Friday, 30 April 2010

Stephen Wiltshire

Stephen Wiltshire MBE is an artist from the UK who specialises in detailed cityscapes. At the age of 3 Stephen was diagnosed as autistic. He learned to communicate through his art and he eventually learned to speak by the age of nine. Stephen is to able to view a cityscape for 20 to 40 minutes and then go off and draw that view from memory. He was in Sydney, at Customs House, this week drawing the Sydney cityscape below after taking in the view from the Centrepoint Tower for 40 minutes. The artwork was done in ink and is amazingly detailed. Stephen is in Australia as a guest of Autism Spectrum Australia. Of course politicians have to jump in on the act to boost their profile and that is why Kristina Keneally, the current NSW Premier, is in the pictures below.

The Sydney Morning Herald has story and video about Stephen's visit here.

More info about Stephen Wiltshire can be found on his website:

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Donovans House

Usually when we go to a Good Food Guide Hat awarded restaurant I will nit pick one thing or another or complain about the price but on the whole they, the hatted restaurants, are usually pretty bloody good. I am sad to say that our experience at Donovans House was very ordinary. Unfortunately it wasn't up to the standard of 2 Hat restaurant of which it has been awarded. The meal wasn't as good as a cheap pub meal in which the reviewers for the Good Food Guide would only give 12 out of 20 (a score of 15 out of 20 will get you a hat, the Aussie equivalent of a Michelin Star). A restaurant needs a score of 12 to even make the Good Food Guide book.
Donovans has much going for it. The location, the casual dining, a menu that looks good on paper with fairly reasonable prices. A little bit high for lunch but that is a nit pick. What it didn't have going for it on the day we visited was the execution. Maybe we visited on an off day. Hatted restaurants shouldn't have off days though. Many reviewers rave about this place. After our visit I just don't get it. Maybe it is political.

We all had the Rich crab bisque with a crispy soft shell crab for $19.50. The bisque was okay but I expected to have crispy soft shell crab in the soup not battered on the side and most definitely not with an ordinary softish batter. It wasn't as crispy and tempura like as I would expect. But it was okay - not horrible but really not up to GFG 2 Hat standard.
Next I had the Black Angus T-bone of beef from the Western District with served with house chips, tossed cos leaves and homemade condiments for $45.00. I'll be buggered why an Angus t-bone would be 45 bucks. McDonalds serves Angus burgers these days for god's sake. I was prepared to be wowed. I asked for medium rare. What I got was, well check out the photo below. See the black steak. Black Angus is the breed of cow. It isn't the colour after you burn it. I love char grilled steaks where the outside is slightly burned or seared. This steak was burnt and overly well done. Any more we would have needed an urn. The garnish of leaves were like a wreath placed on charred corpse. RIP cow. It was tough and had a flavour, apart from charcoal, that was slightly unpleasant. This was a rookie mistake. A first week apprentice should know how to cook steak. The house chips were basically unpeeled potato wedges. Nothing wrong with that but I prefer chips or fries. The problem with the chips was they were overcooked too. The potato was flowery and yucky. The home made condiments, I had the mustard, tasted like store bought mustard. I couldn't tell the difference.
Why I didn't send the steak back I don't know. Actually I do. Service was slow. Really slow. We had to wait for some time for our meals. I wasn't going to wait again.
Moira and Michelle had Linguine with seafood and Western Australian scampi in an entree size for $29.50. According to the waitress the difference between a main and an entree is the amount of pasta. As a main it cost $39 so apparently that means a little bit more pasta costs 10 bucks more because apparently you get the same amount of seafood in the entree and the main. Again that is nit picking but according to Michelle and Moira the seafood was overcooked. The scampi, which was the centre piece, was flowery. When shellfish go flowery they've been way over cooked. Scampi should be sweet and delicate and juicy. This was most definitely not. As I said a rookie should know better than to send this out of the kitchen.
Grilled asparagus, herb crumbs, brown butter and Italian prosciutto with a poached egg for $23.00. No complaints about this one. It wasn't too bad at all.

