Oter – Melbourne, City – Wednesday 6 September 2017 – Dinner

Tamarillo Millefeuille + Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Time passes by so quickly. Now almost three months back, Catherine and I had our first experience at Oter since it replaced Yu-U. Across from its sister restaurant, Coda, the space has been thoroughly renovated.

The feel is not dramatically different thanks to the large bar focussed seating space, and the fact the restaurant is partially below ground. Back in the Yu-U days it was a little claustrophobic though, but now it is quite open and airy. We are happy to sit at the bar, which seems to be the place to be, not to mention the view of three tarts of the day is close to irresistible!

Moulton Sea Urchin + Kohlrabi Noodle

The menu is interesting in its diversity, and the prices are reasonable for some sophisticated dishes. Service is knowledgable and quite attentive, though the whole bar dining concept is a bit confused here with the majority of service coming from the floor, rather than from behind the bar. The bar does give the chefs (largely working further back and not right in front of you) the opportunity to present dishes to you, which has a charm to it.

Blue Spanner Crab + Pickled Cucumber, Hazelnut

To begin we tried one of the Moulton sea urchin on top of a bundle of kohlrabi noodles. Served cold, the sea urchin has that soft texture that can put people off, but when paired next to the firm vegetable noodles, the subtle flavour was able to show itself off. Next we shared the blue spanner crab with pickled cucumbers and slithered hazelnuts. Presented with a cucumber foam, the dish looks delightful, and the flavour is its equal. At this early stage we were growing in excitement for the dishes to come.

The wines by the glass have many points of interest. We started off with a champagne by Piper Heidsieck, before moving into a Chardonnay by Salo. I hadn’t heard of Salo before but it is made by two of the best winemakers in the Yarra Valley, as part of a project to make natural wines. As we got towards our mains we chose a Cabernet Franc by Crawford River. All three glasses were fantastic, pointing to a well thought out wine list.

Alsatian Bread Dumplings + Onion Sousbise, Boudin Noir

We had to ask our waitperson a bit about the Alsatian bread dumplings because they were something we hadn’t encountered. There was just something about bread dumplings, onion sauce, and blood sausage that really piqued our interest. In the end it was a very hearty and satisfying treat prior to our shared mains.

Kurobuta Pork + Confit Celeriac, Lardo

We decided on two mains that we would share to avoid any menu envy. The Kurobuta pork was served perfectly pink, with a whole slow cooked confit celeriac really making its presence felt. The Gippsland duck was served with a pretty beurre blanc sauce, scattered with charred baby leeks. Both were excellent, with some nice contrasting features for us to enjoy while sharing. The pork soft and tender; the duck with that crispy skin around the drumstick, and a more generous sauce.

Gippsland Confit Duck + Charred Leek, Beurre Blanc

Earlier in the night we were craning our necks to check out the amazing looking tarts of the day. One of the floor staff saw us and instantly brought them closer to us, sitting them on the bar touching distance away (we refrained!) There was no doubt one of us had to order one of those slices of heaven. With Catherine keen to try the tamarillo millefeuille, it was up to me to chose a slice, and I went with the chocolate, pistachio and blood orange. As delicious as the tart turned out, with some reduced milk ice cream accompanying it, the millefeuille won the day for its taste and immaculate presentation.

Tart of the day – chocolate, pistachio and blood orange + reduced milk ice cream

Reflecting on our experience at Oter provides memories of some beautifully executed modern Australian dishes that walk the tightrope between bold rusticity and fine dining pizazz. Eating on the bar is not for everyone, but it is the way modern dining is going. With a few tweaks to give some more life behind the bar, Oter could deliver and even tighter experience. It’s not out of the question to go past just for the tart of the day, but stopping in for several courses like we did is well worth it.

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

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Woodland House – Prahran – Sunday 5 November 2017 – Lunch

It was many years ago that I experienced my one time at Jacques Reymond. Getting there at night didn’t do justice to the beauty of the surrounds, but the care and attention of the staff was memorable.

In recent years, the restaurant has changed hands and names, but its prestige has not. Woodland House isn’t the latest and greatest, but neither is fine dining. A beautiful dining room, overlooking a stylish courtyard for a pre-lunch drink, give that feel of a great meal to come. This is something that will never go out of style.

