Demitri’s Feast – Richmond – Saturday 29 April 2017 – Dinner

Feta, honey and figs
Salmon, fennel and celeriac

Transformations don’t always work. There was a famous one in Sydney very recently where Rockpool turned into Eleven Bridge and closed in the same breath. Having been a customer here at Demitri’s Feast for a number of years, I know why this significant transformation will work.

There is more than a couple of reasons, but the two most significant are custom, and experience. Demitri himself has many terrifically loyal customers and I find it impossible to know whether they were friends through the old cafe, or independently. After 20 years of operating cafes, he decided a change was needed and turned Demitri’s Feast from a daytime cafe, to a late morning to late night mezze bar. Ask anyone in hospitality and deciding to go back to working nights is not a decision taken lightly.

Greek salad

The cafe naturally had to be fully renovated to be true to the new formula. The Richmond premiership posters are gone, along with the classic cafe counter, and bright tones. Now there is a tasteful bar, featuring tanned wood. There is more seating inside, using stools to make best use of the smaller space. Outside has been updated too, but keeps the same feel, though I have chosen to sit inside both times I’ve dined here.

Calamari

Over those couple of times, both alone, and with Catherine too, every dish I’ve tried has been good. There are selections of both smaller and larger share plates. Of the smaller plates, the broadbean keftedes stand out as both delicious and surprising. Demitri himself recommended them and he was right. They are full of flavour, the broadbeans obviously enhanced with a variety of spices. A combination of feta, honey and figs, is generous. Initially it looks like a lot of feta, but we seemed to keep coming back for more. More intricate is the salmon, fennel and celeriac offering, which pays attention to the subtlety of the salmon, enhancing it with a scattering of fennel.

Chicken skewers

On our way to the more substantial offerings, there is a Greek salad that is exactly the way it should be. Tradition dictating its make up, and it is particularly pleasing to see no lettuce being used as a filler. The calamari is a good size, plenty of golden, briefly fried pieces. The chicken skewers are given a good dose of spice, and are cooked beautifully over a flame. They are a highlight from the larger plates. So are the lamb cutlets, which find the right level of cooking, and again are oozing in flavour.

Lamb cutlets

Demitri’s is offering a collection of simply cooked meats, done well, and a bunch of smaller dishes that show a bit more subtlety and technique. This formula works, and this mezze bar is not looking to change it. There is a well constructed, reasonably diverse list of wine and beer, including a lager that Demitri’s brews themselves. There is no particular zone for each of the floorstaff so you see them all a number of times. Coordination is not so important as the dishes arrive in a dispersed fashion and you are never long without a drink.

Greek salad

The only pain point, and I use this literally, is for people who are not tall using the stools. There might need to be a rethink on them as shorter types like Catherine and I were in a bit of discomfort after the first 45 minutes. It is an easy fix by dining outside, but I do like the atmosphere of being near the bar.

Broadbean keftedes

It is normally a risk to change up a good formula, and let go of the amazing margins on coffee. In this case I am sure it will be a success. Demitri’s Feast is offering a great range of mezze and drinks, with a warmth of hospitality. It is a place where you can go regularly without breaking your budget too.

Demitri's Feast Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Noi Thai – Richmond – Saturday 15 October 2016 – Dinner

Massaman beef

Massaman beef

It is rare that the phone conversation when booking makes such a difference to your meal as a whole. Tonight, Catherine and I, were tossing up several options including hopping on the train to the city.

We ended up at Noi Thai, pleased to have an early dinner booking at late notice, and rapt with the BYO wine option that was explained to us on the phone. The care shown in that conversation translates into the friendly and adept service throughout the evening.

Noi Thai had been suggested to us by other locals several times. It has been around for many years and continues to have excellent support and patronage. The menu is definitely more traditional Thai, rather than the now popular (and expensive) modern slant.

Aunty Moo's chive dumplings

Aunty Moo’s chive dumplings

With the meat samosas off the menu tonight, we decided to try Aunty Moo’s chive dumplings. The dumplings are an interesting take, with the usual gelatinous texture, but also lightly crumbed and briefly shallow fried. They are nice but next time I would order differently.

