Kisume – Melbourne, City – Saturday 10 March 2018 – Dinner

Kingfish sashimi, truffle soy, black truffle

I will admit it. I just don’t know enough about Japanese food to feel entirely comfortable critiquing it. I do know about restaurants and I do know what is good though.

There is no aspect of Japanese food that I do not like. Tempura, nigiri sushi, sashimi, yakitori, ramen, you name it; I love them all. When they are done at the highest level of quality it sticks out. There may only be a sparse number of ingredients, making it less obvious to differentiate, but when the component parts are superb, it is something of beauty.

Take that tradition of few ingredients and incredible fastidiousness, and add some modern flourishes and you have “modern Japanese”. Like other modern takes on traditional cuisine, it is not a complete transformation, but does make a statement. The other ingredients here at Kisume is a rockstar sibling restaurant in Chin Chin that is still attracting lines of people many years on, a glamourous space over a couple of levels, and that intangible cool that is a magic of its own.

We had the tasting menu with the deluxe sushi upgrade. The food is by no means flawless, or even close. The service is chaotic at times, but generally okay. No one seems to care that much because this is one of the hottest tickets in town. The experience feels similar to when you see your favourite band – even if they are not the best they could be, you are so excited you don’t care that much.

Tonight I’m dining with three friends and we all have different views on Japanese cuisine. “Chef” as we know him, is not a devotee and, unsurprisingly, this is not his best experience. Jarrod loves Japan and Japanese food, but was unmoved by several dishes. Trav has been to Japan multiple times too but had a more positive response.

Chargrilled edamame

The tasting menu started with edamame. We had already been suggested to try some as we decided what we would order, and whether we would try the tasting menu. They were very nice, chargrilled with salt and garlic oil. After opting for the tasting menu we were told that was the first course anyway. Then we received a further two bowls. Three bowls of edamame for four people? We felt bad leaving one completely untouched but the staff didn’t admit it was a mistake, and either way that is a lot of edamame to eat.

Crispy pork kimchi gyoza

Next were some delicious pork gyoza that some at the table were saying are equaled at several other venues in Chinatown, but I thought were terrific. Kingfish sashimi that is first class comes next. Truffle soy and black truffle elevate the flavours, but the kingfish is top of the range. When kingfish is this good it reminds you why variations are so popular on restaurant menus. It was my favourite dish of the evening.

Sushi course with deluxe upgrade

The sushi boxes have some serious diversity. There is sashimi, nigiri sushi, and several other tastes and textures including the uramaki (inside-out roll). The issue here is the varying degrees of enjoyment from the food. At the bottom end some of the sashimi is chewy in an unpleasant way, and the combination of uni, pastes and roe in the middle is difficult to understand (and not explained by our waitperson). The large pieces of cucumber are a distraction. On the plus side, the nigiri is excellent (wish there was a lot more) and some of the sashimi was beautiful too.

Miso soup with chrysanthemum tofu

I appreciate the skill involved in the chrysanthemum tofu, and I like the silken texture, but the miso is plain. Anything but plain, the grass fed beef tenderloin from O’Connor’s is almost completely covered in foie gras. As an ingredient, foie gras is the epitome of richness, but there is an issue with the beef. Experience of beef in Japanese restaurants has always involved an awe about how it can be so tender and juicy. The richness of the foie gras simply doesn’t mask the fact that the beef is not up to the quality we would expect.

Foie gras and beef

The hapuka fish with a puffed black rice crust is easily the superior of the two mains. The crust works really well against the firm and juicy fillet. Add the spicy miso and chive oil and you have a very nice dish. The side salad of cucumber, cucumber and more cucumber was pleasant enough with its vinaigrette dressing and good measure of coriander. However, did we really need three of them for four people. Generousity is one thing, but wasting so much cucumber felt wrong, especially after our three serves of edamame.

Spicy miso hapuka with puffed black rice, spicy miso, and chive oil; cucumber salad in the background

The dessert to finish lacked impact. Three puffs of cream with some additions for texture. It was sweet, and we ate it (in under 2 minutes), but it felt like an afterthought.

On this one experience I wouldn’t go back to Kisume, but I’ve heard enough good things about the Chef’s Table (exclusive to 12 people) and there were some serious highlights. There’s little doubt that with a restaurant this spoken about it will get another chance, but I hope it is better the second time around.

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

Advertisements

Flower Drum – Melbourne, City – Friday 23 March 2018 – Dinner


Most people have a Flower Drum story, and a view on its merits as a big night out. Back when I first ventured there in my mid-twenties it was a three star restaurant still at the height of reverence from most dining circles.

It was described to me at the time as a destination restaurant even for people living in China. Naturally, I took that statement with a degree of skepticism, but when your waitperson has been at the same restaurant for 25 years, there is an instant knowing that something is going particularly well, in a world where a year is a milestone in hospitality.

Fast forward almost one and a half decades and the knowing is of a different kind. These days I know that you should expect flawless service, and that the tasting menu will include Peking Duck and beautifully cooked beef. In the lead up, the reception when I mentioned Flower Drum was anywhere between excitement and a feeling the place is now passé.