A few times we've had an average meal but it has been saved by the dessert. We had hope. They sounded good. Michelle wasn't going to risk it though, so it was down to Moira and myself.
I had Donovans 'golden gaytime' with buttermilk and caramel ice creams and oat crumble for $19.50. It wasn't too bad. I quite liked it. As advertised it did taste like a 'Golden Gaytime'. I love Gaytimes but as Michelle said I can usually get one from any old shop for 3 bucks.
Moira had the Hot chocolate soufflé with espresso ice cream for $19.50. Okay, this is where there was something seriously wrong. Even Guy Grossi's chocolate soufflé we had on Friday night was at least a soufflé. To remind you what a souffle looks like click here to see one Michelle made and here to see Guy Grossi's. Donovans' soufflé was not a soufflé. I've re-checked their menu and they definitely call this thing a soufflé. What I think they served Moira was a self saucing chocolate pudding or fondant and a poorly executed fondant at that. It was overcooked and it was in fact burnt on the base. It wasn't served in a small pot or ramekin. You can't extract a soufflé from the dish it is cooked in without it collapsing. There was no way this thing was going to collapse, dish or no. Not good at all.

I really don't mind spending lots of money on good food. But to serve this stuff up in a hatted restaurant is unforgivable. We should have voiced our displeasure on the day but by then we were over it. Michelle is thinking of writing a letter but in the meantime she wrote a review on Eatabilty. Click here to read her review.

Donovans House is at 40 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda, Victoria and for some reason has been awarded 2 Hats by the Good Food Guide.


Today is Anzac Day. You can edumacate yourself on Anzac Day by reading the wiki here if you're not familiar with our annual holiday. Google even changed their doodle for the day.

We're going to St Kilda, a beach side Melbourne suburb, for lunch. First though we have to brave the hordes heading into Melbourne for the Anzac Day march. We forgot about that little detail when we struck out for Melbourne. There were about a gazillion people lining the streets to watch the old diggers file past and the parade route is on the the main street, St Kilda Road, into St Kilda. We had to take an alternate route via the St Kilda Beach tram. Before that we did check out the march. As we arrived the march stopped and then we heard sirens. Dozens of police cars and ambulances were weaving through the parade heading for god knows what. We heard people saying there must've been a shooting or a bad accident. My guess was an accident in the parade. It turns out one of the World War 2 trucks carrying some veterans lost control and ploughed into a group of old diggers. A couple were critically hurt. We didn't see that though.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Jacques Reymond

Jacques Reymond Cuisine du Temps is the last of Australia's current crop of Good Food Guide 3 Hat restaurants we've yet to try. On this slightly damp Melbourne evening we remedied that. JR is in Prahran, about 10 minutes from the city, and is in a fabulous old 1880's Victorian mansion.
Wandering up the drive-way gave me the same sort of sense of expectation as when we first confronted Joel Robuchon's chateau in Tokyo. So far so good. Apart from a wedding party upstairs we looked to be the first customers to arrive for the evening.
To start the ball rolling we order a couple of German Pilseners. Can you have German Pilseners? Maybe it was Czech. Maybe it wasn't Pils. I think it started with 'T'. I only had one. No, really. A good brew though.
We've decided to go with Jacques 'A Taste Of Our Degustation Menu'. Eight courses. Oh yeah, bring it on.

Cheesy puff pastries for starters. Cheesy and light. A good if unusual start.

When I going the whole hog with the degustation thing I don't usually like to fill up on bread beforehand but this bread was pretty good as was the unsalted Euro style butter. I prefer salty butter but for an unsalted butter it was still full of buttery goodness.

Lemongrass, spinach and rock lobster soup, fragrant Tiger prawn, sweet potato and turmeric ice cream
2004 Tyrrell’s HVD Semillon, Single Vineyard, Hunter Valley, NSW
This was a taste of Asia. Hints of Thai or Vietnamese we thought. Bloody lovely. Delicate, sweet and tasty. This is as good a start I've had for a degustation.

Sandwich of spanner crab, mirin and fresh wasabi jelly, lacquered Petuna ocean trout, black bean and sweetcorn dressing
Apparently we are doing a tour of Asia with this meal. This time we're off to Japan I reckon. The cured ocean trout is equal to the best cured fish I've ever had. Two dishes down and so far it has been superb.

