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Pre Vinitaly 2014 – Roundup #1

Apologies for the short update

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Things are a little crazy at present, covering more ground over the last two days than I have driven last calendar year. From Rome, we belted across to Abruzzo and had some amazing dinner at a defiante starter if you ever find yourself around Chieti – Ristorante Ferrara (Via Orientale, 39 Bucchianico)

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Pay your €25 and head downstairs into the cantina where you have your selection of a fantastic array of cured meats and cheeses

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And roving appetisers that will make you question whether you are in the basement of a restaurant, or simply in heaven.

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BUT, don’t fill up – because after an hour of that with all the bubbles you can shake a stick at, head upstairs and get into the local cow.

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From Abruzzo, we made a 5 and a half hour stint in the car up to Veneto, to a little town called Vittoria Veneto where lives our Prosecco producer Le Vigne di Alice.

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From here we took a drive into the mounts of Belluno, to a restaurant we were told, has not dropped below a single Michelin star since inception – Dolanda (Via Dolanda, 21 Plois d’Alpago). This deconstructed Carbonara Nuova was simply sublime, done so, we were told, so that you can see how the sum of the parts comes to be. Toss the lightly poached egg into the hot pasta and carve what appeared to be Capocollo and dig in. Amazing.

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We also had their take on Costoletta alla Milanese. This entailed remains from what only could be a Brontosaurus (As you can see by the enormous bone). This was again a dish to be in awe of.

So that’s in for now – Today we head to San Daniele, no doubt to throw another couple of points onto the end of my cholesterol reading.

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Armando al Pantheon, Roma, Italy

When in Rome..

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Blah blah, you know the sayings. But possibly the one that holds the truest, is that one should avoid restaurants adjacent to any tourist destinations like the plague; ‘less you want to wander into one of hundreds of Rome’s honeypots of trap destinations. Menus with half a dozen languages, wait staff hawking business Lygon St style and fusion classics such as Hamburger and Pizza featuring on the same menu are also usually giveaways. However, what if there was a restaurant that flew in the face of  everything you were taught?

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And that’s where Armando fits in, because it’s been here a million years, serving Roman classics such as Amatriciana, Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe and Scaloppine to scores of locals and tourists alike, and it’s within a stones throw of its namesake. It’s the sort of place, that, even before it’s facelift in summer last year (I know this first hand because I was here in August and went to dine only to find it completely gutted) remains a ‘no reservation, no chance’ sort of place.

Truth be told, this was only my second outing here.. And honestly I didn’t rate it the first time. So, with a helpful dose of skepticism in we went to quench our 31 hours of transit time famine and thirst.

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The wine list is fairly comprehensive. Whether your after local regional wines from Lazio (we never are), or from greater Italy you will find something suitable to both your palate and budget. We had a ripper Barolo from Cavalotto, and amongst an at-capacity restaurant, we set in.

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My fiancé, despite having Napoli origins makes once of the best Carbonara sauces I’ve tried, and this was almost identical. Crisp, al-dente Spaghetti thrown into some fine olive oil and crunchy pancetta, tossed through a couple of runny eggs at the end and sprinkled with a liberal dose of both black pepper and Parmesan. Heavenly

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I finished off with the quintessentially Roman veal Scaloppine with a white wine reduction, crisp prosciutto and sage. Easily the best I’ve had, and Australian restaurants please take note: leave the soggy ‘Gnocchi alla Romana’ I have to fork aside anyway off the menu. If I want a pasta, I’ll order it.

So there we have it. A fantastic evening capped off at one of only two ‘must eat’ restaurants for me in Rome. A delicious meal, and an even better foray into our pre-culinary antics for Vinitaly 2014

And that was that. So then, Armando is perched amongst, for me, one of two real must-stop destinations when visiting Rome. Just make sure you have a reservation.

Armando al Pantheon
Salita dei Crescenzi 31, Roma, Italy

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Le Bon Ton

I hate Urbanspoon…

WP_20140318_20_05_22_Pro…It’s funny. You learn to take every Urban Spoon review with a grain of salt, testament to the mediocre scores holding true for Collingwood’s newest smoke house: Le Bon Ton – a wonton assault on all things Southern American by a Texan head chef. 75% on the Spoon at last count.. Laughable considering the high scores holding elsewhere. And the comments are golden, there were some real classics. One diner complained about the smell of  the smokers, saying they will “definitely need to do something about that”. Well pardon me for walking into a smoke house! Do you also walk by the markets and complain about the smell of fresh fish? My shirt smelt so good I deep fried it the next day.

