Category Archives: Australia

Stefano’s, Mildura

P1150435Chef: Jim McDougall  Website: Cuisine: Modern Italian

So my wife and I finally got around to organising our honeymoon a year from our wedding and we opted for a rather unconventional road trip from Melbourne up to Uluru. Whilst the focus of the trip was to explore the red centre of Australia, it would have been very out of character for us to miss out on some culinary indulgence. As our first stop was in Mildura I wasted no time in booking a table at the town’s oldest and most prestigious fine dining institution, Stefano’s. From humble beginnings since his arrival in Australia in 1974, Stefano de Pieri has built an empire in Mildura including a restaurant, cafe, bakery and brewery. He has since handed over the reins of the restaurant to his former apprentice and chef at Vue de Monde, Jim McDougall, propelling the restaurant from rustic Italian cooking to a modern cuisine.

P1150441The dining room of the main restaurant is located in the cellar of the building and as you can see it did make a fantastic venue for a romantic and intimate meal. But beware when making your reservation for there is also a modern room at the end of the long corridor with better lighting which sadly did not retain that rustic cellar atmosphere. If you have a table for two people you’ve probably got a good chance in avoiding the modern room and knocking your head on its low beamed entrance. P1150436We arrived a little early and were escorted to our table ducking our heads under the (fortunately padded and leather clad) beams. It didn’t take long before two selections of butter were brought out with some bread. My wife’s olfactory senses immediately picked up the white truffle that had been infused into one of the butter before it even landed on our table. We hardly touched the other butter that had been whipped with saltbush. It was actually pretty good but it wasn’t truffle after all, and my wife does do a good impression of a truffle pig at the best of times.

P1150444We opted for the white sourdough bread which was decent but nothing extraordinary. The service was friendly and relaxed, although the attention to detail of the front of house had room for improvement. For example, on more than one occasion my matching wine had not been timed well and poured too early or late. I also felt that the front of house were not well rehearsed with the content of the menu, often lacking in descriptions or details of the course.

P1150466As it was a Saturday night, we had the choice of either a six-course or eight-course degustation menu. We didn’t hesitate in splurging out for the latter since this was our honeymoon. As usual we were asked whether we had any allergies or dietary requirements and on this occasion my wife informed them that she was pregnant. Our waitress frowned when we mentioned no raw meat and seafood, and soft cheese. She continued on to tell us that they could not substitute the charcuterie amuse bouche which naturally annoyed us at the price tag we were paying. To further add to our annoyance, she said she would try and get one of the main courses substituted but that never came to fruition. Lucky we didn’t have any allergies. P1150450Our first amuse bouche of the evening was a couple of slices of Cured Kangaroo. They still insisted serving us two portions despite knowing my wife couldn’t have any of it. In all fairness, it was pretty average. It was a bit like a flavourless jerky with a hint of sweetness. Next course please.

P1150452Some Roasted Pumpkin seeds with Paprika which was a nice snack that would have gone better with a beer and not at a fine dining establishment.

P1150453A trio of bite size meaty selections including chicken liver parfait encased in a beetroot gel, duck rillettes and pork wrapped in prosciutto. The parfait was rather too soft and I struggled getting it off the plate with the stick. I did enjoy the progression of flavours with the salty prosciutto being the tastiest item but they were all cold.

P1150456The last instalment of the amuse bouche, Tomato Gazpacho, was exactly what it said on paper. It was a celebration of tomato from the region, served as a sauce, sorbet and raw. This was far more enjoyable and even my wife who is normally not keen about tomatoes enjoyed it. Good acidity and use of textures. A perfectly refreshing dish to cleanse the palate before the first course.

P1150459I could see the influence of Vue de Monde in the first course of the Wild Cowal Lake Yabbie, Cod Liver Parfait, Bulrush and Grapes which was accompanied with a glass of the 2009 Huia Gewurtztraminer, Marlborough. However, I really did not like this dish at all. The parfait had a texture of butter which was quite unpleasant and I couldn’t understand why slices of grapes were on this plate. The worst bit was the yabbie which was cold and flavourless.

P1150462A fairly average salad was presented as part of the second course to go with…

P1150465Kangaroo Carpaccio served on a Murray River Salt Block, another dish my wife could not eat. Lucky she had some salad at least. Unfortunately, I left the carpaccio too long on the salty block making it inedible as I was getting quite upset with the service here. My wife didn’t want to make a fuss so I grinned when the waitress came to pick up the empty plate asking both of us how the dish was. Lovely, just lovely.

P1150467The cooking under McDougall may have departed from being rustic but this restaurant was undeniably Italian. The Agnolotti of Smoked Sheep’s Cheese, Smoked Butter, Sweetbreads and Black Garlic was by far the best dish of the evening. I couldn’t quite pick out the black garlic but I loved how the creamy cheese and butter married with the salty sweetbread. The pasta, to their credit, was cooked perfect – al dente, but then with stefano’s heritage I wouldn’t have expected any less.

P1150472I expected to see a risotto dish next but instead we had Loxton Pork, Celeriac, Fermented Cucumber and Cider with a glass of 2013 Rieslingfreak No. 5. The pork was dry in texture yet had a very oily coating. Maybe it had been left in the frying pan too long? Who knows. The riesling certainly did a good job to wash down that oiliness.

P1150475The waiting time at this point increased two-folds and it took over forty minutes before we had the Ikejime Murray Cod, Quinoa, Bone Marrow and Inland Sea Plants with one of my favourite wine, 2010 Toolangi Estate Pinot Noir. Other than reading out the dish as it was being presented, there was no effort to explaining what “ikijime” meant (fortunately I knew as I am Japanese). I did enjoy the quinoa soaking up the sticky sauce with the cod fillet. A bold move in matching the dish with a pinot noir but it worked well with the bone marrow.

P1150479On to the main course of the evening starting with the Roasted Duck, Roasted Malt, Buckwheat Popcorn and Fig which I opted for after my wife was told it would be a shame if it was cooked well done as she would have to request given the pregancy, as the chef recommended it was only done pink. I felt the sweetness of the delicious fresh fig was lost amongst the heavy malt sauce, adding only a fibrous texture to the dish. However the meat was cooked well and I really enjoyed the buckwheat popcorn. The malt sauce did seem to dominate the palate and overall, I thought, overshadowed the mallard. P1150481My wife had the Dry Aged Mallee Beef with Variations of Onion. The meat was lovely and sweet. She did have to request it well done, which is not her usual preference, but still found it very juicy and flavoursome. The various preparations of onions was lovely but nothing particularly special.P1150485We opted for an extra cheese course which was, for me, the Whipped gorgonzola, honey, pistachio and crushed lavosh with…

P1150483… some brioche to spread the cheese on. Overall, I found this too sweet for my liking. I prefer my cheese to be much more savoury… stinky… cheesy. They kindly substituted some parmesan cheese for my wife, although it didn’t really work. However, kudos was given for the attempt.

P1150488A palate cleanser ensued by the name of Michael Keenan Citrus. Again, no explanation was given as to who Michael Keenan was but at a wild guess I assume he was a citrus grower from the region? It consisted of two types of citrus jubes containing a lemon and mandarin juice. A superb palate cleanser that burst with an intense flavour and left a refreshing note that didn’t distract the palate from the next dish. Wow!

P1150490The first sweet course of the evening was the Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Desert Lime, Basil & Caramel matched with the 2013 Mount Horrocks Cordon-Cut Riesling. A rather odd combination of a buttery panna cotta with an extremely intense citrus flavour that tingled your tongue. I’m still undecided as to whether I liked it or not, and visually you’d agree that it was not very interesting.

P1150492The last course was a celebration of plum with the Plum Dried for 6 Hours, Black Sesame & Green Tea with a glass of… guess what? Japanese Hakutsuru Plum Wine of course! The depth of flavour from the plum purée and jelly was divine and its sharp contrast to the sweet black sesame was spot on. I did however wish that there was a nice big dollop of plum ice cream to hold everything together.

P1150495The meal finished with a beautifully carved wooden tray containing Potato & Nutella, Jubes, Lavendar & Caramel. 

I was generally disappointed with the overall experience here and my wife even more so after some fond memories she had from her last meal here a few years ago. If I put aside some fundamentally flawed service we had here tonight ranging from the restaurants inflexible approach to the inconsistent level of attention, the food here was very mixed. At one end you had some decent dishes like the agnolotti and the palate cleanser, yet on the other hand you had utterly flavourless dishes like the yabbie and the kangaroo carpaccio. Let’s hope our experience that night is a result of some teething issues from the change in style and direction of the restaurant because otherwise I certainly think the $400 bill was absurd for what you got.

Marque, Sydney

Chef: Mark Best   Website:   Cuisine: Modern Australian

Having managed to eat through most of the restaurants in Sydney that had been recommended by my trusted sources, I thought it was finally time in November 2013 to pay a visit to one of those elite restaurants which had continuously received praises from critics, a restaurant that, at least until recently, belonged to the exclusive club of three hats. Unlike many restaurants that had shot to fame very quickly, Mark Best’s highly acclaimed Marque had progressively gone up the ladder and retained their three hats for ten years until September 2013 when they were demoted to two. Despite the news, I expected Marque to be good or at least unique, particularly when Best portrayed himself as a man with “eternal dissatisfaction” and had been labelled as the leader in contemporary cuisine in Australia. Armed with many other accolades including a listing in S. Pellegrino’s Top 100 List, I convinced myself that nothing could go wrong.

P1150114The dining room dominated by matte and glossy black walls was surprisingly peaceful despite the high volume of traffic outside the restaurant. The lack of ambience perhaps was not helped by the fact that only a third of the tables were occupied all night but I guess it was early in the week. Having just finished from a week long stint at Margaret River, Best was visible in the background that evening though his very casual attire suggested he was not overly involved in the kitchen on that occasion. After all, he did look exhausted.P1150116As tempting as it was as I glanced over the wine menu, I decided to refrain from consuming too much alcohol that evening and focus on the food. It wasn’t long before the amuse bouche of the Sea Biscuit which consisted of local Sydney rock oysters from Camden Haven and sea urchin arrived, and we were off. I loved the intense taste of the ocean. It was as if I had been dunked in the sea itself, but I confess I did not pick up much flavour of the sea urchin. What a shame.

P1150117Our first dish of the evening was their signature dish, one that has been on the menu for at least ten years. However, the Fraser Island Spanner crab with almond gazpacho, almond jelly, sweet corn and avruga not only failed to impress me but also raised some concerns. Granted, the dish was very delicate with a meringue-like texture, but I could hardly pick up the flavour of the delicate crab and even the rich caviar was absent in light of the sweet popcorn powder. The notion of keeping a dish on a menu for ten years must surely be a juxtaposition to Bests eternal dissatisfaction? P1150120

A much better dish was the Smoked eel with parmesan gnocchi & pumpkin with some star anise and orange zest. I was surprised with how much flavour and smokiness you got from the wafer thin eel. I was however not overly keen on the forced marriage of the cheese from the gnocchi and the eel.