It’s almost as if, in this dynamic world of constant change, that doing something well, over and over again, might be overrated. In a sense I can be guilty of this too, but an understanding of why focus and precision is beautiful in cooking terms was strengthened from my trip to Tokyo last year, and a few other instances here and there (often in relation to Asian food).

To my surprise, there was one change to the “four course” tasting menu tonight, which was no san choi bao, replaced by a crayfish omelette. This was the first course and a delicious introduction into the meal to come. The dish is perfectly seasoned (salt and pepper is provided, but not needed), with large chunks of juicy crayfish smothered by a fluffed egg white omelette. For a long and generous tasting menu, the richness of this first course is felt later in the meal, but I wouldn’t be offering a spoonful of that crayfish back.

Skipping over the service at Flower Drum would be like going to the Taj Mahal, taking a photo, and walking back out. It is intrinsic to the atmosphere in the room, almost prompting a sense of Zen. Like many things of beauty, it is hard to put your finger on exactly why the service here is spoken about like it won an Olympic gold medal. While tonight there is little chance our waitperson, Vincent, has been working at Flower Drum for 25 years like one of my first experiences, he is thoroughly trained.

Saute crayfish omelette

The dedication and commitment to excellence here is astounding, but it doesn’t lead to a loss of personality. A good example is towards the end of the evening when we complimented Vincent on how well he handled our AGT Vouchers (I get a discount through work which is great, but the paper voucher has caused some issues!) Rather than accept the compliment with the same humility he had shown throughout the evening, he humorously said “thank my Manager” with a grin that he would have had no idea what to do.

Wok fried wild barramundi fillet

The next course we enjoyed was the barramundi, with a glutinous shiitake mushroom sauce, and asparagus. I could see Catherine looking at the whole fillet of fish, and back at her chopsticks, and I was instantly brought back to the first time I ate fish here. “Don’t worry, it falls apart easily” I assured her, and sure enough, the fish parts in bite sized pieces perfectly held together for less sophisticated chopstick enthusiasts like myself. Besides the perfect fillet of lightly battered barra, the sauce shares the limelight with a huge lift that doesn’t mask the fish, but does add some punch.

At this stage we were finishing our Moorooduc Estate Chardonnay, displaying a good level of oak and some old school malolactic fermentation that we quite like. Next we switched to a half bottle of the Paringa Estate Pinot Noir from 2013. The Pinot is glorious, especially with the upcoming dish.

That dish is the famous Peking duck which these days is presented with some hoisin art. It’s a bit gimmicky, but delightful at the same time. Once you taste the Peking duck your mind shifts to how succulent the duck is, and how perfect the pancake packaging is. One day I would like to be able to be a regular here just to have the Peking duck. For now my two tastes, matched with the Pinot, are just gorgeous, leaving me to hunger for the next time I’m here, which will be sooner than 13 years.

Peking duck

Next comes the beef, and I really don’t remember it being this large? You are basically presented with a small steak, Asian greens, and a side of unforgettable fried rice. I like this fried rice better than both Lung King Heen and RyuGin, both owning three Michelin stars in Asia. There is a choice to upgrade the beef from local Black Angus to Wagyu which at $40 per head we didn’t do this time, and we were not regretting our choice because it is hard to imagine how the beef could be that much better. Using chopsticks, each piece melts in your mouth, the technique better than most steakhouses, and practiced for a considerable period of time with this 43 year old restaurant.

Grain-fed eye fillet with black pepper sauce, and fried rice

For dessert we are given a choice, which is never a great idea because the negotiation is intense. From the beginning I wanted to have the mango crepes and something a bit more on the edge. Serious contemplation followed as we tried to let our savoury courses digest. Vincent became involved in the conversation and incredibly swayed us to try the fried ice cream! According to wiki the origin of this dessert is America, but to my mind it has become something of a suburban Chinese restaurant cringe dessert.

Vincent was right. Not only did he realise we were going to share dessert (so organised for it to be split between our plates) but he was spot on that fried ice cream can be elevated to an adult dessert. This one is surrounded by sponge cake that has been compressed and then surrounded by breadcrumbs. It is complimented by a berry sauce and I will never say anything bad about fried ice cream again! The crepes are very nice, just as I remember them. Plenty of sweet mango filling, even though the season in Queensland has apparently come to an end.

Mango crepe; and fried ice cream

The hours had passed and all of a sudden the buzz in the restaurant had dissipated as one-by-one the guests had made their way back on to Market Lane. As I finished my Grandfather Port (yes, a traditional meal needs a traditional port!) and Catherine her Jasmine tea, we knew we’d had a night to remember. There is something comforting about Flower Drum, and there’s no need to feel guilty about it.

Flower Drum Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

RyuGin – Tokyo – Tuesday 13 June 2017 – Dinner

Normally I write about a three star meal in the few days that follow the experience. There is a degree of excitement and anticipation that keeps alive when you get to deeply think about the meal that was. Occasionally, especially on holidays, it is just too hard to find the time. That is not to say a serious delay is a negative measure.

