Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Giant Steps / Innocent Bystander


336 Maroondah Hwy
Healesville, 3777


Expectations were high, this was hailed as “Winery Restaurant of the year 2009” by The Age Good Food Guide. That said I've learnt to take a lot of what The Age rates highly these days with a rather large grain of salt. I think the departure of John Lethlean and arrival of Larissa Dubecki has a lot to do with it. Nevertheless it does set some expectations.

Situated at the end of the Healesville main strip, Giant Steps looms on the horizon as you leave the town centre, it is pretty hard to miss.

First impressions of Giant Steps is it’s a pretty big setup. Giant perhaps? Walking inside, it is very much a steel and glass open dining area. As it was Australia day, it was very busy but they seated us on the time of our reservation and we acclimatised the busy, noisy environment. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn't too loud, but was more like St Kilda Rd lunch noisy rather than what one normally associates with a cellar door restaurant.



Giant Steps serves up a broad range of food and produce, it bakes its own range of artisan bread and also roasts its own coffee. The menu is quite lengthy, but it is clear that the specialty of Giant Steps is sourdough based woodfired oven pizza.


MUSHROOM & MANCHEGO ARANCINI

It was too hard to pass the house specialty so we ordered despite being advised of a half hour wait for pizza. This gave us an opportunity to enjoy some of the Giant Steps wines as we waited. While enjoying the Giant Steps Tarraford Pinot Noir, we grazed on some of their mushroom & manchego arancini balls. These are not your average arancini balls, the well formed spheres were cooked until they had a crunchy glass like surface with a light cheese and mushroom centre. Superb.

As the wait for the pizza stretched out closer to an hour we ordered a follow up glass, the staff apologised for the delay and gave us our next two glasses on the house which was nice. The Sexton Cabernet Merlot was my pick to match my pizza and it was a good match. Red blends are a bit of an unfashionable drink these days, but this was a very good example and worthy of a try.


L: CALABRESE SALAMI, SAN MARZANO TOMATO, OREGANO & BUFFALO MOZZARELLA PIZZA
R: HAM & CHEESE BAGUETTE


Pizza eventually arrived and it was pretty special, nice thin base that was crisped to perfection. Topping was simple - calabrese salami, san marzano tomato, oregano & buffalo mozzarella. The salami was some of the best I've had, nice rich flavour, lots of hot spice this blended out well with the tomato and cheese. This is certainly in the league of the Mr Wolf and Ladro, portions are very generous too and one will serve two people or one hungry person.

With a very full belly, the temptation of desert was not strong enough and it was off to taste the range of wines by Innocent Bystander and Giant Steps. The range is broad, highlights are the Pinot’s, Shiraz and Sangiovese. The staff knew their stuff and were happy to talk about the plots they source each wine from, their aspects and what makes each one different. They were not snooty and once they knew we were in to wine a but more than the average punter they became a bit more animated which was good to see.

Satisfied and with a boot full of wine, it was a nice way to spend Australia day. It is a great spot to eat, but don’t let the winery restaurant of the year title trick you in to thinking it is fine dining. Tables are communal, the service is friendly but stretched and for a more “special” occasion I would strongly recommend Bella Vedere.

As long as you go in with the right expectation, it is a great place serving excellent pizza and a range of wine that will cater to almost anyone. (If you don’t like wine, White Rabbit brewery is across the car park too)

Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander - Highly Recommended.
Giant Steps / Innocent Bystander Winery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Miyako


3 Southgate Ave
Southbank, 3006


I like Japanese food, in fact I like it a lot. Given the amount that I like it, I was surprised to find I have only reviewed one place in this blogs life and that place is now closed! Time for me to address that.

Tonight it was time to pay a visit to Miyako for some Teppanyaki in the Southgate complex. Miyako is quite familiar to me as it is very close to my office and have been there for lunch several times, but tonight was the first time for dinner.

Going through the entrance and doubling back to the teppan tables it occurred to me that Miyako is almost like the Daimaru of Japanese food in Melbourne. Walking past the tatami seating room, over the little bridge, past the Sushi bar seats, through the general dining room we sat at one of the three teppan hubs. Seating was a bit cosy and it became clear that the restaurant clumps groups together in to the same booking time to get efficiency from the chefs, how efficient, how Japanese!

