Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas Eve Lunch at Rockpool, 2014

A nice (fancy) lunch on Xmas Eve has become a yearly tradition for my wife and I to kick off Xmas festivities. In previous years we have been to The Bridge Room and Azuma for Japanese style high tea, this year we decided to check out the lunch menu at Rockpool

Readers may be aware that Rockpool is one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney. I have been earlier in the year for dinner (without my wife) and my wife and I have had their fantastic bar menu a few times, where you are seated with a direct line of sight into the kitchen. I promised that I would take my wife to Rockpool for the full experience and our annual Xmas Eve lunch would be a good enough excuse. 

The Rockpool dining room
Unlike at dinner, which offers a degustation-only menu, lunch is a full a la carte menu with entrees, mains, sides and desserts. The lunch menu, which contains some of the same courses served at dinner, is a completely different experience and offers goodies such as lobster with Giovanni Fabbri spaghetti, Abalone "meuniere" and David Blackmore beef sirloin that are not available during the dinner session. 

The dining room is just as beautiful by day but takes on a totally different character. At night, Rockpool is probably the darkest restaurant in Sydney, whereas during the day, there's plenty of natural light to illuminate the charcoal black dining room.

Anti-saloons league: Summer Ice Tea ($9), Light 'n Sunny ($9)
We decide to start off the meal with some mocktails. My wife opted for the Summer Ice tea and I ordered the Light 'n Sunny. The Summer Ice tea was a petal tea with lemon and grenadine. The Light 'n Sunny was a ginger beer with lemon juice and mint. Both were very refreshing, making them perfect summer time drinks.   

Honey & spelt sourdough, rice malt butter, fresh ricotta
The honey & spelt bread is one of my favourite breads in Sydney. It has a wonderful crust and a nice, robust flavour. The honey added sweetness to the bread without being overly sweet. The bread was served with a rice malt butter, which was light, creamy and moreish and house made ricotta with extra virgin olive oil and tomato water.       


Crab and corn custard with fried garlic, chilli, braised peanuts, rose and crab dressing ($32)
My entree was the crab and corn custard served in the style of typhoon shelter crab, a popular dish in Hong Kong. The custard had a silky smooth texture, like a steamed egg custard. Piled on top of the custard is a mixture of dehydrated potato, garlic and chilli, so crispy and delightful when eaten with the soft custard. Underneath the custard were strands of hand picked crab, which were sweet and delicate in flavour. There were also some braised peanuts and pomelo hidden amongst the crab.    

The flavouring in this dish was similar to another one of my favourites, the signature rich and noble congee dish. i.e. lots of Chinese flavours. It's peppery. It's spicy. It's aromatic. And it's damn amazing! 

Chirashi zushi, vegetarian version ($32)
My wife opted for the chirashi zushi (vegetarian version), an off-menu item. It's basically a scattered sushi on a plate. The chirashi zushi consisted of white rice with black and white sesame seeds mixed through, compressed cucumbers, avocado, fried eggplant, kimchi, yuzu gel and Korean chilli bean paste. Not only was this a visually stunning dish, it was a beautiful harmony of flavours. My wife described this dish as "amazeballs".


Food theatrics: abalone meuniere being plated at the table
Finishing touches to the abalone meuniere
My main course was abalone "meuniere". I like a bit of a show and Rockpool obliged by constructing this dish at the table. My eyes instantly lit up when the waiter lifted the abalone's shell, revealing a whole, substantially-sized black lip abalone. The abalone was cooked meuniere style, a French cooking method, with brown butter and parsley. The abalone was then topped with drunken condiments (Shaoxing wine, ginger, shallots, wakame seaweed). Sourdough croutons were sprinkled onto the plate and a mixed herb salad (chervil, dill, chives) was piled on top to finish off the dish.               

