Friday, 1 June 2012

The Royal Mail Hotel

Scoring three hats is no small feat in Australia’s culinary scene. In fact, only four Victorian restaurants have managed to achieve this coveted rating: Melbourne’s Vue de Monde, Attica and Jacques Reymond continue to impress urban gourmands, while the fourth, the Royal Mail Hotel in the state’s west, attracts diners searching for a different kind of gastronomic adventure.  And they’re prepared to travel overland for it.  Executive chef Dan Hunter has taken a humble dining room at the Royal Mail Hotel to The Age Good Food Guide Restaurant of the Year 2011 in just four years, and this year took home the Guide’s Chef of the Year award. So, given all this, it’s safe to say that we are more than thrilled to be setting off to Dunkeld for a weekend of nothing but amazing food, wine … and perhaps a little walking.

After an easy three-hour drive we arrive in Dunkeld, the gateway to the Grampians.  The town itself is tiny – no more than 600 residents –but it oozes charm and offers picture-perfect views of Mt Sturgeon. We check into our room at the Royal Mail Hotel then take a quick walk in the crisp country air before settling in by the fire with a glass of wine. Before we know it, the moment we’ve been waiting for has arrived:  a 10-course degustation dinner at the hotel restaurant!

The service is impeccable; from the moment we walk in, we are guided to our table and presented with water, napkins, menus and bread – performed as an elegant, seamless dance by the waiters. We decide against the matched wine option and instead order a bottle of chardonnay, which is quickly fetched from the cellar, brought to room temperature (and here I am putting my white in the freezer to get that extra chill!) and poured into beautiful large Riedel chardonnay glasses. 

The freshly baked sourdough rolls and homemade smoked butter is our first insight into the treats that lay ahead.  This butter is just divine, the salty smokiness is simply moreish and as I apply and extra layer after layer I erases all thoughts of calorie counting this evening!

 The act of receiving each course is a work of art in itself. Two waiters swiftly collect a plate each from the pass and take their place beside you; once the plate has been served, one waiter will retreat, leaving the more senior of the two to describe the dish you are about to eat. And so we begin…

1.       rice paper, finger lime and salmon roe; rainbow trout, coffee, black treacle;
      chicken crisp
2.       tomato and prawn, cinnamon basil, daikon ice
3.       pancetta and spanner crab, rye cream, candied radish
4.       egg yolk and new potatoes, salt cod, fish crackling
5.       sand flathead and tomatillo, mustard, toasted nori
6.       eel and bone marrow, eggplant, pickled vegetables
7.       pigeon, salsify and medlar, cabbage braised in pecorino
8.       fallen fruit – apple, almond, caramel, chamomile
9.       burnt plum, pumpkin and aniseed
10.   pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb, chocolate

Top thee dishes:
3. Course eight: fallen fruit – apple, almond, caramel, chamomile
A beautiful dish not only on the plate but also the palette. A small poached and semi-dried apple filled with almond cream sits on a bed of caramel, surrounded by wafer-thin pastry crisps. Taken all together, it’s like the best homemade apple pie you’ve ever tasted!

2. Course four: egg yolk and new potatoes, salt cod, fish crackling
WOW. The yolk is served whole, perched on top of the soft potato and cod and garnished with lovely salty fish crackling. I slice open the yolk with my knife and the warm golden liquid covers the bowl. Each mouthful is rich, soft and creamy with a added little crunch from the crackling.

1. Course ten: pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb, chocolate
AMAZING. For the committed sweet tooth, this is it; the ultimate dessert. Hazelnut mousse –lighter-than-air yet densely velvety, all in one contradictory mouthful – and luscious chocolate ice cream sprinkled with chunks of honeycomb and pistachio … it really is the perfect end to what has been an extraordinary culinary adventure.

A new experience: Course two: tomato and prawn, cinnamon basil, daikon ice
To me this dish epitomises gastronomy in my mind. The unique combination of textures – raw prawn flesh and ice shavings – is one I find a little challenging and, while the flavour is fresh, clean and intriguing, I cannot decide if I am in fact in love with or have perhaps fallen out with this dish. 

Not to my taste: Course six: eel and bone marrow, eggplant, pickled vegetables
One of the stranger dishes on tonight’s menu and, although I enjoyed the flavours, I found the texture of both the eel and the bone marrow slightly off-putting. The bone marrow is so rich that you only need the slightest amount; I found it quite overpowering and a little sickly.

As our long evening of decadence draws to a close, I reflected on the service, which is second-to-none, and the technical precision in the open kitchen that turns out edible works of art crafted from local produce and highlighting the best of the region. The restaurant itself, however, is a little on the stuffy side – so quiet that you find yourself whispering to each other and, despite the prestige of the restaurant, there is no real demarcation  between it and the bistro directly next door, other than a change in floor covering.

As we head out into the cold country air and begin strolling the 50m to our hotel room, I am in blissful awe of Dunkeld and the little food mecca that is the Royal Mail Hotel. 

18 O’s out of 20

Thursday, 3 May 2012


16 Meyers Place, Melbourne
I am instantly intrigued: the neon street sign invites me in and promises to take me on a journey away from the laneways of Melbourne to the madness that is Mexico City.

And madness is certainly a word I would use to describe Señoritas: the restaurant is dimly lit, though the space is alive with colour; gothic artworks and Mexican religious iconography create a strong sense of light verses dark.  This unique interior has been created by Melbourne interior design consultancy Lombard & Jack, who have taken inspiration from the Mexican tradition of “Dia de Muertos” (Day of Dead) and pays homage to Mexican women and their iconic status. The space is fresh, modern and exciting and I can’t wait to see where this journey will take me tonight.
Head chef Hugo Reyes has designed a menu that is both authentic to his Mexican heritage, selecting traditional dishes from the Oaxaca and the Yucatan Peninsula regions, and contemporary to modern food trends. Seated, with wine in hand, we make our first order of the evening:  corn sautéed with onion and epazote (a Mexican herb), served with mayonnaise, queso fresco, chile piquin and lime, and two thick (but tiny) hand-made tortillas topped with poached duck, tamarind mole sauce and queso fresco. Unlike the corn at nearby rival Mamasita, it is not served on the cob; this time the kernels have been removed then seasoned with the tongue-tingling herb, but the flavour is essentially the same: yum! The home-made tortillas are great, thick and well seasoned and a perfect introduction to the tacos we are about to order.
Our tacos arrive one by one: grilled prawn with black refried beans, fresh tomato, avocado, chipotle mayonnaise and Mexican rice; slow-roasted Mexican-style pork with pickled onions and habaňero salsa; and, my personal favourite, confit of hapuka fish with Spanish onion, guacamole, coriander and fresh lime. Although it sounds like a lot, the portions are very small – not your everyday stand-and-stuff from mean Old El Paso. The flavours are there but, unlike other regional cuisines such as Thai or Vietnamese, they do not burst into life; they are far more subtle. But bland, no.
For our last dish of the day we opt for the free-range chicken breast with mole poblano, Mexican rice, refried beans and a cheese and sesame wafer. Mole poblano is a traditional Mexican sauce made from a stunning 20 ingredients, including chocolate and a variety of chillies.  Despite this, the dish is neither overly spicy nor sweet. The sauce, however, is very strong in flavour and I can imagine it may not be for everyone. I certainly enjoyed it –and, mixed with the chicken and Mexican rice, it was a great way to end the evening.
I pause for a moment to take in the eclectic restaurant around me, now full of diners enjoying a small taste of Mexico, and, although I have never visited the region, I can’t help but feel that Señoritas has really captured the essence of that enchanting city.  

Rated 14.5 O's out of 20
Señoritas on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

San Telmo

14 Meyers Place, Melbourne
In the last six months, Myers Place – a quiet, unassuming Melbourne laneway – has burst into life with the addition of three new restaurants, each bidding for a place in Melbourne’s dynamic dining scene.
Tonight we have opted for San Telmo, an Argentinian parrilla named after one of the barrios (neighbourhoods) in Buenos Aires. The restaurant is inspired by the traditional steak houses of Argentina and the owner’s love of the country and its culture, food and wine. Having been lucky enough to experience the Buenos Aires lifestyle for myself, I admit that my excitement and expectations are high as we make our way through the city streets this Friday evening.
Walking in, I am immediately transported back: the smoky aroma from the 2.5m parrilla (chargrill) filling the room, the black and white tiles that line the floor, dark wooden furnishings and leather upholstery, floor-to-ceiling wine racks, cow hides and large mirrors filling the vacant wall space – all reminiscent of the parrillas of old. I am particularly taken by the use of old jars and bottles filled with lights that hang in small clusters in an interesting take on the classic chandelier.
We take our place amongst the bustling diners and, without hesitation, order a bottle of Mendoza Malbec; it is smooth and velvety, a perfect complement for the meal ahead. Our waiter explains that in keeping with tradition, the menu has been designed to share, so with her instructions in mind we start ordering: pita bread with olive oil and pickled eggplant and two varieties of empanada – beef, egg & olive and provolone, mozzarella, basil & capsicum. The empanadas are a must: the traditional fillings are bursting with flavour and served steaming hot. A perfect way to begin
And so to the mains. Warned by the waiter that the portions are small, the four of us decide on the chorizo argentino, calamari, beef short ribs and the entraña – a 300g hanger steak – with side dishes of grilled capsicum with egg, beans & olives, crispy potato galette and grilled zucchini, eggplant & roast garlic, all cooked on the chargrill. Delish! By cooking each component on the parrilla, the fire and smoke create a new depth of flavour, authentic to the traditional Argentinian menu.
The evening passes in a steady flow of Melbec, conversation, laughter and great food, just as it did on our holiday in Buenos Aires. In my eyes, San Telmo has captured the essence of Argentina and its proud dining culture.

Rated 16.5 O's out of 20

San Telmo on Urbanspoon

Friday, 25 November 2011

Colonel Tans

I felt slightly hesitant as we walked down Chapel St and up the stairs to Melbourne’s iconic 24-hour night club Revolver.  Its only 7pm on a Friday night and no, we are not trying to beat the lines, instead we have a booking with friends for dinner at the quirky Colonel Tans restaurant, located on the upper level of the club.  
Colonel Tans is the inspiration of Karen Batson, head chef of renowned inner city gastro-bars Cookie and The Toff in Town. Serving a cultural mix of traditional Thai and American Diner treats, the restaurant’s menu is a mixed and muddled as the decor in which you enjoy it.  The room is lit with an orange glow while guests sit happily around dinette dining sets covered with plastic floral table cloths, circa the 1950s. The walls are lined with a miss mash of vintage pictures, post cards, photos and scraps of images, most of which were probably found during numerous Sunday afternoon visits to the Chapel St Bazaar next door.  The atmosphere is laid back and offbeat.
As we cheers to Friday evening and chatter over the loud buzz of the restaurant and music streaming from next door, we decide it is time to eat.  Pondering over the menu items, which includes Bangkok bolognaise and tofu burgers, we keep it safe and order the Rendang Chicken Curry Dip with Roti Bread, Corn Fritters with Sweet Chilli, Deep Fried Chilli Squid and Chicken & Kaffir Lime Nuggets with Cucumber Relish. While the corn fritters and squid were on par to expectations, the stand out for me tonight is the nuggets. A new take on the traditional ingredients and flavours of a Thai fish cake, dipped in the cucumber relish they are delish… who would have guessed.
The drinks are flowing as we settle into the evening and the Colonel Tan vibe around us as we order our mains. This time sticking to the traditional we choose the Green Chicken Curry with Rice & Salted Egg Salad, Penang Lamb Curry with Rice & Eggplant Salad, Stir Fried Beef Basil with Eggplant & Chilli and Stir Fried Chicken with Wild Ginger & Black Mushrooms. The curries are just what I was after, rich, creamy and bursting with spice! The ginger chicken has a refreshing ginger bite although is a little lack lustre compared to the others but the beef basil is what leaves us all talking. Instead of your regular sizzling plate of beef strips, vegetables and basil we are served a small bowl of grainy minced beef? The flavour was definitely there although it was the texture of the dish that threw us off.
Full and content we order the bill. Although Colonel Tans prides itself on being fun and affordable with main dishes averaging around the $16 mark, they can certainly catch you with the drinks bill. Watch out for the novelty of Peronie on tap because it will cost you more than you’re starter at $14 a pint. 
As the band starts up down stairs we take our cue and make our way out into the warm November evening, bidding farewell to each other and the eccentric Colonel Tans. 

11 O’s out of 20

229 Chapel St, Prahran

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Jalan Double Six, Seminyak
The evening is warm and the humidity clings in the air and on our skin as we make our way along the streets of Bali to Sarong Restaurant. It is relatively quiet for Bali, just on the tail end of school holiday madness, however as we arrive at one of Seminyaks most popular eating destinations we decide that most of Bali must actually be here! The restaurant is alive with exotic aromas and the buzz of holiday makers enjoying guilt free mid week cocktails. 
Sarong is a cool, calm, oasis of luxurious decor, inspiring cocktails and food that you can’t help but talk about for days after. Soft lighting, dark mahogany tables accompanied by provincial arm chairs and low back couches overflowing with cushions, chandeliers and a sea of floral displays work together to create an unforgettable dining experience.
Before we are seated for dinner we perch ourselves at the bar and sample some of the more exotic and exciting cocktails I have tried during my time in Bali. I start with a mango and pomegranate mojito…. I am instantly in love. This is followed by a Sarong Crush, lemon meringue pie in a glass…. sweet, sickly and delicious!
The menu at Sarong is a delicious mix of Asian and Indian classics. We order a serve of the Vietnamese caramalized duck with young coconut juice black pepper & fresh lime; Tandoori butter chicken with cashew nuts ginger & tomato sauce; Phanang curry of wagyu beef cheek with chili Thai basil & crushed peanuts and Lamb korma with cardamon ginger cashewnuts & garam masala.
The caramalised duck is sticky and sweet with a golden crunch on the outer skin that covers the delicate rich meat within. The tandoori butter chicken, always a must on my Indian wish list, is a perfect combination of cream, chard tomato and tandoori and the meat dishes are each cooked perfectly with the lamb and wagu beef breaking away with a light touch of the fork. No Indian feast should be without garlic nann bread to mop up the excess sauce, which is exactly what we do before sitting back and basking in the feast we have just devoured.
The quality of food in Bali has evolved over the years, with more and more restaurateurs making their mark on one of Australia’s favourite holiday destinations.  The number of unique and mouth watering dining experiences in Seminyak, along with my wish list, is ever expanding and Sarong is no doubt one of the best I have tried.
17 O's out of 20

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Giant Steps / Innocent Bystanders

