Tag Archives: Melbourne

Fat Duck in Australia, Melbourne

Fat-Duck-Heston-Blumenthal-Melbourne-001Chef: Heston Blumenthal     Website: www.thefatduck.co.uk    Cuisine: Modern British

Photos: Courtesy of Harvard Wang (www.harvardwang.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amaru, Melbourne

P1190048Chef: Clinton McIver   Website: www.amarumelbourne.com.au  Cuisine: Modern Australian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minamishima, Melbourne

P1170598Chef: Koichi Minamishima     Website: www.minamishima.com.au    Cuisine: Edomae sushi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lûmé, Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O.MY Restaurant, Beaconsfield

P1160396 Chef: Tyson & Blayne Bertoncello       Website: www.omyrestaurant.com.au

Cuisine: Modern Australian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee Ho Fook, Melbourne


Chef: Victor Liong   Website: www.leehofook.com.au   Cuisine: Modern Chinese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Light, Melbourne


Chef: Adam Liston  Website: www.northernlightbarandeatery.com  Cuisine: Asian Fusion

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

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

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

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

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

Dan & Ben’s Excellent Adventure – When Attica met Coi

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-019Event: Dan & Ben’s Excellent Adventure   Date: 11 Nov 2013  Location: Attica, Melbourne

(Note: Big thanks to Harvard Wang for the great photos www.harvardwang.com)

They may speak with different accents and live on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean but there’s more similarity than the eye meets between Australia’s greatest chef, Ben Shewry from Attica, and his good friend Daniel Patterson from the highly acclaimed 2 Michelin starred restaurant, Coi. Just like Shewry, Patterson made a successful career away from home in California and has featured on San Pellegrino’s Top 100. Absent of pretense in their food, you seldom come across two people with such sincere humility and deep respect for each other. Their equally matched obsession and endless curiosity around produce, foraging and a sense of place suggests they may be brothers separated at birth. It therefore wasn’t a surprise to find out that the two chefs would be cooking together in November 2013 when Patterson was touring Australia to promote his latest book, Coi: Stories and Recipes.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-001With the exclusive one night event at Attica selling out almost immediately after the announcement, getting a table was no easy feat. Other than the food related celebrities like Matt Preston and a handful of prominent writers, it felt as if we were dining amongst extended relatives to the Attica team that evening. Amongst the jovial banters and laughter that echoed across the dining room all night, you couldn’t help but feel as if you were attending a family reunion, and an extravagant one if I may add.  Melbourne-Attica-Coi-004The menu that evening was carefully designed to incorporate a balanced number of dishes from both chefs. Shewry kicked off the evening with the Black Broadbean Leaf with Rotten Corn (Attica), which was essentially black broadbean leaves from his garden served with fermented corn juice emulsified with egg yolk, and sprinkled with forest anise and alpine pepper.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-005The second dish of the Australia Bowl (Coi) was Pattersons take on Down Under and adapted from his signature dish of the California Bowl. It had the perfect crisp and delicately balanced toppings. It consisted of brown rice that had been puffed and dehydrated, topped with charred avocado purée, sprouts that Attica had been sprouting over the last few weeks for Patterson, red dust of beetroot powder, vinegar powder, native pepper and Californian spice (aka espelette pepper, originally from France).

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-008Ben’s classics hit of the Snow Crab and Sorrel (Attica) of course made it on the menu and as always left the dining room speechless, followed by a few mutters of “mmmm’s” and “ahhh’s”. The snow crab had been steamed and picked delicately to ensure all the shell had been removed. The sorrel leave compressed in verjus and grapeseed oil blanketed over a purée made from whole mandarins, buckwheat, mustard flowers and spiced vinegar. Some dusting of the native bush tucker pepperberry to finish.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-010Asparagus cooked in its juice (Coi) and seared, served with a meyer lemon sabayon, citrus oil, juice of asparagus, and dusted with seaweed powder. The asparagus was of good quality and cooked well. The seaweed powder packed with umami took the flavour to another level. Simple yet delicious with a clean aftertaste.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-015Another familiar, yet consistently delicious dish of Marron and Ground Greens (Attica). Shame the matching glass of wine wasn’t the usual Giaconda Chardonnay, although the substitute of the Clos Ste Magdeleine Cassis Blanc complemented the dish enough with its minerality and spice.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-017The main course was contributed by Patterson with the Beef encrusted in Lichen (Coi). A beautiful cut of sirloin of a pure breed Black Angus beef from Cape Grim, coated in a lichen powder and served with creamy potato purée. Patterson had collected the lichen himself from a forest near San Francisco and brought it with him to Australia. My immediate thought was, how did he get it through customs!? The bordelaise sauce was acidified and had angelica root and Californian cypress as flavourings. The dish was topped with beach herbs including sea succulent, dune spinach and sea lettuce. I was initially disappointed to not see the Wallaby course from Attica but this dish was equally stunning. Melbourne-Attica-Coi-021A serious contender to one of my all time favourite dessert course ever, Shewry’s Plight of the Bees, was the Raw Strawberry Jam (Attica). The strawberries sourced from Wandin, Yarra Valley were served in multiple ways. Some were fresh, some dehydrated slightly, giving them a chewy texture, and some also used to make a jam using the roto-evaporator, allowing Shewry to ‘cook’ the jam at about 35 degrees celsius and thereby preserving the natural strawberry flavours. The meringue was flavoured with vinegar and the ice granita was made with vanilla and forest berry. To complete the dish, a dollop of slightly soured cream. Four words. Heaven on a stick.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-022Patteron’s finale of Whipped Coconut (Coi) was full of surprises. The coconut milk whipped through marshmallow was partially frozen to create a very unique texture bordering chewy and creamy. It was decorated with frantoio olive oil, fresh passionfruit and liquorice herb. A perfect balance of the trifecta: sweetness, acidity and savouriness. Sensational.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-024 Some Pukeko’s Egg (Attica) to finish the meal with an espresso. I think it was a fair observation to say that my companion for the evening, Harvard Wang, who also took all the photos for the evening was equally blown away from the meal.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-002Based on just four courses served that night, I could see why Shewry described Patterson as a “beautiful cook”. Similar to Shewry, Patterson made delicious food look easy to produce with his simplistic presentations but you could appreciate that was far from the truth after tasting his dishes. Yet, despite the highly technical skills that went into each dish, Patterson’s aim was always to draw out and highlight the flavour of the main ingredient on that plate. He did it with such elegance without complicating things. Everything on the plate was there for a reason. Whilst the intention to purchase his signed book was there all night, I felt it was something I could only own after visiting Coi properly in California to better appreciate his food in an environment he knows like the palm of hand. Having never visited California to date, his restaurant would be the perfect introduction and I can’t wait.



Jacques Reymond, Melbourne

P1150073Chef: Jacques Reymond   Website: www.jacquesreymond.com.au  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.






Attica (Full Tasting Menu), Melbourne

P1130753Chef: Ben Shewry    Website: www.attica.com.au   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: www.vudedemonde.com.au  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.