‘The Overrated Dinner’

Sometime last month, I’d just hopped into Fakegf’s car when she showed me a tweet about this curious event. She asked “Eh… you wanna go to this one?”. And I, of course, did my auto-yes!

The theme itself bespoke cheekiness. Calling it ‘The Overrated Dinner’, you could almost tell that Jess Ho had something to do with it. The dinner was a reaction against the usual fancier-themed dinners such as Wagyu / Truffle / Wine dinners. Instead, it’s about “reviving the love of typically underrated ingredients and understanding that ritual and creativity is better than a shortcut.” (Source: The Wine Guide)

The Overrated Dinner

So what we got was a six course meal with matched drinks for $85. Pretty good value. And not just that, it’s cooked by chef Michael Ryan (The Provenance, Beechworth), who’d just recently been awarded The Age’s Chef of the Year, and his restaurant, Regional Restaurant of the Year.

The event was held at Rockwell & Sons in Collingwood, so I jumped at the opportunity to sample Michael’s style of food without doing a long drive to and from Beechworth. Thanks to Fakegf’s quick reflexes, we bought the tickets early. The event sold out pretty quick!

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BBQ shapes
Bread with virgin butter

On the day itself, the venue was pretty much filled with Melbourne’s foodie twitterati. Before the food started coming, sommelier Dan Sims welcomed us, then chef Michael Ryan explained how the theme was about going ‘back to basics’ and ‘stopping the hype’. Michael then described the first three courses, but being a chef, he’s not one for oratory speeches. So as interesting as I’m sure the dishes were, I could hardly catch anything that he said…!

We started off with nibbles and bread. The BBQ shapes tasted like pizza shapes. The bread tasted like bread, but good bread, with delicious yoghurt-like whipped butter.

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Fermented stuff

These pickles were still part of the first course, prepared in various exciting ways that I couldn’t catch from Michael’s murmuring.

Of the 4 types, we loved the kim chi on the right best, its flavour profile was so incredibly nuanced. Possibly even better than Korean kim chi! The daikon on the left was pickled with sake and it packed a surprising alcoholic punch. Fakegf also liked the celery, which I found quite salty.

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The whole of the cauliflower

Course two consisted of cauliflower and scallops. The florettes were roasted with butter while its leaves came pickled. The other ingredient, if I heard correctly, was rehydrated, fried, and then dehydrated scallops. I did not find this dish that memorable, but I think Fakegf liked it.

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Cured mullet

Course three consisted of mullet cured with sake, konbu, sugar and salt. If there’s one thing I learnt that night, it’s that Michael Ryan really knows how to cure, pickle and marinate stuff. The mullet was just lovely, although I wished we could actually enjoy it on its own.

The other components in the dish, like the pickled white asparagus and mini cubes of strongly citrus something, made things taste quite confusing. All that said, the other veggies that were in this dish also tasted lovely.

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Rice, peas and mushrooms

The menu description for course four made us look forward to having a risotto of sorts. But what arrived bordered on being quite molecular instead. The ‘rice’ came as savoury mochi balls filled with minced shiitake mushrooms. Yes… savoury mochi… yeeks!! That disc on the right is a sliced stalk of mushroom, and there’s mushroom powder sprinkled on top.

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Fakegf declared “this is the weirdest dish I’ve ever had!”. It made me laugh, because I agreed too!

The seaweediness of the konbu (Japanese kelp) in and around the whole dish overpowered everything and we struggled with the metallic flavour of seaweed. The konbu-shiitake broth’s gooey consistency also did not help when eaten with the soft mochi balls. Texturally, I’d have hoped for something with more of a crunch to help take us away from the seaweedy flavour. We had difficulties finishing this dish.

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Tongue, brisket, tendon

Just when we were starting to think this meal was living up to its name of being ‘Overrated’, a perfectly executed fifth course arrived.

The thinly sliced ox tongue was chargrilled, the brisket pulled, and the smoky tendon cooked overnight. The use of crisp daikon slices gave great textural and cleansing counterpoint. We had no complaints here.

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Unfinished drinks

On a side note, these were the matched drinks for the last 3 courses. The wine and cocktail pairings were selected by sommelier Dan Sims. I actually enjoyed the drinks, but alas, I drove that evening, so could only take an appreciative sip or two. Next dinner, I’ll tram it!

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Berry’s Creek Mossvale Blue cheese

The evening ended nicely with each of us getting a rather huge chunk of lovely blue cheese with apple, walnut and celery. Pairing celery with blue cheese was new to me, and it actually worked very well.

I loved the theme of this dinner but left with mixed feelings about it. Some of the dishes did not work that well with me, and I thought there was quite a lot of molecular fussing around (mochi rice, mushroom powder, dehydrated scallops…) for a dinner that was meant to be ‘back to basics’.

Still, this was but the first of a series of such interestingly themed dinners planned by Jess Ho and friends. I’m sure some ironing out of the creases is to be expected at the start. But I look forward to discovering what they’ll come up with next!