336 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville
Just 64 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD, in the heart of the Yarra Valley, is the beautiful little town of Healsville, a picturesque community that is alive with visitors and locals alike. Healsville also happens to be home to one of my favourite wineries in Victoria, Innocent Bystanders. By taking a quick glance around at the crowd that it draws it appears I am not the only one that has fallen in love with their wine and food and the laid back, casual ambience that is on offer.
The design concept of Innocent Bystanders cellar door and restaurant stems from the Little Creatures enterprise that has spread across the Nullarbor with great success. Innocent Bystanders remains loyal to its roots with the use of a large shed like building with concrete floors and high ceilings. This, combined with glass walls looking into the cellar, creates a perfect atmosphere to enjoy a casual and relaxed afternoon. Great wine needs great food, and sharing the space with the cellar door and restaurant area is an open kitchen and wood-fired pizza oven, artisan bakery, cheese room and provedore. 
It is my third visit today and although there is a large menu on offer, in my eyes it is all about the pizza, a signature of Innocent Bystander’s and well worth the hours drive!
We start by ordering a bottle of Pinot and a couple of Little Creatures beers for the boys, yes that’s right; they serve beer which is a rare gem amongst wineries. After this it is straight onto the pizzas and feeling puckish, we decide on four to share and wait with eager anticipation for them to arrive.
The order reads as follows:
1 x Pumpkin pizza with roasted garlic, barrel aged feta, walnuts and parsley;
1 x Calabrese salami, san marzano tomato, oregano & buffalo mozzarella;

1 x Italian buffalo mozzarella, san marzano tomato, basil & olive oil; and
1 x Puttanesca ‐ spanish white anchovies, capers, black olives & buffalo mozzarella
Each pizza is cooked to perfection; the sough dough bases are thin and crispy yet also slightly chewy, and have been rolled in semolina to give them an extra dimension of texture. The san marzano tomato sauce, the melting Shaw River buffalo mozzarella and the fresh, local herbs bring each pizza to life and I can’t seem to stop. YUM.
Taking our time to enjoy the afternoon we order a cheese tasting plate served with apple jelly, walnuts & Parisian baguette as well as the goat’s curd cheese cake with a strawberry salad & pistachio nut praline for the sweet tooth amongst us. The cheese is matured in-house and the accompaniments are also all made on the premises, they really have thought of everything.
Unfortunately the time does come to leave and once again I bid a reluctant farewell. With a full tummy and a happy heart we head back to Melbourne. While on the drive home I quickly flick through my diary to see when next we can visit this lovely little town.
Rated 17 O’s out of 20

Thursday, 22 September 2011

La Baracca Trattoria

T’Gallent Winery
1385 Mornington-Flinders Rd, Main Ridge
Last weekend as the sun began to shine and Melbourne revelled in its first taste of spring for the year we thought it was an opportune time to head south and into the peninsula heartlands. After zig zagging our way through Red Hill, stopping at various places to sample the local cheese, wine and even beer, we arrived at our final destination, T’Gallent Winery.
T’Gallent is a beautiful, rustic, Italian inspired winery. There are two separate areas in which visitors can either sit down and enjoy a bite to eat and a glass of pinot at La Baracca Trattoria, or alternatively try the Spuntino Bar which offers a more casual space and serves homemade pizzas straight from the wood fired oven.
Today we have a booking in the trattoria and after sampling the delicious wines at the cellar door we make our way over and take our place for the afternoon. We have decided on a chardonnay today, not a wine I would typically order but this variety, along with the Pinots, are the stars of the local area and hard to resist on a warm spring day. The restaurant is simple and rustic as is the winery itself. We are seated in a large open room with concrete floors and corrugated tin roof, and I feel as though we are sitting on the veranda of an old country home.
We start by ordering the daily pizza special with a topping of pesto, feta, potatoes, leek and asparagus, an unusual choice for us but a good decision as it is fantastic. The base of the pizza is thin and crispy, the potatoes are soft and seasoned to perfection while the pesto, feta and leek bring the dish to life. I’m not sure where the asparagus was but if forgotten it was not missed.
As we sit and wait for our main meals to arrive we take in the atmosphere of the winery around us, the place is alive with the buzz of people all out enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful wine. One thing is for certain, T’Gallent has a lovely, relaxed vibe and I am suddenly feeling very comfortable.  
Our mains arrive and we eagerly tuck in. Today I have ordered the spinach and ricotta gnocchi with slow-braised duck, mustard fruit and spinach. The portion is quite small and the gnocchi is placed one by one circling the brazed duck with a large amount of thin, gravy like sauce that unfortunately overpowers the rest of the dish. My first impressions are positive but do not knock my socks off. The gnocchi is a little firm for my liking and does not have the same melt in the mouth texture that I was hoping for. The sauce itself is very sweet and as the mustard fruits melt away it becomes quite sickly and I start to understand why the small portion. Also ordered was the pan-seared steak ‘of the moment’ which today is a sirloin accompanied with chats potatoes. The steak is tender but a little over done for the medium that was ordered.
Taking our time we decide to share a desert while we sip on the last of our chardy. We order their take on a lemon meringue pie, a mixture of lemon curd and crushed meringue pieces served in a glass tumbler. The desert is tasty, however, call me old fashioned but I do like the traditional version much more.
It has been a truly relaxed and enjoyable afternoon and as we make our way to the car park, via the pig pen at the rear, I am already looking forward to re-visiting, perhaps this time in the Spuntino Bar for some more of that delicious pizza.
Rates 12 O’s out of 20
La Baracca Trattoria at T'Gallant Winery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


1/11 Collins Street, Melbourne
As the final siren sounded at the MCG and the crowd began to pour out of the oval, we look down at our watches, and, being only 5.30pm, make the decision to walk across to the City and try our luck at getting into Mamasita, one of Melbourne’s current “it” restaurants.
Mamasita has a reputation for being impossible to get a table at, unless you are willing to eat at a time more suitable for your nanna or are prepared to stand your ground on the street below in hope that you will be the next to experience this Mexican phenomenon.
Heading towards Collins St we fear that perhaps we are not the only ones with this idea and as we reach the restaurant we discover that there is already a line snaking down the narrow staircase. The line is not yet spilling onto the street as it often does so we decide to give it a go. It must be our lucky night as there is one table of four available until 7pm and the couple in front of us has been politely refused as the remainder of their dinner party is not yet here. We’re in!
Although it is not even 6pm the restaurant is packed to the brim and the noise of our fellow diner’s bounces loudly around the room, creating an exciting and fun filled atmosphere. We are shown to our table, our coats are taken and our drink orders are filled. The delicious aroma of the Mexican delights being served around us is almost too much to take in and we quickly order some homemade corn chips with guacamole to keep our new found hunger at bay.

Our waitress runs through the menu and we follow her suggestion by ordering a few individual starters and two larger mains to share. First on the list is their famous street style char grilled corn, served on the cob and covered generously in queso (cheese), chipotle mayonnaise & lime. I am a corn fan from way back but Mamasita’s have taken this simple vegetable to a whole new level. I fear I may never be satisfied with the trusty butter and salt combo again, yum!
We also ordered an individual soft shell taco each and a char grilled chicken quesadilla to share. My taco is filled with large juicy marinated prawns that are dusted in a mix of spices and accompanied by habanero chillies and an almond pesto. Around the table the other tacos include the braised pork, pineapple, coriander & white onion as well as the chorizo, cabbage, chipotle, coriander & onion and we all agree with delight that this is no Old El Paso. The quesadilla is perfect for sharing but perhaps lacks the flavour of the two previous dishes and the chicken is a little dry. A note to all dinners; watch out for the hot sauces on the tables! They have some real bite.
We are lost in conversation and caught up in the buzz of the restaurant when our mains arrive. We happily tuck into the black mole with confit chicken, the roasted pumpkin & caramelized onion stuffed tortillas and a side of salad of quinoa, corn, spinach, coriander and chilli. I am still not 100% sure what ‘black mole’ is but the sticky black sauce that covers the rich confit chicken beneath is strong yet delectable. Accompanied by the sweet roasted pumpkin and the fresh crunch of the quinoa the three dishes work in perfect unison.  
With a sense of achievement we regretfully leave our table, making way for the next round of eager patrons, and head out into the city below. The evening is still young, not quite 8pm, but we have had a small win tonight, Mamasita – tick.  
Rated 15 O’s out of 20
Mamasita on Urbanspoon

Friday, 2 September 2011

Yering Station

38 Melba Hwy Yarra Glen
It would be safe to say that wine regions are my very favourite places to explore and I have been known to base my holidays, both locally and internationally, in and around them! Melbourne happens to be blessed with two beautiful wine regions an hour out of the CBD, which anyone from WA will agree, is quite the treat.
This weekend we decided to make the most of these local treasures and venture out of the city to spend a day amongst the vines of the Yarra Valley, sampling the local produce and spoiling ourselves with a long lunch at Yering Station. 
I have visited Yering Station on a number of different occasions and have eaten in the restaurant once before so today my expectations are high. Walking in I am struck by the beautiful view of the valley below that never ceases to impress me, the restaurant has been designed in such a way that its best asset, the stunning panoramic view of endless fields with mountains in the background, is the centre piece of your dining experience and visible form all angles. 
Having sampled the wines on our way in we order a glass of the sparkling brut to start and a bottle of Pinot to follow and we nibble on the salty sour dough, crunchy dukka and olive oil that are all locally produced. Pondering the menu we both order the confit duck and truffle papardelle pasta with lemon thyme, mascarpone and Riesling for entre (yes the pappardelle has got me again), and I am certainly not disappointed. The truffle is fragrant, the duck rich and together with the mascarpone it is a truly decadent way to start the afternoon.
After discovering the delight of rabbit last week I have once again opted for this as my main course; rabbit with artichoke and green olive farce, cavolo nero, pine nuts, citrus jus. Also ordered is the crusted veal osso bucco with braising jus, sage polenta, rocket, pecorino and white anchovy salad. This is not your traditional osso bucco, but rather an exciting take on the Italian delight. The chef has taken the slow cooked meat, crumbed, fried and reconstructed the veal and the final result is just mouth watering. The succulent, full bodied flavour of the meat is a pure pleasure to eat and leaves you wanting just one more bite. The rabbit is roasted perfectly and the meat is tender, however I have to admit to a bad case of food envy. 
Maybe it’s the country air or perhaps the delicious yarra valley wines but the afternoon passes in a relaxed haze. Yering Station has once again not disappointed and as we make the short drive back to the city I smile, the day has been a perfect escape.