Wild barramundi, almond and bush mountain pepper caramel, yoghurt and black garlic, kaffir lime and lemongrass espuma
2008 Toolangi Estate ‘Jacques Reymond Selection’ Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Vic
I think we're still in Asia. This time over to the West in the Mid-East. I may be wrong but I think this fish has a hint of middle eastern flavours to it or maybe Indian. Whatever, again Jacques has hit this for six. His kitchen really do know how to prepare fish. This was perfect barra.

Pekin duck and Hervey bay scallops, peking juices, spiced marshmallow like a crêpe, crispy rice, ginger sesame and pandan oil
2007 Bass Phillip ‘Jacques Reymond Selection’ Pinot Noir, SE Gippsland, Vic
Okay this is one is easy. We've turned to north asia, specifically China. We're told that the chef prepares three ducks just to make the sauce. I've mentioned before in earlier blog posts that I'm not a fan of duck. Maybe it had to do with the freshly shot ducks we ate as kids. Horrible and gamey it was too. To make matters worse we had to be careful chomping down because occasionally we'd have to spit out the lead shot the duck had been shot with to make it a former duck. Anyway that is probably why I'm not a fan of duck. I think I may have to get over it because the duck I've had recently has been pretty tasty. This dish is no exception. I am going to use the superb word again. Superb. As Moira said to the waitress on the night, sensational. I think I counted her saying sensational at least 5 times. And it was.

I love having the recommended wines with each course. You get this lovely warm feeling all over. In some parts of the world they call that being pissed. Yup.
We also drank water. Initially we started with tap water but Melbourne tap water tastes funny. Not as bad as Adelaide's but it certainly isn't as tasteless, in a good way, as Sydney tap water. Actually come to think of it we switched to bottled mineral water the previous night at Grossi's and not here. Told you I had a few.

Highland venison like a warm carpaccio, horseradish mustard dressing, butternut pumpkin with honey and bitter chocolate beignet
2005 Dalwhinnie ‘Jacques Reymond Selection’ Shiraz, Pyrenees, Vic
Maybe I should have said the meal was inspired by Eurasian flavours and not just Asian. The venison is oh so tender. This is very French or possibly Italian. It is definitely from the Euro zone though.

Western plains suckling pig and tamarind, celeriac and bitter almond, dashi apple veil, dancing bonito flakes and rosella chutney salad, cavalo nero
2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Raymond Usseglio et Fils, Rhône Valley
One of the reasons I chose to do the full degustation was because of the suckling pig. Any time I see suckling pig on the menu, bang, I'm in. I don't know why baby pig is so tasty but it is. This is no exception. Again, I reckon this has Euro stamped all over it. There is a hint of Asia in the ingredients but it is all French or Italian or possibly even Spanish. It reminds me of one of the best meals of suckling pig I ever had in Madrid. Michelle, me, Matthew and Lucy (Matt and Lucy are friends from the UK) shared a suckling pig in what is claimed to be one of the oldest continuously run restaurants in Europe. Enough with the reminiscing this particular dish is splendid, superb and sensational.

Pacific Rim martini of pineapple, passionfruit and banana, liquorice ice cream and honeycomb
One of the other great things about degustation menus is there are usually two desserts. A martini of fruit and ice-cream couldn't be more refreshing. Delightful.

Millefeuilles of chocolate: white chocolate mousse, pure Caribbean chilli ice cream, dark chocolate mousse and praline ice cream
NV SeppeltsField Grand Tokay (Topaque), Barossa Valley, SA
Two ice-creams and two mousse topped with a delicate piece of yummy chocolate sitting on top of a slice of something crunchy and caramelly. Yummy, yummy and yummy. And for good measure, yummy.

Yessiree Bob. Three thumbs up.

Look, a piccolo latte. I asked our waitress if she knew what a piccolo latte was. She said she did and she also said she thought it may be a Sydney thing. Funny that. We were starting to think that ourselves. Kudos for the staff at Jacques Reymond knowing what a piccolo latte is though. The evening just gets better and better. It wasn't a bad coffee either.

