Campari House: She’ll be Apples

Things I’ve learnt: You’ve drank far too much cider when you start talking to strangers about chicken vaginas.

As part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival winter roast series, Campari House again had a set dinner. You may remember that last year we went there for A Toast to Campari House roasts, where we had five courses matched with wine.

This year, Alastair, Bro and I roped in Maria and Daz again and headed to Campari House. This year’s dinner was based around apples and pork, with three savoury courses, one dessert and lots and lots of cider from Kelly Brothers.

Omah’s: Crab, crab, crab

When we want crab, we’re serious. Recently, I was in a group of 10 that went to Omah’s Restaurant in Port Melbourne on a very cold evening with one aim: eat crab until we could eat no more.

Omah’s has been in Port Melbourne for several years, selling Malaysian cuisine (they recently opened a branch in Hawthorn). The restaurant’s decor is inspired by 1950’s Malaysian tea houses, with dark furniture on the floor and wooden birdcages hanging from the ceiling. During the day it would be bright and airy as there are floor to ceiling windows looking out to Rouse Street, however in the evening the lighting was turned way down low – always a food blogger’s nightmare.

Provincial Hotel: Porkfest

Pork is very common in Chinese cooking. And when my mum cooks, she puts pork in almost everything. When she’s cooking a vegetable dish she will normally add strips of pork, even when she’s already serving a couple of meat dishes. When making Chinese soups, she normally adds pork meat or bones. It would be pretty hard to be a non pork eater (or a vegetarian!) in her house.

I, however, very, very rarely cook pork. It’s not that I don’t like it – I just don’t like to cook it! So when I see an offer for a pork dinner, I’m all over it like a donkey on a waffle.

Kimberly organised a mini porkfest dinner recently at the Provincial Hotel with some fellow twitterers/bloggers – for $50 we had three courses of pork followed by dessert. The Provincial Hotel surprises me. I’d never eaten there before, despite walking past a thousand times (Alastair and I lived in Fitzroy years ago). It’s the large, beige-yellow building with a terrible case of peeling paint, on the corner of Brunswick Street and Johnston Street. Inside the building is a pub, but also a rather good restaurant.


I have a theory about Donwoori, a Korean restaurant on Victoria Street, North Melbourne (across the road from the Queen Victoria market). It has almost zero online presence: it’s not in the white pages and it’s not listed on Urbanspoon. (Update: it’s there now! But it wasn’t at the time of posting) The only places that I could find Donwoori mentioned was at blah blog blah, a comment that Erwin left on my Wooga post, and on Foursquare. Details are scant though, and I couldn’t find a phone number anywhere.

So my theory about Donwoori is that it doesn’t actually exist in real life. Sure, I’ve been there and eaten there, but it must’ve been because we crossed a portal into an alternate universe. That is surely the only explanation possible – who has zero online presence nowadays?

Comme Kitchen

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.

Essence Restaurant at the Marriott

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.

For other opinions, check out these blogs:

  • I Eat Therefore I Am
  • Almost Always Ravenous
  • 1001 Dinners 1001 Nights
  • Gastrology
  • [googleMap name=”Essence Restaurant at the Marriott Hotel” width=”600″ height=”300″ directions_to=”false”]Corner Exhibition and Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, VIC, Australia[/googleMap]

    Essence Restaurant at the Marriott Hotel
    Corner Exhibition and Lonsdale Street
    Phone: (03) 9660 1183
    Web: essence.melbournemarriott.com.au

    Essence Restaurant at Melbourne Marriott on Urbanspoon

    Cafe Vue: cocktail night

    Isn’t it funny how some experiences feel like they happened yesterday, and how some feel like decades have passed? Looking back at my blog, I can’t believe that we last went to Café Vue for the cocktail night over two years ago. It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago! How did we let so much time go by?

    Bro, Alastair and I went for a return visit recently with Maria and Daz. When Maria made the booking, she was only able to secure us a table outside (if you’ve been there, they’re the tables in the covered alley leading up to the Bistro) but considering how tiny Café Vue is, I thought that was fine.

    When we arrived, it turned out that there were three tables available inside the café. There were four tables sitting in the alley. Hmmm. Four can’t fit into three, so one table had to stay outside. Yes, we were the good table and decided that we would stay outside, which earnt us a glass of bubbles each as thanks. Yay free booze! Fortunately, we received the bubbles before Maria mentioned the waiter’s arse… to his face… otherwise I’m not sure we would’ve had anything! It wasn’t quite as sleazy as it sounds – we were just having a laugh – certainly, the rest of us were laughing rather a lot at Maria! And on balance, talking about his arse was not that bad – a customer sitting inside threw a tanty and called the staff c–ts, so we were angels by comparison. (Thank goodness for Tantrum Man making us seem normal!)


    Campari House: a toast to Campari House roasts

    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.

    Campari House

    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…)

    Cumulus Inc

    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?!

    Cumulus Inc

    Between the five of us, we ordered several dishes to share.

    Cumulus Inc

    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!

    Cumulus Inc

    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.

    Cumulus Inc

    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.

    Cumulus Inc

    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.

    Cumulus Inc

    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.

    Cumulus Inc

    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.

    Cumulus Inc

    The lamb came with lemon and onions, and a big knife to carve it with. Thanks to Maria for carving it up for us!

    Cumulus Inc

    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!

    Cumulus Inc

    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.

    Cumulus Inc

    And Bro had the steamed chocolate pudding with hazelnut toffee and crème fraiche ice cream ($17). He said that it was rich and delicious.

    Cumulus Inc

    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!

    Read about a previous visit to Cumulus Inc here.

    Cumulus Inc
    45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
    (03) 9650 1445

    Cumulus Inc. on Urbanspoon