Servery and Spoon – An Open Letter to the Owner

Dear Mr Spoon,

Firstly please forgive me for not doing my research and finding your actual name, however, I’m very busy writing blogs, consulting and generally trying to be constructive to our beautiful hospitality industry. I’m hoping you won’t take offence at me calling you Mr Spoon, feel free to call me Oliver or even Sir, whatever you’re more comfortable with.

I’d imagine you have received numerous letters of complaints since opening from various crapulent, whining, vomit inducing, self-proclaimed experts. No doubt complaints range from the usual; the music was a decibel to loud, what a din, to the obscure; I ate in your restaurant and was startled to see that the egg was in fact not from a devoutly organic, scientology following chicken. These surely suck the very marrows from both you and your staff that are so eager to please, putting your egos and self-confidence aside by placing passion into your food, only to be sucker-punched by an armchair expert on a power trip on Urbanspoon.

As a result I wanted to put my thoughts of this morning’s breakfast into the public forum

Dukkah Crusted Eggs, roasted mushrooms, avocado on sourdough with grilled lime and ricotta.

Dukkah Crusted Eggs, roasted mushrooms, avocado on sourdough with grilled lime and ricotta.

and say what I’d imagine in this technology-centred culture is a rare thanks.

Your cafe itself is very welcoming, rustic charm with the Melbourne twist that we all so very much love. We were greeted, not with welcome arms like George Clooney if he’d have survived the Perfect Storm (a horrible movie by the way, 2 hours of my life that I’ll never get back), but by pleasant friendliness with an air of efficiency. The menu itself, not a picture book, not parachuted from the second story or flown in by doves riding unicorn backs, but again, an old-fashioned piece of paper. I was torn on what to order, always a good sign as generally I narrow down very easily. You had me worried for a moment, dukkah eggs, chorizo and kipfler hash or a smoked bacon omelette, so I had a quiet pep talk to myself, “Oliver don’t f*ck this up, Sunday is a highlight of the week, don’t ruin your whole day by ordering badly, leaving this pivotal decision to rot and chew away at your soul for the rest of your waking hours.”

Don’t you worry Mr Spoon, my pre-match team talk worked, I ordered dukkah crusted eggs, a sexy little dish made up of avocado smashed over fresh, crispy sourdough, spinach which had been lovingly wilted to within the cusp of giving up on it’s spinachy world, and pesto and dukkah circling the main event…. 2 perfectly poached and fried eggs with a dukkah crust. Thanks Mr Spoon, just thanks. On a day when I said goodbye to a best friend at the airport, I needed you to step up to the plate and you did just that. If I’m going to be honest with you, if I’d cut into those eggs to reveal a solid yolk, you’d have had a real scene in your restaurant, you’d have seen a grown man cry and tantrum. As it is, they were perfection, absolute liquid gold and when I teamed them with your pesto I could have kissed you (thanks for not being around as my girlfriend sat opposite may have frowned upon that).

Smashed avocado with halloumi and hash brown

Smashed avocado with halloumi and hash brown

My missus had the smashed avocado with halloumi and a side of hash brown, which too was the shizz. The highlight, naturally, was being able to say my joke (what did the cheese say to the mirror? Hellooo mi! she’s not heard that before…), but very closely followed by the crispy hash brown, delicious (armchair chef’s hat on, how about some rosemary in those bad boys?).

So thanks Mr Spoon (I really hope that after all we’ve been through we’ll be on first name terms soon) for what was a fantastic breakfast, a highlight of the weekend and for not reducing me to an emotional wreck in public. Keep up the excellent work and we’ll see you soon for the chorizo and kipfler hash and the smoked bacon omelette.
Servery & Spoon on Urbanspoon

Top 5 – Dishes, Melbourne

This was an arduous task, throughout the last 3 years literally hundreds of eateries have been sampled and after much deliberation my 5 finalists (in no particular order) are below;

  • Niche – Corn Fritters, Avocado Mousse, Cajun Creme Fraiche

Beautifully fluffy corn fritters, fresh and so light that it’s been mentioned that they are made out of real clouds. They can also be used as a pillow, but be careful, they can make a mess of your Egyptian cotton sheets. Apologies for the lack of review, it was before this blog was even thought of.