Rated 14 O’s out of 20
Yering Station on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Union Dining

272 Swan Street, Richmond
As the week finally came to a close I was looking forward to a quiet date night in neighbouring Richmond, a suburb I have rarely eaten in despite its close proximity and abundance of restaurants.
Union Dining is relatively new on the Melbourne dinner scene and has already received a well deserved pat on the back by reviewers and diners alike. Serving up a mix of French inspired culinary delights, Union Dining captures the class and elegance of the French culture while leaving the pretence at the door.
Walking in I was taken aback by the large space of the room, it almost felt odd as I have become so accustomed to the cozy small restaurants and bars that are a signature of our city. From our comfortable nook next to the open fire, a welcome relief from the cold wind that has accompanied us this evening, we have a vantage point overlooking the rest of the restaurant and as I warm up I begin to take in my surroundings for the evening. Teak tables and thonet chairs are spread out evenly across the terracotta tiles and along the street facing window. A beige booth separates the bar and dining areas while opposite large white pillars break up the extended room.  Although the space is large and not all the diners have arrived it does not feel awkwardly empty or cold, in fact quite the opposite. 
The service is fantastic and our waitress effortlessly explains the entrees and as we deliberate our bottle of Barone Ricasoli Chianti is poured. We decide to try the Bresaola (cured rare beef) with slow roasted eggplant relish and a Pissaladière (French onion tart). Both are delectable. The beef is fresh and soft, and together with the tang of the marinade and the sweet of the eggplant relish leaves our palates freshened for the meals ahead. The fluffy rich pastry of the tart crumbles and melts in the mouth.
I have had a long running love affair with pappardelle since my visit to Italy last year and find it impossible not to order when I find it on a menu, forever chasing that soft buttery pasta and the rich, elegant wild boar ragu. Tonight it is not wild boar but slightly unusual none the less, rabbit ragu, green olives & ricotta saltat. I have never eaten rabbit before and I am happily surprised by the light flavour of the meat, combined with the saltiness of the olive the ragu is a real treat. The pasta itself is perfectly cooked and lives up to my high expectations that have been embellished with time.
As we enjoy the last of our red and soak up the heat permeating from the fire place and soft buzz of the restaurant we decide to order a selection of cheeses to finish. We decide to go for the L’artisan triple créme with apple & walnuts, Taleggio & apricot jam and Ossau Iraty & mustard fruits served with toasted baguette and rye.  Our mix of hard, soft and blue cheeses perfectly matches their accompaniments and bring out the body of the wine, just as had been desired.
Tonight I have learnt to re-embrace the larger restaurant and not judge a place by its covers capacity. Union Dining has taken the cozy warmth of a 40 seater, combined it with the luxury of privacy and space in perfect unison and the result is Swan streets hottest new resident for some time. 

Rated: 16 O’s out of 20
Union Dining on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Shanghai Village Dumpling House

112 Little Bourke St, Melbourne
Last Thursday evening I found myself in China Town, a vibrant, colorful and eccentric part of the Melbourne CBD. Making our way down Little Bourke St we all had one thing on our mind, cheap dumplings!  Our destination was Shanghai Village Dumpling House and armed with our best $10 wine from the bottle shop next door we made our way into the historical building that houses this well known Melbourne establishment.
With no real expectations I was slightly surprised by the ambience within the the restaurant upon entering. The room was cozy and strangely inviting with its electric pink walls decorated with yellow Chinese lanterns and red good luck charms. To my disappointment, however, we are not here for long and were soon ushered quickly up the stairs to the second level of the restaurant. As we climb I become aware of a rather unpleasant smell that wafts down from the upper level, not the most appetising of smells to be greeted with, and I start to question the hygiene of the kitchen that will be preparing our dinner this evening. 
Reaching the second level it is as if we are in a completely different world. We are standing in a large, hall like room lit with bright florescent lights with dull grey walls surrounding us. The room is filled with large round tables, complete with lazy Susan’s and jam packed with chairs ensuring no ounce of space is left unused.
The acoustics in the room are dreadful and the noise from the large crowd of diners bounces from every corner of the room. The waitress points at an empty table at the back of the room and tells us to help ourselves to any glass wear or cutlery that we need. Squashed in around us are large groups of young students, taking advantage of the $1.50 corkage and preparing for what will probably be a large Thursday night out in the city, a fond memory of my own Uni days.
Service is not the key at Shanghai Village Dumpling House so once our group has settled in I take the lead and, having read a few questionable reviews earlier in the day, decided to avoid the larger dishes and stick to what we are all here for, dumplings, and a lot of them!
After a quick wait the dumplings start to arrive. Plate after plate full of dumplings of every imaginable variety flood the table and we all eagerly dig in. Fried, steamed, chicken and pork, beef and vegetable, it doesn’t matter what kind of dumplings they were as hands went frantically reaching across the table in this game of dumpling lucky dip.
The dumplings on the whole were moist and tasty and no complaints were heard across the table. The fried dumplings were the stand out winners, with a nice crispy outer layer adding to their appeal while the steamed pork buns were my personal favorites. Plate after plate of dumplings continued to arrive one after the other and our dining group, though not for the lack of trying, could not possibly finish those last few plates of steamed dumplings left on the lazy Susan.
Now if it is a culinary experience you are looking for I would suggest you think twice before visiting Shanghai Village Dumpling House.  On the other hand if you fancy a large plate of tasty dumplings or want to organise a group dinner that will not break the bank then this is the place for you. After feasting on a steady stream of dumplings all evening the total bill came to little more than $16 a person, including a tip!
Will I be returning? Now that is a question I am not so certain of but one thing is for sure, it was a fantastic experience and one I am pleased to have ticked off my list of ‘Melbourne to dos’.
Rated 10 O’s out of 20
Shanghai Village Dumpling on Urbanspoon

