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"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." – J.R.R. Tolkien

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San Paolo Solarino – Pasta and Wine Bar

It’s been quite a while since my last update, and indeed, since I’ve been out. My mother was down in Melbourne for the night, so it was a good an excuse as any to try a new spot for dinner. At a loss for where to eat (she didn’t make it any easier when I asked her what she felt like by saying ‘anything’), we ended up at San Paolo Solarino, a pasta and wine bar just off Little Collins St.

It was relatively quiet when we got there around 630, but quickly started filling up after we had ordered our meals. The trickle of customers resulted in a very mixed crowd; there were those who’d obviously just finished work, a few cosy couples, and even some single diners perfectly content with their books, iPads, smart-phones etc.

While the antipasto platter looking appetizing, neither of us were particularly hungry so ordered two mains to share between us. Trust me to go to a pasta and wine bar and not order either, being a fan of wine, but certainly not of pasta. We were perfectly happy with the menu despite this limitation.

It was amusing listening to mother attempting to pronounce “Risotto”, but I spared her the pain and ended up ordering the Risotto with pancetta, quince, rosemary butter and quince vincotto.
for us.

Risotto

Does the vincotto count as trying the wine then? Probably not, but in any case, the risotto was quite good, but more than a touch on the salty side. The rice was well cooked and the dish was creamy, strong and filling. I was glad we’d ordered a salad to offset the richness however.

The must try according to The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar was the Chicken salad with ricotta, currants, almonds and spinach and boy was it a good recommendation.

Chicken Salad

The chicken was tender and well-flavoured and I always love nuts in my salads as they add that bit of crunch and substance to a dish that is inherently light and I’ll never say no to cheese, although I would have liked fetta instead of ricotta (personal preference). The currants were a great sweet counterpoint, and somewhat required after the saltiness of the risotto.

Wine from the predominately Australian wine list would have matched well to the dinner, but for us, it was more of a hindsight rather than a requirement. I probably won’t return (well, maybe for the salad) due to pasta usually lying low on my cravings meter, but it’s still a nice cozy place for a weeknight dinner.

San Paolo Solarino – Pasta and Wine Bar
7 Howey Place, Melbourne
Mon-Sun 630am-1030pm

San Paolo Solarino - pasta and wine bar on Urbanspoon

MoVida Bar de Tapas

Having finally found a reason to visit this much-lauded Melbourne restaurant, little did I anticipate that it would be a month and a half before I finally got around to writing this review. Better late than never though right? We headed in early on a Tuesday night and were a little surprised at how busy it already was. Catering to a relatively mature crowd, the restaurant was noisy but not overtly so. We were promptly seated at a table that looked a little too small for a tapas style menu (or perhaps that added to the vibe, but in any case lots of plate-juggling would occur for the rest of the night) and settled in for a night of good food and wine starting with a a glass of celebratory champagne. Pictures and remembering dishes was somewhat secondary to celebrating the occasion, so you’ll have to excuse me.

MoVida offers a mix of Tapa (small individual pieces at $3.50-$5.50 each) and Racion (plates to share at $7 for olives to $50 for aged ham). We were enthusiastic about trying every dish and felt somewhat like kids in a candy store when presented with the menu, but our stomachs probably couldn’t have stretched quite that far, and so restraint was required. Nonetheless, we still ordered a respectable number of dishes between us. Ordering in English seemed like the safest bet though because A. the waiters were obviously Australia and B. even if they were Spanish, my toddler-level Spanish would probably have offended them.

Overall, the food was very good. The flavours were unique and interesting, with little cross-over between the dishes (always good when you want to try many things). The tapa were mostly too small to share efficiently, but we gave it our best shot regardless. Now, if you’re ready, here comes the parade:

First up, the ubiquitous dish of croqueta(s). The squid ink croqueta was contained within a cuttlefish skin that was reminiscent of a sushi roll.

Croquetas de Choco en su Tinta

Slightly chewy, the bite-sized morsel was packed full of flavour and texture. Definitely one of the better renditions of the dish I’ve had.

I have a weakness for goat cheese, so the Queso Manchego was a must order.

Queso Manchego

The cheese was delicate, and the quince paste was a nice counterpoint. I just wish there was more of the quince paste. The tiny sliver was barely enough for a bite of cheese, and without the accompaniment, the cheese got boring quite quickly.

Luckily, up next, we had the lovely Cordornice – pressed quail and morcilla with apple and pickled garlic.

