Trouble in Melbourne
Regular followers of this blog are probably familiar with cousin trouble and geek hubby. They’re frequent visitors to Melbourne, with the specific intent of eating here. Something about Melbourne’s food landscape keeps drawing them back. I feel a similar pull with hawker food in Southeast Asia, although that is slowly fading.
Just to give you a sense of the food trail that’s been charted for this visit, this teaser post will touch on all the places covered during their 10-day visit. Hence my title “Trouble in Melbourne”.
In here, I’ll also touch on how service can play a huge part in the experience and overall enjoyment of a meal. Thankfully, almost all of the venues (with the exception of two) gave good service. I hope you’ll enjoy this epic whirlwind of a food tour!
Bishop Of Ostia
I took cousin trouble and geek hubby here, straight from the airport, on a Sunday night. It turned out to be more of a drinks and bar-food kind of place rather than a serious food destination. However, we were very smitten with the pumpkin ice cream sandwich, created by Vanessa in the kitchen.
We’d also like to thank Marek, the restaurant manager at the Bishop, who took really good care of our group. To read a more detailed account of this visit, I’ve blogged it here.
The scales swung the other way on Monday night though, where we had a rather unpleasant service hiccup at Mark Best’s Pei Modern. Granted, the food was actually quite good. However, they missed out on a course in our 7-course tasting menu (hence only 6 dishes pictured above). Quite a huge mistake for such a high calibre restaurant. When we queried about the missing course, our waitress did not exactly apologise. Worse still, she continued to charge us full price! Cousin trouble and geek hubby were very very unimpressed. For the full story, I’ve described it (as an addendum) at the end of my previous blog post of Pei Modern.
Pei Modern’s restaurant manager, Ainslie, did call with a heartfelt apology the next day though, but only after I voiced my thoughts out over twitter. Apparently, our waitress did not inform her of the hiccup at our table that night. If she had been informed, I think things might’ve turned out differently. While I appreciate her apology, I still think it’s a case of too little, too late. Incidentally, Ainslie has been awarded Gourmet Traveller’s 2013 Maître d’ of the Year. Fancy awards aside, I think the staff under her still needs to alert her of such service errors in the future!
L’atelier by Monsieur Truffe
Brunswick East (Party of 5)
On Tuesday (my off day), I took trouble and hubby to L’atelier by Monsieur Truffe. This is a café that, I believe, serves the best hot chocolate in Melbourne. Trouble loved it so much that she wanted to know the secret behind how to make it.
Spring eggs in a jar w zucchini blossoms, asparagus, potato & goat’s curd, served with smoked trout $17
On a side note, I’ve only recently discovered that the brunch fare here is also pretty spectacular!
Warm salad of crispy polenta, asparagus, olives, tomato & hand-rolled mozzarella $16
Corned beef has with parsley kasundi, a fried egg, and herb salad $17
Trouble now considers L’atelier Monsieur Truffe as one of her favourite brunch spots in Melbourne, right with Matt Wilkinson’s Pope Joan.
Red Door Corner Store
Northcote (Party of 5)
Piccolo $3.5 | Housemade Coconut Crumpets, rooftop honey, berry jam, Myrtleford butter $9.5
We continued our brunch trail with a visit to Red Door Corner Store, where the coffee’s consistently good, and the brunch fare pretty solid. I previously blogged about this place in July 2011, back when I was quite new to brunching!
Grilled Semolina, portobello mushrooms, wilted spinach, taleggio, shaved parmesan, truffle oil, poached egg $14.5
Brioche French toast, poached pear, passionfruit crème fraiche, candied hazelnuts $15.0
St Kilda (Party of 4)
Left: Baked meringue, vanilla, rose & lychee 15 | raspberries, white chocolate, tapioca & yuzu 15
Right: New England Lobster Roll 15 | Rhubarb & ginger beer sorbet 9 | Peanut butter parfait, salted caramel & soft chocolate 10
(photos by geek hubby)
Aaand… just as I thought we were done for the afternoon, trouble decided she wanted to sample some of Andrew McConnell’s ‘light’ desserts at Golden Fields! Now you know how cousin trouble has well and truly earned her nickname. We had all of the above dishes, it was nearly 5pm, and my tummy was sooo ready to go into hibernation.
But at 8pm that very same night, we still had dinner with Daisy! So I basically had to coo “wakey wakeeey, tummeh! Time to continue digestiiing!”.
I’ve since blogged about Casa Ciuccio here, it was a good meal! We let our lovely waitress, Kim, choose the dishes for us. She did a wonderful job!
Moon Under Water
(photo by geek hubby)
On Wednesday night, we made a pilgrimage to Andrew McConnell’s latest venture in Fitzroy. The entire meal reminded me of being in a powdery-white nautical ship… oddly dreamlike. I’ve blogged about this experience already, you can read it here.
Reeling from surfeit, I did not accompany trouble and hubby for their food jaunts all of Thursday, but here’s geek hubby’s photos of their degustation lunch at Loam on that day. Once again, it stands as one of the best meals out of the entire trip. At the end of their lunch, they even walked across the fields to say hi to chef Aaron Turner… who was catching yabbies!
(photos by geek hubby)
Lunch at Loam ended quite late, and by the time they got back to Melbourne, it was pretty much dinnertime. I did not join them for this meal at The Aylesbury, but believe they enjoyed it. My previous visit to The Aylesbury was for a molecular gastronomy themed meal called Molecular Mondays, I’ve yet to eat there proper.