As the last to be seated the staff were rather hasty to get menus, orders and food going. We elected for the seafood banquet which consisted of edamame, Sushi/Sashimi entree, Miso Soup, Scallops, Prawn, Butterfish, Fillet Steak, Fried Rice and Green tea Ice Cream desert.

The starters came out and it was evident that they were keen to get us in to line with the other diners as they took away my edamame before it was finished! Fortunately we got in to sync with the others, but considering we arrived on our booking time, it was a bit slack.


SUSHI/SASHIMI APPETISER

From the wobbly start, things got better. The Kingfish sashimi was of high grade and topped with a light wasabi mayo. Paired with the Sushi and miso soup it was a great start before the slice and dice action commenced.


SCALLOPS, PRAWN, BUTTERFISH

As we were working through the entrée our Teppanyaki chef “Francis” came out and commenced proceedings. The scallops were cooked perfectly, slightly rare in the centre along with the juicy prawn and tender fish. The butterfish was a bit of a show stealer, cooked with garlic butter the flesh had a nice meaty texture and richness.


HOW TO MAKE TEPPANYAKI STEAK
Sear, cover with rice wine & Flambé


The fillet steak is where theatrics started to commence, the steak was placed on the grill, covered with Japanese rice wine and flambéed. The resulting steak was served medium rare and was very tender. As we savoured the steak we enjoyed the fried rice “spectacle” where the omelette was made, shredded and bits thrown around for us to catch in our mouths. It was not as over the top as Tokyo Teppanyaki, but I was also glad I wasn’t wearing anything I was too precious over either.


TEPPANYAKI FRIED RICE

The meal finished off with the fried rice, light, fluffy with good flavour. I emulate the Japanese style of fried rice at home so it was good to try how Teppanyaki chef version. I would say their version is nicer, but that would be because they are less restrained with the use of oil over myself!


GREEN TEA ICE CREAM & BANANA CAKE

Desert was served, the green tea ice cream with banana cake. The cake? I could take it or leave it, but the green tea ice cream on the other hand was rich, creamy and good balance of sweetness and bitterness. I was also pleasantly surprised to find they have an espresso machine at Miyako and now how to use it.

So the Teppanyaki department at Miyako is a bit like the shopping experience in a department store. Overall it is a solid dining experience, not as good as one might get in a boutique store and the service at times not be as good, but standards are acceptable and the overall value is quite reasonable. The $75 per person for 6 courses was definitely what I consider reasonable for top class seafood and steak.

Miyako – 13.5/20
Miyako on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 14, 2011

Foie Gras Brulee in Apple with Sauternes & Lambic Gel


"You had me at Foie Gras"

Unhealthy - Yes, politically incorrect - Yes, absolutely delicious - Yes

I know foie gras is not produced in what many would consider an ethical way. It is however very tasty and not widely available in Australia. To my surprise my local deli was selling tins of Canard foie gras at the reasonable price of $20 per 65g tin.

Having acquired such a luxury ingredient, the next challenge becomes, what do you do with it? You could simply eat it out of the tin and that would be perfectly acceptable, however, I decided the more appropriate course of action was to draw upon some Michelin star inspiration.


FOIE GRAS BRULEE IN APPLE AT RESTAURANT ARZAK

A few years ago I had my finest meal ever at Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian. I suspect a lot of people’s finest meal ever is Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian and with good reason, it is one of the best restaurants in the world with 3 Michelin stars and has been in the top 10 restaurants in the world forever.

The dish I decided to pay homage to is their foie gras appetiser which was foie gras in apple, caramelised with a brulee coating and served with some decorative garnish that a few years on I can’t quite remember what it was.

Taking the influence from this, I decided that the easy part was the apple in foie gras brulee bit. The next part of the puzzle was how should I present this? I decided a Sauternes jelly would be the way to go since it is a perfect match, but thought that it would be a bit pale in colour. Another good match with something as rich as foie gras is a cherry derived sauce or gel. I was thinking Kirsch or some other cherry brandy would be good, but then it occurred to me a lambic beer would offer the right sort of cherry flavour with some sourness to contrast the rich foie gras.

