Category Archives: Three Hats

Guillaume, Paddington

This is a French restaurant for grown-ups. You won’t see any maman’s urging their petite filles to eat their haricot verts here. Guillaume Brahimi may have lost his iconic Opera House home, but he’s moved into a bijou little terrace in Paddington, with its plush carpets, thick white table cloths, and quietly gliding waiters.

We’re here with some good friends and decide to splurge on the degustation menu.   The dishes range from just good to knock-it-out-of-the-park and we come away happy and sated. I will be back, but next time will quite happily do a la’ carte – I have my eye on the duck.  The service was excellent from the moment we arrived till the moment we left – they even held open the doors of our taxi for us. Given plenty of decadent ingredients and the intimacy of the setting its an ideal place for a special occasion dinner. Personally I thought it was better than the original venue all round.

My photos aren’t the best – bring back daylight savings!

We start with an amuse bouche of salmon with lemon, fennel and wasabi. Tangy, fresh, flavoursome.

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The first course of the degustation is the scampi, but we ask if they wouldn’t mind giving two of us the tuna from the a la’ carte menu, and two of us the scampi so we can try both. They kindly oblige. And I’m so glad about that because the yellowfin tuna is one of the knock out dishes, no surprise it’s a signature.guilluame (2)

The scampi with cucumber, chili, croutons, peach, shiso & Ocean Trout Roe.  The scampi are beautiful but I find the dish sweetened too much by the peach.guilluame (1b)

Royale of Peas with truffle and mud crab – creamy and decadent.  Love the Mother of Pearl spoon!guilluame (3)

Marron with pork cheek, radish, cauliflower, sea sprayguilluame (4)

Patagonian toothfish, peas, onion confit, speck, chicken jus, béarnaise.  I adored this dish, loveliest fish dish I’ve had in a long time….guilluame (5)

….and even better with a dollop of bernaise on top!guilluame (6)

Oxtail with carrot, bone marrow, parsley guilluame (7)

Melt in the mouth wagyu and silky mash
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Meanwhile, Marito Vegacquarian has a pasta dish followed by a luxurious lobster risotto.  We informed them of his dietary situation at the time of booking and checked in one of the lovely staff on the night.  “Don’t you mean Pescatarian?” she says.  “No, I think Vegacquarian works”.  “Yes, yours is better, I’m going with it”.guilluame (8)

Our “pre-dessert” – mango with lychee and coconut – such a feather light cream combined with two of my favourite fruits.  Would have loved a big bowl of this. guilluame (10)

The main dessert is passionfruit soufflé crème anglaise, passionfruit and banana sorbet.  I’m not a soufflé chick, so can’t really opine here, but I would have happily taken a big bowl full of that crème anglaise. guilluame (11)

And in that lovely touch also seen at Vue De Monde, you get a goody bag to take home. Ooh la la! Its a lovely brioche and jam for breakfast.  One of my little men, who has a discerning palate, spread some of the jam on his toasted home made bread the next day.  “Is this professionally made”, he queried, “its much better than what we usually get”.  The cheek.guilluame (12)

The restaurant also offers a private dining room that can accommodate up to 14 people.

Guillaume, 92 Hargrave St, Paddington Ph 02 9302 5222
http://www.guillaumes.com.au/

Guillaume on Urbanspoon

Sepia, Sydney

The year was coming to a close, and we’d worked pretty hard. Which was actually no different to any other year. But it was time to mark a big year with a dinner of appropriate gravitas. So one Friday night a bunch of us do a comparatively early runner from the office and head to the much lauded, much awarded Sepia, where I haven’t been for quite a few years.

It’s an oddly shaped dining room – which can happen when you decide to put a fine dining restaurant at the bottom of an office block after the fact – and they’ve made the most of it; the compact bar area is lovely with two small dining areas on either side. The very smooth, professional staff, who through the evening gently try and diffuse our guffaws and high fives and general excitement (we don’t get out much) are knowledgeable and patient. The sommelier is very helpful with Sepia’s well thought out and not too cumbersome wine list, and happily works within the price range we give him.