P1150124A surprise course of the Foie gras and Corn. This was my favourite dish of the night so I was glad it came. The kernels had been fermented in salt and subsequently roasted before leaving them in water overnight. It had an interesting texture, contrast in temperature of the cold foie gras powder to the corn, and I liked the bitter – sweet contrast in flavours.

P1150125To Best’s credit, they did churn their own butter…

P1150127… and also make their bread in the restaurant including this sourdough. It wasn’t bad but certainly not on par with Brae.

P1150128Quite bizarrely we had a meat course before the fish. Darling Downs wagyu with fermented mushrooms and ice plant. A 9+ graded wagyu from the Rangers Valley (near Tamworth) dressed in champignon sauce that had been cooked overnight. Just like the vast numbers of wagyu dishes I’ve had to date, this one wasn’t in any way shape or form memorable, although granted it was cooked well.

P1150133An odd time to present the seafood course but nevertheless we proceeded with the Moreton Bay Bug with candlelight radish & fermented blueberries. The bug was sourced locally from Coffs Harbour and handled well – moist and not rubbery at all, and the mayonnaise, made using the shell, further enhanced the flavours of this Australian arthropod. The coating itself consisted of miso and leek ash. I thought the bitter radish however did not belong on the dish with the sweet crustacean. A good but incomplete dish.P1150136NZ Bass Grouper with green tomato, verjus, potato paper, fish milk & roe. The combination of the white soy and cod stock “fish milk”, hapuka (or bass grouper) and potato paper was almost like a modern take on fish pie but I found there were too many flavours on the dish and distracted from the star ingredient of the show, the fish (though some may argue it was the fish milk).

P1150138Redgate Farm quail with asparagus, egg yolk jam & rye. Again, a very well executed dish but nothing spectacular. The best bit for me was the asparagus that still had a lovely bite, together with the egg yolk jam and crunchy rye flakes.

Thus concluded the savoury segment of the meal.P1150142The first dessert of the evening was a strange one. The Lemon aspen with cultured cream & whey caramel was a good attempt at utilising some native bushtucker into the meal. I enjoyed the combination of the incredibly tropical citrus flavour against the sweet caramel and thick whey. However, I found the additional spicy character of the lemon aspen to be odd for this dish.

P1150145The penultimate desert course of Coconut, liquorice & beetroot was not personally my cup of tea, primarily because I found the liquorice flavour dominating the palate and I could hardly taste the coconut sorbet. P1150147The finale was another signature dish of the Sauternes custard with a layer of caramel on top. The bitter layer of caramel on top worked very well against the sweet tone of sauternes from the underlying custard. It was a very clever, though some would say perhaps sacrilegious, way to use a lovely drop of wine to make this.

There’s no doubt that the rare moments of sheer brilliance like the finale reflected the glorious past of Marque. But against the backdrop of these creative dishes, it was apparent to me from my meal that evening that Best had run out of ideas, or perhaps inspiration. For a man that had been running at the forefront of contemporary cuisine in Australia, I must admit that the one thing I expected was innovation or at least novelty but sadly that was nowhere to be found.

Brae, Birregurra

P1150415Chef: Dan Hunter   Website:   Cuisine: Modern Australian

It was a sad day when Dan Hunter announced his departure from the Royal Mail Hotel in June 2013. I had such fond memories of his jerusalem artichoke and heirloom tomato dishes from my visit back in early 2011. However, it wasn’t long before Hunter announced the great news we were all waiting for. He was taking over George Biron’s Sunnybrae restaurant and cooking school to realise everything he had always wanted to do. Located only 130km west of Melbourne, the sleepy village of Birregurra is a far more accessible location than the Royal Mail Hotel and only a stones throw away from the majestic Great Ocean Road. It didn’t take long for me to check the new premises out after opening their doors in December 2013.

P1150337As you pass the gates and make your way up the driveway, meandering around the organic vegetable patches, fruit trees and olive groves, you soon find yourself arriving at a beautifully restored white cottage from the 19th century. It was a stark contrast to the Royal Mail and I personally preferred the understated aesthetic as it was much more homely, making me feel more welcome and relaxed. Whilst the gardens were beautiful and we were keen to spend some time exploring, it was a scorcher of a day at a whopping 38 degrees so it didn’t take long before my wife and I hurried into the restaurant.

P1150341The space inside reflected Hunter’s philosophy of respecting nature and at the same time it was obvious that no expense was spared for quality. You could appreciate the craftsmanship that went into everything including the steel framed stations that had been forged by hand that were as aesthetically pleasing as functional. The large windows with spectacular views across Hunter’s garden invited a flood of natural light, exposing the beautiful dark floorboards that contrasted against the cool white walls. As I settled in for the afternoon I immediately realised how comfortable the nordic styled olive coloured leather chair was. I could have stayed there all afternoon I kid you not.

P1150346The front of house lead by the very knowledgeable Simon Freeman was remarkable from start to end, without a single hitch throughout our 3.5 hour meal. And just like Freeman, many of the members that form the Brae brigade had followed Hunter from the Royal Mail. That speaks volume and I could see why. Nothing that afternoon felt rehearsed and any response to a question came naturally, and more often than not with a backstory. As a restaurant striving to be as self sufficient as possible, seasonality and locality was at the heart of their motto. The one tasting menu option was therefore sensible and appropriate. After confirming that our only allergies were bad food, a glass of NV Lancelot-Pienne ‘Blanc de Blancs’ Grand Cru, Cramant France made its way to our table.

P1150351The first of our four snacks commenced with puffed up airy Beef tendon and mountain pepper. The native mountain pepperberry gave it a nice level of sweetness to start with and an aromatic peppery aftertaste. Great use of a native bushtucker.

P1150353The rest of our snacks were then presented to us on one plate starting with my wife’s favourite, the sweet, juicy and fragrant Prawn, nasturtium, finger lime on the right, followed by the sweet and savoury Burnt pretzel, treacle and pork, and finally the Wallaby and flax, lemon myrtle and wattle on the left. The wallaby was sourced from Flinders Island and prepared as a delicious tartare with mustard oil, presented on a flax seed cracker. Just based on these four bite size morsels I felt Hunters cooking had evolved from my visit back in 2011. It felt natural, unfussy but most importantly delicious.

P1150361The award for the best home made bread goes unquestionably to Brae for their home made crusty whole-wheat sourdough that was baked in their brick oven around the back garden. It was accompanied by a fresh acidic butter that was churned every day on site. A lot can be said about a restaurant that firstly bakes their own bread and secondly executes it well, and in this case very well. Whilst it was not quite at the same level as Mikael Jonssons in Hedone, it wasn’t far behind it and certainly put most restaurants in Australia to shame.

P1150363Our first course main course of the Calamari and pickles was perhaps our least favourite. But let me put that into perspective. The dish was not at all bad, but we felt the perfectly cooked silken calamari was not really necessary on the plate. The pickled turnip, cucumber, rocket, basil and fennel, dressed with shavings of horseradish, grated eggs and a cucumber/daikon sauce were delicious on their own and a vegetarian dish would have been very welcome on the menu. However, the 2012 Best’s Great Western ‘EVT 51’ Riesling, Victoria was superbly matched.

P1150366Our second course of the Short fin eel, sea urchin, zucchini and macadamia left no room for any complaint. The smokey eel mousse married beautifully with the sweet Tasmanian sea urchin that sat on the slice of zucchini; all eaten in one go after swimming them in the sweet and creamy macadamia milk. What’s more, I could not get over how good the quality of the Tasmanian sea urchin was. Superb!

P1150370 Another faultless dish was the Southern rock lobster cooked with carrot, white onion, sea butter. What I loved here was that none of the part of the lobster went to waste. We got to try and contrast the tail and head of the lobster that had been poached in Hunter’s home made sea butter (local dried seaweed and sea lettuce that had been blitzed and mixed with butter) and carrot, served with some lovely nutty, peppery and salty golden purslane and sea spray (or sea blight). The concentrated flavour of the sea truly brought out the delicate flavour of the lobster, something which I think is often lost, and the varying textures avoided this dish from become one dimensional. Could this meal get any better? Oh yes….

P1150374The star dish of the day was the Dry aged jumbuck, beans and lettuce. I’d like to say that this was a superb team work between the supplier Greenvale Farm, who had been better known for their pork in the Grampians, for producing this exquisite meat and Hunter’s flawless execution. The wafer thin pink slices of the aged jumbuck was unlike anything else I had previously tasted. It surprisingly had so much more flavour than I expected and worked well with the salty and herby anchovy sauce, broad beans and chargrilled lettuce. Three slices was perhaps bordering on torture, for I could have done with the rest of that sheep on my own! I may possibly need to visit the Grampians again… This was all washed down with a lovely 2011 Apis, Cabernet Franc, Henty, Victoria  chosen superbly again by the team.

P1150378I personally didn’t expect much from the Charred radicchio, duck offal, native currants but I was proven completely wrong. I expected the duck offal to be too strong in flavour. In fact, the duck liver parfait was delicious with the charred and brined radicchio and the locally foraged currants, and was complemented with the classic combination with the freeze-dried mandarin powder. A definite twist to the classic duck a l’orange! I recently had the 2013 Mukai ‘Ine Mankai’, Junmani, Nama Genshu, Kyoto at Provenance but I thought it was much better matched here.

P1150382On to our final savoury course of the evening with the Grass fed wagyu, rock samphire, Otway shiitake. The local shiitake served raw and also cooked in mushroom stock were served with a glazed short rib cut of wagyu from Robbins Island in Tasmania. As with the other dishes, it was not too heavy or rich and the verbena added a refreshing citrus note. The matching wine of the 2008, By Farr, Shiraz, Geelong, Victoria was my favourite for the meal with a very complex nose with notes of red and black fruits and fine tannins. Another great discovery!

P1150385A clever light and pretty dessert of the Watermelon, quandong, rhubarb and rose to begin our sweet segment. The watermelon had been infused with rhubarb and rosewater syrup, served with a granita of the mixed syrup and quandongs that had been stuffed with sweet beetroot mousse. I was surprised to find out that the refreshing green sauce was made from snow pea, it worked well. It was a celebration of fresh local produce, relying purely on its natural sweetness. I particularly enjoyed the subtle but present flavour of rosewater that wandered in your mouth.

P1150394A very worthy contender for best dish of the day was the finale of this superb meal with the Parsnip and apple. The parsnip had been baked in aluminium foil over three hours before the flesh was separated from the skin. The skin was then deep fried to a lovely crisp texture whilst the flesh was mixed with butter, cream and apple to make the bed of mousse. The apple chunks provided a surprising element as, although on first look they appeared fresh, they were freeze dried providing an interesting honeycomb like texture, although I thought there was not much flavour despite it also being present as a dust. My wife also wondered whether they would have been better left fresh and crunchy to contrast with the creamy mousse, but overall this really just came down to personal preference. This was matched with a glass of 2002 Domaines des Baumard, ‘Clos de Sainte Catherine’ Couteaux du Layon, France.

P1150396Some Berries and blood biscuit to go with our coffee which was supplied by St Ali, one of our favourite Melbourne coffee institution which Brae had teamed up with.