Abalone "meuniere" with fried bread and herb salad ($55)
This was the finished product and I was pleased to find out that this dish was a winner, in a big way!  Abalone is one of my favourite seafood (which should come as no surprise to anyone being Chinese), but abalone is often done so poorly (I dread getting rubbery abalone that takes an age to chew)! This abalone was the complete opposite; it was perfectly cooked, wonderfully tender, with a pleasant, slightly resistant texture. The abalone absorbed all the flavours of the nutty brown butter and together with the umami of the drunken condiments, the abalone was ridiculously delicious! The sourdough croutons added crunch and the herb salad freshened up the palate, to make this a wonderfully balanced course. 

I loved this dish so much that I would rate it as one of the best dishes that I have eaten all year!  

Aphrodite halloumi, roasted shallot, Emme cheese, iceberg lettuce, chilli, bronze fennel ($35)
My wife's main course was grilled Aphrodite halloumi, roasted shallot, Emme cheese sauce, asparagus, iceberg lettuce, chilli and bronze fennel. She thought this was the best halloumi she has had in a restaurant for some time. It was grilled til golden brown and crispy on the outside and soft in the centre, not the rubbery kind you might find elsewhere. The Emme cheese (a hard Goat's milk cheese similar to emmental) added another flavour dimension to the dish -nutty, sweet and tangy.  

Potato dauphines with kombu butter ($7)
If you are going to order a side, make it the potato dauphines (available only during lunch)! These dauphines are seriously to die for - nuggets of creamy potatoes with golden crisp shells (kind of like deep fried potato mash!). The dauphines were bathed in a umami-licious kombu butter!     


Strawberries and cream ricotta parfait, chantilly cream, coriander sorbet ($25)
Strawberries and cream ricotta parfait was classic in flavour but on-the-money in execution. A smooth cream ricotta parfait was paired with strawberry compote, strawberry jelly, a quenelle of light, airy chantilly cream and a dash of moscato, which was poured at the table. The coriander sorbet was interesting and worked well with the strawberries and cream (please excuse the ripples on the sorbet as it toppled over as the moscato was being poured over the dessert so I had to rescue it for the obligatory photo shot).      

Valrhona chocolate and macadamia, coffee prune, banana and licorice ice cream ($25)
I wish I could tell you more about this dessert, but the problem was, my wife ate all of the main component, the Valrhona chocolate (so much for sharing!). The components that I did taste: the banana and licorice ice cream, the coffee prune, macadamia and peanuts were all delicious and worked well together. My wife assured me that the Valrhona chocolate was indeed amazing and described the dessert as, "although the flavours were big, the dessert was light".

Jade Sword and Jasmine Pearl tea from Jing tea ($5)
We were quite full by the end of the meal so we each ordered a pot of Jing tea to help with digestion (Jing is my favourite tea brand for the home and we order heaps of it online from the UK). I went with Jade sword and my wife went with Jasmine Pearl. The Jade Sword was clean and refreshing and the Jasmine Pearl was fragrant as well as refreshing.   

Date tart ($3 each)
Any meal at Rockpool has to end with the classic date tart for petit four. I have had this quite a number of times now that Rockpool started offering a bar menu and I never get bored of it. That velvety custard, those Californian dates, that light, crumbly biscuit base and that thin cakey layer are heaven to me! The date tart for me is the best petit four anywhere in Australia, hands down!

I could not pass up the chance to get a snap with Phil Wood!
I know this is a big call, but this meal at Rockpool was my favourite meal in Sydney, not just this year but perhaps EVER, for overall experience! This meal had everything that I look for from a meal at a fine dining restaurant. The food was outstanding, faultless in execution. 

The service was friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive without being overbearing (the lunch service is no where near as busy as dinner though, so the staff can spend more time with each table). The staff were very accommodating to my wife's dietary needs and we felt very well looked after from start to finish (which is not always the case at 3 hat restaurants, where service can sometimes come across as being overly rehearsed and stiff).

And we were lucky enough to meet and briefly chat with the friendly, laid back executive chef, Phil Wood (and get a pic too, of course). This meal was like an early Xmas present for the both of us after a busy 2014 and what shapes up to be an even busier 2015. Talk about saving the best for last!