We are offered some oysters as a start and they are superbly fresh with a tangy lime dressing. The one non oyster eater on the table (being A Tea with the Queen, a slight flaw in her otherwise excellent taste) asks for some bread instead and this perfect sphere of butter is bought to the table with a soft, fluffy bread roll. A discussion about Great Butters ensues (I know I know, very trivial, but that night we needed trivial over complex financing arrangements) – the Tetsuya truffle, the Rockpool creamy, the Guillaume Myrtleford, the Scarpetta mascarpone (though you will have to travel to New York for this last one).002_marked

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What stands out over the course of the twelve dishes we try in particular are two things – firstly, that Martin Benn and his team know not only how to make food look so beautiful that it takes anticipation up a notch; and secondly, they really know how to nail it on texture. Add these to some unique flavour combinations and you end up with a pretty impressive dining experience.

The savoury dishes are below but the scampi dish leaves the table in total (temporary) silence as it is so good we don’t want any disturbance. The waitstaff are hugely relieved at this juncture and probably wondering if they can just bring us another five of these;  and the venison is stellar – this coming from a non-venison eater (some Bambi issues from childhood). Cutting the David Blackmore wagyu is like cutting butter, and I adore the crunch of the pork crackling with the tuna.

Our seven savoury courses are

Seared bonito, roasted chicken cream, sobacha
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Sashimi Yellow Fin tuna, goat milk chevre, avocado, pink beauty radish, pork crackling
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Hokkaido sea scallop, spiced tomato, horseradish, kombu, aged feta, olive oilsepia7

 

Seared smoked Saikou salmon, garlic cream, baby onion, seaweed poweder, momiji leafsepia8
Western Australian scampi scented with Japanese curry, apple, sheep yoghurt, mushroomsepia9
Grilled David Blackmore wagyu, salt pickled cucumber, native sea vegetables, chestnut mushroom, wasabi leaf buttersepia10
Seared Mandagery Creek venison, sansho pepper, roasted pumpkin, miso, artichoke
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We then move on to the desserts. Like with the savoury, there are wonderful textural elements everywhere and clearly some quite incredible skill. None of them are overpoweringly sweet which I like, though we do find the chocolate forest a little too rich when paired with the other desserts we have. We are lucky that evening to try the Pearl and the Japanese Stones, a couple of desserts that aren’t currently on the menu. We look at them in awe. How do they make them? How are those stones so perfect?

The Sepia Pearl is one of Martin Benn’s signatures.  I read that it took him three months to get the shell so fine.  Three months! Tap it gently and it explodes, inside containing finger lime pearls, frozen ginger, lime sherbert and lime cream.033

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Citrus – mandarin, blood orange, yuzu, dai dai, sudachi, thyme flowers045

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Milks – coconut, rice, cow, sheep, goat, soysepia12

 

Spring chocolate forest – soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, lavender and honey cream, blackberry sorbet, shisho vinegar jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twings, bronze fennelsepia14
Sepia Japanese stones.  Made with cocoa butter and frozen with liquid nitrogen, these look like actual stones from the garden.  Ours are filled with chocolate, passionfruit cream, and raspberry jelly061
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The only little let down of the evening? Probably the cocktails. As we are ordering, A Tea with the Queen says, “I hope they bring us beautiful glassware, a cocktail isn’t quite the same in a boring glass”. And the glasses, though probably fine crystal, are indeed boring, and not fitting for a $32 cocktail. Well, nobody’s perfect. In every other sense, this is a meal you should experience at least once.

