HOT: The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

the grand richmond

Melbourne has so many eateries opening week after week that it’s easy to get caught up in the fervour of chasing new dining experiences.

But we musn’t forget the stalwarts of the city’s dining scene, places like The Grand Hotel in Richmond that have been serving happy customers for more than twelve years in Burnley Street.

I confess that despite moving to Melbourne twelve years ago myself I have never ventured to The Grand until last week. I was invited to attend one of The Grand’s special monthly events, The Grand Masters dinner to celebrate the old guard of Melbourne restaurant scene for AFR’s Australia’s Top 100 Restaurants, the only peer voted restaurant list in Australia.

the grand richmond

Branco Cokesa, Alex Almatrah and Peter Watt  are three front of house staff that have worked in the hospitality business for over 40 years and together garnered over 165 (!) chef hats between them. While they served the diners in one of The Grand’s upstairs function rooms, they regaled us with anecdotes about ACDC, Billy Joel, Alan Bond and other celebrities, shared stories about their love for hospitality and the special place The Grand had in their hearts.

the grand richmond

The night highlighted the skill of The Grand’s co-head chefs, two young Italians in their late 20s with Michelin-starred resumes.

the grand richmond

First course was a Battuta di Tonno, a simple tuna tartare inspired by Olimpia Bortolotto’s dish served at Cafe Meni’s in St Kilda.

the grand richmond

The pasta course was a dish that Stephen Downes rated as one of the 100 things you must eat before you die – chef Valerio Nucci’s Vincisgrassi Lasagne. It’s a traditional dish from the Marche region of Italy and not one you’re likely to find on many restaurant menus. The secret ingredients? Pot roasted chuck steak slow-cooked with vegetables and herbs, chopped kidneys brains and liver and lashings of butter!

the grand richmond

The main course was a melting roast porchetta with baby carrots, beetroot and spinach inspired by Bill Marchetti’s Latin, THE place for the rich and famous to dine in the 80s and 90s.

the grand richmond

The finale was developed by the The Grand’s ‘Young Guns in the Kitchen’ a white chocolate semifreddo with caramelised rock melon. It’s not often you see melon on dessert menus these days and the refreshing sweetness was a perfect counterpoint for the richness of the previous savoury dishes.

The Grand is the kind of place that families visit over generations and it has consistently been awarded one hat since 2006.  It’s not flashy or cutting edge but serves authentic Italian food in a warm and inviting environment where you know you’ll be taken care of. Treasure it, Melbourne.

The Grand Masters Wednesday 20 May and Wednesday 27 May

The Como Room, The Grand, 333 Burnley Street, Richmond (03) 9429 2530

Mon – Sun 12pm till 11pm

Fri – Sat 12pm till 1am

Grand Hotel Dining Room on Urbanspoon

HOT: Syracuse, 23 Bank Place, Melbourne

syracase melbourne

Syracuse was one of the many restaurants I tried in my first year in Melbourne and since then it has become a stalwart of the CBD’s scene, particularly for the banker-and-lawyer end of town. It’s not a so-hip-it-hurts kind of place with queues streaming out the door – more of a quiet high achiever.

syracase melbourne

Syracuse’s decor has not changed much from my last visit. Still very elegant, with lofty ceilings and quiet subdued period features framed by a theatrical curtain swathing the front entrance.

syracase melbourne

syracase melbourne

I was invited to try their new menu, which has moved in a very different direction from my previous visits. It’s goodbye to Italian-influenced comfort food style of cuisine and hello to a lighter, more playful approach incorporating flavours and techniques from beyond the Mediterranean.

For lunch they have an Express Lunch menu with two courses and a glass of wine for $45 but we opted to order a la carte as we were intrigued by many of the dishes on the menu.

syracase melbourne

To start, To start, we shared some tender line caught calamari (more sustainable than traditionally netted calamari) with potatoes beurre fondue, braised leek and bottarga  ($16.50). A delicate entree with an inspired combination of textures.

syracase melbourne

While Syracuse has moved beyond traditional Italian cuisine generally you shouldn’t dismiss the kitchen’s skill with Italian dishes like the featherlight pan fried potato and porcini gnocchi ($23 entree size). This was served with earthy wild mushrooms, a dab of avocado and a surprising ‘garlic milk’. Basically it was a frothy light sauce infused with cloves of roasted garlic and was an inventive change from a basic cream sauce. I found the addition of avocado a bit too inventive though – for me there was just something not quite right with the addition of a cold avocado puree to the mix. I would have preferred a more tradition pea puree or nothing at all.

