Monthly Archives: August 2013

Vue De Monde @ Rialto, Melbourne

Is fine dining dead? That is the message we read a lot in food press lately. Apparently these days its all about ‘casual’, and there are so many recent pointers: the closure of three toqued Claudes after a few decades, with Chui Lee Luk opening a ‘relaxed’ eatery called Mr Chow; the morphing of Pier into The Sailor’s Club; the booting of Guillaume from the Opera House for something more ‘bistro’; Warren Turnbull ditching Assiette for Chur Burger, where he apparently offloads more than 3,000 burgers a week; and Momofuku, in its three hatted glory, having kitchen staff serve you wearing baseball caps.

Well, I can report that fine dining is alive and thriving at Vue De Monde on Rialto. Having been to its former Little Collins site a few times, I was curious to see what changes had been made. First off, it’s in an office building. There’s a dedicated Vue De Monde reception in the foyer, where the receptionist was somewhat of a Sergeant Major, trying to stop people who wanted to sneak up to the bar, and advising restaurant guests when they could go up. We go into a dedicated lift, which looks like a nightclub, glossy black walls with stripes of white neon lighting. Arriving at Level 55, the view over Melbourne is magnificent. You see the gorgeous Lui Bar, which holds about 60 guests, and its no surprise that people were trying to run past Sergeant Major to have a drink there. One of the restaurant staff is waiting at the lift to greet us, and then it gets all a bit James Bond with buttons being pushed and mirrors that are actually doors opening, and finally we are inside the restaurant.

Although Shannon Bennett has chosen a new location, I’m relieved to see he hasn’t gone mass market. It still only seats just over 40 people, and still has a ridiculous staff to patron ratio – you know you’re going to be looked after. The other thing I love is that the tables are HUGE. Even for two, the table is very generously proportioned, so there will be no shuffling of glasses and dishes to fit something else on it. Having so much space feels luxurious, the seats are comfortable, and you barely notice the other people in the restaurant. The one downside of the layout at Rialto versus Little Collins is that not all tables get a view of the kitchen, and the theatre that goes with it.

020I ask for the cocktail menu , and laugh when I see its like one of those pop up birthday cards, with one pop up and one cocktail per page. I’m sure they are fabulous, but there’s too much writing, and I want to relax, so I decide ordering a cocktail is too much effort and instead opt for wine. The sommelier is friendly and charming, and has us in hysterics over his “life changing” experience with Chateau Y’quem, which they actually sell by the glass (at $115 mind).

Before we discuss the menu, we are presented with five different “snacks” – oysters with finger lime, salt cured wallaby, truffle marshmallow, smoked eel with white chocolate and caviar, and potato crisps with a macadamia butter. These where a nice little introduction, in particular the chips with the macadamia; the only one I didn’t enjoy was the marshmallow, which was a little odd and didn’t taste of truffle.

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After we’re done, they come over to discuss what, and how much, we’d like to eat. It starts at a four course a la carte ($150), ends at a ten course degustation ($250), or anything in between. They tell us its totally flexible. Six courses, all savoury? Fine. Seven courses, but four desserts – we can do that too. Choose ten but decide you’re full after course eight – no problem, we can stop there. Any ingredients you detest – we will be sure not to include them. This is how you do fine dining.

We opt for six courses, the first of which is a king prawn with seaweed salted duck yolk and wasabi. They encourage us to eat the head, which is crunchy. The prawn has been cooked by sous vide, but it just tastes like raw prawn. Didn’t really enjoy this one.

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Next is marron with brown butter and pork floss. Delicious. The brown butter is thick and rich, and goes well with the fresh marron.

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Then is emu egg, onion, and truffle. As you’d expect, the yolk is huge. They bring a warm bag of bread to the table and we mop up the tasty yolk.

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Our next course is a palate cleanser takes the form of interactive dining. There is a little bowl of herbs, over which they pour dry ice. A little pestle is placed in front of us, and we crush it till it is a fine powder. Over the top goes a cucumber sorbet and we mix it together. Beautiful and refreshing, could eat a big bowl of it.

Following this is barramundi and nettle, lovely and delicate.

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Meat time – blackmore wagyu (which they cook at the table), a cube of beef cheek rilette, beetroot, and salt bush. Outstanding dish, I only wish there was more of it.035

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038Another little palate cleanser, a kale, celery and coconut juice. When the food press does their usual year end round up of ‘big ingredients of the year’, surely kale has to be top of the list in 2013?
Its refreshing before we move on to desserts – a chocolate soufflé, and a buttermilk with malt cream and hay. The latter is more savoury than sweet, its unusual and unexpected but not unpleasant.

