Billie H – Claremont – Tuesday 20 February 2018 – Dinner

Roasted grapes, labneh, radicchio, chive oil

If I walk into a restaurant, and Dan Goodsell is there, I am immediately comforted that the food and wine options are going to be top notch, and the service naturally great too.

Over Christmas I did just that with my Mum at Billie H. We were here for a quick wine, but I had heard good reports about the food too. When I saw Dan, and later the enthusiasm of John Lethlean of The Australian, I had it at the top of my Perth list to try. Mum was keen too, the slightly chilled Sagrantino winning her over at first try. This is a little known grape variety from Umbria in Italy that is being made by Jamsheed in Victoria, and it is luscious.

Braised octopus, paprika, almonds, orange, chilli

The next time I was in Perth I was true to my list. I made a booking at Billie H for my aunty Sher, Mum and I. This wine focussed restaurant and bar has the modern Australian share plates theme nailed.

Rainbow carrots, farro, puffed grains, honey & mustard

It did take us some time to narrow down our choices. We ended up starting with the braised octopus, which was lifted with the crunch of almonds and the orange segments worked nicely for some citrus. I had heard the roasted grapes with labneh and my favourite bitter leaf, radicchio, is excellent and it didn’t let us down. I love how a dish that would cost the kitchen next to nothing is so flavoursome. This is eating.

Braised pork jowl, apricot, fennel

Next was my choice go-to share dish in the carrots, which are combined with farro and puffed grains. I am finding this style of dish on a lot of menus, including cafes, and it is equally as good whether on its own, or as a side. The natural sweetness of roasted carrots make them so easy to combine with offsetting herbs, adding the texture of grains or nuts makes sense too.

At this stage we were finishing our bottle of Sang De Pigeon Pinot Noir, from the Adelaide Hills, and moving on to the Rayos Uva Rioja, a blend of tempranillo and graciano. The beauty about wine bars that really focus on their list is the diversity you can find. Sure, it is good knowing the old trusties, but having the confidence to explore a list is comforting in its own way. We were in good hands and the wines were both terrific.

To finish the savouries we tried the pork jowl. Again this is one of those dishes that are win win for the kitchen and customer alike. It is a cheaper, but glorious, cut of meat, and one that you feel much better about indulging when not in your own kitchen.

Panna cotta, red wine figs, roasted white chocolate

The dishes are a good size and we together are not huge eaters. We probably didn’t need it but I insisted on dessert so we shared the panna cotta with red wine figs and this brilliant roasted white chocolate crumb. Everything was well executed, but the crumb was something else.

The restaurant business is one of the most fickle. With such a strong history of giving diners what they want, Dan is on to another winner here. Claremont is the richer for it.

Billie H. Supper Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Rare Hare – Mornington Peninsula – Sunday 15 April 2018 – Lunch

Getting to lunch in Mornington, via two pickups, by 11.30am is a bit of a mission. According to our research, this level of commitment is required to secure a table at Rare Hare.

Today it is really windy and quite wet, with the worst of the showers launching themselves over the famed Jackalope statue right on 11.30am as we arrived. The bonus was a great part of a communal table right on the window looking out to the expansive vineyard. Not a great deal of time later and the restaurant was indeed full with a diverse crowd including a large group of ladies that made their presence heard, adding to that festive type of Sunday lunch atmosphere.

Lamb rump, cauliflower, currants, mustard vinaigrette

It’s a celebration, with Catherine’s sister’s birthday coming up, and her Mum’s not too long after that. Whatever the occasion, there is a warmth in the room; a convivial nature; that reveals itself when you are out of the big smoke, and surrounded by all things wine. Service is confident, with a style meeting the casual environment, different from the fine diner in the adjoining building.

There’s no shortage of good options jumping out in the typical modern Australian share plates menu. The usual negotiation finds a happy balance, with Sandra going for the eggplant, Stephanie for the kipfler potato salad and Catherine the roasted beetroot. Mains was lamb and fish, and dessert was a non-negotiable.