After a great meal you have a glow. You can still almost taste some of the most exquisite dishes and smell the scents. Over time you lose many aspects, and those that last are often with you for life. Add in the travel element, and you are much more likely to remember some dining experiences with even more fondness. They are connected to holidays; less stress; more indulgence.

The weight of evidence suggests tonight is going to be an experience to behold. Good friends have been here and recommended it, but it wasn’t just them. In Tokyo, many restaurants do not accept foreign bookings, so our hotel was responsible for organising our visit to RyuGin. Walking up to the door there is nothing that suggests this is one of the best restaurants in this huge city.

As in all Japanese establishments, the welcome is warm and respectful. We are early to make sure there are no hiccups travelling to the quiet part of Roppongi, so we are shown upstairs to wait for our sitting. Funnily enough, with some nice green tea and a splendid room (more on this later) we suggest getting here early is a good idea.

Once led into the dining room we realise that the restraint of the entrance is no different here. It is very nice, and there are some dominant features, but it is certainly not elaborate. Given we are in a non-English speaking country we don’t expect to understand everything, but generally the staff deal well with our lack of Japanese.

Sea urchin, broadbean, green soybeans

Our first course is sea urchin packaged in crispy batter and seaweed, with broadbean and edamame soup. It is quite sensational. The sea urchin is unrecognisable and brings out softness and that subtle flavour, while the broadbean is beautifully seasoned. The soup is simply stunning. Salt is around the edge of the cup and I can’t stop until it’s gone, continuing to run my finger around the edge for more of that salty hit! The abalone in the second dish is the best I have ever tasted, in a deep cloudy broth with a white paste we’ve seen elsewhere but have no idea what it is.

Abalone, lettuce, yam, water chestnuts

Earlier we had been sitting in the waiting room admiring firstly the gigantic owls and then the video of the head chef’s exploits with cooking amazing produce. The dish we were presented with showed fabulous technique in the form of divine knife skills allowing eel to blossom like a flower. The flavours, especially the broth of Mt Fuji water, and glutinous vegetable scattered throughout, were probably too different to fully appreciate, but it was still a tremendous dish to eat.

Pike eel, eggplant, water shield, green yuzu

Our sashimi course has challenge, beauty and intrigue. The challenge is the crab which is chewy and not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it all the same. The Benito is absolutely gorgeous with not one flaw. It is the equal of the ootoro tuna sushi I earlier tried near the fish market as my best fish for the visit. The intrigue is the flat fish which is again a different texture to what you associate with sashimi, but is delightful and beautifully matched to the accompaniments, this one being salsa like.

Ocean delicacies

The frightening looking fish, called Ayu is served next in the theatrical style some love and others despise! I love it, the challenge in presentation, and the impact it brings. The instructions given are three bites – one over the head to the wing, the next over the wing, and the last over the tail. Wow, the first bite is scary. Then you taste the impact of the char, reminiscent of great squid or sardines over charcoal in say Portugal. Then you calm and the next bite is delicious and all of a sudden you are dipping into the watermelon based sauce like a pro and absolutely loving it, trying to work out the next time you will eat Ayu again!

Specialty swimming ayu fish

As Catherine would describe, the first half of our meal is different and confronting. But the second half is basically just awesome.

Noodles and broth

We are almost onto our beef course and we’ve already gone through about $160 on 4 glasses of premier cru Montrachet so spending another $130 on two glasses of red was a stretch but you only live once. If I had a critique it would be that the wine, as sublime as the limited options are, is nevertheless very limited and all very expensive. Finding some glasses to offer that are nice for $30 would really help our wallet! We only had the choice of two reds and both were very expensive by the glass.

One of the incredible owls in the waiting area

Prior to the beef we had a surprise in the form of noodles and broth, a dense egg yolk sitting atop the noodles, looking very proud, and eating wonderfully. The terrific floor staff directing us to dip the noodles into the broth, which is consistent with the way connoisseurs would eat their noodles here in Japan.

Sanuki olive beef, onion, white asparagus

The beef course was something to behold. Presented over a steaming contraption, it was completely rare and slowly being cooked above an onion, with a semi-glutinous broth and asparagus. It was so delicious it was gone in a flash, even with trying to have a sip of red between each taste. Left behind, the onion was about as great an onion I’ve eaten. And I never ever finish an entire onion portion.

Chicken rice

We were really getting into a groove. This is thoughtful modern Japanese food and maybe a bit above our abilities, but intriguing and indulgent at the same time. The next course was chicken rice with a miso soup. The miso has an ode to the chrysanthemum flower which is a Japanese icon, and you could not believe it is tofu! Not only that, the miso is wonderful. The chicken rice has intricate knife skills being shone on the dish, but the flavour, whilst very nice, is not one of the better profiles of the evening. The chicken is fabulous though.

Chrysanthemum soup

This took us to dessert. Absolutely no offence to Asia, but desserts here are different, and often more savoury than many other cuisines. So imagine our surprise when a deliciously balanced but sweet mango ice dessert with sweet mango concentrate comes to our table. It is hard to describe how good this was, but knowing this combination well, I can honestly say it was the best I’ve ever had, including several goes in Hong Kong.

Shaved ice with mango

Then to follow up and smack it out of the park comes a double take on sake, leading to me having a double take on how good these desserts were! A soufflé of sake and a sake ice cream hit the high notes. The soufflé is perfectly constructed and deep in the vessel, with a textured top, and soft bottom, with just the right balance of egginess. The ice cream keeps its form and actually tastes of the key ingredient. Knowing how difficult it is to achieve this I take my hat off to the chef and his team.

Sake souffle and ice cream

We finished with a matcha green tea as the night was ending, reflecting on a second half that was definitely more settling. It goes to show that in both Western and Eastern fine dining, being brought to the edge of your tastes by the chef is part of the experience. Sure, it should still be comfortable on the whole, but a few dishes outside your comfort zone brings the meal to an entirely different level. Several months later I look back at our time at RyuGin with fondness and respect.

 

Sepia – Sydney – Friday 31 March 2017 – Dinner

Autumn Chocolate Forest – soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, rose petal cream, blackberry sorbet, Black Genoa fig jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs, crystallised bronze fennel, native voilets

The full circle. One thing is constant though, I have always wanted to dine here. Originally when it opened it was above the Sydney office of the accounting firm I was working for, and I wasn’t sure the feeling I would have dining below work. Last year I heard rumours it was to close, and I wasn’t sure it would be on its A game.

Green tea, tarragon, yuzu “chiffon”

This year I was more than enticed and booked early, as you need to do. We were staying a block away, and it just made sense. Earlier in the day of the encounter I heard that it was to open in Melbourne, and not long after we finished our meal, I realised that the restaurant was actually closing in December and moving to Melbourne!

Snacks from left – Tempura Oba Leaf; Hiramasa Kingfish; Saikou (best) Salmon; Bonito and purple yam

I’m ecstatic for two reasons. I live in Melbourne, and there is something special about this experience that is bigger than the city it resides in. Sepia is a big night out, a special occasion, a celebration, and an event in itself. It has built an envied reputation for a very good reason.

Somehow, on a non-descript, almost ugly corner of the Sydney CBD, the inside of the restaurant and wine bar, is a world away. It is dark and sexy, open yet intimate, with some fine dining features, and bistro style flourishes. The banquettes are comfortable, and the dark wooded tables nice and large, giving an air of luxury.

Service, especially from our sommelier, is exceptional – equal parts professional, comfortable and approachable. There is one draw back though of a very dedicated and diverse floorstaff. Some of the descriptions of the food are difficult to decipher whether by accent, noise or a combination of the two. This means that without a menu you have only a partial understanding of what you are eating. Purposely I have written this review without looking at the menu as I think that is a better way of describing my personal take on the incredible dishes we ate during the evening. However, the captions on the photos are the chef’s descriptions you receive later as you leave (unless you request earlier).

The other potential drawback with not having a menu is you are either at the mercy of the matched tastings (which we rarely do) or the sommelier. Luckily we all worked together, Catherine and I suggesting what we would like to drink, and our sommelier confirming which styles would suit multiple courses during the evening. She was spot on.

Tuna, egg yolk, fromage blanc, unpasteurised soy sauce, wasabi

After our Melbourne Gin Company and tonic aperitif, we started with a glass of the Thalassitis Assyrtiko from Santorini by Gaia. It was indeed versatile with light fruit and great balance, something which was needed with our four snacks to begin. Those snacks included some delightful minced kingfish surrounded by a crispy seaweed (which turned out to be tatami iwashi – a dried flat sheet of sardine), that was a strong accompaniment. There was a leaf above a prawn cracker like wafer with a version of seafood sauce atop. It was a nice beginning.

Next we had a glorious folded piece of tuna, with some dollops of egg yolk and a puree that tasted like creamy artichoke. When you cut into the tuna out splashed some soy sauce, not unlike what happened to my wallet a little later at the end of a great meal.

Spanner crab, heirloom tomato, brown butter emulsion, sake vinegar jelly, pea and horseradish

Our next course was a more substantial parcel of generously portioned spanner crab, which was probably the highlight of my savoury courses, but not by any great margin given the excellence shown by the kitchen. The presentation included some dusting at the table which struck the thin vegetable layer topping the crab with a cool punch, providing contrast and interest between hot and cold, soft gorgeous crab, and the slightly firmer vegetable (which was actually heirloom tomato).

Butter poached black cod, pink and white turnips, finger lime, ice plant, smoked soy dashi

We had what looked like a small piece of fish served with a broth in a little bowl, but turned out to be densely packed and huge on flavour, the portion just right given the richness. The dashi was addictive and I almost finished the last drop. The fish was firm, but delicate, with a pronounced flavour, reminiscent of cod. Some of the vegetable additions in the broth didn’t add to the flavour, but did create some textural balance. By now we were on to a superb chardonnay by Benjamin Laroux from Bourgogne and it delivered an exceptional match, but was expensive.

