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New Year, New Beginnings and a Bun in the Oven!

8 Feb

Yes its all been a bit quiet of late (well the last 4 months) – but not without good reason, including the announcement of a new bun in the oven (pardon the pun, but we couldn’t help ourselves) which has meant that one half of DDO completely lost their appetite for food and still hasn’t fully regained it yet.  But at least we can now look at pictures of food without wanting to dry wretch.

Having said that we are looking forward to the new year and to bringing you more DDO – here’s hoping the new Dragon year will bring many more feasts!

The Moor’s Head

7 Feb

Since our last “cheesy lebanesey” pizza experience at Mankoushe with Z, I’d pretty much start drooling at the mention of pizza!! My mind reminiscing instantly of that fragrant za’atar atop that fluffy pizza base.  So like every other ‘foodie’, when we’d heard Joseph Abboud of Rumi’s had opened another establishment it was only a matter of time before we’d join the masses to try his new offering; a combination of crowd pleasing Pizza with Middle Eastern topping and flavours.  Something he called, Inauthentic Pizza  (assuming not in that gross chain establishment-lets jam as much bad cheese/sausage/bacon into the crust-Pizza kind of way… i’m not joking.  That pizza was called the German King, at Japanese Pizza Hut’s).

It’d been a while since N, Z, JP and I all had a free Friday to catch up together for a carb fest!  It had been an even longer while since somewhere we wanted to eat took bookings!  So we were all feeling pretty positive about this situation… (especially given we now had a pregnant lady in tow.  And that JP can’t wait for anything for more than 17 seconds without getting extremely agitated!)

Now from here on in, you’ll have to excuse me if I get some of the flavours mixed up… we came here so long ago I can’t remember exactly what was what.  What I can guarantee is that all 3 were meat laden flavours!

So we went with The Golden Terrace (the mammoth one to the right) – minced beef, fresh tomato, chilli, almond, lemon ($18).  The almonds on this gave it some good texture, but it could have done with more lemon and maybe more chilli…just more flavour.   The Emir Bashir II (center) which was Hummus, sujuk (sausage), fresh tomato, olives, parsley ($19) and the round one to the end is Fairuz which had Tomato, haloumi, bastourma (more meat… cured i think) and parsley ($18).  This was probably my favourite of the 3, as the bastourma was nice and salty.  Which meant my fingers finally got a break from sprinkling salt onto EVERYTHING to give it some flavour!

Greens for the night (as requested by the pregnant lady) were Cabbage, Mint soused onion, caraway($8.5) and  Roquette- Shanklees ($8).

 If you’re looking at all this thinking ‘that seems like a lot for 4’, you’re pretty right.  It was!  They were all varied in actual size, but all equally bready.  So earlier when I said we were getting our carb on, I wasn’t being sarcastic!!  Although the toppings were generous, it was hard to not be distracted by the rather chewy, dense consistency of the pide/base.

We did the best we could to finish without getting jaw lock, and I took the small window of room left in my belly as an opening for dessert before the carb-coma took hold.

Dessert was Nutella Fatayer ($9) which was served with Persian Fairy floss and a Halva and Banana Fatayer ($9).  In hindsight, probably should have just let that window close.  We were all so full we could pretty much only manage a corner of each and picked at the garnishings before we had to call it quits!! Banana and Halva though… Bit of a winner!! THAT, I would come back for!

On the whole, with the lack of flavour, and the overly chewy bases, The Moor’s Head failed to leave me wanting more…. Think i’m going to stick to the cheap and cheerful option for my future ‘cheesey Lebonesey’ cravings.

The Aylesbury

21 Oct

Arriving at The Aylesbury a bit later than I wanted to, I was not keen to find out how long the wait would have to be for a table (yes its one of those places with a no bookings policy unless you have more than 6 people – but more on that later). Luckily at ten to 7 the next available table was at 8:30, and the low-key roof top bar was the perfect place to while away the time with my good friend BFM who had come home for 2 weeks from London (thank you Melbourne for not raining that evening).  Buzzed through by the waitress we arrived at the roof top to the pleasant buzz of end of week drinks – but thankfully not to a sea of suits that is typical of many a bar in the CBD on Fridays.  Perched on a stool overlooking Exhibition Street and sipping a cold drink, time went by pretty quickly – oh and if you’re hungry then there is a good menu of bar snacks that broadly reflects the larger menu of the restaurant downstairs.