9804506_origAnyway in we went, through the cool as hell bar area and into the dining room. It’s a pretty standard Texan exposed brick affair, closely spaced tables ensure you will see what your neighbours are eating and vice-versa. Which is kinda neat, because we had Manu Feildel plonk his arse on the table next to us and proceed to order salads. On a diet, apparently! Not us, because we set down to a trio of sandwiches. Two staples, and the special for the moment: The Waygu Burger. This was the first to arrive, and we set in.

lebonton3“Wow-ee” were the initial thoughts. A special? C’mon guys. This burger,  despite being the highlight of 2014 thus far, has a permanent spot in my Melbourne top 5. Delicious brioche, bacon, salad and a perfectly charred greasy wagyu patty. Nothing more to be said really. Except for an apology that the picture is rubbish, but the lighting was bad and I had Manu over my shoulder no doubt thinking about how bloggers are tossers!

lebonton2The pulled pork sandwich was next. This went to prove that the large smokers aren’t just for show, this thing had been smoked low-’n-slow for a long time. And it showed. Aromas of hickory apparent throughout the mercifully tender pieces of pork engulfed in onions and sauce. Boy oh boy, this night just kept getting better and better.

And then there was a pause. A pause because we knew we had ordered one more sandwich, the burnt-end brisket sandwich. A cut that while overlooked by many, is a staple of Southern American cuisine.. Essentially, as the name suggests, the heavy charred, fatty ends of the brisket known as the point which, funnily enough are also the tastiest.

As it turned out, the kitchen had made a boo boo. Despite only having elapsed maybe 2-3 minutes after we finished our other two we thought we should alert a nearby waitress who checked and humbly apologised for the mixup. We didn’t care, and even though they turned a new one around in under 5 minutes, they still took it off the bill. That is exceptional service, because we weren’t complaining (We are pretty laid back lads). In 99% of Melbourne’s restaurants this happens on a daily basis, and they don’t even acknowledge the error let alone want to do something about it. What cool cats.

lebonton1In it came, with an order of fries that we decided we needed because we hadn’t already consumed enough calories. Look at the beauty within.. A congealed ball of delicious smokey goodness, layer upon layer of flavours with raw vegetables thrown in for texture and a delectable mayo in there as well. This was the true highlight of the night and honestly likely the best you will get in Australia.

So folks, I have a pretty easy list now for the upper echelon of pulled pork, brisket and burgers. Because they are all in the same joint. Every minute you waste reading this blog entry is one you are missing out on by not being in there.

Le Bon Ton
51 Gipps St, Collingwood
Le Bon Ton on Urbanspoon

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Fat Bob’s Bar and Grill

In case it wasn’t obvious…

4K6A2210We go places for a good burger. 35 minute drive to Moorabin in the middle of an Industrial district? I vaguely knew the area, as I have played golf nearby at Kingston Heath a couple of times, and to be perfectly honest, both times were disappointing. Not because of the course, but because of how I played. So it’s ironic then, that a similar trip for a bit of culinary nirvana turned out somewhat of an anti-climax in the end.. Not least of which because we had to postpone our booking because of how popular this place is (Or, has become since the swath of press). Nevertheless, in we rocked up, at around 8:20 when the entire place was heaving with clientele. If this place did 250 seats, they all had arses on them.

4K6A2200Inside,  vintage signs both neon and metal line the walls. And everywhere else, the distinctly texan vibe was palpable. So was my forthcoming need for prescription lenses, because I think by the time I arrived home I had them burned into my retinas. But they were so cool, I didn’t mind in the slightest.

The fit out surrounds tables, booths and bar stools, menu is usual diner but they have a strong emphasis on Sandwiches. Mostly beef, but they do have chicken and vegetarian offerings. Having said that, if you are seriously coming out here for a vegetarian meal than you have bigger issues than the 35 minute wait time we had for our meals. Onwards and upwards, and some popcorn chicken for antipasto was seriously good. With house mayo that was even better. Things were heating up.

