Sunday, April 18, 2010


maze Melbourne is the newest of the seemingly unending restaurants from the McRamsay conveyor belt of restaurants, gastropubs and cafes from Gordon Ramsay. Housed in the new Crown Metropol hotel on the city's swanky Southbank precinct, maze is unfortunately situated on the Clarendon St end of the jewel of Crown. Looking out the window through the earth toned curtains you can expect to see not the light reflecting off the Yarra or the glittering necklace of lights from the CBD - but a noisy cacophony of cars and a rather sad IGA.
Booking is apparently essential. It can be done online through Dimmi where upon booking you are reminded 'not to cancel or not turn up, as this could prevent you from booking again'. 
Our reservation was for 8.30pm on a Friday night. We got there at 8pm and were invited to have a drink and wait for our table. We were shown to the lovely lounge area with seats to the walls, low tables and retro swivel chairs. The characters from TV's Mad Men would not have felt out of place dangling Martinis from their fingers there. 
Like so many restaurants we have dined in before - we gave maze the 'LLB' test. If they can't do a decent Lemon Lime Bitters then do they really deserve to be open? Harsh but we all have our own litmus test for places and people. Our drinks arrived and they were lacking. Very very light if at all on the Bitters. Too much ice and way too many wedges of lime. 
8.30pm rolled around and the reservation desk looked more harried than ever - at least 6 staff members staring at the computer screen, pointing and shaking their heads. No one came over to check on us or indicate they were running late with our table. We chuckled to ourselves and wondered if the Dimmi disclaimer could work both ways - where we could 'not book again due to restaurant running late'.
8.45pm we signalled over a flustered young lady and asked her to check on our table. She went away and conferred with the busy reception desk. Then she came back to us and said someone from the desk will come over to us. Apparently she was ill equipped to deliver the news, whatever it was. 
We waited another 5 minutes and then someone did indeed come over to ask if WE were ready for our table. We said yes. She asked us to leave our drinks that they would follow us in. 
The restaurant itself is done in earth tones and somewhat lacking in light. Two (could be more) over large light fixtures in dangerous spikes hung overhead and provided little if any lighting. Each table had a tiny candle. That was going to be bad for my iphone camera. 
At this time it was past 9pm. 
At 9.15pm our table server came over and asked if we wanted drinks. We told her our drinks from the lobby must have gotten lost, as they have not yet found us. She said she would check on them. We perused the menu whilst she rounded up the bloodhounds to search for our drinks. Ahh but at least we had tepid water in our tumblers. 
The menu is interesting in its concept. Degustation is recommended and I am yet unsure as to whether a la carte is possible. The first page indicates 7 courses for $95. We were advised that the following pages contained starters and mains and we were recommended to 'choose 4-5 savoury courses' - 3 lighter courses from the starters and 2 heavier courses from the mains. I was disappointed in the menu as the dishes were all safe and predictable. Nothing jumped out at me and said 'oh you have to eat this'. Faced with the task of choosing without any recommendations from the wait staff (and the prospect of waiting another hour to eat) we made choices. Lighter courses we chose include artichoke veloute with rock lobster garlic chips and green beans ($10.91), smoked eel kipfer potato sour cream black garlic and shaved foie gras ($12.73), scallop with champagne foam ($16.36 each), quail ($13.64), rabbit ($17.27). Our drinks never did follow us to the dining room so we ended up ordering two glasses of German Riesling. 
Bread arrived with Maldon sea salt and 'seaweed butter'. We loved the seaweed butter - creamy with a hint of ozone. The bread was very light and chewy. Baked in house apparently.
I was impressed with some of the food - the scallops were beautifully cooked and tasted great. No taste to the 'champagne foam' - it might as well have been 'champagne illusion'. What was off-putting was the powerful smear of parsley on the plate. Completely erased the taste of the fresh, sweet scallops. Shame really. The artichoke soup was lovely and smoky. The rock lobster still cleanly flavoured and the beans adding a little crunch to the velvet soup. This was a faultless dish to me.
I enjoyed the smoked eel as well - as nice as the foie gras sounds on this dish, it served no purpose apart than to look good on the menu. There was no taste of foie gras. 
My husband complained that his rabbit was tough - which was a shame since he was very excited about having rabbit. His quail was more successful.
Our mains - poussin ($20) and beef ($20.91) for him and lamb ($21.82) and beef for me. His chicken was delicious, moist and flavourful. However the skin was not crisp therefore inedible to me or my husband. My lamb was wonderful in texture - the loin was tender and juicy but ruined by the over salting on top of the piece. When I put it in my mouth my tongue immediately became sore from the salt. I was most disappointed in that. 
The beef. Well what can we say about the beef? Texture wise it was a work of art. Tender to the point of dissolving on the tongue. Taste wise? Nothing. We might as well have eaten beautifully textured wood. There was no taste at all. We were looking forward to the beef more than any other course since it was so popular with everyone around us. What a colossal disappointment. The horseradish mash was soft and pleasant tasting instead of being luxurious, silky and decadent (Bistro Guillaume).
At this time it was well past 11pm.
We ordered two desserts because we felt we had to. Chocolate fondant ($14.55) and Coconut pannacotta ($14.55) and two espressos ($3.64 each). 
Desserts were delicious and faultless. Espressos were terrible - tasted of bad beans, poor roasting and inexperience coffee making. 
We asked for our bill twice and were kept waiting another 15 minutes whilst table staff moved around the dining room looking lost, confused and tired. Our bill came to $293.59 ... yes... they charged us for the 2 LLBs we never even had two sips of and they forgot. This was just the icing on the huge cake of disappointment.
I was beyond angry at this point so I advised the person who brought the bill that the LLB were 'lost' on the way to the table and we should not be charged for them. He took the bill away and 15 more minutes elapsed before we got a new bill ... this time for $289.50. Yes folks, they took 1 LLB away and left the other. 
Before my husband committed a crime we paid and left. 
So would I recommend maze? No. Absolutely not. Overpriced food. Inexperienced staff. Melbourne has better dining experiences and you deserve better.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Longrain (Melbourne)

