.

I’ve seen it in The Age’s Epicure liftout on a Tuesday; I’ve heard friends randomly mention it; and I’ve seen it come up on Instagram. One of those friends said his mate had been once a month since opening! Little to question on that score when purely studying the prices, which allow you to get out of the restaurant at less than $100 per person for 4 courses, matching wines, some unlimited sparkling and a tea or coffee!

Short story is that the head chef and owner has worked everywhere, spanning several countries, and somehow has a restaurant on Commercial Road in South Yarra at the age of 22! The question is has he jumped in the deep end too early? Having chosen the 6 course option with matching wines, we sip our champagne while enjoying the combined bread and amuse which is served charred with a duck parfait drizzled with honey that is delicious. First course in the form of octopus is confirmation that Charlie Carrington and his chefs can cook.

Asparagus, egg, iceberg

Asparagus, egg, iceberg

Actually, while all the dishes are great, the octopus dish is my favourite. It is beautifully charred, and the accompaniments lift it even further. The vinegar from the pickled diakon and the acid of the pomelo, is softened by the slightly spicy and deeply flavoured puree of sweet potato. All together it is an inspired dish, and the first of six that pay homage to Vietnam. Did I mention that every four months, Atlas Dining, will change its cultural theme, the next instalment being from the Middle East.

Mackerel, pickled vegetables, Vietnamese mint

Mackerel, pickled vegetables, Vietnamese mint

The next dish, features chopped asparagus, a warm slow cooked egg, iceberg lettuce, and a delightful butter sauce. Again the combination is terrific, with some classic flavours combining through excellent technique. Our third course is mackerel, the strength of this fish being exhibited in all its glory; but it is not for everyone. It is a generous serve, sleekly presented, and I enjoy it with the pickled diakon and carrot, but it doesn’t have the punch of the previous dishes.

Wagyu beef pho tartare

Wagyu beef pho tartare

We are back on a winner with the wagyu tartare which is more deconstructed than traditional tartare which normally combines the ingredients until they are almost indistinguishable. Here you have just slightly cooked wagyu, the slow cooked egg similar to the second course, spicy crackers, onion, herbs and spices, coming together with a reduced pho as the sauce. Again the presentation met the flavour, with the cracker shavings over the black plate having a great visual impact.

There is an easy flow to service, which is excellent across the board. There is a consistency in the feel which is casual and approachable; there is belief. Our waitperson in particular, and the sommelier, do a fine job, and some dishes being brought out by the chefs is a nice touch.

The wine list is on point with the theme, offering diverse and interesting options. While we could have happily had the Geoff Weaver Chardonnay, we decided to do the matching, and we were pleased we did. There were some interesting (and delicious) wines early in the night. The best was a subtle German wine from Baden in a White Burgundy style, that opened up beautifully with the octopus. However, my favourite glass was a Chilean pinot noir by Montsecano that really hit it off with the wagyu tartare.

Lychee, grilled cucumber

Lychee, grilled cucumber

Our first dessert was a refreshing grilled cucumber and cucumber and lychee granita. Nicely presented, it was really more an entree into our second dessert, which showed the restraint you often associate with Asian sweets, but with wonderful balance. White peach served both grilled, and julienne, with a buffalo curd infused with coriander. Again, a few ingredients, in a combination that seems simple but is actually deceiving, showing that the chefs know how to use technique without demonstrating the complications to the customer.

Peach, smoked buffalo curd, coriander

Peach, smoked buffalo curd, coriander

Even without knowing the back story it is hard not to get swept up by Atlas Dining. The challenge of the restaurant business is being met by a young chef and a professional outfit head on. It is a business though, and the test only becomes more challenging (but also rewarding) over time. The ingredients are certainly there for our fantastic experience to be repeated over a lengthy period, and I’m looking forward to seeing Charlie’s take on the Middle East.

Atlas Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato