Friday, September 14, 2012

Flower Drum

17 Market Lane, 
Melbourne, 3000
Flower Drum, if it were a band people would be inclined to say it peaked some time ago, released some forgettable records for a good decade and in more recent years has regained it's mojo and while not as influential at the peak of its power is still loved nonetheless as an elder statesmen.

It had been some time since I was at Flower Drum, a good 8 to 9 years when I last went. I was a somewhat less traveled diner and at the time it was a bit of a light bulb moment "This is awesome!". Over the years, time, alternatives and difficulty in booking worked against a repeat visit, but now with online booking available for a Friday night and being able to schedule it in made a long awaited return possible.

Initial impressions of the dining room is that things have not changed much which is not a bad thing. Bucking the trend of recent times to seat diners in near darkness, the bright red room still has a sense of occasion and the tables are still very well spaced.

After organising drinks food started to arrive, the first course of snow crab dumplings were great. Light, fluffy with a nice vinegar to pair with it, the only disappointment were the flecks of crab shell that got in to one of the dumplings. Following was bbq pork with a deep fried apple which solid if not spectacular. 

Next up was without doubt the highlight of the night, stir fried wild Barramundi noodles. Barramundi meat that has been pureed and turned in to noodles stir fried with some vegetables. What made this a standout was for a simple looking dish, there is an array of complex flavours, in particular the flavour of  the wok comes through the stir fry. This is black art Cantonese at it's finest, making something simple truly memorable via great technique, no foams or sous vide trickery here.

Following on were a couple of classics which aren't reinventing Cantonese cuisine, but are excellent nonetheless. Quail Sang Choi Bao was great, lots of flavours and textures poking around in the precisely trimmed lettuce cup. Similarly the Peking Duck served table side was another good example of what people love about Flower Drum, there was nothing to dislike about the high quality duck wrapped in delicate pancake, delicious and reliable

The final course of grain fed Eye Fillet w/Szechuan Sauce would put a lot of so called "Steak Specialists" to shame. One of my enduring memories of my first trip to Flower Drum was how good the steak was and this time was no different. Perfect crust on the outside, medium rare on the inside and served simply with some greens and fried rice.
While my enduring memory of this experience will be the Barramundi noodles, there is nothing to complain about here, nothing at all.

To finish the evening, we went with the "Its so tragically uncool it is almost cool" fried ice cream was nice and despite being deep fried was somehow refreshing with the berry sauce.

So Flower Drum still has "it" in spades and unlike the arms race at the fine dining end is actually relatively cheap for a night out in the fine dining end Melbourne's restaurant scene, in fact dinner here was about the same price as the last time I visited which was the best part of a decade ago. There are still some loutish types frequenting like the diner behind me who requested an iPhone charger and proceeded to talk with his neck angled awkwardly towards the power point as food was served, but the things that matter like service and food are as good as it ever has been. Not bad for a restaurant approaching 40.

 Flower Drum - Winning, almost epically too!
Flower Drum on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Best mushroom risotto in the world II

One of my early blog entries - "Best Mushroom Risotto in the world" is also one of my most frequently visited. At the time I didn't actually post a recipe as I felt re-publishing a recipe from a cookbook without consent was inappropriate. Recently Shannon Bennett published his recipe for Mushroom Stock online which is the foundation for what can only be described as the best Mushroom Risotto in the world. Good news!!

I basically follow the recipe without the shaved truffle and add a splash of cream. 

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Vue de Monde

Rialto 525 Collins Street  
Melbourne VIC 3000

Vue de Monde, wow, best restaurant in Melbourne by a long shot and now has spectacular views to match the food.

Now I have summed up what dining at Vue de Monde is like, I can share with you what the experience of going to Vue is most similar to.

Vue de Monde reminds me of an experience I have had before. However, this experience has no dining relation whatsoever. We arrived at Vue de Monde on a wintry Melbourne night with spectacular views from the top of the Rialto. I had been at Vue de Monde before at Little Collins St and despite having been to Vue de Monde before and despite knowing what the new menu contained and despite a resolve to exercise restraint, Vue de Monde seduced me to spend well beyond my intentions.