We really feel like curry tonight and we don’t hesitate to order both the beef massaman curry and roast duck curry. The beef massaman has large chunks of beef, which easily shred with tenderness, though the middle is a touch dry due to the size. The sauce is gorgeous and this curry is Catherine’s favourite for the evening.

Roast duck curry

Roast duck curry

Whilst fairly hot, the roast duck curry is definitely my favourite for the night. The duck is beautifully cooked and generously served, with delicious spices. There are a couple of surprise lychee and pineapple pieces that are not described on the menu (and probably not needed), but the dish is superb and a speciality of the house for good reason.

The BYO option makes an already affordable restaurant a cheap night out. There is no doubt why Noi Thai is a favourite amongst locals and the only disappointment I have is all the years I’ve overlooked it.

Noi Thai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheerio – Richmond – Saturday 8 October 2016 – Breakfast

Sticky ham hock, fresh Asian herbs, chilli, black vinegar, tamarind hollandaise, and poached eggs on toasted sourdough

Sticky ham hock, fresh Asian herbs, chilli, black vinegar, tamarind hollandaise, and poached eggs on toasted sourdough

There are several places that have been on the extended list for as long as I can remember, but for one reason or another, fate has not aligned to allow a visit. In the case of this cafe, Catherine and I have attempted to eat there more than once, and it has always been closed when we’ve decided to try!

It’s funny sometimes when these visits don’t line up, and all of a sudden you have not tried a place years later, that is walking distance away. Cheerio is one such place. For this reason I’ve noticed consistently good reviews and high scores on formats like Zomato over that long period.

One reason cheerio is always full is that it’s tiny. So we were pleased to find a spot on the communal table for two on this particular morning.

Buttermilk coconut pancakes with mango, lemongrass ganache, kaffir lime cream, and toasted coconut

Buttermilk coconut pancakes with mango, lemongrass ganache, kaffir lime cream, and toasted coconut

The menu is quite diverse with the dishes you would expect, but often with twist; some Asian influences especially noticeable. The dish I chose, is one that is infiltrating many cafe menus, and I find this to be an excellent thing. Traditional eggs Benedict with ham, is being taken over by indulgent pork hock as the dominant staring ingredient. Cheerio’s Asian influenced version is excellent, with Asian herbs, chilli and black vinegar, not to mention a tamarind slant to the hollandaise and perfectly poached eggs. We noticed around the cafe that it was popular choice for good reason.

Catherine was fairly envious of my dish, because she was not enjoying the texture you would ordinarily expect from pancakes. The reason was the strips of mango had their skin left on, and were dispersed through the pancake stack, making it unpleasant to eat. Having had a taste, the pancakes were nice, but trying the mango with its skin made each mouthful difficult to eat. She couldn’t finish, but we did notice several others around us did, meaning it could just be an acquired taste. However, it is not unreasonable to think the description on the menu would warn you about eating the skin of a fruit that is not traditionally eaten. While my research tells me it is generally healthy to do so, I couldn’t find anywhere that says it adds flavour through its leathery outer layer.

Coffee by Five Senses is well made, and service (besides not conceding that the mango skin should be identified on the menu) is good. It is a healthy business with an excellent following, and definitely worth a try. Hold the pancakes.

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

Jethro Canteen – Richmond – Friday 7 October 2016 – Lunch

Chilli dog

Chilli dog

There are tens of apartment blocks going up in Richmond at any one time; all the time. That is not necessarily a good thing. On the flipside, the almost comparable number of cafes with good looks, sharp service, and great food, is a far more attractive element.

Given a moment to think, one could very quickly reel off half a dozen new cafes that have begun life in Richmond in the past year. Jethro Canteen, on Burnley Street, at the back East end of this great suburb, is the latest to be born.

There are some nice differences in the fitout that set it apart from many others in recent times, but it is still the clean minimalist look associated with this era in design. I particularly like the flourishes of green, and the exposed brick, in this wide rectangular double fronted old shop. Naturally with the length, the windows allow a lot of light through to fill the cafe with brightness.