Salumi selection

To begin we shared the salumi selection, which is a great way to order as you peruse the other options. Often overlooked, the mortadella on this platter was my highlight.

Charcoal eggplant, red miso, furikake

The three shared entrees were all quality. It is hard to go past the eggplant, though it wasn’t the most generous serving. Not unreasonable for $16, though a bit more and a higher price would have been better. Everyone agreed that the taste was as good as eggplant can be; a little touch of chilli elevating it even further.

Roast beetroot, buttermilk, pecan granola, tarragon

The beetroot was a close second. A variety of textures, all were beautifully roasted, and the accompaniments combined for a terrific dish, especially the pecan granola. The aniseed punch of the tarragon was shared with the kipfler potato salad, which was again a top dish.

Snapper, lemon butter, many herbs; and
Kipfler potato salad, tarragon cream, dill pickles

Sipping the last of our chardonnay and gazing out the window there was a feeling things could not get any better. The mains lived up to the promise of the entrees and were good servings. The lamb nice and pink and the snapper relatively easy to serve from the whole fish presentation. There is a freshness to all of these dishes showing a kitchen that is confident in the offering, and taking full advantage of the produce grown locally, some of it likely on site.

Woodfired chocolate chip cookie, malt ice cream

After finishing the last of my red it was time for dessert. I changed my mind at least once and eventually settled on the woodfired chocolate chip cookie with the help of our excellent waitperson. Catherine had already chosen it too, and we probably should have shared because it is huge. It is a great idea to have a just-baked cookie in the cast iron pot; the sugary smell filling the room as it came out.

Rose pannacotta, buckwheat, raspberry jam

Steph enjoyed the milk chocolate brown butter tart that had some crème fraiche to cut through the richness. Sandra chose the rose pannacotta and having generously shared a portion I can tell you it was beautifully executed.

Milk chocolate brown butter tart, crème fraiche, citrus

The heavy rain was back as we prepared to leave the restaurant but nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for this first visit to Rare Hare. There is a strong chance it is even busier these days after Hilary visited but there’s nothing wrong with starting lunch at 11.30am. I even started with a quick espresso and the coffee is nice too!

Rare Hare Wine & Food Store Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shobosho – Adelaide – Friday 8 September 2017 – Dinner

Spit roast Teriyaki Clare Valley chicken, eggplant cream, shallot bread

I have mixed feelings about our visit to Shobosho. Putting aside the obvious (who you are dining with) when I go to any restaurant, it is always predominantly for the food. However jovial the experience, the food dictates.

The reason I have mixed feelings, is because generally the food was excellent at Shobosho. I can’t help but feel, through a combination of the table we were seated at, the unusual demeanour of the service, and just a vibe, that there is improvement that can be made.

Shiitake “chawanmushi”, toasted grains, dried shiitake, oyster mushrooms

And one element restaurant design that I’ve never really thought about, is having every table in view of the floor staff, or at least the floor staff having a regular need to be overseeing the tables. On a cold night in Adelaide, the position of our table, outside of the main area of the restaurant, but next to the opening, was not ideal.

Honey glazed pork steamed baozi, chinkiang vinegar

In the end, little of this detracts from my personal rating of Shobosho. With some exquisite food, such as nine hour lamb buns, aged wagyu skewers, incredible Japanese custard, and very nice five spice roasted chicken, it is hard to really be critical.

We had plenty of service attention to begin with, but like many catch ups, we spent a lot of time initially chatting rather than reviewing the menu. It’s little wonder why we were left alone, but equally there are very few places that do the restricted time early sitting well. It always feels like there is some sort of hurry to get to ordering, rather than relaxing into the meal to come. Yet for most of the times I’ve done the early sitting at restaurants, we have stayed longer than our allotment, without any consequence for the restaurant or the next set of diners.