Friday, 29 July 2011

Hellenic Republic

434 Lygon St, Bruswick East
George Calombaris has become a house hold name across Australia as a celebrity chef and host of the hugely popular reality television series Master Chef Australia. But before Matt, Gary and the Master Chef contestants it was all about food and creating a dining experience full of passion, culture and heritage.  After bursting into the Melbourne culinary scene in 2006 when he opened the Greek inspired fine dining restaurant Press Club, in 2008, George took his traditional Greek heritage further and opened Hellenic Republic, a Modern Greek Taverna.
Hellenic Republic serves a mix of deliciously rich sharing dishes inspired by the dinner tables of family’s across Greece and the magical Islands that surround.  Walking into Hellenic Republic on a Sunday evening the place is a buzz with conversation, loud and hectic, with a steady stream of share plates from the open kitchen dispersing across the restaurant.
We are seated by the rotisserie which instantly takes away the chill from the icy winter evening and has us perusing over the menu in silence, eager to share in whatever is filling the restaurant with such inviting aromas.  The menu is large with plenty of options to satisfy but tonight we take the easy way out, opting for the four course set menu for $58 a person.
The service is quick and well-organised and before we know it we are tucking into our starters, a mix of small plates consisting of Tyri saganaki with peppered figs, pita bread, Taramosalata - white cod roe dip and Loukaniko - pork and leek sausages. The peppered figs are soft, sweet and act as a perfect complement to the hot salty cheese. The pita bread is the best I have eaten, soft and fluffy on the inside with a crispy pan fired outer, a perfect spoon for the creamy cod dip which to my delight is not overpowered by the roe. 
Our next course to arrive was the seafood.  The waitress clears our starter and instantaneously places in front of us crispy skin salmon fillets, crumbed hervey bay scallops presented in their shell and a Cypriot grain salad with freekah, coriander, almonds, lentils and yoghurt. The salmon is rich and the flavour delightful although slightly over cooked, missing the plump pink flesh in the centre of the fillet. The Cypriot grain salad is a refreshing combination of mixed herbs, almond, dried currants and crunchy grain. However the scallops are a little on the small side and are lost behind the crumbs in which they are served.
Our third course arrives, ahh, the one we have been waiting for.  The chicken and lamb comes sliced straight from the rotisserie, plated together with lemon and served with hand cut potatoes, cabbage salad and tzatziki.  The meat is tender and when squeezed with lemon comes alive in a burst of exotic herbs and spices with a tang of citrus. The chips are crunchy and perfectly golden; the cabbage salad gives the fresh sweet balance to the meal while the tzatziki ties it all together.
Thinking I couldn’t possibly fit in another mouthful the steaming hot Greek donuts arrived smothered in a sticky attiki honey and sprinkled with crushed walnuts… all of a sudden there is just enough room.
Leaving the Greek Taverna that evening I feel impossibly full but quietly content.  In my eyes Hellenic Republic has succeeded exactly what George set out to accomplish, bringing the traditional Greek family feast to Melbourne and serving it to eager customers with a the heartfelt love of a grandmother.
Rated 16 O's out of 20
Hellenic Republic on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Newmarket

