Above well known pub Duke of Wellington sits Dutchess, a stylish, glamorous restaurant decked out with white leather booths and comfy grey chairs surrounding round wooden tables, that’s meant to summon up thoughts of trendy New York lounge bars.
Disclosure: I dined courtesy of Taxi and Little Big Marketing.
The other weekend I was invited to Taxi to experience their bento lunch. I’m sure Taxi needs no introduction! It’s a very slick restaurant, and I loved the splashes of aqua/turquoise (one of my favourite colours) amongst all the steel and shiny surfaces. Though of course, the best part must be the floor to ceiling windows that make the most of the views out to the Yarra and the city.
Recently I went on a girls’ night out with friends, Emily and Jo. Nothing dodgy of course, just a nice dinner at a semi-flashy restaurant. We went to Comme Kitchen (a 1-hat restaurant in the Good Food Guide, if you’re into that sort of thing), which is located in a beautiful, historical building down a cobblestone laneway. As you walk in, you’re greeted by a grand staircase, and to the right is a large bar area with soaring high ceilings. The dining room, adjacent to the bar and tucked under the staircase, is much smaller and more intimate, only seating about 40 people. (more…)
Disclosure: Alastair and I dined courtesy of Essence Restaurant.
I was invited in for a meal at Essence Restaurant at the Marriott Hotel recently – the publicist said they were inviting bloggers because they wanted to find a new photographer for two (paid) shoots for their 2011 menu. Sounded good to me, so I headed down to check it out with Alastair.
The entrance to Essence Restaurant is located to the side of the Marriott Hotel foyer. It’s a large room, with polished floor boards, and big floor to ceiling windows looking out to Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets.
To start with, we shared some oysters, one of the specials they were running that month. Half of the oysters came out with smoked salmon, feta and dill. Being a person who generally prefers oysters natural, I found the salmon and feta too overpowering for the oysters – it detracted from their natural flavour.
The other half of the oysters were better – coming with a splash of salty, vinegary dressing and a dollop of roe.
For mains, Alastair ordered steak (I think it was the grain fed scotch fillet), which was served with a roast portabello mushroom, vine ripened tomatoes, hand cut fries and red wine jus. He requested it medium rare. Unfortunately, it was cooked to past medium and strangely bland.
I ordered the lamb rump, served with potato fondant, mushroom ragout, green beans and truffle oil. The lamb was nice – the meat was tender and I enjoyed the mushroom sauce that came with it.
However, the potato was strange. It was really gluggy and tasteless. Poor potato.
On to desserts. Alastair’s dessert, a chocolate fondant with macerated strawberries and ice cream, was a special that month that the waiter recommended. A different waiter brought it to the table and tried to give it to me. I had to hold back a snicker, because I’m not surprised they thought it was mine – it was a rather girly looking dessert!
As you can see, when the fondant came to the table it was still in the silicon heart mould, which I thought looked a bit strange. And the centre of the fondant was cooked through – sadly, no flowing chocolate core for Alastair.
I had the baked cheesecake with cinnamon poached pear, sticky wine syrup and a dollop of cinnamon cream. The cheesecake tasted nice, however I found the texture was very heavy and dense – too much so for my tastes.
Overall, I thought the food was okay but not terribly exciting. While the presentation of the food was good, unfortunately most of the dishes we tried had an aspect that marred them. And with mains at around the $30 mark, I would expect more consistency if I was paying.
Alastair remarked that our meal reminded him of eating at hotel restaurants on business trips, and it does have that hotel restaurant ambiance and feel. To be fair, it could be completely different on a busier evening. We were there on a Tuesday night and it was VERY quiet. We were seated by the windows, and besides us there would have been literally three other tables. During our meal, only about four other diners came in – people who were obviously lone business travellers. Essence is quite a large restaurant and I felt that the atmosphere suffered because it was so quiet. I wonder if there is a way to screen off parts of the room on quieter nights to make it seem cozier and less like sitting in an empty restaurant.
I’ve found it very hard to write this post because I don’t want to be unduly harsh but nor do I want to gloss over the negatives. I know that running a restaurant is hard work, and I applaud people who cook night after night for others – I couldn’t do it! However, I do feel that Essence could be improved. More consistency in what comes out would be a good start. Beyond that it would be nice to see more innovation in the food, or something more to spark some interest, to elevate it past an average hotel restaurant.
As part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival June roast dinner series, the Boys and I headed to Campari House with Maria and Daz, where we were treated to five grazing courses accompanied by five wines.
When we arrived, all the glasses had been lined up on the table, and we were advised that all the wines would be poured at once. This was so we could taste each one with the different courses and make our own mind up about the wine and food matching. Which was a great idea, with the only problem being that it was a school night… and the wine pours were VERY generous and our glasses were topped up whenever they were nearing empty.
The five wines were:
Blue Pyrenees NV Brut, Blue Pyrenees Savignon Blanc 2009, Sticks Chardonnay 2009, Red Claw Pinot Noir 2008, and Campbells Bobbie Burns Shiraz 2008.
I’m not hugely knowledgeable about wines so I won’t talk about them – except to say that the more I drank, the more I enjoyed them. Isn’t that always the way? Hah. (more…)
Following on from our punny lunch at Cutler & Co, we decided to continue the Andrew O’Connell love and headed to dinner at Cumulus Inc with Maria and Daz from The Gourmet Challenge.
Since Cumulus Inc only takes bookings for large groups, Alastair, Bro and I showed up early in the evening to secure a table. Good thing we did, because it filled up fairly quickly. Although now I realise that with five people, maybe we could have booked?!
Between the five of us, we ordered several dishes to share.
We started with a serve of crispy school prawns, sautéed with chilli and garlic ($14), because we can’t seem to resist school prawns whenever they are on the menu – see exhibit A and exhibit B. They were light and crispy with just a tiny hint of heat and garlic.
Oh and we noticed the table sitting next to us shelling their prawns. Sadness. They missed out on the best part, which also would have happened to be most of the dish!
This was a portion of slow cooked octopus with aioli and dehydrated olive ($10). It was teeny, but the octopus was oh so tender and a very nice little mouthful.
Next we had the foie gras parfait with toasted brioche ($17). The parfait was very rich and smooth, but umm… there were five of us and only four small pieces of toast! We had to ask for a bread refill to finish up the parfait.
Oh, this was gorgeous. So gorgeous. The grass fed steak tartare ($21) was delicious. We mixed in the egg and onions, cornichons etc, and tucked in.
It was served with condiments – normal tabasco, jalapeno tabasco and anchovy sauce. The anchovy sauce came with a little dripper – it was very potent! But the steak tartare was so perfectly seasoned that we found it didn’t need the condiments.
And for mains we had a whole slow roast lamb shoulder ($69). This is really good value for money! It was great too – the meat was so tender and juicy. We shared it between the five of us, and it was the perfect amount of meat. I think it’s a main that is best shared between several people, but we saw a couple a few tables over sharing it between the two of them (as well as sides!) They ate quite a lot of it too – I was rather impressed at their lamb eating prowess.
The lamb came with lemon and onions, and a big knife to carve it with. Thanks to Maria for carving it up for us!
We also had a salad – the cracked wheat and freekah salad with preserved lemon and barberries ($11). Although now that I look at all these pictures, I feel like we should’ve ordered some vegetables or greens.
And then – dessert!
Alastair and I shared the pear sorbet with burnt butter shortbread and almond milk ($16). This is one of the best desserts I have eaten in ages. The sorbet was intensely peary, cold, smooth and slick. I loved the super butteriness of the shortbread and the almond milk was soft, resembling a panna cotta.
And Bro had the steamed chocolate pudding with hazelnut toffee and crème fraiche ice cream ($17). He said that it was rich and delicious.