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We are then given petit fours, but don’t expect anything traditional. These pay homage to Australia rather than France – there’s a chocolate mousse lamington, a jelly with an Australian Penny motif, a salted caramel shell, and the pretty pink balls were a eucalyptus sorbet.046

When we leave, they present us each with a little bag. “Its breakfast for tomorrow morning”, we are told. A take home goody bag! Inside is a lovely brioche loaf, some chocolate chip cookies, tea, granola (which was really yummy), and honey. I’m pretty happy with that.049

It doesn’t end there though. We are accompanied down the lift, assisted with our coats, and gracefully thanked. Everything just smacks of luxury and six star service, and if you like that, this is definitely the place for you, and perfect for a special occasion. Though I was not as wowed by the food as my visits to the original, and I will admit that I probably had a better meal at Cutler and Co – but they didn’t make me feel like royalty.

Vue De Monde, Level 55 Rialto, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne ph (03) 9691 3888
http://www.vuedemonde.com.au

Vue de Monde on Urbanspoon

Toque Time (Melbourne) – The Age Good Food Guide 2014 Awards

gfg2013bIt’s that time of year again where tensions run high in the restaurant industry. Will I get one, won’t I? Up, Down? Lost completely? Will my phones be ringing hot tomorrow morning or will there be deathly silence? Its the power of The Hat.

This year’s Victoria award winners, announced in Melbourne last night, are below (Sydney is being announced next week). I do agree with the three hatters (although have not been to Attica yet so will reserve judgement, but it has a list of accolades a mile long, so expectations are high). Review on Vue De Monde coming soon. Flower Drum is seriously expensive Chinese, but the service is world class and there has been some new creativity of late. On my last visit I had some noodles, but they made out of barramundi – they were pretty amazing.

Of the two hatters I’ve been to, Cutler & Co – love; Ezard seemed a bit passe on my last visit, Grossi Fiorentino overrated, Movida is always a solid contender, Rosetta is good Italian but so overpriced for what it is and given other Italian options in Melbourne.

The one hatters, my picks – big fan of Coda, great modern Asian, same with Longrain for fabulous modern Thai; Golden Fields too for Andrew Mcconnell’s clever food; Becco and Il Bacaro are stalwarts in the Melbourne Italian scene and always reliable, and thumbs up to Sarti for great Calabrese. Guilluame didn’t cut it when I went. Taxi was a long time favourite but was very disappointing on a recent visit – though people tell me they have been a little inconsistent of late – lots of highs and lows.

But as always with food, its a personal thing, and we will never all agree.

Drumroll please…..and the winners are…………

City Restaurants

Three hats
Attica, Flower Drum, Jacques Reymond, Vue de Monde. Attica also took out Melbourne Restaurant of the Year.

Two hats
Cafe Di Stasio, Cutler & Co, Ezard, Grossi Florentino, Matteo’s, MoVida, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Rosetta, Spice Temple

One hat
Albert St Food & Wine, Bacash, Becco, Bistro Guillaume, Bistro Vue, Brooks, Cecconi’s Flinders Lane, Centonove, Church St Enoteca, Circa, Coda, Cumulus Inc, Da Noi, Dandelion, Donovans, Easy Tiger, Epocha, Estelle Bar & Kitchen, European, Golden Fields, The Grand, Grossi Florentino Grill, Hare & Grace, Huxtable, Il Bacaro, Kenzan, Koots Salle a Manger, Longrain, Maha, Merricote, Moon Under Water, MoVida Aqui, Pei Modern, PM 24, The Point Albert Park, Pure South, Saint Crispin, Sarti, Stokehouse, Taxi Dining Room, Tempura Hajime, Tonka, Vin, Yu-u

Regional Restaurants
Two hats
Lake House, Provenance, Stefano’s, Ten Minutes by Tractor

One hat
A La Grecque, Bella Vedere, Eleonore’s, Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant, Gladioli, Healesville Hotel, Kazuki’s, Montalto, Neilsons, Oscar W’s Wharfside, Paringa Estate, Scorched, Teller, Simone’s Restaurant, Tea Rooms of Yarck, Terminus at Flinders Hotel, The Terrace Restaurant

Stay tuned for the Sydney awards.

Buzo, Woollahra

In the tough restaurant game, when a place clocks up 10 years, it says a lot. When its almost full, bar a table or two, on a Tuesday night in Winter after all that time, it says even more. But those in the know will not be surprised that Buzo has lasted the distance – the comforting Italian fare without hype and trickery, in an intimate Woollahra terrace, will linger in your thoughts well after the meal is over, and lure you back.

The staff are charming and friendly, and plump flavoursome green olives are a good start to snack on while you debate what to order. But there are a few dishes that are pretty difficult to go past that I’ve ordered time and time again.

The cabbage salad and the chicken wings are long timers on the menu (though the latter a little small for the $19 price I think), and I love them both. I’ve made the cabbage salad at home too, but have to do some finer slicing next time.

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004 (2)That night we also order a special – onions stuffed with beef and I think parmigiano – I can’t remember the specifics, but they were little balls of beautiful flavour, which should get moved to permanent status!

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I also always struggle to go past the Vincisgrassi lasagne (its on my list of Must Have Pasta dishes). Before it hits the table you know its coming – that combined scent of truffle, porcini, and parmigiano being walked through the restaurant makes other diners curse about not ordering it. It’s rich, it’s decadent, it’s devine. The other dish they have had on the menu occasionally is a duck ragu with parpadelle, yum.

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And finally the Torta di Verona – if I had a Must Have Dessert list, this would be on it. Pandoro, mascarpone, blueberries, and almonds – a simple combination that has people I’ve been with regularly oh-my-Godding at the table. I would say they make their own pandoro, which would be no mean feat, but I’ll wait till Christmas when it arrives from Italy, and have a go at making this myself – stay tuned.

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We also tried a special that night, a brioche with whisky ice cream. Loved the ice cream, but the brioche was a little too firm for me.

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Buzo, 3 Jersey Road Woollahra, ph 02 9328 1600

Buzo on Urbanspoon

Hartsyard, Newtown

005 (2)“Theirs is a typical New York hospitality story. He was the chef. She was the hostess”, proclaims the website, and goes on to describe a blossoming romance. Too cute. After dragging her man back to Australia, it was time to start their own restaurant. Fortunately though, owners Naomi Hart and Greg Llewellyn did not go the Bennifer or Brangelina route, or the place could have been called Nareg or Graomi. Naomi landed naming rights while Greg worked the hotplates.

They go on to describe it as an “inner city homestead” and certainly you feel comfortable as you walk in the door and take a seat – its small and cosy, simple wooden tables, a few pieces of art on the walls, and nothing too fussy . But it’s a homestead with surprises, part American soul food and part wild re-invention, with plenty of plating artistry thrown in. There were seven of us that night and we had a good crack at most of the menu, and ate way more than was good for us, but we couldn’t help it.

Note to dieters: go away.

The menu is divided into a “Seed” and “Feed” section rather than your standard entrée and main monikers, but the Seeds were pretty generous and you could make a great meal out of those alone. Actually, make that an excellent meal, because the Seeds were all fantastic. You could devour a bowl of those potato skins, which go beautifully with that tender octopus. And who would of thought of duck rillettes in a jaffle – bought back memories of the Breville Snack ‘n Sandwich maker my mother has hiding in the cupboard somewhere – with a devine cherry concoction plus a great hazelnut crunch. The Po’ Boys – a deep fried oyster with coleslaw and mayo on a delicious muffin – well, they are as good as everyone says. Short of time? Duck in, grab a seat at the bar, have a couple of them with a clever cocktail (such as the Hartyard Manhatten with bacon infused Jack Daniels) and be on your merry way. And how good could a Saturday night at the movies be with a bag of prawn popcorn?

Oyster Po’ Boy on an English muffin, Old Bay mayo, coleslaw
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Fremantle Octopus with potato skins, white corn, piquillo peppers
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Duck Rillettes Jaffle with cherry, foie gras, hazelnut praline
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School Prawn Popcorn with espelette pepper, sour cream, lemon
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We then moved onto the Feeds. My pick of these was undoubtedly the pulled pork which pulled in all the right ways. The cauliflower was also a surprise, cleverly served slab style rather than the usual florets. The fried chicken, while crispy and not at all greasy, didn’t have the punch of flavour I expected but the accompanying glorious country sausage gravy took it where it was supposed to go.

Pulled Pork with maple bacon, yoghurt, apple
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Cauliflower with Smoked raisin, porcini marmalade, queso fresco, pecan
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Fried Chicken with buttermilk biscuit, low country sausage gravy
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Smoked Brisket with pastrami spice, special sauce, sauerkraut, rye
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Ricotta Gnudi with roasted broccoli, pecorino tartufo, chanterelles
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The deserts are charmingly called “Out to Pasture” and I tell you if there was a pasture at the back of the restaurant, at that point, we probably would have gone to lie down in it. But in for a penny, in for a pound. There were four desserts, so of course we thought we would try them all. If you want something more traditional looking, go the Peanut Butter and Banana Sundae; the other desserts took a more deconstructed format and were gorgeously presented. The crowd favourite, and an unexpected one at that, was the pumpkin pie, where the pumpkin took the form of paper thin wafers and the whisky flavoured ice cream provided a great lift.