Chargrilled lamb breast, roasted garlic emulsion, Mexican sour cucumbers, sweet bamboo, daikon

One of the dishes I found a little weaker, but still of a high standard anywhere else, was the torn lamb. One of my pieces was a little chewy, and while the flavour was actually quite intense, the accompaniments just didn’t work for me as well as the other dishes. The second meat dish however ticked all the boxes. Wagyu needs skilled cooking and it received it. The pine mushroom and cream also intensely flavoured, but pairing perfectly. With these courses I tried a wine called Meandro from the Douro in Portugal that had a good lick of alcohol, leading to some slightly jammy fruit on the palate. Catherine went with the Nero d’Avola and I was a little jealous, the savouriness exhibited perfect for finely tuned wagyu.

David Blackmore wagyu sirloin, pine mushroom, kombu, mushroom cream, grilled baby kale leaf

We love dessert, and it appears the team behind Sepia do too. You could hardly call either of our two pre-desserts inferior to the main dessert, in fact, we both were left wondering how it could get any better. The first was a version of strawberries and cream, using alpine strawberries. Just amazing. Then Catherine’s favourite of Sepia’s version of chiffon cake arrived, and as well as being beautifully presented, it was divine.

Alpine strawberries, salted white chocolate chantilly, frozen strawberry and yoghurt

For the main dessert we had a choice and we both chose differently to get a taste of each offering. Catherine had the “apple”, and I had the “chocolate”. It was a bit of trickery, with the apple coming out in a half shell of chocolate, with apple ice cream topped by a medley of tastes and textures. Mine came out looking like a pear in the woods, but was actually a quenelle of chocolate, on a bed of dried fruits, crumbs, and more chocolate. It is a signature dish, and for obvious reason. There is a confidence exuded from the presentation, and the incredible technique used to execute the flavours and textures cannot be easily expressed in words.

Chocolate, caramelised apple cream, artichoke, blackcurrant, cocoa nib, pecan brittle

As I sipped the last few drops from my ten year old Madeira by Henriques and Henriques it became quite apparent that this was one of the top meals I’ve enjoyed in my lifetime. While the memory is obviously vivid, I expect on further reflection in coming months and years that this should easily make my top 10 experiences. Not to mention it is moving to Melbourne, just like I did almost ten years ago. While loving where it has come from, I’m sure it too, will never look back.

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

Atlas Dining – South Yarra – Friday 11 November 2016 – Dinner

Octopus, sweet potato,, pomelo

Octopus, sweet potato, pomelo

Is there a secret formula to obtaining buzz about a restaurant opening? I couldn’t be sure, but I would bet that marketing / restaurant consultants swear by it. How ever it might come about, there is a definite buzz around Atlas Dining.

I’ve seen it in The Age’s Epicure liftout on a Tuesday; I’ve heard friends randomly mention it; and I’ve seen it come up on Instagram. One of those friends said his mate had been once a month since opening! Little to question on that score when purely studying the prices, which allow you to get out of the restaurant at less than $100 per person for 4 courses, matching wines, some unlimited sparkling and a tea or coffee!

Short story is that the head chef and owner has worked everywhere, spanning several countries, and somehow has a restaurant on Commercial Road in South Yarra at the age of 22! The question is has he jumped in the deep end too early? Having chosen the 6 course option with matching wines, we sip our champagne while enjoying the combined bread and amuse which is served charred with a duck parfait drizzled with honey that is delicious. First course in the form of octopus is confirmation that Charlie Carrington and his chefs can cook.

Asparagus, egg, iceberg

Asparagus, egg, iceberg

Actually, while all the dishes are great, the octopus dish is my favourite. It is beautifully charred, and the accompaniments lift it even further. The vinegar from the pickled diakon and the acid of the pomelo, is softened by the slightly spicy and deeply flavoured puree of sweet potato. All together it is an inspired dish, and the first of six that pay homage to Vietnam. Did I mention that every four months, Atlas Dining, will change its cultural theme, the next instalment being from the Middle East.

Mackerel, pickled vegetables, Vietnamese mint

Mackerel, pickled vegetables, Vietnamese mint

The next dish, features chopped asparagus, a warm slow cooked egg, iceberg lettuce, and a delightful butter sauce. Again the combination is terrific, with some classic flavours combining through excellent technique. Our third course is mackerel, the strength of this fish being exhibited in all its glory; but it is not for everyone. It is a generous serve, sleekly presented, and I enjoy it with the pickled diakon and carrot, but it doesn’t have the punch of the previous dishes.

Wagyu beef pho tartare

Wagyu beef pho tartare

We are back on a winner with the wagyu tartare which is more deconstructed than traditional tartare which normally combines the ingredients until they are almost indistinguishable. Here you have just slightly cooked wagyu, the slow cooked egg similar to the second course, spicy crackers, onion, herbs and spices, coming together with a reduced pho as the sauce. Again the presentation met the flavour, with the cracker shavings over the black plate having a great visual impact.

There is an easy flow to service, which is excellent across the board. There is a consistency in the feel which is casual and approachable; there is belief. Our waitperson in particular, and the sommelier, do a fine job, and some dishes being brought out by the chefs is a nice touch.