For second dessert (as you do) we all had a madeleine filled with lemon curd ($2.50 each). The slightly crisp crust lead into a fluffy, cakey biscuit that was filled with tangy lemon curd… drool. They came to the table still warm, and were gone very quickly. Next time I think I might be tempted to order two per person!
In case you can’t tell, we loved our meal at Cumulus Inc – actually much more than our lunch at Cutler & Co. It’s obvious why Cumulus Inc has so many fans – and you can count me as one of them!
In May, Provenance in Collingwood held one of their semi-regular seasonal produce events. The latest was an autumn degustation to celebrate local pears, held over three evenings, with 7 courses for $75 and matched wines for an additional $22. Alastair and I rounded up Dany for a peary peariffic evening.
The first course was a Gorgonzola dolce pannacotta with salt pear coulis and crispy prosciutto. Interestingly, the panna cotta was fizzy on the tongue, which was a bit distracting. Apart from the fizziness, it was rich and creamy and sharp with the Gorgonzola, which I really enjoyed with the sweet pear coulis.
Next up was a pear tarte tatin with parmesan crisp, watercress, and rocket pesto. This was a gorgeous little tart – good flakey, buttery pastry and sweet pear. While the pear was sweet it wasn’t a dessert dish and managed to find that balance. The rocket pesto was a tad too bitter for my tastes, so I left most of it.
After the tarte tatin, we received a whole quail that had been partially boned, with a pear and pecan farce on cavalo nero and jus gras. This was the best savoury course of the evening. Thankfully the quail had been partially boned, so it was tender and easy to eat. The pear and pecan stuffing was great and the cavalo nero helped cut through the richness of the meat and jus.
This was a pear and Roquefort millefeuille with walnuts. Instead of pastry layers, slices of crunchy pear were used, with dabs of Roquefort in between and a bit of lemon zest on top. This was fantastic, and yet so simple.
The final savoury course was described as a partridge in a pear tree. On the plate was partridge breast that had been braised in pear cider, served with pear confit, and a few pear and ginger tortellini. The partridge wasn’t quite as nice as the quail, and the pear was strangely salty. I quite liked the pear and ginger tortellini.
The first of the desserts was a caramel pear pudding with double cream. This was a wonderful dessert, perfect for winter and cold nights and deserved to be eaten while sitting by a fire. Gorgeous! It was a real comfort pudding – soft, cinnamony goodness in a cup.
And finally, our last course and second dessert was coffee assiette – espresso poached pear, a rich, dark chocolate espresso mousse, and “pear-fogato” (ahh, we love a pun in this house. Sad but true.).
The espresso poached pear was decorated to look like a Xmas pudding, with the white chocolate and fried mint leaf on top – ahh so cute! It was a bit hard to eat with a spoon though as the white chocolate was very hard to break. And the espresso for the pear-fogato was REALLY strong. I wish I hadn’t poured it over the ice cream and just eaten the ice cream plain.
We had a great time, although at four hours it was a long night. The timing at the beginning seemed a bit slow, but thankfully things picked up at the end.
We went to Cutler & Co for a leisurely Sunday lunch recently with Maria and Daz from The Gourmet Challenge. On Sundays Cutler & Co have a set menu for $65, which we thought was a great opportunity to try them out.
The fit out of the restaurant is quite stunning, the long room kitted out in dark tones and with a rather flash automatic door to the loos. We were particularly taken with the industrial looking lights with a super long filament that hung above the tables.
There were four courses for the set lunch. We received all of the dishes listed for the first two courses, and then for mains and desserts we selected one dish each from several options.
We started with three small dishes: French breakfast radishes, Clair de Lune oysters, and cured ocean trout toast.
Bro started us off on our punny lunch by saying that the radishes were radiscal. Oh dear. I can’t say that the jokes improved from there, but I have recorded them for prosperity anyway! Apart from being radiscal, the rather cute, little crunchy radishes were mild in flavour.
The oysters were lovely. Served raw with a squirt of lemon, they were fresh and sweet.