See the photo above Guy Grossi. Eight, count 'em, eight petit fours. For three people. I wish I could make petit fours. Thankfully I don't have to. All I have to do is earn enough money to eat out at places like Jacques Reymond to get my P4 fix occasionally.

The girls wandered out into the garden to check out the suitability of the garden for cocktails and canapes for any future functions that may or may not come up. Or maybe they just went outside for fresh air. Fresh air is overrated as far as I am concerned. It was a bit cold too.

I got to meet Jacques. After a few wines you need to visit the little boys room occasionally. To get to the dunny you have to pass the kitchen. It is fascinating watching the proceedings in a kitchen like this. Jacques is like a general firing off commands and orders and all your hear in reply is a chorus of "yes chef". He caught me watching so, embarrassed, I ducked off back to our table.
Later we heard the people at the table next to us ask if Jacques could come out to meet them and get a photo taken. The waiter told them that he was still in service so he was too busy at the moment and would possibly come out later.
Jacques does keep an eye on proceedings. Like a good general he surveys the battlefield every so often to see how the campaign is taking shape.
Towards the end of the evening, fortified by wine, I asked the waitress if I could go and take a photo of the kitchen for my blog. Absolutely no problem she said so she took me to the kitchen where Jacques was looked as if he was in wind down mode. I was asked if I wanted to have a photo taken with Jacques. He made no objection and I was thrilled. In fact Jacques motioned for me to come into the kitchen to pose in a better position than at the door. That is why we're posing in front of the dessert and pastry station while one of the chefs prepares the chocolate dessert. I told Jacques that we had a brilliant evening and that, thank you, his food was superb. I even told the guy making the desserts he was doing a good job.
And that is how to get your photo taken with the maestro himself. Thank you Jacques Reymond.

Jacques Reymond Cuisine du Temps is fine fine fine dining. It is definitely the best place we've eaten at in Melbourne and is up there with finest restaurants we've eaten at anywhere. From the moment you walk into the luxurious dining room to the final petit four the whole experience is exquisite. As each course came out we thought they couldn't sustain the standard that the previous course had set. When you have 8, 9 or 10 courses you can sometimes expect to have one or two duds. Not here. Every single dish was delicious. No duds. The excellent service is friendly and relaxed and the excellent wines chosen by the sommelier complement the meal perfectly. Jacques Reymond has been in this mansion for 16 years. Hopefully he will be here for many years to come. I want to go again and I can't wait.

Jacques Reymond Cuisine du Temps is at 78 Williams Road Prahran in Victoria. The Good Food Guide has awarded Jacques 3 Hats.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Guy Grossi Florentino

Guy Grossi's Florentino is a Melbourne institution. We ate at his upstairs restaurant called The Restaurant. Guy is one of the many celebrity chefs doing the rounds in Australia now and is currently the co-host, with Maeve O'Meara, of SBS television's Italian Food Safari. Italian Food Safari is well worth catching by the way, and is on Thursday nights at 7.30pm.
But to The Restaurant. It is expensive. We knew that when we booked of course but it still seems a tad overpriced for the degustation menu. It is fine Italian dining and it is a 2 Hat restaurant but price wise it up there with the most expensive restaurants in Australia. Enough nit-picking, on to the food.

First up we had a palate cleanser or amuse bouche of some sort of creamy cheese concoction. For the life of me I can't remember exactly what it was. Moira and Michelle thought it tasted like baby food. I thought it was delicious though and bode well for the rest of the meal.

Moonlight Flat Oysters. Australia's best artisanally finished native oysters from Batemans Bay, natural with lime dressing.
Not photographed. Good oysters though. Moira and Michelle had one each and I managed to snag the other couple for myself.

We felt sorry for the couple on the left above. They were obviously waiting for another couple who did eventually turn up but they waited for well over a hour. I would have been more than a little annoyed.

Salumi. A plate of salumi hand crafted by Tony Sgro for Guy Grossi, Felsina extra virgin olive oil, cinerinio.
About as good salumi as we've had in Australia. Very very tasty. Almost melt in your mouth.