Lunch here on the Sunday following Derby Day for our annual “recovery lunch” is quiet. In fact, while we are a relatively polite group of gentlemen, there is no doubt it is probably unusual for the other few couples here, with a large group of us in the centre of the restaurant. This is one of the reasons I love this lunch!

Very early on it is obvious that our main waitperson is going to split opinions in our group. Personally I like an eccentric waitperson/sommelier to make things more interesting, but I equally understand some of my friends who found him on the pushy side of enthusiastic. In the end, he did have care and attention for us, and some of our experiences were great.

Tasmanian salmon, broad beans, beurre blanc

A few examples. I was looking at an aged chardonnay for the first few courses and he guided me towards a lighter Chablis for the balance of the dishes. At the same time he didn’t deter me from a Bannockburn Pinot for our second bottle, even though he may have wanted to. On the flip side, one of our fussier mates asked for a Hendrix gin and tonic and he instead half-insisted on another gin. While I probably would have been happy with that, the seaweed accompaniment to the gin chosen was not to my mate’s personality or taste.

Spanner crab, confit red gurnard, potato foam

When the first course came out and I tasted the generous serve of spanner crab, my excitement levels for the remaining several courses elevated. While foam might be a dirty word of late, the potato foam, combined with the spanner crab and fish (red gurnard) was absolutely delicious and probably my highlight of the meal.

Nicely cooked and stylishly presented, the Tasmanian salmon with a beurre blanc sauce, was a simple but tasty second course. The let down of the meal was poached and roasted chicken. There was nothing terribly bad about this dish, but merely executing  sous vide technique is not enough. The skin was soft and fatty, rather than roasted to that crispness you expect, which was enough to make it texturally unsound.

Poached and roasted chicken, parsnip, mustard sauce

Instant improvement came with my second favourite dish of the savouries, with Western Plains sucking pig looking glorious, and tasting incredible! Here, the crispiness of the crackling made the dish, with a globe artichoke puree adding to the flavour profile. This was the kind of dish I love, balancing between the rustic flavours of the pork and the need to present with some flair.

Western Plains sucking pig, globe artichoke, tamarind

With similar groundings, the short rib from Cape Grim, also had the balance right. Here is an incredibly tender meat that is often served in large portions with no pizzazz, but is usually delicious. For a group of blokes, having this on offer at the end of the savoury courses is exciting, and we were not let down.

Cape Grim short rib, preserved plum, horseradish

We decided to pause before dessert with the cheese board as we finished our Franklin River cabernet. Once dessert came around we were ready for something sweet. The creamy nut ice cream, combined with caramel sauce, and some texture from milk skin, is a crowd pleaser. Sweet desserts are something I can handle at the end of a long meal and this did the trick.

Beurre noisette ice-cream, whipped caramel, milk skin

Rocking up first to lunch, sipping on a gin and tonic in the courtyard waiting for the boys, and reflecting on a great Derby Day, set the scene for a long and enjoyable lunch. There is always a place for the good aspects of fine dining, and I think Woodland House exhibits most of the good traits.

Woodland House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Doot Doot Doot at Jackalope – Mornington Peninsula – Thursday 7 September 2017 – Dinner and Breakfast

Infinity over the vines

So much beauty is hard to take in over a 20 hour period – we do our best.

Jackalope boutique hotel and its restaurant, Doot Doot Doot, opened on the first of April this year, and is the most beautiful art inspired hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. There is no pomp and ceremony here, but the fine detail, and incredible wonder of design is breathtaking.

Behold the Jackalope!

There is a country vibe but not in a “laid back” fashion, with professionalism not watering down the hospitality. Being boutique is not just down to size. The front of house have time to see you to your room and show you around, and you feel comfortable to have a chat as you do the obligatory walk around for photos of the Jackalope itself (a mythical creature), the infinity pool overlooking the vineyard, and the design elements that see a merging of functionality and art.

Besides the beautiful rooms, some complete with Japanese bath, all with a free mini-bar and sublime furnishings, there is a restaurant that is becoming increasingly renowned, despite its name. Doot Doot Doot is the flagship restaurant. By night, Doot Doot Doot is an edgy fine dining restaurant, and by day it operates as the anything-but-ordinary breakfast venue.