The ocean trout toast was also delicious, with little cubes of ocean trout on top of the crispy toast. In Bro’s words: it was troutriffic.
The bread was so good that everyone had second or third servings.
Next we received a selection of starters to share.
This was beetroot salad with goat’s curd and apple. It was really nice – seemingly simple, but the little beets were sweet and tender, and fortunately for us non-goat-cheese lovers, the goat’s curd was only a little bit “goaty”. It looked beautiful as well.
We received a bowl of pearl barley with radicchio and ricotta salata. I quite liked the firmish barley with the salted ricotta and radicchio, although it wasn’t very popular around the table.
The next dish was garlic sausage, potato and ravigot. This perked us all up after the barley. Bold and salty sausage and a bit of potato. Nice.
Next up: FRIED GREEN TOMATOES. Fried green tomatoes, people! Does anyone remember the movie? I have waited years to eat fried green tomatoes! They were great – crumbed slices of slightly tart green tomato on top of what I think may have been eggplant. I loved the little frying pans they were presented in as well.
The last dish before mains was peppers, migas and tuna mayo. This was another nice dish – the peppers were sweet, the bread was crispy, and while the tuna mayonaise sounded strange at first, we all loved it. Alastair said that it was a-mayonaising. Pun of the day!
For mains, there was an option of four dishes:
Alastair had the local line caught snapper, tomato, prawn and chorizo. It looked pretty good, particularly the big bursty prawn underneath the fish.
Bro and Daz had the roast quail, smoked sausage and sauerkraut. The sauerkraut was served separately in a small pot and it was really something – WOW HELLO PORKY PORK – there was nothing sour about that sauerkraut! (ba bow). It was all bacon porky goodness. Poor boys though, they had the biggest appetites and they received the teeniest dish!
Maria and I both had the braised lamb, buckwheat polenta and gremolata. The lamb was very tender although a bit fatty. I liked the soft polenta and the dark wilted greens too.
The fourth mains option was a baked ricotta, eggplant Calabrese and fennel salad, which none of us ordered.
And for dessert, there were three options.
Bro and Alastair both had the Earl Grey tea ice cream, chocolate ganache, and macerated prune. I had a little taste and thought it was delicious, and I adored the faint floral bergamot fragrance of the Earl Grey ice cream. Bro said that the ganache was also great, although I didn’t try it.
Maria and I both had the quince baba, sheep’s milk yoghurt and cherry. I found the baba a little dry – it was nice, but I was expecting it to be drenched in something. The quinces were gorgeous though. I wouldn’t have minded a massive bowl of just the quinces with the yoghurt!
And Daz had… oh Daz… he selected the Gruyere d’Alpage
and shiraz jelly (which I neglected to take a photo of – because I was in fits of laughter). Why was I in fits of laughter? Because Daz had been expecting dessert… and received cheese and crackers and a teeny dollop of jelly. Oh we laughed at the disappointment on his face (sorry Daz!). If I had been quicker off the mark, I could’ve said, “Gryuere’s your dessert?” (bah bow!) but unfortunately I only thought of that one at home. Isn’t that always the way it goes.
We finished off with a round of coffees, which saw us all whip out our phones and google coffee puns. Really, really, REALLY terrible coffee puns ie if you drink a lot of coffee, you’ll be in a latte trouble.
Dear oh dear. Apologies for the terrible puns. At least they kept us amused during lunch. Speaking of lunch, I think the Sunday lunches at Cutler & Co are a definite goer. There were lots of staff working that day – there seemed to be about twenty on the floor – so we didn’t have any issues with service. Apart from a few minor things, overall the food was good (although not mind blowing) and good value for the quality of the dishes. We really enjoyed ourselves and I would be keen to spend a lazy Sunday eating there again.
During the week of eating that we had while my in laws, Annette and Terry, were in town, we went to the Ron Mueck exhibition at the NGV. (My posts are all out of order, but never mind). Has anyone gone to see the exhibition? Wasn’t it fantastic? And if you haven’t gone, it’s closing this weekend, so quick sticks!
