Monthly Archives: January 2014

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!









Albergo Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita, Italy

P1110425Website:    Genre:  Accommodation

There are a staggering 17,000 abandoned historic towns across Italy with approximately 2,000 that are partially populated. At a time where the global trend has deprived unique places of their identity, in favour of urban lifestyles escaping poverty and unemployment, it is extremely comforting to see a group like Sextantio committed to the preservation of past civilisations and the cultures that have survived until very recently. For them, the restoration and preservation of these historical sites are not a cost but an added value. It has been more than a business; a moral and ethical responsability they have taken upon themselves. Welcome to the town of Matera, home to the famous Grottos which have been lovingly restored by the Sextantio group.

P1110684Known as la città sotterranea (subterranean city), Matera is one of the oldest inhabited settlements in the world, well known for its historical center, the Sassi, which joined UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 1993. The town lies in a small canyon which, over the years, has been gradually eroded by a small stream. As I was celebrating my 30th Birthday, I wanted a special place for the occasion and therefore booked a couple of nights in December 2012.

P1110366The town was located only an hours drive from the airport of Bari. Our welcome at the hotel was very warm and Danilo wasted no time in installing us into our rooms. I had requested room 13 based on some research I had done and Danilo gave a cheeky smile when he saw my face light up as we were lead up the stairs to that exact room. It’s difficult to imagine without being there but, despite the barren exposed stone floors and walls, the room was cozy, warm and most of all very romantic with candles scattered thoughout the room, shining out from every nook and cranny, bathing the room in a comforting glow. Despite this aparent step back in time, there was even wifi for those who couldn’t cope with complete isolation from the world.

P1110371Our bedroom was located through a narrow archway off the living room with a stunning view over the canyon. You can probably just about make out the white foldable bed through the arches which catered for private in-room massages for those who wished to indulge in a bit of luxury. Perhaps the one issue was the lack of a door to the toilet area which may be a bit discerning for those who prefer a bit more privacy when doing your business, although I have noted that this seems to be a bit of a trend in hotels in europe. The room however was big enough to give the other party space.

P1110523It wasn’t long before curiosity got the better of us and we decided to venture outside the room and hotel. But before heading down to the town centre, we stopped by the 13th century church within the hotel compound which now served as the dining area for the hotel guests. We followed Danilo’s suggestion and opted for a local red, the Matera Primitivo, accompanied by a couple of plates of cheese and fennel seed taralli. In hindsight, we should have stayed with the nibbles in the hotel as the recommended restaurant (as the hotel didn’t serve dinner when we were there a year ago) was quite disappointing. We were not after any fine dining but this was Italy after all and we could not forgive the a poorly executed pasta and dry / tough meat. In comparison, the wine and nibbles in the church was divine, especially given we were the only ones there all night. So much so that we decided to order a second bottle after returning from dinner.

P1110734Personal touches again by the superb team at the hotel. There was a fire going in the bathroom when we got back late to our room with all the candles lit around the bathtub. We took our turn to soak in the modern bathtub. The smell of burning wood in winter and the dancing shadows were enchanting and ever so inviting. Suffice to say I struggled to get out of the water.

P1110547Breakfast (included in the fee) served in the 13th century church could not have been more different from our dinner the night before. A feast was laid out on each table where everything was fresh and sourced locally. We felt it was wrong to leave anything so we had a good go at polishing the plates. There was ricotta, fresh fruit salad, sweet almond cake, home made marmalade…

P1110558… mozzarella buffalo with tomatoes and pecorino, salumi, freshly squeezed orange juice and plenty of coffee to go around, and a varied choice of artisanal bread (my favourite was the focaccia). And for those who wanted a bit more privacy, the hotel can also cater for breakfast in your own room at a tiny cost. Admittedly, if you only had one night here I would advise going to the church. It’s pretty spectacular.P1110560There’s not a huge amount of things to do in Matera but enough to occupy for you for a day or so. If you get bored of staring out of your room over the canyon, you could take to the streets and get lost in the old part of town soaking in the historic site. If you prefered to do something more hands on, the hotel can also organise a gastronomic tour of the town or cooking lessons.

P1110530And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy you can always head out to the Archaeological Park of Natural Rock Hewn Churches which holds one of the most fascinating rock landscapes in the world. Walking along the park paths you can find traces of man’s presence since the ancient times. Heck, the hotel can even organise a guided night tour through the canyon for those who find it irresistable to probe into the areas history. Whatever you decide doing, I guaranty you will leave this place enchanted with a lasting memory.