Tag Archives: melbourne

The Festival of Nonna

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The Festival of Nonna celebrates the Italian matriarch, the epicentre of the clan, the recipes that have been handed down verbally by generation, without measurements but by feel, taste and a love of simple and fresh ingredients.  The series of dinners, being held in Sydney and Melbourne between 8 October and 26 October, feature Italian chefs and their mothers, Nonna to their children.

This evening we have Luca Ciano, who came to Australia from Milan Michelin starred restaurant Il Luogo, and his delightful mother Nonna Anita, at A Tavola in Sydney’s Darlinghurst.  She is full of energy and enthusiasm, in spite of having ended her 20 plus hour journey from Italy that morning, and just adorable.  Together they start making Anita’s Bolognese.  It begins with a classic “soffritto” of onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil, followed by the addition of mince of veal, pork and meat from an Italian sausage.  Red wine, crushed tomatoes, and bay leaves are next.  She also adds thyme, I’ll have to give that a try next time.  Like me, she does not include garlic, which would probably surprise a lot of people.

Such a sauce would typically slow simmer for hours, and Nonna Anita is a little mortified that we are tasting it before it is fully cooked, served with some fluffy gnocchi that Luca has whipped up in the blink of an eye in the meantime.  The gentle ribbing and arguing between them in Italian is very funny and reminds me of my conversations with Mamma Rosa.  There’s plenty of opportunity to chat to them both through the evening, as they hand out jars of special Festival of Nonna pasta sauce, and while we enjoy a beautiful and extensive Italian menu, accompanied by very drinkable prosecco and wine. The lighting is not great, so apologies for the photos which don’t do any justice to the food.

It is the nature of these special relationships, often developed in the kitchen, that led the Lubrano family behind Sandhurst Fine Foods to launch the Festival of Nonna last year. Mimmo, his wife and Nonna Geraldine, the Sandhurst Matriarch, are there that evening and I have a wonderful time talking to them.  I’ve always wondered why an Italian family company has a name like Sandhurst so it was great to ask them in person.  When they bought the farm in the 1960’s – then owned by a Russian, a Pole and an Englishman – it was called Sandhurst Farm and they never changed it.  Back then Geraldine and husband Vince ran a deli.  Vince was a fisherman in Italy before coming to Australia; neither of them really knew much about farming, manufacturing, and distribution.  But like many Italian migrants who came to Australia for a better life, hard work did not scare them and they seized the opportunity.  And so it began.

It was all in for the family, with their two sons Mimmo and Ray being embedded in the business from the beginning. I love hearing that the family still sits down to lunch every day, prepared by patriarch Vince who is 86.

Over time, they looked for other family businesses to work with who would provide them with the quality of ingredients they expected. Sitting next to us is a couple from far north Queensland, the Torrisi family, who’ve been supplying them all their basil for twenty years.  Similarly, the eggplant they use comes from a family in Mildura.  The importance to them of family relationships extends to long lasting business relationships.

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I want to adopt Nonna Geraldine, and I’m sure she means it when she gives us an invitation to join them for lunch one day.  A few weeks ago I became Nonna-less.  I was very blessed in both my Nonnas – kind, strong, selfless and loving women who never breathed a word of complaint about the hardships they endured and the poverty of post war Italy.  My Nonna in Italy, who I am named after, had a wicked sense of humour and was remarkably open minded for one of her era.  I’ll never forget her laugh.

The Festival of Nonna, October 2017
http://sandhurstfinefoods.com.au/nonna/events/

Napoli Restaurant Alert dined as a guest of Festival of Nonna

Toque Time (Melbourne) – The Age Good Food Guide 2017 Awards

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Fill the tank with petrol, people.  If you want to try The Age’s Restaurant of the Year, or sample the fare of the Chef of the Year, its an expensive Uber ride. Its happening out of the Melbourne metro with twenty eight regional restaurants awarded hats this year.  That’s not to say the city isn’t bustling, with Shannon Bennet’s Vue de Monde regaining its three toque status and Japanese fine diner Minimishima jumping one as well.  Plenty of newcomers in the one hat category, and Heston’s Dinner was a double toque debut. Moon Under Water, Bistro Vue, Da Noi, Huxtable, Movida Aqui, No 8 by John Lawson, Pure South, The Roving Marrow, and Kenzan all dropped from the list.

And the winners are…….