Xinjiang style wood roast lamb bun, and Mayura Station 9+ wagyu kushiyaki, yaniniku sauce

As I mentioned, the food was delicious. The shiitake “chawanmushi” Japanese custard dish was one of several recommended by our waitperson, and she was completely correct that this odd sounding dish is beautiful. The Xinjiang style wood roast lamb buns were full of flavour; the blackened crust of the bun adding a great smokiness.

There were dishes like the honey glazed pork steamed baozi that you only expect from a specialist dumpling house. Contrast that with some delightfully plated raw yellowfin tuna, charred edamame, black rice, topped with bonito cream, and you have both rustic and finely presented modern Asian side by side. Though the bonito cream was a touch too much for the softness of the tuna.

With the spit roast Teriyaki chicken to finish, and a satisfying accompanying filler in the shallot bread, we were just too full for dessert. The savouries had done their job, and we had already overstayed our time, eating into the Richmond v Geelong final on at the nearby pubs.

Shobosho was well worth a look. Next time I’ll specifically ask for a table up the top, hoping to get some more consistent attention from the staff, and being away from the door. Some of these dishes would be hard to not order again, which is a big tick for our time here.

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

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

Monster Kitchen and Bar – Canberra – Thursday 30 March 2017 – Dinner

“Striking” is a good way to describe more than one aspect of Monster Kitchen and Bar. In a way, it is aptly named because it is an absolute beast. It is not unlike stepping off the Millennium Falcon into a combination of the woods of Endor and one of the modern space cities.

It is impossible not to think of Jenga looking at the jumble of wood that is a theme throughout this new precinct that includes Hotel Hotel and its lobby restaurant, Monster. The reference to fun and youth continues, with our rhombus shaped table, which is surprisingly functional.

Heirloom tomatoes, peach, spiced feta, cumin oil, rose

It is at this stage as we are seated that the enormity of the space hits me. It is not the sole blame for slightly distracted service, but it must be a root cause. Floorstaff are not gliding as you often see in a restaurant of this calibre, but are almost trying to not loiter in any of the vast spaces. There were certainly some nice touches, but there were instances of amateur mistakes that you wouldn’t expect. Those mistakes had little impact on the meal as a whole.

We were eating as a group of four and eager to try a good number of dishes. Alice is a proper vegetarian, so it was important to select wisely, and she had done her research. One nice pick-up by our waitperson was the fact that one of the dishes with tofu actually contained a bonito (fish) based sauce, which was elegantly swapped with mirim.

38 hour pork neck bao, cucumber kimchi

Having ordered a serious selection of the menu, we were presented with our first taste, which was memorable. Michael, Catherine and I tried the 38 hour pork neck bao with cucumber kimchi, and it was seriously good. Then came a flurry of dishes containing a list of ingredients any farmer’s market would be satisfied with.

Honey roasted carrots, moghrabieh, harissa, almonds

Of the vegetarian dishes (tofu included), my easy favourite, and one of the better dishes I’ve tried this year, was the honey roasted carrots with moghrabieh, harissa, and almonds. The large cous cous style moghrabieh was so delightfully flavoured with harissa, and textured with almonds, that the carrots took a back seat. As often is the case with a lot of shared dishes, there are some left at the table never to be seen to again, but with this dish I went back for more until there was nothing left!

Fried tofu, pickled shitake, mirim soy, spring onion oil, sesame

The tofu dish was well constructed and pleasant; the heirloom tomatoes adequate; and the eggplant very good. The fact we had been discussing eggplant earlier at our friend’s house prior to dinner, and how difficult it could be, gave even more merit to this wonderful dish, accompanied by smoked goat’s cheese, katsuobushi, and sesame. It was about at this point where we had finished off a bottle of local Canberra chardonnay made by Mount Madura which was beautifully made, and paired well with the earlier dishes.