Sepia, 201 Sussex St Sydney, Phone 02 9283 1990
http://www.sepiarestaurant.com.au

Sepia on Urbanspoon

Toque Time (Sydney) – The SMH Good Food Guide 2015 Awards

2015awardsHot on the heels of the Melbourne Awards  last week comes the Sydney session.  The Good Food Guide turns 30 this year. It is quite extraordinary to think that 30 years ago, there was no such thing as “Modern Australian” food – instead it was called “Anglo Saxon” cuisine; and a meal at a three hatter would set you back $29.  Over the years the GFG has gotten bigger, more powerful (some would say that’s a bad thing), and the toques are always a cause for debate amongst restaurant goers like me….especially for places like Marque (sorry I had to throw that in, but really?) So who were the casualties of war in the last 12 months? Well Guillaume at Bennelong closed, refusing to become a more casual, 7 day a week, breakfast-lunch-dinner bistro as requested by the Opera House Trust, and re-opened his fine dinner just a few weeks ago in Paddington, merci beaucoup.  Claudes shut down, with Chui Lee Luk opting for the more casual Chow Bar & Eating House, serving modern Chinese.  Xanthi went into liquidation, succumbing to the Fine-Dining-In-A-Shopping-Centre-in-Australia-Doesn’t-Work curse; Buzo is now Pinbone, though they recently taunted diners with a pop up serving THAT lasagne and the cabbage salad (when will you open that whispered CBD site?), and Foveuax and Tomislav are no more.   That’s a total of nine hats. In all, 40 of the restaurants that were in the 2014 guide closed. As we hear all the time, it is a tough gig in the hospitality game.  Having said that, 80 new restaurants have appeared in the Guide this year.

Drumroll please…..and the winners are

Restaurant of the Year – Sepia

Best New Restaurant – Ester

Legend Award – Peter Doyle (Est)

Chef of the Year – Brent Savage (well deserved in my view, loving Bentley at the moment)

The Hatters – City

Three Hats

Momofuku Seiobo, Quay, Rockpool, Sepia

Two Hats

ARIA Restaurant, Bentley Restaurant & Bar (re-entry), Berowra Waters Inn (up a hat), The Bridge Room, est., Ester (new hatter), Gastro Park, Icebergs Dining Room & Bar, Lucio’s Italian Restaurant (up a hat), Marque, Mr. Wong, Ormeggio at the Spit, Pilu at Freshwater, Porteño (up a hat), Rockpool Bar & Grill, sixpenny (up a hat), Spice Temple, Tetsuya’s

One Hat

4Fourteen (up a hat), Aki’s Indian Restaurant, Alpha (new hatter), The Apollo, Arras, Bar H Dining (re-entry), The Bathers’ Pavilion, Billy Kwong, Bistro Moncur, Bistrode CBD, BLACK by Ezard (up a hat), The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, Bodega, Buon Ricordo (down a hat), Cafe Paci (new hatter), Cafe Sopra, Catalina, China Doll, Cho Cho San (new hatter), Clareville Kiosk, Cottage Point Inn (new hatter), the devonshire, Farmhouse (new hatter), Felix (new hatter), Fish Face (new hatter), Flying Fish Restaurant & Bar, Four in Hand Dining Room (down a hat), glass brasserie, Hartsyard, Jonah’s Restaurant, Kepos Street Kitchen, Longrain (down a hat), Lox Stock & Barrel (new hatter), Monopole, Moon Park (new hatter), MoVida (down a hat), Ms.G’s, Nomad (new hatter), Oscillate Wildly, Osteria Balla (new hatter), Osteria di Russo & Russo (new hatter), Otto Ristorante (re-entry), The Restaurant Pendolino, Saké Restaurant & Bar, Sean’s Panaroma, Sokyo, sushi e (new hatter), Three Blue Ducks, Uccello, Ume Restaurant, Vincent (new hatter), Vini (new hatter), Yellow (new hatter)

Lost hatsAnanas, Popolo, Gowings Bar & Grill

Regional Hats

Two Hats

Biota Dining (Bowral), Muse Restaurant (Pokolbin, up a hat), Subo (Newcastle West)

