Category Archives: Australia

Fat Duck in Australia, Melbourne

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-001Chef: Heston Blumenthal     Website:    Cuisine: Modern British

Photos: Courtesy of Harvard Wang (

I had pretty much given up my hopes back in late 2014 on dining at the Fat Duck in Melbourne in absence of any confirmation e-mail. Fast forward a couple of months when I had pretty much forgotten about the whole affair when a friend of mine offered me a seat at his table of four. I sheepishly looked at my wife and she reluctantly agreed to me going alone. Fast forward another week and suddenly I had a phone call from the front of house confirming my table for six! I couldn’t believe my luck. Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-002It wasn’t difficult to fill up our table. First and foremost we definitely had to invite our friend Sarah who came with us to our last Fat Duck meal in Bray a couple of years ago. Check. My new foodie sidekick and amazing photographer Harvard Wang (who was also photographer to our wedding). Check. My wife’s friend and his wife who are both fine dining and wine enthusiasts (he even had Jeremy Oliver to host his 30th). Check. And my wife of course this time. Check. Returning to the Fat Duck ‘Family’ felt rather nostalgic. A couple of the front of house staff recognised us from our previous meals back in Bray and stopped by to say hi.

P1160528Having paid upfront for the meal at the time of the reservation all we now had to do was decide on the wine pairing. A couple of us opted for the cheapest option of circa AUD200 a person, whilst one of us opted for the luxurious fine wine pairing at north of AUD 1,000. Hefty, yes. Worth it? Definitely!  When you get wine like the Henschke Hill of Grace poured, who could blame her. And, just like the Fat Duck in Bray, the sommelier was generous and topped up each glass of wine at least once throughout the meal. This was going to be a long and fun afternoon!

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-004Whilst our wines were chosen, we could not resist checking out the Fat Duck wine bible. My wife and I had fond memories of trawling through the wine list in Bray. Our first trip to the Fat Duck was also our first ever fine dining experience, leading to over a hundred fine dining adventures since then. I guess you could say Heston was the one who really started us off on this journey and passion.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-003We all partook in a glass of champagne as we settled in for the afternoon. Having been away from the fine dining scene in Europe for a little moment it was rather nostalgic to see the attention to detail and surroundings by the front of house headed by restaurant manager, Dimitri Bellos. There was always someone at the right time in the right place when they were needed. Whilst some of the services at the upper end of fine dining establishments in Australia are very good, there’s still a very long way to go to catch up to the calibre of those like the Fat Duck. Heston invests in his staff with choreography lessons, and the like, and it showed!

Simple things made such an impact. For example after only a couple of small dishes Dimitri had picked out two of the diners on our table were left handed and, without them even registering the change, their cutlery from here onward had been oriented to their left hand. Simply amazing.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-005Course 1: Aerated Beetroot. We were instructed to eat this in one bite. The earthy beetroot macaron dissolved immediately to leave behind a tangy flavour from the horseradish cream. The flavour of the beetroot was much more intensive than the last time I had tasted this dish and I loved the slight heat from the horseradish. There was a lot happening in your mouth from such a small morsel.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-006Course 2: Nitro poached aperitif. Choice of Vodka and lime sour, gin and tonic or campari soda. Why have an aperitif in a glass when you can pick it up and pop it in your mouth? I had the gin and tonic which exploded in your mouth with smoke bellowing from my nostrils. Refreshing, fun and a beautiful palate cleanser.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-007Course 3: Red Cabbage Gazpacho, pommery grain mustard ice cream. The deep colour of the red cabbage is mesmerising to watch as it gets poured into your plate of the mustard ice cream. The rich and creamy ice cream balanced out the heat from the mustard. The compressed cucumber lifted the dish by adding some textural crunch and a refreshing element to all the strong flavours competing against one another.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-009Course 4: Savoury Lollies. Waldorf salad, Salmon twister and Feast. This was a new one for me and one which I really looked forward to. I just missed out on this course the last time I went to Bray and boy did it put a smile on everyone’s face! The waldorf salad on the left had three flavours of apple, walnut and celery. The salmon twister made from salmon smoked in lapsang souchong tea, asparagus and horseradish cream was divine with a sweet and smokey aroma. The feast was a hommage that did justice to the iconic Australia golden gaytime. Chicken liver parfait was coated in fig and wine gel, and crunchy nuttiness. Whilst they were relatively small in size, the flavours were big, bold and beautiful.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-010The next course was a familiar site and one which we never tired of. It was a tribute and hommage to Alain Chapel who was one of the founding fathers of nouvelle cuisine, and Heston had fond memories of dining at his restaurant with his parents when he was growing up. The front of house started preparing the next course by serving a pack of Fat Duck Films which were flavoured with oak and moss. A wooden tray containing moss and dry ice was brought over to the table and water was poured carefully to release a blanket of oak and moss scented smoke to stimulate all the senses.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-011Course 5: Jelly of Quail, Marron cream. Caviar sorbet, oak moss and truffle toast. This dish was adapted to the Australian environment utilising marron instead of crayfish. The caviar sorbet was also a new but welcomed ingredient. It was a polished dish that took the umami to a level which I had not thought possible. It was however very intense. You only needed the small portion served. The earthy flavours of the truffle toast was complemented by the intense flavour of the jelly and cream.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-013Course 6: Snail porridge, joselito ham and shaved fennel. Granola had been added to the dish since the last time I had this to provide some textural contrast. Whilst the dishes in the Fat Duck often stick around for a while, the team are constantly finding ways to improve the dishes. This was one such dish. It was a more filling dish than we had previously tried and worked well with the crunchy fennel shavings, juicy snail and salty ham.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-014Course 7: Roast Marron, shiitake, confit kombu and sea lettuce. Another fine adaptation of the duck to the Australian environment. Sweet and juicy marron, umami from the kombu and shiitake and the crunchy sea lettuce. It wasn’t a bad dish but possibly the least memorable one from the meal.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-015Course 8: Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. A classic dish and one that just puts a smile on everyone’s face. The course started off with a little bookmark that told the story of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland…

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-016The touch on the pocket watch was very classy this time as it was served in a glass box. Each person had a watch given to them and carefully placed in their tea cup. When water was added it created the stock that would form the base of the soup.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-018The final product was the Mock turtle soup which had black truffle, ox tongue, enoki mushroom and an “egg” in the centre made from swede and turnip cream. To go with the soup was a much needed…

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-019… Toasted sandwich with a filling of smoked anchovy, bone marrow, cucumber and even more black truffle. There was even a very clever layer of thin crispy toast in the middle to contrast against the fluffy white bread texture. This dish had certainly evolved significantly from the first time we tried it seven years ago.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-021Course 9: Sound of the Sea. If there’s one dish that truly defined the Fat Duck for both my wife and I, this was it. It’s a personal dish that can divide opinions. However, there’s a lot of choreography and thought that goes into this dish. For one, the staff are reminded not to disturb any of the diners for a good ten minutes and therefore any paired wines are poured beforehand. The catch of the day here were kingfish, abalone and butterfish. The sea succulents of oyster leaf and dead man’s fingers were locally sourced. As the sound of the sea faded away with the last spoonful, we all came back to our senses and shared our experience.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-025Course 10: Salmon poached in liquorice gel, endive, vanilla mayonnaise and golden trout roe. Perfectly poached salmon, beautiful balance of the savoury fish and sweet endives, with the occasional bursts of saltiness from the roe.

During this dish we again experienced the extraordinary nature of the fat duck front of house. Our friend who had the luxury wine pairing had momentarily crinkled her nose in nanosecond of dissatisfaction with the paired sparkling shiraz (sparkling shiraz can be a polarising drink). I kid you not, within 15 seconds Dimitri had whisked away her glass without making any fuss (and despite her polite protest, that the wine was fine but it was just not really her thing) and served her a delicious glass of the Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1. As it turned out it was an inspired recommendation (and one which subsequently resulted in my friend investing heavily in this wine).

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-028Course 11: Lamb with cucumber, green pepper and caraway. A quietly brilliant lamb dish sourced from South Australia. The dish was served in two parts including lamb tongue, heart and trimmings, pea-shaped mint emulsion, quinoa crisps and a delicious lamb consommé jelly. This was definitely one of the best lamb dishes I’d had in Australia, although it still didn’t quite reach the perfection that the Sportsman in Whitstable has achieved.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-029Course 12: Hot and iced tea. It’s always fun to watch the reaction of those who have never tried this dish previously. It just blows your mind. I am not going to spoil the effect by divulging the mechanism (although it can be found elsewhere). One word of advice. Don’t rotate the glass around as it is served at a certain orientation to ensure the hot and cold elements go to opposite ends of your cheek to achieve maximum effect.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-031Course 13: Botrytis Cinerea. This was hands down my favourite dish of the day, old or new. Other than the artistic way in which this abstract grape had been presented, there were so many thing going on this plate. There were 80 ingredients, 23 elements and 55 stages. You had everything from a churro stalk and compressed red grape in liquid nitrogen, to citrus sorbet, aerated saffron and pear caramel. What was most impressive, however, was that it all occurred in perfect harmony.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-035Course 14: The Not-so-full English Breakfast. One of Heston’s signature dish consisting of bacon and egg ice cream, candied bacon on a bed of French toast. The ice cream, prepared in liquid nitrogen, was not quite as creamy as I had previously tried it on my last two occasion in Bray however the flavour was there with a delicious contrast of sweet and savoury, soft bread and crunchy bacon, warm bread and cold ice cream. If only the ice cream was creamier!

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-032The course was accompanied with a box containing puzzle pieces which were to be slotted into the wall as part of Fat Duck history, and some candied parsnips with parsnip milk to be consumed as a cereal. I’ve had this dish before and must admit it hasn’t quite struck a cord with me previously nor on this occasion. It was certainly crispy, crunchy and sweet…. but it just didn’t feel anything special.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-038Course 15: Whiskey wine gum. I absolutely love whiskey and still haven’t come across any other restaurant that can do something so unique and fun with it like Heston (I have still not forgiven Disfrutar for their somewhat desperate whiskey handwash dish!!). On this occasion, one of the whiskey was sourced from Lark distillery in Tasmania alongside Oban, Laphroaig, Highland Park and Glenlivet.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-039As Dimitri packed away our sweets to have at home (Like a kid in a sweet shop) we realised that we were the last ones in the dining room, again. What’s more, we were only 30 mins away from the start of the dinner service (taking our dining time to a new Australian record of 5 hours and 30 mins) so we knew we had to get our bill before we overstayed our welcome. What amazed me again was that at no point were we made uncomfortable or pressured to getting our bill, despite how close they were to the next service. It was perfect execution by the whole team.

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-020Our meal at the Fat Duck was flawless and magical as my previous two experiences. The front of house was phenomenal. It was clearly evident to all of us that what the Fat Duck did was highlight the sad truth that Australia still had a long way to go when it came to hospitality. While the service in other fine dining Australia restaurants are obviously very good, it was clear that they are not in the same league as the best the world had to offer. So was it worth the hefty price tag? Without a shadow of a doubt, yes, and I would pay it again even if I had to eat beans and toast for the next few week.

Amaru, Melbourne

P1190048Chef: Clinton McIver   Website:  Cuisine: Modern Australian

High Street Armadale isn’t exactly the most exciting street when it comes to the fine dining scene of Melbourne yet Clinton McIver is certainly working hard to change that fact. Once a Vue de Monde chef, McIver has taken his first steps in making his own mark in the fine dining scene after an unexpected stint in the Claytons Bowl Club. I must confess I was completely unaware of Amaru until my last visit to Lume, where several front of house members spoke very highly of their food. I didn’t need any other excuse to make a reservation.

P1190050I was rather surprised to find an ample and generous dining room with only eight tables and six counter seats holding a maximum capacity of up to 30 people. The textured render on the wall, the natural wood tables and minimal decoration echoed the minimalist Scandinavian theme that continued through the beautifully handcrafted ceramicware. P1190054The service by the front of house was friendly and personal, although it did take a while before our aperitif order was taken and served. The choice of the menu was simple. There was one tasting menu option priced at 95 AUD for lunch and a more extensive 120 AUD tasting menu for dinner. As the 120 AUD option was not offered we assumed that there was no possibility to upgrade our menu so agreed with the shorter menu. We also opted for a matching wine option which was extremely flexible. This was very welcome as one of my dining companion asked only for red wine to be matched.P1190058We had the best table of the dining room with a perfect view over the kitchen and the pass. Personally I thought it offered a better view over the kitchen than the ‘chef’s table’ which was technically seats at the counter of the bar.P1190059Course 1: Activated Nuts and Seeds – A moist savoury biscuit with a distinct flavour of sesame that reminded me of Japanese black sesame rice crackers, and Course 2: Walnut Leaves / Compressed Pear – served with a smoked eel mousse and shavings of jerusalem artichoke; served together over a bed of empty walnut shells.

P1190061Course 3: Eel / Onion / Pickle – Served over a typical Finnish bread (one of the three chefs was Finnish which explained the Nordic flavours). This was our favourite snack course with a good balance of the rich eel mousse against the pickled onion and dill. P1190064Course 4: Swede / Natural yeast / Pork Sausage – A surprise course which wasn’t on our menu which drew a close to the amuse bouche segment. The warm deep fried Swede was a perfect canvas to take on the flavour of the crumbled salty pork sausage. Not a bad start.P1190069Course 5: Tuna Belly / Shaved Radish / Sweet Ginger / Granny Smith apple / Horseradish oil – The dish was completed at the table with the cold pressed Granny Smith Apple juice and horseradish oil.

Matched wine: 2014 Le Grand Cros, Rose, Cote de Provence, Provence, France

P1190073Under the thin slithers of the fatty tuna belly was a bed of tuna loin tartare. The larger salt crystals enhanced the flavours of what was rather a subtle and delicate dish. There was a weak but definite present apple juice flavour that surprisingly worked well. It wasn’t personally my favourite dish as I felt the tuna belly could have been used better but I admired the courage to try something different.

P1190057For our next course we were offered the option of adding some shavings of Manjimup Truffle, sourced from Western Australia for 20 AUD per person. I wasn’t initially sure about spending 20 AUD for a truffle I’ve previously found to be bland but I was certainly glad to have opted for it in hindsight (and that’s the beauty of hindsight!).P1190077Course 6: Organic Hen Egg / Celeriac / Sea Butter / Truffle – A generous portion of black truffle was consistently given to each of us on our table to go with our course.

Matched wine: 2014 Tissot ‘Patchwork’, Chardonnay, Jura, France

P1190082Whilst the earthy black truffle was a triumphant addition to the gooey poached egg yolk, the true star of this dish was the celeriac. The celeriac had been salt baked before being sliced into wafer thin slithers and served over the egg yolk. The slightly charred edges gave it a distinct smokey flavour which melded beautifully with the truffle and egg.P1190084We were thoughtfully provided with a slice of toasted home baked sourdough to mop up the rich egg yolk and tiny morsels of black truffle. My only complaint was that it was slightly burnt on the edges which detracted slightly from the dish.P1190087Course 7: Dry Aged Duck / Liquorice / Kombu Butter / Leek – I personally do like my duck on the pinker side but this bird could have done with another thirty seconds on the heat. The liquorice used to season the duck was a novelty which contrasted well against the bitter charred leek. The meat, however, due to its rareness was slightly difficult to cut through despite the crispy skin.

Matched wine: 2012 Saint Prefert Chateauneuf de Pape, Rhone, France

P1190090Course 8: Emu Egg / Toasted Hay / Unfiltered Olive Oil / Vinegar – Equally impressive as the celeriac dish was this rich and creamy hay-infused ice cream that had been made from emu egg. The unfiltered olive oil and apple vinegar reduction added a combination of both sweet and savoury flavours to the ice cream. The smooth texture, richness and complex flavours – this dish had it all.

Matched sake: 2013 Emishiki ‘Monsoon’ Yamadanishiki, Saga Prefecture, Japan

P1190094Course 9: Roasted Artichoke / Fuji Apple / Verbena – It was difficult to shine after the previous ice cream dish. While this dish wasn’t bad at all, and you could distinctly pick out the flavour of the apple and hints of verbena, it was nowhere near as memorable as the ice cream. This closed the main part of the tasting menu.

Matched wine: 2010 Burklin-Wolf Auslese ‘Ruppertsberger’ Riesling, Pfalz, Germany

P1190097Course 10: A Taste of Gin & Tonic – The first of the two petit fours was a sphere of gin and tonic jelly. It was a good palate cleanser but I found it more alcoholic than anything else.P1190098Course 11: Chocolate Shiso Ganache / Crystallised Pumpkin Seed –  To finish off was a dense bitter chocolate ganache ball infused with shiso flavour.

Overall, at circa 200 AUD a head I thought this was good value for money particularly given the extra black truffle course. The meal was mostly good, although the simple mistakes on the toast and the preparation of the duck was surprising. This was particularly due to the two outstanding dishes  which showed promise of what other great things we could expect from McIver. A word of warning however for those who are contemplating on skipping breakfast or lunch before coming here with an appetite; I left slightly hungry. It could have been the shorter lunch menu or the absence of the usual serving of bread on the side, but you have been warned.

Igni, Geelong

P1180971Chef: Aaron Turner   Website:    Cuisine:  Modern Australian (charcoal)

When Loam abruptly closed its doors for good over two years ago I was rather annoyed with myself. I should have made the effort earlier to head down to Drysdale and I was kicking myself. To add salt to the wound many of my food contacts would often repeat how great the restaurant was. So when I heard Aaron Turner had decided to make a come back I wasted no time in getting a reservation to his new venture in Geelong. His new restaurant Igni promised to deliver far more refined food than Loam with a focus on using a charcoal grill like Lennox Hastie’s Firedoor. After a rather disappointing meal at Firedoor I was praying for something better.

P1180973The generous amount of space in a modest sized dining room made the dining experience a rather intimate one. The raw timber and simple designs of the furniture were reminiscent of Noma and El Celler de Can Roca where Turner had previously trained and polished his skills. There’s also no escaping from the intoxicating charcoal grill smoke that adds that rustic canvas to a modern decor. It took me back to my meal at Asador Etxebarri almost five years ago. P1190027Igni only had two degustation menus on on offer: a five course menu (AUD 100) or eight course menu (AUD 150). Turner only used fresh ingredients available on a given day so there was usually not enough of one ingredient to go around for all diners. To top it off, the chef also catered to each diners likes / allergies so each table was not likely to be getting the same dishes. We were perhaps not overly helpful when asked about likes and dislikes as all I could come up with was “No bad food, please”. As with most degustation menu options there were also matching wines available for both menus… Who am I to say no?

P1180978The bread on offer was supplied by a seventh generation baker based out in Warrnambool. It had a light and fluffy texture and disappeared all too quickly with…

P1180979… the smoked home cultured butter that really got our palate going. We subsequently had another two serves.P1180982Amuse Bouche 1: Air dried beef – The beef had been marinated in a concoction of mushroom soy sauce, grapeseed oil, vinegar, dried herbs and fish paste before being dehydrated. Delicious!P1180983Amuse Bouche 2: Salt and vinegar saltbush leaves – The saltbush leaves had been fried to a crisp and dressed with a vinegar powder. It was a healthier alternative to salt and vinegar chips and rather delectable.P1180984Amuse Bouche 3: Duck Crostini – A lovely fatty slice of duck ham wrapped around the thinner-than-usual crostini which was as texturally pleasing as it was flavoursome. P1180985Amuse Bouche 4: Chicken skin and cod roe – My personal favourite of the amuse bouche series were the crunchy roasted chicken skin that had a generous portion of cod roe with a hint of citrus spread across it and dressed in dill. This was exactly my kind of food. Comforting, different but most importantly delicious.P1180987Amuse Bouche 5: Guanciale – House made slices of guanciale.P1180988Amuse Bouche 6: Zucchini flower and pickled mussel – The zucchini flower had been stuffed with pickled mussels before being grilled over charcoal. This was the end of our amuse bouche segment. Not a bad start at all. Overall, some interesting textures, flavours and ideas. P1180992Course 1: Oyster, guava berry, sea water – Our first course consisted of a lightly roasted oyster that had been placed in a ceramic oyster shell with a salty sea water emulsion and guava berry juice. All the flavours worked well including the slightly tangy guavaberry which I had never tried before (apparently it goes well with rum!). The overall taste echoed the taste of the ocean. Light, fresh and mineral.

Matched with a glass of the 2014 Bodegas Bernabe la Amistad, Alicante, Spain

P1180994Course 2: Leek, cultured cream, dill – A fat piece of char grilled leek served with cultured cream, dill oil, saltbush and oyster leaf. I was not the biggest fan of this dish. I could see that Turner was trying to celebrate the humble leek in the same way the Catalan do with their Calçot, but I found it rather bland and at best slightly bitter. It looked better than it tasted.

Matched with 2012 Ben Haines, Encore, Marsanne, Yarra Valley, Australia

P1190004Course 3: Southern Calamari, broth, brook trout roe – This was a better dish. Raw thin calamari ribbons, dressed with a generous portion of trout roe and finished with a marron and chicken broth poured at the table. The broth had a good depth of flavour, perfect to be mopped up by the incredibly thin slithers of calamari. Its aroma was equally inviting.

Matched with 2014 Pierre Rousse, Le Pelut Dithyrambe, Languedoc, France

P1190007Course 4: Marron, pil pil, cucumber – Admittedly this dish divided us a bit. The lightly grilled marron was an odd combination with the fermented pickled cucumbers, yet the Basque pil pil sauce worked brilliantly well. Overall, however, there was one flavour that lingered in our mouth and that was the pickled cucumber. I thought it was a bit of a shame for the beautifully cooked marron.

Matched with 2014 Matassa, Coume de l’Olla, Blanc, Cotes Catalanes, France

P1190009Course 5: Lamb rump, parsnip, radicchio – A giant radicchio leaf dressed in a honey vinaigrette was placed over…

P1190010… a smooth parsnip purée and a piece of perfectly cooked lamb which was unbelievably tender and juicy. The honey vinaigrette worked well to balance the bitterness of the radicchio. Every element here was important in creating a very well balanced dish. I’m not easily impressed by red meat dishes but this was quite good.

Matched with 2013 Brendan Tracey, Gorge Seche, Loire, FranceP1190013Course 6 (Extra course at supplementary cost): Smoked duck, baby fennel, finger lime – Perhaps it was the caliber of the last course but we felt we could do one more meat course before moving on to the dessert courses. This was the best decision we made. The free roaming ducks sourced locally from the Great Ocean Road were aged for 21 days before being smoked. The crispy skin, the smokey meat, the bursting bubbles of finger lime. What a treat to the taste bud!

Matched with 2014 Mahana, Gravity, Pinot Noir, Nelson, New Zealand

P1190017Course 7: Old ewe, new ewe – Essentially a mixture of Roquefort cheese, mint and sheep milk granita. An interesting take on Roquefort but I would have much preferred a plate of good old Roquefort to be honest.

Matched with NV Tom Shobbrook, Salvia, Barossa, Australia

P1190021Course 8: Mandarin, cream, honeycomb – To my relief it wasn’t another cheese course but this time it was a bowl of mandarin sorbet, cultured cream, lemon drops and honeycomb using real honey for a change. Refreshing and great flavours from a tried and tested combination. A perfect course to make way for the finale.

Matched with Ginger beer and Heiwa Shuzo yuzu-su

P1190026Course 9: Seaweed, quinoa – A rather polarising finale of a sweet and sticky goats milk ice cream flavoured with seaweed, sandwiched carefully between thin and crispy quinoa wafers dusted with a green tea powder. I personally thought the dessert was a triumph. The umami and saltiness of the seaweed, the sweet and sticky ice cream and the slightly bitter green tea. It all just complemented each other.

Matched with 2015 Mukai Shuzo, Junmai Genshu, Japan & Ota Shuzo, Dokan, Ume-shu

P1190029Petit Fours 1: Madeleine’s coated in icing sugar to finish the dish off.P1190030Petit Fours 2: Roasted pineapples and physalis to draw the meal to a close.

Perhaps it was the friendly front of house who put up with my wanker food talk with a grain of salt and good humour, or it may have been the intoxicating smell of burning charcoal, but there was something in the air that made you feel at ease in Igni. The food was very serious but equally comforting and delicious. What was a pleasant surprise was that the food here was far more enjoyable and less pretentious than Firedoor in Sydney. Whilst we decided to drive from Melbourne, the station is only a few minutes walk if one wanted to partake in the very reasonable and excellent wine matching option too. It was a few years of waiting but I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to try Turner’s food. His future looks promising. Let’s hope he keeps this one open for a while. I certainly will be planning to return there a couple more times.


Noma in Australia, Sydney

P1180482Chef: René Redzepi     Website:     Cusine: Modern Nordic

Noma and the Fat Duck were two of the first fine dining experience my wife (then girlfriend) and I had experienced in Europe so I thought it would have been very fitting if I managed to miraculously score a table for both pop-ups in Australia; and I did! Admittedly, my friend Sarah was the one who actually had scored the table at Noma as I had accidentally slept through my wake up alarm whilst traveling in Spain. It does appear that lady luck is still by my side in my culinary adventures. She didn’t abandon me for elBulli and the Fat Duck down under and she certainly didn’t here. We were two of the 5,500 lucky diners… and trust me you were well aware of the 27,000 strong waiting list breathing down your neck!! Fast forward a few months and here we were, having flown from Melbourne to purely indulge ourselves for the afternoon. I had very fond memories from my last experience seven years ago in Copenhagen and the staff warmly greeted us as they had before.


After being greeted by Redzepi and his team of chefs, we found ourselves directed to our table in a cool and modern decor dining room. There wasn’t much of a view as the curtains were draped from top to bottom and we were oriented towards the service stations. This did have some advantages as it allowed us to observe the army of front of house meandering around the room as well as the reaction of each diner as their dishes were being served. This certainly worked at building up the anticipation. There was certainly a different type of dynamic here compared to the Fat Duck in Melbourne which was perhaps more discrete, not that I minded. With the meal paid upfront all we had to do was choose our beverage pairing option. I went for the matching wine option ($195) whilst my friend chose the matching juice ($95).

P1180489We opted for a glass of the Snakebite a la Noma, which was a significant departure from what I remembered from my students days. The producers from Two Metre Tall in Tasmania recreated this classic drink with an unusual barrel-aged cider-ale blend; the result being a rather crisp and refreshing drink that went down almost in one gulp perfectly quenching my thirst from the heat outside. Luckily the team here were as generous as always. Top up was plentiful at no extra cost. This was going to get messy. As the glass got topped up for the second time our friendly waitress Tamara explained that the meal today was celebrating the Australian native ingredients and produce. Intriguing. I was wondering what lengths Redzepi had gone to for authenticity. Perhaps he had wrestled a kangaroo to the ground himself (to which he assures us not this time later in the meal).P11804911st Course – Unripe macadamia and spanner crab: The first course was a broth of spanner crab from Western Australia with macadamia nut from Byron Bay, served over ice and drizzled with rose oil. I loved the marriage of the sweet and savory broth, the crunchy and sweet nut and the floral note of the rose oil (which to be honest, prior to tasting, I didn’t expect to work). The combination of the flavour reminded me of eating coconut on the beach while licking your lips wet from the salt water. P11804942nd Course – Wild seasonal berries flavoured with gubinge: A dish created from several types of native berries including muntries, riberry, kakadu plum, desert lime and lemon aspen, dressed finally with finely grated kakadu plum (gubinge) powder and olive oil. It was a rather tart dish that could have been balanced better in my opinion, making it my least favourite course of the meal. In comparison, I thought Attica’s take on the native berries was more refined.

P11804983rd Course – Porridge of golden and desert oak wattle seed with saltbush: This was a far more interesting and, most importantly, delicious course. The ‘porridge’ which was wrapped in celery oil compressed saltbush leaves, was made from two types of wattle seeds, the golden and desert oak. This playful take on Dolmades was completed by a sweet anise myrtle oil, native herbs and finger lime dressing. It was a very creative use of unconventional local produce which highlighted Redzepi’s ability to adapt in foreign environment. P11804994th Course – Seafood platter and crocodile fat: If, for some bizarre reason, you ever wondered what crocodile fat could be used for then Redzepi has the answer. A selection of five locally sourced molluscs were served over a bed of chilled pebbles, each one covered with a crispy thin wafer made from crocodile fat combined with the skin that forms on top of chicken stock. We were advised to start with the Pippi, followed by the blue mussels, strawberry clam, flame cockle and finally the oyster. My personal favourite was the flame cockle and the sweet strawberry clam.

P11805075th Course – W.A. deep sea snow crab with cured egg yolk: Undoubtedly one of my two favourite dishes of the meal. The snow crab, sourced from the deep sea south west of Western Australia (Albany), lightly steamed and extracted with as minimal interference as possible. The crab was placed over a bed of rich sauce made from…. wait for it… egg yolk from an egg that had been cured in fermented kangaroo juice (sounds worse than it was) and smoked butter, kombucha and rose. The fermented kangaroo juice required six months preparation! This was an unbelievably deliciously and rich course with its success attributed to the salty and luxuriously creamy egg yolk that surpassed even the curing techniques used in Japan (commonly in dashi and soy sauce) in my opinion. P11805086th Course – PIE: dried scallops and Lantana flowers: Another simple looking dish which could not have been more complex. The crust of the ‘pie’ was made using dried kelp to add umami into the dish. The main content of the pie was a scallop fudge made by slicing and drying a scallop before powdering it and mixing it with some bees wax. A layer of Lantana flowers were laid on the pastry before the fudge was set into the crust. We were advised to pluck the Lantana flowers and scatter it over the pie…

P1180511… which we naturally obliged. In the absence of a distinct smell, the edible flowers provided a lovely aroma to the dish and also cut through the rich slice of pie. All in all, the flavour of the pie was not too dissimilar to a very concentrated taste of scallop unlike anything I had eaten before. The crust crumbled like a sable biscuit and provided that important firm texture to the dish. It was an interesting dish although I was not quite decided as to whether I just liked it or loved it. It reminded me of a Japanese prawn cracker, and a good one for that matter.P11805137th Course – BBQ’d milk ‘dumpling’ Marron and Magpie goose: Our only meat course of the meal was something I had never tried before; a magpie goose. It is apparently a waterbird species from the wetlands in the Northern Territory. P1180514 This was another winner of a dish. Inside the palm leaf was a dumpling casing made from crisp milk skin, resembling more of a taco shell. The marron could be seen poking out, oozing with a ragu made from magpie goose. The entire dumpling appeared to have been grilled to create a smokey flavour. The magpie goose, it was explained to us, is a culled pest in NT due to their love of the farmer’s treasured mangoes. Even worse, they only eat the sweetest part of the mango!! Perhaps this explained why they had a rather sweet flavour to their meat. It didn’t take long for Sarah and I to devour this dumpling.

P11805168th Course – Sea urchin & tomato dried with pepper berries: Another surprise of the day was the source of the sea urchin. I was quick to assume this had been sourced from Tasmania but quickly corrected that it had in fact been sourced from Ulladulla, NSW. The sweetness of the sea urchin was remarkable and the tomatoes from Launceston were equally impressive. They had been cooked 30 mins on each side to get an equal amount of heat. The delicious morsels were placed in a soup of fermented tomato oil, pepperberry and elderberry.

P11805209th Course – Abalone schnitzel and bush condiments: The abalone sourced from Eden, NSW was crumbed lightly to create a crunchy texture that contrasted with the juicy and tender meat inside. We were presented an assortment of Australian bush condiments to try with the abalone, starting with mattrush, sea fennel, beach plants, native fig, neptune necklace, Kakadu plum, Atherton oak nut, sprouting kelp, yellow palm fruit, bunya nut, sea pearls and finger lime. On the side as well there was a small bowl of salty sauce made from celery oil and yeast. I wondered what had happened to the other half of my abalone. Given the number of condiments on the plate it was impossible to try each with the abalone.

That, ladies and gents, was the end of our savory dishes. Was it enough? No, I definitely wanted more!!

P118052710th Course – Marinated fresh fruits: Our first of three desserts consisted of Redzepi’s famed ingredient, ants. On this occasion we had native green ants coated around a mango sandwich although the lime-like taste we were promised was nowhere to be seen. We also had a watermelon cube soaked in Davidson plum sauce and my favourite of a pineapple cube soaked in Tasmanian Belgrove whiskey.

P1180528Some dessert plum and finger lime were also presented with a pepper berry twig as a utensil to pick it up.P118053411th Course – Rum lamington: A courageous move in my view as Australians generally prefer their lamington’s untouched but (and admittedly I am still a new Australia) I thought it was executed well. The light and airy lamington conjured from aerated Black Gate rum cake topped with shavings of dried milk on a native tangy tamarind sauce was a very well balanced dish.P118053512th Course – Peanut milk and freekeh ‘Baytime’: The finale was another homage to the Australia iconic “Golden Gaytime” ice cream which was one of the first thing my wife introduced me to when I arrived in Melbourne. They had wanted to call it a Gaytime but couldn’t (possibly for copyright reasons I assume) and instead called it a Baytime to reflect the location of the restaurant. Inside was a toasted freekeh glazed coating was a frozen peanut milk juice and a caramel centre. A twig of lemon myrtle was used as the stick of the ice cream, adding a subtle note of citrus fragrance. Impressive!

P1180540We were next provided with some dessert lime candies to go with our Ethiopian coffee which was excellent. Whilst I haven’t delved too much on the matched wine, I can share a few thoughts. Firstly, they are exclusively Australian and, in absence of a wine list, one can safely assume the choices are limited to the Sommelier’s suggestions. Secondly, there was a concentration of wine from South Australia and in particular the Adelaide Hills. I was surprised to find no Victorian or Western Australian wines. Thirdly, just as my experience in Copenhagen seven years ago, the offering is generous with at least a top up for each matching wine; so much so I was utterly intoxicated by the time we moved outside to have a digestive. Lastly, as dictated by the courses, it wasn’t surprising to find that all but one wine were white. On a completely separate note, my friend’s matching juice was in my opinion a far better match to the food as far as the compatibility factor went.

P1180541Since returning home the main question I keep getting asked was whether it lived up to its hype. To be honest this is something I’ve struggled to answer. There’s a certain intrinsic value of something that is so finite in supply, similar to our experience in the closing season of elBulli, that canvasses the sense of occasion. To that same token, comparing my meal here to the one in Copenhagen would be like comparing bananas with apples; the food was completely different. Overall there were a couple of knock out dishes and a couple less so. What excited me, however, was the opportunity to taste and celebrate Australian ingredients and produce in a way that I’d never come across before. The uniqueness in this occasion was that this was done through the perspective of a talented foreign chef. Redzepi was in a great position to present ingredients which to be honest I suspect no one would have even contemplated serving. This highlighted the diversity and abundance of ingredients found across the continent. For this reason, Noma in Australia was truly a unique and memorable experience like no other. The icing on the cake of course was the friendly service I fondly remembered from Copenhagen. So if you do get a chance, go. You may not agree with all the dishes but you will certainly have a unique and highly memorable meal.

