Sunday, June 29, 2008

Macaron Masterclass

After a rollercoaster love affair with macarons that included some highs and some lows such that I had declared my hatred of macarons, some time has passed and I'm ready to get on the rollercoaster again.

However, this time I had a secret weapon to make sure that I have more highs than lows. I was having a Macaron Masterclass with the master. No, not Pierre Herme, but the next best thing. I was having a Macaron Masterclass with Melbourne's Macaron Master Markham (MMMM), Duncan Markham, from Syrup and Tang, whose love affair with the Macaron is well known throughout the blogging community.

The day started when both Jackie and myself arriving punctually to Master Markham's palatial abode for a class in how to make macarons (ok use your best French accent and say it with me maca-rawn, roll your r's now).

We were using Duncan's Italian Meringue Method to make the macarons. This method is much more reliable, although slightly trickier as it requires making a syrup. Go to Duncan's post to get a detailed recipe and instructions.

Duncan showed us how to make the macarons with a run through of the ingredients and method before doing a hands on demo. It looked so easy when he showed us. Previously, I was so stressed when making it. I guess when you do it many times, it gets easier. The key to everything though is to learn how your oven works in relation to the macaron mixture. Being able to control the baking rate will result in either perfect macarons, or slightly less than perfect macarons.

Here were some shells that Jackie and I piped. Notice the irregular sizes, plus how we piped them too near such that they stuck together to make siamese macarons.

The hazelnuts that we shelled for use in the filling. Duncan had roasted these prior to us arriving and the house smelt so good. I remember a tip on an infotainment show that says you should bake something when having open house inspections as the smell helps to induce people to buy the house. Well, I reckon you should roast nuts as this smell trumped that of baking bread even.

Here we are plonking (and I say plonking as we had no technique whatsoever) on the filling. You're supposed to dollop a high mound in the centre and then squash the two macaron shells together from the edges so that the filling flattens out and also you don't break the shell.

Here is the master himself, making a ganache to put into the shells. Note, there was no Vogue magazine style photoshopping at all of this photo, Duncan really is that good looking.

Finally, when you do everything correctly, you get an amazing looking and tasting macaron. Hooray! I made a perfect macaron.

We did a basic vanilla shell and a chocolate shell and mixed and matched those shells with a chocolate ganache, lavendar and chocolate ganache (eew this flavour just tasted like toilet freshner to me, but Duncan thought it was "interesting" and growing on him), chocolate and hazelnut ganache, and my favourite favourite favourite flavour, violet.

I will definitely be trying to make macarons by myself. I have so many flavour combos to try out. A huge huge thanks to Duncan for being so generous with his time and talent to help teach Jackie and myself how to make macarons. Now, if you too want to make macarons, contact Duncan. He might be persuaded to run some small classes for a reasonable fee. You'll take away the satisfaction of making these wonderful pastries and the actual macarons that you can eat till your hearts desires.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pettavel Winery Restaurant

My friends and I had never had a meal at a winery before. We've been on many trips to Red Hill, Bellarine Peninsula and Yarra Valley. So for Paul's birthday lunch, we decided to try out a winery restaurant. I remember reading Stickyfingers post about Salix and how it wasn't the best. Hence we ruled that place out. In the end, it was a choice between Vines Restaurant at Helen's Hill or Pettavel, both in the Entertainment Book. After some research of both their websites, Pettavel's menu looked a lot more enticing.

We arrived a little bit early so took a nice look at the amazing view outside the winery. The sun was streaming down rays of golden sunshine whilst the wind was doing its best to counter act the effect of the sun and making it extremely cold.

We went inside and did some wine tasting first. We went through the entire white and red wine list, about 14 wines in total from memory. The flavours were very varied, and we settled on a Pettavel Platina Chardonnay and a Pettavel Platina Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc to have with lunch. Since there was still some time before we could be seated for lunch, the staff suggested we take a walk to the back and look at the vegetable patch. The patch contained a lot of herbs and vegetables that ended up being highlighted in the dishes we would eat later. I'm not sure if the vegetables they planted are enough to supply the restaurant, but definitely every herb that was featured in the food was planted in the vegetable patch.