One Hat

Bistro Molines (Mount View), Caveau (Wollongong), Cupitt’s Kitchen (Ulla-dulla, new hatter), Darley’s Restaurant (Katoomba), Eschalot (Berrima), Fins Restaurant (Kingscliff), Harvest Cafe (Newrybar, new hatter), Lolli Redini (Orange), Manfredi at Bells (Killcare Heights), Muse Kitchen (Pokolbin, new hatter), Restaurant Como (Blaxland), Restaurant Mason (Newcastle), The Stunned Mullet (Port Macquarie), Tomah Gardens (Mt Tomah, new hatter), Tonic (Millthorpe), Town Restaurant & Cafe (Bangalow), Wharf Rd Restaurant & Bar (Nowra), Zanzibar Cafe (Merimbula)

Toque Time (Melbourne) – The Age Good Food Guide 2015 Awards

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And yes, here we are again at Award time. Restaurant “Award Season” is in full swing, with Gourmet Traveller releasing its 2015 Restaurant Awards last week, and The Australian coming out with its Hot 50 list.

 

Lest you think these awards don’t actually matter, this is what happened to Saint Crispin in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood last year after it won New Restaurant of the Year:

‘Scott Pickett, the chef and co-owner,…….arrived at the restaurant on Tuesday (the day it’s closed) at noon to find 198 voicemails and 78 emails inquiring about bookings. ”By the time we got through them all at 3pm, we had another 138 messages to address,” he says. By Wednesday, Pickett had employed a second staff member ”to manage calls and bookings”. Other winners on the night also saw a peak in phone and email activity when they arrived for work on Tuesday’ (Good Food, 3 September 2013). 

Extraordinary, no?  But at the end of the day for everyone who lovesloveslovesloves restaurant x, there will be someone who can’t stand it, because that is what makes the world go round. One can’t help but wonder though, if The Age has struck a deal with Tourism Victoria – most of the new hats are to regional restaurants, which will see foodies (did I mention I hate that word?) around the country piling into their cars driving around the state and throwing around superlatives.

And the winners are…..

Restaurant of the Year – Brae, Birregurra (watch the population of this town go up in coming months. Does anyone actually know where it is?)

New Restaurant of the YearSupernormal (really?)

City

Three Hats
Attica, Flower Drum, Vue de Monde
Two Hats
Cafe Di Stasio, Cutler & Co, Ezard, Grossi Florentino, Matteo’s, MoVida, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Rosetta, Saint Crispin (up a hat), Spice Temple
One Hat
Bacash, Becco, Bistro Guillaume, Bistro Vue, Cecconi’s Flinders Lane, Centonove, Circa, Coda, Cumulus Inc, Da Noi, Dandelion, Donovans, Easy Tiger, Epocha, Estelle, The European, The Grand, Hare & Grace, Huxtable, Il Bacaro, Kenzan, Longrain, Maha, Merricote, Moon Under Water, MoVida Aqui, No. 8 by John Lawson (new hatter), Noir (new hatter), 
Pei Modern, The Point Albert Park, The Press Club, Pure South, Sarti, Shoya (new hatter), Stokehouse City, Supernormal (new hatter), Tempura Hajime, Tonka, Town Hall Hotel, The Town Mouse (new hatter), Union Dining (new hatter), 
Woodland House (new hatter), Yu-u
Regional

Three Hats
Brae (new hatter)
Two Hats
Gladioli (up a hat), Jim McDougall in Stefano’s Cellar, Lake House, Provenance, Royal Mail Hotel, 
Ten Minutes by Tractor
One Hat
A La Grecque, Annie Smithers Bistrot (new hatter), The Argus Dining Room (new hatter), Chris’s Beacon Point, Du Fermier (new hatter), Eleonore’s, Healesville Hotel, Kazuki’s, Montalto, Paringa Estate, Port Phillip Estate (new hatter), Simone’s Restaurant, Tani Eat & Drink (new hatter), Terminus at Flinders Hotel, Terrace Restaurant, Tulip (new hatter)
Lost Hats
Albert St Food & Win, Bella Vedere, Brooks, Grossi Florentino Grill, Nellsons