Restaurant of the Year: Brae, Birregurra
Best New Restaurant: Embla, Melbourne
Chef of the Year: Aaron Turner, Igni
Regional Restaurant of the Year: Igni, Geelong
Bar of the Year: Heartbreaker, Melbourne
Best Cheap Eat: Hem 27, Flemington
Café of the Year: Higher Ground, Melbourne

CITY

Three Hats
Attica, Minimishima (up a hat), Vue de Monde (up a hat)

Two Hats
Circa, Cutler & Co, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (new hatter), Estelle by Scott Pickett (new hatter), Ezard, Flower Drum, Grossi Florentino Upstairs, Lume (up a hat), Matteo’s, The Press Club, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Saint Crispin, Spice Temple, Woodland House

One Hat
Amaru (new hatter), Anchovy (new hatter), Bacash, Bar Lourinha (new hatter), Bistro Guillaume, Cafe Di Stasio, Cecconi’s Flinders Lane, Centonove, Coda, Cumulus Inc., Dandelion, Donovans, Easy Tiger Smith St, Elyros (new hatter), Embla (new hatter), Epocha, European, French Saloon (new hatter), The Grand, Highline at the Railway Hotel (new hatter), Ides (new hatter), Il Bacaro, Kappo, Lee Ho Fook (new hatter), Longrain, Maha, Marion (new hatter), Merricote, Mister Jennings, MoVida, Noir (new hatter), Nora (new hatter), O.My, Oter, Pei Modern, The Point Albert Park, Rosetta (down a hat), Sarti, Supernormal, Tipo 00, Tonka, The Town Mouse, Union Dining

REGIONAL

Three Hats
Brae, Birregurra

Two Hats
Fen, Port Fairy; Igni, Geelong; Lake House, Daylesford; Provenance, Beechworth; Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld; Stefano’s, Mildura; Ten Minutes by Tractor, Main Ridge

One Hat
A La Grecque, Aireys Inlet; Catfish, Ballarat; Eleonore’s, Yering; Ezard at Levantine Hill, Coldstream; Gladioli, Inverleigh; The Good Table, Castlemaine; Healesville Hotel, Healesville; Kazuki’s, Daylesford; Masons of Bendigo, Bendigo; Montalto, Red Hill South; Paringa Estate, Red Hill South; Patricia’s Table, Milawa; Pickled Pig, Warrnambool; Port Phillip Estate, Red Hill South; Public Inn, Castlemaine; Simones, Bright; Source Dining, Kyneton; Tani Eat & Drink, Bright; Terrace Restaurant, Wahgunyah; Tulip, Geelong

Lune Croissanterie, Fitzroy

A friend at work had been reading up on Lune, where croissants are created in a perfectly temperature controlled glass cube by a former aerospace engineer. The New York Times recently boldly claimed they may be among the world’s best – I had visions of a Jean Claude or a Jacques in Paris somewhere reading this article and proclaiming “Quel horreur! Mais non!”.

I was in Melbourne for work and was meeting someone nearby, so wandered over to check out the queue situation, which I’d read was generally monstrous. Walking in, there is the immediate smell of buttery goodness.  See the light pattern on the ceiling? Its a throwback to the Millennium Falcon.   Star Wars fans have gotta be good people.  The pattern is replicated on their cool takeaway boxes, which by the way, are $4 if you don’t buy six or more items.

Through dumb luck, there were only a dozen or so people in front of me, and three people serving, but within ten minutes, it looked like this….I wonder what it is like on a weekend. (That bloke in the blue looks like he may hurt someone if what he wants sells out before his turn. Relax, bro).

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I’m not actually a big croissant eater, I may have two or three a year, and if anything they are of the almond variety, but the Marito is rather partial to them, so here I was. The menu is short and sweet (no pun intended, and there are a couple of savoury items), focussing on what they are good at rather than making a multitude of things, and they are on display at the counter allowing for easy choice.

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Within a few minutes I had four in hand – a traditional, an almond, a coconut pandan and a pain au chocolat. I whisked them back to Sydney for tasting.

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The verdict? Flaky, buttery, light and the right hint of sweetness.  The Marito, who was more appropriately qualified to opine, rated it.  One of the boys, who is rather an expert in pain au chocolats (he consumed at least one daily in various bakeries around Paris, deprived child), said his PAC was “really really good” (he’ll be a food critic yet, Durack had better watch out).

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But then I tried the almond croissant.  Oh, hello.  How many different words are there for awesome?  World’s best  – just maybe.

