Archive | February, 2011

The Paris Diaries Series: Entry #2 La Tour d’Argent

27 Feb

The Paris Diaries Series: La Tour d’Argent

S o t he theme of Parisian fine dining continues, this time in a French institution established in the late 1500s and rumoured to be frequented by French royalty since its birth. Translated into English it means ‘The Silver Tower’ – a tower it certainly is, but I would associate it more with the luxuriousness of gold more than silver.

The restaurant is now presided over by Andre Terrail who succeeded his father in 2006, and who has managed to keep to French traditions whilst evolving the restaurant to meet the changing tastes of a new generation (the restaurant even has its own magazine – the Ag Mag which comments on all things French and foodie).

Waiting in the lounge

The décor remains true to its origins (and has been well preserved), the only modern addition being the wall of black framed signed photographs of well known international personalities just next to the elevator to take you up to the dining floor. The same elevator takes you down to Le Cave which houses one the oldest and largest collection of wines in France, which unfortunately we didn’t get to visit on this occasion.

A view of Paris from our table

JP and I had a table by the window which afforded a fantastic view of the Seine right across to the Sacre Coeur – and even though it was overcast, the view was magnificent (difficult to capture on film as you can see by my poor attempt).

Menus were quickly brought to the table, along with a tray of delicate amuse bouche – blue cheese pastries, cured salmon, and a vegetable consommé.

Amuse Bouche

Perusing the French menu (which had English, saving me from having to make up terrible translations for JP), I was surprised at the distinct lack of prices. Thinking ‘this is the way they do it in France – people who come here don’t need to know the price’ I focused on deciding what I wanted to eat, until JP started sprouting prices of a la carte versus the prix fixe lunch menu. This is how the subsequent dialogue went:

Me: Are you making prices up – there are no prices on the menu?

JP: Yes there is… Me: No there isn’t…

JP: Here look…

Me: Oh…well you’re paying for the meal then – because clearly its not proper for the lady to pay…

The Wine List (encyclopedia)

Some might call it chauvinistic and the feminists would be up in arms, but there is something strangely nice to see such old fashioned conventions be retained (needless to say we didn’t need to have this same conversation at Alain Ducasse later that night at dinner).

Wine for the meal

After placing our order (we went for the three course prix fixe lunch), the sommelier arrived with what looked like an encyclopedia (and a big one at that). Without hesitation, JP asked him to choose a wine, specifying only the preferred region (Saint Julien) and type.

With the wine poured, entrees arrived. JP had ordered the escargots – which had been sautéed with garlic and butter and served on a bed of creamed spinach with white beans on the side. The dish was simple and the freshness of the produce could be tasted with every mouthful. I had ordered the Quenelles de Brochet (which I subsequently have found out is a Lyonnaise specialty and made of Pike) which were light and airy and served with the most delicious (but heart attack inducing) white sauce of cream and butter.

Quenelles de Brochet

Quenelles de Brochet

Escargots

 

For main course was the piece de resistance – filet de canette, duckling filet served with figs. The duck was ‘rose’ – cooked to pink perfection, retaining the juices of the duck without being chewy, with a slightly crispy skin which melted in the mouth.

Filet de Canette

The figs were the most amazing specimens of the fruit I had ever seen – the perfect pink to complement the colour of the duck, and its fresh fruitiness the perfect accompaniment with the meat (I have never been a fan of figs, but these were amazing!). Needless to say it did not take long for both JP and I to devour the meat… Dessert soon followed.

The first dessert course consisted of petit fours on a silver tray – house made Ferrero Roche-like chocolates, a fruit crumble with cream, and a shortbread like biscuit (which, to be honest was the least memorable part of the meal).

Petit Fours

This was all followed by the main dessert course. JP had ordered a pistachio gateau which had a thin wafer like base and top, served in a berry sauce and the aforementioned amazing figs on top. The colours on the plate like a spring garden in full groom – almost too pretty to eat!