 

Rockpool on Bridge – $79 lunch special

In an effort to capture more of the lunch trade, many of the fine diners around town offer some fabulous lunch deals.  Often dinners at these toqued establishments are degustation menus in the $150-$200 per person range, and beyond, and if this isn’t in reach, the lunch is a great alternative.  Come noon, Rockpool offers one course for $52, two courses for $69 or three courses for $79.  Similarly places like Aria offer $46 for one course and $74 for two, and Est three courses for $95.

I had been to the original Rockpool on George a few times, but this is my first visit to the new digs on Bridge. We are celebrating the birthday of my friend at A Tea with the Queen. The “new” Rockpool has a different feel to it – darker, more sophisticated, a little bit like it has now grown up and come of age.  I actually met Neil Perry last week, and he talked about his evolution as a chef – from wondering why he was running a restaurant serving French provincial food on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, to his immersion and connection with Asian cuisine. This is a man who is very passionate about what he does.

The staff are polished and on top of their game (except for one waitress who does a runner towards the end of our meal with our not yet empty wine glasses, but this is quickly rectified) and we feel warmly welcomed.  There is plenty to tempt on the menu, and I opt for the Asian influenced dishes, as in my opinion this is where Neil Perry’s cuisine shines.

But first we are bought some bread, with butter and also some ricotta.  The bread itself I don’t find anything special but this is butter like no other.  It has a caramel like consistency and a slight sweetness, I want to smother my bread in it (the only other butter that rivals this is Tetsuya’s truffle butter, which I think I could live on).  Similarly the ricotta is magnificent with a smoky undertone and creamy.

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My first dish is the scallop cake with herbs, peanuts and prawn broth. The seafood is beautifully fresh and I scoop up every drop of that divine broth.   This rivals the crab congee on the dinner menu.

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I then move onto the smoked Burrawong chicken hotpot with braised fungus, chestnuts and dragonwell rice.  The rice is bought out first, dragonwell tea is poured over it and it is left to infuse.  Shortly after the chicken arrives and I know I have ordered very well today….so well that I dig in and forget to take a photo of the actual chicken!

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Most of the table opts for the short rib with creamed spinach, hoisin and black vinegar for their main course.  This is a $10 supplement and no wonder – it is enormous.  Some find it a little salty; I’m kindly offered a little to try and it is meltingly tender with a beautiful smokiness.

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None of the desserts tempt me that day (I have a different agenda anyway) but the popular choice at the table is the chocolate gran cru of Valrhona with peanut butter and jelly.

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Instead I opt for one of the best deals around town – a petit four of Rockpool’s original 1984 date tart for $3, which Neil developed and Lorraine Godsmark perfected; she sells a full slice at her patisserie for $15.

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Fancy a lunch at Rockpool? You won’t be disappointed.

Rockpool on Bridge, 11 Bridge Street, Sydney ph (02) 9252 1888
http://www.rockpool.com

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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.

snacks

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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

Rockpool, Sydney

Rockpool on George was Neil Perry’s first baby from which his empire spawned.  It was one of Sydney’s early fine diners, and has had its ups and downs.  Three hats, lost hat, gained hat, closed and re-opened as a “casual” place, Rockpool Fish café (I went, didn’t like it, neither did everyone else apparently, it closed), back to being fine dinner, back to three hats.

I’m here with a dear friend, my food soul-mate, and neither of us have been here for a good few years.  Like me, she’ll drive across the Sydney metropolitan just to get that one key ingredient needed for a recipe, or go to a restaurant just to try that one special dish.  And I’ll admit I’m here tonight to try a particular dish, the layered pork tart with the chicken liver parfait (Rockpool doesn’t do takeaway, or I would have ordered it to go).