Gastro Park, Sydney

P1180297Chef: Grant King     Website:    Cuisine: Molecular

It’s true, Australia IS being invaded. The Kiwi’s are taking over…. Well at least in the food world where they are certainly making a scene in the fine dining scene across the big Australian cities. My first encounter was that of Ben Shewry, who I still think is my favourite chef currently in Australia. However, I recently found out that there has similarly been another Kiwi chef making a name for himself in Sydney but in the discipline of molecular cuisine. His name is Grant King and his restaurant is Gastro Park.

P1180233King worked his way through Europe under big names such as Gary Rhodes, Bruno Loubet and Gordon Ramsey. More recently he cemented his place in Sydney’s fine dining scene at Pier under the supervision of his mentor Greg Doyle. He finally went solo in 2011 opening Gastro Park where he rapidly achieved two hats within four months. He is renown for combining molecular techniques and creative ideas with fresh seasonal ingredients. This ensures his menu continues to evolve every day, keeping him challenged; not something any ordinary chef would take.

P1180236 The perfect opportunity came up for a visit when my family and I were catching up with friends from the UK Guild of Food Writers who were in Sydney for holidays. One of the lovely things about Gastro Park is that they accept BYO. As it was a special occasion I had popped a bottle of my 2006 Greenock Creek Roenfeldt Road Shiraz in my luggage and,  for a mere $30 corkage fee, the sommelier took the bottle to decanter as we took our seat and ordered the 10 course Tasting menu. It was going to be a great afternoon.

P1180243Course 1 – Grissini wrapped with wagyu and parmesan: The first course was technically made up of a few snacks. The first was a generous portion of thin raw wagyu slice that completely covered the grissini stick. The saltiness of the parmesan drew out the flavour of the meat. Simple but clever and tasty.P1180246 2nd Course – Earth tartlets with buffalo mozzarella: This was very light and slightly cheesy in flavour. The wafer thin shell of the tartlet was a good textural element.

P1180247 3rd Course – Salmon with yuzu: The last installment of the snacks was a beautiful slither of salmon with a dab of a light yuzu sauce that cut through the oiliness of the fish.

P1180248 Some home made bread with butter prior to the first main course being served. The bread had a good texture.

P1180251 Our waiter brought us each out a set of closed shells clouded in a mist only to reveal our next course of…

P11802564th Course – Scallop & Pomegranate ceviche: A generous portion of king scallop morsels were scattered underneath slices of marinated soft onion. It was dressed with a slightly tart pomegranate juice which was well balanced against the sweet scallops.P11802575th Course – Seared lobster, coconut, apple, sorrel and kaffir: Seared lobster tail cooked perfectly with a light smokey flavour. It was a beautiful light summer dish and the flavour combination was not too dissimilar to Thai flavours. P1180260 6th Course – Liquid butternut gnocchi, mushroom consommé: This dish has featured on the menu for a long time due to its popularity. The butternut gnocchi spheres were sweet and burst in your mouth with little effort like an egg yolk. The mushroom consommé had a lovely deep flavour and the onion crumb elevated the dish, creating a perfect balance of sweetness and earthiness. Based on the press, I expected this dish to be more gimmicky but I was absolutely wrong.

P1180263 7th Course – Crispy scaled wild jewfish, salt baked celeriac, roast bone sauce: The edible fish scales idea was inspired by Spanish chef Martin Berasategui. The scales were pushed backwards so they stood up before being doused in smoking olive oil until they fried into edible crisps which crackled and popped. The richness of the roast bone sauce and the crispy fried enoki mushroom worked ever so well with the fish. A truly delicious dish. Impressive.

P11802738th Course – Roast pork belly, spanner crab, carrot, pork pebbles: Another winner of a dish with the cracking ‘pork’ pebble crackling. Who would have thought that the creamy spanner crab would work so well with pork belly? This dish was all about the texture and flavours and by god it went down so well with our bottle of 2006 Greenock Creek Roenfeldt Road Shiraz.

P1180276 9th Course – 48 Hours slow cooked Riverina short rib, smoked eggplant, pea & pods: Beautifully pink inside from the sous-vide preparation and yet with a delicious sticky glaze on the exterior with the robata grill finish. The garnishes were simple but complimented the beef, the star of the show. The smokey eggplant was my favourite garnish.

So far, I was quite impressed with the variety of techniques and styles of dishes Chef King created for his savoury courses. I hoped his desserts were equally interesting…

P118028110th Course – Sheeps milk yoghurt, strawberry and pint grapefruit icy pop: Perfect palate cleanser that was equally beautiful and playful. However, I wasn’t sure whether this should have been called a course as it disappeared in two quick bites.P118028511th Course – Robata Pineapple, yuzu ice cream, buttermilk, fennel: Why did I even bother worrying? This was a stunning dessert. The sweet caramelised pineapple and the tart yuzu ice cream was a marriage made in heaven. I even found that liquorice / aniseed flavour, created by the use of fennel, rather enjoyable. P118028812th Course – Chocolate, honeycomb & vanilla sphere, cardamom, saffron, ginger: The finale quite literally went with a bang…P1180290… after cracking the chocolate sphere. A lovely chocolate mousse, vanilla and honeycomb (which had been delicately spiced with a mixture of an cardamom, saffron and ginger) oozed out of the sphere. The spices lifted this dish from becoming a heavy and mundane dish. It divided us down the middle. Two dinners loved it and the other two were not too sure. I for one thought it was clever and delicious, although not as good as the previous dessert dish.

P1180232Gastro Park was far more than just cutting edge molecular cuisine. Chef King clearly had a great palate, creativeness and a sense of playfulness that made his food rather unique in Sydney. I expected some dishes to have more style over substance but I was wrong. For all the wizardry and playfulness, Chef King never lost sight of what was most important – good tasting food. To top it off, the service was also very good, particularly given that our party included two 1 year old babies who occasionally felt like reminding us that they were there. We were very grateful for the care and attention of the staff. We left the restaurant with a smile (and our daughter asleep in her stroller), only to realise then that we had been dining for four hours.

Minamishima, Melbourne

P1170598Chef: Koichi Minamishima     Website:    Cuisine: Edomae sushi

One of my greatest disappointment in Australia to date has been the poor quality of authentic Japanese cuisine, particularly in Melbourne. Sure, Sydney has a handful of old school institutions like Juju but when it came to the matter of sushi, Australia has a lot of catching up to do. I was therefore very excited when I heard about a place in Richmond, Melbourne that opened up in 2014 and had attained two hats almost immediately. It specialised in edomae sushi. This, I thought, was the answer to my prayers…

P1170599Unlike many overseas sushi restaurants that have been opened up by successful chefs from Tokyo, Minamishima is headed up by chef Koichi Minamishima who spent his formative years at Kenzan, Melbourne. This was a sticking point for me as Kenzan had not impressed me in the past. More importantly it wasn’t known for sushi. However, I had heard good things so I decided to keep an open mind.

There’s only one menu at Minamishima which both makes it easy for the undecided and ensures the best seasonal fish is utilised for all customers. AUD $150 buys you a 15 course meal which can be complimented with matching sake or wine. There were also three additional courses offered that evening, two starters and a dessert, for an additional cost…..which cumulatively matched the price of the 15 course menu.P11706031st Course – Ootoro with Italian beluga black caviar (supplementary course at extra cost): It wasn’t cheap but was definitely worth every cent. The tuna was sourced that same week from Tsukiji market in Tokyo. The fatty ootoro (tuna belly) and the salty black caviar went ever so well together. The mother pearl shell spoon was obviously a must when eating black caviar for the purists.P11706052nd Course – Grilled broad beans with shiitake salt: Not too dissimilar to edamame and I liked the earthy salt in combination with the beans.

P11706093rd Course – Fugu tempura (Supplementary course at extra cost): Minamishima-san explained that the fugu had been professionally prepared in Japan by a qualified professional before it was delivered to him in Melbourne. Much like most fugu’s I’ve previously tried, the flavour was very subtle and delicate. The tempura was surprisingly of good quality, not oily and quite crispy.

P11706144th Course – King Dory: Cured king dory, a native fish only found in the southern Australian coast, New Zealand and South Africa with no Japanese name. A pinch of sesame and a squirt of lime blew some life into this thin slice of white meat.

P11706155th Course – Garfish / Sayori (サヨリ): Topped with thinly chopped spring onion and ginger, and some shiso hiding underneath the fish. The fish had been dressed with Minamishima’s home made soy sauce. Another delicate fish with a jelly like texture.

P11706206th Course – Cod fish / Tara (): Topped with shiso. My least favourite nigiri of the evening with unfortunately very little flavour.

P11706277th Course – Sea Perch / Suzuki (): Finally on to a decent piece of sushi. This was what I was hoping to encounter! Great meaty texture and fattiness. The classic combination of ponzu and grated daikon (Japanese radish) with the sea perch worked well. Here’s to hoping there were plenty more like this ahead!

P11706309th Course – Calamari / Aori Ika (アオリイカ): Served with sea salt and shiso leaves. A decent nigiri but not the best calamari I’ve had by a long shot. It had a beautiful creamy texture but I found the flavour rather bland.

P117063310th Course – Scampi / Tenaga Ebi (手長蝦): The scampi was sourced from New Zealand and was sweet, juicy and slightly crunchy. However, it’s definitely no contender to the classic superior choice of the kuruma-ebi which has a far more inviting aroma.

P117063811th Course – Scallop / Hotate (帆立): The scallop, sourced from Hokkaido was, in my view, not treated with respect. The charring left a slight burnt aftertaste and ruined the soft and creamy texture that scallops are renown for. I did however like the smoky component and think this dish could be refined to a lighter degree of charring to make it perfect.

P117064312th Course – Flounder / Karei (カレイ): Finally what I was waiting for. Something to blow me away! This was definitely my favourite dish of the entire evening and my god what a nigiri that was! The chef utilised the fin of the flounder from Hokkaido which is normally discarded. He then proceeded by intricately scoring it, lightly searing with a blowtorch and wrapping it with nori. The smell was ever so inviting and looked delicately beautiful. It packed a punch of rich, smoky, oily flavour, and a meltingly soft texture from the natural fat of the fish.

P117064813th and 14th Course – Chutoro (中とろ) and Otoro (大とろ): The blue fin tuna (hon-maguro) was sourced again from Tsukiji. The quality was decent but I was amazed to find quite a bit of sinew in the ootoro. This was a cardinal sin and disappointing. The chutoro was, however, delightful.

P117065915th Course – Seared Ootoro / Aburi Ootoro (炙り大とろ): Whilst I would normally prefer my ootoro untouched and served as it is, this was far more enjoyable than the previous course as any remaining sinew fortunately had melted to create a juicy and fatty slice of ootoro.

P117066516th Course – Sea Urchin / Uni (ウニ): Sea urchin sourced from Tasmania. Lovely creaminess and absent of myoban and its bitter aftertaste, which is typically used to preserve the freshness of uni for those that are imported from overseas like Hokkaido. The flavour however was not as bold and distinct as the fresh ones you get in Japan.

P117066917th Course – Mackerel pressed sushi / Saba Oshizushi (さばの押し寿司): Also known as battera (バッテラ), this is one of my all time favourite sushi that I always order if available. The mackerel was cured well allowing the meat to retain its shape. The rice was infused with the lovely oily flavour of the fish and balanced against the sharpness of the vinegar from the curing process.

