Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuileries


13-35 Drummond Street
Rutherglen, 3685

After the gastronomes paradise of Beechworth, I find myself in Rutherglen which is the home of some cracker reds, arguably the worlds best fortified wines, three pubs and a restaurant. With the recent closure of Beaumonts Cafe, Tuileries has taken over as the place to go if you are after a parma free menu.

On the edge of the township, Tuileries restaurant is part of the greater Tuileries accommodation, conference and function centre. The restaurant itself is quite smart, good fitout, right amount of noise and nice comfy high backed seats.

It had been a few years, since my last visit to Tuileries and while it it looks like it is a bit smarter, it is good to see that the wine buffet was still a part of the fixture. Being a guest of the hotel, there is an option to package up dinner at Tuileries in to the accommodation which works out to be $50 per person for three courses, not a bad deal as long as the food is good of course.


Amuse bouche - Tomato, Fennel, Black licorice

While we reviewed the menu, we were presented with an amuse bouche which is always a nice touch. The gel of tomato with fennel and licorice was quite light and flavour wise was a good match.

The menu read as somewhat ambitious, the dishes looked quite complex with inspiration coming from France and Greece. We also went through the wine list and opted for the wine buffet which has 5 reds and 5 whites that are local and is a terrific value at $22.50 per person and a good way to sample a range of reds and whites from cellar doors that you may not make it to.


L: Galantine of myee quail stuffed with eurobin chestnuts, porcini and sage freekeh salad
R: Queensland prawns, Salad of watermelon, feta and pickled red onion, and traditional Tzatziki


Entrees arrived, the galantine of quail was well cooked, the stuffing was a bit pasty but overall had good flavour and the freekeh salad offered good texture. The prawn dish my wife had lots of detail, watermelon, red onion, feta, tzatiki, overall it was nice but looked like a very busy. Both were very generous and would pass for mains in a lot of places, but this is Rutherglen after all.


L: Braised Beef Rib & Brisket, Texan BBQ Sauce
R: Wine Buffet

For main course, it was impossible to go past the special which was a braise of beef rib & brisket served with texan bbq sauce and baked potato. I expected a generous meal, but not this generous. It was a monster serve of meat cooked to fall apart tender, this is the kind of dish I expect when I come to Rutherglen, big, strong flavour, no nonsense.

After working through this dish with the assistance of the wine buffet, I told the staff this should go on the menu full time, this is the kind of dish that has signature written all over it. The other diners in the restaurant who enjoyed the special agreed.


L: Lindt ecuador chocolate baklava, cocoa crumbs and madagascan vanilla bean ice cream
R: Textures of passionfruit; crisp ’cannelloni’ filled with passionfruit curd, passionfruit jelly and passionfruit marshmellow

Desserts were similar to the entrees, busy and ambitious. The chocolate baklava had a rich chocolate filling with a hint of spice added, perhaps just a bit large and with some elements that didn't bring much to the table like the cocoa crumbs. In the textures of passionfruit, the passionfruit curd and marshmallow stood out, the crisp cannelloni also helped to break things up, definitely one for the passionfruit lovers.

Overall Tuileries is almost, but not quite there. The restaurant is has a nice feel, the front of house were all friendly and attentive, however, the menu just seems too busy. This is highlighted by the way a well executed simple dish like the braised rib & brisket impresses more than a dish with lots of fiddly detail. That said, I would go back again if I was in town, it wasn't a bad experience, just one that could have been just that little bit better. With a new tapas bar going in to the restaurant, that could be the piece that elevates it, simple tapas paired with local reds, sounds good doesn't it?

Tuileries - 12.5/20
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Provenance


86 Ford St
Beechworth, Vic, 3747

Coincidence is a funny thing isn't it? This is what I thought to myself during dinner at Provenance. In a week where I was meant to be in Japan, I instead find myself in Beechworth enjoying a harmoniously balanced dining experience that has a large inspiration of Japan while taking in some of the best produce the region has to offer.

Situated in the town of Beechworth, Provenance has established itself as one of the finest country restaurants in Victoria and when the events of the recent earthquake near Tokyo led to a cancellation of a long planned trip, a referral to Provenance stood out as a good last minute alternative to get away for a break.

Upon entering the dining room at Provenance, the first impression is that it is a good balance that is smart but not too formal, a very comfortable environment.

We were greeted by one of the waiters and went through the options, Provenance offers a choice of à la carte and degustation with matching wine options. The $140 option for à la carte with matching wine was an offer too good to refuse


L: Poached octopus, sake infused cucumber, umeboshi, soy beans, avacdo, ponzu
R: Pickled, raw & cooked vegetables, puffed rice, congee sauce

The first plate arrived and it was a smart arrangement of octopus, cucumber and soy beans. The umeboshi reminded me of my first trip to Japan and trying the "pickled plum" which is more or less what umeboshi is, in the wrong amount it is unpleasant, but in the right amount it offers a lift. One of the things you notice with this dish is individually the components are all fine, but combined is when it all makes sense and really impresses.

