Sunday, April 25, 2010


Level 1 Crown Metropol
8 Whiteman St, Southbank

So the Gordon Ramsay empire has come to town and opened up in the recently completed Crown Metropol. The maze and maze grill restaurants have been open for less than a month and are already attracting positive reviews, so it was with great anticipation I arrived for what would hopefully be a great dining experience.

I've experienced Gordon's style of dining in America at Gordon Ramsay at The London and coincidentally the head chef at the time was Josh Emmet who is at the helm of maze Melbourne. The question I had in my mind though on the way though was what would be sacrificed from the standards set at the two Michelin starred restaurant in New York at the new outpost in Melbourne.

L: Seared yellow fin tuna, white radish, yuzu, enoki mushrooms, black garlic
C: Applewood smoked kingfish, fennel purée, pickled celery, globe artichoke, finger limes
R: Queensland mud crab, pressed watermelon, pickled ginger, rock melon sorbet

The answer was, not very much, not very much at all. First of all, the dining area is relaxed but still has a sense of occasion. There are no tablecloths, but the seats are very comfortable, noise is at the right level and spacing spot on.

Upon seating, our waitress came over to explain the maze "concept" which is basically small plates and a DIY degustation. There is the option of a chef's menu, but basically it is neither here nor there going one way or the other and avoiding the chef's menu does allow one to go which ever way they want. The other great thing is that this "concept" does allow each diner to customise their courses to suit their mood and appetite.

Things got off to a great start, the applewood smoked kingfish was simply delightful, the smoked fish is balanced by the acidity of the lime and fennel. The yellow fin tuna the same, perfect sashimi grade tuna presented beautifully with baby enoki, radish and a black garlic paste covered with white radish, simply a delicious work of art.

L: Pan roasted barramundi, butternut squash, compressed cucumber, pumpkin seeds
C: Pan seared scallops, caramelised kelp, samphire, mussels, Champagne
R: Citrus cured king salmon, soy salt, “succotash”, bok choi, white asparagus

It was at this point where I felt that the four savoury courses I ordered would not be enough and felt that I had room for one more. The waiting staff accepted my request to add one more in without blinking which was great (something Quay could learn from) which turned out to be the highlight of the night, pan roasted barramundi. The slice of barramundi was cooked perfectly with the crispiest skin I have ever had the pleasure of having, a stunner.

L: Ox “tongue and cheek”, caper and raisin, carrots, horseradish pomme purée
R: Lamb cannon and shoulder, cauliflower purée, anchovy, stinging nettles

To complete the savoury courses two more mains were on the way, lamb cannon and shoulder and Ox "tongue and cheek". The lamb came in two ways, slow roasted shoulder that was melt in your mouth and a medium rare loin which came with nice salty crustiness. It is an enjoyable dish but perhaps missing some of the variation of the other courses. The ox "tongue and cheek" is a clever dish, perfect slow cooked cheek and the interesting texture of tongue served with a horseradish pomme puree which helped to cleanse the rich flavours of the beef.

L: maze "lamington", rosella jam
R: Hot chocolate and violet fondant, salted almond ice cream

The desert menu is as lengthy as the savoury courses and after deliberation we started with the deconstructed maze lamington. The different elements combined to create the flavour one would expect in a lamington, but in a much more sophisticated way.

However, the final dish almost steals the light as plate of the night. The hot chocolate and violet fondant was a pure "cracker" as they would say on Masterchef. The fondant oozed chocolate at the slightest prod, the richness would almost overwhelm if it were not for the salted almond icecream that balances this plate out. The violet played a subtle supporting role in this, but is a must have desert especially as we enter to colder months.

Conclusion, maze is the real deal, it serves immaculately presented food with sophisticated (if some may say safe) flavour combinations. Each course was a pleasure and the best thing is there are plenty left to try which makes a return visit highly likely. Service was very good given the immaturity and the wine list is also a standout, no surprise since the Sommelier is ex Taxi's Lincoln Riley who was The Age and Gourmet Traveller's Sommelier of the year.

Going back to my original thoughts of how does this stack up to New York, it compares very well. Perhaps it is the same Chef, perhaps it is Gordon's influence over the menu and decor. Either way, it is highly recommended and could show some of the elitist restaurants in Melbourne a thing or two.

maze Melbourne - 16/20
Maze Melbourne on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Palm Sugar - Royal Thai Cuisine
282 Bridge Rd
Richmond VIC 3121

Unlike my usually verbose reviews, I will keep this brief like my dining experience here. Sometimes a meal is a more a transaction to provide sustenance to keep you going. In this case it was a whirlwind dinner prior to a 40th around the corner

Dining room - Nice but could be cosy if full and possibly noisy. We were upstairs and it was quite open. If booking probably the place to be unless there is a noisy function.


Entree - Prawn Spring Rolls, crispy with nice filling, could have more prawn. Good sauce, nice presentation

Roasted duck fillet in a spicy red curry with lychees

Red duck curry - Nice, spicy but lychees provide a good counter. Duck meat is good, but at $22 would have expected more duck.


Wow - in a sign of pure haste not only did I not take a photo outside, I neglected the formal Thai name of this dish. Prawn & chicken stir fry, doesn't sound too promising but had a great smoky flavour and was quite generous. Perhaps the duck was light on as it was nearing end of service when we dined. Recommended

So, start to finish we were done in about 45 minutes. Service was good, pricing reasonable and along the competitive strip of Bridge rd is more than holding it's own,

Palm Sugar - Royal Thai Cuisine - 11/20
Palm Sugar Royal Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bella Vedere Cucina

874 Maroondah Hwy
VIC 3770

Over the years like most people, I think I have developed a stereotype in my head as to what the ideal French rural restaurant should look like. Pasted together from various travel and cooking shows it is in the wine regions overlooking the vines serving generously portioned rustic dishes.

The problem with this mental stereotype is that it is at best hard to get to. First of all to get to this stereotype you need to get to rural France, from there you need to find this vineyard setting that is delivering knockout food not tired complacent food. My first hand experience of Reims was that the champagne was good, but apart from the places starred by the Michelin folk, the balance was at best mediocre.

Anyway, why do I bring this up? Well it would be because I have encountered the closest thing to my mental vision at Bella Vedere in the Yarra Valley on the outskirts of Melbourne.

Bella Vedere is an interesting set up in that unlike most restaurants in a winery, it is not a winery restaurant, but rather a restaurant in a winery. Why is this important? Well rather than being beholden to a winelist that is the hosts label and contriving dishes using the wine that is made on premise it is free to do it's own thing.

In to it's fifth year of operation, Bella Vedere is well in to it's prime, joined at the hip with the Badger Brook cellar door it has an airy welcoming presence. The polished boards and mainly green walled interior balances country charm and pleasant dining area very well.

Settling it is easy to see why this restaurant is well praised. The waiting staff are all first class, polite, efficient and move about effortlessly and know when to pay attention to your table.

The menu which is set daily is quite long, both in choices and description and has several dishes that appeal making decision time very difficult. The menu gives you a sense of you know what you will get unlike the recent trend of "Beef, carrot, celery, tomato" which leaves you thinking what the hell will that be?


To start with we had the Hervey Bay scallops to share, 5 perfectly cooked (yes just a fraction rare in the centre) that had me saying "The only mistake I made in ordering this was ordering this to share".


Mains were also a delight, I ordered a Cassolet, it was well made with tender pieces of Duck, pork and sausage. The only gripe here is perhaps a bit more duck would have been nice but overall was a very satisfactory dish. My wife ordered the pork belly which unlike the pork belly on most degustation menus was a solid fist sized serving of pork with a delicious braised sauce. The white bean succotash could have had more tender beans, but with all the meat, was merely a garnish.


Feeling very full, we ummed and aahed about deserts, we decided to indulge and had the flourless chocolate cake and lemon tart. If there was a disappointment to be had, it was the deserts. The pastry on the lime tart was a bit soggy and the chocolate cake a bit dry. We also felt at $16 per desert that this was really our of character with the rest of the meal that was well prepared and very well priced.

So overall how would I rate this? Definitely worth going to if you are in the Yarra Valley, the entree and main courses were excellent, service and pricing hard to fault just watch out for dessert.

Bella Vedere - 13.5/20

Bella Vedere on Urbanspoon