The wine list is on point with the theme, offering diverse and interesting options. While we could have happily had the Geoff Weaver Chardonnay, we decided to do the matching, and we were pleased we did. There were some interesting (and delicious) wines early in the night. The best was a subtle German wine from Baden in a White Burgundy style, that opened up beautifully with the octopus. However, my favourite glass was a Chilean pinot noir by Montsecano that really hit it off with the wagyu tartare.

Lychee, grilled cucumber

Lychee, grilled cucumber

Our first dessert was a refreshing grilled cucumber and cucumber and lychee granita. Nicely presented, it was really more an entree into our second dessert, which showed the restraint you often associate with Asian sweets, but with wonderful balance. White peach served both grilled, and julienne, with a buffalo curd infused with coriander. Again, a few ingredients, in a combination that seems simple but is actually deceiving, showing that the chefs know how to use technique without demonstrating the complications to the customer.

Peach, smoked buffalo curd, coriander

Peach, smoked buffalo curd, coriander

Even without knowing the back story it is hard not to get swept up by Atlas Dining. The challenge of the restaurant business is being met by a young chef and a professional outfit head on. It is a business though, and the test only becomes more challenging (but also rewarding) over time. The ingredients are certainly there for our fantastic experience to be repeated over a lengthy period, and I’m looking forward to seeing Charlie’s take on the Middle East.

Atlas Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Attica – Ripponlea – Thursday 28 July 2016 – Dinner

Emu's Egg

Emu’s Egg

Expectations are one of the most important ingredients in any restaurant experience. Try as we might to lower them to a reasonable level, the more hype, and the longer the wait between booking and dining, the more difficult it is to not over inflate. For me, tonight’s dinner at Attica is the most prone to setting expectations to unreasonable levels, so I jotted them down in the hope of being objective.

Cook's Leaves

Cook’s Leaves

There are many obvious, and a few less obvious reasons, why I expect to have one of the best restaurant experiences of my life here. Of course, Attica is Melbourne’s highest ranked restaurant on any number of guides, over a number of years. The less obvious reason is that I already rank Ben Shewry’s temple as one of the top experiences I’ve had in Australia, and around the world. But that was five years ago. Now that it is mentioned in the same breath as some of the world’s greatest restaurants, you hope for the small (but important) improvements you’ve read a little about to take it to the next level.

Chicken Carrot

Chicken Carrot

As we walk out the back to the restaurant garden, to be greeted by one of the pastry chefs, and are offered tea and a home made mint slice biscuit (that is delicious), we get a chance to reflect on one of our great meals in the cold winter air. So far, in the lead up to dessert, we have tried twelve snacks, and four courses of savoury dishes. There are highlights; but there are no lowlights. It is hard to imagine being happier with a meal. Attica is putting an emphasis on native Australian ingredients, in a completely approachable manner, with hardly an ounce of pomp.

Catherine with her Cuppa Tea (post mint slice!)

Catherine with her Cuppa Tea (post mint slice!)

Personally I like challenging food that makes you think and take notice, and there are different ways to achieve wonder and awe. At Orana, which also has an Australiana focus, you are presented with ingredients like green ants that do taste great, but are challenging to approach. I think Attica is making you take notice in a different way, with more subtlety, and some familiarity in the flavour combinations.

Gazza's Vegemite Pie

Gazza’s Vegemite Pie

An example that has stuck in my mind for this past week is the saltbush fed lamb pie. Classical Australian presentation (resting on a brown paper bag), the pie has some manchego grated over it, and there is vegemite in the filling with the saltbush lamb. It is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and I can’t stop thinking about it. There is some challenge in a few ingredients though.

Aged Santa Claus Melon

Aged Santa Claus Melon

To preface, I haven’t mentioned service yet, but our waitpersons use the perfect balance of professionalism and friendliness, along with genuine care. Towards the beginning we have a conversation about the meal ahead. It is the type of discussion that puts you at ease because you realise that your waitpersons are there to guide and improve your experience, and there doesn’t seem to be this overarching will of the chefs being pushed upon you, like some other fine dining establishments.

Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya

Salted Red Kangaroo and Bunya Bunya

Our waitperson explains that one thing they need to confirm we are comfortable eating is the kangaroo tartare. Here we are talking about raw meat, and a particular meat that isn’t eaten often by most people. We are happy to try it as we trust the ability of the chefs and the quality of the ingredients. Catherine did hesitate though. As it turns out, our first savoury course is one that you really do not want to miss. Cleverly the raw roo is hidden under a beautifully presented collage of thinly sliced red carrots. Not only does the carrot work for presentation, it adds texture to the dish. The roo is beautifully seasoned and it seems this is a terrific way to eat this meat, which is always a difficult one to cook.

Smashed Avo on Toast

Smashed Avo on Toast

An ode to our breakfast culture comes in the form of “smashed avo on toast” with minced avocado, tiny mint, finger lime, and apple, on a crisp cracker. It evokes memories of the first time you tried this now staple café dish, and the intricacy pushes the boundaries of what is already a wonderful classic combination.

Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl

Marron, Lilly Pilly and Pearl

Alongside the playful, and the intriguing, is the classical. Glorious marron from my home state of Western Australia, is perfectly cooked, and comes with a lemon myrtle sauce, which is a feature ingredient of several dishes, including the equally sublime scallop snack. We were having wine by the glass off a reasonably priced and diverse list, and with this dish the elegant Domenica Roussanne Marsanne 2013 from Beechworth, worked beautifully.