44 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC
Australia 3000
T - +61 3 9671 3151 (they do not take reservations for less than 6 people)

For those familiar with Longrain Sydney, it's not 'same same but different' - let's face it Melbourne has a food culture like very few other places. It seems people in Melbourne live to eat rather than the other way around. Food is so much a part of our culture we have a peculiar relationship with our restaurants. If we like the restaurant, we shamelessly promote it - as we would do something so deeply personal to us. If we do not like it we don't tell anyone - we simply never mention it. 

It is with that in mind that I hereby shameless promote Longrain. 

Longrain Menu sings loudly of chef Martin Boetz influence - with strong Thai/Asian flavours lending itself to balance, harmony and taste - oh boy was there taste! If you're looking for lacklustre, cookie-cutter Thai food then you're at the wrong place. Walking through the door and being confronted with large communal tables and a kitchen humming with activity - you know you're somewhere out of the ordinary. 

The tables are all impeccably polished and set with cloth napkins and western cutlery. If you're a couple you sit side by side instead of facing each other. This is a great idea since the food is so good - you want to quietly sigh and whisper to your companion rather than look at them. 

My suggestion is to order a cocktail from the brilliant list - I heartily recommend anything with lychee - I think along with mango, cherries and raspberries, lychees are the most delicious, exotic fruit - that translucent lushness, that sweet tartness... oh ...

The food. Well I think people who have been to Longrain (Syd or Melb) know and they are unanimous in their praise and their worship. Rightly so. We wanted to try everything - the menu looks small but it isn't - it is created with intelligence - knowing that people, when face with many choices of pork or beef or fish, will narrow it down to 2 and then 1. When the choice is of 2 completely unctuous dishes it becomes a challenge then you have to talk with your table staff for them to help you. And help they do at Longrain. 

Our table staff helped our decision down to Betel Leaf topped with prawn peanuts toasted coconut and ginger, Caramelised Pork Hock with five spice and chilli vinegar (sml), Crisp fried soft shell crab with a green mango salad and a roasted eschalot dressing (sml) and finally crisp fried pork with chilli and basil stir-fry. A word of advice - the dishes are large and ideal for sharing - so if your table staff recommends a small portion - heed their advice.

The Betel Leaf was a mouthful of perfection - prawn meat complimented by the crunch of peanut, toasty goodness of coconut and a combination of sauces - I don't know what sauce or how much - but it was the most amazing single mouthful ever. You sit and think about it a few days after you get home - wondering but never quite getting it. You will never forget it.