4K6A2203Samuel Adams brought the refreshments, because mostly every other American beer on the menu was sold out on the night. Not to say this was an issue, as I love the beer. Apologies for the red sheen, this was the aforementioned signs working their magic.

4K6A2209In came the burger, and look at that beauty. We all decided on the same, a 180 gram beast of a burger with onions two ways, bacon, (added) chilli mayo, and salad. The bun, an altogether too sweat offering for me, was a little bit too Breadtop croissant. It interfered with the spices in the meat. I couldn’t help but think of the buns at Merrywell. Or Captain Melville. Or even The Beaufort.

The patty, despite being beautifully spiced, was way too cooked. Remnants of pink remained, but it was a dry mess. Was it the fact that they were at capacity? Surely not, as this was a Wednesday.. Imagine what they deal with in the busier days. We had 4 identical burgers, and all four were dry. Imagine our disappointment, like 4 little kids who woke up to coal on Christmas day.

J mused that on a good day, with all the stars aligning, this place would be on par with Merrywell for quality of burgers. Maybe. And friends, would that be worth the bush bash when perfection is on your doorstep?

Fat Bob’s Bar and Grill
80A Cochranes Road Moorabbin
Fat Bob's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

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Merah Putih, Bali

It may seem a little strange…

3-seminyak-restaurant-merahputih-baliTo write this, but you actually have to look when you’re in the market for quality Indonesian food in Bali. There is fine food aplenty in many different cuisines, most notably International and European styles but in terms of home grown talent you really need a pointer to get you in the right direction.

And that direction is Seminyak, food meccah and arguably one of the fastest growing regions in Bali. Just a stones throw from Sarong, another highly regarded restaurant that offers Asian centric food Merah Putih on the other hand is unashamedly Indonesian.

photo 1Starter dishes like  beef shin in doughy pockets laced with an incredibly potent chilli sambaready the palate for the hearty Indonesian food that follows. Incredibly sweet, slow braised shin testament to such a talented crew working behind the stoves.

photo 2For something a little left of field? Why not try these super-fresh quail spring rolls. They were a refreshing change from cookie-cutter Chinese specials, and so good that we actually ended up ordering it twice more for a total of three serves (Between 4).

photo 3What about this? Again, a little different. This time the classic Nasi Goreng, but with a beautifully tender duck tossed through. The trademark fried egg on top added a layer of delicious creaminess.

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Decadent, crispy corn fritters with an eggplant sambal were lovely.

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The gado gado, a refreshing salad with beanshoots and cucumber included a quail egg and was magnificent.photo 4We finished off with a beef short rib, which was arguably the only weak link of the day. Not to say it was a bad dish, it just lacked the panache of the others and came off a little bland.

So, truth be told, during this mens lunch out we actually tried Merah Putih on a bit of a whim after a long slog through the rain. Much to the dismay of our partners (Who had decided, mind you, that we were dining here for dinner but neglected to mention it) we did the lunch/dinner double and not once did we feel like we were eating more of the same. Even with a fixed dinner menu for our large group, we still tried uniquely different things that I would not hesitate to revisit.

If you are in Bali and want to sample some of, if not the finest cuisine of the region, make the journey to Merah Putih. Personally, I could’t see a Bali trip without at least one.

Merah Putih
Jl. Petitenget No. 100x, Kerokoban, Bali
http://www.merahputihbali.com

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The Beer and Burger Lounge

Nestled snuggly…

4K6A2170Down the drunk end of Swan St, an area few are likely to see short of an inebriated drinking session during AFL Season lies this quirky beer-lounge-meets-burger-bar  where the variety of ales on show is rivalled only by the pub grub on offer.

4K6A2172Sat behind the counter, lies the area where the magic happens. long rows of grillers and stoves show exactly what goes on beneath the menu right down to the salamander that is the secret to the crispy bun – the finished burger is sat inside it for a good minute to ensure no cheese remains unmelted.

4K6A2174We decided on identical numbers (Great for consistency in theory, but in reality its because we generally like all things the same right down to the type of girls we are allowed to date).  This particular sandwich came packed with a good quarter pound patty, lettuce, cheese, bacon, bbq sauce and a delectable brioche. Jettisoning the undercooked onion ring, we set out to tame our insatiable apetities.