So here it is, a very quick and simple recipe to make a dish that is inspired by the Michelin starred Arzak.

Foie Gras Brulee in Apple with Sauternes & Lambic Gel
Ingredients (Serves 2)
1 tin of foie gras
2 x granny smith apples
100ml of Sauternes or Botrytis Semillon
100ml of Kriek Lambic Beer
Powdered gelatine
Sugar

Start off by making the Sauternes and Lambic gels, pour 100ml of each in to two separate saucepans, bring to the boil. Add ¾ tablespoon of powdered gelatine. Stir until dissolved and pour through a fine sieve in to a flat container that will create approximately half a centimetre of depth to create small cubes. Place in to fridge to set (approx. 1 hour)

CORING OUT THE APPLES

Slice apple in to six half centimetre slices, use a 3-4cm diameter pastry cutter to cut a circle through the centre of the slice and trim around the hole to create a rough looking circle. This may require 1 or 2 granny smiths depending upon the size and season of the apples. Poach in simmering water for a few minutes to soften but not cook the apple. Refresh in iced cold water and place on paper towel to drain

Remove the gels from the fridge and either lift out and slice in to cubes, or mash and garnish the plate. After trialling both, I think the mashed presents better, but each to their own.


DISCS PRIOR TO THE TORCH TREATMENT

Pat down the apple, place on to tinfoil and fill with foie gras, once filled, place in to freezer for 10-15 minutes for the foie gras to harden. Once hardened, sprinkle the pieces with sugar and use a brulee torch to create a toffee like shell on the foie gras. This requires a powerful blow torch and brutality, it needs to be done quickly so that the brulee shell develops before the foie gras liquefies and separates.


FOIE GRAS BRULEE IN APPLE WITH SAUTERNES & LAMBIC GEL

Transfer the apple discs on to a rectangular plate and garnish.

There you have it, a sensational Michelin Star recipe that is simple and won’t take up an entire afternoon or require a small team to clean up the kitchen.

For a first go, I am quite happy with it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gisbourne Peak Winery


69 Short Road
Gisborne South
VIC 3437 Australia


I came across Gisborne Peak Wines in a most unusual way. Generally people hate buying gifts for me as I am the person who has everything, and quite often a backup as well. The clever folk at Gisborne Peak Wines have a novel “Adopt A Vine” program which they market as the perfect gift for “those who have everything” and to their credit I didn’t have one of those!

It has taken me a while to visit my adopted vine, close to 18 months in fact. A combination of being about 90 minutes from home and having a wife completing her masters meant it hasn’t been the easiest place to get to for a lazy Sunday lunch.

Fortunately 2011 is masters free so on a very mild January afternoon we headed off and arrived at the nice cellar door and restaurant.


WHITES ON PARADE

The cellar door at Gisborne Peak is laid out like most smaller cellar doors, rustic wood counter, bottles on the bar and staff running around topping up tasting glasses. The staff behind the counter were all very friendly and knew their stuff but were in no way snooty. They were more than happy to let you taste the range, there was no charge for tasting and would let you go at your own pace. This is very different to some of the cellar doors in the Yarra Valley who charge or Mornington who can possess a decent amount of attitude as if they were god’s given gift to wine.

The range of wine was quite broad with greater diversity in white over red. Across the board they were all of high standard and each one showed good varietal character. In particular I fancied their chardonnay, both oaked & unoaked, and their pinots. The 2009 unoaked chardonnay is a crisp wine with crunchy acidity and apples and peach in the palate, the 2007 oaked is more of a mellow mouth filling number which had a subtle amount of oak and malolactic fermentation butteriness present.

Their pinot noirs are good medium bodied pinot, not big heady damp hay stuff, but more cherry and fruit driven. Also enjoyable was their pinot rose which features light strawberry fruitiness and a dry finish - here's hoping we get some weather over the next few months to enjoy it.


After tasting the range of wines, it was time to sit down with some red wine and one of their wood fire oven pizzas. We had the prawn pesto and BBQ chicken pizzas and a side of chorizo.