The experience at Vue de Monde in the new and spectacular Rialto location reminded me more of buying a BMW than a typical restaurant experience. Despite the allure of the sensible base model, you end up going up a few models in a blink of an eye. Then once you have selected the model, there are all manner of extras, 18" Tyres? Sat Nav? Matching wine? Nice matching wine? Really, really, nice matching wine? In both situations it is so easy to go beyond your intended budget, but deep down you always knew you were going to.

After taking our seats in the rather comfortable and somewhat furry seats we were greeted with an amazing array of canapes. There were a wide range of flavours and textures that served as a palate warmup for the upcoming meal. In particular the salt cured wallaby and smoked eel with white chocolate & caviar canapes stood out. The presentation on various rocks and plates showed that there has been a major plating re-think since our last visit.

The first course to arrive of Spanner crab, kholrabi, avocado & caviar was a great start to proceedings. Avacado and shellfish are a classic pairing for a reason and worked well. Kholrabi and the pig face garnish provided some great texture.

The next course of marron & tarragon butter stood out for many reasons. There was simple understatement, the contrast of the bright marron on the granite slate, very few items on the plate and then the lack of cutlery. Simply pick up the marron, slosh in the butter, dip in the salt and bite. The wager biscuit added some crunch, but this is just genius stuff.

Now we hit the truffle dish of the evening, the playful breakfast style duck egg with truffle, pickle onion, sweet breads covered with generous slices of truffle. Brilliant, not overly contrived and is full of great flavours and textures. Luckily we had plenty of bread to mop the plate as the jus & egg yolk made for a nice gooey sauce. Brilliant.
 After the openting tour de force of flavour, we were greeted with the palate cleanser of cucumber sorbet and micro herbs that you mash with a pestle after being doused in liquid nitrogen. This is possibly the coolest thing I've done in a dinner and it also a big risk for the team at Vue. I'd hate to imagine the results if the liquid nitrogen were to pour on to ones lap after some vigorous mashing. The cleanser itself? Brilliant.
The next two courses moved along seemingly quite quickly, the Barramundi dish was excellent and similarly the Blackmore Wagyu served two ways as braised and grilled beef was too excellent. The use of a tableside yakitori grill was cute and despite the very brief time on the grill the beef was top grade. Both dishes stood out for being great and very much gimmick free. Double Brilliant.
Along with the food, I should also mention the wine. When it comes to matching wine, I've been stung before where pours are somewhat underwhelming and some selections have seem interesting, but not interesting good. Fortunately we had an excellent sommelier who was clear with pour, price and quality upfront so we knew what to expect. We certainly got a range of enjoyable wines and when there is Dom included, it's even better.

After another palate cleanser we moved to dessert and again things have changed. I've always enjoyed desserts at Vue and the first dessert of spiced pear, caramel and hazelnut was a no disappointment. The textures of crispy thin pastry, spicy pear, caramel and the truffle ice cream was not an instant wow, but by the end of it there was a sense of "I could go on with more of this"

The saddest part our first dessert was knowing the final course was on its way. The chocolate soufflé looked almost pedestrian by Vue standards, but fortunately it made up for it with flavour and what could possibly be the best soufflé I have ever had. So this  sums up the latest incarnation of Vue de Monde. The gimmicks of yesteryear are gone, ill conceived concepts like chickpea chips are nowhere to be seen and instead great flavours and textures a central to the Vue de Monde experience.

So following my BMW analogy to it's logical conclusion one could liken the Vue de Monde experience of yesteryear like the Chris Bangle era of BMW, generally interesting, but often polarizing and occasionally off the mark. Today, both seem to have a strong identity but are more enjoyable across the board coming towards middle ground and despite going way over budget, you leave not caring knowing that the experience is well worth it.

Vue de Monde - Expensively epic win
Vue de Monde on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Isthmus of Kra

50 Park St
South Melbourne, VIC

There seems to have been a bit of an 80's resurgence of late, 80's movies like Total Recall being remade, 80's music & excessive hair featuring in Rock of Ages, however, culinary tastes of the 80's is not something that has enjoyed any sort of resurgence.