Without question this is a quality burger. You don’t even have to eat the thing to realise. You could simply print a cutout of the above photo, season it with a bit of salt and pepper and eat it and the flavour would still burst through the page. Simple yet effective ingredients and an inch-perfect cook time are all you really need. And one of the biggest factors; a brioche bun that is mated dimensionally perfect to the patty it houses.

4K6A2175Add to this some frozen potato planks which were fine, if not overly impressive.. And you have a pretty comprehensive package. So, if you find yourself in the area, and you want a quality burger fix, head on down to the BBL. You won’t be disappointed.

The Beer and Burger Lounge
112 Swan St, Richmond VIC 3121
The Beer and Burger Lounge on Urbanspoon

Fresh alba white truffle, fabulous porcini

If an impending Christmas wasn’t enough…

porciniWorking in the food and wine industry also gives you a couple more guilty pleasures to look forward to. At this time of the year? It’s fabulously fresh porcini, air freighted in from Italy. I’ve eaten it in various forms the last couple of nights, but last night it got thrown in with my favourite bianco base.

tartufodinner7Onion, fresh pancetta, and some good old fashion peperoncino. While this sizzled away, was the perfect time to tuck into some antipasto

tartufodinner424 month aged Ruliano prosciutto di Parma, some of my favourite Roquefort, and a middle eastern olive bread made by my father.

tartufodinner5When everything is coming along nicely, some fettuccine are tossed through and a healthy drizzle of EVOO

tartufodinner3Then? The best part of all. Pasta – meet truffle.

tartufodinner2Let that infuse for a minute or two, while the main course gets sizzling.

tartufodinner6Veal Scallopini done right, is one of the most visceral pleasures one can have. The crisp acidity of white wine, sweet caramelisation from the veal and the sage sets it off.

tartufodinner1Some 24 month aged Parmigiano Reggiano on top, and buon appetito! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rockwell and Sons

It’s another outing…

rockwell4..For the biggest category of my blog. The one I’m constantly accused of basing my blog around. But seriously, when the category of burgers in Melbourne is so strong, it can’t really be helped. If I started this entry with ‘American chef, diner focused menu, brioche etc’ you could be mistaken for thinking this was any other of the number of entries I’ve made.. But Rockwell and Sons is different.

It was your typical Burger Tuesday adventure, except for the fact that it was on a Thursday, and Rockwell and Sons was one of the last cards in the deck left to play of Melbourne’s elite. (Funnily enough, Rockpool Bar and Grill –  considered the holy grail, is all that remains). We arrived just before 8 to a packed restaurant consisting of a solid wood Southern American dining environment where we were sat opposite the open kitchen and were able to see the American classics like Southern buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches, pressed rib sandwiches (not burgers)  and, of course, their trademark double patty smash – a burger filled with a pair of juicy patties,  some crunchy greenery to add texture, one of the most delectable extremely buttery brioche buns (buttermilk i suspect) and.. of all things, Kraft slices. A myriad of  cheeses were tested initially, but owner Casey (pictured above) ultimately decided that this Aussie classic would get the gong. For good reason too, because this creamy, dreamy, calorie laden packet of goodness set my taste buds in a tango.

A fantastic craft beer selection (With lots of exotic American specimens – some even with matching exotic price tags) and an eclectic wine list compliment food beautifully.

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There was just something special about the burger. The way it got the flavours flowing was baffling, testament of obvious skills and expertise from the kitchen. It might not look the best, it might not have the most inspiring of ingredients, but the way everything just worked together, that the seamless patties were cooked to perfection and blended straight into the burger without dominating it.. And finally, that special sauce.

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Thick, hand cut fries were huge, and unfortunately (And I stress – on the night) uninspiring. Dry and withered, they were the only disappointment of the night. I’m sure on a good day these would deliver however.

I know it probably etches into too creamy territory, but these guys get away with it. Ignore the obvious fact that the lactose intolerant will by next morning be inseparable from their porcelain thrones due to the high dairy content, and just get on down to Rockwell and Sons. Because, and I can’t stress this enough, it will be one of your crowning life achievements to have eaten here.