34 Inkerman St, St Kilda
Gone are the days that the Newmarket Hotel on Inkerman St was renowned for its dingy interior, questionable adult entertainment and the rough and ready crowd that it attracted. Today it is an uber modern gastro pub, an intriguing establishment serving their unique take on Central American cuisine to a mix of the hip and trendy, chic and stylish, young and old.
Designers 6 Degrees architects have taken influences from both Mexican and Spanish cultures and added their own personal twist to the mix. Chequered autumn coloured carpet, soft yellow and pink patterned wall paper, tall rough concrete walls, dark wooden tables and modern leather chairs all clash in a way that is dramatically cool.  High concrete pillars shelter the main dining area, drawing on the architectural features of a Spanish cathedral and adding to the powerful structure of the restaurant.
This is my third visit to the Newmarket and today I am accompanied by a small group of friends to celebrate the weekend and I am already looking forward to the spiced lamb, pumpkin hummus, grape and queso fresco cocas, a Latin flat bread pizza which stole my heart on my first visit.
Taking our seats we order Guacamole with native lime salsa fresca, taro, jicama & tortilla chips to share and our first round of drinks for the afternoon.  The wines are poured straight from the barrel and served in carafes with stemless tumblers to drink from; a quirk that adds to the restaurants charm and pulls on the heart strings of typical Spanish tapas bars.
The menu is large and it takes a moment to get your head around the different Hispanic and Latin Street foods on offer. Designed for sharing, we order a mix of soft tacos with prawns, fragrant herbs and jicama slaw; lamb ribs barbacoa, pomegranate mole, avocado and tahini; triple cooked bravas potatoes; baked sweet potato with jalapeños and queso fresco; winter salad with wood fired caramelised onion and fennel tart, quince aioli, walnuts and local goats cheese and of course the spices lamb cocas. It is a feast of rich flavour and textures that transports you to the street stalls of Mexico City and inspires you to visit your local travel agent with this new taste of adventure.
To satisfy the sweet tooth amongst us we also order three deserts to share, chocolate and macadamia pie with kahlua ice cream; pay de queso cheesecake with tequila and native lime sorbet and Latin style chocolate pot with bananas and dulche de leche. Chocolate and macadamia are always a heavenly mix and the pie is the stand out desert of the day; the pastry delightfully buttery and crumbles when spooned. While the modern take on a cheese cake left us questioning the placement of its base and the sharp tang of tequila and lime in the sorbet was somewhat out of place with the smooth creamy filling.  

The wine continued to flow and the conversation grew louder with excitement and laughter as we made our way to the bar area, all the while singing the praises of this new and exciting St Kilda resident.
Rates 15.5 O’s out of 20
Newmarket Hotel on Urbanspoon

Monday, 18 July 2011


55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Cutler&Co has become somewhat of an institution amongst Melbourne’s fine dining scene, despite its relatively new existence in this wonderful city I call home.  A two hat restaurant run by Andrew McConnell and partner Pascale Gomes-McNabb, it really is a must for anyone that appreciates great food and faultless service combined with an atmosphere that is fresh, modern and intriguing. 
Having booked a table some months ago I would be lying if I said I wasn’t just a tad excited that the evening had finally arrived. Dressed for a special occasion and with enormous expectations, we walked into the Gertrude St restaurant with keen anticipation.
The restaurant itself is a large open area; however despite the abundant floor space, Cutler&Co’s creative design, soft lighting, rusty wine racks and classic wooden and leather furnishings ensure that you have an intimate dining experience. For me the walls are the winning feature. A unique touch that sets a dynamic scene; exposed wall to ceiling bricks that have been roughly white washed to give the restaurant an absorbing industrial feel. The space is sincerely modern and ‘Fitzroy’ to a t.
Greeted at the door we are guided seamlessly to our table, jackets taken, napkins fanned out, water poured and our waitress for the evening introduced, all in a instant. To start we order a dozen natural Rusty Wire Oysters and a glass of sparkling to match. The oysters are deliciously fresh and barely needed the lemon that accompanies them.  Along with the tangy sourdough rolls that I spread generously with soft salty butter, the entree is complete and sets the mood for the evening ahead.   
There is something to be admired about restaurants perfecting the wait between delivering entree and main courses. All too often these day’s kitchens hastily rush out meals leaving you to feel as if they are pushing you out the door to make space for the next sitting, or alternatively talking so much time between courses you often need to remind the wait staff that you are in fact still there! There is no such problem at Cutler&Co who have certainly mastered this understated but none the less important aspect of dining. After ordering a bottle of Tuscan Sangiovese we are lost in conversation and are enjoying the gentle buzz that surrounds us when our mains arrive with a perfect precision, as if the kitchen knows that our taste buds have again begun to salivate.
Roast Suckling Pig
The slow roasted duck breast with confit leg pie, mustard fruit, turnip and cavolo nervo that I have ordered are the perfect combination of soft, pink flesh and the decadent flavour of rich confit that I adore.  Opposite me is the roast suckling pig with mosellia, sweet and sour shallots and almond, again the meat itself was cooked to perfection but the thick salty crackling that crunches loudly in your mouth before melting away was the star of the dish.
With some wine still to finish our waitress kindly suggested the Ossau Iraty to help accompany it; a plate of hard ewe’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees and Basque country. Sliced thinly and served with pickled cherries it was, as it had been suggested, the perfect way to end the meal, allowing us to saviour the flavours that had taken us on the evening’s journey.
Looking back fondly I do not have enough positive praise for Cutler&Co. Although it is a fine dining establishment the atmosphere is refreshingly casual and relaxed having avoided the pretence of some premier restaurants. The food is delectable and the service is second to none that I have come across in my Melbourne dining adventures to date.
Cutler&Co; warehouse dining with a five star rating!!
Rated 18 O’s out of 20
Cutler & Co on Urbanspoon