Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CHATTER 23 Restaurant Ratings

Every year self appointed judges of restaurants publish lists of restaurants with some form of ranking. It's El Bulli followed by The Fat Duck at one and two. Non existent five or six years ago Noma has soared to number five and the lists go on. In Australia we have Gourmet Traveller which has just put out its list of the top 100. As usual they are heavily weighted toward NSW, especially for the top 10 which features only one Victorian, Vue de Mode at number 4. Tasmania manages to sneak in only one, Lebrina in at number 72.
We've eaten at 31 of the 100 they named and some of them don't deserve to be in the top 200 but leaving aside regional biases I think there is another issue. It's the nonsense of rating restaurants as though there was a a measurable difference between them. Tetsuya is better than Vue really Show me how. De Stasio (28) is better than Bistro Guillame (29) I wouldn't have either of them in the top 30 but how did the 'judges' decide? Another dreadful pair the Grange , SA (52) and Catalina NSW (53), shouldn't be there at all. No doubt one is worse than the other but who could say which. Stokehouse is 27 places above Taxi. You have to be kidding.
Bad reviews and bad ratings can have a big influence on the success or failure of a restaurant, as can good ones. It is iniquitous to rank them in the manner Gourmet Traveller has. Unless there is an outstanding reason to separate them I believe that the approach should be of the Michelin Guide type or of the Age Good Food Guide. In effect they are in groups. Give them a mark if you like, or a star or a hat or a wreath whatever but all you can be sure of if you rank restaurants from one to a hundred is that everyone will find things to object to and accidentally you may do someone some real harm. The best way to rank restaurants is on the basis of public opinion in the way that Zagat does it. Individuals cannot avoid there own biases and it is very difficult to be unkind about a restaurant where you have been offered freebies. The amalgamation of a large number of opinions would produce a much fairer estimate of a restaurants quality. Lets hope Zagat sees the light and starts a guide here

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Supper Inn (Melbourne) 09

Looking back to December 2004, more than 450 posts ago, to the very start of this blog Supper Inn shows up as the second restaCheck Spellingurant we reviewed. It has been a landmark Chinese restaurant for over 50 years distinguished by simple efficient service and good, inexpensive food available from 5.00 pm 'till 2.00 am every day. The narrow staircase to the entrance always has a queue of patrons waiting for a seat in the crowded first floor room. They've moved with the times to the extent that they will now take reservations for parties of four or more, they have table cloths and they take credit cards but the food has not changed, as far as I can see, over the thirty years that I have been coming here.
They have a range of congees ($6.5 upwards) a kind of rice soup which may have almost anything added into it for example beef or giblets. There is a special menu for them in English on one side and Chinese on the converse. We had one with roast duck and one with prawns, both excellent with plenty of prawns and duck. After that we had sweet and sour prawns in a well balanced light s & s sauce, a noodle dish, roast duck ($17 a half), a very delicately poached Murray cod in a light ginger sauce and a plate of greens. Every dish as good as anywhere. All that and a passable bottle of red came to $150.
The presentation is ordinary, as are the crockery and cutlery. It's noisy and always crowded. Half the waiters are Chinese Uni students but they are efficient the food is very good and it has a great, bustling atmosphere that transports you to what one imagines it might be like in a busy suburban restaurant in any city in China.

Score: 14.5/20

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hellenic Republic (Brunswick East) 09

Somehow George Calombaris has found a secret recipe every restaurant owner and chef would love to acquire. It's the recipe for a successful restaurant! The Press Club, Maha and Hellenic Republic (HR) are three thriving businesses in difficult times when many are struggling to survive. Seating about 130 HR runs two sessions Tuesday to Sunday and lunch on Sundays its still hard to get a reservation. The formula seems simple. Typical Greek Tavern style, simple decor, a few lobster pot lamp shades, spare chairs hanging around the walls like utilitarian sculptures, a large open kitchen with a big grill and a a variety of tables mostly placed so that one has to weave among the to get to the door. It has a friendly atmosphere, noisy, but not overwhelmingly so, and it smells good from the food on the grill. Neat uniformed wait persons, all young females when we were there, provide pleasant efficient, but unhurried, service. The food is simple, tasty traditional Greek style. We started with a quite excellent taramasalata, ($10) served with warm pitta ($4)made from white fish roe, it was lighter and more delicate than any I have previously experienced. Tzatziki ($8.5) was also made with a delicate touch. A baked fetta($13) contrasted with these and was too salty for my liking. A Village salad of coarsely cut vegetables under a lump of fetta was indifferent.We continued with dishes to share. Off the grill the calamari ($17) was outstanding, chicken and lamb served on one plate was very good but the snapper ($30), which looked small for 500gm, was over salted. It came with a bottle of sauce in a beaker of ice with a bunch of carnations! We also tried a range of desserts ($12/serve) The kourabedis, $1 each, were firmer than I would have liked, the kaita, a half serve in this pic, and baklava as expected but the best was a dish of Greek donuts. All these desserts were very sweet but each had a different texture making an interesting contrast.
After a shot of ouzo with ice and cold water provided by the house we drank Raspani 'Epilegmenos 2004 ($64).
We have not enjoyed Greek wines very often but this was an exception. There is a grea atmosphere about HR, the food is variable, excellent in part, and the prices on the expensive side of average
Score 14/20/ serve)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Persimon (National Gallery of Victoria) 09

It worried me a little when the lone gentleman the next table not only left almost his entire entree but also only ate a small portion of his pigeon and manchengo empanada. Never mind the sculptures
out the window are interesting, the place is quite attractive and if it doesn't taste good at least it looks good. We'd soon find out. Our waiter soon turned up with menus and a wooden platter with different breads AND plenty of butter. They have a variety of a la carte offers including two courses and a glass of wine for $35 or three for $45. and a Dali dinner which didn't look like it was designed to shock. We settled on a range of entrees and mains. The combinations on the plate were quite strange but they worked to produce an assortment of clashing but not offensive tastes. A dry loin af rabbit wrapped around a duck liver pate and surrounded by a prosciutto wrap was relieved by a sweet quince jelly and some whitlof. The Hapuka served with oxtail (a bean stew in a separate small copper pot) was also a little overcooked and dryer than it might have been. Strange that two serves should have looked so different. The pigeon was served in a semi puff pastry pocket with little resemblance to the empanados of South America but it tasted fine. This small salad was another entree of no distinction.We skipped the free glass of wine for a very pleasant pinot noir. The small wine list is adequate and not expensive.
Service was slow and obliging but inefficient, particularly with regard to leaving empty dirty plates on the table for lengthy periods. It's almost a year since our last visit (see our review from the alphabetical index) and the food is not as good as it was bu tin all it's all a pleasant place for lunch for visitors to the gallery. That fellow at the next table must have been feeling unwell!
Score: 13.5/20

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cafe Kazari (Malvern) 09

kazari: Japanese ='to decorate' or 'to exhibit' 'to arrange with wit'

Tucked away at the back of a gallery filled with a wonderful collection of old Japanese and Chinese furniture, paintings baskets and artifacts, this little cafe with half a dozen tables, opens for lunch Tuesday to Saturday and for dinner Friday night. It has a small menu that changes every week of Japanese style food including some 'sozai', tapas style dishes. After a small dish of slightly sweet sour marinated greens we began with a serve of very tasty steamed dumplings, chicken and prawn siu mai ($18), Chinese style. This was expensive compared to the average Chinese restaurant, followed by Coffin Bay oysters served with grated daikon, carrots and ponzu sauce ($12) which were pleasant without being exceptional. Steamed sea perch in foil with shallots, mushroom and saki with crisp bread was extremely good, delicate well balanced moist and very moorish ($23). We then had a wonderful pasta with seaweed and a light chilli flavouring which did not destroy the palate for the next course. A miso soup ($3) was worth having anytime. The sauteed spring lambwith slightly spicy nato miso on top ($23) was a small serve and very ordinary after the previous dishes. There is a small range of desserts ($6-$9) served with green tea or black sesame ice cream and a pot of Green tea. BYO with a $5 corkage is very reasonable. An interesting place well worth browsing around before or after a meal. So where is it? 490 Malvern Rd. Half a dozen doors west of McDonalds, opposite the Peugot showrooms.
Score: 13.25/20

Friday, August 14, 2009

No 35 (Sofitel, Melbourne) 09

I don’t know what their breakfast is like and I don’t know about their dinner but I can highly recommend lunch at No.35, described as a new restaurant experience. On the 35th floor of the Sofitel at 25 Collins St. with an unsurpassed view over Melbourne. It is a quiet up market space. Carpeted, linen clothed tables, good cutlery and crockery – what one might expect from a fine dining restaurant in an excellent hotel. The most astonishing thing about their lunch is the menu arrangement. Set out in numbers No1 is five entrees, No2 is six mains, No3 is four desserts and Additional No’s is four side dishes. It costs a flat $42/person and you can choose any three courses you like and that means just that ANY three courses from anywhere on the menu. As for side dishes they’re included too any or all of them. I expected they’d be pretty small serves since one main and a side dish would cost more than those at most halfway decent restaurants. The menu also tells us that they concentrate on “purity and simplicity resulting in honest, clean identifiable flavours from a union of the best produce using traditional and modern cooking techniques” They focus on organic produce and support local farmers and growers. We were keen to try as much as possible and started with poached petunia trout, double creamed eggs, salmon caviar, sourdough

an outstanding entrée. The trout was quite fantastic. The crab tortellini, sweetcorn puree, fried Clarence river shrimps was a good second choice. We left the raw kingfish salad, the aerated cauliflower soup and the cotechino risotto for another time. Smoked Tasmanian eel linguini had plenty of eel, mushrooms and delicately just poached quail eggs a big tasty serve. The rustic fish soup, seared red mullet, semolina, garlic emulsion was much better than most attempts at a bouillabaisse that I’ve eaten. Crispy Berkshire pork belly was a large piece of pork with excellent crackling, served with white beans and sautéed cavalo nero. Confit of Murray cod on mussels and cabbage with a sweet butternut pumpkin puree worked really well, again with a large piece of fish just barely cooked and very delicate. Ambitiously we also ordered sautéed organic potatoes, wild rocket salad, buttered sugar snaps and sweetcorn and feta fritters with tomato jam. They were all excellent but embarrassingly we did not get within cooee of finishing half the meal. Certainly have to come back for the grain fed black angus scotch fillet and the slow cooked lamb rump to say nothing of the desserts. Chef James Viles has a liking for decorating his food with foam but I could not taste the background ingredient, for example we were told the linguini had a parmigiana foam . In all the food was extremely tasty, prepared with delicacy, nicely presented and substantial. It is ridiculously good value Monday to Friday for lunch as long as you skip the tea/coffee which adds $7. They have a good wine menu but we had only a Portuguese Madeira ($13)
Score 16/20

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Attica (Ripponlea) 09

Ben Shewry has been in the news a lot lately for all the best reasons - his cooking. His cullinary creations are interesting to all the senses. With the help of only three other chefs he, somehow, manages to plate up one complex dish after the next. Few have less than half a dozen ingredients and the descriptions must be a memory burden for the wait staff. They were well informed and never stumbled. As with most of the best contemporary restaurants the kitchen uses some hi-tech equipment and produces meals you would not dream of making at home. There is an a la carte menu or a tasting menu for the table though substitutions are possible to cater for special needs. We again had the degustation menu, eight courses with a few extra's from the chef.($130 or $215 with matched wines). It would be tedious to describe all these dishes at length so we'll settle for some pic's.

Smoked trout broth before the broth. A signature dish

Potato cooked in the earth it was grown

A talking point but nothing special

Blue eye- beaut.

He practices experimental dishes on Tuesday nights not all of which reach the regular menu
We enjoyed several very pleasant wines including a pear cider, available from Prince's and a Lirac 2006 availablefrom Randalls,

Beef, ginger,etc Wagyu grade 6

Pork loin

Violet crumble -very very sweet
Score: 16.5/20

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Pure South (Southbank) 09

I am constantly surprised, and delighted, to discover reasonably priced excellent restaurants in Melbourne. Looking at a few reviews it did not look as though Pure South at shop 2/3 Southgate, Southbank was going to fall into that category. Several complained of excess salt, slow service and expensive wines. It is a restaurant that specialises in produce from Tasmania and the islands in Bass strait and especially fish and steak. Nevertheless a $110 five course deguStation seafood dinner with 10 Tasmanian wines was to good to miss it had to be a good deal even without the food! The menu promised canapes on arrival at the table were delivered after a few minutes:

Baked Spring Bay scallops, brioche and lemon crumbs, King Island Hereford steak tartare, olive oil croutons and Petunia smoked salmon cakes, with sauce gribiche. There was a bit of interpretation here. Scallops and cakes were both plural when I went to school but that seems to be regularly ignored by menu writers. The scallop was a little overwhelmed by the dressing but still had plenty of flavour, the tartare, enough to cover a 20 cent coin, and with no sign of raw egg was quite bland as was my salmon cake. To make up for that there was plenty of 2004 Barringwood Park I J Sparkling which was very pleasant and a NV Bay of Fires Cuvee brut from Piper River. This had a finer structure and I preferred it. A carpaccio of sweet cured Kingfish, King Island crayfish and caper salsa

accompanied by two Rieslings (Moorilla and Tamar Ridge) that were surprisingly dry was an excellent dish the very fresh fish combining well with the light sweetness. A ballotine of Petunia ocean trout was a highlight.

It doesn't get any better. Beautifully prepared, perfectly poached retaining superb texture and strong colour simply excellent. the tempura Freycinet oyster would have been better with a batter from the local Japanese supermarket and the Bay of Islands sparkling jelly failed to sparkle but it hardly mattered. I did not care for the two chardonnays (Barringwood Park and Frogmore Creek). The loin of grass fed 'Wild Clover Farm' lamb Tasmanian black truffle mouse, Jerusalem artichokes, green pea puree and potato pearls

was another remarkably good dish despite the absence of any apparent contribution to taste or texture from the truffles in the mousse - I could see the little black spots so I know they were there! This was as moist, almost sweet, a tender piece of meat as any carnivore could desire. It came with two pleasant pinot noirs (Moorilla Muse and Bay of Fires). Dessert served with a Pirie Clark botrytis Riesling, which was as expected and a better than expected Frogmore Creek iced Riesling was a winter rhubarb jelly, vanilla panna cotta, mini pavlova, rhubarb compote and a King Island Dairy creme fraiche ice cream
which was also very good, particularly the panna cotta. Coffee/tea was included so the whole meal was outstanding value. There was a bunch of wine people present representing the vineyards but only Judy Robinson,

second from the left, came to speak to us about Barringwood Park, which is close to Devonport and has done well at recent wine shows. Warmed by the copious wines, the excellent dinner and the flames leaping among the stones near our table,

despite the many criticisms of other reviewers I would have given Pure South a hat without hesitation for this dinner

Score:16-5 /20