Sunday, March 27, 2011

Newmarket Hotel

34 Inkerman St
St Kilda, 3182

If you want a reason to go to Newmarket Hotel in the less salubrious end of Inkerman St, I'll give you two words "Paul Wilson".

For those who have followed the Melbourne restaurant scene over the past decade, Paul Wilson has built a formidable track record of creating successful restaurants - Georges, Radii, The Botanical, Half Moon, Middle Park Hotel and the list goes on.....

My first encounter with Paul's food was in the heady days of Radii where he built up the Park Hyatt's restaurant to three hat status. I still have very fond memories of my dining experiences there as well as Half Moon so a trip to Newmarket was somewhat inevitable.

First impressions of Newmarket? The fit out is very smart and seemed somehow familiar, when I discovered it was the same folk who did the Royal Saxon, the similarity was easy to see. Front of house greet us as we enter and are quick to explain that menu in Newmarket is the same no matter where you sit, stool, bench seat or comfy leather restaurant chairs.

Seated in one of the comfy swiveling chairs we were greeted by our waitress and ordered a glass of 2 Brothers The Chief from well selected beer list and perused the single sided A3 menu.

I've heard that Newmarket's menu is described as Cal-Mex which would be best describe as a light handed interpretation of Tex-Mex staples with some Spanish and Italian influences.

L: Patatas Bravas
R: Tacos - Pork Carnitas, Spicy Pineapple Salsa, Adabo Sauce

Starting with the pork tacos and patatas bravas. At $8 per taco, the petite tortilla's present well covered with lettuce, onion & pineapple salsa and when the pork is added creates a delicious flavour combination. The patatas bravas are well cooked, crispy and have a generous saucy kick.

St Louis cut Pork ribs & Apple Slaw

Next to arrive was the slow cooked ribs, this is one of those contagious dishes restuarants love to have. When we sat down and saw the table next to us eating them, we simply had to order them for ourselves. The dish is a site to behold, a long slab of ribs covered with bbq sauce, crushed nuts and a small bowl of apple coleslaw at the end. It is a dish that tastes as good as it looks, juicy pork and spicy sauce with a refreshing coleslaw, just a shame it is hard to eat with dignity.

On a side note, sitting opposite us was My Kitchen Rules judge and celebrity chef Manu Feildel. I met Manu a few weeks ago at a BMW car launch and we had a brief conversation. While discussing cars, his cookbook that I bought a few weeks ago and the grand prix I asked his opinion of the restaurant - "It is l'excellent". Have to say I agree, and with so many mouth watering choices on the menu, a return is inevitable.

Newmarket Hotel - 13.5/20
Newmarket Hotel on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Point - Old School vs New School

Albert Park Lake Aquatic Dr
Albert Park, 3206

Ladies & Gentlemen, at a capacity "The Point Restaurant" we are seated to witness the culinary battle of "Old School vs New School". A 4 round exhibition battle pitting old world cooking techniques vs the new world of gastronomy in what should be an exciting battle.

Tale of the tape

L: Old School- Scott Pickett
R: New School - Ryan Flaherty

In the old school corner, we have Scott Pickett. A veteran chef who has steered the kitchen of The Point for the past 4 years and guided it to 2 hat greatness. Schooled by Philippe Mouchel of Langtons/The Brasserie fame and Philip Howard of 2 michelin starred The Square he brings centuries of technique to this battle.

The new school corner is represented by Ryan Flaherty, he is a dark horse in this battle but having worked at new school gastro temples El Bulli & The Fat Duck, he has 21st century tools & techniques to bring to this battle. Ryan thumbs his nose at the traditional oven in favour of the vacuum sealer and sous vide bath.

Who will take it? Who's cuisine will reign supreme?

Warm up round

Suckling pig croustade, white onion gel

An opening teaser is presented to the dining crowd, juicy suckling pig wrapped in a paper thin pastry atop a white onion gel. The big flavour of the pig was unable to silence the presence of a tasty white onion gel that brought all the good elements of an onion without the overpowering acridity. A fantastic opener, the dining crowd looks forward to opening round.

