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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Naked In The Sky – Fitzroy – Tuesday 7 February 2017 – Dinner

It is well documented that Melbourne has inconsistent weather. Just when you think it might be a bit of exaggeration and urban myth, you’ll be reaching for an umbrella in sunshine, or will be carrying one aimlessly for hours wondering why you bothered. Like other cities with fickle weather, as soon as one of those spectacular days come along, there is a stampede to take full advantage, as if there will never be another nice day. It is panic!

Then you sit and talk about how great the weather is. For hours. And no one questions it, because they are all thinking the same thing. Today is one of those days. We should be sitting at home, eating a home cooked meal, but this could be the last chance we ever get to eat outside in complete comfort.

Fried zucchini flowers

On days like these, there actually aren’t a crazy number of options. If bars and restaurants relied on Melbourne having spectacular weather they would be broke faster than a pub with no beer. Functional outdoor spaces here need to have heating, blankets, parasols, wind breakers, or shades, and that is not cheap. As we ran through a list of options that ticked the box for quality food, and drinks, with evening sun, we didn’t exactly have 50 places in mind.

Grilled prawn skewers

Naked In The Sky was the eventual pick. A beautiful view of the city, tapas style eats, and a renowned bar were the reasons. Luckily there was a steady flow of comers and goers and we grabbed a table pretty quickly on this random weeknight. It was basically full though.

The menu is littered with great options to share, even with just two people partaking. Catherine and I chose the zucchini flowers, croquettes, prawns and sliders.

The food is honest and tasty, with generous serves being the norm. There are fluctuations in the flavour intensity, and execution, but on the whole this is a pleasant place to eat. The standout tonight for me were the fried zucchini flowers filled with pea and mascarpone. They are beautifully fried, and the filling is an intelligent combination. The prawns were nice and juicy too; the croquettes on the other hand lacking the depth of flavour that is part and parcel of this delicious fried snack. The sliders were the weakest of the four.

To wash down the various dishes we both had a glass of white. Mine was a Verdejo with good versatility and balanced fruit, and Catherine had a Margaret River Chardonnay. The selection is extensive, and there is the right balance between focus on providing a place for a drink, and a place to offer sustenance.

Croquettes

The next time there is a spectacular day in Melbourne I wouldn’t blame anyone for dropping everything in a panicked state, and heading straight for Naked In The Sky. There’s a good chance we’ll see you there!

Naked In the Sky Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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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Jimmy’s Bar at Frangos & Frangos – Daylesford – Saturday 22 March 2014 – Dinner

Frangos & Frangos is a boutique hotel that has some nice restaurants and cafes on the main strip.

I’ve previously tried Cafe KouKla, right on the corner and it was great for a casual night out but has changed a bit since (décor wise) so I shouldn’t comment on that experience.

Jimmy’s Bar, while not fine dining, is the finer of the offerings. We started with a wine in the front bar having got a reservation earlier that day which was surprising for a Saturday. It must have been one of the last tables because once we went down to the restaurant level it was near full with a bit of turnover of the same tables while we were there.

In preparation for a big dinner at Lake House the next day we decided to share some tapas with staff recommending three to four dishes to share. That ended up being the perfect amount.

Zucchini flowers, pumpkin ricotta, mustard fruits

Zucchini flowers, pumpkin ricotta, mustard fruits

There were highlights, and some dishes I would rather have missed, but overall the quality was high and I would go back. What I found surprising was our favourite dish, and one of my favourite salads in a long time, was the heirloom tomato salad. We are still talking about it. Comparable to the sweet flavour of vine tomatoes at the markets in Italy, these heirlooms were metaphorically and literally popping with deliciousness.

Seared Tasmanian scallops, fennel & Perno sauce, crispy pancetta

Seared Tasmanian scallops, fennel & Perno sauce, crispy pancetta

This came last with the scallops which were about as underwhelming as a $25 dish with four scallops can possibly get. Rather than dwell on the innocent, but unfortunate selection, the ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers were terrific with a light batter enhancing the texture, and the gorgonzola stuffed figs with prosciutto were passable, even if the well founded combination was let down a bit by a lack of punch in both the fig and gorgonzola.

Gorgonzola stuffed figs wrapped in proscuitto

Gorgonzola stuffed figs wrapped in proscuitto

Dessert was a nice note to finish on. The bitter chocolate tart with poached cherries and Chantilly cream was rich and powerful without being obnoxious! It was best shared, but could have done with something to break-up the richness like some vanilla bean ice-cream – the cream not being enough to do the job.

We were focussed on the next night and this was not the grand final. Jimmy’s Bar made for a nice night out with some real highlights. Once some of the misses are ironed out it could make for a special night on its own.

Jimmy's Bar & Dining Room @ Frangos & Frangos on Urbanspoon