Pistachio Gateau

I had ordered a chocolate and hazelnut tartlet served with a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream and drops of salty caramel sauce. The tartlet was light and airy in texture, but full on taste, chocolate and hazelnut being the perfect flavour partners. Not to mention the crumbly biscuit base which created little explosions in the mouth.

Chocolate Tart

By this stage, I was in desperate need of a hot beverage to stave off the impending food coma (which was served promptly with some complimentary chocolates). So needless to say we were in no way fit to consume a cheese course – which is very un-French of us.

Tea and Chocolate

But honestly I do not understand how the French manage to consume so much food (i.e. butter and cream) without being the most obese society in the world. I read in ‘Why French Women Don’t Get Fat’ (by Mireille Guiliano) that it’s a combination of eating good, fresh produce and not finishing everything on the plate that keeps the French woman’s figure in check. So one has a choice – eat it or leave it. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I chose the eat it option, and will do so every time…

La Tour d’Argent

15 Quai Tournelle 75005

Paris, France

http://www.latourdargent.com/

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Josie Bones

24 Feb

I’m standing on the fence of two of the latest eateries on Smith Street, as I await the arrival of Z.  It’s been a long, excruciating week (and I’m only half way through) and  there’s been a week long void since I’ve had the pleasure of Z’s company.  It was a hard decision choosing between Easy Tiger and Josie Bones which are the two of the latest highly touted offerings on Smith Street, both conveniently next to each other.  As Z had already tried Easy Tiger (and who am I kidding, MEAT will always win in such battles) we decide to try Josie Bones.

We are seated at the bar, and promptly offered drinks menu’s.  For an establishment known for it’s vast offering of beer (& meat) I’m feeling pretty sad that I don’t appreciate beer.  Especially considering the bible sized drinks menu that is presented, 80% of it being beer.

Anyway, we order our wines and read over the menu.  It’s a small menu with plates designed to share.  I’m pretty hungry by this stage so we quickly decide on what we want and await the friendly waitress or waiter… or barman… ANYONE to acknowledge our presence.  Eventually, someone hovers near us at the bar so I pounce!!

crackling of the day

To start, the Crackling of Day  ($4) is presented thankfully nice and quickly.  It’s obviously been pre fried but is still cripsy and crunchy enough.  Although it would have been nice to be informed on what exactly had been and unceremoniously dumped in front us.  We had NO idea what we were crunching on until the man sitting to our left over heard us talking about it and informed us that it was indeed chicken skin.  Thanks Mr Man to our Left.  Good to know what crackling I’m consuming.  It could have done with some heat – some chilli and salt maybe…

Miniature Scotch Egg with Schmaltz Mayo

Inside the Scotch Egg

Next to arrive is the Scotch egg with Schmaltz Mayo ($6).  Pretty excited about this dish.  As I slide the knife down the center I excitedly anticipate a semi oozy liquid center of the quail yolk to spill onto the plate…. Hmmm.  No Ooze.  No sign of moisture.  I think I kind of imagined it to be less of a dry, dense meat ball … Lesson learned.  One should never assume.

By this stage we are up to our second wines each, and as it’d been such a long time between catch ups, I’m pretty distracted by talking, eating and listening all at once.  Thankfully, despite the initial complete LACK of service, once things were ordered they arrived in pretty good time.  (It was either a coincidence or the waiter judged by the way I practically fly tackled her to take our order, that it probably wasn’t in her best interest to keep me waiting…)

Ok.  So 2 dishes down, 2 to go.  Next was the duck prosciutto ($16), which I loved the sound of.  Anything Duck.  I just like! This arrived all laid out artfully on the plate.  The figs were probably the only element of flavour on this dish.  Pretty underwhelming, considering prosciutto, no matter what the animal its made from, should generally have some hint of flavour… So far, I’m feeling like each of these dishes could have done with some Salt!  … Maybe lots of salt.  Everything seems to be lacking flavour, which for meat, is actually pretty difficult.

Duck prosciutto, fig, pistachio and rocket with rum cast aged ale dressing

Finally its the Pork Belly!  Which not surprisingly, is one of my favourite things to see on a menu.  It’s that perfect layering of meat and fat and topped with  salty crispy skin that always leaves me So SO satisfied! … Well.  Normally anyway.