Codornice

Beautifully presented, it didn’t look much like quail, but it certainly tasted like it. Quail is the more interesting version of chicken, but I always find it doesn’t have the same ‘comfort’ factor. Not that comfort is a requirement of a dish such as this, but my thoughts follow an odd path sometimes. Also interesting was the morcilla, otherwise known Spanish Blood Sausage, so while this dish didn’t blow me away, at least it kept my interest levels up.

One of the must order items on the menu was the Lengua – char-grilled veal tongue with green pepper sofrito.

Lengua

I must say I found the presentation of this dish lacking, but it was certainly delicious. The veal tongue was tender and the sofrito was packed full of flavour without being too oily. Why couldn’t there have been more of it! I wouldn’t have minded eating an entire dish (well, maybe entree sized) of just this.

The last two tapas dishes were greatly contrasted, we ordered the Cordero al Chilindron (Pyrenees wet roast lamb breast with fino and paprika sauce) and the Caballa Ahumado (house cold smoked Spanish mackerel with pine nut gazpacho sorbet).

Cordero al Chilindron

Caballa Ahumado

I have no idea what a ‘wet roast’ means, but it worked for this dish. Lamb has a tendency to dry out when you roast it, but this was moist and easily cut with a fork. The fino (a variety of dry sherry) sauce added an extra hit of flavour.

We were wondering what the smoke smell that wafted by every few minutes in the restaurant was, but it wasn’t until the smoked mackerel dish arrived at our table did we realise that this was the source of the intriguing aroma. Lightly smoked, the purity of the fish really shone through. Well presented, the pine nuts lent a nice ‘crunch’ factor to this dish.

After finishing the tapas dishes, with a lot of the aforementioned plate juggling, we moved on to the larger racions. I can get a little obsessive with my greens, so of course we ordered a salad. The Valencian salad with endive, orange, palm hearts and manzanillo olives was interesting enough to be counted as a dish on its own, rather than a side dish.

Ensalada Valenciana

The special of clams with a pea sauce captured our attention, and we couldn’t go past ordering this dish.

Clams with Pea Sauce

While I’m sure there was a fancier name for this, I can’t for the life of me remember what it was (the trouble with ordering specials!). While the clams were succulent and juicy, they weren’t didn’t quite match my expectations. Perhaps that bar was set too high for seafood? Indeed, the Salpicon dish (a seafood salad of octopus, prawn, scallop and mussels) didn’t impress me either.

Salpicon

Our last main was very impressive though. The Carriellera de Buey consisted of slowly braised beef cheek in Pedro Ximenez on Cauliflower Puree.

Carrillera de Buey

I have to figure out how they made this cauliflower puree (probably with lots of butter) because it was some of the most addictive I’ve ever had. Oh, and the beef wasn’t bad either (though this line suggest that I’ve missed the point of this dish). I’d previously thought only red wines worked well in beef dishes, but I was happy to be proven wrong on this occasion.

We couldn’t wait for dessert though seeing as my companion had never had churros before. Ever. Unbelievable.

Churros

So these weren’t the best churros you can get as somewhat surprisingly, San Churros is better than a top-class Spanish restaurant, but they were a good introduction. The other dessert was much more impressive.

Poached Figs with Vanilla Ice-Cream

Alas the curse of the specials hits again. I’m fairly sure this was a poached fig cake/pudding with vanilla ice-cream. Almost nudging the side of ‘too-sweet’, it was warm and decadent and the perfect way to end the evening. You can’t lose with the combination of pudding and ice-cream. Don’t even try to argue that with me.

Somehow during the course of the night, we also finished a glorious bottle of red. At the recommendation of the sommelier, we went with the 2008 Palacios Remondo ‘Propiedad’, a mix of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Graciano. I loved it for the rich berry and vanilla flavours, but M didn’t quite like how hard-hitting it was. Surprisingly, it matched most of the food quite well.

Overall, MoVida serves delicious but simple fare (for a top-class restaurant), good service, and a lively atmosphere in wonderful company made it a great night. While I can’t pick a particular highlight, neither can I pick a particular disappointment. Do yourself a favour and book here when you’re in the mood for great dining, minus pretentiousness.

MoVida Bar de Tapas
1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne
Daily: Noon-Late

MoVida Bar de Tapas on Urbanspoon

Mamasita

No-one can deny that there is a huge amount of fuss about Mamasita. Does it live up to the hype? Not exactly. Not wishing to spend 20 minutes waiting for a table, I’d organised a group visit (8-10 people) for a Wednesday night almost a month in advance, ordering the $55 pax banquet menu. I felt rather gleeful walking past the very long line up the stairs to the first-floor restaurant.