Peanut Butter + Banana Sundae with pretzel ice-cream, banana doughnut, salted fudge & Pumpkin Pie with rice custard, Jack Daniels ice-cream, spiced pear, pecan praline
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Chocolate and Honey chocolate ganache, dehydrated mousse, sorrel sorbet, crispy quinoa, pomegranate & Vanilla Cheesecake with raspberry cookie dough, lemon ice-cream, raspberry meringue hartsyard dessert2

Greg and Naomi’s love story is undoubtedly one that worked well. Head on over to Newtown and witness the romance yourself.

Hartsyard, 33 Enmore Road Newtown, ph 02 8068 1473
http://www.hartsyard.com.au

Hartsyard on Urbanspoon

Din Tai Fung, Westfield Sydney

I was always happy to traipse to the other side of town to get to DTF at World Square, after all these are the best Xiao Long Bao in town. The World Square restaurant was such a raging success that the DTF headquarters in Taiwan thought they’d try a Down Under experiment – a little ‘express’ version in a food court with a smaller menu, that even offered takeaway (There is also one at Star City). Right in the centre of town in the Westfield food court, this means I can just go more often and get my favourites. The best thing to do is go with a couple of friends then you can order a handful of dishes to try and still eat quite cheaply.

The queue is generally huge but the crowd of XLB worker bees churn them out quickly and there is never a long wait. Tick what you want on your order form and hand it over, or order with the cashier. When your buzzer goes off, grab your tray and find a table. Easy!

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Ah the XLBs. One of the things Din Tai Fung rests its cap on is consistency – and these are consistently good. The dumpling dough is super fine, and the hot soup explodes when you bite in.

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Shrimp and pork jiao ze – a close second.

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I also hardly ever go past their green beans and mince pork.

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And for a bit of spice, shrimp and pork wonton noodle with spicy sauce.

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A great and quick relatively cheap eat!

Din Tai Fung, Westfield, Level 5, Pitt St, open 7 days

Din Tai Fung Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

Today’s Cake – Italian Lemon Ricotta Cake

Simple and delicious.

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Ingredients
75g unsalted butter, softened
170g caster sugar
100g ricotta
3 eggs, separated
175g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp lemon juice
icing sugar for dusting

Making it
1. Grease a 22cm baking tin and line the base with baking paper. Preheat oven to 180 degrees
2. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth
3. Add the egg yolks one at a time and combine. Beat in the ricotta and lemon zest
4. Add the lemon juice, baking powder and flour and combine well
5. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites till they form stiff peaks. Add to the cake batter and fold in gently.
6. Poor mixture into cake pan, and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until skewer in the centre comes out clean
7. Turn out and allow to cool on a cake rack, dust with icing sugar once cool

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Bourke Street Bakery, Neutral Bay

011 No, it is not a typo, Bourke St Bakery has finally come Over The Bridge and added another little post in Neutral Bay. They make sensational baguettes and chocolate tarts, but there are times when, frankly, you just can’t be bothered driving to Surry Hills and standing in line to pick them up (yeh yeh yeh sacreligious for a “foodie” – did I mention I detest that word – but there are other things to do as well besides driving around to get things to eat, such as read food magazines and cook books). Though we did have trouble finding the place – a quick phone call (“look for the wheelbarrow”, pictured above) soon led us to a nondescript little corner. It’s a teeny little place with ten or so seats inside and the same again outside, so don’t come with hoards of your friends to sit down. The menu has pies, sausage rolls, sandwiches, even pizza, and there is also a daily soup. 003 002We had to try one of each of the sausage rolls – a vegetarian (chickpea, fetta, eggplant and spinach), the lamb and harissa, and the pork and fennel. The pork and fennel was the crowd favourite, the lamb second, and the vegetarian got thumbs down all round – it was dry, and there was way too much spice (cumin?) which meant you couldn’t taste much else. A tip for the staff – don’t put the paper napkins underneath the sausage rolls – they stick and then you have to peel them off! 004 007Then onto the beef and brisket pie. Phoar, look at that inside – good pie, proper chunks of meat and nice gravy. There isn’t any elegant way to cut or eat it. 006 008The non-diet continued and we moved onto the tarts – rhubarb, ginger brulee, and milk chocolate. 009 The rhubarb surprised me in a good way, it was much better than I expected with a nice balance of sweet and rhubarb acidity, and a lovely pastry. The ginger brulee lives up to the hype – incredibly luscious custard with a perfect amount of ginger, I’ll be back for another. Its a perfect size given the richness. And the milk chocolate which is smooth and a always a good chocolate hit. After pretending that we were just thinking about it, we admitted we really wanted to try the carrot cake and got that as well. 010 It was good, but as my friend aptly commented, its “just another carrot cake”, and not one you’d travel for. The tarts, now they are worth some miles, and now that they are in Neutral Bay, I’ll need to do less of them.

Bourke Street Bakery, Grovenor St, Neutral Bay
www.bourkestreetbakery.com.au
Bourke Street Bakery on Urbanspoon