It’s a simple pricing structure at dinner, two courses, $110, three courses $135, four courses $155.  This is seriously expensive three hat dining, if you compare it to Est’s nine course degustation for $175.  Or Claude’s eight course $140 menu. And Momofuku’s 14 courses for $175. Or Marque‘s ten courses for $160. But I digress.

The menu is divided into four sections, but they are totally flexible about how you choose your courses which I really like.  So even though you go the four course option, you can choose one dish from section 1, two dishes from section 2, and one dish from section 4, or whatever other combination you prefer. This worked well because ‘section 2’ had the biggest hit rate of what we wanted to try.  What I also liked was that our charming waiter said he would tell in each section what was the ‘signature’ and what was the ‘most popular’ – interesting the divergence between the two.

So would you walk out of here and say this is a worthy three hatter? I really think it depends on your luck with the ordering. Some of thedishes were just outstanding, some ok, and some had one particular element of the dish (I hate saying ‘element of the dish’, sounds like one of the used-to-death Masterchef phrases but I can’t think of an alternative at the minute, so forgive me – incidentally, what’s with that whole “boys versus girls” Masterchef thing? Really? It appeals to my 8 year olds, but not sure of the demographics beyond this) that was outstanding and the rest so-so.  So if you got pot luck and ended up with all the outstandings, you’d walk out pretty impressed. Overall I think the Asian inspired far outweighed the others so go down that path if you end up there.

I also noticed a little card when they gave us the bill – they have a 3 classics dish Friday lunch for $65 – this is great value if you want to give the place a whirl.

To start we were given a canape of Queensland Spanner Crab, parsley, egg and fennel fondue. A nice little introduction but not particularly memorable. (Please excuse my photos, had my old camera which was on its last legs).

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Then onto what we chose:

Blue swimmer crab and corn congee, almond tofu, star anise scented peanuts, fried bread and chilli oil (section 1 signature). Wow. What a start. This definitely fell in to the totally outstanding category. Try this dish.

congee

Goats cheese lasagne, muntries, lavender kipflers, pangrattato and broccoli sauce (section 2 signature).  This was the ‘outstanding elements’ rather than overall fabulous. The actual lasagne itself was a bit of a shoulder shrug. But those potatoes. And that sauce.

lasagne

Quail with daikon, tong ho, nori and chilli condiment (section 2). Beautiful quail and the chilli underneath – again flavour. Neil knows his Asian flavours. Almost had a Julia-Roberts-slippery-little-sucker-Pretty-Woman moment with the radish though.

quail

Chicken parfait inside a one thousand layer pork tart (section 2). The dish I came for. The pork layer – fabulous.  But something was going on with the parfait.  It was overpowered with something acidic, I couldn’t quite tell what, but I could not taste the parfait just an acidic tang – it was really disappointing. It was also a runny parfait compared to most I’ve eaten, and goodness knows I’ve eaten a few.

parfait

Lamb rolled saddle, bo ssam shoulder, celery, wheat infused soy beans, tea smoked mussels (section 3 signature). Bo ssam shoulder, mussels, magnificent. Lamb saddle nice and tender, but soy beans too hard.

lamb

Whiting grilled over rushes (Japanese weedy things), squid, iceberg lettuce, pearl balls, onions and red date infusion (section 3). Squid, pearl balls, lettuce yum, beautifully cooked fish, a well put together dish. [Here’s the recipe if you want to have a go at it http://www.foodservicenews.com.au/news/coorong-yellow-eyed-mullet-grilled-over-rushes-squid-iceberg-lettuce-pearl-balls]

whiting

Date tart (section 4 signature) – a lovely tart, and apparently its Neil’s 1984 original. My first attempt at making it was ok, with practice it will be stellar.