P1150401It had been a while since we had eaten Hunter’s food but I felt his cooking style in Brae was much more expressive and personal than I had seen at the Royal Mail. Similar to Ben Shewry, I loved Hunter’s personal touch having backstories for the suppliers, humbly highlighting all the farmers, growers and producers who had been integral to making his dream become a reality at Brae. The food had also become much more refined in its execution and flavours, and I was pleased to see an even greater reliance on local produce and ingredients including the often overseen bushtucker. To top it off, the front of house under Freeman were superb and impressingly absent of any faults, which would often be expected with a new operation. The only thing now missing in Hunter’s arsenal is a room where I could carry myself to after the meal. Lucky for me, my wife drove back to Melbourne.

Jacques Reymond, Melbourne

P1150073Chef: Jacques Reymond   Website:  Cuisine: Classic French

Synonymous to being one of the founders of fine dining in not just Melbourne but Australia, there was no way I could let this restaurant close without trying it once (Note: The restaurant closed in December 2013). My wife had been there over five years ago and left hungry despite opting for a tasting menu. Given she wasn’t keen to go back, I managed to convince one of her good friend to accompany me for a lazy Friday lunch. With the reservation confirmed all I had to do was just wait for the last week of October to come. Chef Reymond was about to hang his apron for good in just two months time and I had managed to get a table. It was all very exciting at first…

P1150074The interior of the restaurant was not quite what I expected. Inside this beautiful 19th century Victorian mansion were rooms and furnitures with flashy colours of red and lilac and avant-garde lighting. Whilst the taste of the design may not have been up my alley, I assumed that if the eclectic interior was in any way a representation of the chef’s cooking then we would be in for a treat, or at least something interesting and different.

P1150078One of the reason why I chose the lunch option was because the full tasting menu was significantly cheaper and I generally preferred lunches for lengthier meals and good lighting. As we both came here wanting to taste as much as possible, it didn’t take long for our waitress to take our orders and get the kitchen working. Having not had breakfast we were both starving and couldn’t wait to tuck in.

P1150077To kick off the meal we had a home made multigrain bread served with home churned butter. Wait a minute. “What happened with the amuse bouche?” I enquired. To my astonishment the response was “Jacques is a particular man and he doesn’t do amuse bouche”. Really? As Jean-George Vongerichten said once, this was essentially an opportunity for a chef to express his or her big ideas in a small bite. At the price he was charging I was quite amazed at how stingy he was. My heart sank. The amuse bouche was my favourite part of the meal! I had a really bad feeling about the meal to come but kept quiet. On the flip side, at least the bread was home made and quite good; surprisingly not something I’ve found to be common across many fine dining restaurants in Australia to date.

P1150081Our first course of Crab farcie gartinée, ceviche of hapuka took a bit of time to prepare as we had long finished our bread roll by then. We decided to follow the recommendation of our sommelier by matching the dish with a 2008 Vouvray Demi-Sec, Domaine du Clos Naudin, P. Foreau, Loire, France. The wine was well matched for the dish, however the gratinated spanner crab sourced from Noosa was nothing special, and the ceviche was lacking seasoning, leaving the meaty king brown mushroom as the only enjoyable component of the dish. .

P1150083A slight improvement with the King George Whiting, acidities of pickles Japanese style, yuzu. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw King George Whiting on the menu was the superb course I had at Attica only a couple of months ago. Sadly, this was nothing like it and the pickled vegetables were a too sharp for the ever so slightly overcooked fish.

P1150086Tart of king brown mushrooms, candied tomato, saltbush and stinging nettle. This was served with barigoule mushrooms on the side with the tart made using tempura batter which I found a bit oily. While the coffee added some bitterness to counterbalance the tempura, I thought it was overall just a very messy dish, both in texture and flavour.

P1150088The only other place I’ve ever tried wallaby from Flinders Island was Attica and it was, to stay the least, stunning. I joked that beating that dish would be a challenge and encouragingly our waiter responded by saying that the two dishes had previously been compared by a panel and that he thought theirs had the slight edge. That was a bold claim. However, my excitement was short lived. In short, the Flinders Island Wallaby, freeze dried apple, pepperberry gastric was disappointing. The meat was tough and surprisingly, based on my experiences at Attica, flavourless. The cheese was the only thing that I could taste.

P1150090The Saddle of highland venison and sancho, tea salt vegetables, brebis fromage was a significant improvement to the wallaby. The meat was cooked as it needed to be, pink. The meat also had a beautiful flavour that was not too gamey. Although admittedly, I didn’t think the dish needed garnishes like the wasabi cream.

P1150092An assortment of cheese to soften the blow of the disappointing meal. After all, it’s pretty hard to screw up a cheese course. We had a mix of Milawa brie, Beaufort and Bontazola from Lombardy. Some good choices though we could have done with a bit more bread!

P1150095First dessert course of “Memories of Brazil” Sobremesa which had cashew nuts, spherified cachaça balls, dulce de leche, coconut cake, coconut mousse and mandarin sorbet. I found the cachaça to be rather unnecessary in this dish, at least as a spherified liquid. It dominated the palate and would have been much better without it. Unfortunately, I had not choice in the matter. It went everywhere as soon as the ball was burst.

P1150098The finale was the Chocolate and chestnut mont blanc, bay leaf and cassis, bourbon chantilly. Classic flavours which have been tried and tested. As expected, it was tasty. I had no issues mopping this dish up! However, there was no denying that we were both still hungry. We didn’t even have a second offering for bread rolls though we did notice other tables being offered one at least a second time.

P1150100A Chilean guava macaroon and green tea marshmellow to finish up. We didn’t order coffee as we were both starving and had already decided we would be heading down to Milk the Cow in St Kilda for some cheese and wine. I obviously couldn’t compare the meal we had against what Chef Reymond served during the heyday but if the dishes served that day was representative of his general cooking then it would make sense as to why he was closing up. In short, this felt like cooking from a person who had run out of inspiration. Let’s hope Woodland House will do a better job in 2014.






Urbane, Brisbane

P1150068Chef: Alejandro Cancino    Website:   Cuisine: Modern Australian

At the tender age of 29, Alejandro Cancino already has an impressive résumé having amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience at big names like Mugaritz, Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saison and Noma. To top it off he’s even added a Michelin star to his name in Japan. But he is not one to sit on his laurels. In just over a year since his arrival to Brisbane in 2012, Cancino has attracted quite a bit of attention from the culinary world in Australia, snapping up the title of Gourmet Traveller 2013 Best New Talent. What’s more, he has successfully retained Urbane’s Two Hats, and based on my meal in October 2013 it’s not going to be long before he gets the third.

P1150019I must have walked past the restaurant a handful of times before succumbing to the inevitably embarassing call asking for directions. I was told to look behind and sure enough it was there, 10 metres away. Having regained my composure, I entered the modern dining room which only had two tables occupied. I was the last person to arrive that evening; not a good omen. I knew Cancino was well known in Brisbane for hosting vegan events. Was that playing against him in a meat-loving nation? Given it was a Tuesday night I gave it the benefit of the doubt. After all, there was hardly anyone walking in the city. Little did I know what I was about to experience…P1150024To kick off the evening my friendly waiter for the night brought over a delectable range of amuse bouche starting with Duck Consommé, Tongue. I was advised to eat first the crispy tongue that had been sprinkled with a pink ginger and soy concentrated sauce before washing it down with the consommé. The intensity of the flavour of the duck was superb. A very modern twist to some classic flavours.

P1150026Another delicious morsel of Mussel, Saffron, Rye followed immediately after. The plump mussel from Noosa was perfectly complemented by the seasoning from the soy jelly and the thick texture of the rye crouton disc, finished off with a subtle saffron aftertaste.

P1150027Another bite size Pork Tail, balanced well with ginger and coriander with a ginger glaze. The dried pork jerky base released ample flavour and the small dose of tanginess from the coriander cut through the meat without overwhelming the palate.

P1150028If you’ve never tried snails, then Cancino’s Snail, Carrot would be a perfect introduction. It was a bit messy to pick up but the combination of the caramelised carrot purée with chicken glaze, garlic and walnut purée worked, in fact very well.

P1150033I couldn’t believe that none of the amuse bouche had disappointed yet, including the Oyster Wasabi. It was ingenius. The wasabi beurre blanc took the slight fishiness away from the Coffin Bay oyster with a momentary kick of heat, leaving only the sweetness and taste of the ocean.

P1150034The finale of the amuse bouche was the Cobia Sashimi rolled around a jelly of ponzu and soy sauce, topped with some freshly grated wasabi. The ponzu jelly cut through the fatty fish and left a very clean aftertaste. I was thoroughly impressed with the opening act but equally worried whether he would be able to maintain this standard across the rest of the menu.

P1150035The choice of bread for the evening was a sourdough sourced from a company in Woolloongabba…

P1150036… served with whipped butter. The bread was nothing special and slightly disappointing. I must admit that good home made bread is something which I have found to be lacking across fine dining establishments in Australia.

P1150038Cancino came out briefly to introduce himself before the main part of the meal commenced. I had to do a double take as the humble chef who came out looked so young. After a brief chat he excused himself before returning to the kitchen to prepare my first course of the evening, Spring, which consisted of a colourless tomato water, peeled heirloom tomatoes and spherified basil purée. Very clean on the palate and extremely refreshing. It came with a side of…

P1150042Crouton mounted with a glossy Jamon Iberico, anchovy paste and herbs from Cancino’s garden in the alleyway. I couldn’t fault the quality of the produce but I found the anchovy’s fishiness dominating the ham.

P1150043It was apparent that Cancino was taken by ponzu as he incorporated it another jelly form in the Octopus, Beach Herbs. The mollusc was seasoned by the jelly and salty rye crumbs that had been scattered over the avocado mousse. It was overall a bit salty but the textures and flavours of the dish were spot on.

P1150046A much more delicately balanced dish ensued with the Egg Yolk, Buckwheat, Shimeji. The earthy elements of the slow cooked hen’s egg and shimeji mushroom blended harmoniously with the smokey aubergine purée and salty lumps of chorizo. In case the buckwheat wasn’t enough to soak up the yolk there was also some fresh walnut bread. Divine.

P1150050The penultimate savoury course of Pork Cheek, Onion, Garlic was all about the alliums. From the variety of onion preparations including purée, consommé and roasted, to the garlic flower, garlic purée and ginger, this dish delivered punchy flavours. The consommé actually did remind me of the soba noodle sauce (tsuyu) although I was reassured that wasn’t the case.

P1150052The best dish of the evening was without a shadow of a doubt the Wagyu, Black Pudding, Carrot. The cut of the wagyu, sourced from Cabassi & Co in Queensland, was a pillow of the cube-roll and it was served with a black pudding sauce and carrot two-ways; pickled and roasted. The marbling of this cut was superb and took me back to the phenomenal dish I had at Ledoyen in Paris. The slight sharpness from the pickled carrot sliced through the rich beef. In my honest opinion, this steak was far superior to anything I’ve previously had in Australia including the big names.