In fact I would be hard pressed to name too many restaurants of note that were there in the 80's and still operating today. Of course there are restaurants that have been around since the 80's but not many that proudly state the year of origin of their dish. So it was with some surprise to look over the menu of The Isthmus of Kra to see that some of the creations date back to the decade of flourescent lycra and Dallas.

To show that it is not all trading off past hits, the menu is broken by course in to Our Classics and New, both sections have a lot of attractive dishes but having been a good 5 years since my last visit it was classics all the way.

Pandan Chicken [Isthmus of Kra restaurant, 1989] - Win
The entree order of pandan chicken arrived with a carrot twirl garnish that I am sure is a throwback to 80's plating is simply delicious. While it is a bit cumbersome unwrapping the leaves, what lies inside is about as good as chicken gets. Moist with a delicious thick sauce, the sugar in the sauce caramalises during cooking so there are lots of nice flavours.

Venison Wok-singed [Monsoon restaurant, 1993] - Epic Win
I think I tried this dish way back in the 90's when I worked around the corner from The Isthmus of Kra and this is as enjoyable today as it was back then. The ever so tender venison marries well with the crunchy vegetables and chilli. The spice levels are spot on and the chilli reaches a noticable level, but never gets to overpowering.

Lamb Gulai [Isthmus of Kra restaurant, 2002] - Win

So the lamb gulia is a relative newcomer for The Isthmus of Kra coming on to the menu in the naughties. The thick curry has plenty of spice and perfectly cooked lamb, the kind that is able to be broken up with a fork.
Compared to oh-so-many pedestrian Thai curries out there, this was a pure joy and while the odd piece of cardoman and curry leaf got in the way, it is kind of nice to know the spices are definitely in there.

Time has not wearied The Isthmus of Kra, while not much has changed inside, the food remains relevant and of high standard. I'll definitely return again soon and may even dare to try the new dishes, as long as I resist that knockout venison dish.

The Isthmus of Kra - Win
Isthmus of Kra on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tim Ho Wan

Shop 8, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok.
Kowloon, Hong Kong.

With an exterior covered in scaffolding in a dingy back street of Mong Kok, if it weren't for the mob out the front, you would barely notice it as a restaurant, let alone the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world. 
Once you get up close, the story doesn't get much better, covered in photo's of their dumplings, post it notes and various press articles it doesn't have the appearance of your typical Michelin fine diner. Unlike most Michelin fine diners, there are no of reservations. You want to eat at Tim Ho Wan, be prepared to queue.
The queue system is basic but efficient, locals get a yellow menu in Cantonese, gwailo's get one in white, on it a number is written and the wait begins. Getting there around 12:45 was a bit risky, I was expecting at least a 30 minute queue, but within 20 minutes we were in with our order placed and expectations set for some great dumplings. Orders are placed upfront and we weren't game to risk being unable to re-order so we ordered what most would consider a very generous set. The interior at Tim Ho Wan matches the exterior, very basic with tables literally next to each other and not much room to move. Not a restaurant for the claustrophobic.

Without too much of a wait, first dish arrives and with this things got off to a great start, the baked pork buns were superb. The buns were very short and the bbq pork inside simply perfect. The surface of the buns were coated like the melon bread one would get a breadtop. It doesn't take long for one to forget the details of the environment realise the food here is pretty special.

Top Left - Steamed Shrimp Dumplings
Top Right - Vermicelli roll stuffed with Shrimp
Bottom - Shumai

During the course of lunch we sampled 8 dishes, with the exception the fried noodles all were exceptional. The highlights other than the baked buns were the shrimp dumplings which were possibly the best dumplings I have ever had. The filling was light and the skin translucent, firm but not chewy and not sticky, I was very glad that we ordered an extra serve.

Of course the question readers will want to know is, how cheap is the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world? Very cheap, lunch for two a mere $25 AUD total, yep, $12 each, less than the cost of one plate at some Yum Cha restaurants. 
Don't look for white linen, don't look for a wine list, just look for the one of the best value dining experiences on the planet.

Tim Ho Wan - The only way an Epic Win would be cheaper would be if it were for free.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

La Rochelle Sanno

2-10-3 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, 

Despite being out of production for over 10 years, Iron Chef still has a cult status amongst foodies around the world. Partly for being a cooking show that was about restaurant level cooking and partly because of the Japanese "campiness". It has also enjoyed years of repeats locally on SBS to the point where it was the Get Smart of Saturday night.