As it approaches 8:40 (we have been joined by JP and JT) we head down to see if our table is ready only to be told ‘no its not ready as the table was not been rebooked when the guests sat down so no time limit was given, and they have only just ordered dessert’.  And therein lies the awkward situation you get when you have a mixed booking policy.  Honestly you either take bookings or you don’t.  Plus given the hype surrounding the place and the no booking policy for small groups, wouldn’t you think to tell people that there is a time limit – because the no booking thing pretty much guarantees that there will be a waiting list.  So back we go upstairs and just as I am about to keel over from hunger and fall off the top of the roof, the lovely hostess comes up to show us to our table (its 9:10 by now).

The menu itself is not super extensive, and if you are vegetarian you might struggle to find a decent feed as the focus is squarely on meat and seafood.  They use Warialda Belted Galloway beef and Glenora Heritage Produce – both wonderful local Victorian suppliers – as well as some produce straight from the chef’s garden.  Struggling to choose (hunger has well and truly taken over now), we opt for the very reasonably priced Feasting Menu for $65 a head, which offers up the best from the menu (10 dishes plus 2 sides).

Beef Tartare

Garden on a Plate...

Mackarel with Gazpacho

We started with Coffin Bay Oysters – shucked fresh with a squeeze of lemon, followed by the beef tartar which comes with the most delicately toasted bread.  Both dishes focus on the freshness of the produce which is fantastic.

Next comes the garden on a plate (I can’t recall exactly what it was called) – which is a colourful dish of small bits of various raw vegetables arranged artistically on a black plate.  Not much to say about this one really…

Asparagus and Curd

Wagyu, Marrow & Morcilla

Lamb Cutlets

The aired dried wagyu with marrow and morcilla  is a bit on the salty side and the asparagus with curd is surprisingly refreshing – the curd being extremely light in flavour.  The mackerel with green gazpacho cream was not extraordinary.  And then what turned out to be my favourite dish of the night – the lamb cutlets delicately baked in dehydrated peas and lemon zest which were wonderful accompaniments to the tender and juicy cutlets.

Aylesbury Duck

Salt Baked Flathead

For the bigger dishes we had the Salt Baked Rock Flathead – which certainly looked impressive, but lacked a little in flavour – and the Aylesbury Duck which was served a little pink with a beetroot puree.  In the midst of all this a side of carrots and a side of potato in duck fat appears on our table.

For dessert we opt for the Beignets with chocolate and the Chocolate Slice.

Chocolate slice

Beignet with Chocolate Sauce

The Beignets are rather large – but are soft and fluffy on the inside and the dark chocolate sauce is the perfect consistency.  The Chocolate Slice is a bit too rich – lucky there isn’t too much of it.  It is past midnight by the time we fix the bill and bade our farewells.

Top marks for the fresh produce and the creativity of some of the dishes, but all in all a little overpriced and a little bit bland.  The food doesn’t have the same wow factor as Anada does (well what I remember of it) and that mixed booking policy means I won’t be a regular at the Aylesbury – well not the restaurant at least…but that rooftop has a lot of promise!

The Aylesbury

103 Lonsdale Street Melbourne

(03) 9077 0451

Brunch at The Brix

7 Oct

A welcome breath of fresh air, The Brix is unlike any other restaurant you will find in Fitzroy. Located just off Brunswick street down the somewhat lackluster northern end, this new(ish) establishment serves modern French style food – complete with a prix fixe set menu on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

On the outside the fresh white paint gives the place a light airy feel which translate also to its interiors of wooden floors, simple lines and lots of big windows that let in the natural sunlight. Its not a big place, with probably a maximum of 15 small tables plus several seats at the bar. The staff are dressed in white t-shirts, black skinny jeans and braces and provide a professional and friendly service.

I meet O on a Saturday morning for what was intended as a late brunch, but at The Brix actually turns out to be lunch – they stop serving the breakfast menu at 12noon, oh how very French!

Cured Ocean Trout with Nicoise Garnish

Pork Cassoulet

Not to worry, there is plenty on the lunch menu to satisfy, and we quickly put in our orders – O goes for the cured ocean trout with nicoise garnish and I opt for the Pork Cassoulet.

The ocean trout comes on a black slate plate which is the perfect backdrop to the vibrant colours of the salmon and the light nicoise style salad on the side. By O’s account it’s not only a pretty dish, its also tasty and fresh.

The cassoulet comes in a cast iron dish and is served together with a couple of slices of toasted rye bread on a wooden board. The pork is tender and melts in the mouth, and the persillade (a mix of parsley chopped together with seasonings including garlic, herbs, oil, and vinegar) provides a crunchy texture to the dish. The servings aren’t big – just perfect for a light lunch, but if you’re a big eater, you’ll definitely be left wanting more.

Frangipani Tart

A meal with O always involve sweets and on this occasion we choose the frangipani tart which is a pleasant offering but not exactly mind blowing. The tart casing is not too doughy or chewy and the frangipani is subtle and not too sweet.

Peppermint Tea with Artisan Honey

Washed down with my peppermint tea (served with some artisan honey from NZ) it’s a nice way to finish off a light meal.

All in all The Brix is a good addition to this part of Fitzroy and offers something completely different to the casual café fare served in these parts. Next time we’ll try the prix fixe menu.

The Brix

Rear 412 Brunswick Street,

Fitzroy VIC 3065

(03) 9417 6114

Xi’an Famous Foods – NYC

3 Oct

After a month of ‘settling’ in to New York City and it’s ever vibrant -not worth missing-i’ll sleep when I die- cultural offerings, it took a bad douse of Bronchitis to finally slow me down!  Nothing like a bad case of disease to make you really home sick…

And so, for the past week, I have taken to curing my physical and mental illness by loitering around Chinatown every chance I get.  Something about the smells.  The crowds of people.  The rather loud often unnecessary hollering.  Did I mention the smells…?  I found comfort in hearing my mother tongue even if it were from the mouth of a stranger!!

Although i’d been more than successful in visiting a large amount of Asian Bakeries and grocery stores -yes I already have my firm favourites: Grand Bakery!  HK style milk tea and their egg sponge paper cake – I was still yet to dine at any of the many Asian restaurants…which, given my fear of eating out alone kind of makes it rather difficult.  So having spent much of the week obsessively ‘researching’ online for good recommended Asian eateries, I found the most commonly written about happened to be a little place called Xi’an Famous Foods.

Xi'an East Village

So on a night where it was cold, rainy and the thought of consuming another dumpling was enough to make me want to self harm (my freezer is FULL of dumplings!! That’s what happens when you put a lazy Asian girl alone… in New York City… who has been hitting EVERY Asian grocer in town!!)  I decided to give Xi’an a go!  It ticked all the boxes: within 0.5 miles (umm… i guess thats less than a kilometer…?)  from my house, did takeaway and was fast and cheap!

Xi’an offers a range of noodles, soups and starter dishes, and is most famous for it’s hand ripped noodles, a dish called the Lamb Face Salad (which I thought about ordering…. maybe next time!) and most highly touted The Cumin Lamb Burger.

Having done all my research online before going, I decided I wasn’t hungry enough to tackle the Lamb Face thing, and didn’t feel like dealing with the wrath of noodle soup done Take Out, so I went with the famous Lamb Burger.  Walking into the tiny shop that is Xi’an, I couldn’t help but feel relieved to find the shop full of Asians!! Not to be controversial… but choosing to adorn your Asian Eatery’s hoarding with the words “Western Chinese Cuisine” hardly instills confidence – and I do not have enough energy to start ranting about why no one (not even white people) orders Lemon Chicken anymore… !  (Upon more research, it seems the Xi’an restaurant chain ‘boasts a unique cuisine that may be best described as a fusion of Middle Eastern and Chinese foods.’)