I’m so glad we went, as I loved it. My favourite sculpture was the little old ladies above. Dead Dad (photo at the top) was also fantastic, and I also loved Drift below).
If you have time this weekend – go go go.
After the exhibition, we had lunch at Persimmon. It was Annette and Terry’s last day in Melbourne, so we were hoping for a good last meal with them. I was pretty confident that Persimmon wouldn’t disappoint.
We were given some warm rolls while we decided what to eat. On the board was a selection – brioche, caramelised shallot and pumpkin seed rolls.
For starters, Bro ordered a serve of the soft shell school prawns, with garlic and herb aioli ($15), intending to share it with the table. Everyone else ordered their own starter… and then we ordered ANOTHER serve of the prawns. Greedy, but to be fair, the prawns were great – crunchy, and intensely prawny flavoured.
I had the olive oil poached veal carpaccio, with quail’s eggs, sweetbreads and rocket ($18). The meat was very tender and rare, and I loved the little fried quail’s eggs and sweetbreads.
Alastair had the salmon “mi cuit” with avocado, beetroot & horseradish ($17). Thank goodness for internet enabled phones, we had to google “mi cuit” (which means half/semi cooked). This looked really good, and I loved the teeny little beetroot pieces.
Annette had the chicken liver parfait, apples, pears, raisins & capers and toasted brioche ($26). I didn’t try any, but it sounded like it was a good dish.
Terry ordered the snail’s tempura with pearl barley risotto, parsley and garlic ($17). This was the most interesting dish out of all of them! I tried a bit of a snail, and while it was good, I’m not sure this is a dish I would ever order.
Time for mains. Terry and I both had the lamb’s loin, lamb shoulder, vegetables Provencale and jus gras ($30). Underneath the leaning tower of lamb’s loin slices was a crumbed square of braised lamb shoulder, which I swear tasted almost like something Bro and I used to eat back in New Zealand (a lasagna square for any kiwis out there who remember them!). Oh the memories! Even without the food flashback, I really enjoyed my dish. A fair bit of meat, but it was done well with great flavour.
Alastair and Bro had the scotch fillet, which came with broccoli, white onion & garlic jam, potato crisps and smoked salt ($35). The broccoli was actually pureed – that green bit on the plate. The crisps were behind the greenery, but I think the white onion and garlic jam hadn’t made an appearance on their plates. That, or it was in disguise.
Annette had the butternut pumpkin gnocchi with onions, macadamias, capers and bontazola ($26). This looked absolutely delicious.
It was recommended that we order sides, so we selected a salad and green beans. I particularly loved the beans which still had a bit of firm crunch but weren’t squeaky.
was fantastic. And this was true even before the story I’ll tell you in the next paragraph. Our waitress was happy and cheery, and friendly without being OTT. One example – we looked at the dessert menu after our mains, and noticed that some of the desserts had pop rocks. And we discovered that Annette and Terry had never tried pop rocks before (I know, we couldn’t believe it either!). When our waitress come back, we decided not to order dessert but made a passing comment about Annette and Terry’s lack of pop rock experience. And so she insisted that we HAD to try some and came back with a little bowl of pop rocks for us! The left hand side had honey flavoured pop rocks, and the right had chocolate covered ones. Pop rocks go posh!
Okay, so here’s my story. We had a lovely bottle of wine with our mains, a Stefano Lubiana Merlot 2005, and I only remember this because when the sommelier (I believe) came to the table to refill our glasses with the bottle, Annette and Terry requested that I take a photograph of it. And somehow that lead to them outing me as a food blogger (facepalm).
So it may have been due to the blog that we received the following…. complimentary dessert! Which was a peanut butter parfait, with caramelised banana, marshmallow and pistachio ice cream. And chocolate pop rocks – I can’t forget the pop rocks! I have a deep, enduring love affair with peanut butter so it’s no surprise that I loved dessert.