Slow cooked Pork Belly with pickled peaches and soubise

Unfortunately, seeing the Josie Bones $19 plate of pork belly failed to ignite the usual excitement that it normally would.  First of all, it’s tiny! But I decide not to comment or judge until I taste it.  (Who knows, this could be a little Bomb of Taste that simultaneously melts in my mouth but is topped with that perfectly salty crunch that put Pork Belly experiences so high on my ‘hobbies’ list… )  Bomb of Taste, not so much!! Disappointed.  And Yes!  Kind of still hungry!

It actually makes me really sad that I had not much good to say about this dining experience (besides of course, the always exceptional company, Z).  I’d heard so much about it, and maybe I ordered the wrong thing or came on a bad night…? But considering we payed $45 each (after the an amazing meal at Huxtable the week before, where we left with food comas for $55) and essentially ate morsels of flavourless food, it’s pretty safe to say if I ever find myself  perched on that same fence as I did at the beginning of the night, I know which side not to take.

Josie Bones

98 Smith Street Collingwood 3066  Tel +613 9417 1878

www.josiebones.com

 

Little Press. Big feed.

12 Feb

My good friend (M) had come home for Chinese New Year from London and missed being spoilt by Melbourne’s culinary offerings.  This time he wanted to catch up for lunch over Greek food, so i jumped at the opportunity to finally eat at Little Press & Cellar.  (Out of George Calombaris’s Greek restaurants I’d only tried Hellenic Republic).

We decided to go with selection of share plates so we could try as many of the different flavours as possible.  And with our bottle of wine ordered, it was safe to assume, this was about to be a long, gloriously boozy lunch.  All my Greek dining experiences had been Tavern style, where everything is quite rustic and (usually involving bountiful piles of meat and the freshest seafood available that day) brought out on big plates.  But this is one of the main reasons The Press Club and Little Press had been on my list of ‘must try’s’.  Greek fine dining.  I don’t get it or neccessarily agree with it, but willing to be convinced otherwise.

Fresh Oysters with lemon & olive oil dressing

We started with Fresh Oysters with dressing of the day – lemon and olive oil.  They were a little small, but fresh and tasty enough.  Besides, apparently good things come in small packages.  We ordered 2 each, but I offered my second to my dining companion (M)… and glad I did.  For the next 2 dishes included the piece de resistance of all Greek dining… Taramasalata!!! It’s one of my favourite condiments/dips when we have greek food.  It’s made of salmon roe and is the perfect combination of salty salmon-y goodness.  And if that wasn’t enough, its served with the crispiest, home cut potato fries!  AMAZE-BALLS!

Taramasalata with chips

Of course, what’s some amazing chips without some sort of beef!! The Wagyu burger is pretty much the first thing (M) and I agreed on immediately.  Now don’t be fooled by its seemingly small size.  This tiny little bun encases a succulent Wagyu beef patty, soft and juicy, it melts in your mouth as you bite into the soft brioche casing.  The melted Haloumi oozes out and the patzari (roasted beetroot with cumin & yoghurt) is just the right ingredient to balance the smooth warm textures.

Wagyu with Mikro bifteki, patzari & haloumi

So it’s official.  Good things do indeed come in small packages.  If I’d had the chance for a do-over I would probably just order 6 of these little TASTE-bombs and some chips and leave one very satisfied customer… But alas, the menu had too many other temptations.  So the dining continued:

Pork Hock with fresh pita and grilled zucchini

The Pork Hock was actually quite delicious (as if i’m EVER going to not enjoy some pig).  The meat was really tender and salty and perfectly matched with the coolness of the yoghurt and grilled zucchini.  Probably could have left the fresh pita, which had cooled by the time we got to eat it and so was a little awkward and crunchy.  Then again, serve me some of that AMAZING Pork on anything, and I will more than happily eat it.

At this point, I think we were both at the stage where you probably know you’re full.  But you’ve enjoyed consuming all those flavours thus far, you kind of don’t want it to end! (plus we still had more wine … so we decided to order more).

Now M wanted to have another Wagyu burger, and I was tempted to as well.  But we both managed to fight the Beef temptation (until next visit)  and ordered 2 other dishes.

Kingfish - Marinated with pomegranate & zucchini

The Kingfish and the prosciutto pretty much arrived at the same time.  By which stage, I actually realised I was pretty full.  The Kingfish was a little lack lustre.  It probably didn’t help that the last flavour in my mouth was that of the Pork Hock, in all its salty glory.  Thank god for the burst of pomegranate!

Prosciutto with pickled white peach & endive

So 4 hours, 6 dishes and a bottle of wine later, we kindly asked our friendly waitress for the bill and spent the rest of the afternoon nursing our extremely satisfied bellies.  I thoroughly enjoyed my (semi) fine dining Greek inspired experience (although I will always be a Greek Tavern girl at heart), and it wasn’t just the exceptional company, or the booze talking.  Good quality food, friendly knowledgeable staff, and THAT WAGYU BURGER.   You can’t really go wrong…

Little Press & Cellar

72 Flinders Street, Melbourne 3000  Tel + 613 9677 9677

http://www.thepressclub.com.au/menu.html

Huxtable

8 Feb

It’d been a long week of ringing in the New Year.  (Chinese New Year)  I hadn’t seen cutlery or any one besides my family  in over a week and I was well and truly ready get back amongst society.  Particularly with my good friend and fellow foodie (Z)!  As it’d been such a long time since catch ups and cutlery, my only request for our wining and dining catchup was that it was at a venue that did not offer chopsticks as a utensil of choice.

I had some things to finish up at the studio so I suggested we keep it local (especially since Collingwood had offered so many additions to my culinary hit list in the recent months).  Z had tried Huxtable already, but had been meaning to try it again…  properly (her first experience was with a gluten intolerant person… Do not even get me started on my intolerance or patience for such culinary restrictions) and I’d heard and read so much about this place I really wanted to try it for myself.

To my delight we arrived to plenty of empty seating and even better, we got to sit at the bar which looks onto the open kitchen.  And yes.  Me being the nosey kitchen fiend, I like to see what/how things are being prepared.

glass of 09 kasaura montepulciano with crusty fresh baked bread

The menu is designed to be shared with ‘bites’ (ordered per item) and then progressing to larger share plates categorised into ‘sea’, ‘land’ and ‘earth’ categories.  I’d read endless raving reports about the Oyster Po’Boy and so could not resist giving in to communal hype and trying it for myself.  PLUS, my love of all things Americana meant this item was a no brainer.

rice flour crusted oyster po'boy, iceberg, sriracha mayo $6.50 ea

These little bundles of joy are under the ‘bites’ part of the menu so we ordered one each.  They were promptly presented on a clean circular plate, the golden crusted oysters glistening in all their glory whilst being encased in a warmed dick roll (much like those ones you used to get from Safeway that were meant to be reheated in the oven and were possibly the most disturbingly pale white roll you’d ever see.  Although this actually tasted fresh and tasty).  In addition to the shredded iceberg the po’boy was also laced with a spicy mayo which gave it a nice kick.  Being my first Po’Boy experience I guess I was satisfied, but I found it a bit too bready and would probably prefer it without the Carb-case!

crisp filo log of lamb puttanesca, lemon yoghurt $5.50 ea

Next was the Filo log of lamb puttanesca.  This was definitely one of my favourites.  Perfect balance of crispy outer filo, encasing a fragrant and soft lamb (loves me my meat) with a slight tang from the lemon yoghurt.  Flavour/texture sensations a-plenty.  Party in the mouth!

chargrilled quail, witlof, peach, proscuitto $19

So with our ‘bites’ part of the meal done, it was time to move on to our ‘shares’ part of the meal.  Z really liked the sound of the Quail which came chargrilled.  Gotta say, my usual response to quail is, ‘meh’ as it usually has resulted in it being deep fried with some sort of 5 spice seasoning.  From tonight, I learned that it can indeed be rather flavoursome and enjoyable.  The chargrilling gave it a nice smokey flavour but didn’t over power the quail flavour that often happens when it is deep fried.  The bitterness of the witlof, combined with the sweetness of the peach, saltiness of the proscuitto and crunch of toasted almonds made for a pretty amazing mouthful of flavour when paired with the tender quail.

quinoa w zucchini flowers, pomegranate, goats cheese $14

By this stage I’m feeling pretty satisfied, but considering the final two dishes we ordered were vegetables I figured, it’s just vegies.  Suck it up.  Make room.

Quinoa with zucchini flowers was pretty tasty.  Although I think it’s my obsession with pomegranate and goats cheese that tipped me over the satisfied edge.  I love the pop of the pomegranate, and when combined with the softness of the goats cheese, its texture-nation.  The last dish was the lebanese cauliflower with harissa yoghurt and dukkah.  Can I just say.  Cauliflower (being NOT MEAT) rarely factors on my radar of food group.  But this was pretty amazing.

lebanese cauliflower, harissa yoghurt, dukkah $14

Now I know the picture may be cause for concern.  Why on earth, is this cauliflower brown!! Let me assure you, this cumin encrusted fried cauliflower is possibly the tastiest flavour explosion you will ever experience coming from a vegetable.  Its crispy.  Its flavoursome.  And eaten with some dukkah and harissa, it’ll be the most memorable forkful of food you’ll experience.

All in all I must say I left rather impressed by my experience at Huxtable.  It’s not often a place can be so talked about and actually live up to the hype.  Service was attentive without being interuptive, good wine list, and most importantly, not a single pair of chopsticks in sight (high on my list of needs this week)  I left feeling exceptionally satisfied!   And $55 each for a food coma inducing good feed (i couldn’t even fit in dessert) and 2 glasses of wine (each), this place is definitely worthy of a revisit!

131 Smith Street Collingwood  Tel +613 9419 5101

http://www.huxtablerestaurant.com.au/

The Paris Diaries Series: Entry #1 Alain Ducasse

4 Feb

The Paris Diaries Series: Alain Ducasse

There are few words that can truly describe the experience that is Parisian fine dining – words like amazing, incredible and wonderful just don’t do justice to the whole experience.

Yes, its pretentious, decadent and completely over the top – but if one is so inclined and finances allow, then one must experience Parisian fine dining once in their lifetime (of course if money is no object then feel free to have many!).

I picked Alain Ducasse @ Plaza Athenee (one of many fine dining options in Paris) partly for the namesake Chef’s reputation as an old-school French chef with an eye on modernity, but mainly because of its location within one of the most romantic and symbolic institutions in Paris (yes, it really does look like it does in the movies!).  I wasn’t disappointed…here’s how it unfolded.

It had been a rainy day in Paris, and the rain continued long into the night. My husband (JP) and I were already running over half an hour late having spent all day at the Paris Motor Show and hitting snooze one too many times on the nap alarm.  To add to that, getting off one Metro stop too early we had to brave the rain and run up Avenue Montaigne, dressed to the nines (formal attire only for the restaurant – that means suit and tie for men, evening frock for ladies).  Needless to say, by the time we arrive at the hotel I am not terribly exited at the thought of having to sit through dinner in my very wet shoes.

But alas, the Maitre d’ was very relaxed and welcoming (clearly the restaurant is not one where they can just give your table to someone else, and there is no pesky 2-sitting policy) and showed us to our table – one of about 12 – in the main dining room. Dimly lit, and well spaced out the first thing you see is a beautiful crystal chandelier – not of the traditional typed but almost installation like with thousands of delicate Swarovski crystals, all different sized suspended from the ceiling.  The Corian dining chairs were simple in their design with a subtle built in shelf for handbags – such is the attention to detail.

Starting with a glass of champagne and perusing the menu, we quickly settled in for a night of fine dining.

JP doesn’t and in any case, my French vocabulary does not yet extend to understanding culinary terms, so our waiter was kind enough to talk us through the menu – or rather suggest three courses which we were more than happy with (additional bonus for me was that my menu had no prices).  The expert sommelier quickly showed up at our table as soon as our food order was taken, and again was quick to suggest a red wine after qualifying our tastes and preferences (red, not too strong, and from the St Julien region).

The first amuse bouche was ham and fresh mushroom on thin, toasted bread.  The ham had the purest of flavours and melted in the mouth, as did the velvety mushroom.  This was swiftly followed by some shrimp, simply pan fried with garlic and served on a small skillet.  Whilst small, the shrimp exploded with flavor – in particular the heads which provided just the right amount of crunch.

Soon after the bread cart arrived – JP being the man that he is insisted we try all varieties which included a small bread stick, dark rye and white – served with a choice of salty or sweet butter (when I say sweet, it means less salt).

Entrees arrived soon after – I had chosen the Langoustines with Caviar, and boy was there caviar!  The freshness of the seafood was amazing and the silky caviar melted in the mouth.

Caviar served on steamed langoustine


JP opted for a chicken liver pate encased in pastry – the buttery pastry providing the perfect accompaniment to the richness of the pate – and a beautiful black truffle sauce.  Needless to say we were well on our way to a food coma after the first course!

Pate encased in pastry with a truffle sauce

Between entrée and main course something surreal occurred.  JP had gone to the mens room for a refresher.  Our kind waiter promptly approached the table bearing sparkling silver tongs in his white, cotton gloved hands.  With said tongs, JP’s thick cotton napkin was swiftly replaced with a perfectly folded, clean new one.  I like to think that I have seen a lot of pompousness in my time and fail to be surprised but this was one act that I will remember for the rest of my life…

Anyway back to the food.  Main course for JP was veal and assort sweetbreads in a light gravy with a mushroom salad.  I had the fish – but for the life of me I cannot remember what fish it was – just the fact that it was buttery, silky and cooked to perfection.  But unfortunately I was so loaded up with caviar that I could only consume half the fish.

Veal and sweet breads

Fish served with silky mushrooms

At this point it was my turn to visit the ladies to clear my head and try to walk off as much of my fullness as I could before dessert.  On my return (apart from the new, clean napkin) I found macaroons (perfect light biscuit encasing a light and not too sweet filling) and a crystallised biscotti type confection (airy and crisp) at our table – and this was all before dessert.

JP had ordered the Rum Baba – essentially a cake drowned in rum – and was now encouraged to try several types of rum (4) to pick one for his dessert.  My dessert was much less complex – a meringue filled with fresh berries and crème, which, despite my food coma, I devoured completely.  The freshness of the berries and the lightness of the meringue were irresistible, and again testament to what one can do with the best produce.

Rum Baba

Fresh berries with meringue and fresh cream

Little did I know that the night and the feasting had not ended yet. Shortly after clearing our (now empty) dessert plates our waiter wheeled over the dessert cart proferring as much jelly, marshmallow, sorbet, nougat and chocolate as we desired.  Never one to pass up sweets, I chose a small block of marshmallow (incidentally the softest and airiest marshmallow) and JP opted for a sorbet, which judging by his empty bowl, was just as delicious as everything else we had consumed during the night.

Le carte de desert

All this was followed by tea and coffee.  JP opted for a simple espresso.  My herbal tea as cut straight from fresh herb plants on the tea cart and brewed on the spot.

The tea cart

On any other night, without my being in a food coma and without having spent all day on my feet roaming the biggest motor show ever, I would have enjoyed sitting back and waiting for my tea.  However on this particular night, I was struggling to keep my eyes open, and waiting over 20 minutes for my tea to brew was not such a fun experience.  When it did finally come, it was accompanied by yet more chocolate (a dark chocolate and also chocolate truffles) which to my dismay I could not physically ingest.

Dark chocolate

Alas, I will just have to make another visit – and this time, save room for those chocolates!

 

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee

25 avenue Montaigne

75008, Paris, France

http://www.plaza-athenee-paris.com/alain-ducasse-plaza-athenee