We were immediately hit by a wave of noise. I’ll warn you now, this place is loud and busy (perhaps expected) and not the place for intimate conversation. Shouting across the table seemed to get the conversation going though. It wasn’t too long before we were stuffing our faces with food though. First up, perhaps the best corn you’ve ever tasted.

“Street Style” Chargrilled Corn with Queso, Chipotle Mayonnaise & Lime

Amazing. Soft and juicy with a kick of heat from the chillies, I wanted to devour the entire plate myself. Unfortunately, the rest of the dishes just didn’t quite live up the standard this brilliant starter set.

Next to arrive were the Tostadita boards, consisted of tiny round corn tortillas, fried in the oil with a variety of toppings.

Tostadita Boards

With a fuzzy memory to accompany fuzzy photos, I recall vegetarian black-bean, chicken and beef renditions of the dish. I quite liked the vegetarian version, but the other two didn’t strike me as being particularly interesting.

Next up, more street-style food, the easily recognisable tacos and quesadillas.

Tacos

Quesadillas

While the banquet menu stated that the course would have two types of tacos plus one type of quesadilla as per chef selection, the presence of vegetarians meant that we had two of each. There were vegetarian black bean tacos, and chicken tacos, and vegetarian and chicken quesadillas. While the food was good, I was getting a little bored by the similar tastes on offer, and had a hankering for something completely different. Pity that the next course didn’t exactly deliver.

Mains: Chicken

See. More chicken. To make things worse, the dish was rather bland and suggested that the chicken had been marinated for nowhere near long enough. In all honesty, I prefer the Nando’s Peri-Peri chicken (extra hot of course) over this. The vegetarian main was much nicer though.

Mains: Chickpea patties with Mushrooms and Sweet Potato

The chickpea patties (not chicken!) were soft yet held together well. The standout wasn’t the patties though, but instead, the juicy mushrooms and the sweet potatoes. I tried my best to hide the fact I was actively searching for these under the patties, but I think someone might have noticed. No matter though, they were much happier in my belly than on the plate.

So, after a rather disappointing main course, we were served the dessert of ice-cream and flourless chocolate cake.

Ice-cream with Caramelised Popcorn

The ice-cream was smooth and creamy, but I wonder about the addition of popcorn. Not particularly tasty, these too dry adornments really weren’t to my liking.

The flourless chocolate cake was pretty damn good though and perfectly light.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

The knife was there so that we could split the five pieces between eight people. Really? Surely they could have just given us four and made life easier. I ended up with an entire one to myself, so I shouldn’t complain, but the mathematical side of me likes things to be neat. 5/8 is not neat.

As for drinks, Mamasita keeps with the theme by offering a large range of tequilas, Mexican beers, and the curious concoction known as the Michelada consisting of beer, lime juice, tomato juice.

Michelda

Not my cup of tea, but the drinker liked it enough to order a second. They must be doing something right with that combination!

All-in-all, overhyped. I’ve been told there are better Mexican restaurants down St Kilda way, but I’ll only be able to back that up when I go and try them out myself.

Mamasita
Level 1, 11 Collins, Melbourne
Mon-Wed 12pm-12am, Thu 12pm-1230am, Fri 12pm-2am

Mamasita on Urbanspoon

Syracuse

After a wonderful dessert experience here recently, I’d been meaning to come back and try their breakfast menu. On an uncharacteristically cold and depressing summer morning, a warm breakfast was required and the thought of Syracuse wouldn’t budge from my mind.

So with the promise of rich coffee, a hot breakfast in quiet surrounds, my friend and I headed off to Syracuse. We enjoyed easy conversation while sipping our long blacks in the slightly busy dining room. We watched the efficient staff bustling about, taking care of all the diners, while we waited for our meals.

My companion order the Syracuse Big Breakfast – poached, fried or scrambled eggs on toasted sourdough with bacon, mushrooms, tomato, pork and fennel sausage.

Syracuse Big Breakfast

Ordered with an extra serve of spinach, the dish was satisfying, but without overdoing it. I took a cheeky taste of the pork and fennel sausages and they were certainly delicious.

I went with what seems to be new breakfast trend in Melbourne – baked eggs.

Baked Eggs

Complete with tomato, chorizo, potato, yoghurt and mint, this was one of the better renditions of the dish that I’ve had. While not the best (that honour goes to Hardware Societe of course), it was definitely more than passable.

I like this restaurant, with its mounted wine openers as decorations, minimalist chandelier, and walls of wine. Good service and good food means if I get my way, I’m heading back again for lunch and dinner. Not just the one, no, both.