There was a vine growing on the fence that had these yellow fruits. When I cracked open the fruit, it was like a passionfruit in that it had little edible seeds. The seeds were red, like those of a pomegranate with a seed in the middle. The red rubies were sour to taste. Does anyone know what fruit this is?

The only meal choice available is what main you want with the degustation menu. While we decided, the waitress brought out bread and poured our wines. The waitress was extremely energetic, very American cheerleader like, and I thought it was a bit put on. But to her credit, if it was put on, we never saw her slip and she kept that happy spark up the whole time.

The meal started with an amuse bouche of creamy soup with peas in a shot glass. It was very comforting start. The first entree with Local Cuttlefish with Spring Onion, Tomato and Chilli. It was presented so beautifully, and the taste was more than matched with the looks. The cuttlefish was so tender and full of flavour, with a hint of chargrilled smokiness. The spring onion and chilli added a freshness to it. The tomato was actually in the form of the foam, which was strongly infused with tomato flavour and sprinkled with paprika. The green trail tasted of garlic.

The next entree was a Risotto with Slipper Jack and Swiss Brown Mushroom and Artavaggio. The risotto was cooked well and tasted quite good, but it was a touch salty. The Chicken Boudin Blanc with Caramelised Onion and Truffle Jus was quite good. The onions worked well with the blander chicken, but I didn't taste much truffle flavour in the jus, just a slightly over salty sauce.

For mains, we all chose something different so we could try out more of the food. Paul chose the Hahndorf Venison Topside with Pumpkin, Cocoa and Brik of Slow Braised Neck. It was the best mains in my opinion. The venison was cooked fairly rare and was so soft. It was so juicy and didn't taste like some exotic steak. Jo chose the Gold Band Snapper with Harissa, Skordalia and Preserved Lemon Aioli. As usual, fish is never my favourite thing, but this snapper combined with the various flavours did taste good.

Kin chose the Lara Rabbit with Braised Red Cabbage and Pithivier of Confit Leg. The rabbit leg was the better part of the dish. It had much more rabbit flavour, whereas the Pithivier was much drier inside. I chose the Confit Duck Leg with Cavalo, Duck Sausage and Beetroot. The duck was as duck goes, not too bad. I really liked the sweetness of the beetroot with the duck. I think beetroot is an underused vegetable. It can really add an interesting flavour to dishes, not to mention the brilliant red colour.

For desserts, Kin, as usual, got the Ice Creams and Sorbets. The flavours, from memory, were chocolate, raspberry, coconut, five spice and campari sorbet. Paul got the Pear Puff with Five Spice Ice Cream and Cinnamon. This dish worked so well when you ate everything together in one mouthful. The five spice ice cream was awful by itself, but when it was paired with the pear (boom boom, get it, paired peared) the five spice wasn't overpowering and worked with the rest of the dish.

Jo got the Coconut Panna Cotta, Banana Mousse and Palm Sugar Sorbet. Again, this dish worked when you ate everything together. The coconut pana cotta was amazing by itself already, but when paired with the other things, this dish was amazing. The palm sugar sorbet gave this fragrance, while the praline was infused with chilli and gave it all a kick. I didn't think it would all work, but was amazed at the complexity of flavours that swam around in my mouth with each mouthful. Finally, as usual, I got the chocolate dish of Valrhona Chocolate Marquise with Cumquats and Orange and Campari Sorbet. Again, my dessert had to eaten all together. When the cumquats were eaten separately, they were very sour and slightly bitter. The Campari sorbet was also slightly bitter by itself. But when eaten with the deliciously rich chocolate marquise, they help cut the richness and gave it more flavour.

The meal was finishe off with some coffee and tea. Jo had a chai soy latte as usual, which she said was the second best she had ever tasted. Kin and Paul went for lemongrass tea while I had a very good cappucino. The petit fours consisted of very taste coconut cakes, chocolate and pistachio bars and finally, some really good marshmallows. We thought tea, coffee and petit fours were part of the degustation menu as it wasn't clearly indicated that it wasn't. But it turned out it was a separate cost, which we didn't mind, but just that it wasn't clearly written that's all.