Pork Hock - this dish was the best thing I had ever eaten - ever. If I have to have a 'last dish' then this would be it. I would build a Pork Hock Taj Mahal to this dish. You have no idea how good it is unless you go and eat it. If you don't eat anything else next year - make this your pilgrimage. Deeply golden pork hocks - obviously master stocked and deep-fried to a crisp outside, tender meat and that orgasmic gelatinous lip smacking fat - it is the stuff people write poetry about or in my case, a review. These love-at-first-bite pieces of pork are accompanied by two bowls of condiments - a heavenly sweet rich caramel (palm sugar based) and its alter ego, a bowl of clear chilli vinegar with perfect rounds of Christmas-red chilli. You choose how sweet or tart or what balance you like and you go to town on that dish. 

After that dish my husband and I were ready to pledge our undying love and leave - but there was more...

Crisp fried soft shell crab with a green mango salad and a roasted eschalot dressing - you've probably had deep fried soft shell crab before, if so then you're about to eat the real thing for the first time at Longrain. Impossibly crisp crabs in a deliciously tart, hot, sour and sweet salad with dressing. Incredibly - there was crab! Real crab in my soft shell crab dish! I tasted crab which was a real surprise - I loved this dish and would order it again in a heartbeat. 

Crisp fried pork with chilli and basil stir-fry - this dish we couldn't do justice to - simply because we were already in love and being shown the older, more complex dish to the pork hock. We were full from the other courses so we only mustered a few bites of this dish. I think it was a deep, fragrant, well balanced dish that would set more than a few hearts on fire. From what I tasted the pork was crisp, juicy and completely complimented by the jumble of snake beans, crunchy fried basil, chilli shards and that complex sauce - oh boy, that sauce...

We were sated. We were surprised. We were happy. 

Our bill - $123.00 for 2. This included rice for 2 ($6) and $2 for charity. Plus 1 cocktail, 1 soft drink and all that food... 

A small price to pay for a dish which now has me in its thrall - a dish I'm off to fantasise of now. 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Taste of Melbourne

Thanks to Chai I went to the Taste of Melbourne festival today. It was delicious!
Since I don't have a lot of time to post (leaving on holiday in 1 day and haven't packed anything!) here is the tour we did -
The Courthouse - Carbonade of beef with pomme puree, parsley and caper salad. Absolutely delicious, tender melt-in-your mouth beef with buttery pomme puree and a sharp zingy salad.
Circa, the Prince - Slow cooked Sher Wagyu, braised meat pie, truffled coleslaw, licorice spiced pumpkin. Meltingly tender wagyu, perfectly seasoned with soft flakes of sea salt as tasty as beef I've ever had. The meat pie was too small to really stand out. I tasted no truffle in the slaw, which was crunchy and fresh. The pumpkin was ... well ... pumpkin.
The Press Club - "Hellenic Republic" lamb souvlaki. Apparently I'm not the only one putting chips in my souvlaki! Soft doughy bread encasing tender lamb cuddled up to a few french fries and a lick of mustard. Very sexy.
Nobu - Beef Tataki: Seared beef topped with onion ponzu, spring onions and garlic chips with ponzu dress. Pink slices of just seared beef in zesty sauce topped with crunchy garlic and soft spring onions made for a memorable mouthful. I loved the heady vinegar of the sauce - made me want to sip it from a wine glass.
Verge - Slow cooked pork belly ‘Nan Ban Zuke’, shiitake and seaweed. An interesting fusion of sweet, sour, salty and deep flavours. 2 little slices of pork belly does not lend itself to being shared for tasting however the deep, richness of the sauce and the slippery shiitake will never be forgotten. Class Act.
Interlude - Roast Beef with Trimmings. Pale pink and tender the beef. Sweet and sticky the jus. Meaty and firm the veg (carrots). Warm was the horseradish sauce. Perfect was the bread sauce to absorb all the juices and create a grand plate indeed.
Jacques Reymond - Saddle of Highland venison tataki, soft parmesan polenta. Wonderfully rich, strong flavoured venison overpowered the lacklustre polenta and the few beans. The parmesan wafer was crunchy and moreish.
Longrain - Vanilla Tapioca pudding with lychees & jackfruit. One of the most amazing, love-at-first-bite dishes of my life. If you try one dish and one dish only from this list, try this one. The absolute stand out for me and my better half, we both thought this was the best dish of the whole festival - a triumph!
The Press Club - "Press Club" mastic pannacotta married with "Maha" turkish delight filled doughnuts. Soft creamy just-set pannacotta bed on which two or three plump doughy donuts cuddle - not just any donut, flavour packed with turkish delight! A dreamy yet rock n roll dessert, deserving of the kudos from everyone who had some.