Round 1 - Egg

L: Old World - Poached egg, white polenta & black truffle
R: New World - 63c egg, blackened corn & jamon

The first round opens with old school serving first and on first sight draws a lot of gasps with it's opening round boldness. Poached egg covered with a generous sprinkle of black truffle perched over creamy, luscious, white polenta. This is what old world is all about, perfect flavour matches, perfect execution.

The new world plate comes out and a 63c egg with corn and jamon is presented. Different textures, a nice custardy sous vide egg, but in this case it is no match.

Old World - 10
New World - 7

With such an emphatic win in round 1 to the old school, how will new school come back? Not knocked out, but new school has certainly been hit with some devastating blows.

Round 2 - Whiting

L: Old World - Grilled Whiting, golden raisins, pinenuts and beurre noissette
R: New World - Smoked whiting, fennel and bacon

Round 2 commences and old school comes out and is swinging with a lot of confidence from round 1, in fact too much confidence and falters a bit on this one. The dish had fish on it, however, the emanating aroma of raisins and butter made me think of sticky date pudding, not whiting. As much as I tried to figure out how it works, the sweetness was too great.

New school comes to the table bringing with it the poster boy technique of new school - foam. The smoked whiting is smothered with a light fennel foam garnished with bacon and it is making a statement that new school won't be beaten lightly. The foam brings together the elements by bringing lightness to what would otherwise be a one dimensional dish.

Scorecard - Round 2
Old World - 8
New World - 10

At the end of the second round, new school has come back in to the battle, but can it overcome the round 1 drubbing?

Round 3 - Beef

L: New World - 39 degree beef over 4 hours
R: Old World - Roasted beef

With such a close battle, this time the two titans come out on the same plate side by side to fight for the diners attention. Separated by a thin line of mushroom sauce it is old school roasting vs new school sous vide both trying to make a statement as to which technique rules.

The old school beef is cooked perfectly with nice flavour courtesy of the roasting. The new world beef does not have the same roasted flavours, but it is a much more tender piece of meat. Cooked perfectly pink edge to edge with some very slight finishing on the outside it shows that a sous vide bath is not a piece of lab equipment, but a cooks utensil to bring out the most of the right meats.

Scorecard - Round 3
Old World - 9
New World - 10

This round was a good old fashioned slug fest, going backwards and forwards, both schools fought valiantly, but the round goes to new school. Scores are tied going in to the final round, what an exciting battle!

Round 4 - Apple

L: Old World - Apple tart and hokey pokey ice cream
R: New World - Apple, cinnamon, yoghurt and honeycomb

After 3 exhausting rounds the fighters are tired and the diners are full as the battle heads in to the final round.

With such a strong round 1, old school faltered badly in round 2 and lost a close round 3. Old school needs a strong final round to bring it home. The old school plate makes a big statement that it is not out of it. A deliciously thin slice of apple tart with hokey pokey ice cream highlights what old school is all about like round 1. The slice of apple tart is near perfect - light pastry, perfect caramelised apple with the hokey pokey ice cream and a nice sweet sauce bringing it all together.

New school comes out on weary legs with a different take on apple. Apple slices infused with apple juice served with yoghurt and honeycomb. It is a nice refreshing dessert, all the elements work well, the apple was softened and seemed denser with the juice and the creamy acidity of the yoghurt balanced well with the sweetness of the honeycomb.

Two strong dishes and a great final round, but on a "What would I order again if I had the choice?" basis to decide the final round, it goes to Old School.

Scorecard - Round 4
Old World - 10
New World - 9

The Verdict
The judges verdict is in and it is a 37-36 win to old school. This was not a one sided battle, new school fought bravely and we are sure that if a future rematch were to take place the score could easily swing the other way.

We only hope that The Point organises a rematch in the future. This battle was organised as part of The Melbourne Food & Wine festival and was a truly excellent event. It also showcased why The Point is an excellent restaurant and amongst the very top in Melbourne.