I don't know what other winery restaurants are like, but this one was really good I felt. The service the whole time was wonderful. From when they opened the door for us, to the wine tasting and the vast amounts of information we received. Our wine and water glasses was never empty. The waitress offered bread throughout the meal and checked on us just the right amount of times. Our dishes were described and cleared promptly. There were jokes and casual banter with the staff about many things. This friendly service added to the overall relaxed feel of the restaurant where we could hear happy people talking and laughing throughout our 3 hour meal.

The food was very good, as good as any top restaurant in the city, but at a fraction of the price. The degustation menu was only $70, a bargain in my views. Everything was beautifully presented with taste to match. The produce all tasted extremely fresh, with the source of the produce all identified. As mentioned earlier, I liked how all the herbs and vegetables that were in the patch were featured in all the dishes. Either they really use those vegetables or it's a very good gimmick to make us think everything is really fresh. Either way, it really worked for me.

Overall Rating: 18/20, Food and service were both excellent.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Pettavel Restaurant and Winery on Urbanspoon

Bistro Guillaume

Bistro Guillaume is the latest restaurant from Guillaume Brahimi, of Guillaume of Bennelong fame. I saw Guillaume on Food Safari and thought he was really funny. The bit where he did the "huoh huoh huoh" French laugh was hilarious. As an aside, the Flight of the Conchords (my favourite TV show at the moment) mock this French laugh in their song Foux du Fafa. It's hilarious, watch it below.

I had the fortune to have another meal on the company's expense. This was my second meal in a week that my company had paid for. Before you go and think that I have the best job ever, these were my first two meals my company has ever paid for, they just happened to both fall on the same week. So I was given the edict to enjoy myself for my good work, so after reading Ed, Sarah and Jon's great review about Bistro Guillaume, it was an easy choice.

Despite booking two weeks in advance, I was only able to get a table at 6pm where we had to vacate by 8:30pm. That was ok with us, as my work mates with kids (and sick kittens) had to go home fairly early anyway. So on Saturday, Rick, Babs, John, Trung and myself got to Bistro Guillaume about 15 minutes late, due to some technical navigational difficulties and one near fatal accident (ok I exaggerate slightly but we did nearly get into a car accident).

When we stepped inside Bistro Guillaume, I just felt we were in France. I've never been to France, but the restaurant is what I imagine fine French restaurants to look like. It just felt opulent. I was in such a rush to get to the restaurant on time that I left my camera in the car, so there are no photos :-(. Refer to Ed and Sarah's post for some wonderful photos of the interior. I just loved the grandness of the beautifully decorated interior. Babs didn't like the skirt type light shades, but I loved them. The tables and chairs looked classy. And as Sarah pointed out, even the knives had this beautiful bee insignia.

I ordered a wine while we perused the menu. The waiter came back to inform me that the particular wine I chose was unavailable. He then made a suggestion for a wine in the same price range without me asking. Now that's taking some initiative. The same waiter also let us know of any specials of the day, which we did end up ordering.

For entrees, I asked if I could get the tapas from the bar. From all the items on the menu, I was actually most interested in the entrees. And after seeing Jon's tapas platter, I really wanted that. I was informed that I wasn't allowed to order from the bar menu. This really perplexed me, as you can order from the main menu from the bar, but not vice versa. Also, the bar menu was just a slightly extended entrees menu. The thought of Gordon Ramsay popped into my head. I remembered an episode where he was in this fancy restaurant that was separated into three distinct parts, and he wasn't allowed to order dishes from another part of the resturant and he said that was just stupid. Well I have to agree.

Anyway, I got over that slight disappointment quickly and had to pick one entree only. This was really hard as I wanted to try the Steak Tartare, Jamon and Terrine du Jour. In the end, I told rationalised (it's the engineer in me, having to think of all the pros and cons) that I could eat Steak Tartare and Jamon elsewhere, so went for the house made Terrine. Fortunately for me, John ordered the Tartare, which obviously I asked to try. Rick got the Scallops that Sarah suggested to me, and Trung and Babs got the Oysters served natural.