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Lune Croissanterie, 119 Rose St, Fitzroy
https://www.lunecroissanterie.com/

Lune Croissanterie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Toque Time (Melbourne) – The Age Good Food Guide 2016 Awards

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It’s been a big year for Melbourne on the food front. This year saw Heston announce with much fanfare he was temporarily setting up shop there, cheaters scammed tables, and the chosen few shared their photos of the mad hatter’s tea party. The rest of us will need to fly to the UK. David Blackmore fought the bureaucrats with the help of Neil Perry to try and stay open; Sydney favourites Messina and Din Tai Fung headed south, opening their first venues; while Chris Lucas from Chin Chin and George Calombaris both announced they were heading north to expand their respective empires. By the way I recently tried the winner of Best New Restaurant, and there is some good strong Italian going on there, to die for burrata!

Following hot on the heels of the Sydney awards, the Melbourne winners are…..

Best Bar – Romeo Lane
Best Bar Food – Bar Clarine
Best Cheap Eat – Delhi Streets
Restaurant of the Year – Minimishima
Best New Restaurant – Tipo 00
People’s Choice Award – Red Spice Road

Melbourne Metro
Three hats
Attica

Two hats
Circa (up a hat), Cutler & Co, Ezard, Flower Drum (down a hat), Grossi Florentino Upstairs, Matteo’s, Minimishima (new hatter), Moon Under Water (up a hat), The Press Club (up a hat), Rockpool Bar & Grill, Rosetta, Saint Crispin, Spice Temple, Vue de Monde (down a hat), Woodland House (up a hat)

One Hat
Bacash, Bistro Guillaume, Bistro Vue, Café di Stasio (down a hat), Cecconi’s Flinders Lane, Centonove, Coda, Cumulus Inc, Da Noi, Dandelion, Donovans, Easy Tiger Smith St, Epocha, European, The Grand, Huxtable, Il Bacaro, Kappo (new hatter), Kenzan, Longrain, Lume (new hatter), Maha, Merricote, Mister Jennings (new hatter), MoVida Aqui, No 8 by John Lawson, O.My (new hatter), Pei Modern, The Point Albert Park, Pure South, The Roving Marrow, Sarti, Stokehouse City, Supernormal, Tipo 00 (new hatter), Tonka, The Town Mouse, Union Dining

Lost hats – Becco, Estelle, Hare & Grace, MoVida, Noir, Shoya, The Roving Marrow, Tempura Hajimi, Town Hall Hotel, Yu U

Regional Winners
Three Hats
Brae

Two Hats
Gladioli, Lake House, Provenance, Royal Mail Hotel, Ten Minutes by Tractor

One Hat
A La Grecque, Broadgauge, Catfish, Chris’s Beacon Point, Eleonore’s, The Good Table, Kazuki’s, Masons of Bendigo, Montalto, Paringa Estate, Port Phillip Estate, Public Inn, Simones Restaurant, Source Dining, The Stag, Stefano’s, Tani Eat & Drink, Terminus at Flinders Hotel, Terrace Restaurant, Tulip

An evening with George Calombaris

He’s a pretty chirpy bloke, our George. And what’s not to be happy about, with a string of hit restaurants, a hugely popular TV show, and getting to do what he loves every day. “I’m pretty lucky” he tells us, standing in his Projects Kitchen, a small experimental space where he and his team combine science with creativity and the whimsical. And indeed it does look like a bit of a science lab with centrifuges and distillers, and a couple of oversized operating table type lights he tells us he got from a hospital in Brisbane.pressclub (12)

He’s hanging on to fine dining –the decline is a global trend not just an Australian one in his view – loving that it enables him to test the boundaries of what is possible with food, to take simple childhood memories and turn them into something new and inspired. He tells us of one afternoon when he walks into the Projects Kitchen and finds Luke Croston, his head chef, trying to make a cocktail that comes down a long string.

While he and Luke are chatting to us, along with one of his waitstaff from Press Club – who incidentally, are an impressive and incredibly professional lot – they whip up some goodies. Luke comes up with a meringue (created using dry ice) rolled in beetroot then puffed wild rice on the outside, while George gives us these delicious little lollipops of chicken liver mousse, which he pipes onto another piece of heavy duty science equipment which freezes them almost immediately. If only Chupa Chups were like this.

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After having a chat and a bit of a laugh, we move next door into the Press Club. He renovated in late 2013, with a bit of musical chairs – putting Gazi in the large space where Press Club used to be, and turning what was a bar into the intimate fine dining space which became Press Club mark two, a degustation only 38 seater.