Highlight: Abalone meuniere... I die!
Lowlight: Not being able to taste all the components of the Valrhona chocolate dessert because my wife ate all the chocolate!
Overall: Rockpool is my favourite out of the 3 hatted restaurants in Sydney. The Modern Australian cuisine with Asian influences will forever be a favourite of mine. Every meal I have had at Rockpool has always been a special and memorable occasion. 9.5/10 (Outstanding)

Address: 11 Bridge St, Sydney NSW
Contact no: 02 9252 1888

Rockpool on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Town Mouse, Melbourne - 8 December 2014

I was in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago with 2 other colleagues for a business trip. The only time we got to relax was after our client meetings, so we decided we should reward ourselves with a nice meal after a hard day's of work. The task of deciding where to eat invariably falls to me (not surprisingly being a food blogger). The first venue that I have chosen was the always-popular, one-hatted restaurant, Town Mouse in Carlton.     

Town Mouse is all about good, fine-dining quality food served in a casual, relaxed atmosphere; much like places such as Saint Crispin and Mister Jennings. The decor inside is casual with black tiled walls, timber furnishings and bar stools (not ideal if you have a bad back).  And the service is warm, attentive and unpretentious (who wants stiff service when you're tired after a long day any way?).

The menu, developed by head chef, Dave Verheul, is modern, seasonal and produce driven. It is divided into snacks, raw items, vegetables, meat & fish and desserts. The food is designed to be shared, which was fine with us, as this meant we got to sample a variety of dishes.

House made sourdough bread, sesame butter

The complimentary sourdough bread was very good. The bread had an excellent crust, and a nice, slightly chewy texture. The sesame butter was addictive with toasty, nutty notes to go with the creaminess and sourness of the butter.

Goat's cheese profiterole, caraway, thyme & our honey ($3.50 each)

The goat's cheese profiteroles were the first snack to arrive at our table. We were totally smitten with these profiteroles, which were so crisp thanks to a bit of dehydration and filled with the most amazing goat's cheese mousse. The profiteroles were dusted with caraway and thyme and stuck to the plate with honey from Town Mouse's own on-site beehive. These profiteroles are a must order!

Milk curd, fried bread, broccoli, chicken and lavender jus ($9)

The fried bread were essentially large croutons, which were covered with a blanket of raw broccoli florets. The chicken and lavender jus was quite salty, which was thankfully balanced out by the milk curd. This snack wasn't bad, just wasn't anything particularly special.

Shaved calamari, oyster cream, dill and fermented apple juice ($15)

Our waiter convinced us that we should order the shaved calamari dish, as it has featured on the menu from day one. Calamari was cooked sous vide and shaved into strips of firm, slippery rice noodles. Completing this "pretty as a picture" dish were dabs of oyster cream, dill oil, fermented apple juice and cucumber. All the components were mixed together to yield a clever dish that was filled with clean, refreshing flavours and a great balance of textures.

Heirloom kales, slow cooked egg, quinoa, comte foam and mustard ($20)

The heirloom kales were served as a pile of crispy, kale leaves with a slow cooked egg hidden underneath, comte foam, quinoa and mustard. The perfectly runny egg yolk was mixed with the comte foam and mustard to create a rich, decadent sauce to coat the kale leaves. This was absolutely delicious and one of my favourite dishes of the night.

Slow roasted red cabbage, prune, parmesan and red apple ($15)

The slow roasted red cabbage is perhaps the most famous dish at Town Mouse. And for good reason. A massive hunk of red cabbage is cooked sous vide and slow roasted. The red cabbage was perfectly cooked. The leaves were tender, juicy and cooked with a good amount of butter. The cabbage was filled with lots of caramelised prunes and red apple, which were so good with the bitterness of the red cabbage. The cabbage was finished with a thick blanket of finely shaved parmesan cheese for extra bite. This was easily the highlight of the night for me and it was refreshing to see a venue give their vegetables as much attention and care as their proteins (if not more)!

