Friday, November 27, 2009

Quay


Overseas Passenger Terminal,
The Rocks, NSW, Australia


As a Melburnian, you grow up conditioned on many things in life, we are the best city, we have the best coffee and for that matter the best food in Australia.

Recently opinion has shifted on the last two and if the Melbourne public transport system stays the same put us at risk on the first place too, but I digress.

Melbourne certainly has a great range of diverse food and across the board offers possibly the best "value for money" dining in the country, but what about the really pointy end?

Well in that department Sydney has certainly moved ahead, Tetsuya's has been voted amongst the top 10 in the world for several years and more recently Quay has leapt in to the San Pelligrino top 50 Restaurants in the world. What is interesting it is sitting in position 46, one behind Iggy's which I gushed about here. By comparison Melbourne has no entries in the top 100 and over the years has only had fleeting appearences by Flower Drum & Vue de Monde.

So given the opportunity to travel to Sydney the battle was on to get a table at either of these restaurants, Tetsuya's was first choice and was booked solid for our stay and despite going on a waiting list we struck out. Fortunately we were lucky enough get in to Quay which has been on a roll picking up every award in the country.

So on a 34° Sydney day we made our way to the restaurant that is spectacularly placed looking over the Sydney harbour with bridge and opera house views. The dining room has been designed to maximise the view so no one has their back windows and is well laid out with plenty of space and the right balance of noise to make for comfortable conversation.

Upon seating we were greeted by our waiter for the evening and informed of our menu options, either degustation or a four course menu with choices per course. We were VERY surprised to be told that there would be no variations to the degustation, in fact my blood pressure was starting to rise as I was trying to come to terms with being told that there was no room to move on this. Any other restaurant I have been to at this level would not flinch at a small request like this and in no way did we want to change the whole menu, just substitute a single course. After some negotiation we eventually had the change approved, but required way too much effort.

Thankfully though it was resolved without too much bloodshed so we could get back to enjoying our Bollinger and amuse bouche of smoked eel, tapioca and horseradish cream. This was a nice light palate appetiser for the courses that lay ahead.


L: Sea Pearls - Sashimi tuna, aquaculture caviar, sea scallop, smoked eel, octopus, mud crab, abalone
R: Mud crab congee - Hand shelled mud crab, Chinese inspired split rice porridge


The first course is Quay's signature dish "Sea Pearls" which is served as five spheres of ocean goodness. Sashimi tuna with caviar, abalone in a rich dashi jelly, a lightly marinated yuzu scallop were the highlights in this dish.

The next dish was a bit of a surprise hit with my wife, congee of mud crab with split rice. This was a delicate broth of crab with a nice waxy texture coming from the split rice and perhaps the nicest crab I have ever had.


Crisp confit of pig belly, braise of abalone, silken tofu, Japanese mushrooms, chive flowers

The surprise hit for me was the next course of crispy pork belly confit with tofu, abalone & japanese mushrooms. This was simply a brilliant dish, the tofu is hand made locally by a Korean and was so smooth and texturally perfect to compare it to normal grocery store tofu would be an insult. The soy flavours were a perfect match for the pork which had a great crackle to it making every mouthful a treat.


L: Five textures of Southern rock lobster
R:Sous vide pure bred Suffolk lamb loin,spring vegetables, comté-infused fresh milk curd, roasted quinoa, sunflower seeds,
pine nuts, hazelnuts

The lobster dish we had to fight for, the five textures of rock lobster came out in a split cup arrangement consisting of a Chawanmushi style lobster custard covered with lobster consomme next to a layering of lobster tapioca dumpling, lobster meat covered with a lobster foam. This was a real yin and yang affair, the lobster consomme half was a brutal in your face consomme that sat next to the delicate light flavours of the lobster tail meat and foam. Certainly a winner for lobster fans and is creative but not too clever.

After this dish though we were beginning to struggle, the richness and saltiness of the lobster meant we had to dig deep for the remaining courses. The sous vide suffolk lamb could be summed up as spring on a plate, the lamb was small but well cooked with a delicate lamb flavour coming through. The match of spring vegetables were all spot on and a great way for finish the savoury courses.


L: White peach snow egg
R: Raspberries, violet, almond, vanilla cream


Desserts were next and one of the signature desserts which rotate around seasonality of fruit was first. The peach snow egg is a peach cream encased in meringue and then encased in a thin toffee shell on a peach granita. Simply put it is a perfect light refreshing desert and the mix of textures was brilliant. The thin crispy shell yields like a crème brulee in to the soft centre, the more I ate it, the more impressed I was with the creativity of this desert that is not a show off desert but it incredibly technical. I would really not like to try and replicate this myself.

The final course was an assortment of berries, again light, delicious and refreshing and with lots of technique in there. One should also note the violet garnish, one of the tricks the head chef Peter Gilmore likes to employ is the use of edible flowering herbs, it takes a bit of getting used to, but by the end was enjoyable.

So how would I sum up Quay? Well, it is has great food in a great environment with a magnificent view. I would probably say it is the most refined dining experience I have had in Australia. However, when you get to this level you can go down one of two paths, refinement or excitement as your go to market. I would say Quay goes down the refinement path which isn’t wrong, but there are never the “wow” or “very clever” moments that you get at some other restaurants. There was never the wow I got at Arzak, Iggy’s or even Vue de Monde here, but there were never the “what were they thinking???” moments either which I have had at Vue de Monde and several times in the one sitting at Attica. If anything, this is reminiscent of the two michelin star experiences at Gordon Ramsay at The London and Les Creyere.


LATE NIGHT VIEW FROM THE TABLE

So my conclusion would be a definite thumbs up and recommendation to go to Quay, enjoy with the matching wines and a view that is as grand as the food and above all demand a degustation to suit your tastes (but be prepared for some push back)

Quay restaurant – 17.5/20, if it were not for irritation over the change of degustation it quite possibly would get 18/20.

Quay on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cafe Vue


Cafe Vue 401
St Kilda Rd
Melbourne, 3004

Cafe Vue, the latest addition to the Shannon Bennett empire is situated amongst a sea of foccacia and bain marie toting cafe's. Having worked along St Kilda rd, it is really a row of mediocrity and after perusing the menu I found myself wanting to dine along St Kilda rd rather than escape!

Plenty has been written about Shannon's Vue de Monde and having been there twice, it is a great food experience. Yes Vue does have some flaws at times, but is certainly close to, if not, the best restaurant in Melbourne and among the best in the country.

How though do you scale this down? How do you take the layers and complexity of the food and bring it down to courses that are as little as $3.50 but not diminish the Vue brand? Well I guess the approach taken is similar to BMW, they have their 6 and 7 series flagships of uber technology but also build the aspirational 1 series that represents the quality and core values of the brand at a much more affordable prices.

In fact the prices are so affordable I've been there twice in as many days so certainly a lot more affordable.


62° EGGS

The first visit was for breakfast and I could not go past the 62° eggs on toast with some bacon. At $9.00 for eggs on toast I wouldn't think too much of it at most cafe's, $9.00 for two eggs poached precisely at 62° so that the white is translucent and cooked and a yolk that is creamy and thick would have to be the best value breakfast in town.

This was paired with a strong flat white that was made perfectly. Very good start!

The return visit was for lunch, Friday lunch. Unfortunately Cafe Vue does not take bookings for less than 8 so it is pot luck as to how long you may have to wait unless you get there early. Fortunately at 11:45am there was no wait and it was straight in to it. This time the Wagyu burger and fries, a nice juicy burger, cooked perfectly with nice crispy fries. I also couldn't help but try the quail scotch egg,

L: WAGYU BURGER & FRENCH FRIES
R: QUAIL SCOTCH EGG


Both were well presented, clean flavours and turning out the dishes at $12 and $3.50 about as good as you can get at this price point. The dishes are also cleverly portioned so that there is room for the very tempting deserts that are on display for all too see.


L: LEMON MERINGUE PIE
R: VANILLA MACAROON


First of all there is an assortment of macaroon's, all perfectly sized and in a wide array of colour and flavours, Violet macaroon anyone?
The macaroon's are delicious, but the show was stolen by the simple lemon meringue pie. This mix of Lemon curd in a nice crusty tart base is topped with a thick soft meringue that is gooey, glooey and magnificent. A desert this good in many a restaurant would command $14-$15, at Cafe Vue it is a steal at $4.50, paired with their excellent coffee it is a perfect way to finish off.

So I guess the thing that Cafe Vue and Vue de Monde share is they both provide a great food experience, they both deliver well presented and flavoursome food and both have a knack for enticing you to spend that little bit more because you want to try that next dish you are jealously eyeing off at the next table.

Cafe Vue - 13.5/20

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Seven Seeds


114 Berkeley st
Carlton, 3053

Seven Seeds is the latest venture for Mark Dundan who seems to have a knack for creating cafe gold in the most unlikely places. There is the back alley St Ali, the tiny shopfront of Brother Baba Budan and his most recent development is located in the industrial streets of Carlton - Seven Seeds.

If you have been to either of the two predecessors, then you will know what to expect, an open layout, bare floors, bare brick walls, seats and tables that look like they are either from a high school chemistry lab or canteen from a 70's era car manufacturer with a good mix of music playing over the top.
My visit to Seven Seeds was nice and early so there were plenty of seats to choose from and there were a lot of familiar faces working behind the espresso machines that have followed Mark as he has opened his new haunts.


STRONG FLAT WHITE
But while aesthetics are all as expected, the important thing here is, how is the coffee? My first coffee ordered was a strong flat white. If McDonald's is the benchmark of consistency between venues for burgers, you could almost say the same for the coffee here vs St Ali vs Brother Baba Budan and that is not a bad thing at all. The coffee was delivered well presented, perfect layer of latte art for a flat white, immediately sippable but not tepid and well balanced. Not too bitter, with some nuttiness and a slight sweetness.


CLOVER COFFEE
The follow up coffee is a clover coffee, todays bean is the Hartmann Honey single origin which is served black in a small pot more like a tea than a regular espresso. For the unitiated, Clover Coffee is a french press style coffee, but uber-high tech. The machines start at around $11,000 so is a bit more than a pyrex plunger. The result is a much more subtle coffee that has a nice well rounded flavour, the sweetness of the coffee comes through and leaves a much milder aftertaste compared to an espresso. It is a coffee to be thoughtfully drunk rather as opposed to the espresso which is more of a sip and go.


EGYPTIAN EYE PRESSED SANDWHICH
Food here is also worth considering, the egyptian eye comes as a pressed sandwhich with bacon and chutney with the "eye" being a egg fried a hole cut from the centre of the inch thick slice of bread. Quite clever and tasty.

Give it a few months and this place will be as hard to get a seat as the other two venues, another job well done.

Coffee Rating
Flat White - 17/20
Clover - 19/20

Seven Seeds on Urbanspoon