Syracuse
23 Bank Pl, Melbourne
Mon-Fri 730am-late, Sat 6pm-late

Syracuse on Urbanspoon

Saint & Rogue

Ah, the ever-present dilemma of where to go for work drinks. I’m always up for a Google search and a catchy name will pique my interest. Thus, the decision was made to meander down to Saint & Rogue at the west end of the CBD.

This pub/bar/restaurant was very nicely decorated, all wood and soft lighting, as a pub should be really. Their insignia is everywhere it can be but it is rather well designed that I can’t fault them.

Saint & Rogue

Saint & Rogue

As we were there on a Wednesday, the place was understandably quiet but I have heard that things get quite lively on a Friday night. Nevertheless, we were quite happy to order drinks at the well-stocked bar while the restaurant area was opened upstairs. With a range of beers on tap, from Kirin, to Guinness, to James Squire, there really is something for every taste, unless of course, you really want a craft beer, in which case you should probably go to a microbrewery instead.

We were seated at a large table that was perhaps a tad too high for the very comfortable booth. I felt like a child sitting on enormous furniture. Perhaps sitting on one of the chair would have been a better idea. In any case, the menu soon distracted me. With a large range of dishes, including the usual pub suspects the Chicken Parmigiana, Steak and even a Surf ‘n’ Turf dish as the special, it was somewhat surprising that half our group ordered the Parma. They did seem very happy with their choice in the end, and most of the plates were polished off.

My side of the table ordered a little differently. The pasta linguine with cherry tomatoes, chilli, baby spinach,
kalamata olives, fresh basil, lemon oil & parmesan was deemed tasty, if perhaps a touch small, and the Surf ‘n’ Turf didn’t fail to impress.

As I wanted to leave some room for dessert, I went for the smoked trout, asparagus and toasted pinenut salad with
kipfler potatoes, baby spinach and horseradish cream.

Smoked Trout, Asparagus and Toasted Pinenut Salad with Kipfler Potatoes, Baby Spinach and Horseradish Cream

This wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was still quite good. The trout was delicately smoked and full of flavour, and the toasted pinenuts lent a satisfying crunch to the dish. The potatoes still tasted somewhat odd to me (perhaps because I ate so many chips beforehand), and I was a little disappointed at the lack of asparagus. I did feel nourished however, and that can be hard to achieve in a pub.

I was looking forward to dessert though. Whilst there were a couple of options on offer, multiple orders of only two of the dishes were requested.

Baked Honey and Limoncello Ricotta Cheesecake with Raspberry Coulis

The baked honey and Limoncello ricotta cheesecake with raspberry coulis was by all accounts, a very good cheesecake. My co-workers seemed very enthusiastic when it arrived at the table, perhaps a little too much so. Whilst I was slightly jealous, I wasn’t at all disappointed with my choice of the coconut & lime pannacotta with pineapple jelly and toasted pineapple shard.

Coconut and Lime Pannacotta with Pineapple Jelly & Toasted Pineapple Shards

It should really say ‘shard’ but that’s just me being picky. The dessert with delicious, and suitably light. The coconut flavour was quite light, and I would have personally preferred a stronger flavour, but it was an interesting and comforting dessert.

All in all, Saint & Rogue has a great atmosphere, a large range of alcohol to choose from and most importantly, good food. If the boys weren’t so picky about not going to the same place twice, I’d drag them there in two months time. As it stands, I’ll need to come up with new ideas. Recommendations anyone?

Saint & Rogue
582 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Mon-Fri 12pm-Late, Sat 4pm-Late

Saint & Rogue on Urbanspoon

Dion Greek Restaurant & Taverna

After the success of a recent work dinner at Aspro Ble, a few of the boys were craving another Greek Banquet. Not being ones to frequent the same joint twice on nights out, we eventually decided on Dion Greek Restaurant & Taverna. Situated in the middle of the Little Greek end of Lonsdale street (which is all lit up with shimmering blue lights during the night), I’ve walked past it many times yet have never peeked in.

Upon arriving, we were promptly seated at a very long table. It would perhaps have been nicer to have a little more space, but that may be asking for too much considering the size of our group. Nevertheless, they were relatively accommodating to our various requests, including ordering separate vegetarian meals for the two vegetarians in our group.

Up first on the food front was of course, the prerequisite dips and pita bread.

Homemade Dips

Pita Bread

Nothing here was particularly impressive, and I’ve certainly had better dips elsewhere. Still, it’s not like they were exactly disappointing so I won’t fault them too much for that.

The rest of the entrees came in a quick flurry of plates, including the delicately flavoured saganaki (grilled kefalograviera cheese, lemon & oregano dressing). Once again, I’ve had better versions of this dish elsewhere, and slowly, it appeared that this would be the tone for the rest of the night.