Hand Dived Scallop

Hand Dived Scallop

There were some other wine highlights, starting with the 2008 Lark Hill Sparkling from Canberra, which had the versatility you need with several courses of snacks. The Pinot Meunier Pinot Noir 2011 from Iron Bay Pot in Tasmania was also particularly good with the kangaroo tartare.

Stemware by Zalto

Stemware by Zalto

The famous potato cooked in its own soil has been replaced by an equally gorgeous “all parts of the pumpkin” dish that is a familiar concept having seen a similar focus at O.My recently. Texture from the seeds; richness from the flesh; and complexity from the sour beer cream infused with juice from the skin. It comes together in a dish that makes you feel like Shewry could turn his restaurant vegetarian tomorrow, and it would still be just as good.

All Part of the Pumpkin

All Parts of the Pumpkin

There is little theatrics, but a lot of novelty done in an intelligent way. The wallaby blood pikelet sits atop a playful recipe that is not so much a recipe, but a larrikin’s tale. The crumbed mussels have some extra crunch from the pig face succulent topping, but are not as intriguing as the painted mussel shell. The carrot, which curls when put in freezing water, is presented in a hollow rooster dish, but the flavour of the chicken minced with sorrel, kale and tarragon, is impeccable, far outshadowing any of the fun presentation.

Wallaby Blood Pikelet

Wallaby Blood Pikelet

The other dish that stands out from earlier is the plainly presented pork neck. This is meat that sings. Astounded by the flavour I have to ask how it is done and learn that there is a combination of different cooking techniques over a 24 hour period, including smoking and grilling, to get to the depth of flavour that you only get a small but memorable taste of. We finish our chat outside, cut a tulip for our first dessert course, hand it to the chef, and resume our seats.

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pork

We are at the back of the restaurant in a smaller slightly separated room, laden with black curtains that do a good job to reduce noise levels. You feel a world away from Glen Eira Road outside, and it is a good looking restaurant, without that aspect being a particularly topical feature. It is more about minimising distraction from the food, and the good lighting is an example of the focus.

Tulips DIY

Tulips DIY

Our Tulips DIY comes out as our first dessert. We have just been told that there are only five edible tulip varieties in the world and the rest are very poisonous! Luckily these are edible and the fruit and cream cheese inside is delicious. If we thought that was a pretty dish, the next was almost as pretty, and definitely intricate.

Byron Sunrise and Fresh Coconut Cream

Byron Sunrise and Fresh Coconut Cream

Three thimbles of apple, sitting in coconut cream, make for a more savoury dessert, but one that is still very nice. Crying out for something a bit sweeter, our prayers were answered with a decadent chocolate sponge, soaked in chocolate sauce with a yoghurt ice cream to soften the richness.

Cheftales

Cheftales

Finishing with another playful, and delicious taste, our “cheftales” are another ode to an Aussie classic, but again the take by Attica is better than the original, and comes with a “Who am I?” related to one of Australia’s numerous great chefs. There really has been absolutely nothing that didn’t work tonight. Quality through and through.

Lance Wiffin's Mussel

Lance Wiffin’s Mussel

We go to restaurants for many reasons and we bring our expectations with us. All of my lofty expectations were realised, or even exceeded tonight, and that is no mean feat when you are off to one of the world’s great restaurants. With some good measuring sticks to compare some of the native Australian ingredients and their use (namely Orana and Igni) I can see the subtle reasons why Attica is rated at the top of the pile.
Attica Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

O.MY – Beaconsfield – Sunday 12 June 2016 – Dinner

Pumpkin gnocchi

Pumpkin gnocchi

Exceptional meals are inspirational occasions where your imagination stays transported long after you’ve put your knife and fork in the position of your choosing. That blissful feeling of complete satisfaction is not achieved at many restaurants and usually there is an X factor that is responsible for the elation.

Travel, and celebration, are two extraneous circumstances that add to many dining experiences to make them memorable. Closer to home, on a chilly evening with no particular celebration (except for the Queen’s Birthday!), in the outskirts of this great city, is a shining epicurean example of how the ordinary can become extraordinary.

O.MY was not my idea. In fact, for some reason I thought it was out near the airport? Catherine had been keeping an eye on the growing enthusiasm for the offerings of three brothers out in the sticks. Having travelled home from Brisbane this morning on less than four hours of sleep, I still maintained a good level of excitement knowing that this place was at the top of her list.

Contrasting the seasons with fresh leaves and pickled vegetables, emulsion and pork broth

Contrasting the seasons with fresh leaves and pickled vegetables, emulsion and pork broth

By the time we were in the foothills it could have only been five or six degrees, making the walk across the road from the car seem like going from a heated spa to a cold swimming pool. The saving grace of this small restaurant was that it holds few tables, meaning the door would be permanently closed for a few hours, allowing the room to grow warm quickly. Tables are quite close together meaning our initial conversation was hushed, but this changed quickly as one of the brothers, and Sommelier extraordinaire, Chayse, liquored up several enthusiastic guests.