P1150056As a palate cleanser a reconstructed Grapefruit was served. It was essentially grapfruit jelly set back on the skin of the grapfruit. It was very refreshing and not too bitter. It was so well made I initially thought that I was being served a slice of grapefruit!

P1150059Based on the first dessert, Local Pink Lady Apple, Lemongrass, Ginger, I assumed that pink lady apple was quite popular this time of the year! I had the apple served as a sorbet and also fossilised (dried using chemicals) although the texture of the skin was not to my liking as it felt a bit leathery. The ginger was nice and left a slight tingle on my tongue.

P1150061The final dessert course was Eucalyptus, Pain Perdu which I found rather uninspiring compared to his savoury dishes. The eucalyptus ice cream was delicious but I felt the mulberry foam and fruits did not belong on the same plate as it was bitter enough already.

P1150062Some tea made from Native Fruit Infusion to sip whilst I reflected on the meal I just had. The native fruits used were displayed by the tea for educational purpose only and included Quondongs, Rosela and other familiar fruits I came across at Attica a few months ago. I was surprised at how sweet the tea was.

P1150065The tea came with a valrhona white chocolate with Corsican mint. It was good as far as minty chocolates went but mint chocolate has never been my thing and I wasn’t going to change that night.

P1150067I went to Brisbane with little expectation and left the city enchanted. For a city that has never really been associated with fine dining, Urbane is a breath of fresh air. Despite his youthful looks, Cancino brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and passion to the local dining scene and he is a force to be reckoned with in Australia. And from our brief chat after dinner, I reckon he has only just got started here and is definitely one to watch. His enthusiasm for sourcing fresh produce and ingredients was contagious and his discovery in such a short period of time impressive. Let’s hope he sticks around for a while. If he felt like a change in scenery I’d be the first one to welcome him down to Melbourne!









The Provenance, Beechworth

P1140869Chef: Michael Ryan      Website:       Cuisine: Modern Australian

A series of event started unfolding the night I discovered Giaconda wineries chardonnay at Attica, paving the way to the inevitable journey to Australia’s gourmet region of the High Country in Victoria. As my wife and I hadn’t been able to get away on our honeymoon yet, we decided we’d make the most of this “mini-moon”. Our weekend was packed with food related events ranging from the blue cheese making course with Anna-Kate Pizzini at the famous Milawa Cheese Factory, to the winery visits across the region. The icing on the cake was of course our indulgent two-night accommodation at Provenance’s luxurious suite and a full tasting menu dinner on our second night.

P1140841Originally from Adelaide, chef and owner Michael Ryan has been a strong advocate of the regions produce over the past 15 years. Following his success at Range with a respectable two-hat accreditation, Ryan has since moved on to his latest restaurant, Provenance, in the quaint little town of Beechworth. The restaurant occupied the old bank of Australasia that was built back in 1856, at the height of the gold rush.

P1140873The dining room boasting a six-metre ceiling, ornate rosettes, brass light fittings and original arched windows were reminiscent of the glorious gold rush era. Further impressive was the vault in its original state, built with thick granite blocks that now housed the wine cellar collected by Ryan’s wife Jeanette Henderson. At a quick glance of the wine menu, it was evident that the restaurant supported many of the great local wineries, and why wouldn’t they?

P1140898As we had opted for the weekend package, we were given a choice of two tasting menus (one vegetarian), and each course matched with wine. Gazing at the menu, it wasn’t difficult to see where Chef Ryan got his inspiration for cooking. From umeboshi to tsukudani, not to mention the matching wine option that was dominated by sake, I was surprised to see such a heavily Japanese influenced menu in a location like Beechworth. What was most impressive here was that Chef Ryan had managed to maintain some focus on regional ingredients and produce, whilst adding his Japanese twist.

P1140900Chef Ryan was kind enough to prepare last minute a plate of home cured charcuterie, cheese and bread the previous night when we arrived late from Melbourne. It was then that we had encountered this delicious smoked miso infused butter and an interesting bread that had been flavoured using okara (the leftover soy pulp from the process of making tofu). We were glad to see it on the table that night in the restaurant as we didn’t have the courage the previous night to venture out of our room to ask for more.

P1140904I thought I had a fairly good knowledge of sake, helped by being half Japanese of course, but many of the choices that night were foreign to me. The first match of the evening was the Matsuo Junmai Daiginjo, Nagano, 2010, JapanBeing a junmai daiginjo, it was refined, light and complex with elegant aromas.

P1140908Despite opting for the normal tasting menu, I was very curious to try the supplementary option of the House made silken tofu, shitake tsukudani, wasabi, ginger which was normally available for the vegetarian menu option. Chef Ryan had made the tsukudani himself and I was very impressed by the quality. Tsukudani is a popular Japanese method of preserving fresh food, typically seafood, meat or vegetable, by simmering with soy sauce and mirin in low heat until it reduces to a thick paste. The silky tofu was also of high quality and the dish itself a perfectly light starter to stimulate the taste buds. Given my Kanto heritage where I was accustomed to saltier food, I could have however done with a bit more soy sauce.

P1140913Next up was another sake I had never heard of by the name of Kirei Shuzo, Hachiku, 2012, Hiroshima, Japan. It had a vibrant fruity fragrance and flavours of oxidised pear with a sweet intensity. The finish was dominated by refreshing acidity and an almost tannic grape-seed astringency.

P1140917The second course of the evening, Vegetables, pickles, okayu sauce, puffed rice, umeboshi took me back to my childhood. The combination of okayu (rice porridge) and umeboshi (pickled plum) is the classic Japanese folk remedy for colds and I certainly remember having my fair share as a child. Obviously the dish here was far more sophisticated and enjoyable, and I did like the textural variation from the crunchy pickled vegetables to the crispy puffed rice. It was a comforting dish that married Japanese techniques with local vegetables. I admired Ryan’s courage as the umeboshi’s salty and sour taste is an acquired taste not often appreciated outside Japan.

P1140918The showcasing of the local produce continued with the Roasted cauliflower, raw cauliflower, yuzu dressing, fish floss, Sevilla Orange. We moved on to South East Asian flavours with the fish floss although I wasn’t convinced it added much to the dish. The roasted and pickled cauliflower however was remarkably delicious and I was impressed by the way in which he drew out the flavour of this humble brassica.

P1140922Matching the next course was another first with the Mukai Shuzo, Ine Mankai, Kyoto, 2013, JapanThe Master Brewer (Toji) of this family run business was one of the first female Master Brewer in Japan. The sake itself was made from an ancient variety of red rice. The rose petal coloured sake with high levels of sweetness balanced by high levels of acidity had a complex smokey cherry, vanilla and pickle aroma with a unique savoury and umami rich palate.

P1140924On to the Braised octopus, chickpeas, confit artichokes, chorizo, blood orange, green strawberries. There were quite a few strong flavours competing here and the octopus was borderline chewy although with a nice charred flavour to it. I personally find octopus to be a difficult dish to perfect in terms of texture and drawing out the delicate flavour. Compared to the other dishes we had that evening, this was definitely not in the same class.

P1140928Our first meat course of the evening commenced with a bit of humour with the Pork cheek cooked in hay, grain salad, blood pudding, crisp pork skin, coriander. Enjoyable crispy and crunchy textures from the pork skin, richness from the blood pudding and the pork cheek was tender and delicious. A lot of work and attention was paid to the preparation of this piggy’s food, the grain salad which formed the bed.

P1140934My second meat course was initially served to me as a wagyu cut. That was strange. I was confused as it certainly didn’t have the marbling nor could I recall it being on the menu. It was only after we had finished our course that a rather apologetic waitress came out to correct what we had which in fact was Cape Grim beef striploin, beets cooked in clay, beetroot jam, garlic, horseradish. Despite the flavours oozing from every bite, the cut was too thick to be served rare, making it slightly tough. I would have preferred a slightly fattier cut or a thinner piece of this Tasmanian breed.

P1140936And finally the last for the evening was Poached rhubarb, rhubarb jelly, buttermilk curd, gingerbread rosemary, lavender milk. A very pretty dish decorated with flowers that worked well as a palate cleanser. The poached rhubarb married well with the curd and gingerbread but I felt it was a weak dish to finish off what had been an enjoyable meal. I thought that something more hearty and warm would have been more appropriate given the cold temperature outside. 

P1140940Despite the calm and collected demeanor of Chef Ryan, there was a lot going on with the cooking at Provenance. I admired Chef Ryan’s dedication and passion in introducing Japanese elements to his cuisine and this ambitious approach had certainly paid off with the likes of the silken tofu and home made tsukudani, not to mention his delicious miso infused butter which on its own is worthwhile coming back for. Whilst his meat dishes came across weaker, he demonstrated a far superior knowledge and skillset in handling vegetables; his confidence evidently stood out in those dishes. In hindsight (and of course that’s the beauty of hindsight) I would have opted for the full vegetarian tasting menu. Perhaps on our next trip…
















Sixpenny, Sydney

P1140635Chef: James Parry & Daniel Puskas         Website:

Cuisine: Modern Australian

Watch out Sydney! There’s a little restaurant in the inner-western suburb of Stanmore. It only serves degustation menus. It’s new, it’s young and it’s exciting. The name is Sixpenny and it may possibly be the best thing that’s happened to Australia since Attica. For starters, head chefs James Parry and Daniels Puskas are of pedigree having trained at some of the world’s finest restaurants including big hitters like Mugaritz, Alinea and Noma. Having opened their new restaurant only a year ago in 2012 after a stint together at Oscillate Wildly, these two talented chefs have not wasted any time in making their mark in the fine dining scene in Sydney.  This restaurant alone has redeemed Sydney from all my disappointing meals to date.P1140638At Sixpenny there were no jaw dropping views or architectural marvel to feast your eyes over. The decoration here was rather quietly confident and elegant, and the main focus was around the service and good food – a simple equation to achieve gastronomic pleasure which appears to elude many chefs. And when you have fresh home grown vegetable sourced from your very own back garden and a plot of land in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, what more do you need? Well, perhaps there was one tiny complaint: the acoustic of the main dining room. It can get quite noisy when operating at full capacity but it certainly didn’t dent my experience.

P1140650The menu here was simple. There was a choice of a six-course or eight-course menu with the familiar matching wine option. I was particularly impressed by our sommelier who managed to match each course for my non wine drinking companion with a variety of rare ales. Before getting stuck into our meal we had an opportunity to visit the kitchen and catch up with Chef Parry in the back garden over a glass of champagne. From our lengthy discussion around sourcing, locality and sustainability, I could sense that our meal here was going to be quite different to any other place in Sydney I’d been to. P1140652To kick off our meal we had a thin and brittle sheet of Kipfler potato chips. They had been seasoned with a perfect balance of salt and vinegar and certainly whet my appetite.

P1140654To go with the array of amuse bouches was a glass of Jacques Puffeney, Cuvée Sacha, 2009, Arbois, Jura, France. It had a beautiful waxy nose of lemon and a smooth citrus palate with an earthy mushroom finish. A very interesting and unusual wine but worked well.P1140656The array of amuse bouches started with a warm English Muffin, green tomato, ricotta. The sweetness from the homemade ricotta married well with the slightly tart green tomato chutney. It had a clean aftertaste yet a lingering creamy texture.