Smoked pork jowl, hispi cabbage, hazelnut and sour pear ($24)

The smoked pork jowl was "melt in the mouth" soft and fatty. But it was also very, very smoky, which I didn't mind because I do enjoy smoked foods. The pork jowl was sitting in a slick of hazelnut sauce, and topped with fresh, crisp hispi cabbage leaves, and slices of sour pear.

Skate wing, globe artichoke cream, broad bean, oyster, fennel and bay leaf ($23)

The skate wing was the lowlight of the evening. The skate was dry, overcooked and not all that enjoyable. The skate wing came with sauces of globe artichoke cream and oyster cream, neither of which were able to lift the unexciting skate wing. There was also a huddle of shaved fennel, broad beans an bay leaf served on the side. 

Snapper, wood grilled broccoli, clam, capers, olive oil ($34)

The snapper was nice without being spectacular, but cooked noticeably better than the skate wing. The highlight this dish were the wood grilled broccoli, another expertly cooked vegetable. The charred broccoli was nice and smoky and had an enjoyable, crunchy texture. The dish also contained some delicious crumbed bits of broccoli florets, clams and capers.

Red currant, strawberry, lychee and macadamia tart ($16)

This tart was a recent addition to the menu and was a big hit at our table. A tart of red currant, strawberry, macadamia and white chocolate was topped with the most incredible lychee sorbet. This was a light, refreshing and fruity number that I would not hesitate to order again!

Almond parfait, fennel, licorice, chocolate and toasted meringue ($15)

Fennel and licorice desserts seem to be latest craze at Mod Oz restaurants and Town Mouse has also joined the party. This dessert consisted of an almond parfait sandwiched between two sheets of toasted meringue, slices of confit fennel, chocolate crumbs and dabs of licorice. I hated licorice growing up, but when used in moderation, aniseed can be a nice supporting flavour, as was the case with this delicious almond parfait. It was an interesting dessert with good use of different flavours and textures; but probably not one that I would be rushing back for.   

Lime posset, green apple, white chocolate, dill and matcha ($15)

The lime posset was an excellent course and my favourite dessert of the night. It was light and refreshing, like a palate cleanser. A slice of lemon posset was topped with green apple foam - a beautiful combination of tart, tangy flavours. The posset was sandwiched by 2 thin sheets of sugar, and also contained matcha green tea, white chocolate and dill to add additional depth to this dessert.

Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at The Town Mouse. The food was amazing and reasonably priced, with the highlights being the vegetables (which may come as a surprise to some). The service was excellent - the staff were friendly, attentive as well as being knowledgable without being pretentious or overbearing. And I loved the vibe at Town Mouse - a cool, relaxed dining space with a buzzing atmosphere.

Highlight: The slow roasted red cabbage is probably the best cabbage dish you will find anywhere! 
Lowlight: The skate wing was an underwhelming course for me. 
Verdict: Town Mouse represents a new age of dining, where good, fine dining quality food is being served in a more casual, relaxed environment. These are the sorts of venues that Sydney needs more of. 7.5/10 (Great)

The Town Mouse
Address: 312 Drummond St, Carlton VIC 3053
Contact no: (03) 9347 3312

The Town Mouse on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Minamishima, Melbourne - 11 December 2014

I wasn't planning on visiting Minamishima. In fact I had never heard of Minamishima til the weekend before I flew down to Melbourne for a business trip. My wife was browsing around Instagram one night and randomly discovered Minamishima, a sushi-ya that was describe to be "just like Japan". Being the sushi nut that I am, I declared that I needed to visit Minamishima. Fortunately, I was able to secure a Thursday night booking quite easily as they had only just opened for about a month and are not that widely known... yet.

Sushi chefs displaying their craft (Koichi Minamishima in background)
Minamishima was opened by chef Koichi Minamishima in November after spending many years at Kenzan as their sushi chef. Minamishima is located in a quiet, nondescript space just off Bridge Road in Richmond. The dining room is just like a sushi-ya in Japan. Diners are seated along a wooden counter (with enough seating for twelve) and get to watch two sushi chefs meticulously prepare each piece. There are also a few tables at the back for groups, but the seats at the sushi bar are the best seats in the house!