Saganaki

The hard-to-pronounce Oktapothi Xithato (Marinated pickled octopus) and Loukanika (Char-grilled Greek spicy sausages) were both quite good.

Oktapothi Xithato

Loukanika

I didn’t manage to try any of the Dolmades (Vine Leaves filled with rice & herbs). The first and only time I’ve ever had this dish was when a temporary housemate of Greek origin made it for us during a random Sunday cooking session, and I recall it being quite tasty. No-one at this dinner complained, so I’ll take it that Dion’s version was decent.

Dolmades

The main seafood courses were then served. Up first was Kalamari, which, you guessed it, were pieces of deep-fried calamari with lemon & basil.

Kalamari

Somewhat like the calamari that you would get a stock-standard fish & chips restaurant, I didn’t particularly feel like eating much of this. The second dish, Garides, consisting of char-grilled king size prawns with lemon, oregano & olive oil dressing was better.

Garides

After a lengthy wait (is this typical of all Greek banquets?) the meat mains were served.

Arni Lemonato and Mixed Souvlaki

While no-where near as enormous as Aspro Ble’s offering, this was still quite a sizeable amount of meat. The lamb was tender and juicy, and the chicken was well-flavoured and while not exactly juicy, wasn’t at all dry.

This was accompanied your standard Elleniki Salata (Greek Salad).

Elleniki Salata

My only comment is that the feta should perhaps be cut up into smaller pieces. It was hard to split the cheese evenly between everyone, and after all that Saganki, no one particularly felt like a large piece of cheese anyway.

The meal was finished off with baklava and a curious custard-like concoction.

Desserts

Once again, this wasn’t as impressive as other desserts I’ve had at Greek restaurants, but was probably a lot healthier for me.

If anything, the portion sizes here are much better controlled than at Apsro Ble, so we left satisfying-ly full, rather than bursting at the seams. A much nicer physical feeling, but unfortunately the food wasn’t as well done. Not the greatest restaurant, but definitely not the worst either. You win some and you lose some – that’s just life.

Dion Greek Restaurant & Taverna
207 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Lunch: Fri, Dinner: Mon-Sun

Dion Greek Restaurant & Taverna on Urbanspoon

Goshu Ramen Tei (NSW)

As the oldest Ramen restaurant in Australia, and one of the highest rated Japanese restaurants on Urbanspoon Sydney, I had great expectations for this place. Catching up with a friend who’d recently moved up from Melbourne was the perfect opportunity to check this place out, and it didn’t disappoint.

It was a windy and chilly day, but the place was still very busy. We felt a little sorry for the neighbouring restaurant, but there seemed to be a customer base only loyal to Goshu. Indeed, they had a take-away service which was being made full use of.

The menu had the usual variety of Japanese dishes, from curries, to bento boxes, and of course, ramen. For starters, we ordered a serve of gyoza.

Gyoza

Nothing too spectacular, these gyoza were simple and satisfying and were perfect to munch on while waiting for our main dishes.

I ordered the beef sukiyaki set.

Beef Sukiyaki Set

This was definitely larger than I expected, the flavour was stronger than I was used to. It was undoubtedly tasty, but perhaps too much so. I’m not sure what spices and condiments they used, but they were certainly liberal with them. Nonetheless, I polished it off, and the small seaweed salad that I had ordered too.

Seaweed Salad

My memory is failing me a bit (we ate a lot on that trip!) but I think my dining companions ordered a chicken udon dish and a chicken curry and rice dish respectively.

Chicken Udon

Chicken Curry and Rice

By all accounts, the food was delicious and the serves were massive. Definitely value for money! The service was extremely efficient and friendly. As their menu says, “Your hostess, Aiko, always smile, from Aichi, JAPAN”. You could help but smile back.

Goshu deserves it’s reputation as being a great Japanese restaurant. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of noodles, I’ll be sure to try their Ramen next time.

Goshu Ramen Tei
5 York Street, Sydney
Mon-Sat 11am-10pm

Goshu Ramen Tei on Urbanspoon

Quay (NSW)

With the reputation of being Australia’s most awarded restaurant and one that prides itself on using locally sourced food, Quay was one of the must-eat-at places during a recent trip to Sydney. Having already exhausted ourselves with the degustation at Tetsuya’s, we were glad that we had only booked in for lunch, and went with choices from the four course menu rather than another degustation.