P117067118th Course – Salt Water Eel / Anago (穴子): The final dish of the set menu was another pressed sushi of eel. As noted in my previous write up, there’s a lot of skill required to preparing eel that takes years of practice and experience. I found the kabayaki sauce on the lighter side compared to the usual sticky rich sauce you get in Japan. In addition, the flavour of the eel was bland.

P1170674As we pondered on what additional nigiri’s we were going to order, Chef Minamishima’s right hand man Hajime Horiguchi (middle above) joined the chefs to keep up with the order that were piling in. They worked meticulously in sync and the speed at which the sushi’s were being sent out to the bigger tables was truly amazing.

P117067719th Course – Sweet Egg Cake / Tamagoyaki (卵焼き): This one was with a twist. The tamagoyaki was made more like a castella-styled cake which the Portuguese brought to Japan in the 16th Century. It had a lovely sweetness and moisture.

P117068320th Course – Salmon Roe / Ikura (イクラ): In addition to re-ordering the flounder, sea perch and seared ootoro, I could not go away without asking for my childhood favourite of the salmon roe. The salmon roe sourced from Tasmania was firm enough to be individually savoured but in my opinion, marinating the salmon roe in soy sauce would have elevated this dish further.

P117068521st Course – Diamond Clam and dashi: A sweet and chewy clam suimono that washed away the lingering flavour of sushi before jumping on to the finale of the dessert.

P117068822nd Course – Yokan and Cherry Blossom ice cream: The yokan (red bean paste cake) was smooth and washed down ever so well with the hot tea. The cherry blossom ice cream left a floral aftertaste and the bitter matcha (green tea) contrasted ever so well to the sweet and rich yokan.

P1170694All in all Minamishima for me was a success despite a couple of missteps, the sinew of the ootoro for instance comes to mind. However, it shows a lot of promise and certainly exceed the level of sushi I’ve encountered in Melbourne, let alone Australia. Sure, it wasn’t on par with Kanesaka in Singapore or Sushi Tetsu in London but it showed promise with great innovations like the flounder’s fin nigiri which literally just blew me away. It would be interesting to see what creative dishes Chef Minamishima comes up with in the future.

Lûmé, Melbourne

P1170475Chef: Shaun Quade & John P. Fiechtner    Website:   Cuisine: Modern Australian

Amidst all the excitement and hullabaloo that surrounded the Fat Duck’s short stint in Melbourne, it wasn’t until they closed their curtain in August that I realised that a team of three talented individuals were quietly embarking on establishing a world class restaurant in South Melbourne! Ambitious you may say, but their credentials speak for themselves. Collectively they’ve worked across a number of top fine dining establishments like Bo Innovation, Chateaubriand and Royal Mail.  They looked pretty serious on paper, so naturally I had to put it to test. After all, how many restaurants in Australia can boast a generous and constant supply of wine from AP Birk’s Wendouree Wine cellar?

P1170388The history of the premises is rich and colourful. It used to be a bordello before the Bohemia Cabaret Club and, I believe, an Indian restaurant moved in at the same time. There has certainly been a big transformation. From the street however it is still very unassuming and one would be forgiven for walking past it without batting an eye lid. The interior of the restaurant is a whole different story with a relaxed but stylish designer feel. The atrium space they created at the back of the restaurant was a wonderful surprise. Covered with a retractable glass roof, it was a well of beautiful light, with green vertical walls creating a peaceful oasis. I normally like sitting in front of the kitchen and the pass, but given the glorious weather we had on Grand Final weekend, I was very happy to be soaking up the sunlight for the four hour experience we embarked on.

P1170389 The choice was pretty simple. The formal end of the dining room at the back only served one tasting menu consisting of 15 courses, with an option to match each course with a splash of alcoholic beverage cleverly chosen by Sommelier Sally Humble. I opted for the full matching option, particularly after I was advised the beverage options were diverse and not only confined to wine.

We were initially worried as this was our first fine dining experience in Australia with our 10 month old daughter but the staff were ever so accommodating (this was a nice change from Vue de Monde, who had previously flatly refused to accept a friends very food literate 8 month old daughter!!). We did promise them that she was well versed in fine dining. After all, she had already survived a number of Michelin starred meals in France!

P1170397 First course – Warm buttered dough with a burnt and sour crust. The texture was quite similar to that of a brioche; fluffy, moist and pleasant. However, I felt the flavour was one-dimensional despite the burnt and sour crust purée, and it could have benefited from a stronger contrasting flavour to the dough.

P1170398A splash of NV Larmandier-Bernier ‘Latitude’, Blanc de blanc, Vertus, France to accompany the first course. P1170399 Second Course – Rare roasted quince with notes of chamomile and honey, duck liver and nasturtiums served with Georg Breuer Auselese Riesling, Rheingau, 2013. This was a rather deceiving dish as the juicy looking slices of duck liver turned out to be roasted quince. It had been cooked in butter and sage, and was served with a a very rich duck liver parfait, dollops of honey and chamomile. I thought it was a very clever use of texture and flavours.

P1170406A glass of Maidenii ‘classic’ to go with the next course. We were told that the Maidenii Vermouth was a collaboration between French wine maker Gilles Lapalus and Australian bartender Shaun Byrne. It was what they thought was the ‘perfect’ vermouth. It was certainly not bad at all… although I’m not a big vermouth drinker so I am probably not the best person to judge!P1170409 Third Course – Native bird dressed with white soy and hibiscus. The bird of choice here was an emu that had been air dried, cured in sour cherry and hung for six weeks. It was dusted with a sweet white miso powder, tangy hibiscus drops and chewy dried native berries. One thing I would have appreciated here was a wet towel afterwards, as it was nigh on impossible to avoid having sticky fingers!

P1170413Fourth Course – Pearl on the ocean floor paired with a Uehara Shuzō ‘Soma no Tengu’ 2012, Usunigori (shaken to serve). This was a mouthful of the ocean and I mean that in a good way. The little cold ball was recommended to be consumed first to clean the palate and enjoy the flavour of the oyster which was hidden underneath the sea lettuce and other succulents. The glass of sake was ever so perfect to wash the salty flavour down.P1170420 Fifth course – Scallop dressed with Jamon, dashi, honeydew and roe served with Naka Shuzo ‘Asahi Wakamatsu’ 2008, Tokushima, Japan. Another delicious dish, and one of my favourites of the day, again with flavours of the ocean, drawing out the umami with the jamon, dashi and roe. The honeydew was texturally pleasant but perhaps the sweetness of the scallop was slightly overshadowed by the natural fructose. The jamon and scallop was a classic match made in heaven.

P1170425Sixth course – Saltbush lamb perfumed with cherry wood ash, macadamia cream and rhubarb paired with a 2012 Passopisciaro, Nerello Mascalese, Terre Siciliane, Sicily. This was another one of my favourite course. The lamb was perfectly executed, with a just a hint of smokiness, and was served on a creamy bed of macadamia purée. The slightly tart rhubarb cut through the rich and salty lamb well.P1170428Seventh course – Jerusalem artichoke, La Sirene Parline and quince peelings paired with a Maidenii ‘dry’. I appreciated the jerusalem artichoke was cooked in a salt crust. However, despite best efforts to follow the instruction to not eat the salt crust, I did find the course just a bit too salty for my liking. I did however enjoy the texture which was not too dissimilar from a baked potato; soft and creamy.P1170435 Eighth course – Sea corn and dairy cow paired with 2014 Sentio, Beechworth Chardonnay, Beechworth, Australia. Possibly another contender as the best dish of the meal and yet another visual trick. The ‘baby corn’ on the plate was actually crab that had been skillfully converted into a custard that was set in a baby corn mould. What appeared to be crab meat was actually salted cow udder that had been shredded and blowtorched. In fact the only true corn element on this dish was the crunchy fried corn silk. That’s right, even the crisp on top was made from polenta, not corn, though it tasted like corn. Whilst this may sound all gimmicky, trust me the flavours and textures really worked.

P1170439 Ninth course – Raw barbequed prawn paired with Holgate Road Trip IPA, Wood End, Victoria, Australia. I was settling down my daughter to sleep at this stage and missed out on the introduction to the course as we explored the internal vertical herb garden, so many apologies for my lack of detail. What I did however enjoy was the marriage of the sweet raw prawn and the cold malt like granita that went down ever so well with the hoppy beer.

P1170442 Tenth course – Hen cooked in chamomile, acidulated wild violets and salted yolk paired with Nakano ‘BC Chokyu’ 1999 Koshu, Aichi, Japan. Possibly the best chicken course I’ve had in Australia, cooked sous-vide in chamomile and served with a caramel-like salt cured yolk that just melted on the tongue. I’m still not decided on the pennyroyal juice as it had a hint of medicinal after taste but it didn’t distract the dish itself. Simple but perfectly executed.

P1170451 Eleventh course – Cauliflower cheese with a pastry smoked over pear wood paired with 2013 Heidenboden White, Claus Preisinger, Burgenland, Austria. One last illusory trick with what looked like a convincing washed-rind cheese turning out to be a rich cauliflower purée with parmesan oil served with a croissant. I liked the concept but did think the portion could have been smaller as I was over the cauliflower flavour as I scooped the last morsel on the croissant. The croissant was beautifully buttery and a delight to eat.

P1170456 Twelfth course – Lambs blood ganache rolled in maple oats, native apple jam and riberry pepper paired with Custard & Co. Barrel Cider liquor 13 years old, Donnybrook, Western Australia. Come again? Yes that’s right, lamb’s blood. Nothing was out of bound and I liked the fact that the chefs were happy to push the culinary boundary here. The dish represented a transition from the savoury to sweet courses, where black pudding met apple crumble. I thought the textures were pleasant from the crunchy maple oats to the candied apples.

P1170460Thirteenth course – Liquorice, violence and lime. A very pleasant palate cleanser and despite not being the biggest fan of liquorice I thought it worked well. The liquorice flavour was ever so light and the refreshing note of lime was key here.P1170465 Fourteenth course – Jerusalem artichoke, La Sirene Praline and quince peelings paired with a local stout brewed with vanilla, hazelnuts and Mexican cacao charged with a splash of Romate Iberia Cream Sherry, Jerez, Spain. This was a very brave dish as the penultimate course… and I absolutely loved it. The ice cream was made from a local stout brewed with vanilla pods, hazel nuts and cacao nibs. It was gooey, rich and a novel flavour combination.

P1170470Fifteenth course – Cacao pod from Maralumi with notes of tobacco, green banana and currants paired with 2014 Simão & Co, Alpine Valley, Victoria, Australia. Our waiter proceeded to assemble the last course by placing what appeared to be vanilla beans, ice cream and a large cocoa pod made of chocolate on the plate in front of us. P1170473The chocolate pod was smashed to reveal several goodies including currant jellies, tobacco wizz fizz, orange crema catalana and Granny Smith apples compressed in strawberry syrup and absinthe. The “vanilla pod” underneath was my favourite item as it was actually vanilla poached rhubarb juxtaposing tart and sweet flavours as you chewed it. The whole dish was quite a show stopper.

It would be premature for me to say that Lûmé will become a culinary destination but it certainly shows great promise. The chefs are talented and their creative dishes do not compromise on flavour. What’s more, the price is very reasonable compared to other fine dining establishments in Melbourne producing similar caliber dishes. The staff are equally knowledgeable and enthusiastic as the front of house at Attica. Only time will tell if they can continue on this trajectory. I for one am glad they are only ten minutes away from my new home.