There is no menu so you choose between four, six and eight courses. The prices for this type of restaurant are very reasonable, so we felt compelled to try the eight courses ($110), and on reflection we would not liked to have missed the two extra dishes. Though on our next visit we would consider having four, given you have a complimentary starter, and dessert (counted as one course) is more like three smaller courses.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut

We found the menu gathers momentum as time passes by. The starter is playful with a contrast of the current season (fresh leaves from the farm) and earlier seasons (pickled vegetables). You grab a pickle with your leaf and dip in the emulsion, taste, and then refresh with a delicious and deep flavoured pork broth. Next comes the first official course of pumpkin gnocchi with a rich barbecue style sauce. When you hear the other aspects of the pumpkin (including the “drippings”) are themes in other dishes, you realise the care, effort, and interest that the other brothers, Blayne and Tyson (both chefs), put in their produce. All three of them working much of their “free” hours in the farm.

At this stage Catherine and I are still on our first glass of chardonnay, which has a great mouthfeel and elegance, made by Payten & Jones in the Yarra Valley. Our first glass because Catherine is driving and I am still recovering. The next dish is the weakest of the evening, with lettuce leaves covering sauerkraut, with a chicken sauce bringing the dish together. I could see some of the idea behind it, but the combination didn’t work for me with the three components not mingling. The next dish left the prior in its wake, with a beautifully presented ode to Jerusalem artichokes.

Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem artichoke

We hadn’t finished our chardonnay, but our Sommelier insisted on a splash of another wine (on the house) to better match the potentially clashing chemicals in the artichoke. Such an intricate dish is difficult to describe, but there were several cooking methods employed to combine different tastes and textures of the artichoke including roasting, pureeing, and simply slicing raw. At this stage some of the themes, plating, crockery, and later on some of the seemingly stripped back (but extremely detailed) desserts, had me thinking back to an amazing meal at Momofuku Seiobo. The intricacy and complexity continued throughout the night, this time with a thick wedge of perfectly cooked mackerel, sitting in a squid sauce full of flavour.

Kangaroo

Kangaroo

The two extra dishes we received as part of the eight courses came next, and both were unforgettable. First, kangaroo loin with beetroot, and honey, was stunning. Using a well known combination, but putting their mark on the dish, the chefs show their ability. Next was my favourite dish of the night, with a centrepiece of smoked lamb. Every taste was incredible; perfect lamb in a divine sauce, with simple accompaniments. The Farr Rising Gamay, from the son of one of my favourite winemakers of all time, is a terrific expression of this variety made famous by Beaujolais, and a tremendous match for both dishes.

Smoked lamb

Smoked lamb

We finish our savoury dishes on a high with beef that has been dry aged for 40 days, which comes with a restrained amount of fermented potato scattered with young carrots, and a powerful beef ragu that is best to have in small doses. This dish acts as a filler, without lacking any of the presentation or flavour of the previous dishes. Again I had our sommelier come to my aid with a thoughtful half glass to match.

Lemon tarts, orange cake, and beignets

Lemon tarts, orange cake, and beignets

We had realised by now on adjacent tables that dessert held more than the usual excitement as several courses were being served instead of the promised single course. To start we tried a petit four style collection of lemon tarts, orange cakes, and beignets. They were all good ways to begin, but the lemon tart with its terrifically balanced acidity from a natural yoghurt, won the day.

Smoked pumpkin ice cream, chestnut puree and toasted buckwheat

Smoked pumpkin ice cream, chestnut puree and toasted buckwheat

Next was a revelation in the form of smoked pumpkin ice cream, chestnut purée, and toasted buckwheat. While the attractiveness of the colour could be questioned, this was one of the most memorable, full flavoured, sweet but savoury, desserts that I’ve encountered. The thought needed to get all of the elements perfect, both separate and combined, is an art. But really, as impossible as it seems, the next dessert was just as brilliant. Enter a combination of chocolate (of brownie texture, and sauce), kaffir lime sorbet, and a determined chilli gel, and you have another dessert that broke some of the rules without being found out. The chilli gel in particular was knock your head back hot if you just have a touch at the end of your spoon, but combined into each bite it softened in itself, and extended the taste profile.

Kaffir lime sorbet, chocolate

Kaffir lime sorbet, chocolate

As we shared a peppermint tea, and our final taste of salted caramel, we spoke in awe of some of the dishes, struggling to rank some of them against each other. All the way through all the waitstaff had been fantastic. No doubt they are aided by a smaller room and a close to one for five floor to customer ratio, but there was never a time we needed anything. So much so that I hadn’t turned my head to look at the room until it had started clearing out as other tables finished. My Negro vermouth during dessert, and the mocktail made for Catherine of plum, ginger and pepper, were again expressions of the attention to detail, and careful experimentation that is part and parcel of the experience.

It’s an unusual name, in an unusual area, but O.MY exudes a tremendously bright light that is enough to get the attention of the big city and beyond. A visit out here and there’s no doubt you’ll be sold on the execution of some cutting edge ideas, and the enthusiasm with which they are presented.

O.My Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato