Monday, December 28, 2009

Dinner on the Scenic Diamond

Scenic Tours provide a fully catered river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest along the Rhine and Danube. Indeed it is more than fully catered starting with early bird breakfast usually from 6.oo am, regular breakfast, around 7.30 am followed by morning tea, lunch. afternoon tea, dinner and late night snacks. The food is endless and accompanied at lunch and dinner by abundant wines of ordinary quality except when we had the pleasure of dining with Werney, the Cruise Director. On that occasion superior wines were served! After a visit to Cesky Krumlov, a delightful little very touristy Czech village we got a couple of bottles of their renowned smoky beer. The hops are smoked before the beer is brewed and it retains a powerful smoky bouquet and taste.
They were fairly mild beers with alcohol content around 5%, I thoroughly enjoyed them.
Dinner is generally a la carte with a small choice of appetizer, soup, main and dessert. It is table service. Waiters dress in dinner suits with bow ties and were considerably better dressed than their guests. Typical entrees were prawn cocktail

or a beef carpaccio.
Always attractively presented but invariably bland and forgettable. Two soups were generally on offer, one a vegetarian and the other with meat or fish. This lobster bisque was one of their better efforts.
Mains were fish, meat or vegetarian. Striped bass, which I fell in love with at Piperno in Rome, is known in Italy as Branzino. It is a very delicate tender and tasty fish that I have not seen in Australia. They did manage a tasty salmon with chili and tomato which was not seriously over cooked.
Unfortunately, perhaps because it was frozen, it could not be served lightly cooked and lost some of that superb taste of very fresh fish. Typical meat dishes were stuffed sirloin or tenderloin, which isknown as eye fillet in Australia, which was quite nice after adding appropriate amounts of salt and pepper.
Desserts included a variety of cakes,

mousses or jellies as well as the ever available ice cream. Everyone had the opportunity for one meal at their Portobello restaurant. This consisted of half a dozen small tables at the front and a little separated from the main the Crystal dining room. Here a five course degustation menu was served which was a moderately successful attempt at a better level of dining experience. Here the head waiter prepared a pasta for us.

On rare occasions a palate cleanser was offered.

The basic products were excellent and had they been handled better these .
dinners could have been equally excellent.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rudesheimer Coffee

Rudesheim, on the romantic Rhine, is in the heart of the splendid Rheingau region, This little town of less than 11,000 residents manages to entertain some three million visitors each year. Apart from its quaint beauty it has two other major attractions being its mechanical music museum and its coffee. It uses a local brandy, Asbach, to make what is described as the epitome of sophisticated hospitality, Rudesheimer Coffee.
It is started by placing three cubes of sugar in an original Rudesheimer coffee cup over which 40 ml of well heated Asbach is poured. This is stirred and and allowed to burn for almost one minute.
Hot coffee is now added until about two centimeters below the rim of the cup. A scoop of sweetened whipped cream flavoured with vanilla is then placed on top and sprinkled with dark chocolate

to produce this hot delight which is sipped through the cool cream.
There is also a cold version using ice cream, Asbach and iced coffee in which the brandy is not flamed.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bar-Ca (Amsterdam) 12/09

After about five years Bar-Ca has established itself as a niche restaurant offering a combination of atmosphere and entertainment assisted by unusual Spanish wines and great food. This is a large venue in two rooms seating about 80, with an open kitchen at the rear
and a bar along one wall.
The unclothed tables are quite high with suitably high plain wooden chairs. A wall is covered with a flat red plastic cleverly painted to look like a button back leather wall, without the buttons! We enjoyed an unusual meal starting with a lightly toasted bread rubbed with garlic and tomato
and a large serve of Iberica prosciutto
followed by farmed Zeeland oysters, au natural
and wild oysters served with a mushroom veloute
made using the water from the oysters. An outstanding dish. A small bowl of good sized firm prawns in an excellent sauce was the last appetizer before the main course. The chef, Machael,
I'm unsure of the spelling, has been with the restaurant since it was opened by Bouka de Jong,
pictured here with his father, and his partner who we did not meet. Our main course, tournados,
was tender and beautifully prepared and the meal was finshed with a chocolate mousse cake topped with a preserved cumquot.
Apart from Mojito's, which are very popular here, they specialize in a bubbly Spanish wine called Cava, the one we had was quite pleasantly dry. We followed this with a quite excellent Spanish Museum Reserve red.

