Melbourne Day 7
After several days of lunches and dinners out, and seeing as we had a big dinner planned for our Tuesday evening, we elected to stop by the Richmond Hill Café and Larder first thing in the morning and pick up the fixings for a working lunch. They were just setting up as we arrived, and we went into the cheese room to select a few that had piqued our interest on the previous visit. First was a hard, orange cheese from Normandy, Mimolette, which boasted a dark orange centre and a firm hard rind. We were offered a sample, and the flavour was firm and nutty, not unlike some of the cheeses from the Pyrenees. Second on our list was a local cheese from a Gippsland cheesemaker, called Ironstone. Slightly softer, and a bit crumbly, it was similar to a firm gouda, although a different texture. Finally we selected a triple cream we had tried at the wine shop the other day, Delice de Bourgogne.
In order to complement our cheese selections, we chose some tiny wild olives, and a fig and date loaf, a small log of compressed dried fruit and nuts, and from the pantry shop a jar of spiced mandarins, 2 breads, a french and green olive loaf, as well as three meats, some Wagyu beef sopressa, Prosciutto di Parma, and a slice of the housemade duck liver paté.
Well armed, we went into the office and at midday laid out a small feast for the 7 of us, full of an array of flavours and textures. I made a mental note on the spiced mandarins, halved, in a semi sweet syrup with spices, complete with rinds, they were a beautiful accompaniment to the firmer cheeses.
After work, we popped by a bar upstairs from the European, The Melbourne Supper Club for a drink. An elegant room appointed with antique furniture, it was a throwback to an earlier era, as were the other two places we had visited in the same building. Our server was a lovely young lady with not only a great personality, but a deep knowledge of the wine, beer, and spirit selections on the menu. She suggested two different beers for those so inclined, and a select rum and wine for the others.
Following our aperitif, we wandered down to our dinner destination, The Press Club.
Chef George Calombaris has elevated Greek cuisine to another level in his Flinders Street showpiece. The menu is composed of a la carte selections, a degustation menu, and 3 options for menus meant for sharing, called “Kerasma” We selected to try Kerasma “B”, which included small plates, “Mezedes”, appetizers, salads, fish and meats, and then sweets. We selected a Pouilly Fumé to accompany the meal, and first to arrive were a selection of breads and an olive oil from Cypress.
The arrival of the first courses, was a platter composed of mussels baked on the half shell, a delicious skewer of octopus with white sardines, some beautiful olives, and dolmathes (grape leaves stuffed with a rice and meat filling) wrapped with bresola, air dried beef. Along side we were presented with a saganaki martini, a shot glass of tomato water, with minced cucumber garnish, and a skewer of warm saganaki cheese to accompany. Both were delicious, and promised a very good meal to come indeed.
The next course was sesame crusted tuna with melon and feta, with a cherry foam. A nice combination of flavours, although we felt the tuna could have been seasoned a bit more to stand out from the sesame crust.
Salads arrived in the form of cumin roasted beetroot, yogurt cheese rolled in herbs, and attiki honey. Our server brought us each a warm pistachio biscuit, which completed a dish of extreme simplicity, but complex flavours. A second salad, an interesting combination of watermelon, feta, and walnuts with cherry tomatoes dressed lightly in olive oil was equally stunning.
We hadn’t started on the main courses yet, and first to arrive was garfish, a “small thin fish with a pointed nose”, I was told. It was delicious and tender, served “garnished greek style” with couscous, caramelized fennel, and a yogurt accompaniment. As we finished up the fish course, the piece de resistance arrived, in the form of spit roast lamb with green beans, lemon potatoes, and greek salad “horiataki”. Again, the simplicity of such classic food presented with the utmost of style and the finest ingredients will have me looking at roast lamb shoulder and greek salad in a different way forever.
Stuffed, we still had sweets to come and when they arrived, a platter of classics with the undoubted Press Club touch: Helleniko kafe pannacotta, served with Metaxa brandy jelly, milk sorbet, which was silky smooth and heavenly. Also present were a fantastic chocolate tart, an ouzo crème caramel (undoubtedly one of those dishes that prepared well is magic, prepared poorly a nightmare. This one was in the magic category), and a bowl of piping hot loukoumades, greek “donuts”, bathed in honey. A takeoff on the classic, ”Yianniatkiko baklava with vanilla bean ice cream” rounded out the selection.
Following a cup of coffee, the group of us, amply satiated, walked to our respective hotels and cars, commenting on the impressive meal we had just encountered. Reaffirmed was my belief that value doesn’t only rest in the under $10 category, as when you have a meal of such, magnitude and complexity so well prepared, the $78 a head for the menu seemed a true bargain. I have paid much more for meals of less substance and satisfaction in places of equal renown in other cities.