Trouble and geek hubby are big fans of Nic Poelart’s progressive (Modern French) food, as evidenced by my gushy review of Embrasse in Carlton last year. Now that Nic has moved his operations into the CBD, we were really keen on checking it out.
Unfortunately, the start of our night at Brooks Bar annoyed me so much that I refused to take any photos (haha… such a princess!). Thankfully, geek hubby had brought his camera and took over that role. Traffic that Friday evening was horrific and we arrived 15mins late, at 6.45pm. When we indicated that we were keen on going with the 5-course tasting menu, our waiter informed us that it can’t be done because we had to vacate our table at 8pm.
Nic’s souvenir of Laguiole: Meli of vegetables 20
Native fresh water crayfish bisque, leeks, aromatics
(next photo) The tail, cauliflower, potatoes, pickled grapes, bay leaf – served in two courses 62
Thing is, when I first made the booking, I wasn’t told about the time limit. With just 1 hour and 15 mins to eat in such a fine dining type of establishment, we felt terribly pressured to make our ordering decisions fast. It reached a point where dining there wasn’t enjoyable anymore, we almost wanted to walk out. I mean… to be honest, how can a restaurant that offers a tasting menu hold two seating sessions in one night? Even if we’d arrived on time at 6.30pm, there wouldn’t be enough time for that.
Snapper, beets, onion, wasabi, honey, unripe strawberry 19
Bundarra pork, bee pollen, cauliflower, rockweed, sorrel 25
Beef rump cap, mimolette, burnt vegetables, hay, ginger 28
The tail (see previous photo)
We chose our dishes in a god-awful hurry, and thankfully, that’s where the unhappiness ended. Once Nic’s food arrived, my mood almost instantly soared into the stratosphere…
… practically every dish was stunning!
Here’s me, wiping up every last smear off the plate from my beef rump cap mains.
‘Forest floor’, hazelnut parfait 18
Trouble thinks Nic Poelart’s food has taken another step forward since her last visit. Even his signature ‘forest floor’ dessert dish, which carried over from Embrasse, seemed to be more beautifully plated than before.
However, trouble thought his other signature dish, the Meli of vegetables (first photo), seemed to have lost some of its artistry from its Embrasse days. True enough, Fakegf (who ordered it) felt there was a bit too much going on (aesthetically and taste-wise) in that dish.
Salt and caramel ice cream, potato, lemon, fromage blanc 18
This visit was one of very rare instances where the food in a restaurant was so good that it was able to quell my initial anger over our booking. And later on, they eventually managed to shift tables and bookings so we could stay past 8pm.
I’ll conclude by saying that while I’m in love with Nic’s wonderful cooking at Brooks Bar, I was less impressed with the service side of the restaurant. Our waiter wasn’t all that friendly either and he forgot to serve butter with our first lot of bread. I currently have mixed feelings about coming back even though the food was so good. But if I do revisit, I will make doubly sure that we get a table for the entire evening instead of a rushed seating session.
On Saturday, we lunched at George Calombaris’s Hellenic Republic, and that meal was really really good! Service was just wonderful and we’d like to thank our lovely waitress, Carly, for taking care of our table so well. Read my account of this meal here.
Yabbies & Mussels stir-fry | Whole Silver Dory
But no Melbourne visit for trouble and hubby would be complete without a pilgrimage to Claypots. Fresh fresh seafood, cooked simply in an Asian-Mediterranean style. We lunched there on Sunday, pure satisfaction!
Cousin trouble and geek hubby finally made it to The Estelle this trip round, and they really enjoyed it!
We visited Sunday night and went with the 9-course tasting menu, priced at $110. For the first time, I took a break from chronicling food, so while we have photos of the dishes (once again taken by geek hubby), I don’t have the descriptions.
So many good dishes!
Our waiter/bartender, Luke, also deserves special mention. He comes across as the gruff, solemn tough-guy sort, but in a nice way. And he mixed the best cocktails out of all the restaurants we visited this trip, cousin trouble ordered so many rounds of cocktails from him until she got quite tipsy!
You may want to read about my previous visit at The Estelle in Oct 2011.
(photos by geek hubby)
While I was at work on Monday, my visitors checked out another Melbourne institution for a Mexican lunch. They liked it!
For a closer peek at this restaurant, you may want to read my previous blog post about Mamasita.
Circa The Prince
St Kilda (Party of 3)
On our final night of dining, we chose to revisit Circa The Prince. The fit-out and menu has changed entirely since our previous visit in May last year. Circa is now under Melbourne Pub Group, who also manages Newmarket Hotel, Albert Park Hotel and Middle Park Hotel.
We discovered the menu is more Asian themed with a Western twist now. But sadly, it was fusion that isn’t to our liking. Most of the dishes leant on the mild and heavy-sweet side, we did not enjoy this meal.
Hare & Grace
seared quail, melted onions, blueberries, onion essence
And finally, we lunched here right before I sent trouble and hubby to the airport on Tuesday.
This was another outstanding meal! Our waitress, Randi, was also really good. She suggested, queued and timed the flow of our dishes perfectly. Read about this visit here.
That’s the end of cousin trouble’s Melbourne visit… can you believe it? Sixteen places in ten days! Hope you enjoyed this whirlwind of a teaser post.