Table setting at Minamishima
There is no menu at Minamishima. Instead there is a $150 omakase menu that consists of an appetiser, 15 pieces of nigiri sushi, shinjo-wan (fish dumpling in clear broth) and one dessert. You can also choose to have sake or wine pairings for $70. I opted for the sake pairings. Like the food, the sakes start off light, making its way up to stronger and richer sakes.    

Appetiser: pumpkin, mustard greens, eggplant, tomato
The meal started with an appetiser of assorted vegetables. There was a tomato cooked in dashi, eggplant cooked in a sweet and savoury sauce, mustard greens topped with bonito flakes and pumpkin. Each of these vegetables were well cooked and enjoyable. 
King Dory
The first nigiri of the night was king dory.The king dory had a firm texture and a mild, sweet flavour. This piece was already seasoned with light soy by the sushi chef.

The first sake of my sake pairing was Kirei Shuzo Karakuchi 80 Junmai Nama Genshu from Hiroshima. This was a light refreshing sake that was dry on the palate, which went well with the milder flavoured fish early in the omakase menu.

Seared alfonsino
The next piece was seared alfonsino from New Zealand. The texture of this piece was soft and melting in the mouth and the gentle sweetness of the alfonsino was paired with grated radish.

King George Whiting
Alfonsino was quickly followed up with King George Whiting. This was the first piece where the chef instructed me to use soy sauce. The King George Whiting was impeccably fresh and a shiso leaf was hidden underneath to add a refreshing, peppery note to the whiting's subtle flavours.  

Next was octopus from Western Australia. The octopus was pleasingly tender whilst still retaining a slightly chewy texture. There was a nice depth of flavour that was brought out by tsume.       

The texture of calamari was amazing! The calamari was expertly scored to tenderise the flesh, which gave it an almost milky texture. The calamari was simply seasoned with lemon and shiso salt to draw out the sweetness of the calamari.  

Japan may have botan ebi, but scampi (from New Zealand) is a more than capable substitute. This scampi had an intense sweetness and a beautifully creamy flesh. Mindblowingly good!

The next sake was Dewazakura Junmai Ginjo Dewa Sansan from Yamagata. This sake was soft and deep flavoured with a good amount of acidity and a clean, crisp finish.      

Tairagai (pen shell)
The next three pieces were shellfish that Minamishima has imported from Japan. All three were special and are rarely seen in Japanese restaurants in Australia. 

Tairagai is a bit like scallop except I think tairagi has a better texture for sushi. The meat is firmer and more much substantial. This piece was seared, which brought out even more of the tairagai's sweetness and umami. This was my favourite out of the three Japanese shellfish.

Mirugai (geoduck)
Mirugai (from Japan) was cut into strips and topped onto a block of rice and wrapped with nori to form a gunkan. I loved the crunchy texture of the geoduck, which was sweet and carried the aroma of the sea.      

Torigai (cockle)
Next was torigai (also from Japan). It had a slightly chewy and springy texture. The cockle's sweet flavour was paired with ginger. 

Engawa (flounder fin)
Engawa (the muscle of the dorsal fin of the Japanese flounder) was pure bliss! This part of the flounder has a high fat content, which made it very soft and melting in the mouth. There was an incredible depth of flavour and the sweet aroma of the engawa spread across my palate.

The third sake from the sake pairing was Terada Honke Katori 90% Junmai Kimoto Muroka Nama Guenshu from Chiba. The sommelier explained that this sake was produced using older, traditional methods, a rarity these days. The sake had a lovely rich rice flavour with refreshing acidity and a delicate floral aroma. 

Maguro otoro (bluefin tuna belly)
I moved from one orgasmic moment to the next with this maguro otoro (bluefin tuna belly from Japan). There are very good reasons why the otoro is so highly prized. The flavour of otoro is just unrivalled: so deep, complex and rich in umami. And the flesh was ridiculously smooth, seemingly just melting away on the tongue. This was piece so good that I wanted to cry!