*we had no fish or seafood because we are travelling in a day. No point taking a risk.

Friday, May 02, 2008

100 Mile Cafe

Level 3, Melbourne Central
211 La Trobe St, Melbourne Victoria 3000
P 9654 0808 F 9654 1080
Mod Oz Locavorian
Dinner, Thursday 1st May 2008

The website address may be, but sos is long gone and 100 Mile Cafe has taken its place. Rather than being vego-pescetarian only - no dairy, no meat, no eggs - the new incarnation is omnivorous in its cooking but ecofriendly and locavotarian (is that even a word?) in its ethics. Unfortunately our table didn't come with a natty placemat-like guide to the restaurant, but I had done some prior research (read: studied the menu during my downtime at work) and was impressed by the thought that went into it. I may not have spent quite as much thought deciding what to buy (I should have gotten a chicken dish!) but as I was being ruled by my empty, rumbling stomach, I went with what I thought would be a large meal, rather than going for flavour and intelligence. Which is why I ended up with a plate full of burger (beef-tofu), chips and salad, while my dining partner had the smallest serve I've ever seen for a main dish in a restaurant, of red mullet fillets.

But I get ahead of myself here. The room itself deserves a bit of discussion, as it is a very '00s venue, and very new-Melbourne-Central. It's located in a shopping centre in the city, but on the outskirts of the actual complex, so the escalators we took to reach the front door were the only real reminder of our very mercantile surrounding. A long corridor - with a "fish don't grow on trees" montage of real tree trunks - took us to a room with a central bar, an outside drinkies area, and a simple, slightly echoey space of simple chipboard-looking chairs (though painted a dashing orange or white), small square tables, and a dotted-dashed-cutout plane of more chipboard or something lining the ceiling. VERY '00s. A lot of exposed pale wood rough-hewn beams supporting the ceiling in some form further accentuated the bar. VERY Melbourne Central. VERY cool.

The waiters were sweethearts, too. A bit chatty, a bit joking, and perfectly matching the surprisingly affordable menu. I do suspect that they could do with raising the prices just a few dollars if it meant getting more food on the plate. The "Grilled Red Mullet fillets with fennel, peas and watercress" (which was listed on the menu as containing - and was delivered with - kohlrabi as well) was so small, I made sure to reserve my salad and some chips for my dining partner to eat as well. So I can't report on her dish, nor on my salad, but those chips sure were yum. The burger itself had a curiously quiet flavour, no doubt as a result of the inclusion of silken tofu. But the texture certainly benefited - I ate the entire burger quite happily, but skipped the boring looking white bread roll it was sandwiched in.

We had actually started with house-baked olive oil and salt flat bread that blew my mind. My dining partner told me it was spelt, and I was just in love. It had an echo in the flavour of crispbread crackers, but with a beautifully sensual, clever texture of both crisp and chewiness, with a dusty base that turned one of my pink sleeves a lovely shade of salmon. For $5 for a plate piled high with squares, the bread was reasonably priced and I could have quite happily taken a box home as takeaway.

The desserts were similarly impressive, a strawberry souffle rising almost twice as tall as its dish, and a champagne, lemongrass, and something-else sorbet was delicately flavoured, with each note coming through with perfect clarity. My tall, rectangular rhubarb tart concealed within a veritable swimming pool of liquid custard, so I did get a bit messy. The rich pastry, perfectly cooked rhubarb, and tangy pear compote mousse accompanying went perfectly with the dollop of cream I had requested on the side. At $14 each they were reasonably priced, and I don't think they need any price increase if possible! They were decent sized serves for the cost.