  • Tonka – Soft-Shell Crab Pakora with Pickled Cucumber, Lemon, Chilli and Mint

Belinda Carlisle wrote a song about Tonka’s soft shell crab pakoras called “Oooooh Heaven is a place on Earth” and she wasn’t lying. Down a back alley, behind bins and homeless people you can find soft shell crab Mecca. http://pleasesirbyoliver.com/2014/02/19/tonka-one-of-the-big-5/

  • Red Spice Road – Pork Belly, Apple Slaw, Caramel & Black Vinegar

Red Spice Road is a surprising little joint, great food for exceptional prices, the set menu is always a staple when large groups of friends come to town which include; knock your socks off Barramundi curry and slow cooked beef cheeks. By far the star of the night is always the Pork Belly which is soft but crispy and sweet and spicy. Cheeky.

  • Chin Chin – Hopkins River Beef Massaman Curry

Always a go-to dish at Chin Chin, the 3 hour wait is well worth it (kind of). The no booking, first come first serve policy is testament to their food and no doubt the hundreds of people that take the Massaman pilgrimage to Chin Chin each week.

  • Gelato Messina – Salted Caramel and White Chocolate Gelato

The Salted Caramel and White Chocolate Gelato at Gelato Messina is turning into their flagship.  With 2 spaces up for grabs it’s pretty tough competition to get a place in my pot especially as I like to try new flavours. Somehow the Salted Caramel always seems to nail a place as the first in, leaving the rest of the flavours to battle out a space between themselves. Well done Sir, survival of the fittest and you’ve nailed it.

 

Special mentions have got to go to Hammer & Tong 412 for their Soft Shell Crab Burger. Attica would take the vegetarian dish of the day with their Russian tomatoes, red wine vinegar gel, dried beetroot with 10 different varieties of basil and finally Vue De Monde for their Chocolate soufflé.

What are your thoughts, anyone I’m missing, any suggestions?

Attica

Attica’s bookings are pretty ballsy, however, being ranked 21st in the world I guess you can be pretty ballsy in your approach. They open up sittings at 9am each morning for exactly 3 months in advance and no further, and there’s no point asking for 2 months and 27 days as they will be fully booked. After calling every morning for a week I finally got through to book the missus and I in for her birthday; unfortunately I was told that you can only book tables of 4, anyway, I decided with a couple of seats up for grabs at the most talked about restaurant in town I’d be the most popular kid on the block.

3 months is a long time to debate and salivate over a meal with anyone who will listen andP1010467 there’s only so much urbanspoon-ing you can do. I still walked into Attica without much of an idea of what to expect. My favourite restaurant in Melbourne is undoubtably Jacques Reymond, no nonsense French food done immaculately, on the other hand I enjoyed Vue De Monde, however, felt the theatre and spectacle outweighed the quality of food, I was hoping the experience would be more Jacques than VDM.

On arrival at Attica the restaurant is nothing overly fancy, black decor, immaculately white tablecloths with spotlights shining bright light down on to the food. Although we chose our own wine, we’re given the option of matching wines or for the more health conscious or junior, matching juices. The wine list was refreshing to see as it’s open to all wine lovers at all price ranges and it was nice to see about 10-15 bottles of wine in the $50-75 per bottle range.

honeycombWe’re given 4 Amuse Bouche before starting the menu, first up was a new addition to the Attica menu, a plate with whipped goats curd is placed in front of us, the chef then brings out a whole honeycomb and layers honey on top of it, a nice start and as much theatre as you should expect; no grinding of nitrogen frozen herbs in a pestle and mortar or kopi luwak hand delivered by elves on unicorn back. This was a nice start, the honey bringing sweetness across the goats curd; a combination of flavours that were simple but effective.

P1010472

P1010473Next up was Mushroom leaf from the garden with a fermented corn with forest anise dip. The waitress explained that the mushroom leaf originates in Papua New Guinea and only 1 in 4 people get an intense mushroom flavour, none of us got the mushroom flavour (not sure on their statistics, however, the leaf was delicious when dipped into the fermented corn.

P1010476Next up we were given mussels from Port Phillip Bay, something I expect Ben (the head chef) had ‘foraged’ on his way into work this morning. Quite an achievement as had I foraged mussels from St Kilda through the array of needles and backpacker vomit there might have been a slightly different outcome the next morning. The mussels however were lightly crumbed and flash fried, cooked perfectly, crunchy, yet soft and tender in the middle.

P1010478Finally we’d hit the actual menu and we were pretty excited after the initial warm-up rounds. Snow crab wrapped in sorrel leaves with verjuice, mandarin puree and dried buckwheat was first up. On first inspection the dish looked pretty ordinary until I took a peak under the sorrel leaf to discover delicately placed flowers and hand picked snow crab. The crab was juicy and meaty with a hint of vinegar to soften and the crunch of the buckwheat topped it off.

P1010479I was least looking forward to the next course which was Russian tomatoes, red wine vinegar gel, dried beetroot with 10 different varieties of basil. This dish blew me away and had me smiling with each mouthful as it was unlike any dish i’d tasted before. There was sweetness from the tomatoes and beetroot, sourness from the vinegar and a huge smack of flavour from the basil, an extraordinary dish that I could eat over and over.

Next was the marron and tarragon P1010482with pork fat & onion jus, this was a dish that I enjoyed but didn’t love (personal preference). The marron was again cooked to perfection, sweet and juicy which was awesome with the onion and pork fat jus, however, I’m not a huge fan of tarragon, so nothing against the dish, but it wasn’t to my taste.

To back up the marron was another vegetarian dish which was sourced entirely from the Attica garden, cucumber with a chardonnay and cheddar cream, holy flax and peas. This was a refreshing course and I’ve not eaten holy flax before. I found it slightly unusual which brought a bitterness to the plate which was different, but different in a good way, not different in the way Tony Abbott’s ears are different.

P1010484King George Whiting in bark and cooked with paspaley pearl meat, lemon myrtle and butter was another highlight, potentially the best of the night. The whiting had been wrapped in bark and cooked traditionally over coals for 3 minutes giving it incredible moisture and refined flavours that were incredibly subtle but celebrated the fish. The taste of the earthiness of the bark and then a hint of the lemon myrtle was a party to behold in the mouth; the paspaley pearl meat is the muscle within an oyster which has an abalone flavour. I could literally have eaten this all night and I felt the urge to lick the bark; something thats not socially accepted in even the most common restaurants.

Finally the last of the savoury courses arrived, red wallaby with quandong fruits and herbs P1010487picked from the garden which had a dressing of honey and macadamia oil and lavendar. Again this was a sterling dish, the wallaby was tender and tasty, however, the real winner were the herbs (tended by the hands of the cooks) and macadamia oil which had great taste and depth.

We were then invited to take a tour out into the garden where we could see where some of the herbs were grown (the rest in Ripponlea House gardens), and were treated to raspberry ice cream rolled in freeze dried raspberries.

P1010497Dessert came out next, blueberries macerated in apple balsamic vinegar with sheep’s milk curd ice cream rolled in chrysanthemum petals. Again, this wasn’t really to my taste as I’m not a huge fan of the taste of the chrysanthemum petals. We were then given the raw strawberry jam on meringue with dried berries. The technique in this dish was incredible, the jam hadn’t had any sugar added, just pulped and brought through a vacuum at around 30degrees for about 6 hours resulting in beautifully natural sweetness.

Finally just as we thought it was all over, the waitress brought us a beautiful pukeko eggwhich is a native bird from New Zealand along with an explanation about Ben’s father. The egg is made up from white chocolate, decorated to look like the pukeko’s egg and then filled with salted caramel. As far as petit fours these were up there with the best!

P1010500

Frankly I wouldn’t bother going to Attica if you love the showy theatre of restaurants because frankly you’d be better off elsewhere, however, Attica took us through a journey of traditional cooking methods, using the most fresh and available, native produce and what I can only imagine is a very kiwi philosophy to food. On the way outside you can see Ben Shewry at the pass, his enthusiasm and passion there to see, he has managed to create a restaurant that celebrates food rather than appealing to the modern day ‘foodie.’

Price – 8

Quality of food – 9

Atmosphere – 8

Attica on Urbanspoon

Breakfast Thieves

I’m a public school boy from the UK, I grew up in a place called Swanland and enjoy nothing more than a cup of tea before bed. A Sunday involves a trip to the South Melbourne market, having brunch with friends and hopping in bed by 8.30pm to read The Age.

You probably wouldn’t call me ‘Edgy.’

So trips up to Brunswick and Fitzroy are always good fun for me, my inner quirkiness comes out; I throw on my mint coloured shorts and really let the dogs out.

This weekend we met some friends at ‘Breakfast Thieves’ in Fitzroy, an old chocolate The Leprechaunfactory converted into an uber-trendy hide-out for brunch goers. The place is decked out nicely and has a funky atmosphere. After the usual long black (they use STREAT beans), we ordered. My friends went for ‘The Leprechaun,’ roughly translated as corn fritters on rosemary roasted carrot puree, avocado-yuzu mousse, pickled cucumber pomegranate salad & poached eggs. This looked delicious and by all accounts didn’t disappoint; for reference it’s generally frowned upon to lean over and dig in without an invitation.

The LegendOur other friend ordered ‘The Legend,’spicy baked eggs with spanish chorizo, mushrooms, green peas, feta, served with herbed garlic toast; from a man that loves his eggs he claimed these were the best baked eggs in Melbourne… the boldest claim since Bieber claimed he’d beat the f**k out of a reporter.

DSC_0456I opted for the Spanish Gypsy Dance; Crisp-polenta crusted poached eggs, Spanish morcilla (black pudding), peperonata, wild rocket on toasted gluten free toast with a side of potato rosti. These were incredible, I love black pudding at the best of times and generally dislike polenta at the best of times, I find it boring and more work than it’s worth but together the black pudding and eggs were just beautiful.

Barring a couple of waitressing mistakes which were apologised more than necessary for, I couldn’t fault the meal. Everything was cooked beautifully and I enjoyed every mouthful… although maybe the gluten free chocolate brownie to finish with wasn’t needed (oomph)!

Price – 8

Quality of food – 9

Atmosphere – 9

Breakfast Thieves on Urbanspoon

Tonka – One of the ”Big 5”

For Valentines night, love was in the air and my ever organised (darling) girlfriend had booked well ahead of the crowd to get a table at Coda’s new (ish) sister restaurant. I didn’t know what to expect but being Valentines night I let my girlfriend carry me down the scary back alley that leads to Tonka. On first impressions there are similarities between the two restaurants but Tonka has a more clean and fresh look about it.

Pani puri, crispy parcel filled with spiced potato, mung beans, date and tamarind chutney with aromatic water

In Melbourne we are spoilt, unlike anywhere else I’ve been in the world, you’d struggle to go to a high street cafe or restaurant and get a bad meal, generally speaking you have to really pick at things to find negatives. There are however times when I go to places and they blow me away, it’s never a full meal, but just one dish which turns off the part of my brain that regulates saliva production, normal speech and the ability to swallow. I like to call them the big 4;

  • Gelato Messina – Fitzroy – Salted Caramel and White Chocolate Gelato
  • Chin Chin – CBD – Massaman Curry
  • Red Spice Road – CBD – Pork Belly, Apple Slaw, Caramel & Black Vinegar
  • Niche – Bridge Road – Corn Fritters, Avocade Mouse, Cajun Creme Fraiche

Chargrilled Western Plains pork belly, chickpea, pork crackling and pickled radishOne thing I love about Coda is the impeccable service, this is replicated in Tonka; we were unsure what to order so the extremely knowledgable staff said they would bring a spread of their favourite dishes. The sommelier then liaised with the waitress to give us an option of 3 wines which would go well, again, he knew his stuff and had been to a number of the vineyards.

We started with Pani puri, crispy parcel filled with spiced potato, mung beans, date and tamarind chutney with aromatic water, as well as Hervey Bay scallop with sweet peppers, spiced cauliflower and pancetta, both dishes were good, nothing amazing but a solid start.IMG_2556

The next thing that happened took me by surprise, extremely similar to the first time I got intimate with a lady, something completely unexpected happened, it came out of no where and unfortunately was over all too quickly. The soft-shell crab pakora with pickled cucumber, lemon, chilli and mint came out, it didn’t look the most appetising dish, however, it makes it onto the ‘Big 5.’ The crab was soft and cooked to perfection, the light batter around the outside had beautifully subtle indian flavours and took me somewhere special.

The next couple of dishes didn’t really stand a chance, like putting Wayne Rooney next to Cristiano Ronaldo, both footballers but very different looking. The chargrilled pork belly we felt was overpowered by the charred taste, it tasted of ash and unfortunately wasn’t quite to my taste. We also had the lamb curry with roasted coconut, black cardamom and white poppy seeds which was delicious as well as the Rajasthani duck, cucumber, mint and buffalo milk curd with a side of fried cauliflower, garam masala salt, fenugreek and yoghurt dressing, again, exceptional food but standing in the shadow of the soft shell crab.

IMG_2557All in all I would whole-heartedly recommend Tonka, taking Indian food to the next level is a tough ask, aspects of Tonka manages this and the attitude and knowledge of the staff is exceptional. We didn’t feel rushed even though we were dining on one of the busiest nights of the year and we had the best seat in the house. Based solely on cuisine and personal choice, I think I preferred Coda, however, would be more than happy to revisit Tonka.

Price – 7

Quality of food – 8

Atmosphere – 9

Take a look at my review of Mr Carsisi!

https://pleasesirbyoliver.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/mr-carsisi/Tonka on Urbanspoon

Hammer & Tong 412

DSC_0446I’m not a princess, I have very few expectations of restaurants but I do like the little things done well. My pet peeve of a number of restaurants is elaborate dishes, GDP of a small country spend on decor and furnishings and a wine list rivalling War and Peace only for it to be 40 degrees outside and I’m served room temperature, tepid water.

Hammer and Tong has a reputation, I generally don’t like reputations and like to form my own opinion, but the amount of people raving about the place couldn’t be ignored. We decided to give it a go and arrived at about 10.00am to be seated straight away (a real luxury in Melbourne, we’ll save my tirade about restaurant booking systems for a later date, watch out Chin Chin and Attica!). You can’t help but be impressed on first impressions, the space and interior is typically Melbourne, modern with an old, industrial, warehouse feel to it. We were seated, given menu’s and ice cold water, perfect to counter the hot weather, so far so good! The menu was fairly limited with some fairly unusual concoctions, think breakfast ramen with hen’s egg, oyster mushrooms, bacon dsahi and spring onions.

DSC_0449I struggled to order as I often do but opted left of field with a soft shell crab burger, Jax ordered the tomato fondue bruschetta, basil and buffalo boccocini. My burger came and it was spectacular; the brioche bun was sweet and toasted, asian slaw had a good hit of coriander and the crab was crunchy, moist and delicious, I loved this dish.

On the other hand Jax’s bruschetta came, it was burnt to a crisp and I almost felt bad watching her grimace her way through it whilst I ploughed into my work of art. I had a taste when she called it a day (as scripted, one of the real upsides to having a girlfriend) and unfortunately was pretty disappointed myself, all I could taste was ash from the cremated bread and the tomato sauce tasted sweet like the topping from a cheap pizza. My advice, choose wisely!

DSC_0451

Price – 8

Quality of food – 7

Atmosphere – 8

If you liked this post, take a look at my post on St Ali in South Melbourne; https://pleasesirbyoliver.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/st-ali-a-turning-point-in-a-mans-life/

 
Hammer & Tong on Urbanspoon

ISIT Cafe

It’s tennis season in Melbourne which means you can bet your last dollar on a few things that happen every year;

  • There will be hangovers
  • Bernard Tomic will let himself down on the court
  • Bernard Tomic will let himself down off the court

It’s the morning after the day before; a day of intense background tennis, multiple drinks and some 40 minute food queues and we decide to try out an eatery that we have heard about but never tried; Isit Cafe in Prahran, a witty name that Is(n’t) it?

DSC_0286We’re seated outside as it’s a nice day and my (albeit limited) attention is spent trying not to fall off the front step that my seat is precariously balanced on. I order a fresh orange and an iced chocolate which unfortunately is the best thing I do all day, the iced chocolate is like a stairway to heaven, a big hangover free heaven.

Unfortunately I ordered the Chorizo and smoked cheddar on seeded toast with poached egg, avocado, chipotle hollandaise and salsa, I was disappointed and heaven chewed me up, slowly opened and through me down to earth. Although on paper and the plate the whole meal looked like a dream, it had the finesse of a bull tap dancing in a china shop. i\It was seriously heavy, the chorizo and toast were dry and teamed with the hollandaise was a real struggle from start to finish.

Chorizo, Cheddar, Poached Eggs with Chipotle Hollandaise
Chorizo, Cheddar, Poached Eggs with Chipotle Hollandaise

Jax had the Chunky avocado & Persian feta with fresh chilli, mint & blistered cherry tomatoes on seeded toast, again this looked stunning and by all accounts was delicious. Verity had the Eggs Benedict with braised ham hock on a toasted english muffin & hollandaise, again, I stole some when she wasn’t looking and this too was great.

Chunky avocado & Persian feta with fresh chilli, mint & blistered cherry tomatoes on seeded toast
Chunky avocado & Persian feta with fresh chilli, mint & blistered cherry tomatoes on seeded toast

Maybe I ordered badly, maybe the chef had been at the tennis, maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind, but unfortunately it was an ‘It’s not’ from me.

Price – 7

Quality of food – 5

Atmosphere – 5

ISIT Cafe on Urbanspoon