Before I get to the food, I must mention that the view from the restaurant is amazing. With large expansive windows, there’s a clear view of the harbour including both the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It amused me to watch the ferries and water taxis bob along the water, as well as the endless stream of tourists, even a wedding party or two. The restaurant itself was light and airy, with plenty of space. We were lucky enough to have a relatively private booth (even if the seating itself was a touch awkward) and thoroughly enjoyed just being there. When a slightly inconsiderate patron wandered over and started a phone conversation during our meal, it wasn’t long before a staff member gently ushered her outside so as to not disturb anyone else.

Moving on to the actual meal, all in all, I was quite impressed but things were perhaps slightly too fancy for my tastes. So much was going on with every dish that there were moments of confusion as to what exactly you were eating. None more so than perhaps the appetiser. I didn’t hear the waitress very well, and so wasn’t even sure what we were eating. Jelly perhaps? It was very pretty, but tiny enough that I barely tasted what I was eating. Maybe my palate just isn’t good enough in that case.

Jelly?

I enjoyed the entrée a lot more. Being somewhat unadventurous, I ordered the sashimi of blue mackerel, smoked eel flowers, sea scallops, pickled apple and nasturtiums (similar to watercress).

Sashimi of blue mackerel, smoked eel flowers, sea scallops, pickled apple, nasturtiums

The dish was beautifully presented. The mackerel was pleasantly oily, the eel certainly interesting (if lacking a little in flavour) but I absolutely loved the softly delicate scallops. Always curious, M ordered the Mud crab congee consisting of fresh palm heart, hand shelled mud crab and Chinese inspired split rice porridge.

Mud crab congee: Fresh palm heart, hand shelled mud crab and Chinese inspired split rice porridge

I’m not sure why they specified “hand shelled mud crab” but I guess it always pays to be more detailed rather than less. I wasn’t even aware that machines could shell crabs, but I’m guessing they must exist to speed up large processes. Anyways, that is slightly irrelevant. What is relevant is that the dish was delicious. Comforting and homely, it was at the same time also inventive and exotic.

I’m not sure how to classify the second course seeing as dishes were all slightly heavier than entrees yet lighter than the mains (as expected). In any case, I definitely enjoyed my order of: Gentle braise of black lipped abalone, rare breed pig belly, shiitake, warrigal greens, ginger milk curd, earth & sea consommé.

Gentle braise of black lipped abalone, rare breed pig belly, shiitake, warrigal greens, ginger milk curd, earth & sea consommé

Once again, why “rare breed pig belly”? Was it a wild pig hunted from the forests of NSW? It was undeniably tasty so maybe they’re on to something there. I never find abalone full of flavour, but I do enjoy its texture, but it in this case it was slightly overpowered by the pork. Indeed, everything in the dish tied quite well together except for the pork, but perhaps it was included to ground the dish and distinguish it from a first-course entree.

M ordered the slow cooked coturnix quail breast, stone ground semolina enriched with Alba truffle butter, buckwheat, farro, walnuts, pumpernickel and malt.

Slow cooked coturnix quail breast, stone ground semolina enriched with Alba truffle butter, buckwheat, farro, walnuts, pumpernickel, malt

Once again, I think they’re being overly specific by identifying the genus of quail used but maybe I should stop nit-picking. The best part of this dish? The crust. With eclectic mix of ingredients, it was crunchy and full of flavour and made the quail slightly bland in comparison.

The mains were stunning though. I ordered the Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil.

Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil

Who knows why prune kernel oil is so special, and why they had to specify the breed of pig again? Actually, don’t answer that question, I’m getting side-tracked again. I loved the maltose cracking in this dish, which, like the top of a creme brulee, shattered so satisfying-ly with a small tap using the cutlery. The pig jowl was tender and full of flavour , and was offset beautifully by the prunes. I’ll be honest, when I returned home after the trip, I searched for a few pork recipes with prunes to make in the future.

M was brilliantly happy with his main course too: David Blackmore’s full blood Wagyu, bitter chocolate black pudding, ox tail consommé.

David Blackmore's full blood Wagyu, bitter chocolate black pudding, ox tail consommé

Once again, the meat was full flavoured and tender. The marbling of fat was as good as you would expect from top quality Wagyu, with the benefit of the cattle being fed a low-grain diet (hooray for being slightly healthier options). The extra $10 surcharge? Justified.

What we had been anticipating the whole meal was of course, the desserts. Eight texture chocolate cake!

Quay's Eight texture chocolate cake

I had an unreasonable amount of fun identifying and counting the layers. I’d think that I had found eight, then recount and only be able to find seven. In any case, it was satisfying and full of chocolate flavour without being overly sweet. The ultimate chocolate indulgence.

Quay's Eight texture chocolate cake

Of MasterChef fame, we present to you, the Snow Egg.