As you would expect, on this first Friday of operation the cafe is full at lunch. We wait for a larger table of blokes to leave and our turn comes not long after arriving. If the wait time is too long, there is always Friends Of Mine a few minutes around the corner, or even better, Penny House just down the street.
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Instantly there appears to be a go-to dish in the form of the Jethro chilli dog. In fact, all three of the gentleman on our table instantly order it. I have a lower heat tolerance than Graeme and Ralph, so I use less of the jalapenos provided, but there is hot mustard on top of the brioche bun, and flecks of chilli in the frankfurter sausage, that gives the right amount of zing. It’s good, and I would go back for it again, but I would equally go for the fried chicken in charcoal brioche!

The coffee is good too. And I’ve been back twice to make sure! Each time there have been a surprising amount of staff, which is a great thing if it keeps up, because the crowds are already hitting up the cafe all times of day.

All I can say is keep the great new cafes coming, but please halt the number of new apartment blocks!

Jethro Canteen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Union Dining – Richmond – Saturday 28 May 2016 – Dinner

Oven baked snapper fillet, soused red cabbage, harissa spiced chickpeas, yoghurt sauce

Oven baked snapper fillet, soused red cabbage, harissa spiced chickpeas, yoghurt sauce

Positive review after positive review; some describing Union Dining as their favourite, or at least their favourite in a category. It feels like this restaurant has been around for a long time, and continues to be a feature of Richmond dining.

The first time we dined here it was newly open and nice, but just nice. With the number of restaurants we like to try, repeat visits are treasured like an old family heirloom. However, another visit for work at a function upstairs was quite impressive, especially thinking back to slow cooked casserole style lamb, but that was now over three years ago.

Gnocchi, taleggio & white wine, King Valley walnuts, leaves, shoots

Gnocchi, taleggio & white wine, King Valley walnuts, leaves, shoots

I have wanted to come back for a while, but there are just too many restaurants to choose from around Richmond. This was our chance! Knowing this weekend was going to be particularly chilly, and with entertainment gold card in hand, we decided to go local and perhaps give Union Dining another go. Finding that there is a 6.30pm Saturday night booking available only 24 hours in advance, we are on our way with only a day’s notice.

A little further up from the current epicentre of Swan Street, the restaurant is set on a corner, with a good looking fitout that attracts more than a glance as people walk by. There is a warmth here with the medium lighting showing off the wooden furnishings, that are better spaced than a bistro, but by no means detracting from the atmosphere of a busy room.

Braised Three Rivers Saltbush lamb, white bean ragu, roast golden beetroots, salsa verde

Braised Three Rivers Saltbush lamb, white bean ragu, roast golden beetroots, salsa verde

As we assess the menu I realise that the mains are not jumping out at me, but I settle on the lamb. Knowing from past experience that meals can be in healthy proportions we decide to share an entree and see how we go for dessert. That entree is the gnocchi, with a taleggio and white wine sauce, scattered with an assortment of leaves and walnuts for some texture. It is a particularly nice touch that we are served separate plates even though we had elected to share, and the presentation of both is inviting. The dish as a whole is enjoyable, but the sauce is not as rich as you would expect given the inclusion of taleggio as a star ingredient.

Moving on to the braised Three Rivers saltbush lamb, and I was right to move carefully into mains. The portion is very generous, especially with the extra comfort of a white bean ragu. Coming together with roast golden beetroots and salsa verde on top of the sauce, the dish is flavoursome and perfect for the cooler months. By the end I was drinking a lot of sparkling water as the level of salt had not been curbed to balance the saltbush used in the lamb. Some tweaking there and it becomes a great dish. Catherine’s oven baked snapper fillet was certainly not as heavily seasoned, and I was going across the table to snatch more than my fair share of tastes. The bright colours of the soused red cabbage and harissa spiced chickpeas worked for the presentation, and became the flavour focus of the dish along with the gorgeous fish.