date tart

Vacherin pandan custard, coconut parfait, jasmine sorbet and lime granita. Wow. I thought it was in a little ceramic dish but it was actually in a edible feather light meringue bowl.  There were flavour explosions going on everywhere here. Loved it.

vaccherin

Petit fours to finish!

petitfours

Rockpool on George, 107 George St Sydney, ph (02) 9252 1888
http://www.rockpool.com

Rockpool on George on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Seiobo @ Star

So, after watching the time counter on the website with the intensity of a shark watching its prey, and clicking at the right millisecond we finally got a booking. I just had to see if this place lived up to the hype.

Now at $175 per head for 14 courses, I’m thinking Tetsuyas, Vue due Monde, Claudes. Fine dining this is not, in fact we all did a bit of a double take at the ‘casualness’ of the place. No tablecloths, the chefs wearing baseball caps, and very few staff attending to your every whim. In fact the chef who makes each course brings it straight to the table to serve it when ready, which minimises the staffing, but they could use some elocution training to talk up the dish they have laid in front of us. We often had to ask them to repeat themselves. Its like the distinction between Sales and Trading in FX.

You don’t get a menu, so you don’t know what’s coming. They do give you one at the end with the bill but it only contains two or three words for each dish listing the ingredients and not a description of the dish (so I’ve done my best with names). The dishes don’t have the ‘wow’ presentation of say a Gastro Park, Bentley or Vue Due Monde – and so the bursts of flavour do surprise – and there is none of the kitchen theatre and artistry you see in the latter – its a quiet, calm, orderly place (except for the booming music).

First we had a little ‘snack plate’: Snacks of shitake chips, mochi, nori and smoked potato. (‘ma’am we don’t allow flash photography here’ – really? Are you kidding me? Hence the photos are a bit dark). Some really interesting flavours and textures here.

Then here is what we had on the savoury side:

Steamed pork bun – pork belly, cucumber and hoisin sauce (soooo good could have had 10 of these)

Striped trumpeter with blood orange (nice, but not better than you’d get at any good Japanese)

Marron served with fennel and a squid ink puree (beautiful fresh flavours)

Beef with radish and fermented black bean (the beef is hidden under the radish….good but not outstanding)

Smoked eel, Jerusalem artichoke. If you’re a Jerusalem artichoke fan you’ll like this, so I did.

Mud crab with butter, pepper and pudding. Flavour flavour flavour – an outstanding dish.

Egg with toasted rice and brown butter. Unusual dish, I liked the toasted rice.

Pea angolotti with a parmesan foam. I loved this, like the crab dish, flavours going on everywhere, and the texture of the parmesan was amazing.

Mulloway – cant remember what this was served with, but this dish was a stunner, 12/10.

Lamb neck with cauliflower and mustard. Bit disappointing, lamb was overcooked, nothing special.

And on the sweet

Pecorino with honey licorice and bee pollen (really unusual flavour combination), Poached peach with rose wafers, miso icecream with cherries (hidden underneath). The textured stuff on top of the icecream – not sure what it was – was fantastic.

Overall I wasn’t particularly impressed by the deserts. They were unique but not tantalising, but I did love the rosewater wafers.

Just when we said we were all totally full, there was a surprise dish, number 15, a candied 8 hour slow cooked sweet pork, which isn’t even listed on the menu they give you later on. We devoured this so fast (you have to eat it with your fingers, don’t wait for cutlery), we forgot to take a photo. It was melt-in-your-mouth devine. They kindly offered us a doggy bag if we were too full but there was no chance we were leaving even a morsel on that plate.

So the verdict – at $175 I think its a bit punchy, I’m thinking its more a $130-140 menu and set up. But as it only seats 30 odd people, they’ll be able to stretch this pricing out for a while till everyone who wants to go does. Would I go back? Maybe. But its not a once a year thing, maybe every couple.

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