P1140658Next up were Charred leeks, sweet onion. The chargrilled baby leek was coated with a sticky sweet onion glaze. I particularly enjoyed the smokiness.

P1140660A bowl containing a beautiful arrangement of Australia’s flower emblem, the Golden Wattle, was brought to out table containing Wattle baked golden beetroot. The golden beets had been baked with wattle seed in a salt crust to retain its moisture and came with…

P1140663… Caramelised cream that was perfect with the tart beetroot. The buttery cream emulsion was so good I kept it to go with some bread. This was definitely the best of the amuse bouche we had. Things were looking very promising indeed…

P1140668The home made sourdough arrived at the right time to mop up the caramelised cream but it also came with…

P1140666… a creamy mascarpone. I must admit I preferred the cream emulsion but this also went well with the warm bread.

P1140669Matching the first course was a biodynamic wine of 2008 Weingut Sepp & Muster ‘Opok’ Sauvignon Blanc, Morillon, Welschriesling Styria, Austria. It had a spicy and herbal nose with lots of minerality.

P1140671The first course of the evening was Green strawberry & celtuse salad, sour cream, bergamot. I had never heard of celtuse but our waiter explained it was basically a cross between a celery and lettuce, and it was extremely popular in China. I wasn’t quite sure on what to expect from this dish but was pleasantly surprised by how well the tangy thick sour cream, savoury celtuse and tart strawberry interplayed. Bergamot, which is not typically my preferred choice of ingredient, brought the dish to life with an aroma that was not overpowering. Brilliant.

P1140675One of the highlights of the evening was Sixpenny’s beautiful signature dish of the Crab, silky macadamia and camomile. The steamed mud crab from Queensland and macadamia milk was hiding under the mountain of macadamia nut curls. The earthy nuttiness from the macadamia complemented the sweet crab meat and the occasional fragments of macadamia you bit into added that textural contrast. This dish would have been perfect other than a slight faux pas, bits of crab shell!! What a shame!

P1140677Matching the next course was a glass of 2009 Yarra Yarra ‘The phoenix’ Semillon/Sauvignon blanc, Yarra Valley, Victoria. This was poignant reminder of the bushfires that destroyed Yarra Yarra’s vineyards and surrounding. The wine was made by a generous donation of the semillon from De Bortoli and sauvignon blanc which was purchased from the vicinity.

P1140680Our third course of the day was Carrot, mascarpone, toasted cheese curds and bitter leaves that had been dressed in toasted hazelnuts. The heirloom carrots that had been cooked in mascarpone butter was sweet, soft and absolutely divine. I did find it slightly one-dimensional in flavour but the micro herbs and bitter leaves added some pepperiness to make it a bit more interesting. I’d probably say one carrot as an amuse bouche would have worked better.

P1140682Our fish of the day was a Lightly steamed bass groper & stinging nettles. The stinging nettle was served two ways – as a sauce and also as crisped leaves. They were subtle but imparted a rich and earthy flavour to the fish caught off the South Island in New Zealand. I enjoyed the addition of the burnt taste of the rye butter which I was initially afraid would ruin the course. It was evident from all the dishes thus far that all their produce were never obscured or distracted by heavy flavours but equally never left bare. There was a lot of thought and respect to the produce and ingredients here. It reminded me of Ben’s cooking in Attica.

P1140687Our final savoury course of the day was the Malted veal, cabbage, fermented anchovies. Underneath this dark coating was a succulent and pink cut of veal, sourced from the Hunter Valley, that had been marinated and glazed in germinated malt, served with roasted cabbage dressed with anchovy essence. This dish was quite interesting in that the sweetness from the meat contrasted against the salty anchovy seasoning on the buttery cabbage. The small portion was spot on as it was quite rich and I found the flavours to be quite complex.

P1140694We were finally on to our first dessert of the meal with the Milk sorbet, rangpur lime, mandarin cooked in its juice. The milk sorbet was smooth and beautiful on its own. Whilst I could see the logic in adding a contrasting citric element, I must confess, I found the combination of the rangpur lime and mandarin overwhelmingly tart.

P1140700A much better course followed with the Vanilla brined pear, toasted milk, chocolate. Sixpenny’s take on the classic combination of pear, chocolate and vanilla was possibly my favourite course of the day. The pear worked really well in balancing the sweetness from the chocolate ganache and vanilla ice cream. There was something comforting about this rustic looking dish.

P1140703Our final course of the day was the Roasted pumpkin, mead & white rice ice cream. The star of the dish was the Queensland Blue pumpkin that was cooked in mead and served over a bed of caramelised white chocolate with a scoop of white rice ice cream. Dessert is usually a disappointment for me because the dish typically gets overly complicated or neglected. The last two dessert courses here may have lacked the visual impact but I assure you they were very good and perfect to be served on a winter’s day. I’d love to see what kind of dessert they have on their menu in summer!

P1140708Some sticky Rhubarb cooked in hibiscus sauce to finish the meal before catching up with the chefs.

P1140710Suffice to say, I was impressed by the cooking here. Chef Parry and Puskas showed a very promising future in their cooking and took me back to my experience at Attica five years ago. Sure, there were some silly mistakes like the crab shell being left in the dish or the slightly overwhelming tartness from the rangpur lime, but those are small adjustments and issues that can be ironed out. However, the creative mind needed to produce such original dishes, all whilst respecting the produce, is not something anyone can replicate. The cooking here was elegant and an absolute pleasure to the senses. I left the restaurant with goose bumps thinking about what other great dishes these two chefs will be producing in the future and could not wait to plan my next meal there.

P1140712Just in case we had not had enough to eat, we were given a bag from the Cookie Jar to bring home with us. It didn’t last the journey home.

The Bridge Room, Sydney

P1140634Chef: Ross Lusted   Website:  Cuisine: Modern Australian

Almost immediately after starting my new job in Melbourne I was given the opportunity to fly out to Sydney for business. I made the most of this occasion and decided to stick around after Friday for the weekend to check out the fine dining scene. I had mixed feelings about my last fine dining experience in Sydney at the highly acclaimed Quay, so my expectations weren’t astronomical. I had one booking already made for Sixpenny but naturally I wasn’t going to settle with just one meal! I did however want to avoid a second extensive degustation menu and after some enquiries with my sources I stumbled upon The Bridge Room. I was looking for something not too fussy. Something fairly casual. Somewhere that served just good food. The reviews claimed to be all that and more, so here I was.

P1140583Located on the bustling road of Bridge street in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, it’s quite easy to walk past The Bridge Room without taking too much notice it. At a quick glance from outside you could sense, from the minimalist contemporary interior design and furniture, that this place was quietly confident. An elongated dining room with a nordic theme reminiscent to Noma and its ilk, there’s no flashy statement being made here. As I stepped inside I was professionally greeted by the friendly restaurant manager Martijn De Boer who previously worked at one of my favourite restaurants, De Librije, and guided immediately to my table. I took a good look around and I couldn’t remember the last time I was surrounded by so many suited professionals at a fine dining restaurant. I guess that was expected with the location on a weekday.

P1140581The minimal Nordic theme resonated with the tableware with the noticeable asbence of table cloth. As I hovered over the à la carte menu, a glass of Clover Hill 2008, Pipers River, Tasmania appeared in front of me to whet my appetite. Shame there was no amuse bouche to go with it.

P1140603At least I had some bread to tie me over to the starter. The choice of bread was either a sourdough or rye bread which was supplied by Sonoma bakery, one of the main suppliers in Sydney to many a fine dining restaurants such as Quay, est. and Momofuku Seiobo. The bread was palatable with a decent texture and airiness but admittedly nothing special. I must admit that for a quietly confident restaurant I hoped the bread would be home made but it would be perhaps harsh to penalise them when it seems to be the norm amongst the big hitters in Sydney. Where was Mikael Jonsson when you needed him?

P1140604The choice of wine for the evening were both naturally Australian and selected by the savy sommelier. I’ve pretty much made a quiet decision that when any opportunity arises I will always try to expand my repertoire of Australian wines. The first wine to match our starter was the David Hook Pothana Vineyard Semillon 2007, Hunter Valley, New South Wales. It had a decent power on the palate with great aromas of citrus and savoury essence. Our sommelier also prompted me simultaneously to try the Good Catholic Girl, James Brazil 2010, Clare Valley, South Australia  as it would require a bit of decanter.

P1140609There were quite a few starters which looked appealing. Perhaps it was the fond memories of my childhood going down to our local robata restaurant (the Japanese equivalent of a barbecue where food is slowly grilled over hot coal) that made me choose the Raw wagyu shoulder, robata smoked enoki mushrooms, celtic sea salt, fresh horseradish, soft pickled chilli. It was an extremely light dish that suited the warmer climate of Sydney. The highlight for me was the combination of the smokey enoki mushroom and the creamy wagyu that melted in your mouth. The heat from the pickled chilli was well balanced but I found the horseradish dominated the palate when you had a mouthful of everything at once. A decent dish but not without fault.

P1140613 Unbeknownst to me at the time, our decantered red wine was a venture of Julie Barry, the daughter of the late Jim Barry who’s wine I’ve enjoyed on a couple of occasions. The shiraz was the perfect wine to accompany the Robata grilled Junee lamb, parsnips, salt grilled leek, zucchini, coriander seed. The lamb was cooked exactly the way I like it, pink. It had a good texture and the slightly fattier piece had some good flavours but I confess it paled in comparison to the lamb from the Sportsman in Kent, outside London UK. I knew that Kentish lamb would come to haunt me in the future. I also wasn’t too sure about the garnishes and decorations as I felt they detracted from the flavour of the meat.

P1140617I also ordered a side of Dutch cream potatoes, puréed with Joseph olive oil. I really enjoyed the side dish surprisingly. It was nicely seasoned and had a lovely texture resembling the aligot I had in Michel Bras. I had no issue mopping this up at all!

P1140626Fortunately the dessert dish of the Aerated passionfruit, roasted nougatine, passionfruit ice cream, passionfruit seed powder, glass biscuit saved the meal from being a completely mediocre one. It was well balanced in sweetness against the slight tartness from the passionfruit and had an interesting variety of textural contrast from the brittle sugar work and crunchy nougatine to the soft meringue and ice cream. What’s more, each component was right in proportion.

P1140594The honest truth is that my dinner at The Bridge Room didn’t redeem my faith in the fine dining scene in Sydney. Perhaps I had an off day but I honestly couldn’t rate this place in the same league as some of the other fine dining establishments I have tried in Australia. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t after flashy dishes with look-at-me wizardries and gimmicks. I was just after good honest food and that’s what I was promised, at least on paper. But what I got instead were a couple of dishes that had moments of brilliance, yet let down by imperfections and overshadowed by other personal experiences. The highlight of the dessert and the service from the front of house were however redeeming features and the wine impeccably chosen. I’d certainly recommend this place for a casual meal but nothing more.