Cumin Lamb Burger $3

So it took approximately 97 seconds between me ordering and paying, and walking out the door with my dinner!! It also took that 97 seconds of waiting whilst seeing everyone eating their hand ripped noodle goodness to give me SEVERE food envy and make me suddenly starving!!

Lamb Burger

I pull that neat little ‘burger’ out of its bag, to reveal a nicely toasted bun with the filling sitting neatly inside.  I was pretty delighted to find no sauce spills or mess when taken out of the wrapping.

Inside. Cumin spiced lamb

Although, after taking a few initial bites, it didn’t take long for me to wish it had been a sauce laden mess!  The bun tended to be a little… no… actually a lot on the dry side.  Given the Cumin Lamb is not meant to be saucy, it is kind of understandable!  But I wish I was given some hot sauce or something to relieve those bland chunks of bun!!

Having said that though, the lamb was very well cooked.  Not tough at all, and well marinated in the cumin giving off a nice subtle heat (it could have been hotter!! But then again, all the places i’ve eaten and ordered the item with the chillies next to it are lacking heat).

Maybe it was the slightly dense, dry texture of the bun… Or more likely the fact that I feel like i haven’t eaten meat in a long time … I found myself to be struggling at the half way mark.  This little ‘burger’ is surprisingly filling, amazingly cheap and as far as (VERY VERY) fast food goes, I think i’ll be revisiting this over McDonalds.  Now all I have to do is get over my fear of eating out alone and it’ll be Lamb Face Salad time…

Xi’An Famous Foods –

East Village  81 St. Mark’s Place, New York, NY 10003

China Town (counter only| no seating) 88 East Broadway #106, New York, NY 10002

China Town  67 Bayard Street, New York, NY 10013

Flushing 41-28 Main Street Bsmt #36, Flushing, NY 11354

Lupino

10 Sep

Situated inconspicuously next to Bar Lourinha and opening with little fanfare, I was SUPER excited to discover that the restaurant I had walked past on the way to yoga (in the space previous known as Champagne Lounge) was a modern Italian bistro called Lupino.  The new offering from Becco’s Richard Lodge and chef Marco Lori, had me even before ‘hello’ – and it did not disappoint on the night that Z, J and I visited, the start of the long weekend farewell for J.

Courageously undeterred by the no-bookings policy (I believe they have changed this – you can book now) we sent Z to scope out the table situation and see if we could put our names down and were pleasantly surprised – not only did we put our names on the list, we could specify when we wanted to dine.  So after a quick Prosecco at Siglo Bar we found ourselves seated at Lupino in the centre of the restaurant looking into the bustling open kitchen.  The space is modern and fresh, big enough to give everyone enough personal space, but not too big so as to be completely vacuous.  The service is prompt, friendly, unpretentious.  So far so good.

We quickly decide on a few things to share plus a main each.  The menu is full of small delightful morsels to be shared, a few enticing pastas and a selection of seafood and meats for main.

To share we have the polpette wrapped in lemon leaves and the sformata with a chevre-spiked sauce.

Polpette with lemon

Sformata with chevre sauce

The polpette is infused with a lovely and surprisingly pungent lemony fragrance – we could have easily eaten a whole plate of those and been satisfied.  The sformata is light and airy and very appropriately cheesey! Very decadent, and a must for soft cheese lovers!

For mains we each order something different.

Continuing with the cheesey theme I opt for the gnocchi quattro formaggi.  I normally steer well clear of gnocchi and this was a total leap of faith.  It did not disappoint however – the gnocchi is light and that cheese sauce is perfect on a cold winters night.

Gnocchi quattro formaggi

Z opted for the lasagne – an oldie but a goodie.  The Lupino version is baked and served in a ceramic dish with layer upon layer of béchamel, perfect pasta and delicately minced meat.