O.MY Restaurant, Beaconsfield

P1160396 Chef: Tyson & Blayne Bertoncello       Website:

Cuisine: Modern Australian

I wouldn’t trade anything for the 20 acres of land my wife and I currently live on east of Melbourne, but living an hour outside the city does come with some drawbacks; namely the proximity to a fine dining establishment and therefore the limitation to the amount of wine one could consume as taxi is certainly out of question. I was therefore genuinely surprised to hear from a local foodie only last week that there was a new fine dining establishment only 15 mins away from us. It offered degustation menus only and made reference to their own vegetable garden. It sounded exactly like the type of place my wife and I love. The rest is pretty much history. A reservation swiftly ensued the same day and we had a booking for later that week.

P1160336The restaurant is housed in an old building that had previously served as a butchery. The two brothers, Tyson and Blayne Bertoncello, transformed the interior into the type of funky modern restaurant you’d stumble upon in central Melbourne but not usually in Beaconsfield. The two brothers are today joined by their up and coming sommelier and younger brother Chayse, and supported by a handful of passionate and friendly front of house staff who are equally professional and attentive.

P1160334The restaurant only opened 18 months ago but appeared to already have a a loyal group of followers who have sworn by the degustation menu. Caving into their diners demand, they’ve done away with the à la carte option, which in hindsight makes much more sense given their menu is entirely dependent on the harvest of the day. It certainly takes a lot of skill, experience and creativity to adapt to the availability of the produce and ingredients every day. As expected, we opted for the extensive 8 course menu, coming in at a very modest $100. I even managed to get a half pour of wines matching my menu. Perfect.

P1160338Our meal commenced with an array of savoury amuse bouches that was served with a glass (or rather half in my case) of one of our favourite Dominique Portet Brut Rosé NV, Yarra Valley. First up was a Salmon pastrami, angelica seeds, rocket flowers which had a good level of heat and salt to whet the appetite.

P1160341Up next were some fresh and crisp Asparagus, yoghurt and nasturtiums. It was a good way to showcase the quality of their own produce. Good crunch to the asparagus.

P1160344A couple of slices of Smoked venison, beetroot / pickled that had been prepared sous-vide. I was particularly surprised to find that the beetroot powder had such a nutty flavour and there was initially some discussion between my wife and I as she was initially convinced it was a spice mix of sumac and nutmeg. It went particularly well with the smokey venison.

P1160346The last of the amuse bouches was all about the Homegrown broad – beans, leaves, chervil flowers, vinaigrette, broad bean purée. You really needed to be confident in your own produce to serve such a dish but it worked well. Everything on the plate was edible. Despite its simplicity, I thought it was quite clever using texture and flavour contrasts from the sweet and crunchy beans to the sharper vinaigrette and smooth purée; all whilst showcasing the freshness of the produce.

P1160351Our first official course of the evening of the Steamed squid, fried squid tentacles, squid stock, burnet leaves, edible flowers, lemon herb oil went on to demonstrate that the food here wasn’t only about the quality of the produce but equally about the skill that went into the cooking. The crispy fried squid tentacles were particularly enjoyable with the stock. The only thing I wasn’t quite convinced with were the edible flowers which looked pretty but, on balance, I felt added little in terms of flavour.

P1160352I had mixed feelings with the Home made bread and butter. The bread hardly contained any salt and I found it rather dense, almost like damper. However, there was a interesting smokiness to its crust. The butter was also very creamy and delicious, and its application with a pinch of salt on the bread worked well.

P1160358The bread did however come handy to mop up the delicious thick jus left from the Prawn seared, oil shell salt, onion shells in prawn oil, lemon gel, carrot sauce, carrot raisins, chive flowers, sheep sorrel, Miner’s lettuce. The lemon gel provided a subtle but sufficient amount of fresh tangy notes to the prawn, thick jus and caramelized onion shells. The miner’s lettuce, essentially a succulent, burst with a salty juice as you bit into it to dress the sweet prawns and the crunchy carrot added that textural dimension. The dish was matched with a glass of 2013 Valere, Riesling, Mansfield.P1160362One of my personal favourite that evening was the Chicken thigh, white chicken sauce, pea purée, pea pod juice, baisted seeds / peas, seed granola, pea tendrils and flowers. The chicken cooked sous-vide in a rocket purée had an almost raw like texture but was perfectly cooked. It was an odd sensation in the mouth but the flavours were superb. The mouth feel was balanced by the crunchy garden granola made from a variety of seeds and seed pods. One of the best and surprising wine pairing of the evening was the 2011 Witness point, Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley.

P1160365There was a change of pace and a brief pause before the Duck breast, begonia leaf, blueberries dried and fresh, duck jus, fresh kale served four ways in vinaigrette, flowers, sauce and fried was brought out. I absolutely loved the thick sticky jus and the dehydrated crispy fried kale chips though I did prefer my mallard to be served slightly more rare. I blamed it on my wife’s influence, given she was in her 39th week of pregnancy, as I suspect they had adjusted the cooking time for her requirements.

P1160370The  slow cooked Beef cheeks, braised red cabbage, radish, pickles, mustard seeds, beetroot was in my opinion two dishes that had been forced together. The pickles, been made and preserved from an earlier harvest from their garden, were spectacular with a superb level of crunch and sourness which I could have eaten on its own. The addition of…

P1160373… the slow cooked beef cheeks sourced from their local butcher for me was unnecessary, albeit delicious on its own as well. I just found the sweet sticky glaze and the sour pickles a little mismatched in flavours.

P1160376In comparison, the last savoury dish of the evening was another cracker of a dish with the Pork neck, cheek, apple tapenade, granola, apple compressed and powder, nasturtium leaves and flowers, pork crackle and jus. As with all their meat, the pork had been cooked sous-vide to retain the flavours and moisture. The charred cheeks with its smokey notes just melted in your mouth with hardly any effort, but the neck was by far the best cut with its perfect fat-to-meat ratio. The crackling, which I normally get excited about the most, could have done with a tad bit more salt but the texture was decent.

P1160377Before jumping into the desserts, we were offered again an array of palate cleansers starting with the Strawberry three ways – sorbet, compressed and frozen drops, and blueberry three ways – sorbet, fresh and dried. It had a lovely natural sweetness and slight tartness that interplayed really well.

P1160378A very sweet and creamy Buttermilk sorbet and rhubarb shard….

P1160382… and finally a refreshing Cucumber sorbet and oxalis. The oxalis was slightly tangy yet strangely sweet with the sorbet. It was definitely the most interesting of the three.

P1160385We unanimously agreed that the Infused creams of prune, raspberry, wild flowers, red vein sorrel with concentrated prune jus and meringue sticks was the best dish of the evening although we had different opinions about the components. My wife’s favourite was the caramel like flavoured prune and infused meringue but I thought the tobacco and chocolate like flavoured sorrel meringue was ingenious and hands down the winner. We agreed to disagree on the minutiae but overall we both agreed the dish was superb.

P1160388The finale was a rather bold and daring dish of the Cauliflower ice-cream, powder and candied cauliflower, fennel candied, dried, syrup with lemon and fennel, and fennel with white chocolate shard, puffed amaranth. The key to this dish was the balance in the flavour of the fennel and cauliflower. Ultimately I thought the dish could have benefitted from less fennel as its sweetness overwhelmed the plate. However, I did enjoy the flavour combination of the two unconventional elements in a dessert. What I particularly loved about this dish was the candied cauliflower that had the flavour and texture of a brittle vanilla tuile. A slight adjustment could make this dish perfect.

P1160392Our experience at O.MY certainly lived up to the expectation. Whilst the food in general was great, it was the creativity and potential the three brothers had that really excited us that evening. For a relatively young restaurant, the cooking here was rather adventurous and ambitious. Creating a tasting menu every day based on the produce you harvested is not for the faint hearted chef and takes locality and seasonality to another level. Coupled with the young vibrant front of house and sommelier, O.MY may possibly be the most exciting up and coming restaurant I have been to this year. It is certainly worth a trip out of Melbourne for a meal. I look forward to witnessing how their cooking will evolve in the forthcoming years.

Lake House, Daylesford

P1150947Chef: Alla Wolf-Tasker     Website:        Cuisine: Modern Australian

In 1984, Alla and Allan Wolf-Tasker embarked on a massive journey to create a little piece of paradise in the regional town of Daylesford. 30 years on, not only have they become a gourmet destination in Australia having been nominated again the Best Regional Restaurant in 2014, they have also been listed in the UK Tatler’s 101 Best Hotels, as well as having the Best Country Wine List. With so many accolades to their name, including their famous spa (after all they are in spa country), my wife and I decided not do this half heartedly but embrace the experience in its entirety.

P1150883Our stay could not have commenced better after we were informed that we had been upgraded to a Waterfront Suite (from the Waterfront Room). It was a very comfortable room with an unobstructed view of the lake. I made the most of our upgrade by soaking in the enormous spa bath in our bathroom whilst my wife indulged for a couple of hours at their resident spa before dinner; a perfect segway to dinner.

P1150922We arrived into a buzzing dining room led by one of the many French staff that worked at the Lake House. We were seated right by the kitchen door, although admittedly I was very envious of the people sitting by the window on the comfortable sofas. On to the menu and it was a rather difficult choice. Our package included a three course a la carte option already but we had the option to upgrade to a full tasting menu for a small fee. I was hoping to go with the full tasting menu whilst my wife stuck with the three course option. Unfortunately, contrary to the experience shared by other foodies, we were told the tasting menu was an all or nothing affair and I therefore, unable to convince my wife of the merits of the upgrade, was stuck with the three course option.

P1150886My first encounter with sparkling wine from the Macedon Ranges (see previous post) completely blew me away so I couldn’t resists trying the house Lake House Rosé by Cope-Williams, NV. Macedon Ranges, Victoria.

P1150896For bread we had a bowl with a selection of sourdough and slices of home made baguette. The sourdough, which was sourced from Basilio, had a good airy texture but the baguette was lacking in salt and thus flavour.

P1150898We began our dinner with an amuse bouche of Air-dried tuna, shallots, tomato and cucumber. The air dried tuna had been dusted in what appeared to be paprika to give the dish a surprising element of heat. Fresh ingredients and lovely contrast of textures from the crunchy onion to the meaty tomato cubes and chewy fish that reminded me of the Asian dried fish. We were getting very hungry.

P1150894One of the wine that was being offered by the glass caught my eyes when the pairing was being discussed with the sommelier. I was strongly recommended to try the amber wine of 2009 Pheasant’s Tears, Rkatsiteli, Kakheti, Georgia, which had a spicy nose with a unique peppery fino-like note. The biggest surprise was the grippy tannins and lingering flavour. Not a wine to drink on its own but went quite well with my first course.

P1150900The Tasmanian black truffle was what prompted me to choose my first course. Admittedly, they were no where near as generous as the waiters in France or Italy. Sadly only three shavings to go with my…

P1150902Oxtail dumplings and consommé, confit yolk, truffle. The consommé was key to this dish with its intense flavour and clarity. The oxtail dumpling was spot on too with its thin soft skin and delicious morsel of oxtail inside that just melted in the mouth with the consommé and pieces of black truffle. It was a rich and earthy flavour that really needed the piece of…

P1150906… buttery Marrow brioche to mop it all up. I probably could have done with a bit more marrow with the brioche as the tiny slither hardly was enough for half a slice. Nevertheless, this was cause of my wife’s food envy who instead opted for…

P1150903… the Glazed kingfish, buckwheat noodles, miso mustard sabayon. It would be unfair to knock this dish because the balance of flavours and overall composition was actually more elegant than my dish with every component working in subtle harmony, highlighting the flavour of the fish. The miso mustard sabayon was light, silky and perfect for the glazed fish. The crispy buckwheat noodles completed the trifecta with the textural contrast and there was a lovely level of heat coming from the slices of red chili. What a superb first course all round!

P1150908For the next course the sommelier recommended the 2010 Cobaw Ridge, Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges, Victoria. I was open to trying something new and given Cobaw Ridge was the only unfamiliar one on the options by glass, I obliged. Whilst it was a fine drop, I must confess it wasn’t my type of pinot noir as I found it rather too spicy on the nose and palate for my liking.P1150909We normally have a rule of choosing different dishes but we couldn’t turn down the Flinders Island roast leg of saltgrass lamb, truffled pommee purée, winter accompaniments that required a minimum of two persons. It was served with a thick delicious jus on the side. The crime here was that, sadly instigated by us, the kitchen had to cook the meat closer to well done as my wife was pregnant. As a result the meat was slightly dry, although the herb crust on the outside and the jus more than made up for the compromise. My wife did not waste time in tucking into the truffled pomme purée, having missed out the truffle in round one.

P1150916Dessert was another triumph for me with the ‘Apple’ which consisted of a bed of granny smith apple granita on which laid a thin casing of white chocolate. As I cracked the sphere I could see…

P1150920… the inside was filled with buttermilk, walnut and an apple and cidre jelly. It had a good acidic sharpness to the dish with an inviting aromatic scent and was not sickeningly sweet at all. My wife was yet again filled with food envy.

P1150918She opted for A winter’s ramble – seeds, nuts, quince, honey, parsnip, chocolate. This was a much more subtle dish with an interesting play on texture using, unusually for a dessert, seeds and nuts to contrast the soft sponge and quince. Again the flavours were extremely well balanced although it did not have the wow factor of my dish.

P1150890The food at Lake House was undeniably good and the restaurant certainly sets the bar for charming country side restaurants in Australia. What I personally enjoyed, other than the food, was the relaxed atmosphere in the dining room, absent of any pretense, and whilst the food tried to be contemporary, I found the flavours to be comforting and rather familiar, though that was not a bad thing at all. The one thing that was missing that evening was perhaps the backstory to the producers and farmers  that contributed to each dish, for I was led to understand that locality and seasonality was at the centre of Wolf-Tasker’s food (albeit some limited information being available on the menu itself).

Quince Dining, Yarra Valley


Chef: Clinton Camilleri   Website:  Cuisine: Modern Australian

If there’s one thing that is available in abundance in the Yarra Valley region, other than wine of course, is fresh and seasonal local produce. Home to one of the most ethical large scale commercial salmon farm and the famous Yarra Valley Dairy, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to ingredients and produce. It therefore wasn’t surprising to find the culinary outpost of the region, The Healesville Hotel, has received many accolades over the years. I felt I had long neglected the restaurant having headed straight for the wineries without a second thought and therefore decided to use my birthday as an opportunity to pay a visit.

P1150284A casual restaurant during the week, the dining room of the Healesville Hotel transforms into the elegant space that is Quince Dining for the weekend to entertain the palate of those discerning diners who come to seek culinary adventures. Out comes the crisp linen, silver cutleries and quality wine glasses, yet the charming country character clearly remains present amongst the beautiful arrangement of seasonal flowers decorated across the room and the open fire place.

P1150288Obviously an occasion like this called for a glass of bubbly and what better than to try something local with the 2010 Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Coldstream Hills, Yarra Valley? It had a complex nose with notes of citrus and tart finish. My kind of bubbly!

P1150293To be able to enjoy the variety of fresh season produce from the region we opted for the five course tasting menu coming at $90 per head. In writing the menu looked superb and certainly made me lick my lips.

P1150299We had some homemade focaccia with rosemary, drizzled with virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt flakes. As far as bread goes this was not bad, although a bit more olive oil would have been welcomed.

P1150303Our palate cleanser was a Tomato consommé with tomato cubes and basil leaves. Defying its appearance, this dish had a very deep flavour of tomato showcasing the quality of their garden’s produce. A promising start!

P1150305Our first course was perhaps the most disappointing dish of the evening. Despite its picture perfect appearance, the Beetroot cured salmon, yoghurt, verjus dressing, compressed watermelon & pickled rind had the finesse of a fine dining dish but unfortunately the fish lacked flavour. What a shame! The fatty salmon was crying out for some attention but instead was overwhelmed with the tart yoghurt.

P1150308A much better course was the Poached veal loin with tuna mayonnaise, bresaola, pickled onions, vincotto. Camilleri’s take on the classic Vitello Tonatto was far more enjoyable than the classic versions I have tried to date. The perfectly cooked veal oozed with flavours. The crumbed and deep fried tuna mayonnaise had a lovely contrast of crispy texture and juicy filling.

P1150314Third course was Slow cooked hen’s egg, peperonata, olive, tarragon & shallot dressing. Again, I appreciated the quality of the ingredients from the freshly laid egg to the homemade peperonata but there was a significant lack of flavour, making the dish overall feel mundane. Furthermore, it was cruel to serve a perfectly poached egg with nothing to mop it up with!

P1150317A glass of St Ronan’s method traditionelle apple cider, Yarra Valley. We recently followed the ale and cider trail in the Yarra Valley but didn’t come across this particular one so I was curious to try it, especially after being told that the method used to making this cider followed exactly the same way champagne is made. Clean and fresh flavours of apple and pear with a beautifully creamy lingering note.

P1150321The cider went particularly well with my Slow cooked pork belly, crumbed cheek, lentil, peach and fennel. A far stronger course here utilising all the great produce and ingredients again, in particular the quality of the meat. Great balance between the fat, lean meat and crackling for the pork belly, although my favourite was the crumbed cheek with its contrasting soft meat and crispy coat. The slightly sweet peach was surprisingly working in harmony with the pork and my cider. Fabulous!

P1150325A refreshing palate cleanser of Raspberry sorbet and dark chocolate before our finale. Good level of sharpness from the raspberry.

P1150329Timboon fromage blanc, cherry compote, lemon verbena granita, brandy snap. A very versatile curd cheese with a fresh and clean taste, perfect as a canvass for the sweet cherry compote, finishing with an aromatic note and a contrasting cold element from the verbena granita. The brandy snap added that textural element to sink your teeth into.

P1150333Some chocolate petit fours to go with our coffee to end the meal.

P1150335It’s encouraging to see a restaurant of this calibre in the Yarra Valley. Quince Dining was a perfect venue to showcase the quality produce and ingredients from the region. I must admit, however, that I wished the front of house was much more engaging with their diners, sharing with us the background and stories on the unsung heroes; the farmers and suppliers. Don’t get me wrong. The staff were functional and professional but equally shy and not forthcoming, never going beyond reciting what was written on the menu. Also, while there were certainly some hero moments with regards to the dishes, overall more work needed to be done to maximise the flavour of the produce used. Sometimes it was as simple as a few more pinches of salt, but others (like the cured salmon) needed more serious work. This was a valiant effort and the restaurant should be applauded for supporting such an endeavour. I look forward to seeing how this establishment evolves over the coming seasons.

Lee Ho Fook, Melbourne


Chef: Victor Liong   Website:   Cuisine: Modern Chinese

Making your mark in a neighbourhood saturated with great restaurants is no easy feat. What, however, does help is having a solid resume like Head chef Victor Liong who opened up Lee Ho Fook in late 2013 with the support of restaurateurs behind MoVida and Pei Modern. Departing from the euro-centric styled cuisine at Marque where he trained as a chef, Liong has continued to retrace his Chinese root via his short stint at Mr Wong before holding the reins to the latest venture, Lee Ho Fook. Labelled as a neighbourhood eatery, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about when I saw a few articles popping up lately.

P1150849The interior decor was not too dissimilar to what many restaurants have adopted on Smith Street; minimalist with some contemporary lighting design. For a Saturday night we did notice that the place was not at full capacity, but then again that could have been because we were in the first sitting. Yes, the cardinal sin adopted now by many restaurants where you get turfed out before you could finish your after-meal tea despite having forked out over $80 a head!!

P1150857The menu was simple and broken down into small, medium and large plates. For our small bites we started with the Tea egg avruga and dill. The eggs had been boiled and then cured in a mixture of soy sauce, stock and black tea until the yolk became creamy and jammy. It had a nice umami to it contrasted with the salty avruga, and was one of the more interesting dishes of the evening.

P1150862The Milk bun, braised pork belly, salted cucumber, fermented chilli and peanut sugar was strangely not very Chinese looking but certainly tasted so. It was perhaps one notch better than the similar katsu-bun we had at Northern light recently with the difference being the salty cucumber and chilli that gave the dish an interesting flavour.

P1150866One of the specials of the day was the Crispy chicken ribs and spiced red vinegar. We were not sure of what to expect with tiny poultry ribs but there was plenty of meat to this tender and crispy bird. In fairness though, this was essentially a very simple dish and nothing to get overly excited with.

P1150868Our medium plates started with Xinjiang style lamb tartare, roasted capsicum, pickled fennel and potato crisp. I found this dish to be rather bland and disappointing on many front. The lamb had very little flavour and the potato crisp was just a tad too oily, not to mention too delicate to scoop the tartare. The only thing that had any substance was the chilli, which dominated the whole dish. An addition of a seasoning component to bring out the flavours could have made this dish rather more appealing.

P1150870Our disappointment continued with the Tripled cooked duck that was served with…

P1150871Valencia orange, chrysanthemum leaves, Peking pancake. While the duck had a nice crispy skin and was soft and succulent on the inside, it rather lacked in depth of flavour. My wife joked that she could not taste the orange at all from this dish. On the contrary, she had not seen what laid beneath the leaves for all I could taste was orange! Furthermore, when you are given essentially only four pancakes between three of you and have no idea on how much orange paste to apply, it’s pretty disappointing to find out on your first bite that the minimal application had in fact ruined the flavour. It would perhaps rather be more appropriate to call this Orange a la Duck?

P1150873On to our large plate (which were, to be honest, not dramatically different in size than the medium ones) with a slightly better Crispy pork hock, black vinegar, cucumber, baby cos lettuce. Cube of fatty pork with a crispy layer accompanied with black vinegar sauce. I did however find it rather one dimensional and boring after a couple of mouthful. All you could taste was the dominating black vinegar sauce, which was very salty, although the crunch of the pork was very enjoyable against the fresh lettuce.

P1150875We opted for some Lee Ho Fook Fried Rice as a side dish to accompany our mains. Whilst it was light and not too oily, it had virtually zero flavour. I also found the rice rather overcooked and too soft, and the absence of a firm texture was a turn off for me. Good fried rice should be made from rice that has been left to dry for a while to reduce its moisture content, giving it that all important bite. Whilst I wouldn’t call this a mush, it was certainly did not fulfil this important requirement.

P1150877Our favourite course from the medium and large plates was the Steamed Cone Bay barramundi, ginger and shallot sauce. A well balanced sauce and perfectly cooked fish; delicate and the flavour of the fish was very prevalent. We wished there was more.

P1150879Even in during my time in China I found many top restaurants to struggle coming up with a creative Chinese dessert. Dessert here was rather leaning on the Western style, particularly the Warm chocolate and cocoa nib brownie, Banana cream and coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I thought this was the star dish of the evening. Lovely gooey chocolate encrusted in cocoa nibs and a marriage in heaven with the banana cream. A surprisingly rustic dish which I didn’t expect from a Chinese style restaurant.

P1150880My wife opted for Our neighbour’s fig leaf ice cream, custard apple, walnut and winter melon jam. Fresh flavours and it wasn’t overly figgy. I had a bite of it and found my palate to be dominated by a green tea / matcha flavour with a slightly bitter after taste. Suffice to say, my wife had food envy with my chocolate delight.