Attica (Full Tasting Menu), Melbourne

P1130753Chef: Ben Shewry    Website:   Cuisine: Modern Australian

I know, I know. So it was only a couple of months ago that I had been to Attica but that experimental meal on Tuesday was possibly one of the most impressive meal I’d had in a while. I knew that night, that I had only two obstacles separating me and the full tasting menu… The first one of convincing my wife to revisit a restaurant so soon was an easy one. However, the more pertinent issue at hand was getting the all important reservation, and it had to be pretty soon for my curiosity was about to kill me, metaphorically speaking of course.

As expected from a restaurant that shot up the San Pellegrino ranking in 2013 to an incredible, but deserved 21st position, the reservation backlog had extended to as far as next year. Knowing there was nothing to lose, I simply asked whether there were any cancellations for a dinner. Surprisingly, a table had come up for grabs in a couple of month’s time so I wasted no time in booking in. It was as if my ill fortunes of getting a table at el Bulli had turned around. Now to convince the wife…

P1140502Fast forward a few weeks and here we were again with a huge grin on our face, making an entrance to occupy the last table of the evening at 8.30pm. Stepping into Attica, we realised there’s always one thing that doesn’t change here. In typical fashion Banjo, Hannah and the team greeted us with a genuine smile, welcoming us back to their home. There’s a lot to be said about restaurants that have a personal touch to their service. Attica is one of only a handful in Australia that gets this so right. So here we were, ready to embark on another adventure and what better to kick off the evening than a glass of a complex NV blend champagne, Georges Laval, Brut Nature, Cumières, France. Great minerality and ripe fruit aftertaste.

P1140505I was glad to see that the whipped olive oil with black sea salt was still being served and this time it came with a crusty wattleseed bread. The smokey mousse-like spread was absolutely divine but I was having a hard time fending my wife off as she wanted more than her fair share. Fortunately we had a second serving brought to us before a domestic erupted.

P1140507Unlike the Tuesday night experimental meal, you get an array of amuse bouche with the tasting menu. First up were Mushroom plant leaves from Ben’s garden served with a house cultured crème fraîche, alpine pepper and lemon myrtle dip. Simple, earthy and fresh. I particularly enjoyed the contrast of the cool dip and the slight heat from the peppers.

P1140510We were then presented a bowl of walnut shells that had been sliced in half. Inside them were some  Walnut purée with shavings of pine mushrooms and rosemary flowers. The walnut sourced from Ballarat, Western Victoria, had a distinctly strong and earthy flavour and was complemented by the fine shavings of pine mushrooms. I was salivating at this point.

P1140512The Pickled Jerusalem artichoke was a novelty for me. It had been pickled in honey, turmeric and cider, resulting in a very raw and meaty texture. The pickling process had packed in bags of flavours and also eliminated the gas producing effects typically associated with the root vegetable! A clever piece of cooking indeed.

P1140515The finale of the amuse bouche segment went, quite literally, with a big bang in my mouth. The face of Mussel man, a.k.a Lance Wiffen from the Sea Bounty in Australia’s mussel capital, Portarlington, was carefully painted on one side of a mussel shell and served with Blue-lip mussels and sea saltbush. The delicious morsels had been shucked raw, crumbed and lightly fried for 35 seconds, allowing the moisture to be retained whilst adding a crispy textural contrast. The flavours of the sea just burst into my mouth when I bit into it with the slightly salty sea saltbush. I wanted more…

P1140518Our tastebuds warmed up and palate amused, we were ready to go. Banjo had done such a terrific job last time matching our wine so we were happy to leave the matter in his hands, and he certainly did not disappoint. Our first official course of the evening was Crab, Lettuces from Land and Sea, accompanied by a glass of Bründlmayer ‘Berg Vogelsang’ Grüner Veltliner 2002, Kamptal, Austria.  The sweet baby snow crab rested on top of a luscious baby cos lettuce that had been poached in ginger balsamic and the sea lettuce on top was foraged by Ben himself. The finishing touches of a coconut vinaigrette cut through the sweet flesh of the delicate crab meat and the toasted buckwheat added that all needed crunch to complete the dish. I could almost see the ocean.

P1140520The wine of the evening was undoubtedly the Giaconda ‘Estate’ Chardonnay 2011, Beechworth, Victoria.This encounter actually led us to Beechworth in October and I can see why they are considered one of, if not the best, Chardonnay producer in Australia. It had a powerful palate and complex characters with fine acidity comparable to ones from Burgundy. It was perfectly matched with…

P1140522… our next course of Marron, Sorrel, Sauce of Onions and Pork Fat. The sweet marron tail sourced from Western Australia rested on a bed of sorrel from Ben’s garden that had been pulvarised with crispy fried chicken thighs after being marinated with coriander root. Hannah then poured over a delicious white onion and pork fat sauce to complete the dish.

P1140524The sauce provided a good balance to the slightly bitter sorrel mixture. Suffice to say the freshwater marron tail was plump and perfectly executed. Yet another superb dish.

P1140528I had fond memories of this dish from my first visit over three years ago. A simple dish of a potato cooked in the earth it was grown is anything but simple and truly captures Ben’s roots and humble origins. The waxy virginia rose potato was cooked sous-vide in earth for two hours, replicating the renown technique of the Maori Hangi in a kitchen. The result of this long-winded process was a uniformly creamy and velvety texture, not commonly associated with the humble potato. It was enthroned on a bed of smoked goats curd, coconut husk ash and crispy salt bush with freshly ground coffee; the culmination of which added an earthy undertone. Complementing this classy act was a glass of Damijan Podversic ‘Kaplja’ 2006, Friuli, Italy which had lovely sweet and silky tannins with a clean finish. By this point I was convinced that Ben was, without a doubt, currently the best chef in Australia.

P1140532Admittedly I wasn’t jumping off my seat when I read what was next on the menu but I was gravely mistaken, for the Cucumber, Holy Flax, Sauce of Burnet was another well balanced and clever dish. Shame on me for doubting. The cucumber pickled in chardonnay vinegar was charred ever so slightly before being plated up together with concentrated cucumber oil, holy flax from Ben’s garden, thinly sliced garlic that had been poached in verjus, peas and the all important Tasmanian cheddar that provided the seasoning. The burnet sauce enhanced the concentrated flavour of cucumber, leaving a very fresh aftertaste, only to be washed down with a glass of Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2012, Santorini, Greece.

P1140534The next dish utilised a traditional Aboriginal technique of cooking in paperbark.  It was the King George Whiting in Paperbark paired with a glass of Chateau Simone Blanc 2010, Palette, France. Underneath the tea tree paperbark was…

P1140539… a deliciously succulent piece of Whiting that had been caught off Portarlington. It had been basted with butter, sea parsley and lemon myrtle before being wrapped in the paperbark. It was then slowly grilled over a mallee root charcoal before being blow torched right at the end. It was decadently buttery yet the slight tang from the lemon myrtle lifted the dish from becoming one dimensional.

P1140541On to the closing act of the savory chapter with the Flinders Island Wallaby, Scorched Macadamia, paired with a local glass of Yarra Yarra Syrah / Viognier 2006, Yarra Valley, Victoria. If there’s one person who can truly treat this beautiful cut of meat, only available to a handful of people, with the respect it deserves, Ben is your man. The lightly seared wallaby loin served almost blue was incredibly tender and not overly gamey even with the accompanying rich black pudding. The bitter leaves of begonia, earthy macadamia purée and scorched nuts were beautiful props setting the natural scene of Australia on my palate. It was the perfect welcome to my permanent move to Down Under. I discreetly took my phone out to see where Flinders Island was. Damn, way too far. But no, I must find a way there…

P1140547Not long after our suspiciously clean plates were whisked away, Banjo came over to lead us to the back garden. Most of the vegetables, herbs and flowers that night had come from here or across the road from his bigger plot of farm in Ripponlea Estate but we didn’t expect to find ourselves to a few treats outside as well. The icing on the cake was being able to chat with the grand maestro himself. As ever, Ben was just humble, gracious and carried a huge smile.

P1140553The warm pink lady and granny smith apple drink kept us toasty whilst we chatted for a while. The scene was pretty familiar. We couldn’t stop thanking him for a superb meal and experience. Somewhat wistfully, we were sobering up from the copious amount of wine to the realisation that our meal was coming to an end.

P1140556But before heading back in, Ben offered us a couple of sticks of marshmallows coated in freeze-dried coconut shavings…

P1140560… to toast it over the outdoor fireplace he had installed. I know this makes me sound pretty sad, but I never toasted a marshmallow in my life and hardly knew what to do. As expected, half my marshmallow had melted into the flames of the abyss. “Amateur”, my wife chuckled as she woofed down her perfectly toasted one. It wasn’t too long after that we decided to go back inside as the temperature was in the single digits. It was winter in Australia after all.

P1140565The first dessert course of the Fresh Curd Ice Cream and Preserved Blueberries. The ice cream had been churned using a fromage blanc goats cheese from Meredith Dairy in Dyalesford. Within this there was a chewy pieces of dehydrated pink lady apple, crystal Turkish apple tea,  and poached pear balls overlayed with chrysanthemum petals. It was a balanced dish of floral notes, fresh curd and sweet fruits. Accompanying this dish was a glass of Dominique Portet Vendanges Tardives Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Yarra Valley, Victoria. Another great find that lead us to their winery in the Yarra Valley the following week.

P1140570We had one last surprise prior to the grand finale with the Native fruits of Australia. The fruits had been picked and supplied by the Outback Pride Project, an organisation that works with the Aboriginal community to promote native Australian food. I had to do a double take as the fruits were being read out; I had never come across any of them (Neither for that matter had my Australian born wife). They were poached Quandongs, candied Rosela Hibiscus petals, earthy Davidson’s plums, apple-like Muntries, Riberries and a fairly tart Desert Lime. In the centre were some wattleseed and honey custard topped with native currant ice and tucked underneath some of Meredith Dairy’s sheep’s milk yoghurt with eucalyptus. Could it get more Australian? It was a superb showcase of the native produce, without being cliche or twee. Most importantly it was very delicious.

P1140571Next was the highlight of the meal, the pièce de résistance, the Plight of the bees, served in this beautifully crafted Tasmanian oak box resembling a miniature beehive box; with a glass of Chateau de Passavant ‘Les Greffiers’ 2010, Coteaux de Layon, France.

P1140575This was essentially a celebration of honey. To be precise, two distinct types of honey from Ben’s native homeland of New Zealand. The darker complex honeydew honey or Forest honey was a type of honey made—not from blossom nectar—but from honeydew excreted by plant sucking insects such as aphids. It was utilised to poach an impossibly thin layer of pumpkin, which subsequently was dusted with freeze-dried apple shavings and pressed with hexagonal patterns to represent the honeycomb.