Because the menu is seasonal, it's also a prime candidate for return visits which won't leave me totally bored of eating the same food over and over. Variety in the mains, similarly excellent desserts (all the dishes came with sorbets, so I suspect the winter menu is yet to be fully introduced), and more of that bread, and I'll return time and time again.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Degustation at Circa

I attended Circa ( Circa, The Prince, 2 Acland St, St Kilda, 9536 1122, for the birthday dinner of my best friend, along with her parents, brother, partner, and another friend. We were seated at a round table in a corner with a door to the balcony where we could watch wedding-goers continuing their party which was being pushed into some function room as we arrived for our 6:30pm reservation. It was a tight squeeze but thanks to the billowing white curtain separating the room, behind our backs, there was enough space for the waiters to get their job done.

It was an interesting mix of people – the brother seemed to have forgotten about the dinner entirely, but the staff showed no surprise or frustration when he showed up an hour after the rest of us and told the waiter to start serving him the degustation from where everyone else was up to. The partner was only about one week out of hospital for having her gall bladder removed, and is on a strict no-fat diet as a result. It was a bit disappointing therefore when we asked the waiter if there could be any substitutions in the degustation and were told in no uncertain terms that there couldn’t. I wonder if perhaps we should have been asked why we were inquiring? After a bit of faffing around, we decided on degustation anyway, and ordered two vegetarian degustations, and five meatatarian.

Three hours passed from amuse bouche to the second dessert course, a total of 9 courses. The standard was exceptionally high, with a focus on some seriously fresh and flavourful produce, and beautifully impeccable presentation. Of course. Without the massive white plates, cleverly indented depressions for soup and artistic drizzles covering half the plate, we would all realise that degustation is nothing but a massive tease – a hook to force you to return to order what you would have preferred ten times the amount of. Personally, I would have traded in the Wagyu for the heirloom tomatoes, and skipped some amazingly rich goats cheese for extra olive oil sorbet to eat with the tomatoes. In fact when I was at Ezard a few weeks later, I ordered their heirloom tomato salad with feta and microshoots or something, and was sorely disappointed. But I digress - the masochist in me loves degustations, as does my inability to ever make a decision.

I wrote down my impressions throughout dinner using my brand spanking new Nokia with its clever little Notes function, so here goes a dot point summary of what we ate:

Amuse bouche:

Cauliflower cream, black roe, cucumber foam, globes of cucumber, NSW oyster, smoky strong aftertaste.

Course 1:

White bean soup, tiny cubes of chewy chorizo, tiny cannelini beans, shreds of flavourful crab, tiny sprigs of maybe baby sweetpea shoots, salty bits - sometimes crab sometimes bean, orange oil from the soup, which was poured at the table.

Course 2:

Flat wedge of pale brown smoked eel with a sweet frothy cream, sitting on dill, parsley and maybe baby beetroot leaves, translucent tube of striated potato with more herbs standing in it, about ¼ teaspoon of crumbled maple bacon.

Course 3:

Three small snails, lightly breaded, gently fried, garlic flavour and fried bits, small pool of oil fried in, 2 breaded fried pigs ears I didn’t eat, small squares of iceberg lettuce, vivid green lightly flavoured parsley sauce.

Course 4:

Miniature roma half, two quarter slices of maybe a beefsteak, wedge of purple green skinned and seeded strong almost smoky, half a sweet cheery tomato, sweet liquid olive oil sorbet, black olive oil which was actually oil mixed with balsemic vinegar, large chewy sweet cheesy fruity wafer.

Course 5:

Disc of dense, creamy, mild but with a slowly pungent aftertaste, white goats cheese, long irregular curls of thin cheese cracker announced as wafer.

Course 6:

Mound of small pearl barley sauteed with slippery, soft baby shallots, with small cubes and rectangular wedges of Wagyu beef scattered throughout. The beef appears to be very slowly sauteed, or maybe roasted with a lot of liquid.

Course 7:

Small square of plain dense sponge cake with a lightly aerated, gelled, smooth, subtly tangy yogurt topping about a third as tall as the cake, served with a small melon-baller scoop of lemon-celery sorbet, a very light flavour and texture.

Course 8:

Glass of berry royale – sweet, rich, lingering dark berry juice topped with a moscato wine fluffy cream, served with a rich buttery pastry cracker, with a collection of fresh berries in more juice, and a scoop of beautiful cream. Perhaps the “Petite tartlet of berries, soured cream, moscato and berry royal” described on their website?