Scallops Half Shell with almond crust.
Perfectly seared scallop with a tasty almond crust. What more can I say but tasty. Well I could mention they were nine bucks a pop but that would naughty of me.

Sardines 'Pangrattato'. Crab filled, speck, 'Pangrattato', tomato sorbet, watermelon, balsamic, basil leaves.
What a star. If you like sardines you would love this. I expected a couple of fried sardines on a plate but the got this stuffed and rolled delicacy.

Risotto 'Venere'. Venere rice, Moreton Bay Bug, Parmesan Sabayon.
Risotto is one of things that can be really fudged up. This was as good a risotto as you could expect. Bursting with flavour and the rice just pops in your mouth. Moira and Michelle had this but I was able to extract a spoonful from them. So glad I did.

Zucchini Flowers, 'Caponata Siciliana', minted ricotta filled, endive, pumpkin juice.
Yummy. 'Nuff said.

Peppered Scallop Ravioli lemon, garlic, foie gras, peas.
Lovely big meaty scallops. Nice foie gras. I'm working my way through a mini-degustation of my own. I didn't go for the full degustation menu so I've sort of created my own by selecting a few entrees. The waiters thought it was amusing me ordering so much. Stuff 'em. I wanted to try a few things.

Duck and Wild Mushroom Tortellini. Intense duck jus, caramelised pear.
This was another dish the girls shared. I didn't have any but Michelle thought it was drier than she expected but Moira quite liked it. Michelle says she is inspired to attempt to make it herself. Can't wait for that one.

My fellow reviewers, Moira and Michelle. Half tanked they are. Not really - only joking ladies.
The man himself, Guy Grossi, poked his head into the dining room occasionally to check out proceedings. If I'd had a couple more myself I might have gone up to him asked him for a photo. Next time maybe.

'Carpretto' Baby Goat Wet Roast, Chestnut Flower Honey, Parsley Crisp, Goat's Cheese Gnocchi, Peas.
This was another share dish for the girls. Apparently the gnocchi was perfect. The goat may have been a little gamey but on the whole was quite good.

Suckling Pig, fried polenta... and other assorted delicious flavours. It was one of the specials for the day and not in the main menu and I didn't to take notes so I can't tell you exactly how it was described on the menu. Bloody lovely though. Rich, tender, moist and the crackling crackled. This was good pig.

Pre-dessert dessert. Again, can't remember what it was. I do remember it was sweet and delicious.

Cannoli 'Croquant', Burnt Butter Ice, Mango.
Michelle was looking forward to this. Grossi's cannoli had been featured on the first episode of Italian Food Safari and looked quite delicious. Michelle liked it but thought it was only okay - it didn't have the wow factor she was hoping for.

Valrhona Chocolate Souffle, Malt Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce.
Look at the photo above. See the lean in the souffle? Now click here and check out Michelle's chocolate souffle. Which do you think looks better? Look, it was okay but was it worth 26 bucks? Probably not.

Petit fours and caffe.
To write up this post I downloaded the menu from the Grossi Florentina website so I could get the details of the menu items we had right. I just realised our coffees were 8 bucks each. Sheeeit. I should've read the menu more closely on the night. As you can see from the picture above we only had 4 petit fours between the three of us. That is a bit rich. Usually, at other hatted places, we get a minimum of 4 when there is only Michelle and I. One place even packaged up another 8 for us to take home when we said we had enjoyed them so much. Again, see previous post, the waiters had no idea what a piccolo latte is. After we explained we got macchiato's and a jug of steamed milk so we could top them up to our hearts content.

On the whole we did have an excellent evening in The Restaurant. The service was friendly and attentive without being stuffy and in your face. Some of the dishes where superb and some were just okay. Nothing wrong with that but for the price you pay here you do expect a bit more of that 'wow' factor. It is still one of the better Italian meals I've eaten but I think Simone's in Bright shades it just that little bit. Coincidently Patrizia Simone from Simone's also made an appearance on the first episode of Italian Food Safari a few weeks ago too.

Grossi Florentino is a Good Food Guide Guide 2 Hat awarded restaurant and is at 80 Bourke Street in Melbourne, Victoria.