My Terrine was a fantastic dish. It was a rabbit terrine and the various textures and flavours in it was amazing. It was also served with pickles, a salad, pate and some grilled bread. It was an excellent dish and I could eaten two of it. The Steak Tartare was also brilliant. It was slightly spicy and still retained the beef flavour. Babs also generously offered me some oysters. They were very fresh and went down easily. Rick said he really liked the Scallops, and he rarely eats scallops.

For mains, I was going to order a Steak, but the waiter did such a good job explaining the specials that John, Trung and I all got the Lamb with Spinach, Relish and Gratin Dauphinois. The lamb was very tender and the occasional kick from the relish made it quite a good dish. However, I regretted not picking the steak as the lamb wasn't as good as I thought it would be and I think the steak would have been a better choice. Oh well, maybe next time. Babs got the Tuna with Ratatouille. The colours of the ratatouille was so vibrant and beautiful. And after watching the Disney cartoon Rataouille, I can appreciate how hard it is to make a good ratatouille. Babs really liked the tuna dish. However, the dish of the night had to be the "Fish and Chips". Even though I had seen photos of it, it still didn't stop me from going "ooooh that looks so good". The whole be-boned fried fish sitting on a bed of criss crossed chunky chips was just beautiful. We later asked the waitress about the fish, and she explained how the chefs skillfully remove the bones through a tiny slit, much like keyhole surgery. They certainly do a good job, Rick only found two tiny bones. He said the Whiting actually did taste wonderful as well.

Finally, we get to dessert. Jon had mentioned how he thought the dessert was overpriced. Sarah had said how disappointed she was with most of the desserts. We were tempted to skip it, but since we didn't have to pay, what the heck. So we ordered desserts. I did heed Sarah's advice and got the Lemon Tart, the only dessert that her dining group liked. Trung also got the Lemon Tart. John went for the Chocolate Souffle, Babs got the Mandarin Creme Brulee and Rick got the Seasonal Tart which was Strawberry tart.

Let's start with my Lemon Tart. It was good, and terrible at the same time, well not exactly the same time. The edge of the tart, about 1/3 of it, was really good. The texture of the tart was smooth and the it contained a very nice lemon flavour. However, the middle part of the tart, about 2/3 of it, was still undercooked. I could taste the raw egg flavour still and it was really bad. Babs Creme Brulee was more like a custard. It was so runny under the crust and contained no texture at all. It looked really wrong and terrible. She tasted a bit and said it was bad and didn't finish the rest. Rick's Strawberry tart was nice enough, but it was a fairly simple tart and very expensive. John like his Chocolate Souffle, and it was definitely presented well. I didn't try it so will have to take his word, although his sweetness threshold is a lot higher than mine. So Sarah's complaint that the souffle was too sweet is probably what I would think too.

Meals were finished with some very good coffees. The Cappucino were excellent, although they could have been a bit hotter.

The atmosphere in the restaurant is a restrained refinement. The noise is kept to a low drone. I think we might have been the loudest in the place, with our hearty laughs at funny stories we were talking about. I do like the atmosphere, as it's refined but not stuffy.

The service was very professional. We were reminded that the table was rebooked later in the night, but didn't really feel rushed. They made sure they presented things to us quickly to avoid any needless waiting in between courses. As an example, we were told the souffle would take a long time, and if we wanted that, we could order it a bit earlier.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Entrees are amazing and the restaurant interior is beautifully refined.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Bistro Guillaume on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 20, 2008

Vlado's Charcoal Grill Steakhouse Restaurant

Vlado's is nearly an institution in Melbourne when you want to eat steak. I had been wanting to go to Vlado's for a while, especially after reading very favourable reviews such as that from Sarah. She even managed to score some free raw steaks after the meal. What the? I've never heard of anyone getting raw ingredients from a restaurant to take home, but I wouldn't say no. So when Vlado's was thrown around as an option for a work dinner, I quickly threw in my agreement.