P1140576As you pierced through the outer layer you immediately realised how complex this dish was in harmonising contrasting textures, flavours and temperatures. A dish that took Ben 18 months to perfect after 50 variations; I was glad he was persistent because this may possibly be the best dessert dish I have had to date. I could distinctly taste each layer below this unassuming surface with every mouthful. From the acidity of fennel ice, fresh mandarin wedges and distilled mandarin, to the crunchy meringue and soft layer of pumpkin, all held together by the centrepiece of the deliciously creamy curd that had been infused with wild lemon thyme honey. What surprised me above all was the absence of extreme sweetness and stickiness normally associated with honey. If there’s one person’s brain I would like to tap into, that would be Ben for dreaming up this dish. It was sheer genius.

P1140578One last gift from the Attica team who just couldn’t have done more to make this meal more perfect – a couple of hand painted chocolate caramel Pukeko eggs that went ever so well with my shot of espresso.

A culinary experience in Attica is far from any pretension. The cooking here is captivating, intelligent and educating, yet relaxing and indulgent but above all delicious. Each dish told a story or an encounter experienced by Ben and the meal represented his personal journey that had lead him here. From the depth of ocean with the Sea Bounty, to the Islands up north inhabited by Wallabies and the native fruits hand picked by the indigenous Australian people, Ben’s cuisine could not portray a better canvass of Australia than any other. I know I sound like a broken record but if you haven’t been to Attica yet, go. You can thank me later.


Vue de Monde, Melbourne

VDM001Chef: Shannon Bennett  Website:  Cuisine: Modern French

I’ve always regarded Vue de Monde very highly ever since my first visit back in 2010. Of the handful of restaurants I visited with my wife during that trip, Shannon Bennett was the only one who managed to excite my palate with his food following the disappointing meals at Cutler & Co and the highly acclaimed Quay. How Vue de Monde has not dominated the Gourmet Traveller list is still beyond me. I guess it’s one of those unexplainable mysteries in life, just like how Iggy’s in Singapore made the San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants list when I wouldn’t even consider them in my top 200.

P1130311Since my last visit I had heard via my wife (who took a sneaky meal there with my father in law in my absence) that Vue de Monde had gone up in the world. Literally! Since my last visit, Vue de Monde had moved from their humble digs on Little Collins Street to the 55th floor of the Rialto, previously the observation deck. According to my wife, Vue de Monde was now complete. Not only did it have the best food and service in Australia, it also had a spectacular view and aesthetic of a modern fine dining restaurant. One that was on par with many great names in the world. Obviously I was keen to return. Sadly it was a couple of years later that we finally had the opportunity to return in style by hiring their private Dom Pérignon room for our wedding guests as a number of them had flown all the way from the many corners of the world. Some of my guests had also visited Quay and the Royal Mail Hotel a few days before so I was very keen to hear their opinion as it had been a couple of years since my wife and I had been to either. Suffice to say, our guests were blown away immediately at the start of our meal by the stunning view of Melbourne by night as a backdrop.

P1130297Upon arriving at the restaurant via a dedicated express lift, diners have the option of commencing the evening with an aperitif at the Lui bar. Given the big group we had, I knew that getting everyone there on time would be a struggle so reserving a section to start the evening was a great suggestion by the manager. As a bonus we got to try some of their delicious and unique cocktails. After taking what felt like a few hundred photos of the view, we were finally escorted through the wine cellar to their restaurant and into the private dining room. P1111111Photo courtesy of Dianna Snape

I was very fond of their Paul Smith designed chairs when they were at Little Collin Street (which consequently were flogged off and my wife refused to let me bid) but I liked their futuristic aesthetical transformation. At first glance the room looked slightly cold and modern but at closer inspection you began to comprehend there was much more to it. The thought and attention gone into Ross Didier’s sophisticated furnitures embodied and captured the spirit and soul of Australia. This was Australiana without being kitch and I loved it.

P1130300The armchairs had been upholstered in kangaroo leather and skin, making it extremely comfortable for the six hour tasting menu we were about to embark on. The conventional table linens had been replaced by a stitched dark and textured kangaroo hide which covered the entire table, perfect to lean on with your elbows. Even the pebbles scattered across the table turned out to be more than decoration and played an integral part of the meal as the night progressed and the menu unfolded.


A glass of NV Larmandier Bernier ‘Cuvée Vue de monde’ Vertus Champagne AOC, France was poured out for everyone to start the evening with some hand-cut parsnip chips and a macadamia and apple dip.P1100734The meal then kicked off with an array of amuse bouches starting with Smoked eel, white chocolate and caviar. This had a good textural contrast of the brittle caramelised coating and soft eel inside, although for me there wasn’t enough seasoning coming from the caviar.

P1100741This was followed by Salt cured Wallaby and wasabi. The dried meat reminded me of a very high quality bresaola. I thought the wasabi was a very clever addition as it cut nicely into the meat.

P1100737The Truffle marshmellow had a nice crunch from the bread crumbs although the truffle was a bit lost for me.

P1100732Lastly we were served a Carrot with egg and brown butter emulsion and oyster. It had a good level of sweetness. This was an interesting dish and the flavours reminded me a lot of the langoustine from Noma (of course with at least one major difference!).

There were a few options available from the menu but we all opted for the most comprehensive package of the 10-course degustation menu ($250) with matching wine ($150). A couple of my guests matched their meal with teas, something up and coming in Australia which appeared to work really well.

P1100749To match our first course of Roasted marron with tarragon butter, we were poured a glass of what I call butter on a stick, 2010 Domaine Bachelet-Monnot, Puligny-Montrachet, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy, FranceThe tea sommelier on the other hand served a pot of Tie Guan Yin, Oolong, China. The plump freshwater marron tail sourced from Western Australia was handled with the utmost respect, and it was lightly roasted to keep it moist and juicy. We were advised to pick up the marron tail with our fingers and dip it into the rich toffee-like tarragon brown butter and the intense marron salt. On the side was a sandwich of crispy kohlrabi with a creamy marron filling. It was a very good dish. Shame they didn’t have two tails! P1100755Next up was the Duck yolk, pork, green beans and mint matched with a generous glass of 2003 Dom Pérignon, Épernay, Champagne AOC, France and for the tea lovers a Yunnan White, White Tea, China. The fresh mint cut through the creamy yolk. The yolk had been poached at 58 degrees celsius so that it oozed beautifully over the crispy pork and green beans. The only thing I felt was missing to this delicate dish was a bit more seasoning. Overall I didn’t feel there was enough pork for that seasoning element. So close to a perfect dish. What a shame!

P1100763I was very surprised with the next installment. Whilst strictly not a dish, I feel it deserves a special mention. Head Chef Cory Campbell came in with a wooden bucket on a trolley. It contained the luxurious Échiré butter, typically served in three star establishments in France and a long standing favourite amongst the European royalties. He scooped out a few quenelle and served it with a beer and fennel sourdough. As mentioned countless times, I’m partial to good butter and bread, and this was delicious. I almost forgot the mother tongue of Vue de Monde was French, despite the evident Australian twang.

P1100775The next dish of Melbourne onion soup illustrated this juxtaposition. Charactertistic of Bennett, he displayed his interpretation on classic French cuisine by adding a local twist, using an instrument that would normally make the Melbournian’s favourite beverage: a coffee siphon. The onion consommé which had been brewed in advance for 48 hours at 96 degrees celsius was heated up using a blowtorch, forcing the liquid to slowly cascade to the top where it was infused with fennel herb and caramlised onion.

P1100781The mixture was then poured into each individual’s bowl over an onion prepared in multiple ways – charred, pickled, crisped and poached. The finishing touches included shavings of comté cheese, crispy croutons and macadamian gel set in agar. The result was a remarkably sweet and intense onion soup which had the right balance of cheese and variety of textures. I always find it quite risky to serve soup at a fine dining restaurant but this dish was outstanding and inspired. It was remarkable.

P1100793Next up was Sweet baby corn, brown butter and black truffle, served with a glass of the locally famous 2000 Yarra Yering ‘Dry White Wine No.1’, Yarra Valley, Victoriaor a rather surprising Zealong, Oolong Tea, New Zealand. I had no clue New Zealand produced oolong tea but even more astonishing was that the black truffles sourced from Western Australia were from the same specie as the highly prized Perigord truffles (tuber melanosporum). The baby corn cob cooked and presented in its husk with the brown butter emulsion had bursts of flavours; so much so that I ate the husk as well! The black truffle shavings added an earthy element to this simple yet delicious dish.

P1100811It’s not uncommon to have a second palate cleanser between segments of the meal although Vue de Monde is the only place I know that does this in Australia. A bowl containing a beautiful herb and flower salad was presented. Liquid nitrogen was then poured over the top, and the instantly frozen salad subsequently shattered using a wood pestle. Once settled, a quenelle of Grapefruit and lime sorbet was placed on top to produce a very refreshing palate cleanser.

P1100818Following such a invigorating palate cleanser, the first of the three main dishes was Prawn, nettle, young garlic, smoked barramundi, lettuce, served with one my favourite local wine of 2010 Kooyong Estate, Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria or Woojeong, Green Tea, South Korea. This was another classic Australian dish where the prawn, sourced from Mackay, was prepared “on the barbie” to give a smokey taste and smell. It was accompanied by a clean and flavoursome Barramundi which had been preserved using the Japanese method of “iki jime” (spike to the brain) in order to retain freshness, flavour and most importantly kill the fish in the most humanely possible way. The prawn and fish were served on a bed of garlic purée, with garnishes of nettle, young garlic, kale, lettuce and broccoli that provided some textural contrast and sharpness to the dish. Possibly the best barramundi I’ve tasted to date.

P1100825Finally on to some red meat with the Flinders Island Lamb, olive, Australian anchovies, mustard. The lamb was served two ways – a roasted loin and a crispy belly – and certainly melted in your mouth. Just like the wallaby I had tried at Attica from Flinders Island, it was of superb quality. I was not very fond of the crust of seeds around the belly however and would have preferred a naturally crispier skin. Whilst the lamb was superb in quality, I thought the overall flavour was quite average. The matching wine was 2011 Thousand Candles, Shiraz Pinot Noir Sauvignon Blanc, Yarra Valley, Victoria and Kaga Bocha Hojicha, Roasted Green tea, Japan.

P1100830I had some great memories from the wagyu course I had here last time and was hoping to see it appear in the menu again. I was in luck, or so I thought with the Blackmore Wagyu, beetroot, saltbush, BBQ sauce, truffle.The cheek and tenderloin of the locally reared beef was riddled in marble and melted in your mouth. The sweet home made BBQ sauce was lovely on its own but I felt it completely dominated everything else on the dish from the saltbush and beetroot purée to the black truffle shavings. What’s more, I felt there was not enough seasoning on the dish. The glass of 2008 Querciabella ‘Camartina’, Maremma Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italywas a consolation and a rather smokey Lapsang Suchong, Black tea, China was matched for the tea drinkers.

P1100849Some cheese and a glass of 1988 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal to cheer me up from the lacklustered two courses. The cheese was decent and I was very impressed that they actually had a tea to match the cheese course with the Hong Shui, Oolong tea, Taiwan.

P1100862The third and last palate cleanser of Passionfruit, liquorice and coconut “beer”. I don’t particularly like liquorice but thought it worked really well as an aftertaste with the passionfruit and coconut sorbet.