Some discrepancies emerged, such as the “black olive oil” listed on the menu in the heirloom tomato dish, which tasted suspiciously like a high quality vinaigrette of EVOO and balsemic vinegar. The maple smoked bacon from the eel was perhaps a quarter of teaspoon in total, and if I had planned to eat it (I went half-heartedly kosher for the night) I suspect I would have been disappointed. The vegetarian “organic carrot salad” was 3 halves of carrots, perhaps slightly roasted, served with yogurt – the recipients were quite let down. One serve was even sent back when it was discovered that at least one carrot piece was so woody, the knife couldn’t cut through it. I felt that the mound of pearl barley served with the Wagyu was a cop-out – it was by far the biggest of the dishes in terms of both sheer volume of food and the filling-ness of the food. And to be filled up by pearl barley in a lackadaisical broth? Meh! However as the first steak I have had since jaw surgery, the Wagyu really did deliver.

And that’s about all I can report on that was negative in any way. A bit of waxing rhapsodic is doubtless in order.

The olive oil sorbet with the heirloom tomatoes was the simplest dish, and yet my favourite. It just goes to show what my slightly less gastronomically inclined other half is starting to point out himself – good quality produce is the most important factor in creating a masterpiece in the kitchen. The tomatoes were beautiful as-is, and coated in the slightest sweetness of creamy EVOO, were just heavenly.

Snails – my goodness, how much fun are snails! I hesitated for a split-split-second and realised that my brain was thinking “snails!” and so I resolved to stop thinking about the word and just eat the small ball of fried yumminess. They were perfect – I couldn’t even tell you exactly what snails tasted like, but as oysters taste of the sea, I’m voting that snails taste of the earth. And garlic. And oil. And parsley. Those French really know what they’re doing. And so chewy! Like oysters, the texture is part and parcel of the experience.

The desserts were both examples of masterful gourmet cooking – I wouldn’t have ordered lemon-celery sorbet, and the sponge cake was fairly bland with only a slight tang to the yogurt topping, but combine them all together, and I thought I was gracefully dancing through a meadow of sunflowers and butterflies. So light and refreshing, all textures combining seamlessly and the celery working perfectly with the sponge. The royale (cue many jokes about royale with cheese) was my first experience with this dish, and while I found the top layer of moscato cream to have a slightly bitter? sour? taste, combined with the mouth-coating berry juice, whipped cream and the crisp of the pastry, a revelation.

