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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Minamishima – Richmond – Thursday 18 February 2016 – Dinner

Otoro Aburi

Otoro Aburi (lightly seared tuna)

Acclaimed fine dining sushi bar restaurant Minamishima is perfectly simple and beautifully complicated. What about this restaurant, or more accurately the talents of chef Koichi Minamishima, has possessed thousands of people to pay $150 a head for multiple courses of sushi?

I am out of my depth here and I have known it since Minamishima opened. While I’ve travelled a fair bit, I have not been to Japan, and I have no idea what is authentically Japanese, and what is the Western attempt. It is certainly not difficult to get a good impression of what great Japanese is all about with the likes of Tetsuya and Nobu now staples of the dining landscape in Australia. I have never had more than ten pieces of sushi that are all different though.

Calamari

Calamari

I must admit I had to ask the restaurant to email me a list of the dishes because we had a private dining room behind us that was rather loud, so the quietly spoken Japanese waitstaff and chefs were no match when speaking through the courses. They do not provide a menu of any sort either, before or after the meal, which they should think about for people like me who are easily confused! Several courses of seafood consisted of ingredients I have never tried or even heard of. There were so many courses that I’m just going to write about what I really liked.

Hotate (scallop)

Hotate (scallop)

It really is all about the sushi, presented in the nigiri style. The rice is heavenly, consistent across the board, and I’ve never eaten sushi rice like it. Every time I detected wasabi it was perfectly uniform across the rice too, but hidden by the most pristine, often shiny, incredibly fresh, pieces of seafood that you will ever see in Melbourne. The toppings were so small that it was hard to notice they were there, but given I put the whole piece in my mouth each time, I can only imagine the quantity added a touch, without overpowering the star. Put together the presentation was on several occasions quite breathtaking.

Otoro Gunkan (tuna belly)

Otoro Gunkan (tuna belly)

My Western propensity for cooked food told the story. Without doing the maths there were say fifteen courses of sushi and but for the three courses of tuna, my favourites were all cooked very lightly. The hotate or scallop sushi was quite incredible. That subtlety of the scallop perfectly presented with nothing to outshine it. The prawn sushi was lightly cooked too and I found it better than the optional additional course of scampi which, while beautifully presented, was strong tasting with a firmer texture, and not as good in my opinion.

Scampi

Scampi

The three tuna courses were very exciting. I have never had tuna belly of the quality provided by Minamishima, and it is the seafood equivalent of one of my favourites, bone marrow. As much as I loved the belly, the “Otoro Aburi” was exquisite. Slightly seared it still had a certain sublime fattiness, but for me, a deeper flavour. From these highs it was always going to be difficult for the Akami tuna to raise the bar, but it was still gorgeous.

Anago Kyoto style Box sushi

Anago Kyoto style Box sushi

In the beginning white fish featured for four courses before other forms of seafood, followed by tuna, and more dominant flavoured fish towards the end. I love kingfish and the closest to it was the king dory that came out as the first piece of sushi. The lightly flavoured fish was a good familiar start to proceedings. Towards the end my highlight (again slightly cooked sorry) was the Anago Kyoto style box sushi. The richness of flavour a highlight.

Saba (mackerel)

Saba (mackerel)

As I said it is all about the sushi. You need to dine at Minamishima understanding that you are having an expensive, but memorable sushi experience.

I was not overly impressed with the first course of Ama Abi (sweet shrimp) with Kurumi (walnut) tofu. I am sure there is a lack of appreciation here, but I can’t apologise for not being familiar with softly textured tofu in a broth, though the broth was very nice. The tamagoyaki (omelette) was delicious as a refresher following the last piece of sushi and was the only overtly sweet aspect of the tasting. Before dessert we had a beautifully presented stuffed zucchini flower with prawn paste and yuzu dashi broth, showing off both technique and use of subtle flavours. That was the last good dish because the Hassaku (citrus) Jelly and Hojicha (green tea) ice cream was not. The instruction from the waitstaff was to mix it all up which lost the potentially great flavour in the green tea ice cream. As we started our meal I had noticed the couple next to us almost not touch theirs after initial tastes (but they had not followed instructions). It is a pretty dish, but it needs some work.

Hassaku Jelly Hojicha ice cream

Hassaku Jelly Hojicha ice cream

I would never order the matching wines again. From a great start with The Lost Plot 2004 sparkling from Mornington, and a nice Austrian (2013 Hiedler Gruner Veltiner), we descended into a spiral of unappealing wines. For novelty value it was good to have one or two sips of the wine from Japan, but they do not make a lot of wine, and there is good reason why. The French rose was lacking brilliance for a meal like this, and the Georgian wine (from the origins of wine making) was offensive. We took it in good spirit, knowing the sommelier was trying something different, but some of the wine actually took away from the excellence of the food. I should have ordered the sake, but I am not familiar enough with it, to properly appreciate having several tastes. Next time I’d focus on full glasses of the first two styles.

Mr Minamishima (closest) in action

Mr Minamishima (closest) in action

All of the chefs preparing the dishes, and the waitstaff on the floor, were professional and friendly. Once we had the courage to ask some questions, we started to gain some knowledge that is not necessarily provided as a matter of course. This is so different that I feel a bit more education could help, but I plan to make another visit and ask all the questions I still have now.

King dory

King dory

It is only five days since I tried this intriguing restaurant. The lasting memory of the food makes me want to go to Japan more than any other experience I’ve ever had. There is something very powerful in that, and in what Koichi Minamishima is doing for our expectations of what excellent Japanese is all about.

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