P1100866My favourite course of the evening was the first dessert course of Strawberries and cream served with a rather delicious 2006 Dr Loosen, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel Saar Ruwer Qmp, Germany. It had nailed all the elements from the creamy ice cream, crunchy and chewy meringue to the fragrance emanating from the cold shavings of frozen strawberries. The icing on the cake was the natural sweetness coming from the strawberries which was divine. I was impressed at how such a simple dish could be so delicious.

P1100876It was a shame that a few of my guests had to rush home before having the last dessert as they needed to relieve their babysitters from their kids. Well… It was 1.30am after all (we started the evening at 6pm). The Chocolate soufflé chocolate mousse, crème anglaise was rather decadent and luxurious, and a not so subtle reminder of the French influence in Bennett’s cuisine. It was definitely in the best five soufflé I’ve had. The crème anglaise was much needed to balance against this imposing tower of chocolate sweetness. I would however say that the combination of this and the 2009 Domain Madeloc, Banyuls Cirera, Languedoc-Roussillon, France was overall too sweet but I won’t lie; I did scrape the ramekin. This was perhaps the one course I would have preferred to have had the tea option as the Dian Hong Gold buds, Black tea, China with a hint of citrus note appeared to go down really well for my two friends.

P1100880We finished the evening with an array of Australiana themed petit fours. Whilst the waiter explained what they were, my wife had to explain the “cultural” significance of each item to our foreign guests as we appreciated it was not necessarily obvious. We were served: chocolate mousse lamingtons with raspberry coulis inside (a typical Australian cake), musk flavoured eucalptus leaves, gin jellied one penny coins (used to play two-up, a traditional Australian gambling game which is now illegal except on Anzac day) and eucalyptus flavoured sorbet balls.

P1100771It was close to 2am when we finally got the bill. I appreciate that the same meal would have probably taken a couple of hours less had we been in a smaller group but we enjoyed every minute of the privacy in the majestic Dom Perignon room with our private view into the kitchens. We left with some goodie bags which contained some brioche bread, tea, honey and muesli. A lovely touch indeed but had the whole experience lived up to my expectation? I thought the food on the whole was great and the service stepped up a notch from our last visit as it was flawless throughout the evening. Nothing seemed too much of an effort for the exceptional front of house team and we were all impressed.P1100823There was of course the matter of the two disappointing meat courses, and I noticed across my two meals there that there was a tendancy to incorporate emulsions repeatedly which felt tiring after a while, both in terms of texture and flavour. Saying that, there were a couple of innovative dishes that were exceptional like the marron tail, onion soup and the strawberry & creams dish. I left the restaurant content that evening with the overall experience and my guests certainly thought it was the best meal they had in Australia. But compared to my experience at Attica a couple of weeks later (see review on this website), I felt the latter had made greater strides in evolving its dishes since my last visit. I know it’s like comparing apples and bananas. Regardless, to me these two restaurants are currently my favourite in Australia and by quite some distance.

Attica, Melbourne


Chef: Ben Shewry        Website:        Cuisine: Modern Australian

My first gastronomic trip to Australia back in 2010 was memorable for various reasons. I had an unforgettable meal at Vue de Monde, followed by a shocking experience with a very rude commis sommelier at the Royal Mail Hotel and a rather spectacular view yet mundane meal at Quay. However, there was one place that took me by complete surprise. A friend of mine first spoke of Attica back in early 2009 suggesting I gave it a try on my next trip to Melbourne. As the menu looked quite unique including dishes like “a potato cooked in its own earth”, I gave it a shot and invited my in-laws. Whilst everything was good, my experience that evening didn’t quite blow me away like Vue de Monde had on that trip, but I came away thinking there was something different and interesting about Ben Shewry’s cuisine. His dishes were simple at a time when many chefs preferred over engineering them, so I vowed to return in a couple of years to let the restaurant evolve and grow. After all, Shewry is still very young. Three years on, I returned with my wife and parents. I was excited but equally scared. What if I was wrong? I was deep in thought as I walked down the street, suddenly finding myself in front of the raw brick exterior that is Attica. This was it.

P1130694We must have been the last guests to arrive as the place was absolutely packed, and it was only a Tuesday! The manager, Hannah, gave us a warm welcome and led us to an extension off the main dining room divided by a window. In front of us there were two chef’s working meticulously in a glass sealed room. Since my last visit, Shewry had introduced the concept of an experimental chef’s table on Tuesday evenings, allowing just a handful of diners to observe and sample some of his latest creations. The menu coming in at only $95 AUD was shorter than the normal Tasting Menu. For me, this was the perfect way to see how much Shewry had evolved over the last three years. I handed over my copy of “Origin” for a signature and I was set for the evening. It was show time.

P1130707My wife knew I had been looking forward to this for a while and she graciously offered to be the designated driver for the evening. I had my carte blanche. I could now enjoy the matching wines, and what could be better to start the evening than a glass of the NV J.L Vergnon Conversation Blanc de Blancs. We were simultaneously presented with some whipped olive oil with black sea salt and creamy butter with sea salt to go with the sourdough we all had chosen. It became apparently clear that no one was going to touch the butter after trying the whipped olive oil. The cold smoked olive oil was whipped with gelatin to produce a smokey mousse-like spread which was divine. I may have mentioned this before, I am quite partial to bread and butter.

P1130704I wolfed down my second piece of sourdough, mopping up what was left as my wife attempted to fend me off unsuccessfully. Yes, I have no shame. It was that good. As we regained our composure, the sommelier came to pour out our first wine of the evening. The first matching was in fact a sake. The Uehara “Soma no Tengu” Junmai Ginjyo from Saga prefecture was cloudy and had a beautiful creamy aftertaste that went well with the Snow Crab, Sorrel and Buckwheat. The shredded meat of the delicate snow crab from Western Australia was sweet and the sorrel leaf added a lovely citrus note to lift the dish. The buckwheat which had been “activated” or germinated had been immediately dehydrated to give it a delicious crunch and remarkable textural contrast. The dish was completed at the table as the organic chicken infused broth was poured over. It was undeniably a simple looking dish but had a beautiful marriage of flavours and I thought the sweetness of the delicate snow crab was really brought out.

P1130708Carrying on with the theme of unconventional wine matching, the sommelier poured us a glass of beer from one of my favourite Belgian Trappist brewery, Chimay. On this occasion, however, I got to try something new – a Chimay Grande Reserve, which had a rich and lively sweetness with a surprisingly drier finish on the palate. The second dish of Cauliflower Cheese with 11 Basils and Smoked Eel was my absolute favourite of the evening. As the waiter explained, this was Shewry’s take on one of his favourite dish, cauliflower and cheese. There was a bed of roasted and shaved cauliflower incorporated into the goats cheese sauce with mustard oil. The choice of cheese was perfect as it did not overpower the other components of the dish and the mustard oil  cut through the creamy sauce, adding a slight heat to liven the dish. There were also pieces of delicious smoked eel and the finishing touch of the eleven leaves of basil, all with different flavours ranging from aniseed and verbena to orange and lime, was ingenious. Each spoonful had a slightly different refreshing flavour. I could have easily done with a whole pot of this!P1130716The third course of the evening was the Marron, Quinoa, Sauce of Cured Pork Fat and Onion. The West Australian marron was juicy and perfectly cooked as expected at this calibre of restaurant. The Tasmanian quiona had absorbed the pork fat and onion sauce, releasing bags of flavour. The black flecks were couscous cooked in squid ink which was subsequently dried, adding a delicious and crunchy component to the dish. Again, the dish went very well with the sommelier’s recommended matching glass of Bobar Chardonnay 2012, Yarra Valley, which was  fruity with a distinct green apple taste. I was seriously impressed with everything so far!

P1130723The finale of the Wallaby, Dried Mushrooms and Sea Wormwood was an explosion of big bold flavours in my mouth. The sirloin of the wallaby, sourced from Flinders Island, was seared lightly and served rare with mushroom leaves (not to be mistaken with a fungi) that had been brushed with macadamia nut puree, a drizzle of sweet rosella syrup (wild hibiscus) and sea wormwood that was grown in their own garden. The sea wormwood was a novelty for me as I had never tasted a herb that tasted like… coca-cola! The combination of the sweet syrup, slightly bitter sea wormwood and the sweet and buttery texture of this particular wallaby went perfectly with the foliage on the side which was wallaby black pudding topped with dried portobello mushrooms, swiss brown mushrooms and red currants. The matching glass of Ar Pe Pe Rosso di Valtellina 2009, Lombardy was my favourite wine of the evening, displaying typical elegant character of a decent nebbiolo.

P1130728As we were discussing over our favourite courses, Hannah popped out again to invite us to the garden at the rear of the restaurant, which Shewry had converted from a parking space. The smell emanating from the various herbs was very inviting, and out of nowhere the great chef himself popped out to say hello. Despite our best efforts at talking over each other to complement his dishes, Shewry was very composed, humble and modest in receiving them. What a legend.

P1130735After our fairly long chat we decided to give the chef a break from our over enthusiasm and head back to our table for the grand finale, the dessert. I was particularly impressed with the dessert on my previous visit so I was looking forward to the Banana, Caramel, Kaffir and Native Lime. The caramlised banana was topped with honey from Otago, New Zealand, with a fluffy banana powder, kaffir lime powder and liquorice leaf from the garden. The balance between the fragrance, sweetness and contrasting temperatures was spot on making this a light but complex dish on the palate. The dessert was again washed down perfectly with a fairly dry and fruity glass of Immich-Batterieberg Enkircher Batterieberg Auslese 1991, Mosel.

P1130743Given the absence of an amuse bouche at the start of the meal, I had assumed that we would literally just get coffee when we ordered them. Fortunately we were presented with a bowl containing a chocolate and salted caramel Pukeko egg with a story card that essentially explained Shewry’s admiration and respect to nature and its habitat.


It is unprecedented for me to call out a restaurant as being the best in a country over one meal, particularly when it consisted only of five courses but that was the reality. Attica was superb. It was imaginative yet familiar and comforting, but most of all it was the best meal I had to date in Australia and definitely in my top ten. Unlike other fine dining restaurants I’d been to with theatrical elements or spectacular views, the wizardry and magic happened in the kitchen here. It was all about the food and there was no pretense in the service or decor. Behind the comforting flavours of the dishes were a brigade of humble chef’s and front of house who all displayed such genuine pride and joy to be working here. Having been able to chat to Shewry for a few minutes during our break in the garden, I also came to admire the man who has taken foraging to another level. Perhaps it’s a given in Australia, but I personally haven’t heard of other chef’s paying much attention to minimising disruption to the eco-system for species that are also dependent on the same sources which they forage. I guess with great dishes comes great responsibility?

The moderate price tag also makes Attica affordable and attractive for passionate diners who want to revisit more frequently. I for one would be enraged with jealousy of Melbournians had it not been for the fact that I was moving to Melbourne shortly afterwards myself. The only obstacle left now is the long waiting list following the recent announcement of Attica being voted 21st Best Restaurant in the 2013 San Pellegrino 50 Best Award. Luckily for me I have another table booked in the near future and I can’t wait to go back.