A trip to Tokyo for me wouldn't be complete without at least dropping in to one of the Iron Chef's restaurants. These days, the Iron Chef's are more resteraunters than chefs, but then again how many celebrity chefs aren't? In my last trip to Tokyo I managed to get to three of the restaurants owned by Iron Chefs Sakai, Kenichi and Ishinabi. This time around though with room for only one, the hard decision of going with Sakai again was made. 

This time around we went to Sakai's La Rochelle Sanno restaurant which has been open for about 18 months in a business part of Tokyo. The restaurant itself is a more modern and relaxed compared to the Minami-Aoyama restuarant and does well for it.

L: Amuse Bouche
R: Kingfish Sashimi

The food too is also more relaxed to than the last visit. It is still technical and still flavoursome, but the plating is a lot less busy and is more influenced by Japanese techniques. This was evidenced by the amuse bouche featuring a burdock soup and a first course of sashimi.

L: White asparagus wrapped prawn with caviar cream
R: Parsley crusted sea bass

The next few courses started to show a bit more French flair and technique. The asparagus wrapped prawn was definitely a winner. The prawn was ever so slightly cooked giving it a gelatinous texture and the pairing with asparagus caviar cream worked well. The parsley crusted sea bass was also another winner, the lightness of hand showed off the flavour and texture of the fish.

The final savoury course was also my favourite, chicken stuffed with bacon foie gras. The humble chicken was cooked perfectly and the filling of bacon foie gras was enough to add flavour without overpowering or leaving one feeling weighed down.

Deserts are also more relaxed in the new La Rochelle. The desert cart offered several choices of cakes, sorbets and preserved fruit. All were of high standard and the plating impeccable. In a nod to cherry blossom season, our plates were painted with sauce blossoms to reflect the season.

Overall this was an excellent lunch experience with no disappointments and impeccable service. It did make me wonder why this restaurant is overlooked a Michelin star in the Tokyo guide. Perhaps there is an anti-Iron Chef sentiment in the Michelin team as it is an excellent dining experience and would be on par with any 1 or 2 Michelin star restaurant that I have been to. I think that is endorsement enough as a restaurant to go to if you are lucky enough to get to Tokyo.

La Rochelle - Epic Win

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bar Pulpo

Melbourne International Airport (T2)
Melbourne, VIC 3045

For some reason I have never made it to MoVida, or any of the MoVida spin off's until now. It isn't because  I dislike Spanish food, quite the contrary, it is more likely to do with never being able to get a table without a queue or at a time that suits.

So finally I get the opportunity to sample some of MoVida's food at Melbourne airport, plenty of chairs the only thing required to get a table is an international boarding pass!

The layout is casual and open, not a bad move considering the luggage and carry on that the average traveller has with them. The large TV with departures though leaves you with no mistake that you are at the airport.

Food wise Movida Bar Pulpo is what one would expect, Tapas & Raciones which for the most part are under $10 and $20 respectively.

Croqueta - Win
The croqueta of leek & cheese was pleasant, not greasy, not too heavy. It would be a struggle to really improve this.

Vieira - Oven baked scallop with Jamon & Potato Foam - Middle of the Road.
The order of scallops were delivered perched on rock salt and looked very pretty. However, the subtle flavour of scallop was overpowered by the jamon. It was still enjoyable, but when jut a shame the balance wasn't quite there.

Cordoniz San Jacabo - Boned half quail filled with jamon and mahon cheese - Win
I was bitterly disappointed to miss out on the last lamb cutlet of the day, as a result I went for the quail filled with jamon and cheese as an alternative. Crunchy on the outside and ever so moist on the inside the quail has enough presence to stand up to the jamon. The only criticism was the use of thyme was a bit heavy handed.

Bar Pulpo is certainly a worthy spot to kill some time while waiting for a flight for those of us unfortunate enough not to be in a business lounge. Airport food has come a long way, shame in flight still has a long way to go.

Bar Pulpo by Movida - Win
Bar Pulpo By Movida on Urbanspoon

Prawn Star