syracase melbourne

The hearty slow roasted Flinders Island lamb rump was incredibly tender and the tumbling combination of fermented tomatoes, black olive, macadamia and shanklish gave the dish a Mediterranean twist ($38).

syracase melbourne

In contrast the King George whiting, with a lineup of mandolined crayfish, pickled cabbage and watermelon ($40) was a delightfully zingy dish for Autumn and almost Japanese in its execution particularly with the garnish of roasted rice. It was certainly ornately presented.

syracase melbourne

To finish we shared a crème brûlée delicately scented with violets, combined with a drizzle of passionfruit caramel and ‘passionfruit crispies’ ($15). It was well-balanced in its sweetness despite the potential for overwhelming sugar in its combination of ingredients. A perfect sugar crust on the top too, perfect for cracking with the back of a spoon.

syracase melbourne

The Cherry Bombe was also well balanced with the meringue hiding the cherry ice cream within, though personally I could have done without the optional hit of limoncello ($16). I adored the pretty presentation.

Syracuse’s revised menu is an interesting departure from the traditional fare that it used to serve. Some of it was more successful than others but in general I enjoyed the ambience, service and the thoughtfully presented dishes. A restaurant that should definitely satisfy the gastronomes.

Syracuse, 23 Bank Place, Melbourne

Monday – Friday 7:00am-11:00pm

Saturday 6:00pm-11:00pm

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HOT: Cecconi’s Flinders Lane Restaurant and Cellar Bar, 61 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Cecconi's

Cecconi’s Flinders Lane is a much-awarded Italian restaurant stalwart in Melbourne and their recent revamp in décor drips of old school glamour with a capital G.

My memories of Cecconi’s was as a place of celebratory feasting with friends, romantic tete-a-tetes and even a wedding.

I was invited to sample their new seasonal menu and it appears that the relaunch has not changed Cecconi’s approach. It’s still a fine dining establishment which knows how to deliver a complete experience in food, service and ambience.

Cecconi's

Tottering down the basement steps your first view is of the quiet, well-ordered open plan kitchen centre stage. As well as being practical, the hanging copper pots and pans lent a warm glow to the surroundings and touches of copper were echoed in some of the other décor such as the wall lights.

Cecconi's

Near the stylish bar there’s a subtle nod to the Cecconi’s heritage with the framed portraits of family members hanging on the back wall.

Cecconi's

I was also particularly taken by the huge dome pendant lamps with a delicately ornate etchings on the porcelain inner. Overall the look is sharp and polished – a place to impress.

Cecconi's

Cecconi's

To start we were offered some smart canapés – melting San Daniele prosciutto twisted around long grissini and mushroom arancini with garlicky aoili to name a few.

Cecconi's

Cecconi's

Then, the first course – a heady truffle and parmesan risotto. A creamy, earthy dish lifted to decadence by the extravagant amount of freshly shaved black truffle spiking the plate.

Cecconi's

Second course was Chatham Island Blue Cod, confit tomato, fennel, fried zucchini flower from the owner’s garden and a drizzle of aged balsamic. The fish was perfectly pan-fried with a slight hint of crispness on the outer edges, which meant that I would have preferred the zucchini flower to be more lightly battered as I felt overall that the textural balance was on the dry side.

Cecconi's

The dish of the night was twice cooked duck and the most luxurious sweet potato puree. Who knows how much cream or butter was whisked into that puree but it was like eating marshmallow. The duck was perfectly cooked, simultaneously juice and crispy.

Cecconi's

Dessert was a jar of caramel pannacotta layered with broken wild fig cake and macadamia ice cream. I felt that serving the pannacotta in a jar diminished its impact somewhat as the other ingredients dominated the palate before your spoon hit the bottom. Nevertheless, an artful twist on an Italian classic.

Cecconi's

Based on my dinner it seems that Cecconi’s will be continuing on with what it does best – fine dining without stuffiness, Italian food without fussiness and a place that’s sure to impress your parents, your friends or your date.

Cecconi’s Flinders Lane Restaurant and Cellar Bar, 61 Flinders Ln, Melbourne  03 8663 0500

Monday – Friday 12:00pm-12:00am

Saturday 5:30pm-12:00am

Cecconi's Flinders Lane Restaurant on Urbanspoon

HOT: Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne


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I feel that everything that needs to be said about three-hat Vue de Monde has already been said.

So instead of describing at length each of the ten courses of the degustation at one of Australia’s best restaurants (and having to take notes during my lunch), today I’m going to leave you with a photo essay of what the full Vue de Monde experience looks like.

First off, the view at 55 floors.

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The restaurant itself is quite casual for a fine-dining establishment. They use quietly expensive crockery, furniture and artwork in the space but it’s not in any way intimidating. Plus the staff are professional and friendly without being snooty. Sometimes the kitchen staff present the dishes they have made, complete in aprons and clogs, which I think is a particularly lovely touch.

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One of Vue de Monde‘s signature cocktails is their version of the Old Fashioned, using Leatherwood honey. An Old Fashioned may have become a bit of cliche with the advent of Mad Men, but when it comes served with a huge ball of ice (so it doesn’t melt as quickly) in a cut crystal tumbler then you know it’s high end. Just be aware it costs $25!

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

The restaurant has a whole ‘classy cave man’ theme happening which means the tables are covered in kangaroo hide, some of the chairs have (faux?) fur backs and food is sometimes presented on rocks and sticks which brings to mind scenes of a Neanderthal bonfire. It may be considered gimmicky but I don’t mind of a bit of theatre when it’s backed up by incredible attention to detail in the food.

First up on the rocks – carrot (some poor sod had to fashion these to look like twigs?), smoked eel, white chocolate and caviar, salt cured wallaby and Truffle marshmallow (not pictured).

 

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne
King prawn (including the crispy head), seaweed salted duck yolk and some wasabi snow spooned over the top at the last moment.

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Melbourne onion soup – the liquid was siphoned through a coffee filter and poured over roasted and pickled onions.

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

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A perfect sous vide marron, sweetbread, lamb floss.

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

The butter for the bread arrives with almost ridiculous ceremony – spooned out from a huge tub of imported Beurre Echire.

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Duck yolk, pear circlets, truffle and crispy saltbush leaves.

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An interactive palate cleanser of wood sorrel doused in cloudy liquid nitrogen and crushed to a powder with your pestle. A spoon of cucumber sorbet was then added on top.

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne
A juicy fillet of barramundi with nettle puree and young garlic.

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

Flinders Island lamb, olive, Australian anchovies, mustard

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

Blackmore Wagyu, smoked bone marrow, saltbush

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

After seven savoury courses you can choose to have three desserts or an assortment of cheeses, bread and jams plus two desserts. The wooden cheese trolley is a large structure which is quite a sight to behold.

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne
My alternative dessert was of buttermilk, malt cream, hay.

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

Rhubarb, white chocolate, coffee

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

A Vue de Monde classic – the most perfect chocolate soufflé I’ve ever had in terms of consistency of texture. This shows off the kitchen’s classic French techniques to perfection.

Vue De Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, Melbourne

If you make a booking for the first lunch sitting at midday then be aware that you’ll need to vacate your table for the second sitting at 2:30pm. The transition is impressively smooth and well-organised – there’s no unceremonious shunting you out the door but instead they set you up at the bar (with a glorious window view) to enjoy your selection of petit-fours at your leisure.

The petit fours were all ‘Australiana’ inspired – miniature chocolate mousse lamingtons, chocolate pippi shells, bourbon jellies shaped like two-up coins and eucalyptus ice cream balls.

Vue-De-Monde-Level-55-Rialto-525-Collins-St-Melbourne

And to extend your Vue de Monde experience you go home with a goodie bag of brioche, honey, tea, cookies and granola for the morning after!

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Vue de Monde offers some of the most inventive and decadent dining in Australia. At $250 a head for the ten course degustation it is certainly a special occasion restaurant – but if you appreciate artistry in food and wine in stunning surroundings then save your pennies and book ahead.

HOT: Bistro Guillaume, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

Bistro Guillaume, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

With Bistro Guillaume well-known Sydney-based French chef Guillaume Brahimi brings his excellent reputation to Crown Melbourne on the site which formerly housed Philippe Mouchel’s The Brasserie.

The more fine-dining aspect of The Brasserie (starched white tablecloths, sleek lighting and besuited waiters) has been stripped back to a more casual, neighbourhood bistro feel for Bistro Guillaume. So the floorboards have been stained black to match the wooden chairs, the tables are bare of adornment except for the paper placemat menus, the lightshades have a turn-of-the-century petticoat look to them and the waiters get about in neat polo shirts.

Bistro Guillaume, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

The bistro menu is a roll call of French classics. We started with entrees of a dozen escargot persillade ($24) and the country-style terrine ($20). Both dishes were generously sized and could easily feed a diner with a light appetite. In fact, I would recommend sharing an entree, especially as the snails come in two separate ramekins so you can have one each. Six buttery, garlicky snails is about the right proportion – twelve is getting a bit over the top.

Bistro Guillaume, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

As for the terrine I liked the fact that it wasn’t too tightly packed so that you felt that you were just eating a loaf of meat, but RM pointed out that he would have preferred a bit more contrast of textures within the terrine, such as the addition of nuts.

Every day there is a plat du jour ($35-$40) and it’s a shame that some of those dishes aren’t available on the standard menu every day as dishes liked braised rabbit, boudin blanc and bouillabaisse sounded very tempting. Nevertheless I’m sure you could still find something to your liking within the mains, which encompasses fish, duck, pork, chicken, venison and the ubiquitous steak frites.

For mains RM went with roasted duck breast, carrot and orange puree, caramelised endive and radish salad ($36) and I chose the Berkshire pork belly with pickled cabbage and apple salad ($36).

Bistro Guillaume, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

Disappointingly my pork belly lacked any hint of crackling and just a tiny bit on the dry side. But if you like pork belly I’d still say it was a dish worthy of trying again and the cabbage and apple salad added the necessary piquancy to cut through the richness of the meat.

Bistro Guillaume, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

The duck breast was perfectly pink and tender and again I liked the endive/radish combination to match the full-bodied flavour of the meat. However, I felt that the carrot and orange puree was too sweet for the dish and I think a more bland accompaniment of say potato or celeriac would have been a better match.

Bistro Guillaume, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

Having said that, we accompanied our mains with a side of Paris mash ($9), prettily presented in its own cast iron pot. For those watching your waistlines you should be warned that this perfectly smooth, creamy mashed potato contains a whole heap of butter and milk (and sometimes cream). One to try but definitely one to share.

Obviously RM and I are not of the dieting type as we raced headlong into dessert (despite the fact that RM said that he was starting to feel dizzy from the fat sweats).

Bistro Guillaume, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

Good thing we did as the standout dish of the evening and definitely the dessert to order are the profiteroles ($16). On the plate comes three spheres of choux pastry with a tissue-thin delicacy to their outer shells, split open to expose fat orbs of vanilla bean ice cream. The waiter flourishes a pot of hot sauce and swirls it all over your plate, drowning your nostrils in sweet chocolate fumes. It’s the perfect balance of cold and hot and crunch and creamy.

Bistro Guillaume, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

My chocolate delice ($18) was also excellent but just lacked the same wow factor as the profiteroles. The chocolate mousse of the delice was just the right side of bitter and well matched with the sugary violet ice cream.

I think the one hat Bistro Guillaume is one of the highlights of the Crown Melbourne restaurant strip. The food ranges from very good to wowsers, the prices are reasonable given the location and the proportions of the servings (we dined using the 25% off discount from the Entertainment Card, even better value) and the setting is suitably relaxed for a catch up with friends or family yet still romantic enough for a private tete-a-tete.

For other excellent restaurants in the Southbank area, try the Japanese fusion Sake or steaks at Rockpool Bar and Grill.

Bistro Guillaume, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank +61 3 9292 4751
Lunch & dinner, seven days a week, noon until late


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Bistro Guillaume on Urbanspoon

Spice Journey dinner with Shane Delia, Maha – Giveaway!

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If you’ve been watching SBS’s new series Shane Delia’s Spice Journey (Thursdays 7:30pm SBS ONE) you will no doubt have been salivating over all the wonderful Middle Eastern dishes he describes and creates as he travels Malta, Lebanon and Iran. Now here’s your chance to try them and to meet Shane himself!

Shane’s restaurant Maha will host a Spice Journey exclusive event on Tuesday 4 June at 7pm. The one-night only dinner will comprise a 6 course meal showcasing dishes from Shane Delia’s Spice Journey, with a wine match from the Middle Eastern regions he traveled for the program as well as appearances by the very personable Shane himself.

Tickets are $150 per head and limited in number but one lucky person can win a double pass to this amazing event. To win all you have to do is 1. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook (if you don’t already) and 2. leave a comment below. A winner will be drawn randomly on Monday 3 June. Good luck!

The winner is #5 Mellie! And email has been sent to you.

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Maha, 21 Bond St, Melbourne +61 3 9629-5900. Pre-payment by credit card preferred
Tuesday June 4, 6.30pm arrival for 7pm service
$150 per person (includes 6 courses, matching wines plus still/sparkling water and tea or coffee).

HOT: Ducks in a Row, Taxi Dining Room, Level 1 Transport Hotel, Federation Square, Melbourne

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Cosy up to winter in the best possible way by enjoying Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s June celebration of cold weather cuisine and Victorian produce, the Roast Collection and Put Victoria on Your Table.

I was invited to a preview of one of the special events which is being held in June at the Asian inspired fine dining restaurant Taxi Dining RoomDucks in a Row. It’s a 5 course degustation lunch every Sunday in June featuring free-range ducks from Great Ocean Ducks near Port Campbell.

This is not duck, duck, duck, goose but duck, duck, duck, duck, duck and dessert! And it’s simply delicious.

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The lunch commenced with coffee smoked duck sushi – thin slivers of smokey meat presented atop rice like nigiri – with a dash of teriyaki glaze and a wad of fresh wasabi with so hot that it will hit your cold on the head.

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The next course was Asian style dumplings with chilli, fried shallots and hoisin sauce and a neat salad of shredded cabbage, carrot and water chestnuts. While I liked the duck meat filling the dumpling wrapper was too thick and doughy for my liking. I think it could have been silkier and smoother with a little less handling.

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I enjoyed the theatricality of the third course – a bamboo-handled Japanese teapot poured out a clear duck broth made using the bones remaining from the other courses. The steaming broth melded with the Thai basil, water spinach, coriander and chilli, making a warming and richly fragrant soup which packed a punch with its chilli quotient.

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The main course was a classic Taxi dish – roasted Sichuan pepper duck with fresh lime and house made sriracha salt. The duck was double-cooked – firstly steamed to gently cook the flesh and then flash-fried to lend the outer skin a caramel crispiness.  Tt was the standout course for me as I loved the contrast of textures in the meat, the light and fresh lime and orange segments cutting through the richness and the hit of unami from the glaze. With good reason the dish has been on the menu for almost 10 years with only slight variations in that decade.

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While I didn’t feel too ‘ducked out’ after four consecutive courses of duck, I was relieved that dessert didn’t also involve duck (though there had been some discussion about duck fat ice cream). Instead, the dessert course was a riff on the duck theme. In summer the Great Ocean Ducks feed on the strawberries of the neighbouring farm and in winter they eat green apples from the farm’s orchard. Hence the dessert was a green apple tart tatin with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of sticky calvados caramel.

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Ducks in a Row is being offered for the five Sundays in June for lunch only for $85. There is no matched wine option but there will be wine recommendations with each course (yes there is even a duck champagne!).

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It’s a lovely way to spend a wintery weekend, eating good food and with excellent service and views to boot. Get in while you can!

Ducks in a RowTaxi Dining Room, Transport Hotel, Federation Square, Melbourne +61 3 9654 8808

 

HOT: Persimmon, Ground Level NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank

Persimmon, Ground Level NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank

I have to admit that I am a bit skeptical when it comes to gallery or concert hall restaurants.

I feel that when a building’s main purpose is not to be a restaurant then there’s no real incentive to serve good food. Add to that the fact that they are  catering for a captive audience of hungry patrons (some of them tourists who won’t be revisiting the venue any time soon) and you have a recipe for soggy bain marie dishes and uninspiring sandwiches.

Happily, Persimmon at NGV International proves my prejudice wrong. Persimmon is the high end restaurant inside the gallery, a glass box which overlooks the beautiful Grollo Equiset outdoor sculpture garden on three sides. I have attended weddings in the garden and at the restaurant and it is one of Melbourne’s loveliest and most restful places to dine.

Persimmon, Ground Level NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank

For lunch Persimmon offer a la carte menu or for better value, a more limited set menu of 2 courses with a glass of wine for $45 (you can add sides for a hefty $9) or a 4 course market lunch which changes weekly for $81 or $101 with matching wines.

I treated myself to the Member’s Lunch on the opening day of NGV’s winter blockbuster exhibition of Monet’s Garden when Persimmon served a special menu which included some of the dishes from its regular lunch menu. (NGV members get 10% off the bill at Persimmon).

Persimmon, Ground Level NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank

I decided to go with main + dessert, starting with a tender confit duck leg nestled in a cocoon of creamy celeriac puree, stalks of delicate white asparagus, and some salty flakes of black potato with the texture of nori seaweed. It was a beautifully presented dish and the combination of autumnal flavours was a perfect match for the weather outside.

Persimmon, Ground Level NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank

For dessert I chose the chocolate tart with chocolate sorbet. The description belied the work of art which was presented to me – a triangular of luxurious dark chocolate ganache tart, edible petals, giggle-inducing chocolate popping candy and a sharp bitter/sweet tang of sorbet.

In conjunction with Monet’s Garden Persimmon are offering a French inspired two course lunch with a glass of wine, coffee or tea and an exhibition ticket for $71 – saving you from the ignominious anticlimax of queuing up at the ticket office after your luxurious lunch.

Persimmon is a well-presented restaurant located in one of the quiet, hidden spaces of Melbourne and if you are visiting NGV International I highly recommend capping off your artistic experience with lunch there, then taking a digestive stroll through the outdoor sculpture gallery. It’s a quintessentially Melbourne experience.

For more special dining events related to Monet’s Garden click here.

Persimmon, Ground Level NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Southbank +61 3 8620 2434 

Open 11am–4pm (lunch served until 2.30pm)

Closed Tuesdays 

Persimmon on Urbanspoon

HOT: Moon Under Water, Builders Arms Hotel, 211 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

For the first time in my memory food critic John Lethlean from The Weekend Australian magazine awards a restaurant 5/5 stars. And given it’s only a hop, skip and jump from my home it would be remiss of me not to visit Moon Under Water, the fine dining side of the revamped boozer Builders Arms Hotel.

If you’re short on time then the conclusion is that everything that Mr Lethlean says in his review I heartily concur with. Under Andrew McConnell’s guidance, Moon Under Water is sophisticated and confident, creative and intriguing. The prix fixe menu of $75 for 4 courses is value for money in my view and as the menu changes weekly to fortnightly depending on the season and availability of produce you could go for repeat visits and not eat the same thing every time. They also cater very well (and very politely) for any dietary requirements.

The all-white dining room could be termed stark but I prefer to think of it is calming and serene. All that wood panelling combined with Bentwood chairs is very Nordic and a far cry from the multi-coloured Saturday Night Fever-esque flooring which I used to dance on (showing my age!). The whiteness does not make the atmosphere clinically sterile – there are dots of colour in the form of a greenery or a bowl of zucchini. Also the staff slip around in semi-scuffed white Dunlop volleys and the tables are covered in butcher’s paper for a casual feel.

On my most recent visit the menu was as follows:

  • Cheese biscuit
  • Rottnest Island scallops, cucumber, fennel
  • Shaved jamon, fresh curd, raw and grilled zucchini
  • roast chicken, celery, leek and hazelnuts
  • peach, lemon cream, blueberries
Inside what looked like a camping enamel soap container was the most delicious salt/olive oil bread I’ve ever eaten paired with slices of lightly pickled cucumber and a hunk of good butter. That bread outshone even the shiitake mushroom croquettes for me (which curiously were not mentioned on the menu).

On a summer’s day you can’t go too wrong with perfectly seared scallop, the freshness of cucumber and a lemon aioli. The presentation was painstaking too – you could just imagine the tweezers in action placing each miniature fennel frond precisely around the plate.

More freshness, this time in the form of zucchini, goats curd and an intensely fragrant tomato highlighted with a sliver of jamon. The dish really showcased what you can do with humble vegetables – a dish full of colour and flavour and a pleasure for the senses.

The meat course was a perfectly roasted chicken breast with celery, softened leeks and a square of crispy chicken skin. It was accompanied by a simply dressed bowl of lettuce – again highlighting the finesse you can demonstrate through the use of a humble ingredient.

Dessert was what I consider a typical McConnell dish – a bunch of torn up ingredients tossed together in what seems to be a haphazard way but is actually a carefully considered combination of flavours. And I’m sure that jumble of summer flavours is not accidental plating either as every plate looked the same on our table.

To end – thin dark chocolate shells housing an oozing salted caramel and mousse. Otherwise known as a fancy-pants Rolo!

As you can see the servings are modest so while you will be full at the end of the meal don’t expect to feel like you’re rolling out the door. If you enjoy that I’ve-just-had-a-degustation-and-can’t-move feeling then I suggest filling up on the delicious bread!
I like Moon Under Water so much I have been twice in 2 weeks and would happily go again and again. Given the hype around the restaurant I was surprised to be able to get a booking easily and at short notice (once for a large group of 10 people). Must be the holiday season I guess.

My advice? Book now and enjoy.

Moon Under Water, Builders Arms Hotel, 211 Gertrude St, Fitzroy +61 3 9417 7700


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HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

You know how there are some restaurants which are your go-to destinations? The default choice for a first date, the default choice for a family gathering, the default choice for Sunday brunch?

Well, before I got married Bottega was my default location for introducing boyfriends to my parents for the first time! I knew that the Modern Italian restaurant would be reliably excellent with lots of menu options, the service was friendly and it wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t have a conversation yet not so quiet you felt like everyone was eavesdropping on you.

While Bottega has remained a consistent favourite even after marriage things have changed somewhat since my last visit – foremost being the fact that a new menu has arrived along with new head chef Gabriele Olivieri (who was previously the sous chef).

I was invited with some other food bloggers to try some of the signature dishes on their revamped express lunch, a la carte lunch and dinner menu.

First up, bruschetta with baccala mantecato and vincotto ($19). I really enjoyed the salt and sweet pairing of the fish and the vincotto reduction, but I didn’t particularly like the temperature at which it was served – stone cold. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done but I’m not partial to cold, cooked fish generally. Reminds me too much of schoolyard tuna sandwiches.

I have an unreasonable fear of offal but this char-grilled ox tongue with salsa verde, anchovy and croutons was my style of dish ($19). Shreds of meat fell away from my fork and the richness was cut through with the green tang of the salsa verde. Plus anything with anchovies gets my vote – hairier the better!

A curiously summery-like dish for the autumn season – zucchini flowers stuffed with buffalo ricotta and served with a  tomato and basil coulis and that sweet vincotto again ($22). I’d prefer the zucchini flowers battered to give the limp petals a bit of body in order to hold the filling inside, but otherwise the flavours worked well together.

Beef carpaccio has been on the Bottega menu since forever but now they’ve revamped it to a pretty floral clock of Vitello Tonnato ($21). The delicately braised pink veal was paired with some crunchy pickled celery heart and crispy capers and the traditional mayonnaise-like sauce.

Pasta is a speciality at Bottega and the two plates we tried were worthy of a return visit in themselves. Honestly, I’m still dreaming about these dishes!

The individually hand rolled strozzapreti (which translates to strangle the priest!) with seafood and prawn bisque ($26/$37) emanated a bouquet of heady seafood flavours and the twisted pasta held just the right amount of al dente resistance.

The folded parcels of roasted tomato and burrata agnolotti were served unusually with what was effectively a baba ganoush ($24/$32). The smokiness of the eggplant puree was an unexpectedly Middle Eastern touch to a very Italian combination of cheese, tomato and rocket and I’m going to steal this idea to use up the glut of eggplants I seem to be getting lately in my vege box delivery.

Out of the main dishes we tried the Western Plains pork belly, cooked sous vide then pan fried with a dash of peppered apple puree and a crisp square of crackling ($37). If you like pork belly, don’t look any further. The meat and fat melded into a single mouthful with a crust of herbs and spices to lend some body to the meat. The photo doesn’t do it justice as it just looks a bit brown, brown and brown.

Along with pasta another of the kitchen’s main focuses is on housemade sorbetti ($18 for a selection). We were tempted with pear, mango, vanilla and chestnut and peach, each scoop declaring its provenance with clean flavours of fruit and nuts.

My visit to Bottega reminded me why this restaurant has been in business for 10 years now. It delivers excellent food, service and apparently an accessible wine list aimed at diners, not sommeliers in sophisticated yet unpretentious surroundings. Buon appetito!

Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne +61 3 9654 2252
Mon – Wed: 12:00 pm-10:00 pm
Thu – Fri: 12:00 pm-11:00 pm
Sat: 5:30 pm-11:00 pm

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