L: PRAWN & PESTO PIZZA
C: BBQ CHICKEN PIZZA
R: CHORIZO & CHILLI SAUCE


The pizzas were of reasonable standard, the prawn & pesto was quite strong on the parmesan and garlic but had nice chunks of prawn meat, the BBQ chicken was a nice cheesy, saucy pizza with good chunks of onion in there to balance things out. I’d recommend ordering these to share and if you are like me, ask for the bases to be done crispy as I felt they could have been pushed a bit harder.


L: ADOPTED VINE
R: A VERY YOUNG PINOT NOIR

After lunch, we walked into the vineyard to check out the adopted vine. So amongst all my toys, trinkets and possessions I also have an adopted vine. We finished off the day purchasing some of the wine and talking to the owners. They are nice guys and are committed to what they do, it shows as their wines are enjoyable and they plan on growing and improving. Wish them the best, they are well placed as some clever Davids in an industry of Goliaths.

Gisborne Peak Winery is certainly worth a visit for those who like their whites and pinot noirs. Pleasant place for lunch too.

Gisborne Peak Winery - Recommended

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Brasserie


8 Whiteman Street
Southbank, VIC, 3006


The Brasserie (formerly "The Brasserie by Philippe Mouchel") has been a favourite of mine over the past few years. It is a quiet achiever going about serving polished uncomplicated brasserie food at good prices.

Today was my first visit where Philippe Mouchel's name has been erased from all signs, menus and web sites, so I was interested to see what else may have changed other than the name.

Initial impressions were not a lot. Interior is still the same and we were seated outside on a nice sunny day looking out over the Yarra, a perfect occasion to get in the mood with a bottle of Pol Roger whilst perusing the menu. While it is not quite the Seine, it was still a pleasant place to be.

It became clear quite quickly that it was impossible to go past the menu du déjeuner of 3 courses for $50.00. There were some restrictions but fortunately there were more than sufficient choices to satisfy anyone's tastes.

As we sipped our champagne and deliberated, it was becoming apparent that the downside to being a quite achiever and offering a great value lunch is that The Brasserie may also be struggling to attract first class experienced waiters. There seemed to be a lot of inexperienced waiting staff, fortunately we were in no rush and once orders were placed we relaxed in anticipation of the gallic dining experience that lay ahead of us.


L: Whole roast tiger prawns with garlic butter, lemon and tarragon
R: Seared scallops with pancetta, peas,confit tomato and vanilla, mint veloute


Entrees arrived and we were all suitably impressed, despite ordering off the heavily discounted menu, there appeared to be no lowering of standards. The three seared scallops came out perfectly cooked with peas, pancetta and mint veloute. This is a classic flavour combination presented and executed really well, bursting the confit tomoto added a nice acidity to the dish, overall brilliant.

The roast tiger prawns were again presented and executed well, perhaps a fraction overcooked but still had a great sweetness that went well with the garlic and tarragon seasoning.


Beef tenderloin - sauce bourguignon

The main arrived and again, no drop off in presentation standards in the post-Mouchel Brasserie. The 200g tenderloin arrived with chunks of slow cooked beef, mushrooms, baby pickled onions & carrots. The tenderloin was cooked perfectly - medium rare and matched well with the rich, viscous burgundy sauce that brought the elements together. This matched really well with the 2009 Sorrenberg Gamay from Beechworth ($85)


DESERT TASTING PLATE (front to back)
Crème brûlée traditional vanilla flavour with sesame tuile
Burnt honey and orange panna cotta lemon curd and orange sorbet
Chocolate and caramel tart
Raspberry Sorbet
White chocolate mousse with mango and raspberries


After a break we decided to go with the desert tasting plate which is a greatest hits of all the deserts and a great way to finish. All five tastes were enjoyable and overall quite light which is a good way to finish off a rich meal. The crème brûlée stood out, but would be happy with any of them individually if need by

Four hours after we sat down we stood up to leave after a very enjoyable lunch. It is clear that Crown has not allowed the food standards to drop, no one had a bad thing to say about the food that was served. The service though was a bit of a let down, but certainly not bad enough to say that it ruined the experience and when the food is such excellent value it is easy to turn a blind eye to this. In the post-Mouchel era, The Brasserie is still recommended

The Brasserie - 14/20
The Brasserie on Urbanspoon