Lasagna

The non-pasta eater of the group, J went for the slow cooked osso bucco which comes on a bed of polenta and a sprinkle of bacon and peas, all served on a neat wooden plate.  The meat falls off the bone effortlessly and the jus is lovely and meaty and rich.

Osso Bucco

Eggplant Parmagiana

We had also ordered a side of the eggplant parmigiana – with much trepidation on Z’s part given her recent horror experience with the dish at another establishment. Despite waiting a while for it to arrive (the waitress admitted the order had been lost, but was appropriately apologetic – and at least she was honest), we weren’t disappointed.  Thin slices of eggplant (though not too thin) came layered with oozey cheese and pomodoro sauce, and all baked to perfection.  The flavours of the eggplant, tomato and cheese melting perfectly in the mouth.  Win!

Having eyed off the dessert menu well before the mains even arrived, we quickly settle on a serve of the bombolone and the apple strudel.

Bombolone!

The bombolone are huge and smeared generously with Italian Nutella and served with a yoghurt ice cream.  They are delicious – the bombolone cooked to perfection and not too doughy – if not a bit large – let’s just say Z was kind of relieved that she didn’t insist on ordering one for herself (in Z’s books Nutella is not shared – get your own!).

Apple StrudelThe apple strudel is also fantastic – another one of those classic dishes that Lupino executes so well on.  A light and crisp pastry wrapped around REAL apples that have been stewed with large raisins, all served with a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Comfort food done to perfection.

And that is what Lupino is all about. Simple, good Italian food – a new favourite in town (even more so as they have now scrapped the no booking policy!).

Lupino

41 Little Collins Street, Melbourne (map)

(03) 9639 0333

Smith & Mills

4 Sep

Coffee

Given my current ‘every day is kind of a holiday’ situation whilst in the culinary city that is New York, I’ve been overwhelmed with choice, but have been eating brunch out pretty much everyday.  (Yep!! Have been neglecting my peanut butter obsession for almost 3 weeks now…)  So today, G and I decided to head to Tribeca (and it may or may not have been in hope of the off chance of running into Jay-Z and Beyonce… G has an innate talent for searching out celebrity hang outs and postal codes!)

Tucked away on N Moore Street, we entered to find this little gem, void of hustle and bustle – and or people – and furnished to industrial perfection.  A line of quilted seats line the borders of the cafe and it is decked out with raw iron furnishings.  We like it here.  Apparently so does James Franco… I could go on about Mr Franco and his ability to have his fingers dipped in seemingly EVERY pot of artistic cool!  But I might just spare us all and talk about the food.

The night before we’d made a trip out to Astoria – the Greek equivalent of Lygon Street in Melbourne… but kind of a lot further out on the subway- and I’d made the mistake of letting G order … or OVER ORDER!  So still feeling the food coma of last nights escapade, I decided to go for something lighter.

Greek yogurt, granola, seasonal fresh fruit, raisin walnut toast $9

Normally I would be the one scoffing at the person who would order this out!  And yes!! I am paying 14 times what I probably should be for some cut fruit and yogurt!! But after last night’s mass feed, the mere thought of ANYTHING meat or in oil made me want to hurl!  So my over priced bowl of yogurt and fruit and bread was JUST what I needed!  And for $9 it was actually a VERY generous serving.  (or maybe my values are all askew from being in the states). Although don’t ask me what that bread situation was… because although the menu said raisin walnut, I’m PRETTY sure it was just brioche.  NO MATTER!! I enjoyed every non salty-meaty-greasy bite!

French Toast, seasonal fresh fruit, butter, local maple syrup $14

George also went for something sweet, his French Toast lookin’ all cute stacked up like a Jenga tower… Oh and DROWNED in maple syrup!  By all accounts, it tasted delish.  We did some sharesies and the corner I got was nice and crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside!  Possibly the only gripe I had with both of ours was the finely sliced apple situation.  Bit of a cop out?!