Naka Shuzo Asahi Wakatsu Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu from Tokushima was selected to be paired with otoro. This sake was rich, with fruity and spicy notes and a woody finish. This was my favourite sake of the sake pairing.             

Aburi otoro (seared bluefin tuna belly)
Otoro was then given the blowtorch treatment (aburi) to melt some of the fat into the flesh. Predictably, this piece was heavenly with a buttery mouth feel and amazing flavour.   

Battera (pressed mackerel)
Next was battera, an Osaka style pressed mackerel sushi. The mackerel was cured in rice vinegar, which provided a wonderful balance to the oiliness and strong flavour of the the mackerel. This piece was amazing and confirmed why I enjoy mackerel so much in sushi.

The next pairing, Pennyweight Constance fino from Beechworth, Victoria, was actually a wine rather than a sake, as the sushi chef wanted something richer to go with the remaining stronger flavour pieces. As I am not much of a wine drinker, I would have preferred sake.       

Anago (conger eel)
The next piece was another pressed sushi, this time with anago (conger eel or saltwater eel from Japan). The eel was so soft and evaporated instantly in the mouth, like a souffle from Vue de Monde. The sauce was sweet and filled with umami. I did think with the softness of the eel, that the block of rice was a bit big. 

Uni (sea urchin)
I love sea urchin and my eyes lit up when I saw the chef fill a little dish of cucumber with Bafun uni from Hokkaido. The rich, creamy texture of the sea urchin was heavenly in the mouth. A heavy sweetness and aroma of the sea urchin filled my mouth. The crispness of the cucumber worked well as a base for the sea urchin, but I think I have a preference for rice.

Maguro otoro (bluefin tuna belly) - extra $22
After the sea urchin, the sushi chef indicated to me that I had final piece in the omakase menu and asked whether I wanted any more pieces. I decided to order another piece of otoro, since the first piece was so orgasmic and I was here any way, so I may as well make the most of my visit. This might be the most expensive single bite I've ever had, but it was totally worth it because otoro is one of life's greatest pleasures!

Shinjo-wan (kingfish and calamari dumpling in clear broth)
The final savoury course of the omakase menu was shinjo (a dumpling made from kingfish and calamari), submerged in a clear dashi broth. The flavours of this course were clean, refreshing and really delicious!

The final pairing of the night was Ota Shuz┼Ź Dokan Umeshu from Hyogo, a sake infused with ume or plum. This was one of the best ume-shus that I have ever had. The tart flavours of ume were wonderfully balanced with moderate sweetness, creating a ume-shu that was really pleasant to drink and not sickly sweet.

Rice milk pudding
rice milk pudding with a dark sugar syrup from Okinawa and summer fruits (raspberry, strawberry and dark grape) was served for dessert. Dessert was simple yet highly enjoyable. I loved the smoothness and the creaminess of the pudding. This dessert was served with a cup of hojicha (roasted Japanese green tea). 

Massive damage done to my bank account!
Minamishima is not cheap, but then again neither are high end sushi-yas in Japan, which Minamishima is trying to emulate. Despite only being open for a month, Minamishima has done an outstanding job in creating an exquisite sushi omakase experience in Australia. Each piece was amazing and there is no doubt that the sushi chefs here are some of the best in the country (alongside Sano-san of Sokyo). Minamishima is probably the best option Australians have for a true sushi omakase experience, outside of booking a flight to Japan and eating at one of the Michelin star sushi-yas.

Highlight: Otoro!
Lowlight: No tamago (egg omelette) to end the sushi omakase.
Overall: Minamishima is a sushi-ya, just like those found in Japan. This was probably the best sushi that I have eaten in Australia. Sushi fans, take note before Minamishima becomes difficult to book! 9/10 (Outstanding)

Address: 4 Lord St, Richmond VIC 3121 
Contact no: (03) 9429 5180

Minamishima on Urbanspoon