White nectarine snow egg

Impressive! Definitely ordered more for the visuals and the technical skill involved rather than the taste, this is perhaps the dish to go for when a lighter option is warranted.

White nectarine snow egg

The meal was rounded off with coffee and petit fours.

Coffee, Petits Fours

Being royally spoilt by Melbourne coffee, I was once again disappointed with Sydney’s offering but at least it was presented nicely. All in all, a wonderful meal with good food, good presentation, set in sophisticated surrounds. Given the option, I would still pick Tetsuya’s over Quay, but it’s interesting to see how two top restaurants in the same city do things so very differently.

Given the chance, try both and make up your own mind. Just expect to live off instant noodles for a few weeks if you do.

Quay
Circular Quay West, Sydney
Lunch: Tue-Fri 12pm-230pm, Dinner: Mon-Sun 6pm-10pm

Quay on Urbanspoon

Tetsuya’s (NSW)

I’ve been putting off writing about the degustation at Tetsuya’s for sometime because it’s so intimidating: not only are there so many dishes to cover, but the quality of the food was such that neither my words nor my pictures will do justice to it. I do like to share my eating experiences with you guys though, so here goes nothing. I’ll say straight up though, if you ever have the chance to dine at Tetsuya’s, don’t miss it, and get accompanying wines if that’s your style too.

Even though it’s centrally located, upon entering the restaurant there’s immediately a sense of serenity that wouldn’t be feel out of place in the Japanese countryside (or so I’d imagine given I’ve never been to Japan). In any case, the dimly lit, intimate surrounds were welcoming and comforting, perhaps even more so with the absence of music. The faint chatter of the rest of the patrons, and the sound of the Sydney rain falling outside was all the soundtrack that was needed.

As expected, the waitress was charming and knowledgeable, and we knew immediately that we were in for a treat as she went through the list of courses, barring the desserts which she was keeping as a surprise. At first, the sommelier wasn’t aware that we wished to match wines to our meals, but after this was sorted out, he was nothing if not friendly and helpful for the entire night, always at the ready with wines that were well-matched to the dishes.

With much further waiting, the first entree arrived at the table, and we promptly forgot what the rest of the dishes she had named were. So began the massively enjoyable fun of the guessing game.

Corn Soup with Soy Cream

This cold corn soup with soy cream was, perhaps, just a little odd. I wasn’t really sure what to make of it in all honesty. The corn lent just a little bit of sweetness, but other than that, there weren’t any dominant flavours. As a wild guess, I’d say this was to simply set our palates for the following courses. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong though!

Next up, the ‘optional course’ (incurring a small surcharge) of fresh pacific oysters with rice vinegar & ginger. You think we were going to pass up this opportunity? Not a chance.

Pacific Oysters with Rice Vinegar & Ginger

The oysters really were the star of this dish, with the balance of the vinegar and ginger perfectly highlighting the oysters to gently flavour them without overpowering their freshness. I’ve only ever eaten oysters once before (they were terrible) but even with my limited oyster-eating experience, I could tell that these were almost as perfect as you could hope for.

I was less enthralled by the next dish: Savoury custard with sea urchin

Savoury Custard with Sea Urchin

Having never eaten sea urchin before, I was a little overwhelmed by its strong flavour, and didn’t particularly like it. Is it an acquired taste? In any case, its strength actually made the custard seem bland, which wouldn’t be the effect that they were after.

The sashimi of kingfish with blackbean & orange was obviously fresh and quite good, but not mind-blowing.

Sashimi of Kingfish with Blackbean & Orange

The blackbean and orange was certainly and interesting combination and one which worked well. Not well enough to have me craving more, but leaving room for the mains isn’t a necessarily a bad thing.

The first of the mains was spectacular, and perhaps the highlight of the entire night (yes, even including desserts and my penchant for sweets).

Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout with Shaved Fennel and Unpasteurised Ocean Trout Caviar

It also had the longest name of any dish I’d seen: confit of Petuna ocean trout with shaved fennel and unpasteurised ocean trout caviar. I can see why this is Tetsuya’s signature dish. The fish was firm yet delicate, so it cut easily yet still held its form. The crust had just the right amount of flavour and crunch to enhance the taste of the fish. The caviar were like little golden gems of slightly sweet liquid happiness. I felt royally fancy eating this. This restaurant is known for their seafood and this dish justifies their reputation as one of the best in Sydney.

Even though I fully understand that with a progressive degustations, lighter flavours must precede the heavier, especially in the case of meat dishes, the rest of the mains felt a little boring after the brilliance of the trout. They went by in a little bit of a blur, so they’ll go by in a little bit a blur here too.

