Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fawkner Bistro Bar

The Fawkner Bistro Bar, on the site of the old Fawkner Club Hotel, 52 Toorak Rd West, a few hundred yards from St. Kilda Rd. has re-opened. They told me that under chef Andrew Bates (of Frangos & Frangos, Estivo and The Great Provider), it is focused on providing a consistent, delicious, European influenced dining experience in a casual and relaxed atmosphere.
Was that true?
With large windows facing across Toorak Rd to Fawkner Park to the South and Hope St. to the West this large room with open kitchen, topped by a blackboard of specials and wines by the glass, a central bar and open fire with comfortable seating
has the air of a Bistro. Good quality crockery and cloth napkins dress the square wooden tables.
We tasted a number of dishes beginning with duck liver in an excellent deglased sherry sauce
Had I thought to ask I would have had it slightly less cooked but it was a fine entree. Mussels in a lightly spiced fennel and crisp diced vegetable broth were also a treat For mains fish, King George Whiting, lightly battered, almost like tempura and shoestring chips was served with a truly excellent, obviously homemade, creamy sauce tartar. The onion ring added a bit of extra flavour too. This is just the sort of thing you go out to a casual meal to enjoy
Moreton Bay bugs in a great verjuice sauce with tomato and lightly cooked beans and broccoli were totally delicious A creme brulee was rich smooth and creamy - just what it should be like
Service is attentive
Wines are an eclectic collection with plenty to choose from by the glass, and moderately priced We tried two shiraz's and to my surprise enjoyed the Heathcote one better than the Coonawarra!
Price: We ended up paying around $60/head
Comments: The serves are substantial and I strongly recommend it. The only thing that annoyed me was the tendancy for the cutlery to slip completely into the steep sided plate for the bugs giving me a handfull of sticky juices , but , as you can see, I wiped the plate clean!
So, in answer to the question was this true, I have to say they more than met my expectations
Score: 14.5+/20

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Allegro at The Westin

Overlooking Swanston and Collins St on the first floor of the Westin Hotel this comfortable room is the venue for a Jazz Lunch on Sundays.
The square wood tables with a serviette in place of a cloth or place mat and good quality heavy silver plated cutlery and comfortable seating is a good start. The black garbed waiters go about their work quietly and professionally.
The meal begins with hors-d'oeuvres. We were presented with a tortilla style slice of omelette covered with a layer of spinach and topped with roast cheddar which looked good but was overcooked and rather dry, This was followed with another dry offering - a mini pizza. This was followed by an even drier spinach pakora and next came a mushroom pate on bread which was pleasant enough with a bit of extra seasoning.
The entree was another attractive looking trio, a slice of Chorizo with a tomato salsa, a pea wonton and a roll of smoked salmon on a blini. The tastes failed to excite
The main courses are shared. Of the five on offer we chose honey glazed salmon on rice, prawns on rissotto and lamb chops on polenta. The other two choices were an Indian samosa vegetarian dish and a chilli spiced spatchcock. Once again presentation was appealing but now the food was as good as it looked. The salmon lightly cooked, went well with the honey glaze, the rissotto with a tart lemony taste was pleasing and the chops prepared with a gentle hand.
There is a large cheese and bread table and a reasonable smorgasbord of desserts freely available and the meal ended with coffee or a large beaker of tea.
There is a background of a bass played quietly with a young lady singing from Porgy and Bess
Price $75/person includes a glass of Snow Road nv pink bubbly or a beer. Wine by the glass is around $10 or $50 up for a small range of bottles
Comments This is a sort of value added lunch designed for a relaxing afternoon, but somehow it fails to excite
Score:13.25 /20

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bad Poetry, Wine, Food and Theatre at Vue

"Fresh, crystalline and sharp, the first nose unvails an unusual dimension, an aquatic vegetal world with secret touches of white pepper and gardenia. The wine then reveals airy, gentle richness before exhaling peaty scents.
On the palate: The attack bursts forth and matures into a gentle fullness that winds around itself like a tendril of foliage. Notes of aniseed and dried ginger linger on the skin of fruit (pear and mango), more textured than ripe. The finish gradually unfurls and then settles smooth, mellow and all-encompassing. An indefinable je ne sais quoi, never upsetting the integrity of the wine, has worked its charm."
These are the words of Richard Geoffroy, Chef de Cave Dom Perignon, and as I read them I don't know if I should laugh or cry.
For what it's worth he is talking about the just released Vintage 2000 Dom. Perhaps it helps to appreciate the meaning of all this if it is presented at an extravagant price and at a top quality restaurant but I think this man might have a future at Mills and Boon if he gives up the wine business.
Shannon Bennet launched the 2000 vintage at Vue de Monde last Wednesday with a dinner for about 30 well heeled patrons of whom, I guess, perhaps 15 were paying for themselves (including me).
On arrival we were offered the 2000 vintage and refills were freely available. It took about 40 minutes after the scheduled start of the evening before we were seated and the first course arrived.
A cube of watermelon with a small hole filled with Oscietta caviar on a base of frozen Vintage 2000 Dom was, I thought, better without the base which added a little bitterness to the dish
This was followed by a great creative dish - a yabbie, broccoli jelly and duck consomme, spiced with ginger, cooked at the table. It lay under a glass dome while the soup bubbled through an ancient apparatus and seeped thru vegetables, crustaceans and spices before being poured over the waiting dish pictured here before being cooked in the consomme This was accompanied by the 2000 vintage now served in a wine glass ( not quite Marie Antoinettes size) which was supposed to so radically change tha nature of the wine that it underwent a sex change from tightly held feminine to broad, expressive masculine and so on
The next course was another great dish - roast White Rocks pork belly with pork rillettes pancake and panada and stuffed baby apple. This came with another great champagne - the 1992 oenotheque vintage also served in red wine glasses. Once again I have to say the pork belly was totally fantastic and my only wish was that there was more of it. The accompaniments added some balance and sweetness to make the whole thing a delight.
One of Shannons regular specials, a clear cold consomme of tomato with gaspacho jelly and a little dry ice causing it to smoke, taken through a straw came next as a palate cleanser then followed a deconstructed quail burger Neither my partner nor I liked the famed 1998 Rose Vintage Dom that came with this dish.
To me it had a powerful earthy nose, a great example of terroir, not to my liking and the powerful flavour of the wine was not improved by the long astringent finish. We also felt that, attractive as it was to look at, a 'hamburger' is not the best accompaniment for what is regarded as a great champagne
The dessert provided more theatre The tartare of figs covered by a sheet of white chocolate looked interesting. A beaker of hot olive oil and honey was the poured over the chocolate which then partially melted and collapsed into the dessert. This was accompanied by a Hennessy Paradis
We were then offered a couple of lovely hand made chocolates to savour before the tea/coffee and petit fours Price: $590/person
Comments: This is, by some considerable margin, the most I have ever paid for a meal in Australia and I would not recommend it it it was to be put on again. The food was, as always, quite excellent though I could have done with quite a bit more. I found the wine interesting but would have liked much more variety and the discussion about the wine left me cold.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Max's Hotel

This old world style hotel at Commercial Rd Prahran, is a few hundred yards from the Alfred Hospital. The main dining area has been opened up many years ago by removing a couple of walls and it can now comfortably accommodate about 40 diners. Décor consists of odd memorabilia including stuff like a mounted head and neck of a large deer and a Danish poster advertising a live sex show.
In all it is a pleasant, carpeted area populated by a variety of old tables and comfortable chairs.
What is particularly good is the food
There are a number of dishes served at the bar as well as a regular menu available.

Normally a main course they were very good
I had crumbed pig’s trotters as entrée which came with a leaf salad and a baby beetroot. I expected a whole trotter but the meat had been shredded off the trotter and it came as a cutlet.
Good taste. We shared a duck pie as an entrée. It was somewhat dry with excellent pastry. Paparadelles also served as an entrée were also very good. For mains the pigeon was replaced by an excellent pheasant. An offal dish – lamb brains, sweatbreads and pigs trotters served with a variety of mushrooms. It was disappointing, again the trotters had been shredded and crumbed and lay on a bed of thin sliced potato It was hard to find the brains despite the waiters assurance that they were there!! The standout dish is the pigeon. It's prepared in the same as the pheasant and looks much the same in this photograph but I have not had a tastier better prepared pigeon ever. Cooked to perfection it was tender and juicy. It’s a regular on the menu and it’s worth going just for that. The passionfruit dessert was also unexpectedly excellent but if you have it be prepared for the very tart sorbet They have a modest wine list, modestly priced. We had very quaffable Imiprint Shiraz by the glass ($6.50)
The menu is quite adventurous but doesn’t always reach expectations. Wednesday night is Steak night - $15 I think and extremely busy
Price: I paid about $50/ person
Parking can be difficult but it’s worth a visit
I’ve now been twice to Hotel Max and it was quite revealing to see the influence of two different waiters. James was extremely well informed about the hotel and the dishes and shared his knowledge with some enthusiasm. On the next occasion our waiter did his job, and he was a lot busier, but failed to stimulate any interest. Indeed I was a little surprised when his response to my question “Do you know what the house red is?” was “Yes” What is the appropriate follow up to that?
Comments: Aspiring pub food - worth a visit
Price: We paid $50/head with a couple of glasses of wine
Score 13.75/20