The Point Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Ludlow Formation

Building 3, 6 Riverside Quay
Southbank, VIC, 3006

This is a tough one for me to write up. In general my reviews to date have all been rather favourable and there is a reason for that. I research and generally choose to dine out at venues that have a high probability of giving me the food & dining experience that I want.

The Ludlow Formation (TLF) is a bit of an anomaly, located on the banks of the Yarra I have tried to give TLF the benefit of the doubt. The name is odd, location is good, but the view is largely obscured by a foot bridge and the fitout is a bit odd, but not odd by accident, but odd by design and it just doesn't feel right.

I could overlook this and overlook easily if the food was on the money and sadly after three visits I simply can't.

Steak Sandwich & Fries

Bookending my trips to TLF was the steak sandwich, when I first visited TLF I was told confidently that the "signature" dish they were building in the bar was their steak sandwich.

My first visit I was greeted with a nice thin piece of steak served medium rare on Turkish bread with tomato & lettuce. It was quite enjoyable, except it was served with limp fries even Ronald the clown would not serve. This is barely acceptable at a $5.95 happy meal, let alone a $17 "signature" dish.

L: Crispy Cumin Calamari, Almond & Skordalia
R: Chicken meatballs in tomato sugo, fresh coriander

My next visit to TLF was in the grown up section where the tables are better spaced and a lot more comfortable. The occasion was again lunch and the table agreed that a few gather & graze (tapas) plates to begin were the way to go.

We ordered some chicken meatballs & calamari to begin with. The meatballs were great, nice, juicy with a rich sauce. Calamari was not so good, it was not crispy and I found it quite odd that the skordalia was found at the bottom of the plate not on the side or somewhere you could dip. What a shame.

300gm Rib eye, hand cut chips, dressed leaves, sauce bernaise

The main was similar to everything experienced to date at TLF, bittersweet. A piece of well presented steak was served, but to my disappointment the medium rare steak I requested was served medium well. Sadly the the same mistake was repeated across all three plates on the table and would normally this would have been a send back job if it were not for the time constraints. The meat was of high quality and the charring made it quite tasty but the overcooking made us all agree - what a shame!

The final roll of the dice came not long after and it was a return to the bar for another steak sandwich. After the first experience we went straight to the fries. To my delight they were nice and crispy, sadly the let down this time was the steak sandwich.

Unlike the first trip to TLF for a steak sandwich, this one came out with some similarities, medium rare, good quality meat but for some reason the steak only covered about 40-50% of the Turkish bread - what a shame. Maybe a walk to Earl Canteen is in order.

Well after three meals at TLF, I can not say that I can recommend this place for its food. For a beer yes, for a low risk tapas, perhaps. TLF has the looks but needs to work harder.

The Ludlow Formation - 9/20
The Ludlow Formation on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 4, 2011

Earl Canteen

Earl Canteen - If you were to believe the hype they have reinvented the sandwich.

Reality - Not quite, they serve up really nice food, my visit to Earl for a quick lunch was rewarded with a delicious piece of pork belly on a refreshing coleslaw. The pork belly was juicy and moist with perfect crackle. PERFECT

But as much as I enjoyed this delightful sandwich, at $13.50 it got me thinking. If you were to go to any decent restaurant, take a dish, halve it and wedge it between two slices of bread you have an Earl Canteen sandwich.

The menu reads like a restaurant menu served on bread instead of a plate.

Pork Belly - Crisp skin Otway pork belly, apple, cabbage & fennel coleslaw, wilted silverbeet, baguette

So this is the problem I have with Earl Canteen, the food is good, but is it twice as good as a typical sandwich? Almost.

At $13.50 though is it as good as a lot of sub $15-ish cook to order lunches? Almost

Earl Canteen is interesting, but I think I want to like it more than what I do. I'd certainly go back again if in the area, but wouldn't make a detour either.

EARL Canteen on Urbanspoon

Prawn Star