At $125 for my non-vegetarian degustation, I think it was very reasonably priced. I wasn’t too full by the end of the meal because I had skipped most of the barley (they got stuck in my braces), and I am a pretty light eater, but I do think the amount of food was sufficient, if not quite indulgent. Excepting that one carrot, the quality of the food was superb, so there was no feeling that we were paying inflated prices for nothing more preparation and presentation – I would happily pay the premium price for what I felt was premium produce. The service was impeccable, if a little standoffish and not quite as friendly as Ezard, but in the staff’s defence, the joint was jumping – I could swear that when we left at 11pm, I saw a table starting on their amuse bouches for their own degustation. I managed to drive home without falling asleep behind the wheel, and slept the fine, leaden sleep of the sated and content.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Chef - Teage Ezard
Location - Crossley St, City
Open - (L) M-F 12pm-2.30pm (D) M-S 6pm-Late
Food - Hawker Inspired with a touch of Sophistication
I was looking forward to this little food excursion for some time now - actually since Teage Ezard (he of the reputable 'Ezard' in Melbourne) opened the shiny glass doors of his cheeky salute to hawker inspired food of Singapore and Bangkok. I have eaten at his flagship restaurant and I knew the standard to be expected.
I booked the reservation about 10am and by 11.30am they had called to confirm the availablity (taking care to remind me that seating at 6.30pm need to vacate the table by 8.30pm). I received a text message a minute later confirming that someone would call me to make the reservation. Hmmm. I was left wondering after the conversation on the phone what they would do if we hadn't finished eating by 8.30pm - would we have a Faulty Towers episode of kicking us out? Probably not.
We were seated very promptly by Young, Hip and Trendy (my names for the red-shirt, black pants wait staff). The decor is very very sexy - think black, sleek, shiny with red compliments. Very clever bamboo painted back studded with fairy lights against one wall, comfortable padded seats on one side and fragile-looking, translucent plastic chairs on the other side. The table is set with chop-sticks, metal spoon and fork and a rather competent paper dining napkin.
I ordered one of the house-cocktails (Water Lilly - vodka, lychee and watermelon) and the boy ordered a soft drink. The menu is definitely South East Asian inspired - lots of very enticing things to tempt the tastebuds. We settled on - Chicken Satay Dumplings with Cucumber Relish, Crispy Chilli Salt Cuttlefish with Lemon and Sesame and Soft Shell Crab with Green Chilli to start.
The Cuttlefish was one of the best I have ever had - light almost tempura batter around tender white cuttlefish pieces. Enough to share but very hard to since they were so tasty. I loved the effort of a wedge of lemon in muslin. The Dumplings were excellent - meaty and packed full of chicken, peanuts and a healthy whack of chilli. I liked them more than the boy did. I was very impressed with the cucumber relish - chunks of fresh crisp cucumber scattered with tender pink tendrils of pickled shallot. The Soft Shell Crab was not on the menu, it was written on the mirrored 'specials' area - I didn't think it lived up to the hype. I like soft shell crab however these had none of the crisp lightness I expected. Maybe the dressing was too heavy but I loved the dressing - full of flavour, perfect rounds of green chilli and other aromatics in a spicy, vinegar dressing.
For our mains - we chose two 'sharing' dishes - Singapore Noodles with Coconut Laksa and Spiced Vegetables, Grain Fed Wagyu Rump with Black Pepper Sauce and Kim Chee and we couldn't resist the Fried Corn Cakes.
There was a 20 minute wait between when our entrees plates were removed and when our mains were placed before us. I don't mind waiting but when there is a timeframe involved - makes for a few uneasy moments.
Young, Hip and Trendy made quick work of clearing away the table and ensuring the glasses were refilled - they even made room for the oversized plate and bowl bearing the mains. The corn cakes were bliss. Pure and simple. Golden brown, speckled with chilli and redolent with garlic. Tender corn and fluffy batter - I wanted some of Neil Perry's Chilli Caramel sauce to make a little puddle to dunk the little darlings into. If you go for nothing else, go for the fried Corn Cakes. The Wagyu Rump were 6 tender slices of beef, cooked rare and perched atop a boat of black pepper sauce stuffed with swoon-worthy garlic pieces. The best part of the whole dish for me was the much-avoided Kim Chee - why aren't more people embracing this fierce combination of crunchy cabbage, chilli, garlic and so many other things? I love kim chee - and I don't think it smells bad in the least - I think people psych themselves up about the 'fermented cabbage' and prepare themselves not to like it. Shame really, but more for me. The Singapore Noodles with Laksa had amazing flavour. I stopped just short of tipping the bowl to my mouth and drinking the laksa - coconut rich and sweet, chilli hot, tomato sour, snakebeans to add crunch, cabbage for a tender bite ... the list goes on and on. One of the best I have had (the best is still Penang Coffee House in Hawthorne). The Singapore Noodles and Laksa is vegetarian but you don't really miss the soft succulent pieces of sweet, pink edged roast pork, shards of broth soaked chicken, tiny prawns... oh who am I kidding? I missed it. The boy and I loved the texture of the crispy noodles in the laksa - a great idea when all the other laksas are a combination of slippery thick egg noodles and thin rice noodles.
Oh yes, those awesome corn cakes to soak up the black pepper sauce and the laksa broth as well ... there is no bad way to enjoy corn cakes.
We made it out of there in under an hour - great turn around for great food and a Melbourne gem in the making. 7/10

Saturday, November 17, 2007

France Soir, South Yarra, French food (could you tell from the name?)

[Originally published on the 11th Sept 2006]

France Soir

11 Toorak Rd, South Yarra

phone: (03) 9866 8569

prices: entrees high teens, mains low to mid 30s

Cuisine: der.

Last week our neighbour-Denis-who-is-moving-to-Hong-Kong said he would take us out for dinner to say thanks for the highly embellished reference I wrote him (we used to work together) and told me I could pick the place...