Flaggerdoot

If this hotel isn’t luxurious enough, the distinct advantage of staying here is the short stroll to dinner, via a cocktail hour drink at Flaggerdoot. The bar for Jackalope is extraordinary with its artistic vice, combined with several comfortable spaces, and a bar surrounded by huge vessels filled with paraffin wax. Somehow the obscenity of the fitout comes together seamlessly.

The fascinating light installation

Back to the restaurant. We are seated in the middle, with Catherine on the banquette, which forms a divider in the room. Above us are hundreds of amber coloured light fittings that brighten and fade in a slow rhythmic pattern. Across in the back corner is the envy of the restaurant with a table for two that has gigantic lounge style chairs with high backs stretching almost to the roof. We missed out at breakfast the next morning too, but never mind.

Pea, broadbean, goats curd, capers

There was something about the hospitality here too. It was almost as if the sommelier had been chosen to provide an actor (with great wine knowledge) that could work with the eclectic feel of the room. We had some great conversation in a way that only a long dining experience can allow. There is that country hospitality, and it only needs a slight sharpening to be perfect.

Quail eggs

Bread made with cumin, fennel and linseed was a sign that the food was going to be good. After the amuse (a cracker with quail egg), the first course added to the intrigue. A deliciously fresh beginning of peas and broadens with goat’s curd, capers and a lemony dressing. After one beautifully presented dish, the scallops looking amazing was not a surprise. Thinly sliced into three pieces of sashimi, this scallop is served with ginger and finger lime, completed with a fabulous sauce.

Scallop, ginger, finger lime

Then came one of the highlights of the night. A generous serving of spanner crab sitting in a potato puree. Bottarga adds to the depth of flavour, with furikake used as a seasoning to further enhance the dish. We were enjoying the 2015 Robert Weil ‘Trocken’ Riesling which had been selected by the sommelier for the first few courses, but especially for this one. I would quite happily return to Doot Doot Doot just for this dish, and this wine.

Spanner crab, potato, bottarga, furikake

Not reaching the heights of the spanner crab, the beetroot soups were still an attractive and tasty dish. One side was yellow beetroot, infused with saffron, and the other was the more traditional kind. In the middle sat a hay infused cream. I think it may have acted as a cleanser between dishes, but was probably a touch too large.

Beetroot soups, hay cream, coffee, sunflower

Tuna quickly seared but over a high temperature hit our table next. It was served simply with some Japanese salt plums (Umeboshi), olives, and mushrooms. By this stage the skill of the kitchen was obvious, and the Japanese slant of the hotel intricately applied to the food.

Tuna, umeboshi, olive

As we finished our 2013 Willow Creek Chardonnay, which also showed the winery next door is no slouch. The tide turned with a dish of sweetbreads, shiitake mushrooms, clams and walnuts in a crumb. Matched with the 2005 Cabernets by Yarra Yarra (wonderful) this expression of offal is a dish to behold. That earthiness, savouriness, gaminess, and downright rusticity, cannot be beautifully presented, but that doesn’t detract from this being one of the dishes of the night. Yes there is more than a hint of Asian there, but it takes me straight to the backstreets of Rome, dining at Checchino dal 1887. Stunning.

Sweetbreads, clams, shiitake, walnut

Thankfully for Catherine we were back in more well-trodden territory next, finishing our savoury courses with flank steak, cooked medium rare, with a spectacular pumpkin puree, and onion rings. As you would expect, a cut like flank steak that is done well, exhibits so much flavour, and this one hits the mark. We wash down the remainder of the red wine, turning our thoughts to dessert.

Beef, black sesame, onion, pumpkin

With a figurative bang, out comes the toasted marshmallow with rhubarb and blood orange sorbet. It is a little dismissive to call this a refresher, when it is as good as most desserts going around. The toasted marshmallow coats your tongue and you are taken back to other times in the country around a camp fire.

The main dessert is comforting, but in a fine dining way. The malt ice cream again bringing back flavour memories of childhood, with a very grown up honey sponge, and meringue scattered through. A satisfying way to finish.

