Saturday, December 18, 2010

Izakaya Den

Ok, I need to forewarn you that this blog is riddled with vague descriptions because I really can't remember the complicated names and stuff of what we ate. But I will try.

Oh and this experience had an INCIDENT. That's right boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, we had an INCIDENT at Izakaya Den.I shouldn't be this excited about writing about an "incident", but I am - shame shame shame!

Anyway, there were many many dishes so I will just list them out and talk about some of them briefly:

Firstly, the space is a fairly "open" style bar, much like the many many food bars around these days. It doesn't really feel super japanese, but what does that matter. It is a pretty cool space. We started with crumbed pork which comrpised of two pieces of pork and an onion. Pretty good, but nothing phenomenal - but I note that we were told the mustard when asked, was "japanese mustard".....yes, whatever the hell that means.

Next was seared tuna and karage. The karage was nice, and omg, the mayonnaise. Yes, the mayonnaise. Fat always tastes good - whereever you go.

Corn cakes and daikon salad. Corn didn't have the "oyster" as the name would suggest (so I was told) and was really...fried corn...with batter. It was doughy, sweet but with a clear savoury purpose - I wouldn't order it again. I's fried corn - would YOU order fried CORN again?! The daikon salad was just that - daikon salad..oh with sesame oil - and a lot of it.

THIS salad, my friends - we had an incident with. I am FORCING myself to not blog about it as it is really pretty bad, bad bad bad.. I am not that Lets just say we get it removed from the menu and got desserts for free. It really didn't stop us from finishing it off though....yes thats how much we care about our health and safety.

Dish of potato which had some sort of filling. Generally good, but again, quite pedestrian in terms of execution. The skewered duck on the other hand was more what I would expect from Izakaya Den, nice pieces of duck cooked the way I like it, fast and juicy.

Sakata prawns were bland. I know, sakata is meant to be bland. But shit, how come the prawn had no taste as well? The wagyu was also incredibly chewy. Really chewy. I had to swallow it just to stop myself from chewing it until tomorrow.

Head of a kingfish - freaky isn't it? Very strong salty layer but the meat was quite moist. an interesting dish and again, in the same vein as what I would expect from a place like Izakaya Den. The special fried "black rice". Well, I think the only thing special was because it was black (because it was just rice and egg). I mean, black rice is indeed special (given it is one of the superfoods with the amount of antioxidants and stuff) - so I'll give them that, but thats it - cause I doubt if the egg was free range (true free range that is, for all you ethical diners). Cynical much?

Dessert was a fondue with rice flour balls, or something "mochi". Chocolate...was good. Ginger brulee (on the right) and tofu mousse (on the right, back). Strident ginger flavour in the brulee, verging on being spicy. I didn't mind it, but only in small doses. The tofu mousse was pretty good, different to what you'd expect and quite difficult to describe. Would definitely recommend the mousse, and also the brulee if you're going to share.

Overall, Izakaya Den didn't hit the high notes you'd expect given all the hype that it has been able to generate. The space is indeed impressive, and so are the waiting times to get in. I would go once, but if you're looking for a major dose of good japanese, there are many many places in Melbourne that can deliver the same experience, less the "surprises", and Mamasita-like wait times.

Izakaya Den, Basement 114 Russel St, Melbourne

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cumulus Inc

Well, Cumulus Inc, another one of those restaurant, bar, sharefood type of places. The space is relatively open, with varying heights of seating. Interestingly, the open space is flooded with natural light, and given we're in Summer allows it to slowly dim with the setting sun. After a bit of a wait in the corner, with a drink, (maybe 30mins) we were given seats at the bar right next to the kitchen - which is my favourite type of seat!

It amazed (and still amazes) me how such a small space can pump out so much food and how mechanically exact a professional kitchen needs to run to keep up with the restaurant.

The food of course was excellent, with some dishes just making me wonder, WHY did I wait so long to eat this?

We started off with some smoked eel skewers. There was definitely no mistaking that it was smoked, as the small morsel screamed loud and clear in terms of intensity of flavour.


The dish of the night would definitely have to have been the soft shell crab. DAMN it was good. The mayo and chilli made it so much better. It was really THAT good. I'm salivating thinking about it right now. If you love soft shell crab, this has to be the place to have it. I have not had better soft shell crab - anywhere.

The dishes that were more substantial were perhaps not as exhilarating. Not to say they had 'faults' but they were nothing spectacular to write home about. We ummed and arred over whether or not to go for the WHOLE leg of lamb, but thought it was a bit much as it was massive, trust me, it was MASSIVE. Instead we opted for two smaller dishes. Starting with a whole flounder, which was nicely cooked but lacked the strong flavours of the last two smaller dishes.

Similarly, there was little to fault on the roasted veal rack, but it could have had more guts to it. Given how much I LOVE cauliflower and how I continually look for ways to prepare it , I was pleasantly surprised at the side. It was strong and packed a punch - just how it should be.

 The dessert menu wasn't extensive or intriguing, so we opted for the coconut custard with tropical fruits and a rum baba with aged rum. The coconut custard was very familiar to me, with what we used to make at home, but perhaps where something spectacular happened was when we started eating the rum baba and coconut custard at the same time. For a moment, we could've been in Cuba drinking cuban rum (given they gave us free reign over the rum.......we sort of...soaked the cake with it, yeh too much of a good thing...). The two desserts when eaten in tandem, matched so well together that I think Cumulus should change their dessert menu and make that one dish (albeit, a massive dish) simply because  I said so.

Cumulus Inc, 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Grossi Florentino

I am so so lazy, so so lazy. I went to Grossi about 2 weeks ago and left pretty annoyed, but I've waited this long to rant. Perhaps for good reason as the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I got, but I'm passed that crazy phase and now I can write with absolute clarity.

Indeed, the restaurant oozes opulence of a time gone by and the food, at times, reaches stratospheric highs. The ingredients speak for themselves, angel hair pasta with a generous serving of white truffle from Alba anyone?

But what was the biggest disappointment of the night was definitely the service. Lack lustre, on the cusp on arrogant. Yes arrogant. It was incredibly disappointing that as I was about to enter the restaurant I was greeted by a doorman who asked "Cellar Bar? This way this way". Before I even had a chance to understand what he was saying, and when I replied "No, I have reservations at the restaurant" I received a response of "Well I asked you if it was Cellar Bar!". I mean seriously - I had a shit day at work, so you really just pissed me off some more and maybe you should stop ushering me towards the Cellar Bar and SLOW THE HELL DOWN. More on the service later!

We ended up ordering the 5 course set menu was a good way to sample the food and my good friend was going to leave all civilised culture behind in a few weeks (yes Debbie, I went there).

Anyway, I digress - we started with the stock standard "gift from Guy", a potato soup. Thanks Guy. It was nice.

The first of our degustation was zucchini flowers with olives and some other rif raf (it's really hard to remember 2 weeks later!). However, the texture was fantastic, nice crunchy exterior with silky soft filling and flowers.

Next was the black rice risotto with moreton bay bugs, with a parmesan sabayon. I love black rice, I love risotto, I love bugs, and I love parmesan - so I knew we would be onto a winner. The risotto was perfectly textured, with a nice touch of the bugs being fried. The deep saltiness of the parmesan sabayon added a nice depth to the dish.

The dish of the night, the hero of the night, and perhaps one of the top dishes for me for the year, would have to be the "white truffle from Alba" dish. We had it with angel hair pasta and it was so SO worth it. This was not on the set menu and was a supplement which I repeat,  worth it.

Now back to the service, before I talk about the dish, given this was a $110 supplement, it was intensely disappointing that I firstly thought the truffle would be shaved onto an existing dish (like many many places do), instead it was a separate dish - which is fine too. However, I indicated I would like it on "the risotto". The waiter who was taking our order, which I note, must be one of the "special-i-only-take-orders waiters", neglected to explain this to us. For some, and reason (perhaps he asked when we wanted the dish - er when the risotto comes out?), I realised that we would be eating two risottos one after another and so modified our order to the angel hair pasta instead - why we want to eat 2 risotto dishes in quick succession, especially a degustation meal? Then to be prompted with an arrogant "one, two? one or two?" This just annoyed me - at $110 for this dish alone, I expect far better and more intuitive service. This wouldn't happen at Jacques Reymond! Yes, I know, I am being a little precious but f***, service just really annoys me!

Anyway, thats my rant so onto the positive. If you've ever had black truffles before, you will know that the aroma and intensity instantly fills the room. White however, explodes with its perfume and flavour. The simplicity of the dish showcased what a phenomenal ingredient it is - and despite the sad service, this was a truly memorable dish to be savoured.

With a dish like the white truffle, the following dishes had a tough task to really standing up to the highs of the pasta dish. The next one was a pigeon dish with a ravioli of the leg meat. The ravioli, was slightly tough, perhaps could have been cooked a little more and I was definitely not friends with the giant cous cous - they were mini bullets, tough, flavourless and added nothing to the dish other than a rather annoying textural component.

The beef was nice, but unmemorable. Hence, I can't quite remember what it tasted like. It was definitely not as sophisticated as some other beef dishes that I've had this year.

The dessert had decadence stamped all over it. Chocolate sauce and soft soft souffle. Ultra sweet, ultra indulgent, with the final bites resulting in a sugar tingle in your mouth. Good to start, not so good to finish.

The food at Grossi was generally good. The white truffle dish was phenomenal. But the service, the attitude, the feel of the place lacked sincerity or regard for the customer. I am not King, but I'm paying, so don't give me attitude. If I'm ordering a $110 dish, tell me what I'm ordering and don't act like we're causing you emotional grief.

Good to try (if you must), but for the price point which it is positioned, there are a myriad of restaurants in Melbourne that are better for the food, and most definitely for the service.

Grossi Florentino, the Restaurant, 80 Bourke Street, Melbourne

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