Moti Mahal

The name Moti Mahal refers to the Pearl Palace, built outside Lucknow several centuries ago. Any suggestion of grandeur that may be connected to the palace has nothing at all to do with the restaurant of that name at 230 Glenferrie Rd, Malvern.
It does have a pleasing ambience. The carpeted room with paper covered linen table cloths has Indian themed wall decorations which go towards the anticipation of a pleasant evening
The Age Cheapeats gives the place 2 stars and it’s in the current Entertainment Book offering one free main course when another is ordered. The menu looks interesting and our waiter was happy to meet our requests with regard to the food.
Unfortunately he did not pass any of these requests through to the kitchen.
An entrée of boneless morsels of chicken marinated in yoghurt and lime juice, murgi ka tikka,

was a pleasant start to a disastrous meal.
We returned the first course, a Tandoori Platter,

because it came with the specific spice we wished to avoid and the waiter assured us that it would be free of it. Following this I was both astonished and appalled when my quail stuffed with wild rice and mushrooms arrived with not a grain of any sort of rice and nor any kind of stuffing. When questioned our waiter said “It’s underneath”. Of course it wasn’t. I personally returned the dish to the kitchen where the chef informed me that they had no wild rice and the waiter was supposed to have told me that!!!
Other dishes were very ordinary. A veal korma, a shank braised in rosewater, yoghurt and Indian herbs ($18) was a well cooked but a very small serve.
A chicken makani was OK but oh so ordinary

I couldn’t wait to leave.

Price: Mains $15 to $20 They also have a take away menu with free delivery for 2 Km for orders over $35
Comments They're fully licenced or BYO wine for $3.75 corkage - the wine I brought was the best part of the meal.

Score: 12/20

Friday, May 16, 2008

Speaking with Chefs - Greenfield

No Chef is more approachable than Charles Greenfield who works with a passion at his tiny shop front restaurant Jamon Sushi. His aim is to bring dishes to you at the perfect moment for them to be enjoyed at their very best in terms of taste, texture and temperature in an eye pleasing presentation. He works behind a small bar and speaks freely about his work.
After working for 10 years in Japan and imbibing the philosophy that has made Tokyo the most three Michelin starred city in the world, he wanted to establish a small, intimate, personal restaurant of the highest possible quality.
To preserve his food he has three different refrigerators set at appropriate temperatures, all his sauces are made by him and nothing is actually prepared until the moment it is to be served.
Ordinarily Charles restricts his menu to vegetables, mushrooms and seafood sushi but, for a couple of weeks, once or twice a year he demonstrates his virtuosity with wagyu beef rather than seafood. I reviewed a sushi night 18 months ago and recently had the wagyu experience!
Wagyu meat is graded into 12 grades but as there is little agreement on the differences of the top three grades they are usually referred to as 9+. I’ve seen that quality for sale at David Jones at $250/Kgm. Restaurants often serve Grade 3 which your butcher may be able to get you for about $60/Kgm
Definitely 9+
Here are some pictures of what we ate. It all started with an appetizer

followed by a series of 'creations' some simple

and some complicatedOf course not everything was meatA 'world first'!

Squid stuffed with wagyu and not everything was raw

At the end of it all I can say we had an experience but I much prefer raw fish than raw fatty meat

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bamboo House

Introduction: An old favourite at the top end of Little Bourke St.
Ambience: Unchanged for decades

Service: Efficient and friendly under the watchful eye of Alex and Robert who, I think have been there for over 25 years

Food: Uniformly high standard. We started with several entrees the best of which was a crumbed quail with spiced crispy skin I'd recommend it as an excellent start This was followed by deep fried whitebait which is an undistinguished dish but a pleasure to eatand a crab omellete which is superb, presented like sushi rolls. The succulent crab meat was a joy to my palateDumplings had fine pastry and were well filled with prawn and scallop but not special
For mains the Tea smoked duck was outstanding, It's always on the menu and high on my list of excellent dishes Two more dishes

and a toffee banana with icecream completed a very good mealComments: B.H. continues its long tradition of serving very high quality cuisine in a somewhat tired environment
Price: This excellent meal came to $60/person + wine
Score: 15.75/20