Tag Archives: degustation

Young Guns dinner @ LuMi Dining

The Young Guns series is a clever collaboration between four Italian restaurants and their four great chefs – Federico Zanellato (LuMi), Victor Moya (Ormeggio), Matteo Zamboni (Pilu), and Mitch Orr (ACME) – with hosts Alessandro Pavoni and Giovanni Pilu. Each restaurant is taking a turn at hosting a dinner and showcasing dishes. The degustation was $80, or $125 with matching wines, so it was a great value – and delicious – evening. There was an extra dish on offer for $10 which we readily agreed to.

First Course: LuMi “snacks”
Salt and vinegar rice chips – heavenly lightyoungguns (2)

Porcini Brisee with Marscapone and a Macaron with onion and chicken liver. Loved them both; the porcini brisee had a beautiful crumbly texture and was something new and different, as was the savoury macaron.youngguns (3)

Jerusalem artichoke chips – very clever. I love Jerusalem artichoke but would usually use it four puree or soupyoungguns (4)

And of course LuMi’s signature Chawanmushi. The last time I came here I had it with tomato water; this time it was with an onion consommé and a little caviar. The texture on that custard! I have to say that LuMi has been one of my favourite dining experiences so far this year and the meal that night reaffirmed it.youngguns (5)

This was followed by some warm delicious bread and grissiniyoungguns (6)

Second course: Ormeggio roasted capsicum and mozzarella salad with Mediterranean herbs. A feast for the eyes as well as the palate. The texture of the balls reminded me of the liquid gnocchi at Gastro Park. Very clever and freshyoungguns (7)

Third course: Pilu’s Cappelletti with lentils, red wine and vegetable broth. Zamboni explained to us that this dish was completely vegan, not something you find often in Italian cooking. It was an interesting dish and with each mouthful you could taste different elements of the flavour.youngguns (8)

Fourth course: ACME’s pig’s head with cime di rapa and condiments. Don’t think too much about the fact that you are eating a pig’s head and dig in! Loved the flavour combination here; rich juicy pork cut through with the bitterness of the rapa, and I particularly loved the soy and vinegar dipping sauce, which Mitch told us was actually based on a Filippino sauce.youngguns (9)

Fifth course (extra course): Lumi Burrata, honey, rosemary and vinegar meringue, served with casarau. Oh! This was a table favourite. Devine! What a combination! And then if you threw in some crispy bits of casarau, a specialty Sardinian crispy bread, it became even better. This could have passed as a dessert.youngguns (10)

youngguns (11)Sixth course: LuMi’s Yuzu with licorice and mandarin curd. The plate was freezing cold and Federico tells us that it has been put in the blast chiller at -25 degrees. This was wonderfully light and fresh with a good amount of acidity and those wafer like pieces of licorice adding texture.youngguns (12)

Some pictures of the Young Guns and hosts. Zanellato’s brother Riccardo is all boyish charm; Matteo is sweet and softly spoken and Giovanni Pilu is quick to point out that he is already married ladies! (there’s A Tea with the Queen next to Signore Pilu). I ask Mitch if he’s considered an honorary Italian – “I’m pure Inner West” – he tells us. Alessandro is as effervescent as always. A really great evening – there are two more Young Guns dinners in the series.youngguns (14)youngguns (1)youngguns (13)

LuMi Dining, http://www.lumidining.com
Ormeggio, http://www.ormeggio.com.au
ACME, http://www.weareacme.com.au
Pilu, http://www.piluatfreshwater.com.au

Three Michelin Star Italian? Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Hong Kong

It has taken me a few months to write this post up, which I suppose tells you something. I was in Hong Kong for a couple of days last December, and after a busy day of meetings, a few colleagues and I decided to try the Three Michelin Starred Otto e Mezzo Bombana, so named after Federico Fellini’s 1963 movie, and executive Chef Umberto Bombana.   It’s the only Italian restaurant outside of Italy to get three whole sparkles, so I was expecting big things. It is in a shopping centre which does make for somewhat of an odd window view if you sit in that section of the restaurant; in Australian shopping centre fine dining has failed miserably.  But in places like Hong Kong, a city of giant interconnecting malls and hotels, that is where you’ll find a lot of the high end eats. There is an a la carte menu but most opt for the degustation, as did we. I wouldn’t call it traditional Italian, rather Italian influenced.