Quilted interiors

Like most cafes here, Smith & Mills also offers a dinner menu and cocktails all day (New Yorkers know how to drink… and it’s anytime of day!!  My kind of people!).  The menu is simple offering raw sections, some starters with a Hungarian twist  and 4 Mains – with one of them being the obligatory burger.

The entire time, besides 2 ladies sitting at the bar enjoying a bit of a cocktail and some flirting with the barman, the place was nice and quiet!  I felt like sitting there all day.  Perhaps if G wasn’t with me, I’d be the one flirting with the Bar Man! Perhaps next Saturday…

Smith & Mills

71 N. Moore Street

New York, NY, 10013

+212 226 2515

The Spotted Pig

2 Sep

The entrance of the Spotted Pig

It’s almost my third week in New York City.  The City that never sleeps… and most certainly NEVER stops eating!!  I’m slowly ticking off my ‘eats list’ around NYC (which is endlessly growing)!

I’d had a fun day at work, and got out kind of early so decided to walk home.  I do that a lot here.  Walking!  Even if I get back from a day of it and SWEAR to not walk 30 blocks again, I always find myself getting home exhausted and feeling like my feet have been raped by pounding the pavement. The upside of walking though means I have A LOT of thinking time.  And it means I work up an excruciating appetite.

George and I decide it’s finally Burger Time!  The Spotted Pig is a small corner pub in the West Village, known for Mario Batali’s heart attack inducing Roquefort Beef Burger.  Despite it’s many accolades and constant crowds you can tell it hasn’t fallen victim to the hype.  It’s cosy.  Still looks like a pub, and the place isn’t jam packed full of hipsters or corporates or wannabes wanting to be seen.  In fact, the only thing it is packed with is pig paraphernalia…

After our 45 minute wait at the bar, by the time we are seated G and I are both beyond starving!  We are presented menus but in my Burger Blinker state, don’t even skim over it and get right to business.  (sitting at the bar for 45 minutes meant I had to watch approximately 3 burgers a minute be ferried from kitchen to customer… it made me ravenous for one!!)

Chargrilled Burger with Roquefort Cheese & Shoestrings $ 17

Roquefort cheese oozes over the medium rare patty

The burger arrives cooked to order (we both asked for medium rare) covered with a mountain of shoe string fries.  It’s a decent thick patty, and upon cutting it open, is indeed cooked to how I ordered.  Nice!  Although a simple burger, with nothing but meat and cheese (livin’ the dream in my books… one doesn’t need bother wasting time with greens), there isn’t a moment throughout the experience of flavour boredom.  And yes!  That cheese is intense!!  But it’s by no means over the top!

Given the size of this Meat/Cheese flavour bomb, by the time I finish it I can’t even get through half the fries… and dessert is most certainly not happening!  Instead we leave with a belly full of goodness (it’s nice to leave a restaurant without feeling ripped off, pissed off and hungry!)  Next time though I must be sure to actually read the menu…

I heart NY. I heart Spotted Pig!

The Spotted Pig

314 W. 11th St (@Greenwich St.) West Village

(212) 620-0393

The Age Good Food Guide – the big suck up

1 Sep

DDO doesn’t often use the blog to rant and rave, but the latest release of the Good Food Guide warrants some (a lot) ranting and raving. In case you missed it, Attica won Victorian Restaurant of the Year (don’t necessarily agree, but we all have different points of view), and Vue de Monde was awarded 3 ‘hats’ – the top gong. This was despite not being rated at all (scoring withheld to recognise that ‘it was a work in progress’), with a reviewer quoted as saying ”it will be at least as good as it was at [former home] Normanby Chambers”.
Now don’t get me wrong – I very much enjoyed Vue de Monde on my last visit and unlike Attica, I could see the reason for all the accolades. But I think there is something clearly wrong when they city’s supposed premier food guide starts to award the top rating to something that clearly doesn’t deserve it (yet).
What more proof do you need of a clearly biased and farcical process?
DDO’s advice – scrap the guide and jump online, read REAL reviews and make up your own mind.

Attica

29 Aug

It must be somewhat bittersweet when you are lauded, applauded and awarded – on one hand it’s a celebration of achievement (sometimes after a lifetime of toiling), but on the other it raises the bar of expectation and opens up a whole new world of critique (often unfair).  I imagine this must be what Ben Shewry feels after having Attica make national, and international headlines over the last few years – including ranking 53 in San Pellegrino’s World’s Top Restaurants 2011 (the only Melbourne restaurant on the list), Chef of the Year and 2 ‘hats’ (Age Good Food Guide 2011).

What probably started as an assuming restaurant on a suburban strip in Ripponlea is now a heavyweight on the Australian restaurant scene.  But unlike some other big name establishments where the focus is more on building hype, with limited substance to back it up (cue anything by Andrew McConnell – sorry JL I am not a big fan), you get the sense that at its heart Attica is still about food that tests traditional gastronomic boundaries and doesn’t necessarily care too much about pleasing every patron.  Hence the pared back interiors of black painted walls with rather strong floodlights (which spotlight the food but can be a bit of a strain on the eyes), and a makeshift paintjob in the bathrooms (a garish purple with checked vinyl floor covering reminiscent of the bathrooms you would find at a gig in just any old bar).  Here there are no designer chairs and tables, no gleaming surfaces to indicate you are in one of the most highly restaurants in the country.

So all that’s left is the service and the food.  More on food later, but a quick word on the service, which is polite – almost to the point of being a little sterile.  The waiters rarely crack a smile and if they do, it’s as if they’ve been prodded with a Taser, and the description of each dish on the menu is somewhat rehearsed and delivered so slowly that you can almost see the words travelling from the brain to the mouth.  So whilst the service isn’t exactly bad, it would have been good to see a little more passion about the food and the process that’s gone into its creation.

Now to the food.  Put simply – I don’t see what the fuss is all about.  Yes its all very beautifully plated and the produce I am sure is the freshest of the fresh but taste-wise?  Let’s just say there were no fireworks.  No Meg Ryan When Harry Met Sally orgasmic sensations.

The Tasting Menu

We all opted for the 8 course degustation – unfortunately we couldn’t get in on the Tuesday that we wanted to try the Chef’s Table which is basically where Ben and his team test new menu ideas.  The girls shared a bottle of wine whilst JP opted for the matching wines.  A note on the wines – they were quite stingy with the servings and not exactly too knowledgeable either (apart from the scripted descriptions given at the pouring of each wine).  Also we found it a bit bizarre that the alcohol was served way before the food course, given that the point of matching the wine is to have it with the food (and there wasn’t enough wine to make it last until the food course came out).  Not exactly exceeding (or even matching) expectations here.

So back to the food – listed in order of eating:

Starter - Prawns

Starter – a beautiful prawn, done ceviche style with mustard seeds. Simple, beautifully presented (presenting the tiny morsel at the bottom of a large cylindrical, dark blue dish gave a touch of drama), but so small that I was worried JP might chuck a tanty and walk out before the first course!

#1 Snow Crab – often served as the first course crab, salmon roe, puffed rice and freeze dried coconut presented under a pile of snow like powder made from horseradish oil.  Certainly interesting texture wise (the powder against the crunchy puffed rise and soft flesh of the crab plus the burst in your mouth roe certainly made for a party in the mouth), but didn’t love the taste. The usual sweetness you usually get from crab was totally overpowered by the horseradish and after two mouthfuls the party in the mouth pretty much lost its novelty.

#1 Snow Crab

#2 Marron, Leek & Egg Yolk

#2 Marron, Leek, Egg Yolk – exactly what the menu says it is. Nothing terribly fancy, but certainly tasty! The leek was surprisingly gentle, and cut through the creaminess of the yolk nicely, and the marron was nice and juicy.  Win!

#3 A simple dish of Potato cooked in the earth it was grown – known as the piece de resistance at Attica.  Simple it certainly is – a shiny, waxy potato presented on a bed of dried leaves atop a dollop of sour cream and sprinkled with particles of trout and coconut.  The potato is apparently prepared using the Maori hangi method, and cooked for 13 hours at a low, constant heat, in a tray filled with dirt, which transforms the texture of the potato.  Sounds totally amazing – but I was disappointed.  Yes it looked pretty impressive, but to me it still tasted and felt like a potato.

#3 Potato cooked in the earth in which it was grown

#4 Meat from the Pearl Oyster – the pearl meat was served simply with slivers of seaweed and had a distinctly Asian-ness to it.  Whilst it was nice enough – the pearl meat was cooked well with a good mouth feel to it, not mushy but not crunchy – again, it failed to ignite any fireworks.

#4 Meat from the pearl oyster

#5 Raw Chestnut, Celeriac & Pyengana

#5 Raw Chestnuts, salt baked Celeriac, Pyengana – the next dish was certainly visually interesting.  A simple egg yolk sitting in the middle of the celeriac and slices of the chestnut.  The Pyengana (cheese) which was poured on top of the dish at the table.  Extremely rich and texturally a bit of a mush, if you like cheese and cream you might like a few mouthfuls, but any more than that is too much.  Good idea, but execution left a bit to be desired – the liquid molten cheese taking away any crunchiness that you would expect from raw chestnuts.

#6 Beef Tongue

#6 Beef Tongue, Vanilla, Myrtus, Lettuce Stems – being the only one on the table that does not eat tongue, I was reticent to have the menu changed, and so having been assured that the tongue does not look like tongue (unlike ox tongue served at Japanese BBQ places) I hazarded to give it a try.  I’m glad I tried, although after two bites I couldn’t consume anymore – either because it was so rich or because I just couldn’t get around it mentally (probably more of the latter).  Served on a bed of parsnip puree with pickled lettuce stems the ‘tongue’ looked more like a small piece of eye fillet, but it was tender and pretty much melted in the mouth.  I was surprised at how large it was compared to some of the other dishes, and given its richness this is one dish that didn’t need to be big.  Otherwise it was a tasty dish.

#7 Winter Apples – the first of two desserts this was all about the apple.  Compressed pink lady apples served on apple brandy infused cream and Turkish apple tea were decorated with vine leaves and an avocado gel.  The apple was crisp and juicy with a perfect apple flavour and avocado gel was light and velvety providing an interesting textural complexity to the dish.  Definitely my favourite dessert course.

#7 Winter Apples

#8 Mandarin & Honeydew Honey

#8 Mandarin and Honeydew Honey – not a big fan of either mandarin or honeydew I was ready to be converted when I saw this on the menu.  But sadly it was not to be.  The dish consists of mandarin pieces, some fresh and some freeze dried and infused with honeydew honey, with a drizzle of mandarin oil on top of which some Sauternes cream is poured at the table.  The flavour of the mandarin was amazingly pure.  Probably would be appealing to mandarin fans!

With our eight courses completed and feeling surprisingly full we were informed that there was an after dinner treat.  And what a treat it was – the most delicately crafted white chocolate eggs with an oozy salted caramel centre, served in a nest of hay and inspired by the Pukeko bird of New Zealand, the hometown of Shewry’s father.

White chocolate eggs with salted caramel

Salted caramel inside!

So final verdict?  Would I go to Attica again – probably not in a hurry.  Yes the food was beautifully crafted, but for me there was something missing.  Perhaps its because of the unfair expectations that come with being named as one of the world’s top restaurants but for me Attica was a bit bland – neither theatrically luxurious (cue Alain Ducasse and perhaps even Vue de Monde) nor commercially trendy (cue anything with Andew McConnell’s name on it) or awe inspiringly down to earth (not even the potato cooked in its own soil could evoke this sort of feeling).  I would have liked to see more of Shewry’s gastronomic philosophy come through – his passion for food, the influences of his heritage (birds and chocolate eggs aside).  But maybe all those things have been swamped by the loud applause from everyone except our humble party of four.

74 Glen Eira Road
Ripponlea
(03) 9530 0111
Editor’s Note: Attica has just been awarded st restaurant in Victoria at The Age Good Food Guide awards.  DDO stands by its review – what is your verdict?