Next was a small plate of pickled and raw vegetables, not the kind of plate that gets a carnivore like me excited, but just like the first course the little details in the dish when combined have you thinking that if all vegetarian dishes were this good it wouldn't such a bad fate. The sourness of the pickled vegetables, the sweetness of the cooked and the crunch of the raw all combine harmoniously in a very Japanese way, balanced, perfectly balanced.


Sweetcorn chawan mushi, confit chicken wings, spring onion dressing

Chawan mushi is another Japanese classic, a steaming hot & silky smooth egg custard matches perfectly with the sweetcorn and the side of confit chicken wing brings an element of saltiness that balances the dish out. The clear winner for my wife.



Roasted Milawa duck breast, silverbeet and confit duck leg, polenta, pickled cherries

The winner for me though was next, the duck breast & duck confit. The perfectly cooked duck breast perched on polenta next to shredded confit duck breast wrapped in a silverbeet leaf is brought together with the pickled cherry.


Dry aged grass fed Wagyu flat iron steak, braised short rib, grilled spring onion, smoked tofu dressing, konbu no tsukudani

Our final savoury course of Wagyu flat iron steak and braised short rib was also quite enjoyable, the braised short rib in particular stood out and it matched very well with the Golden Ball Shiraz. In fact every wine pair was a great match and showcases the region of Beechworth and nearby Rutherglen rather well.


Alpine green tea and white chocolate mousse, Wooragee strawberries-fresh & pickled, rhubarb, shiso sugar, scorched pistachios

The dessert course stayed in theme with the previous courses. The small collection of strawberries and rhubarb covered with crunchy scorched pistachios all combine in such a way that you are left to marvel over how much greater the sum of the dish is over the parts. A light mousse of green tea and white chocolate brings a creamy element to the dish and is definately not your usual Japanese cafe green tea ice cream shocker but rather a delicate balance that finishes the degustation in the same manner in the way it starts, simple, balanced, elegant, delicious.


Cooked breakfast - Provenance style

So what are my concluding thoughts of Provenance? Brilliant food in a great dining room with very good front of house that were engaging but never intruding. The only thing I don't like about Provenance is that it is 3 hours from home. I guess that means I have to go back and stay in the great suites that also include breakfast cooked by Provenance chef/owner Michael Ryan and if you are lucky enough will also include a bit of conversation with Michael as well.

Provenance - 16/20
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Friday, April 8, 2011

Tempura Hajime


60 Park St
South Melbourne, 3205


To paraphrase Mark Twain "The death of Tempura Hajime is somewhat exaggerated"

It has been about 2 years since my previous visit to Tempura Hajime and over that time the ownership has changed hands from restaurant founder and chef Daisuke Miyamoto to Shigeo Yoshihara. Recent reviews in the blogosphere have been somewhat less than complimentary stating a no photography policy (wrong as evidenced here) and limp, soggy tempura. To a certain extent when a restaurant changes in one way or another, people seem to simultaneously look to criticise and yearn for the old as evidenced by those who still recall through rose coloured glasses "I remember when Vue de Monde was in Carlton and was oh so much better back then...."

Initial impression of the dining room is that not a lot has changed, the very minimalist dining room that seats 12 across the counter seats is the same. Set menu is the same and the faint aroma of grated daikon radish and the tempura oil almost takes one straight to the streets of Tokyo.


Sashimi - Kingfish & Ocean Trout

Proceedings commenced with 4 pieces of perfect A-grade sashimi. The sashimi had a mouth melting texture, better than most Japanese restaurants in town.


L: Sweetcorn & Asparagus
R: Prawn Tempura


After enjoying the delicate sashimi, it was time to really see if the hard fought reputation for best tempura in town had been allowed to slip. The first two pieces of tempura were served and all was in order, light crispy batter - tick, perfectly cooked - tick, not oily or soggy - tick.

In other words, perfect tempura. Shigeo the tempura wizard had cooked the asparagus and corn spot on allowing the natural flavours come through and be enhanced by the tempura treatment. The condiments of daikon/bonito broth and lemon/salt also enhanced the flavours.

Following this was the signature plate that John Lethlean raved about in The Age many years ago now and in doing so put Tempura Hajime on the map - tempura prawn. The simplicity of the single prawn laying boldly on the counter is what makes it such a joy. Take every aspect of a prawn and enhance it, the sweet aroma and the juicy flesh are amplified by the tempura. No problem here, no problem at all except wanting another one, and another one.....