Friday, December 11, 2009

La Notte (Carlton) 12/09

At 140 Lygon Street this restaurant is surrounded by competitors. On a Thursday night they were well patronized with the front section fully occupied. The place has a formless architectural design, split level, some sections separated by wide brick arches. The rear of the restaurant seems to be set up for large parties. Toilet doors, with colourful lead glass panels, seem to have come from old train carriages - all quite odd.There is a bottle shop on the right and a bar in front as you enter. Tables are set with attractive black on white table cloths but they offer paper serviettes. There is an extensive a la carte menu of largely Italian cuisine with prices for mains around $30 for most dishes. There is also a movable blackboard with a list of specials.
Oysters at just over $2 ea, in a variety of presentations, are especially inexpensive. The exception is the sea food platter at $80 for two with an extra $50 if you want lobster. Internet reviews were mixed but there was one particularly complimentary about the platter. Not surprisingly that is what we chose. It comes on a very large square platter
with a side dish of mussels
in a mild chilli tomato and pepper sauce and a separate dish for the lobster which is offered grilled, Newberg or mournay which we selected.
The platter is packed with oysters, plain and Kilpatrick, bugs, crab, and soft shell crabs, fish, calamari and prawns, both peeled and unpeeled, with plenty of lemon scafes and tartar sauce for which we had to ask. This was served with bread or chips ($6). Finger bowls came soon as did extra serviettes. A bottle of Riesling
on ice and glasses filled the good sized table. They have a very good arrangement for wine. Step over to the bottle shop, select your wine, sometimes you can taste it before purchase, and have it served at the bottle shop price. Some things about this meal were outstanding. The calamari were the most delicate and tender that I can ever remember. The soft shell crab had retained a fantastic sweetness that is invariably lost when they are presented deep fried, the lobster was nicely prepared, not over cooked, and retained a very good flavour and texture in the rich sauce. Although I enjoyed the dish the mussels were in a dominating sauce and were very small but that is probably a seasonal problem. I'm sure all the ingredients were extremely fresh but the rest suffered severely from being too well cooked, overcooked really. I think the worst thing you can do to sea food is over cook it. Nothing is more easily lost than those delicate tastes. There is a selection of cakes and pastries which were very good, both the tiramasu and the cheese cake were big serves and good choices. So close to being very good.
Score: 13.25/20

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Chatter 26 Journalists and chefs 12/09

Two months ago I wrote a piece about journalists and bloggers (Chatter 25) which touched on several issues discussed in an article by Stephen Downes in Meanjin Quarterly (Vol 68 No.4) Downes wrote about the relationship between food journalists and restaurant reviewers in relation to restaurant owners and chefs.
He begins by making the rather dubious point that journalists are trusted. At least where food and fashion are concerned it rings true but surveys of respect in the community do not rate them highly.
He then goes on to some analysis, using Hellenic Republic and George Colambaris' rise to celebrity status as an example, of both journalists influence and of the nature of reviews. He quotes from a typical review which he describes as sounding more like a "media release" than a restaurant review, totally lacking in critical content. A point with which I fully agree. He proposes the reasons for this are that "it is easier to gush than to criticize", secondly writers who enthuse are more attractive to big publishers and editors than real critics and thirdly, a point to which he devotes a lot of consideration, is the relationship between food writers and the people they are supposed to be independently assessing.
I believe Downes is spot on when he looks at these relationships and the effect they have on reviewers. Finally he suggests a code of ethics for Australia's restaurant critics and food journalists.
How right he is. It is impossible not to be influenced by special attention, freebies and social recognition by celebrities. Journalist have an absolute duty to their readers to acknowledge any matter which could be construed as influencing their opinions. Recognized medical authorities when offering scientifically backed information in their field acknowledge backing from interested parties, described as competing interests. Food journalism, which is quite subjective needs these standards more than ever.
Mr Downes 20/20 for subject matter.

Competing interests: My wife and I have occasionally been the recipients of meals and other gratuities from restaurants and chefs. When ever we review a restaurant where that has been the case we note it early in the review.
We have no relationship of any kind with Mr Downes but I do have a link to his blog, which he rarely updates and I rarely look at it! I also wrote a piec comparing Larissa Dubecki's writing and reviewing style to that of Stephen Downes earlier this year.

Botticelli (Brighton) 12/09

On the recommendation of a friend of a friend we tried this suburban restaurant at 40A Church St. in the heartland of the Brighton set. It was an interesting experience which we are not likely to repeat.
Seating about 60, spilling out onto the footpath, the linen and butcher paper covered tables, decorated with a red rose and a scrappy candle,

were nearly all occupied by 7.00 pm and quite a few were refilled as they became free. One thing for sure they're certainly popular.
There is a fairly extensive menu with antipasti, pasta, which may be an entree or a main, risotto, veal, fish and steak with a large blackboard of specials.

We started with baked avocado and prawn with mournay ($15)
which was distinguished by great lumps of avocado, small prawns and a good covering of mournay sauce - gross but quite tasty. A linguini marinara in an oil base, ($25) which we took as a main and shared, had an insubstantial amount of sea food and swam in a watery soup. The mussels were tiny as were two pipis and two scallops and prawns small, not much more than shrimps. With less water and more sea food it could have been quite nice but it was insubstantial as a main course. Grilled flounder ($31) was very meaty, served with not very crisp chips and steamed vegetables cut in what I might best describe as domestic peasant style, a farmers meal. A medium rare rack of four very nice and tender lamb chops ($31)was well done resting on a substantial bed of a mixture of, I think pea and broccoli, surrounded by a small lake of gravy and covered with a herb crust. This came with a days worth of calories in the form of roast potatoes. Stuffed with food, and without great expectations, we forewent the desserts. Although fully licensed, wit a modest but reasonable wine list, they offer a very reasonable corkage of only $5 and I noticed many customers had taken advantage of that. I was not very surprised, when I asked our waitress if she knew who Botticelli was, to hear that she'd never heard of him! You can get a lot to eat here. Meals are not particularly expensive. They are presented with no finesse or aesthetic sensibility. A place to eat and leave rather than dwell over a meal for the evening.
Sandra was considerably more scathing about the food here. She found the baked avocado dish lacked taste and the linguini marinara failed, being in a soup rather than a sauce. It is also uncomfortable and noisy.
The question this now poses is, where do Melbourne's discriminating public go for a good casual meal?
Score 12.25/20

Friday, December 04, 2009

JacquesReymond (Prahran) 11/90

Cooking for a renowned international organization of food lovers is an opportunity for chefs to shine but Jaques Reymond did himself few favours when he put on an expensive but undistinguished X’mas dinner for the the Chaine des Rotisseurs last week. Wines were organized by the wine master with the help of Michael McNamara, one of the principles of Princes Wine store, one of Melbourne leading cellars.
Unfortunately Jacques would not permit a tasting session with his food so it was surprising that the matches were as good as they were.

The guests were greeted on arrival with 1996 Duval Leroy Champagne, one of the great vintages in recent years, and quite excellent gougeres, a house speciality. The first course, a millefeuille of lightly smoked ocean trout, fresh wasabi, spiced nougatine, citrus and avocado salad
was served with a 2007 Nicholas Potel Rully Blanc. This was a reasonable match for this starter of mixed tastes. The trout was extremely delicate and it seemed we were in for an excellent meal. The next course was most disappointing. Described as deep sea rockling spiked with anchovies, crispy lacquered pork belly and Savoy cabbage, sourness of sorrel and sour cream, served with a 2007 Milton Clos de St.Anne Chardonnay this soggy cabbage with a piece of near tasteless fish was not improved by the conglomeration of accompanying tastes. Next came some relief with a dashi and apple jelly with cauliflower foam and tobiko mountain bush pepper yoghurt tempura and fennel simply king fish sashimi which was and enhanced by the delicate very fresh and regrettably very small slice of fish. The foam lacked taste and detracted from this course. The next course was an extraordinary mixture of things which absolutely failed. It was made up of a number of ill matched ingredients each alone may have been alright, except for the risotto which had none of the creamy character and texture that makes a good risotto so special.
It was made up of marinated and glazed quail, snail risotto, aged comte and grilled sausage senses of garlic, shallots and parsley. Three major ingredients I hope to never see on the same plate again. The 2008 Marchand and Burch Mt. Marrow pinot noir was the outstanding wine on the night.
Angus beef a la ficelle, natural cooking juice, soft potato aioli, the last main course, served with a 2006 Chateau St. Dominique St. Emillion.
This was quite nice, tender and juicy, made rather special with a mustard ice cream. A roasted peach and almond frangipanne , tonka bean and vanilla bean ice cream completed the meal
served with a dessert wine- a 2007 Pierre Bise Coteau de Lyon Beaulieu Rouannieres .

Attractive petit fours were served
with a remarkably tasteless coffee. This was a meal full of surprises but most of them were not pleasing. Strangely Jaques was very secretive about his recipes acting as though they were state secrets. He refused a request for the recipe for his mustard ice cream and was outraged that guests might dare ask for the secrets of his kitchen.
He seemed unaware that there are plenty of recipes available on the internet. Sandra was so incensed by his attitude she expressed a desire never to return!

JacquesReymond earned its chefs hats for excellence in classical French cooking. It’s what they do well and they should stick to that.

Score:13.75 /20