Rockwell and Sons
288 Smith St, Collingwood
http://www.rockwellandsons.com.au
Rockwell and Sons on Urbanspoon

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Tin Lung Heen, Hong Kong

Some age-old expressions…

photo 1…Most notably, the ‘Home Team Advantage’ really hold true when it comes of upper echelon dining. What surely is the world most awarded (in terms of Michelin stars) City when it comes to Cantonese food, I honestly thought I had tried some rank contenders prior to this visit. Oh, how I was wrong.

photo 2Tin Lung Heen, set on the 102nd floor of the stunning Ritz-Carlton hotel in the bustling Kowloon area of the duopolis that is Hong Kong. I use this (made up) expression, because there is simply no other way to describe a city with such a split personality.

One minute you can be standing in the urban jungle that is the Island, replete with towering skyscrapers and endless interconnected shopping centres – The next, you’re in old town Kowloon. Classic, jam-packed and swimming in neon signs, millions of locals all seemingly on the street at the same time, and rafts of food and electronic vendors. It is the Asian equivalent of New York City, and this place doesn’t sleep either.

4K6A1930Back on topic, Tin Lung Heen’s signature dish is their Iberian Char Sui Pork which was a real standout and testament to Spanish quality and Cantonese culinary excellence.

4K6A1937The trademark Peking duck was also superb, we managed to nail half a duck from about a dozen pancakes, each craftily sliced in front of us.4K6A1941

Finishing off was fresh Wagyu beef with Chinese greens which was delectably tender.

4K6A1942And of course traditional Chinese fried rice, which they made for us as it didn’t appear on menu.

4K6A1939Wash it all down with one of the best wine lists in Hong Kong, with feature wines from all over the globe.

4K6A1926And you see why Tin Lung Heen is justfiably one of the best Cantonese experiences you are likely to have!

Tin Lung Heen
Ritz-Carlton, Kowloon, Hong Kong

http://www.ritzcarlton.com/

 

 

 

 

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Le Relais de l’Entrecote, Saint Germain, Paris

Certain “Institutions”…

4K6A1906…Are better explained, if I may paraphrase, with the old adage of ‘You don’t tell your friends about your hairdresser, or your cleaning lady’. Such is the case with Le Relais de L’Entrecote, a literal house of the Paris bistrot classic steak frites, or, more simply, steak and chips.

It’s the sort of place Parisians drove to by the hundreds, at peak dining times the line has been known to stretch out the door and onto the zebra crossing (Cars don’t seem to mind, it’s as if they understand). It’s a place little known to tourists, and for good reasons, because residents of Paris want to keep this one to themselves. The decor, while it looks showy does nothing to stand out on the corner of Boulevard du Montparnasse in the heart of Saint Germain. There are actually 4 of these hidden treasures, but we picked the one closest to home.

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You walk in, you’re handed what looks like a lovely hand-written menu with a twist. The charming waitress comes over to take your order, but the only thing she asks is what colour you’d like your meat. Because, and therein lies the beauty of this place; the entrecote is the only thing on the menu.

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So, you choose your drinks (Don’t expect a stellar wine list, as Chateau de Saurs graces every listing and it’s the sort of polish you drown your casserole in) and the wait begins.

4K6A1917About 5-10 minutes later, and the is plate of deliciousness is wafted in front of you. A juicy, tender, crisp, flavourful and above all tasty piece of steak arrives, cooked just how you like it. Served with the classic french fries and drowned in the houses own secret sauce, you take a moment to breathe it all in, absorb your surroundings and prepare for the onslaught. One bite, and your tastebuds are drowned in a medley of flavours that just work so well together. The crisp baguette on the side delights as it adds texture to every piece.

And just when you finish that mountain? The waitress again appears, this time for a refill. No, not wine. She actually tops up your plate, just like nonna, with yet more steak, chips and dipping sauce! Whilst it spells double trouble for your hips, it’s impossible to say no, and before we knew it we were two plates down so heavily satiated with protein and carbs that I could reel off euphoric superlatives all night.

4K6A1925I had the creme brulee, yet again. Didn’t disappoint.

4K6A1924Even L’s meringue medley goes to show you that you don’t need Michelin stars to win over the hearts of diners. She loved it.

So where does that leave us? Thoroughly impressed. Dare I say it, but at €80 including the mandatory 15% service charge, it was an absolute belter. I feel guilty for having enjoyed this more than last nights meal.

I wish someone back home had the stones to come up with a concept so devilishly simple, because this steak may have just been the best one I have ever eaten.

Le Relais de l’Entrecote, Saint Germain
101 Boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris, France

http://www.relaisentrecote.fr