There were moments of brilliance, but only moments, and for A$280 each with only one glass of wine, we do much better in Sydney. Service was faultless which took it up a notch, but I doubt Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack would hand over three toques so readily.   So here was our menu:

Broccoli puree with house mortadella. Interesting combination – good as an amuse bouche – don’t think a big serve would have workedottoemezzo (2)

Seared red tuna with fennel pollen, tomato and citrus emulsion, calvisius elite caviar. Looked pretty, but unremarkable flavour. ottoemezzo (3)

Fresh porcini salad. I love fresh porcini, which had no doubt been flown in at great expense (this was an extra dish we ordered and not part of the degustation). I thought it had some kind of tiny egg on it, but it was actually a curd which I thought was unnecessary. ottoemezzo (4)

Artisanal trenette – scampi and Mediterranean flavour. I’m not quite sure what the “Mediterranean flavour” consisted of but this dish tasted strangely sweet, almost like it had sugar in it. Odd. One of our non-scampi-eating group had the ragu, and I had order envy – that smelt devine.ottoemezzo (5)

Roast blue lobster – winer salad, topinambur (that’s Jerusalem artichoke for the layman), lobster and mushroom jus. Nothing special here, the quality of the lobster was disappointing.ottoemezzo (6)

Maruya beef sirloin signature series – roast root, aromatic herbs and natural jus. Outstanding beef, perfectly cooked. Finally we’re talking.ottoemezzo (7)

Montebianco – marron ice cream, meringue and Chantilly. Loved this dessert, original, not too sweet, just the right size, good texturally. We end on a high note. What I did find odd is that an Italian restaurant would use marron in the name, the French word for chestnut, rather than castagna.ottoemezzo (8)   The price included some (fairly pedestrian) petit fours and tea and coffee.ottoemezzo (9)

Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Shop 202, Landmark Alexandra, 18 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong, Ph +852 2537 8859

http://www.ottoemezzobombana.com

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

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Berowra Waters Inn, Berowra Waters

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It’s a gorgeous sunny Sydney Sunday in Autumn. We’re with four treasured friends, who we’ve known for fourteen odd years. Our collective offspring have been appropriately palmed off, the Bolly is chilled, and our driver, Ray, arrives. The cork is popped, giggles ensue, and we relax on the hour long drive up to Berowra Waters Inn. It doesn’t get much better than this. Ray wonders what he’s signed up for, these six laughing maniacs in the back.

We pull up to the restaurant’s private ferry wharf. More giggles now that we’re bubbled up. Tempted to take a bet that one of us falls in the water while trying to get on the boat. But we make it to the tranquil and serene restaurant, manned by Irishman Brian Geraghty, of Quay and Bilson’s pedigree. The room is simple, serene, tranquil, and the staff are similarly serene and welcome us warmly.

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The menu is a 7 course degustation, priced at $175, and there is a wine matching option. But, in one of those rarities in fine dining land, they allow BYO (corkage is $30). Ploughing through cobwebs and dust in our basements, we’ve unearthed some smashing vintages. Appropriate, as we discover, for the meal soon to be placed before us. Though ‘meal’ doesn’t quite do it justice. Experience? Indulgence? Irish flight of fancy? Whatever you decide to go with, the standout for all of us was the flavour that is so cleverly packed into every dish. I also loved the beautiful dinnerware that was used, different for each course.

First up, an amuse bouche – tomato sorbet with a tomato jelly, pistachio and rice crumb, and parmesan custard. Start with the refreshing top, then the texture of the rice and pistachio, and then the devine parmesan custard (Brian, would you mind passing on the custard recipe?) – we scraped every bit out of our bowls.

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Next the bread is offered – there is an onion brioche which we all love – absolutely gorgeous – and a white sourdough. Served with a tomato butter, which was mild in flavour, I think I would have preferred a top quality rich butter.

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Scallop with brandade and cauliflower – a beautiful menagerie of texture

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Confit of ocean trout, smoked milk, dashi and lemon foam. The trout itself didn’t measure up to Tetsuya’s (can anyone?) but combination of crunch and flavour was right up there.

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Bacon and egg. Not quite the bacon and egg you’ll find at your local café (they really must get with the program), and so very clever. Those super crisp angel hair type fries with the smokey bacon flavour throughout. Pure yum. Breakfast will never be the same.

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Sweetbread and pumpkin. Usually when I see sweetbread on the menu I run a million miles and it was time to face up to it. I figured that if I was going to try it anywhere it may as well be with by a chef who’s done the Michelin star restaurant thing. And turns out this was one of my favourite dishes. Again, the kitchen nails it on the flavour and texture front.

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Duck, cabbage and pear – the duck piece was underseasoned and we all reached for the salt. But the cabbage salad with macadamia through it, and the cabbage roll with duck were both very tasty.

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Prettier than a picture and delicious to boot, goat cheese, beetroot and liquorice. Check out the colour Mother Nature provides.

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And to finish, apple and doughnut was what the menu said and another pretty picture arrives on the plate. Caramel sauce, yoghurt, crumble. More more more please!

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The extravaganza takes us a leisurely four hours (let them know if you’re on a time constraint). Ray is wondering nervously what his passengers will be like on the return trip.  We get the little boat back across the river and meander back to the car.

Clever, beautiful, food in such harmonious surrounds. I’ll be back.

Berowra Waters Inn, Via East and West Public Wharves Berowra Waters, ph +61 2 9456 1027
http://www.berowrawatersinn.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.

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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

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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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