Malt, burnt honey, dark ale

The whole meal had been engaging and entertaining. With terrifically executed dishes, excellent wine service, and art filling the restaurant, it is a fascinating take on modern dining. With our senses fulfilled we strolled back to our room, ready to do it all again tomorrow morning for breakfast.

As breakfast goes, the biggest surprise here is picking up the menu to find a treasure trove of stylish offerings. There is nothing of the hotel classics (using the word classics quite loosely). It is actually akin to the fine dining take on breakfast that is so beautifully done by cafes in Melbourne like Top Paddock and Higher Ground.

Five spice and pistachio waffle – berry compote, vanilla cream, Oreo crumb

I think I was being a good sport leaving Catherine to order the five spice and pistachio waffle, but at least I got a few tastes. Complete with berry compote, vanilla cream, and Oreo crumbs, the waffle is quite spectacular to see, and to taste.

Spanner crab omelette – served with shiitake relish, chicken dashi

No less fancily presented, my spanner crab omelette is served with shiitake relish and chicken dashi (but curiously no toast). The omelette is perfectly constructed, and the spanner crab is gorgeously generous, making for a highly indulgent breakfast. Funnily enough this dish would not be out of place on the dinner tasting menu such is its quality.

It is wonderful that a hotel can do this menu at breakfast. It is not an out-of-this-world concept, but it is so rarely done that it is extraordinary. As we wander around the grounds of the hotel, walking off the omelette and waffles, it reveals that there is nothing ordinary about any of this experience. Simply stunning!

Doot Doot Doot 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

Crabapple Kitchen – Hawthorn – Friday 29 August 2014 – Lunch

Crabapple Sliders

Crabapple Sliders

Hawthorn has a rich selection cafes, many of which are Melbourne’s best. This includes Porgie + Mrs Jones, Axil Roasters, Liar Liar, and several others I’ve tried, which all have their own distinctive personality. Yet I find the dynamic between Hawthorn, and its close neighbour Richmond (where I live and work), to be very different.

It could just be me. I’ve been a repeat visitor to many of these cafes but have never become a regular. It could be the fact that my compass leads me towards the city rather than further East, even though I’m happy to travel a long way for a good breakfast. Either way I am often more comfortable in Richmond.

Crabapple Kitchen may be in a similar vein, though there is a dish on this menu that I can’t get out of my mind. The “Crabapple Slider” featuring spanner crab in brioche along with Granny Smith apple, breakfast radish, and mustard cress, is a wonderful dish. The delicate crab works in complete harmony with the buttery richness of the brioche. The julienned Granny Smith apple, mustard cress, and breakfast radish, are excellent accompaniments, with mayonnaise bringing it all together.

The cafe itself, on a busy part of Glenferrie Road near the train station, is playful and charming. The floorstaff wear bluetooth ear pieces which I’m not sure about, as it is a little disconcerting when you realise they are being spoken at, while also speaking to you. Other than when they are interrupted mid-sentence they are polite and friendly.

The great thing about this cafe is the outdoors area out the back. There is plenty of seating and the heaters are on, but it would be even better if it was a warm sunny day. Although a little chilly today, everyone is in good spirits as you would expect at Friday lunch.

Crabapple Kitchen is a fantastic venue with really interesting breakfast and lunch dishes not to mention a great drinks list that is particularly important for Friday lunch!

Crabapple Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Duck balls

Duck balls

Post script

Not having been able to get the Crabapple sliders out of my head, we were back for another lunch. This time I settled on just one and shared the spiced duck meatballs too.

The balls came on a bed of smashed butterbean, plenty of mashed avocado and some goat’s feta. The balls themselves were delicious, though naturally losing some of their gaminess by being minced and spiced. The chilli topping the balls was just the right heat and the other accompaniments worked well. Julie asked for some sourdough to help mop up the butterbean concoction and it was a stroke of genius. I proceeded to make mine an open sandwich and I suggest others do the same!

There was a good amount of energy in the cafe again and it was full for Friday. The wine list is quite diverse and we all chose different glasses. To finish we all shared the brownie. There are several additions to the dish to make it a modern gourmet dessert, but the star is the brownie which is rich and gooey. It definitely would be a tough ask for one person.

Another good experience and my need for crab and apple in a slider is a little duller (but surely will come back again quite soon).

Crabapple Kitchen on Urbanspoon