Ron and I arrived precisely on time at 6pm, quickly followed by Kemal, Vela and then Karl and Claudia. The small wooden door would be quite hard to find if I hadn't already scoped out the place many times. Upon walking through the door, I was surprised to find a rather small room decorated with all types of plaques and photos. I would usually say this type of thing is tacky, but with so much history behind this restaurant, it felt more homely than tacky. We were seated by the waiter, who said he had just setup the table from a lunch crowd that just left. Gee, who are these lucky people who get to have lunch until 6pm.

We were presented a drinks menu, and I selected a Gulf Station Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. I had tried this previously and it's not too bad. Also, I was watching the price, more on that later.

The waiter brought the wine and poured some for half the table while others preferred orange juice. Shortly after, the starting entrees were brought. If you don't already know, there is no menu at Vlado's. The only choice is the set menu of meat, meat and more meat. Like the sign says, "40 years of no change". According to my work mate Karl though, there has been some slight change. They've added lettuce and tomatoes to the salad.

The entree of sausages was very delicious indeed. The sausages were made in house. While we had just finished devouring our sausages, platters of meat entrees arrived. There were hamburger patties, liver, pork, eye fillet. Each meat was perfectly cooked and very tasty. My favourite was the pork, surprisingly. I don't usually like pork but this one was very good.

By this stage, we had finished our first bottle of wine already. Karl turned to Ron and say "So, should we get another bottle. We're here already, we might as well go for another bottle" or something to that effect. So Karl ordered the Grant Burg Nebuchadnezzar Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon. Upon hearing the name "Nebuchadnezzar", I thought it was a really strange name for a wine. Then something popped into my head, and I say "Hey, that's the ship from the Matrix". I thought that was a good pick up, until Kemal said "Nebuchadnezzar was actually a king during Babylonian times". Ooops, how bad is my history. Kemal laughed and said that so many references are reused today that the younger generation don't even know the origins of a lot of things. Well, I have learnt another thing now. The wine, by the way, was very nice. The shiraz cab sav mixed worked well.

Our first choice for the night was for what steaks we wanted and how it was cooked. Everyone else got the eye fillet, but I love the flavours of the fat through a porterhouse so got that cooked medium. The steak was cooked perfectly and served without any embellishments. I didn't use the mustards at all, and just ate the steak with some cabbage. A well cooked piece of meat has so much flavour.

I was really full after the steak, so went for a bit of a walk. I went to the toilet, which passed the kitchen and another room in the back. Being a huge sticky beak, I peered into the kitchen and the other small room. That small room looked very private. It must be reserved for special guests I think. I might try to get a table back there next time. I also stopped for a photo with the chef. Obviously, he is too young to be Vlado, but he does have a striking resemblance with younger photos of Vlado. I wonder if this is Vlado's son or relative? Does anyone know?

For dessert, there was a choice of Ice Cream with Strawberry or Strawberry Pancakes. Vela opted for just plain strawberries as she was really full. Most got the famous strawberry pancakes. The pancakes were good. The strawberries weren't the best, as it's not really strawberry season now.

I have been told by another friend that Vlado and Lazar, from Lazar's Charcoal Grill used to be business partners. They both do the same type of food so I can't help but compare them, even though Lazar's is no longer around. I have to say, that from the two times that I went to Lazar's, I felt his sausages, salad and pancakes were much more superior. But as you all know, the mind plays tricks on us and we tend to remember things much more fondly. Just take my recent Koko experience as an example. I thought it wasn't as good as the first time. But as good as the Vlado's sausages and pancakes were, they didn't give me that "ummmm" moment when those words just naturally come out of my mouth when I eat something really good. The steaks are equally good, and Lazar's didn't have the meat platter, although his beef soup was yum yum yum.

The service was prefessional with a touch of personable. I told this to a friend, who was a little surprised as he said the waiters don't usually converse much with the patrons. But I guess since we asked questions, the waiters had to reply. The atmosphere in the room is really good I thought. The small setting was intimate, yet at the same time private. Each table is separated from the next by not laying them in neat rows next to each other. There's nothing worse than hearing every word your neighbours are saying and feeling awkward about talking as I felt at Verge. The noise level in Vlado's was vibrant, but you can still hear your dining companions.

Finally, what was the best part of the meal? As I alluded to at the start about choosing a cheaper wine, it was because work was paying for the meal. Yep, the whole meal was completely free. It was a work treat for doing a great job on our recent project. We decided to celebrate the success and much fun was had by all at Vlado's. I think I would occasionally go back to Vlado's when I really craved an all meat meal.

Overall Rating: 15/20, If you want meat and just meat, Vlado's does it well.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Vlado's on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sorry, No Reservations

I had previously written about the difficulties in booking a table at some restaurants in Melbourne. I'm simply not organised enough to book so far in advance. When I ring up Afghan Village during the day, it's probably fair enough that they are full. But Shira Nui is just notoriously hard to get a table at. Even when I do get a table, they literally kick me out right on eight. I booked Bistro Guillaume for next Sat three weeks ago, and again was told that I need to leave by 8pm. So I'm not sure whether I'm delighted at the No Reservation policy of Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons.

On the one hand, the benefits for unorganised people like myself who rarely plan things more than a week in advance, it means that I have a chance to eat that restaurant whenever I choose. But the no reservation policy obviously has its massive downfall as well. When I went there last week, by about 7:30pm, the bar part had completely filled up with patrons waiting for a table. Even ex-sports stars like Chris Johnson had to wait patiently.

With a no reservation policy, to guarantee yourself a table at such a popular place, you have to pretty much be at the restaurant by 7pm. This is fine if everyone can make it at this time and you like to eat early. But what if you like to eat at 8pm, well tough luck. You just have to wait in line, and since there is no defined time for how long other patrons will take with their meals, your wait could be 30 minutes, or 2 hours.

The beauty of making a booking is that you are guaranteed a table, provided you're not incredibly late. The down side of that is that everyone else also books, usually before me. This means I have to not only wait a long time to eat at a particular restaurant, I have to be so organised and get all my friends to agree on a time and date and stick to it. That's the hard part. We planned on going to Vue de Monde and Rockpool Bar and Grill Melbourne so many times, only to be told that it was booked two weeks out. Finally, I booked those two places with two months advanced notice. I'm still trying to get organised enough to book Tempura Hajime and The Press Club. Even when I rang the Press Club a month out, they told me their Saturdays were fully booked for another 3 months. What the?

So after weighing it all up, what's my final verdict. As much as I complain about it, I still want to be able to book at a restaurant. If I want to eat somewhere that night, I want to be guaranteed that I will eat there, unless there is some major disaster. I don't want to turn up and end up being disappointed, especially if it was a special occasion. No reservation restaurants have their place. They work well in crowded areas with lots of other restaurants I think. I wouldn't mind waiting for a particular restaurant with no booking, but if it took too long, I could just go to another restaurant close by that was available.

What are your opinions regarding not having reservations at a restaurant? Do you like it or loathe it?

Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons

The latest child in the Crown Complex household is Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons. It's only been open for a very short time, but people are really latching on to it and there was a long queue of people waiting for a table the night I was there. Both Jacky from Eating With Jack and Jon from Melbourne Foodie have already gone back twice and reviewed it both times, such is the regard they both hold it in. Reading their reviews made me really want to try it out, so when it was my good friend Kevin's birthday, I suggested we go there.

Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons doesn't take reservations, with a first come first served policy. This is both good and bad, which I might discuss in another post. Anyway, knowing this was the case, I made sure we got there really early to snap up a table so that we didn't have to wait. Arriving at about 6:30pm, the restaurant was already quite full. We asked for a table for 5 and were seated at a bench type table attached to the now famous salumi cabinet. Hence, we got to watch the waiters take meat from that cabinet all night and cut it up.

The decor of the restaurant is rather electic I think. I read that Jacky really liked the feel of everything, but I wasn't as convinced. The sparse scattering of tables was rather strange. We felt like we were stranded on an island sitting next to the meat cabinet, and missed out on most of the atmosphere of the surrounding tables. The tiles running on the floor and up the walls onto the ceiling was too distracting I thought. The windows were opaque and the Yarra river view was not capitalised by allowing patrons to see it. And I'm not a fan of the dark lighting that much. Even the toilets were strange. The unisex cubicle toilets weren't a concern for me, but the toilet doors didn't have any indication of whether that cubicle was being used. So I had to push every door to see which one would open.

We chose entrees to share from the menu, which also doubled as a table mat.We chose some oysters, the Raw Scallops and the Enzo Salumi that both Jacky and Jon raved about. The oysters were very fresh with a squeeze of lemon. The Enzo Salumi was soft and quite good.

The Raw Scallops had a nice texture, but the flavour was lost I thought. The accompanying lemon, peach and rocket overpowered the flavour of the delicated scallop.

We shared a variety of mains. The Pork Sausages with Lentil was quite nice. The house made sausages were definitely a class above your average sausage from the supermarket, but wasn't in the same class as those from the now closed Lazar. The Chargrilled Steak with rocket and peppercorns was quite good, the hint of chilli giving the dish an extra dimension. The Farfalle Pasta with Braised Game, Porcini and Peas was very nice. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the game gave it a strong flavour.

We wanted to order the Spaghetti Arrabbiata, but they didn't have that on the night, so instead we got the Risotto with Sausages and Bone Marrow was rich and well cooked. The Clams Casino (a rather strange name, I not sure what the casino part is supposed to imply, are you taking a risk of food poisoning by eating it?) was a dish I really liked. I love clams, and this mixture of clams cooked with Guanciale and Chicory was packed with the flavours of the sea. Dipping the bread into the juices was delicious.

The mains were all fairly good, but the desserts were excellent. The Raspberry Tart contained rose flavoured grappa and vanilla marscapone. It was extremely smooth and contained big juicy raspberries.

The "Canolli" 3 Ways had a sweetened ricotta, mocha zabaglione and vanilla custard filling. Each were good, but my favourite was the vanilla custard which combined the best with the crumbly canolli pastry. The Trifle was huge and could easily satisfy four people alone. It contained almond slivers, pistachio and raspberries hiding layers of cherry jelly and jam, whipped cream and liquer drenched sponge cake. It was a great combination and was not overly sweet as some trifles tend to be.

The best dessert of the night was the Baked Chocolate Pot with Chocolate Pearls. The pot was like a smooth dense mousse, intense with chocolate flavour. When combined with the crunch of the equally intensely chocolate flavoured pearls, it was a taste and texture treat.

Service throughout the night was not too bad. The waiters did fairly well. Only one waiter was a bit condescending. When we ordered 7 oysters, yes 7 is a strange number for 5 people, but that's what we wanted, he mocked us a little for ordering that by asking us if we were sure, and then emphasizing the number 7 when he delivered it. Also, later in the night, when I spotted Chris Johnson from the Brisbane Lions waiting at the bar for a seat, I asked for a confirmation from the same waiter. He turned around and just said "does it look like I would be into sport, who's Chris Johnson?" But otherwise, the service was quite good. The lab coats they were wearing was shocking though. It was such a bad look. Wearing all types of jeans and sport shoes and then wearing those coats just looked so wrong in a restaurant. It was like a scene out of my uni Chemistry class.

Overall, the experience was quite enjoyable. The food was well priced and of a good standard. I would come back here for a casual meal as that's what it felt like, rather than as a special occasion restaurant.

Overall Rating: 15/20, A good restaurant for an enjoyable casual meal.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Koko - Part 2

It was over a year ago that we visited Koko and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Since it's Phuong's birthday (Happy 2? Birthday Phuong), we decided to go back there again. This is one classic example of how you reassess things when you have more to compare it to. We still enjoyed Koko a lot, but it wasn't the heady memorable experience of that first visit. More on that later.

I thought it would be fun if we recreated that model pose photo from the first time. Last time's photo was a spontaneous photo that Paul happened to capture. Below is last time's photo.

This time, we posed for it, and it just didn't look as good I think. We mucked up the positions and also Phuong's in the photo as well this time.

Previously, we were stuck right in the corner of the restaurant and didn't get to see the main central water feature. Hence, when we booked this time, we asked for a central table. This afforded us a beautiful view of the pond, the city outside, and the teppanyaki tables all around.

Like last time, we again ordered the Koko Chef's Special Sashimi. The sashimi was still good, but wasn't fantastic like last time. Possibly it's because we have more to compare it to like I mentioned earlier, or possibly the mind always remembers things better than they are. I think it's a combination of both. Because despite our overall bad experience at Shoya, the sashimi there was definitely superior to all other sashimi I've tried.

Again, we ordered the Koko Special Sushi. We also got the Volcano Roll, an inside out roll with salmon, asparagus, cucumber and prawns, with a creamy glaze outside it. The nigiri sushi was good, but I think the variety and quality is better at Shira Nui.

What was fantastic was the Spider Roll and Salmon Skin Roll. The spider roll blew our minds last time, and it did it again this time. The soft shell crab with the fish roe, seaweed, sesame seeds and sweet soy glaze is still unbelievably good. The crispy salmon skin rolls were amazing as well. The crispy skin provided a real crunch while the crab meat and avocado provided excellent flavours. I would definitely order these two items again and again.

After the sushi and sashimi, we were ready for our mains to blow us away. Instead we were very underwhelmed. The Scotch Fillet with Spicy Miso Soup was extremely salty. The meat was nice enough, but the sauce was so salty we had to keep shaking it off.

We wanted the Grilled Red Emperor with sea urchin sauce but that wasn't available, so we got the Pan-fried Toothfish cooked with Koko's teriyaki sauce instead. The fish was tender and it was quite good, but again, way too salty.

The Pork Ribs in Soy Mirin Sauce was very tender and my favourite mains dish. It was still a bit too salty, but not as bad as the others.

Finally, the Stir Fried Charcoal Noodles with Spanner Crab sounded better than it tasted. The charcoal noodles wasn't that good, and the crab lacked any flavour.

I looked back at my own blog post about Koko and even then it showed that the mains weren't that great the last time around. The Wagyu served three ways wasn't amazing. The stir fried udon was better than other places, but still not fantastic. And the cold charcoal noodles from last time was again a strange dish I thought.

For dessert, Paul got the Sake Martini with berries and ice cream. It was very refreshing and I liked it.

Jo and Phuong got the Pancakes with red bean and green tea ice cream. This dessert changed from the freshly cooked pancakes of last year to this version. This version was very disappointing. The pancakes tasted very much like the Golden brand pikelets that you can buy from Safeway. I kept trying pieces of it and it tasted just like it. Needless to say, that means it wasn't that good. I wonder if they make them fresh or just buy them. If they make them fresh, then the flavour sure tastes so much like the supermarket bought ones.

I got the Peach Creme Brulee. It was very nice, but a bit too soft. It needed to be a touch firmer. It wasn't as good as the Rockpool creme brulee, which was also much larger for the same price.

One thing that hasn't changed is that service is still very efficient. Our waitress topped our water constantly and kept refilling our hot sake each time it was finished. She also let us know when our bottle of saki was finished so we could order more. Every request for things was quickly fulfilled.

The ambience was much better this time as we were seated in the middle of the restaurant. I liked seeing the view of the city outside, as well as the chefs at the teppanyaki tables doing their work. The room was buzzing but yet you still felt like you had your own space.

We went and took some photos after the meal. Here is Jo and Phuong doing their best lady of the mansion poses.

We were all really tired after drinking so much sake, and the Crown couches were extremely comfortable.

Finally, an interesting shot I took in the lift. The reflection of our faces off the roof, juxtaposed with the background advertisement and the twinkling lights made for an interesting photo I think.

Although the Koko experience this time round was still good, it wasn't as fantastic as we all fondly remembered it. The mains were all too salty and disappointing. The sushi rolls were the highlight and the best I've had anywhere. I've dropped it a point as overall experience wasn't as amazing.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Sushi rolls are amazing and a must order. Service is good.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

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