We start off with the “Hills Hoist” series of snacks – George tells us it is a throwback to his childhood, when he used to get in trouble from his mother for running around pulling the clothes line. Working our way along the pegs we find a sweet potato crisp, puffed black rice puff with miso melitzanosalata (my favourite), kolrahbi, pear and walnut cone, sesame pastelaki with fennel seed fetta, and finally a saganaki crisppressclub (1)

Of course one of our group (not naming any names Ed) can’t resist doing this…..pressclub (2)

We then move to one of my favourite dishes of the night, a crunchy black taramosalata with fine ribbons of cuttlefish.  I love the contrast in texture and the flavour combination.pressclub (4)

The vegetarian option is eggplant done with sagepressclub (3)

Meanwhile, through a small window we see the kitchen is running like clockwork. From the outside, it seems intense yet calm and measured, everyone knows exactly what they are doing and does it with precision.pressclub (13)

Our next course is prawn with almond milk and strips of whitebait.  The mosaic type layer on the plate looks like octopus but is in fact finely sliced prawn.  It gives the previous dish a run for its money.pressclub (5)

Then we have the Greek Green Salad that appeared in Masterchef. A few of the table proclaim this their favourite, saying that they’d never had good tasting Brussel sprouts before, but for me it had pretty steep competition from the dishes above.pressclub (6)

Our last course at Press Club is the Winter Greek Salad (Horiatiki) with some wagyu braesola. George tells us that his traditional Greek customers that come in often give him a hard time. Where’s the tomato, they ask him, Greek salad must have tomato. Like most chefs George runs with seasonal produce, and you won’t find good tomatoes in Winter. “But Coles has them”, his cheeky Greek clients quip.pressclub (7)

Our final stop that night is Gazi, his thumping Greek street food venue; it is constantly busy, and it is most likely this that funds the fine diner and the Projects. We are all really full by now and can’t imagine eating the nicely sized soft shell crab souvlaki that is placed before us. But then we all take a bite and realise how delicious it is, and proceed to polish it off. Such feather light pita, crispy crab and a great sauce, I love it.pressclub (8)

We are seriously bursting now, but there’s a grain salad, some tuna done on the woodfire gril, some chicken done on the spit and chips sprinkled with feta.pressclub (10)

And finally a Bombe Metaxa, theatrically set alight at the table.pressclub (11)

…with an Espressotini to wash it all down. It’s a great night of Greek hospitality, which is what fundamentally George wants to share with his guests, whether its street food or high end. We look forward to seeing what he comes up with in Sydney at his Surry Hills venue mid next year.pressclub (9)

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http://www.thepressclub.com.au
http://www.gazirestaurant.com.au

Click to add a blog post for The Press Club on Zomato

Lucy Liu Kitchen and Bar, Melbourne

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No, it’s not named after the actress. Surely they must be tired of saying that by now – they being George Columbaris (Press Club), Michael Lambie (ex Taxi and The Smith) and a few buddies who have opened a new Mod Asian eatery in PM24’s old digs. It has only been open a few weeks when we try it out, and it is already heaving on a Tuesday lunch.

It has taken me a while to get round to writing this post – ‘the backlog’ is many a food blogger’s curse. But here’s the thing. Even when I’m writing up a place several weeks later, there will be a dish that stands out in my mind, that I can still taste, and that I’m dying to go back and try again, even before flicking through the photos that are going to go on the post. And that memorable quality for me, was slightly lacking here, no real wow. Don’t get me wrong, the food was fine, and it was early days, but the return pull factor isn’t huge. I would probably rather try Supernormal again, which I was also a little divided on, but it was slightly more interesting. My view is probably also due to the fact that I think Sydney far outweighs Melbourne in the number of great choices in the Mod Asian space and we’ve been really spoilt on that front (Melburnians don’t yell at me!), so the benchmark for this type of cuisine is pretty high.

Anyway, here’s what we ordered that day. Clockwise, starting top left Crystal Skin Prawn and Bamboo Dumplings with cucumber & yuzu dressing; Barramundi & Scampi Dumplings with chilli, ginger and spring onions; Wok fried local calamari with pickled papaya and hot mint salad, red nam jim; Crispy Fried Quail with shichimi pepper and spicy plum dressing. I found the dumpling casings a little on the thick side, though the flavours were good. The quail was crisp and not at all greasy.