Steamed Queensland Spanner Crab with Bean Curd, Foie Gras & Junsai

Another seafood dish this time with crab meat (I hear they made this on Junior Masterchef?). The spanner crab was faintly sweet, and the textures matched perfectly. I just wish there was a little more colour to the dish, but now I’m just be fussy because it was a perfectly delicious course.

Braised Veal Shank with Broad Beans & Smoked Bone Marrow

Bone marrow is one of those things I grew up eating, and would beg Dad to let me eat it from all the bones in the dish. Is it any wonder that I preferred the accompanying bone marrow to the veal itself?

Breast of Quail with Paleta Iberico & Garlic Puree

My tastebuds still aren’t well trained enough to tell quail from chicken, but I remember liking the accompanying flavours better than the main in this dish too. I do like my pork though, in pretty much any form – just ask my friends.

Seared Fillet of Cape Grim Beef with Wasabi and Braised Mustard Seeds

The final main for the night was the seared fillet of beef. This was the best beef that I’ve had in a long time (the last time was at a specialty steakhouse). Even though we were starting to fill up from the many previous courses, I could have eaten more of this dish. Thankfully this isn’t possible, because the three decadent courses of desserts (yes, three) were more than enough to round off the meal.

Hay-Infused Ice Cream with Sorrel Granita (left) and Bread & Butter Pudding (right)

Hay-infused ice-cream? You mean, grass? Well, it tasted like grass, but not in a bad way. It was light and refreshing and well suited to clearing the heaviness of the mains. The bread and butter pudding was sweet and buttery, but I was more than ready for the chocolate dessert to be brought out.

Choclate Pave with Cream Cheese Ice Cream & Cinnamon Twigs

Apart from eating bone marrow, I’m also one of those people who eat cinnamon twigs, but that’s not really important. What’s important was that both the pave and ice-cream were absolutely delicious. I love the bitterness of dark chocolate, and the slight saltiness of the cream cheese, so this dessert was definitely my favourite.

As is the trend, the night was capped off with miniature macarons. While not as good as some specialty stores (in Sydney especially) macarons are always delicious in my book, so these suited me perfectly fine.

Macarons

Wrapping up after almost four hours, we walked out of there buzzing in a bliss induced by good food, good wine and good company. Now I have to justify returning to Tetsuya’s just to enjoy it all over again.

Tetsuya’s
529 Kent Street Sydney
Lunch: Sat 12pm –
Dinner: Tues-Fri 6pm – , Sat 630pm –

Tetsuya's on Urbanspoon

Mini-Review: Syracuse

As a bit of a somewhat haphazardly organised date-night, the boy and I went to dimly lit, and invitingly warm restaurant Syracuse for some late dessert. By any reasonable standard, our 10pm arrival meant that we would be too late for dinner service, yet the sommelier (and I guess part-time waiter on quiet nights) was helpful and friendly and surprisingly, offered us the full menu. While everything looked mouthwatering-ly delicious – so much so that I was kicking myself hard for giving up an opportunity to dine at this restaurant on a previous occasion, we eventually settled on a dessert each, paired with matching wines.

Chocolate Mousse

I had a tiny taste of the mousse and it was pretty darn good. Smooth, light and chocolaty, it’s what a high-quality mousse should be. Certainly, it’s as good as any that I’ve had from the many chocolate lounges dotted around the city, and perhaps more so as it’s not overpoweringly sweet. You (might) not even feel guilty eating it!

You’d probably feel very guilty eating what I order, but I have no regrets – it was definitely worth it.

Creme Brule (with matching wines)

I absolutely love cracking the caramelised topping. Perhaps too much so, I must have looked like a kid to anyone watching. And underneath the topping? Creamy decadence. I haven’t had as much experience with this dessert as much as say, cakes or chocolate mousse, but it might take me a while to find a creme brule that can top this. Other desserts? That’s a completely different story.

As for the wines, with a wine-list as extensive as the one at Syracuse (the website has the wine-list as ‘undefined’ when it first tries to load, with is amusingly apt), it was a little too overwhelming to choose the wines ourselves. My wine knowledge is disgracefully pitiful. Thankfully, the sommelier was extremely helpful and obviously highly knowledgeable, and I can say that the wines balanced out the sweet dishes superbly. Pity the fancy names and descriptions flew over my head but no matter, I should have a chance to peruse the list another time and will be sure to pay a little more attention when I get around to doing a full review.

I hope Syracuse does food as well as they do desserts and wines. The breakfast menu looked particularly appetising…

Syracuse
23 Bank Pl, Melbourne
Mon-Fri 730am-late, Sat 6pm-late

Syracuse on Urbanspoon

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