Last night, we headed off for a slap-up feast a la Mr Creosote at France Soir, home of lovely French waiters (who in my experience are NOT snooty if you ask for condiments), and French-bistroiness. It's one of my fave places to eat, even though they once felt it necessary to point out to me that steak tartare is in fact raw (admittedly I was pretty young at the time, I guess it's possible I might not have known and therefore freaked out at being served a plate of raw mince with a raw egg yolk on top...). To start with, they bring you delicious French bread and unsalted butter. No wanky dishes of oil here. And they offer you more once you guts the first lot, rather than glare at you balefully should you dare to ask, as Oliver did, for more. We followed the silver baskets of bready goodness by sharing a dozen oysters (freshly shucked when you order them), which came on a large dish of crushed ice and were accompanied by a niftily-carved lemon and a small dish of some sort of sauce (it was delicious and I think it had garlic in it, and maybe a bit of soy. Hard to say). Very good oysters. I had a fillet steak with bernaise sauce, which was utterly delicious. My dining companions had veal (poor baby cows) and minute steak. We accompanied the lot with a very nice bottle of red (it was French but I don't have a clue what it was - I will say that the wine list was in length comparable to an Umberto Eco novel) and some shared vegetables - peas & carrots with bacon lardons (which it turns out are lovely fatty cubes of bacon) and mash, and they brought pomme frites (as the French call French fries) to the table which we hadn't even ordered, which was a bonus. Although actually it's possible Denis ordered them sneakily to avoid my disapproval of the ordering of two different sorts of potato. Most of the mains don't come with veg or salad, so you do have to order them seperately.

The veal, which came in a mushroom and white wine sauce was pronounced "exotic" by Denis (although exactly how veal in a mushroom sauce could possibly be exotic I am left wondering), and also "delicious". And the minute steak disappeared (fittingly) in about a minute, accompanied by a red wine sauce, so there didn't seem to be any complaints about that, either. The pomme frites were eaten with the remainder of my bernaise sauce, so there was no need to ask for mayonnaise.

The steak tartare on a previous occasion was delicious - they prepared it "to taste" meaning you can ask for the requisite amount of spiciness and make sure it's not too full of capers (do ask about this as the time I didn't I found there were WAY too many capers). It's not as good as the steak tartare at the Macleay Street Bistro (73a MacLeay St Potts Point, (02) 9358 4891) in Sydney (where I've been told if you're lucky you may spot Paul Keating grabbing a bite of dinner), but it's pretty good. They bring yet more pomme frites with it, but I prefer to ask for some extra bread. There's nothing like steak tartare on some soft white bread with a thick layer of butter (insert Homer-style drooling here), although for anything other than tartare or a bread pudding I'd rather a rye or at least a grainy bread.

Also well worth it are the French onion soup, which is satisfyingly hearty and cheesy, and the salad with blue cheese dressing. I have had blue cheese dressing in other establishments, only to find it either too cheesy or not cheesy enough, but like Goldilocks, I found the blue cheese dressing at France Soir just cheesy enough.

If you're a vegetarian - one of the crazy sort who doesn't eat seafood at any rate (we all know it's okay to eat fish cause they don't have any feelings) - go somewhere else for dinner. You're not going to get any love here. Other than salads, there are not really any vegetarian options on the menu (even the peas have bacon in them, for heaven's sake), and they are not all that likely to be obliging if you ask, as the woman on the next table found out when she did. The waiter went away to confer with the kitchen staff and came back to tell her "We can do you some steamed vegetables" (in snooty French accents). Eventually it seemed they settled the matter of an entree by offering her an asparagus and caviar entree "without the caviar".

The dessert was the crowning glory of the evening. Denis ordered a latte, Mr H had a Cafe Royale (which was delish, I tried it), and I had an Earl Grey tea. Unlike some places that do nice coffee but then give you a tea bag if you want tea, the tea was made with leaves, came in a proper pot, and (as requested) was nice and weak (nothing is more disgusting than strong Earl Grey tea - or even worse, milk in Earl Grey tea. People who drink Earl Grey tea with milk shall die by the sword when I rule the world. But I digress). And then came the Creme Brulee, with three spoons - there was unfortunately no way we were going to be able to fit in a dessert each, much as I was simply longing for the Isles flotant, which consists of floating clouds of soft meringue in a light sky of vanilla. But the Creme Brulee was the King of Creme Brulees, crunchy slightly burnt toffee surface, with light cremey goodness beneath. Despite the fact that we were all so full we were threatening to explode like Mr Creosote the dessert disappeared directly.

I can only say it was lucky they didn't offer us a wafer-thin after dinner mint, or there would have been an incident.