We had such a lovely meal and it was the perfect finale to Annette and Terry’s visit.
We started with a tour of the kitchen, which might sound dull to non food lovers, but to a whole gaggle of food bloggers, a kitchen tour is a VERY EXCITING THING (yes, so exciting it deserves caps!). The kitchen is open to guests, so people eating at Collins Kitchen can go for a wander and watch the chefs at work at the five cooking stations – sushi, deli, wok, grill and patisserie.
We oohed and ahhed at the fresh ingredients on display, the sexy red meat cutting machine in the deli section, and all the super shiny clean surfaces. Whoever cleans that kitchen – please come and clean mine!
In the wok section, there were two turbo jet wok burners. When they turned on, they sounded like a jet taking off. I didn’t take a photo of them because I was transfixed with a serious case of lust over the burners – I WANT.
There was also a steaming station for fresh dim sum with artfully arranged steamer lids. I wonder who has the job of arranging items in the kitchen in an attractive way?
And now for some food pics! We started with a sushi/sashimi platter. It was all very fresh and good. The fresh wasabi was amazing.
And you can bet that I totally ninjaed the unagi – yum!
Next up was the antipasto platter with rockmelon, prosciutto, liverwurst, mini gherkins, deli meats, roasted vegetables, and tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella and basil. I didn’t try everything on this platter, but the liverwurst was fantastic, all smooth and rich.
The tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella and basil were also very good.
Next was a tomato, olive and basil foccacia, very so cheesey and soft. I restrained myself to only one piece because I knew there was lots more to come.
Moving along, we received a plate of Asian roast meats with roast pork, roast duck, soy sauce chicken and char siu. I only tried the crispy pork and char siu, but from other reports I should have tried the chicken as well! I thought the crispy pork and char siu weren’t bad, though the crispy pork could’ve been crispier.
There were sauces to go with the roast meats – plum sauce, chilli sauce and a ginger and spring onion one.
As well as a plate of Asian vegetables, which I didn’t eat because I was trying to keep some stomach space spare.
With the roast meats, there was also received a plate of fried rice. The rice was fine, and this is probably just me, but I would normally never eat fried rice with other dishes. To me, fried rice is a meal in itself. So I was kind of wanting plain rice with the roast meats….!
And now for the big guns…. this was the grainfed porterhouse steak, which had been aged for 30 days on the bone, and grilled to medium rare. This was some gorgeous steak, tender and full of flavour.
The steak was served with creamy, buttery, mashed potato, very tasty mushrooms, broccolini and a couple of sauces – a red wine reduction and bernaise.
And finally to end the savoury courses, there was also a mixed seafood platter with grilled scallops, salmon, tuna, Moreton Bay Bugs and large prawns. The sweet, plump scallops were a highlight, as were the Moreton Bay Bugs.
For dessert, a gorgeous looking dessert platter came out. On the platter was a banana millefeuille, chocolate fondant, and various flavours of ice cream – pistachio, passionfruit, strawberry and vanilla. The pastry in the millefeuille was particularly good, and I adored the pistachio the most out of all the ice cream flavours.
And on the other side was a rhubarb crumble with custard and peach melba. I actually thought the peach melba was a pannacotta until I dipped my spoon into it and found it very runny. No one seemed particularly enthused about the peach melba, poor little dessert! Too retro for us??
As you can see, there was a lot of food! The only part that was a bit disconcerting was jumping from one cuisine to another to another, but I realise that was so we experienced a cross selection of dishes on the menu. And I soon got over the cuisine changes once the plates of food were placed in front of me. 😉 It was fantastic to spend the night chatting to fellow food bloggers, so a big thanks to Nuffnang and the Grand Hyatt for the evening!
Disclosure: I dined courtesy of the Grand Hyatt and Nuffnang.
Collins Kitchen, Grand Hyatt 123 Collins Street Melbourne VIC 3000 Phone: (03) 9657 1234