P1150855As we were just about to pour our mint tea after brewing it for a few minutes, we were encouraged to vacate our table due to the two hour policy. Furthermore, whilst the intention to tip was there as the service was generally good, an assumption was made that the $26 change was in fact a tip (the service was good but not that good!), requiring us to embarrassingly ask for our due change. Cheeky. Leaving aside the administrative faux pas’, I thought the food in general was nothing special and it would have been fine if the price reflected that calibre of cooking. Sure there were a couple of good dishes but they were nothing to shout about. Top that with a bill that came to the same price bracket as Northern Light next door which was in an entirely different calibre, I seriously doubt the longevity of this restaurant.

Northern Light, Melbourne


Chef: Adam Liston  Website:  Cuisine: Asian Fusion

Smith Street has come such a long way from its shady days, transforming into a well known culinary strip it is today with the likes of Saint Crispin and Huxtaburger to name but a few. With exposed brick walls and a bar counter dominating the dining room, Adam Liston’s Northern Light may appear at first glance to be yet another casual eatery that seems to have dominated the dining scene on the street. Once inside, however, you quickly realise that they mean serious business when it comes to food.

P1150800The food here could perhaps simply be termed fusion, but not of the typical west-meets-east type which has been done to death. Rather, a Sino-Japanese fusion which was riddled with so many familiar favourite flavours: something I’ve never seen all bundled on one menu. Personally, I wanted to eat everything on the menu. It was as if someone had taken all the delicious things from across the region and placed them in front of me. There was an option for a 6 or 8 course banquet menu but given we were three people we thought we’d be better off trying more dishes. A wise choice, although with the beauty of hindsight, we ordered way too much.P1150804For snacks, we started with a typical Japanese Izakaya appetiser of the Charred Shishito peppers and tōgarashi. Shishito essentially is a mild-sweet Japanese capsicum varietal which tastes delicious when charred. It was dusted with tōgarashi, a Japanese seven spice, for an extra kick of heat.P1150806Our second installment was the Sichuan spiced school prawns and curry mayo. The entirely edible juicy prawn, covered in a thin layer of crispy batter, had fortunately a mild heat to suit the local palate. The prawns were good enough on their own but the curry mayo added a new and welcome flavour dimension to the dish.P1150807The Wagyu oyster blade skewers and Bulldog sauce was cooked over binchōtan, a traditional Japanese white charcoal which emits far less smoke than other charcoal cookers, allowing one to appreciate the clean flavours of the skewer of choice. To my surprise, the common Japanese household sauce normally used for tonkatsu went extremely well as a marinade. Most importantly, the meat was moist and tender.P1150820The Chicken skewers, honey and katsuo soy was the unanimous favourite amongst the two types we ordered. The honey glazing added a beautiful sweetness to the moist chicken and was much more meatier of the two.P1150812The Pork tonkatsu roll, cabbage and grilled milk bun was decent but perhaps the least interesting dish of the evening. I could appreciate the crispiness of the deep fried batter and the sweetness of the milk bun but I found the meat rather dry and lacking seasoning.

P1150816On to our first starter of the Pork and prawn wontons, black vinegar and red pepper oil which hit the mark. The boiled wontons had the hallmark of excellence; thin silky skins, stuffed full with a juicy pork and prawn mixture, bursting with flavour and juice as you bit into it. Wow.P1150821One of Liston’s signature dish was the Air dried Blackmore beef, wasabi, yolk and fried potato and I could see why. The crispy potato-chip topping the slightly salty bresaola-like blackmore beef soaked up the runny yolk and the freshly grated wasabi provided a slight kick to cut through the rich flavours.P1150826Our last starter was a rather delicate Eel (unagi), squid sauce, salted grapers and mojama. The eel had been prepared in traditional kabayaki sauce and was served over a bed of squid ink sauce. Being a huge fan of the traditional Japanese unagi which inspired this dish, I must confess I thought they could have been more generous with the application of the kabayaki sauce.P1150829At this point we realised we had ordered far too many. As the waitress came to replace our empty plates with the Korean influenced Bo ssam, our kimchi, lettuce, red pepper jang and duck, she did remark on our amazing appetite. The choice of meat in this case was duck and it went ever so well wrapped in lettuce leaves and home made kimchi with a dab of the spicy-sweet gochujang (red pepper paste sauce).P1150834We were absolutely stuffed to the brim but were gripped with the inviting smell emanating from the Xinjiang style lamb ribs and bbq peppers. The braised and rendered lamb in Xinjiang style (similar to the spicy Sichuan style containing Sichuan peppers) had a decent level of heat but most importantly a balance of spice. The meat fell apart with ease from the bone and it reminded me of the ones I had tried in Beijing back in 2012 over a few glass of baiju, a ridiculously strong Chinese liquor.

P1150838Some Asian greens, vegetarian oyster sauce and toasted garlic to go with our mains.P1150841We were absolutely stuffed but could not turn down the offer of trying at least one dessert so we opted for the Broken ice cream sandwich which had vanilla parfait, mousse and salted caramel lurking sweetly beneath a structure of broken chocolate biscuits. The fine chocolate biscuit with a ridiculously thin layer of wafer was my favourite component, providing a surprising crisp and crunchy texture to go with the gooey salted caramel.P1150844And lastly a Warm yamazaki whiskey custard tart that had been caramelised using the binchōtan. As an enthusiast for top quality single malts, I thought this was a bit sacrilegious but the slight hint of whiskey in the custard tart really worked well.

Northern Light had everything we wanted for a relaxed meal catching up with our friend; a little bit of tongue and cheek and banter from the waitress, delicious food with bold and punchy flavours and all priced extremely well. This was exactly the type of fusion food I welcomed with open arms. It was a collection of great food memories I had over the course of my life across Asia all reliving in one evening, triggering different memories from the flavours. Above all, Liston did justice to all these dishes. They were not bastardised Western takes on Asian flavour. This is the real stuff.

Ten Minutes by Tractor, Mornington Peninsula

P1150681Chef: Stuart Bell   Website:   Cuisine: Modern Australian

Whilst known for its wine, Ten Minutes by Tractor, in the Victorian region of the Mornington Peninsula, is perhaps better associated with its two hatted fine dining restaurant that has attracted many foodies over the years. My wife and I had previously made a few reservations but unfortunately had to cancel due to various reasons so we never thought we would ever make it here. But here we were, finally, and boy was it worth the agonisingly long wait. We also had a special reason to dine here that day as we were celebrating my wife’s recent success in defending her PhD.

P1150687The dining room was adjacent to the cellar door, seating 30 – 40 people very comfortably with ample space. We were sat at the corner of the room with unobstructed views over the vineyard where we could see the resident sheep tucking into the grass around the vines; an absolute treat for our four year old niece. We occasionally could see Head chef Stuart Bell assessing the dishes as they came to the pass for service. The menu here consisted of an à la carte option of two or three courses, or a more elaborate tasting menu with a choice of five or eight courses.

P1150729Many restaurants in Australia could learn a thing or two about high performing front of house service from manager Clayton Hiskins. Nothing was too much trouble for any of our friendly but extremely professional waiters who went as far as accommodating our niece with a specially house made apple juice, not normally available on the menu, as well as rectifying a misunderstanding of another beverage without making you feel apologetic or guilty. I felt like I was back in a Michelin starred establishment in Europe again. It was the perfect framework to an equally memorable meal.

P1150685Being a sucker for sparkling wine, it didn’t take much for the sommelier to sell me a glass of the 2010 Blanc de Blancs, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Mornington Peninsula, Australia. This was their first ever sparkling wine and a bloody great one at that, and which their tasting note was spot on with a ‘a gentle effervescence in the mouth, acid that freshens without aggression and a gorgeous caress at the back of the mouth to bring you back for more.’ It was so good I decided to buy a few bottles after our meal as it was retailing at their cellar door for only $50 a bottle. Bargain!

P1150703The choice of bread was multigrain and olive bread. The olive bread was absolutely delicious and went extremely well with…

P1150704… the house made burnt butter that was more like cream than anything. Some olive oil and pink salt flakes were also provided on the side but we were completely distracted by the butter that we forgot about the olive oil.

P1150706Our first amuse bouche of two was the Yellow fin tuna, tomato, lemon grass and radish, served on a beautiful thin spoon. It was a perfect introduction to Bell’s cooking, showcasing the fresh produce and ingredients that were abundant in all his dishes throughout the meal. It was a simple but beautiful marriage of flavours that did exactly what an amuse bouche needed to do. Entertain my palate and whet my appetite.

P1150707The subsequent Duck rillette with goats cheese on cracker was our least preferred of the two as I found the goats cheese competing against the mallard.

P1150721My starter of the Venison Terrine and Carpaccio, pickled mushrooms, grapes and pistachio was exactly what I wanted; something delicious I could graze on but without it being fussy. The generous servings of the terrine had a surprisingly smooth texture, absent of gamey flavours. There were some clever use of textures including the succulent and juicy grapes, crunchy sliced green beans and moist pickled mushrooms over a bed of delicate venison carpaccio with crumbed pistachios and buttery emulsions.

P1150718As the weather outside was miserable, my wife opted for a comforting wintery dish of the Gnocchi, textures of mushroom, cauliflower and kale for her starter. I had a mouthful of her dish and agreed that it was the best dish from our lunch. The mushroom purée in particular had an amazing concentration of flavours that was complemented by the other preparation of mushroom including the deep fried enoki and fried wild mushrooms. The gnocchi was sublime. It was delicate, soft and silky with a perfect amount of give which was complemented perfectly by the crunch from the cauliflower. I had food envy.

P1150725 Our waiter was extremely confident in recommending the Cape Grim eye fillet, slow cooked rib, cauliflower, baby onions so I gave it a go despite being previously unimpressed with a preparation of the same cut of beef elsewhere. I was glad I took the advice for the flavours oozing out of this fillet was superb, working extremely well with the caramelised onion and purée. The slow cooked rib just fell apart effortlessly and provided another dimension of flavour to appreciate this breed. This certainly was a delicious cut. Stuart Bell is clearly a magician, or alternatively I blame the other chef for not doing it justice.

P1150722My wife’s main of the Pork confit belly & roasted loin, black pudding cromesque, prunes, macadamias was a close contender to the beef with it’s contrastingly moist pork belly and crunchy shard of crackling. The surprise element in the dish was the black pudding jus contained in the cromesque that was rich in spice, in particular cloves. Even my niece who normally avoided red meat was fishing for some of the pork and beef.

P1150732My choice of dessert was the Michael Cluizel chocolate & hazelnut pavé, honey ice cream, poached pears. A very rich chocolate layer resting on a crunchy bed of crushed hazelnuts accompanied by a spiced doughnut, caramelised poached pears and a floral honey ice cream finished with a brittle chocolate tuile. I initially thought this was going to be way too sweet but the portion size was just right. The pear was remarkably juicy and retained its fruitiness despite it having a brittle caramelised coating.

P1150735My wife opted for the Quince, yogurt cake, pecan crémeux, pepperberry ice cream. The yogurt cake had a sharpness which beautifully married with the silken sweetness of the quince. The pepperberry ice cream was an unusual flavour but blended well within the dish. The pecan crémeux provided an elegant texture to complete the dish. Truly an old world flavour with a modern take. We were thoroughly impressed with everything and left with a genuinely big smile.

P1150715I could have stayed here all afternoon. We arrived at Ten Minutes by Tractor not knowing what to expect and we were completely blown away by the trifecta of the beautiful location, faultless service and delicious food. Our experience here highlighted again the inconsistency in the hatted ratings, especially when you compared against weaker restaurants in the same category like Stefano’s. I wished that I had come here much sooner but I was glad we eventually made it. On this occasion we opted for the three course à la carte option but I’d definitely like to try Bell’s tasting menu on my return. Lucky for me it’s less than an hour away from where I live.