Earl Grey pannacotta, rhubarb, pistachios

Earl Grey pannacotta, rhubarb, pistachios

There was no way we were leaving prior to dessert, but equally there was no way we could fit in one each, so we settled on the Earl Grey pannacotta with rhubarb and pistachios. The Earl Grey flavour burst through each taste, and the rhubarb was beautifully poached. It was a good finish to a rich meal.

With attentive and friendly service throughout, and good food at reasonable prices, I can see why so many friends and colleagues have enjoyed Union Dining over the years.

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

Nhan Ngai – Richmond – 25 May and 1 June 2016 – Lunch

BBQ pork bahn mi

BBQ pork bahn mi

Out of all the incredible snacks in bread available around the globe, one of my favourites is the original fusion of cultures delivered by the “bahn mi”. Somewhere in the last decade they popped up in Australia, with the occasional sighting here and there, and all of a sudden they are readily available across the board.

Across the board, with the exception of Richmond! My cravings for bahn mi at lunch since leaving the city three years ago became extreme. Now that extreme craving has been satisfied on a strip in Swan Street that beggars belief.

Prawn rice paper roll

Prawn rice paper roll

Just down from Messina, Rustica, and not far from Belle’s (all taking up residence in the last year) is Nhan Ngai. NN is housed in the old Torch cafe which had a slowly eroded reputation before changing names and eventually ceasing to exist. Now, the main interior is a reasonably well formatted dine in or takeaway casual Vietnamese street food eatery. Although a little cramped and without heating, it is a good effort to fit in seating for around 20 people, and the refurb fits the script.

More importantly, the bahn mi is excellent, and at $8 is a steal. That classic combination of BBQ pork, pickled carrot, spring onion, coriander, and mayo in a crispy bun is executed with skill, and the BBQ pork is flavoursome, well seasoned, and tender. I’ve had two and both have been consistent.

Went back yesterday (4 June) to try the NN Chicken bahn mi - it was very good too!

Went back yesterday (4 June) to try the NN Chicken bahn mi – it was very good too!

My judgement is out on the rice paper roll I tried because unlike the bahn mi, the meat (in this case prawn) is not as generous or flavoursome, and the wrapper is a little too firm. It is hard to judge after one, so I will try some more, but definitely will turn to the NN chicken or the BBQ pork next time. On the plus side, Julie tried the chicken pho and it was given a resounding thumbs up, so that too is on the must try list.

I was excited prior to NN opening, and I’m even more excited now. Having a good Vietnamese street food cafe close to home is a big deal, and Nhan Ngai ticks the boxes.

Nhan Ngai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pillar Of Salt – Richmond – Sunday 14 March 2016 – Breakfast

Chilli scrambled eggs

Chilli scrambled eggs

There is a secret behind some places that I have no idea how to work out. They somehow have an excessively better looking crowd than the rest. Normally there is some exclusion policy for people looking like me, but not here!

While there’s no exclusion policy at Pillar Of Salt, there is a sense sometimes that you have snuck into somewhere you shouldn’t be. Sure, there are tables of normal people, but there is always more than a few tables of really really good looking people too. Maybe that is why after a few tries I haven’t been back in years.

Some plastic surgery and other cosmetic assistance later and I’ve accidentally entered the premises with a mate the morning after a huge night out. I never planned to, but now Pillar Of Salt is just down the road, and we really didn’t have the strength to walk any further than we needed to. Of course, once we are seated, we are right next to two people that are going to a Zoolander premiere after breakfast (though it is now midday).

I need coffee quick, and some good food to follow. The Columbian single origin does the job right to begin with. Next comes the red chilli scrambled eggs with julienne bacon, spring onion, and grana padano. While it is well presented, the most obvious observation is that it is a huge serving. The classic combination is well seasoned and has the right hit from the chilli. According to Guy, his eggs benedict with jamon is a good choice too.

It’s apparent that there are not only large serves, but the prices are extremely reasonable too. Service is relaxed but available, and the food comes out quickly. Pillar Of Salt is now a long standing Richmond cafe and there is good reason why the lines have never eased up.

Pillar of Salt Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato