Sunday, January 30, 2011


Well, there goes the Brasserie and here comes the Rotisserie. Well, it's already here. If you don't already know what PM24 is, it is the newly opened restaurant by Phillip Mouchel, who used to run the fantastic brasserie in Crown.

Located on Russel St towards Flinders St, it is a smart space. The kitchen is clearly visible from the dining areas and the restaurant is very much about the rotisserie. Beyond the rotisserie, the snails which were available at the Brasserie rears its head at PM24. However, I'm not a fan of snails and as you know I am trying to rid them from my damn garden! However,  to be fair, I have tried them at the Brasserie and they didn't taste like much other than chewy pieces of meat. It's the thought that just makes it unpalatable.

We started off with a few entrees to share of Country Pate,  Seafood Nicoise, and a Blue Swimmer Crab Cake. The pate didn't hit the mark in terms of texture and flavour in my opinion. I've had better (see Gills Diner).

The two other dishes, the cold seafood nicoise and crab cake were fantastic. The seafood nicoise which had 1 (ONE) quail egg , and cold shellfish was a great and refreshing combination for a warm summers evening. The crab cake, was well textured, with some substance and of course, what can I say , I love heirloom tomatoes.

The mains selection of the menu was quite small given neither of us felt the need to eat a piece of beef which cut out about 4 dishes. We opted for a dish from the rotisserie menu which was allegedly the "best dish of the menu". The duck, which required a minimum of 2 persons, was indeed as they said, a great choice. I don't think I've had duck this moist and succulent. There was no molecular gastronomy on the plate. There was no fancy mousses, airs, foams, soils, dusts or  whatever else on display. It was a piece of damn good duck, with some potatoes and natural jus. That's it. Funny how some classical food can be damn good. Special mention however, needs to be made for the chips. Yes, they were that good.

We opted for the dessert plate. Those of you know me know how I've virtually cut out additive sugar from my diet. This almost put me into a sugar coma. We both thought a lot of the desserts were quite sweet. Incredibly sweet. Otherwise, it was decent. Nothing spectacular.

PM24 is worth visiting. It is a clean, smart space with solid food. What else can you ask for?

PM24, 24 Russel St, Melbourne

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Circa, The Prince

It has been a long long time since I've eaten at Circa. I distinctly remember visiting during one of the Christmas / New Year breaks for a Sunday lunch and being blown away by the value, quality and slickness of the restaurant.

And after hearing about some significant renovations last year (?), and the head chef (back then) Matt Wilkinson now at Pope Joan, in Brunswick East, it was probably time to see what had changed at Circa. The main dining space is now bathed with natural light from an opaque ceiling with a wall of garden herb which left me wondering, how do the herbs get enough sunlight because it's a pretty cool way to grow stuff.

The feeling I got at Circa was that it was not aiming for complexity. It was about the produce, the heirloom tomatoes, carrots and purees. It was the quality of the produce that mattered and that was all that mattered. We started off with crystal bay prawns, sugar cured salmon and avocado. It was quite a simple dish and it was fortuitous we were looking for a light summer dinner. We went on the Friday where we experienced torrential rain in the morning but perfect summer weather in the afternoon so the humidity was pretty debilitating.

As you would've seen from my previous post that I have been trying to grow tomatoes, it goes without saying that I had to order the heirloom tomatoes with fried buffalo mozzarella. All I have to say is, those tomatoes were brilliant. Mine doesn't taste quite like the ones we had..."insert sad face".

For mains I had the smoked duck breast, confit leg roll, with pumpkin puree and a maple sauce. The duck was excellent. It knew what it was, and it was proud. That's how the duck was. There was no confusion in the dish.  Whereas my friend Denise had the King Salmon with zucchini in orange blossom with tomato. At the time, we weren't sure what the zucchini tasted like - now I know it was orange blossom. So there, orange blossom.

It is become quite the occurrence that the side dishes are becoming the heroes of dinner. We ordered "our vegetables, tuber crisps and parmesan yoghurt" and a "cauliflower, farro, cranberries and labneh" salads. The our vegetables salad was brilliant. Purple, yellow and orange carrots. I have never seen yellow carrots before so was quite surprised by the array of textures and colours in the dish. If ever there was a dish that made you feel "healthy" without feeling cheated, this would be it (similar to the Meli Melo of Embrasse").

The dish we both thought was brilliant was the cauliflower. You all should know how much I love cauliflower by now!, but this reinforces why I believe cauliflower is versatile and can change from bland to full of flavour depending on cooking methods and seasoning. It appeared the cauliflower was roasted, as it did not look dissimilar to my pan roasted cauliflower that I prepare at home. The cranberries provided a balanced sweetness to the acidic dressing. It was really that good. Only comment was that it indicated "farro", but I could've SWORN it was quinoa because I eat quinoa all the time and they look nothing alike! But that's minor and totally irrelevant to the enjoyment of the dish.

Dessert was a honey pannacotta with poached rhubarb and a chocolate pave with a warm chocolate cigar. The honey flavoured pannacotta was strong, I'm not quite sure what type of honey they used, but if you've had something like leatherwood, you'll understand it has a very very strong flavour. However, once your expectations have been adjusted, it was quite a refreshing dish.

The chocolate pave was intense. Like most chocolate desserts, they aim to pack a punch. This sure did. I only eat dark chocolate so it was quite palatable with the exception that no matter how much you enjoy sugar and chocolate...there is such as a thing as "too much of a good thing". The chocolate cigar however, is dangerously good. DANGEROUSLY good. The type of snack that could induce diabetes on perfectly healthy people, as it had all the hallmarks of an addiction-inducing food.

Overall, Circa was pleasant. Circa to me, is about produce, about quality produce and if the vegetables are truly from their own garden, I am even more in awe. The food is clear, simple (in my opinion) yet strident. It doesn't push the boundaries too much, but it really doesn't need to. Circa works, and it works well.

Circa, The Prince,  2 Acland St, St Kilda

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

First Harvest

I am not quite sure what compelled me to start growing my own produce (only 5 things) this year (or last year?). Maybe it is the abundance of rain making things seem more alive, inspiring and perhaps providing the burst of motivation to do so.

However, my experimentation and swift learnings has not been all smooth sailing. I keep reminding myself that I can't dwell on the headache of losing an entire batch of padron peppers to snails and slugs. The pests would eat the entire padron plant to the gound whilst they would nibble on the stem of the tomatillo right next to it, separating it from the plant! (and therefore killing the plant if you didn't understand what I was trying to get at) After having my first batch transplanted decimated, I had to do something. But I have to say, it was fortuitous that I hedged my bets and kept extra plants.

Yes, I became one of 'those people' that goes into their garden at night with a torchlight and a sharp object. I won't describe what happened to this slug and his fellow brothers.  But yesterday, I finally gave in and used snail bait after a couple of "nightwatch" sessions with my "weeder" and torchlight. Lets just say, a dozen mosquito bites later (which I note, I am still paying for), the snail bait went on thick and fast.

Onto the more interesting stuff! I transplanted my seedling tomatoes in early November, and 2.5 months later, they are in excess of 1.5 meters.It is only when I think back of how recently I had planted them that I realised what people meant when they say "they will grow quickly". The photos below are taken one month apart.

The batch above, containing grosse lisse, early allans, wild sweetie and red fig are thriving with prolific fruit that are beginning to set. Very sandy soil fortified with a damn lot of compost prior to planting. Sun from morning through to late afternoon.

The 'less' successful' batch of tomatoes (more than pictured), containing mortgage lifters, black russians, principe borghese, wild sweeties. Less fruit, less bushy and generally weaker looking plants. The soil is typical to our area which is heavy in clay. Soil was blended with sand (but obviously needs more for next year!), but the amount of daily sun is not sufficient for strong growth.

Perhaps the biggest indicator is the 'wild sweetie' with the plants in the first set of photos being so prolific and strong that I had to reinforce the stake to the fenceline whereas the plants in the second photo are quite thin.

I get a little excited and nervous talking about the crops that I am "trying" to successfully grow. 2010 has been a bit of an experiment to see what works and what doesn't. To determine the correct balance of nutrients to feed the plants and even the way to stake my tomatoes!!

This year, I have decided to grow a few plants of soy beans (jabiru), for the sole purposes of determining their suitability for a larger crop in 2011. Apparently, they are photosensitive plants  and will flower when the day length exciting times ahead!

I recently also transplanted tomatillo (not to be confused with a tomato), and padron peppers. Although quite late, I am hoping they will have sufficient time to establish and fruit prior to the first autumn frost.

Anyway, I want to end this post with some images that represent the title of this blog. My first harvest. In spite of the headache of losing seedling after seedling to snails and slugs, and finally giving in to using snail bait (the Iron Phosphate type which is meant to be safe to other living things other than snails and slugs), pulling out the potatoes that have been in since late winter is incredibly rewarding and somewhat surprising. This, my friends, is the bounty for my efforts.

My backyard.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Damn, it was in late December in 2010 (two thousand and ten), that we ate at Matteos and only do I now, decide to write about it. Dear readers, it's not that I'm losing dedication, it's just that I am having trouble stringing two coherent sentences together! Anyway, onto the actual restaurant!

It seems Matteo's lacks the publicity which some of the other restaurants in Melbourne seem to bath in. Could it be because of its inconspicuous location on Brunswick St (which I found out wasn't quite where the "shops" were, after having to walk at LEAST a km..ok maybe not quite but it was far...because I parked in the busiest part of Brunswick St!!)? Who knows.
The first thing that struck me with this restaurant was how formal it felt. The diners seemed to look like they were enjoying an "occasion" in an "occasion restaurant". The space however, is clevery divided to reduce the magnitude of the dining spaces.

My friend arrived first and was given a table by the window, only to be tantilised and then moved and be told that it was the worng table, as it had been booked "by someone else a month ago". Our dinner reservations were at 8pm and in all fairness, I did book only days before...but seriously guys...we could see that no one sat in those damn seats the entire night so they sure as hell didn't turn up! Anyway, I wasn't that angry, but my friend, she was angry enough to demand I blog about such an incident.

Anyway, onto more positive notes. We opted for the degustation which was four courses of small tastes with each course comprising of taste sized dishes of 2-3 different compositions from the a la carte. It was an interesting way to do a degustation, and most definitely made the whole process a lot faster (because sometimes 4-5 hr dinners are just a bit much with full single course degustations).

We started with a dish of kingifsh sashimi, cured ocean trout and smoked eel (above). The sashimi was nice and thick, with brilliant texture and freshness. It is funny how sashimi can be the same ingredient across many many restaurants, but sashimi is never created equal. The knife work, freshness, grain shines in a brilliant sashimi dish. The underlying prawn meat was a perfect compliment to the actual kingfish.
The other 'tastes' were interesting in composition, but the kingfish was definitely the hero of the first course. For example the smoked eel was incredibly strong, so if you love smoked eel it may have been the hero for you.

The next course was zucchini flower filled with fetta sitting on a watermelon slice with asian "slaw" and the other dish was a  scallop with cauliflower puree with lap cheong "bacon" crumbs. The zucchini flower was as expected, excellent. Crisp and filled with smooth fetta with the additional textural elements of the watermelon and slaw. It was an interesting combination with the strident saltiness of the fetta contrasting with the sweetness of the watermelon. The scallops however, were slightly disappointing. The miso infused cauliflower puree was overseasoned and far far too salty, and trust me, I LOVE salt.. Cauliflower, imho, should not be tampered with.

Next was a baked "char-siu" pork pie on an edamame soy bean puree and seared beef sirloin. I loved the pie, but my friend didn't. Perhaps this is where Matteo's challenges the diner with perplexing combinations, which sometimes works, sometimes doesn't, and sometimes splits it right through the middle. The char siu pork pie had accents of sweetness from the char-siu with a clear savoury dominance. If you've ever had a char-siu bun, you will know what I mean. Perhaps the pairing with the beef sirloin was not ideal, as it was far more overpowering that the beef, which in all fairness was extremely tender and well cooked.

The composition of dessert was fondant, sorbet and fruit tartlet. The berry tartlet was excellent, fresh berries on a bed of ultra fine custard. What more can be said? You have chocolate, ice cream, custard and for good measure (and perhaps a health "kick", berries).

Overall, Matteo's was decent. It seemed more of an occasion restaurant than some of the other places of similar "ambition", and service was relatively effortless, perhaps a little too effortless at times, but that's minor. Definitely worth a try, but perhaps select something from the a la carte rather than the degustation to really get a good serve of something you absolutely love.

And also, park close to the resturant. I thought someone had stolen my car because I parked it in some alleyway...well, someone must've freaken moved it whilst we were at dinner..and I swear if I find out who!!!

533, Brunswick St, North Fitzroy

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