WA octopus, chorizo, corn, black garlic

Going on to a bottle of local Sangiovese from Lark Hill we began our journey of the non-vegetarian dishes, deciding after a lot of friendly debate on the octopus and duck. While the octopus was uninspiring, taking a back seat to the chorizo and blackened corn; the duck was very nicely cooked, bonding with the guanciale, fresh fig, and caremalised onion, to make for a terrific final savoury dish.

Pear, olive oil, lemon, thyme

It was at this point that a cleansing ale was needed, and the Moo Brew dark ale did a great job at that task, and worked fine with dessert too. We really didn’t need dessert, but after such a nice meal, we wanted to try! Michael and Alice shared the ”chocolate, sea salt, peanut, burnt butter ice cream” and we shared the “pear, olive oil, lemon, thyme”.

Chocolate, sea salt, peanut, burnt butter ice cream

The first thing that showed was the technique of the pastry chefs was clearly of a high quality. While I felt a bit of menu envy at the chocolate dish that had won praise, especially for the peanut caramel, I enjoyed the lighter tones of the pear and lemon.

Monster really hits you in a good way. Even the trip to the toilet is an adventure in design. It wasn’t until we left through a different entrance that we even realized we were eating in an open hotel lobby. There is nothing hotel-y in the feel at all and it is a quality package that is being offered in this unusual restaurant.

Monster Kitchen and Bar 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

Varnish on King – Perth City – Wednesday 27 January 2016 – Dinner

Roasted jalapeños with black pudding & goats curd

Roasted jalapeños with black pudding & goats curd

It is overwhelming walking through the Perth CBD and noticing all the changes in the seven years since I left. Places that had stories I attach to them – some special, some weird, some quite intoxicated. Many of these places have changed in huge ways.

Perth has definitely improved as a city and continues to. Some of the boom might have faded, but the underlying base is enhanced in its wake. There are too many changes to mention, and while it had started before I left, even just walking down King Street there is no longer its namesake cafe, Hudson’s is gone and has been remarkably changed, and there is now a beautiful basement room across the road at 75 that is Varnish on King.

Pan fried brussel sprouts with maple & blue cheese

Pan fried brussel sprouts with maple & blue cheese

I was told about Varnish a while ago and tonight I get to half cross it off the list. Half because I am dining alone, precluding me from ordering several good looking larger dishes.

First cab off the rank is the Brussel sprouts. They are nicely presented and the combination is great, especially with the maple not dominating and just giving a hint of sweetness. It’s naturally a large serve as this is food to share, but I don’t mind coming back to it while I enjoy the two other dishes I order.

Next comes the cholesterol – a large serve of bone marrow. It is awesomely fatty and luckily there is a bit of balance from the crumb. I’m glad I ordered it, but my next check up will be interesting! Ask me whether I ate all three pieces and I’d have to plead the fifth.

Bone marrow with grated venison heart & lemon

Bone marrow with grated venison heart & lemon

Last I try the jalepinos with black pudding. Each element is excellent and put together this is a fantastic dish. Topped off by the sauce (which can be added to with three different chilli sauces), this is another fun dish that is surprisingly not too hot, though I was warned not to go too close to the stem.

There is a great deal of risk putting out some of these combinations. Each one needs to hit the mark. There would be many punters having a snack with their whiskey, or other beverage of choice, and the likelihood of returning could depend on one dish. Here the skill of the chefs and their technique averts that risk. Each dish was excellent and these are not your usual suspects.

The enthusiasm, and obvious knowledge of my waitperson almost convinces me to order a whiskey, but having walked here on a warm day I go for the tried and tested. A glass of the Vasse Felix Chardonnay followed by the Delinquente Vermentino from the South Australia Riverland shows equal care in the selection of wines. It is nice to have such skilled service. Across the floor and behind the bar the staff are genuinely enjoying themselves and are doing a terrific job.

Walking though the intimidating door, down into the intimate basement was the only time I felt self-aware here. After that, even though I was dining alone, this was a very enjoyable experience from all angles. I’ll be back with a crowd.

Varnish on King Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato