Bar Lourinha – Melbourne, City – Monday 17 April 2017 – Dinner

Yellowtail kingfish ‘pancetta’ & lemon oil

Great places do not get old. They have a personality. Like people, some personalities wear thin after many years, and some become old friends.

While I’ve been many times, it wouldn’t add up to once a year since opening. I’m pretty sure the staff have turned-over in their entirety several times. Yet, there is something about this simply furnished restaurant with a dominant bar, that stays fresh.

At the time Bar Lourinha opened, it was a trend setter. Spanish tapas was not new, but it was waiting for a further push. Add to this novel concepts of the time like “no bookings”, the unusual location on Little Collins Street, and that added ingredient of intrigue, and you have a recipe for a hot restaurant.

Merimbula oysters

It has now been open for over a decade. While Bar Lourinha is no longer the trend setter, it is now part of a restaurant culture that makes Melbourne one of the best CBDs in the world to eat in. It is a part of my personal restaurant folklore, and I’m sure many other Melburnians.

Tonight it is yet another meal here, spending the evening with friends after a performance by Stephen K Amos during the Comedy Festival. Natalie is a pescetarian and there are heaps of non-meat options so we are covered. Her other half, Jason, thankfully chooses one meat dish after I twist his arm!

We share several plates that include some Merimbula oysters, fritters of salted cod (bacalau), kingfish, mussels, pumpkin, mushrooms, and chorizo. The Merimbula oysters are fantastic; but the fritters are a bit too dominated by the potato, to fully appreciate the flavour of the cod.

Roasted mushrooms & garlic cream

In a flash we have one of my long time favourite dishes here. The kingfish is simply plated, but always has a glorious flavour, like they get access to some of the best cuts. At the time it became a signature, you would not find kingfish on every second menu, and incredibly it is no less special here. The mushrooms are the other “everytime” dish. Sitting in a garlic cream sauce, they are always beautifully cooked, keeping firm and juicy.

Mussels, pimenton ‘El Angel’, burnt butter & bread

The mussels were recommended by one of our several waitpersons. Funnily, one of them was always about 20 seconds behind another one, sounding like a round musical composition of “row your boat”. We were asked for water twice, given the specials twice (which was fun trying to remember the ingredients), and eventually the entire system broke down literally. It seems they couldn’t catch a break as when we asked for the bill, they asked for us to wait a little (please). This does not mean the staff were bad, it was actually decent service, but there was a lack of coordination.

Back to the mussels, and the sweet paprika (pimenton) with burnt butter, and they are superb. A terrific recommendation, and a special dish. Like most tapas you are left wanting more. On the flip side, the heirloom pumpkin dish just didn’t work for me, even with some texture from the freekeh and chestnuts. A return came with the chorizo which was served as two sausages and a tenderly cooked potato. While the potato was nice, it was more of a filler, but the chorizo had the richness that we all love it for.

Cheese selection

With some great wines on both the by the glass and the longer list, we ordered a bottle of the Vinho Verde from Portugal by Quinta do Ameal. Catherine and I had come in for a drink the week before (which is where we got the idea to return for dinner) and this is a wonderful white wine with great mouthfeel and balance. I also tried the cabernet franc by the glass which I’d had my eye on the week before, and I’m keen to try some more!

Churros y dulce de laeche

Not quite completely full, we shared a cheeseboard and some churros to finish. The cheeseboard featured some gorgonzola, manchego, and a softer offering that I can’t recall. It is great to enjoy some cheese while still having an appetite. The churros on the other hand don’t require an appetite. I could keep going on these expertly prepared doughnuts in dulce de leche until the restaurant runs out.

I call Bar Lourinha an institution. That might be wrong, but to me it feels like one. I feel comfortable here and everything is familiar and fantastic. Sure, if this were my first visit it might not have that same exact character, but to me it is a favourite.

Bar Lourinhã Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Duende – Leederville – Friday 24 June 2016 – Dinner

You know a restaurant is doing something right when you, and your pesky friends, have changed the booking four times, yet you continue to be accommodated. As we rock up to Duende, with barely a spare chair observed (other than our table for eight plus a baby), we are even more thankful our initial booking of five was able to be changed.

It is a big catch up with old uni friends and some of our other halves. We have many reasons to share a few drinks and a meal and as usual it has been too long. It is for this reason that I completely forgot to get the camera out, so this particular review is bereft of any of my amateur photography.

A couple of Moritzs in and we have started to be served some of the dishes we decided to order. The idea is more to share some food over a few drinks, rather than a big meal, so we order some smaller share plates, and not the reasonably priced banquet. The croquettas are a nice start (as usual), and we also have one each of the mini-paellas, which are single serves wrapped in a vine leaf with prawn and chorizo mixed through the rice.

The staff were great all night, and we are encouraged to share one particular platter which turns out to be a better liked dish than the marinated white anchovies (which a few of us are suckers for, but several others are not at all keen!) The platter contained chorizo, jamón serrano, longaniza (Spanish sausage), guindilla peppers (traditional Basque pepper), and caperberries. The patatas bravas are served as whole roasted gourmet potatoes, which is a positive touch, but the sauce could have been a bit more generous (noting that it is tradition to smother it on).

Towards the end the chargrilled octopus, chorizo, kipfler potato with squid ink aioli is superb, especially the chargrilled octopus. At the same time we had the Brussel sprouts, confit white beans, heirloom tomatoes and baked ricotta which again was a combination a bit outside the box, working well as we had a few beers and wines. We settle on these as enough for the savouries, meaning our caution for the banquet was warranted.

For dessert we shared some chocolate tarts, and the doughnuts. Having been told there were five doughnuts in each serve I should have known they were going to be tiny. Luckily, with the injection of either jam and/or crème patisserie, they were absolutely delicious. The chocolate tart was terrific too, but most chocolate tarts are.

It has been many years since I’ve enjoyed the offerings of Duende. When it opened it was certainly a trend setter, and now it seems that many years later it has settled into a comfortable and lingering groove of its own.

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

Udaberri – Adelaide, City – Friday 31 July 2015 – Dinner

IMG_4035_2Now living in Melbourne, I get the opportunity to go to Adelaide around once a year. It is a great place to explore new food and wine options, or return to the better places you have found. There is only one place however, that I go to on every single trip.

Stepping into Udaberri Pintxos Y Vino feels like you have set off for Barcelona, or maybe even San Sebastian. It is popular, a mix of people sitting at tables, on the bar, or standing around, most having a drink and many enjoying some tapas. It is quite dark, but for the well lit bar area, with several intimate spaces dispersed up and down stairs.
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I always manage to find staff who are having fun, mingling with the customers, and helping improve the experience for the uninitiated. This time when we sit down we notice a great looking drink being made and like a Mexican wave it flows along the bar, simply too good looking to turn down. That drink uses a gin from Margaret River called The Sabre by West Winds, lemon that is reddened in the centre, and rosemary, to create a G+T that is anything but ordinary.

We are still feeling satisfied from our platter and dessert in the Barossa earlier in the day but decide to get a small selection to try. White anchovies, bacalao croquettes, and patatas bravas is all we need with a good helping of fresh crusty bread.
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The anchovies are delicious but have a lasting garlicy effect that is hard to shake! The potatoes are perfectly fried and impossible to not finish, and the croquettes are filled with salted cod but have a light exterior and are quite simply excellent.

Every experience at Udaberri is fun, but there is certainly a lot of effort that goes into the final product, whether food or drink, to achieve that experience. It is part of an Adelaide food scene that goes from strength to strength.

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Pata Negra – Nedlands – Wednesday 15 July 2015 – Dinner

Real conservas mackerel, garlic sauce, hot vinegar sauce

Real conservas mackerel, garlic sauce, hot vinegar sauce

Special occasion doesn’t get much bigger than my Mum’s birthday. Tonight my Aunty, Sher, has told Mum she has a surprise for her, but unbeknownst to Mum it is not just the restaurant. I am sitting waiting, having travelled from over the other side of the country, at Pata Negra.

Mum is in a little bit of shock when she walks in to see me waiting, but a few sips of the Rioja later and shock has turned to excitement as we get to catch up for all our July birthdays. Surprises are nerve wracking, especially the “keeping the secret” part, which Sher did beautifully.

Duck liver, madeira and black truffle pate, sourdough

Duck liver, madeira and black truffle pate, sourdough

Pata Negra is a restaurant I haven’t been to for years since it first opened, but from that experience, and several times at Star Anise, I know David Coomer’s food is first class. It is a special occasion and that calls for something a little bit fancy. The BYO policy on a Wednesday night helps a fair bit too.

The restaurant is full with a good mixed crowd in small groups appreciating the intimate space. The separation of the rooms in what must have been originally a house helps create the intimacy, but there is also a lot of thought in the furnishings, and use of levels. I especially like the feel that is created with the different table shapes, motley of dining chairs, banquettes and benches. It is a neighbourhood restaurant in Nedlands that has a European feel.

Half shell scallop, black truffle, sweet corn, brown butter

Half shell scallop, black truffle, sweet corn, brown butter

Our waitperson has been called into work at short notice but lives nearby and is in good spirits. Although admittedly a little inexperienced having only been working here for a month, she does a nice job. The main suggestion would be for her to get more familiar with the food being served, and how to articulate its flavour, even if it is food that she doesn’t necessarily have at the top of her list. This all comes with experience.

We order the duck liver pate, scallops in a half shell, Portobello mushrooms, and harissa lamb as our savoury courses. I had been told by a good friend that the mackerel was a must try, and while our waitperson doesn’t have an affinity with this type of fish, I took the advice of my mate and ordered it anyway.

Wood roasted portobello mushrooms, ortiz anchovy, pecorino, chilli

Wood roasted portobello mushrooms, ortiz anchovy, pecorino, chilli

The duck liver pate came out first and was one of our favourite dishes. The pate, with Madiera jelly was incredibly deep in flavour, and the sliced baguette it is served with is fresh and crusty – the perfect vessel. It was gone in a flash and we were on to the mackerel.

Served in the usual presentation utilising the can, the mackerel are subtle with a texture that is softened by the oil. Served with thicker charred garlic bread, the softness of the mackerel are balanced with the char, and the chilli vinegar adds a medium level of spice that works well.

Harissa lamb, pumpkin puree, turnips

Harissa lamb, pumpkin puree, turnips

The scallops in their half shell, with a thin but generous crisp of Manjimup truffle on top, and delicious puree of sweet corn are my favourite smaller dish for the night. The scallops are incredible, and remind me of the ma hor that David used to serve at Star Anise. There is a lot going on in this dish, but with only two bites, you are left wanting to come back instantly.

The Portobello mushrooms are well cooked, with pecorino cheese topping, herbs, anchovies and chilli. They are great on their own, but I keep some for our main of harissa lamb. The lamb is served on bones a size I haven’t ever seen in a restaurant. Served nice and pink, my first bite is actually my chewiest and I realise that I’m going to have to be careful in the cutting, taking off as much fat as possible. While it is a carnivores delight, we needed some warning about the large lamb rack cut, which isn’t described on the specials board. In the end I really enjoyed most of the lamb, Sher loved it, and Mum disliked it having got probably the fattiest of the cuts.

Vanilla malt ice cream, bitter chocolate ganache, whiskey caramel, hazelnuts

Vanilla malt ice cream, bitter chocolate ganache, whiskey caramel, hazelnuts

Having enquired later with the restaurant I find out the lamb rack has been spiced with Moruno (a marinade made up of cumin, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and Spanish paprika, among other things). The harissa spiced pumpkin puree served with the lamb is amazing, and I liked the roasted parsnips too. It was one of those dishes that had us talking and debating. All the while Sher was demolishing the bones!

We still had some of the second wine I brought, a Brokenwood 2011 Shiraz, so we decided to look over dessert while enjoying the La Peral cow’s milk blue cheese. I like a simple cheese board. All you really need is some good quality bread, great cheese, and perhaps an accompaniment. That is what we got and the accompanying nuts and dried fruit were presented nicely.
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For dessert, having ummed and ahhed for a while, we decided to share two between the three of us. The first was vanilla malt ice cream, bitter chocolate ganache, whisky caramel and hazelnuts. The second was cinnamon doughnuts with pedro ximenez ice cream and raisins. Both were fantastic. The doughnuts themselves the best I’ve recently eaten with that perfect balance between outer crunch and inside softness (but not doughiness). Both ice creams on these dishes were expertly churned, the bitter chocolate ganache just rich enough without dominating all other flavours.

Cinnamon doughnuts, pedro ximenez ice cream, raisins

Cinnamon doughnuts, pedro ximenez ice cream, raisins

This was a great meal. We had plenty of time to catch up and celebrate, finishing up when the restaurant was empty besides our table. While it is not a cheap place to eat, by quality standards I think the expense is worth it, and the space is especially appealing. It is a place that would be difficult to replicate, with a neighbourhood feel that makes you jealous of the locals.

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