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Next up, clockwise from top left: Peking Duck Dumplings with Lucy’s hoi sin sauce; Rare breed sticky pork belly, palm sugar caramel, young coconut salad & red chilli; Soft Shelled Crab Jianbing Pancake roll with spicy hoi sin; Stir fried Asian greens. The pork gave us a surprise – when we ordered it, the waitress advised that it was only two pieces, would we like to up the order to three pieces – she didn’t mention it was two very tiny pieces of pork for $20, so a very small dish for $30 – how rare is the breed exactly? The pancake, like the dumpling, was on the thick side. The greens were excellent, and probably the favourite thing I ate that day.

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As I said it had only been open a few weeks, and some refining and tweaking to be done, and I also think the serves are quite on the small side for the price.

Lucy Liu Kitchen and Bar, 23 Oliver Lane, Melbourne Ph (03) 9639 5777
http://lucylius.com.au/

Lucy Liu Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

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

 

Supernormal, Melbourne

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So I have to ask as soon as our cute waiter approaches, “what’s with the name?”.  Supernormal is apparently the name of a Japanese art movement (how did I miss that) whose premise is seeing the beauty in everything.  I’m not quite sure how that ties in with Andrew McConnell’s latest venture, a voluminous, almost sparse, and canteen-like space in Flinders Lane – but maybe that’s the whole point – I somehow have to find it beautiful? (They also seem to have a thing in Melbourne for restaurants starting with the word ‘super’ – really not fond of the name Supermaxi as a place to eat).

After a good gossip with my friend, first up is the Spicy Braised Eggplant with Housemade Tofu, which we both like, with an unusual mix of spice I’m trying to identify – cardamom maybe, among other things? The chilli sauce underneath – delicious.

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Boiled prawn & chicken dumpling, chilli & vinegar sauce – woha, good chilli hit here, they weren’t kidding, and the dumplings get a little lost underneath it all.

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Then the New England Lobster Roll. Hello. Where have you been all my life?

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Duck Bao – twice cooked duck, vinegar and plum sauce.  Bit of DIY going on.  Lovely steamed buns, flavoursome duck, a little more cucumber would have been good.

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Cold Rolled Pork belly, white kimchi, yuxiang sauce. I should have asked more about this, it wasn’t quite what I had in my head with the thin slices of pork belly.  That sauce makes an appearance again and again I wish there was more of it.

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So overall, pretty good, not mindblowing, but they have only been open 5 weeks, and the menu is certainly interesting enough to give one more go. But be prepared that it is not overly cheap for Asian food – the dishes above came to $90, with the duck being a fair whack of that ($26)

Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
http://www.supernormal.net.au

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Supernormal on Urbanspoon

Bangpop, South Wharf, Melbourne

Have you ever chosen a restaurant because of its name? When I heard of a Thai street food place called Bangpop, I had to try it. I’m thinking fun, exciting, explosive flavours must be the order of the day. Walking up you see the long row of red bicycles and it gives a nice playful touch.

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None of us are drinking that day, and a mocktail apple mohito is suggested to us – it is very refreshing and tangy and hard to believe it doesn’t have a little something extra in it. They then bring over four cute little ceramic cups, each filled with a condiment – fish sauce for saltiness, sweet chilli, hot chilli, and sugar. You can do a bit of DIY to change the balance or flavour of a dish to suit you.

To start we try the barramundi fish cakes (great) and marinated chargrilled pork neck (a winner but a tiny serve). We follow this with a prawn salad, surrounded with herbs and very refreshing. Then a duck curry, where the duck falls off the bone, and then some pad thai. I find most of the dishes don’t need the proffered DIY flavour intervention, but the pad thai is definitely on the bland side, and needs some help.

Barramundi and red curry paste cakes
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Spicy poached prawn salad
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Slow cooked duck leg red curry
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Deserts are nicely put together but strangely served on a scrap paper with parts of the menu.

Coconut jelly with young coconut
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Tapioca and pandan pudding with mango sorbet
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The staff are very friendly but on that particular day needed to up their game a little on attentiveness; I can imagine that on a very busy Friday or Saturday night there could be some frustration. I also think the serves are are on the small side for the pricing, especially the plates they name as Sharing/Larger. But they do have a $15 lunch special which is a dish plus a glass of wine which looks like good value.

Is it the best Thai street food you’ll find in Australia – no its not. But would I sit here by the river on a nice day for a relaxing Friday lunch, absolutely.

Bangpop, 35 South Wharf Promenade (off Dukes Walk), South Wharf ph (03) 9245 9800

BangPop on Urbanspoon

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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