L: Spicy Salmon in Zuchini & Sweet Potato
R: Tuna & Eel


The tempura cavalcade continued, sweet potato, salmon, eel, tuna, each one a perfect taste enhanced by the tempura treatment.


L: Scallop with Sea Urchin Roe
C: Hapuka with Shiso leaf
R: Minced Prawn in Mushroom


As plates progressed, the flavours and appreciation of such a simple treatment yielding such brilliant results can only leave one impressed. The scallop with sea urchin roe is certainly nicer now that ever before, the reduction in quantity of sea urchin and nori used make this much more balanced.


Mixed vegetable tempura donburi

The final savoury course of mixed vegetable tempura cake on rice was perhaps the only disappointment of the evening. The crispy tempura cake with teriyaki sauce just needed more rice to make it perfect, the sauce perhaps a bit overpowering needing some extra rice to absorb it. Still pleasant and a minor criticism at best.


Yoghurt Panacotta

Dessert of yoghurt panacotta was a splendid way to wrap up the meal, light, refreshing and subtle very Japanese.

My return to Tempura Hajime is certainly not a disappointment, the food is as good as it ever was, perhaps the only thing that is missing it the presence of Daisuke and the engagement between chef and customer. New owner Shigeo is a bit more shy and manages to run the two tempura stations easily enough, but opportunity to talk is a lot more limited.

Tempura Hajime is certainly alive and is kicking on strong.

Tempura Hajime - 14.5/20
Tempura Hajime on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Coffee Exchange


1 little Collins st
Melbourne, 3000


This is a brief post, Coffee Exchange has been my caffeine lifeline whilst training at the nearby Windsor Hotel.

The coffee here is good, amongst the best in town and they have a really friendly team.

Not necessarily blogworthy in itself, however, their self proclaimed "Best Brownie in Melbourne" looks a bit like the dessert equivalent KFC bun-less burger, take the goodness of a brownie and put an Oreo cookie in it.



It is good, perhaps the best in town even.

Coffee Exchange - Recommended for Coffee & Cake
Coffee Exchange on Urbanspoon

Mamasita


Level 1, 11 Collins St
Melbourne, 3000


Well I finally made it. After a few aborted attempts to get a seat at Mamasita I manage to finally get a spot at the bar in the middle of a busy Wednesday lunch service.

A lot has been written about Mamasita. In fact, it is possibly the most blogged restaurant in a town that has more bloggers than just about anywhere in the world. Reports on the food vary wildly from exciting to boring and bland, the operation has been described from funky to arrogant.

My previous attempts to eat at Mamasita have been greeted with the staircase queue of dread and the policy of "leave your name, go to a nearby bar and we will call you when ready". To be honest it comes across as quite clumsy and to those who are willing to roll up and wait an hour for a spot I say good luck. The reverse reservation policy leaves a bad impression I think and is probably the largest reason for the impression of arrogance.

Anyway, back to the point - the food and the restaurant. Middle of lunch service and there is no queue or stress, the greeting at the top of the stairs was very friendly and this carried through to the waitress who took the time to go through the menu and discuss the various dishes. All friendly, no arrogance.


de Huitlacoche - Mexican truffle, mushrooms, roasted corn, epazote & queso fresco

So after a short wait my order arrived and my first bite of Mamasita was quite impressive, normally a quesadilla ordered in Melbourne is a ton of tasty cheese, between hard shells, soggy from grease with shredded beef or chicken. The Mamasita quesadilla is more restrained, nice mushrooms with cheese and corn between two toasted tortilla's. Quite good, in fact very good.


L: de Lengua y Mejilla - Braised veal tongue & ox cheek, pickled vegetable & ghost chilli mayonnaise
R: de Camarones - Marinated prawns with habanero chillies & chipotle almond salsa


Along with my order of quesadilla I ordered a duet of taco's, after all it is hard to go to a "taqueria" without having at least one taco.

After some deliberation and coaching from the waitress I went with the prawn taco and the ox-cheek/veal tongue taco off their extensive taco list. The prawn taco is a spicy little number with three perfectly cooked prawns in a spicy chipotle salsa that almost overwhelms the light prawn meat but manages to balance quite well. The tongue & cheek combo is a playful combination, the tongue is nice and crispy, the ox cheek by itself is a little bland but when all are combined with the chili mayonnaise it all works, but those ghost chilli's in the mayo pack a punch.

So after getting through the door and to a seat at Mamasita I can say I enjoyed the food and also enjoyed the atmosphere. As I left Mamasita and opened the door to walk out the floor manager was waiving and shouting his thanks from the top of the staircase.

Mamasita - Good food, freindly staff, just wish it was easier to get a seat!

Mamasita - 13/20
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