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Melbourne Day 7 – lunch in and The Press Club out

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.



Melbourne Day 6 – cumulus inc and Gingerboy, part 2

Melbourne Day 6

Monday began the work week, which left less time for sightseeing and dining out, but we made every effort to keep up the pace. After our morning session, we decided as a group to go and check out the latest offering from local chef Andrew McConnell, cumulus inc. Tucked into a space formerly occupied by an art gallery, it was a simple, modern, open room with a bar on one side and a kitchen on the other. A mixture of high and low tables as well as seats in front of the kitchen provided a few options, but as we were 7 and the place was busy, we were seated at a large round table with tall stools with a great view of the whole room.

As seems to be the trend in Melbourne these days, all of the dishes were designed for sharing, we were told, so elected to order 7 plates, consisting of: Crispy school prawns sautéed with chilli and garlic; Olives; Scallops wrapped in speck with crushed broad beans; Kitchen charcuterie selection, which included sopressa, prosciutto, and jamon; Baked gnocchi with taleggio and truffle vinaigrette; Grilled King prawn with white bean salad; and House merguez sausage with chickpeas and silverbeet.

Overall the dishes were well prepared and tasty, although it was felt by all that the portion sizes were a bit light for the prices.

A productive afternoon of work followed, and then on our walk back to our hotel, we decided to pop into Gingerboy and make a reservation for a late dinner that night, so that my travelling companions could try it out. When we returned at 9 for dinner, the dining room was just as busy as it had been the previous time I had been there. They were all out of the Vietnamese beer I had enjoyed the previous week, but recommended the local “Cricketer’s Lager” as a good compliment to the food. I had talked up the place to my guests, and it didn’t disappoint.

We started with three small plates to share: Son in Law eggs with chilli jam and asian herbs; Steamed pork and chive dumplings with coriander relish; Spring Bay scallops with Korean black bean chilli dressing. The eggs came with instructions this time, to put the whole thing in your mouth to experience the textures fully. I obliged, and was treated to the combination of the crisp outside, and the soft centre accented with the chilli and herbs. The dumplings were nicely seasoned, and the dipping sauce reminded me of the marinade we used to make for an Asian tuna tartare. The scallops were baked on the half shell, with a touch of black bean and a fresh cilantro leaf on top.

We then elected to share one of the large plates with a few sides. The Red duck leg curry with confit shallots, thai basil, and coconut cream was delicious, falling off the bone tender with a sauce that was deep and complex. On the side we had creamed coconut rice, which was to die for, crispy corn cakes, and wok greens, a nice selection of flash-fried bok choy, sui choy, beans, and snow peas.

Although we were fairly full, we were enjoying the flavours so much we deemed it necessary to try the Gingerboy dessert share plate, a small portion of all 5 of the desserts. Sticky black rice, asian pear, and jasmine tea ice cream, was a nice combination of warm rice underneath and cold ice cream on top, the tofu cheesecake, pandan jelly, water chestnut, fresh strawberries was silky smooth and light, vanilla and apple dumplings with spiced rhubarb soup and coconut sorbet were as good as the last time, the chilled chocolate pudding, pineapple, and chilli rock sugar was very creamy, and the pear and cinnamon pancake, palm sugar syrup, red bean ice cream was an interesting combination of textures and tastes.

My dining companions were as impressed as I had been the week before, and raved about it as being their best meal of the trip so far.



Melbourne Day 5 – to the coast and back

Melbourne Day 5

Sunday morning we woke to a cool morning that showed promise of sunshine, which was perfect for our planned agenda: a trip southwest of Melbourne to the coast, to visit a few of the towns along the Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s reported most beautiful seaside drives.

As the hotel was packed for brunch, we decided to grab a snack on the way out of town, and our local hostess took us over to a small café and food shop owned by one of Melbourne’s most well known chefs and cookbook authors, Stephanie Alexander. The Richmond Hill Café and Larder is part café, serving great, simple, well prepared food, and part food shop, selling seasonings, condiments, books, and equipment. In addition, the have the most fantastic cheese room that boasts racks and racks of aging cheeses beautifully displayed along with fine wines. I made a note to come back and pick up bread and cheese for lunch one day.

Armed with a few fresh muffins and coffee, we headed out of town on the M1 towards Geelong. The drive south took us about 1oo km down to the beginning of the Great Ocean Road. Winding along the coast west from just south of Geelong to Portland, the seaside route hugs the coastline, winding up and down through a series of picturesque little towns and offers a breathtaking view of the ocean which stretches South to Tasmania and beyond to Antarctica.

We were headed about 80 km along the road, and drove through Anglesea, stopped for a photo op at the Big Hill, a rocky bluff that had posed some challenges during the road construction following the first world war. We wound down towards Lorne, stopping briefly as an echidna crossed the road. The small mammal resembles a porcupine, but is more closely related to the platypus as the world’s only other surviving monotreme (a mammal that lays eggs).

Once in Lorne, we stopped for a coffee on the pier, and walked through the local fish shop, and then made our way the last 16 km to Wye River. We pulled up to the Wye River Hotel, and had a delicious pub lunch, starting with some warm olives served with sourdough bread and Moroccan spices to share, and then fish and chips, made with local whiting. We tried the local beer, the Otway ale, and enjoyed the view from the glass walled patio with an amazing view of the sea.

Turning back to the city, we were fortunate to get some pictures of a few sleeping koalas in the gum trees. At Anglesea we pulled up beside the golf course for another set of pictures, as they have had an ongoing problem with kangaroos all over the course. There was a pack of about 20 enjoying the fairway grass, and when a foursome played through, barely raised an eyebrow.

We got back to the city around 6:00 and had plans to go to The Night Cat,
a local club which featured live latin music on Sundays. The concierge informed us that the Spanish Festival was on in Fitzroy that evening as well, so we took a cab the few km to check it out. There were 2 blocks of Johnston Street blocked off, packed with street vendors selling food, drink, and a stage with live music at one end. The Night Cat offered drop in salsa lessons before the band started, so we joined in with the rest of the house, before grabbing a table to enjoy the live band, an 18 piece afro-cuban group called Los Cabrones. The place was packed on a Sunday night, with a crowd of mostly young folks having a great time, and we were treated to some great latin dancers on the floor surrounding the stage.




Melbourne Day 4 – The Queen Vic, Lake House, and more

Melbourne Day 4

A day in the country

Saturday started with a busy morning on the agenda. Firstly, we wanted to go to the Queen Victoria Market, and then had a trip to the country planned for lunch and the rest of the afternoon. We got up and out nice and early and headed down to Flinders Street to catch one of the City Circle trams, which run for free and do a round trip of the downtown district. After waiting for nearly 45 minutes, we realized that they didn’t start running until 10, so walked back to the hotel and caught a cab to the Queen Vic.

Like many open markets, the Queen Victoria was packed on a Saturday morning. It has been a staple of Melbourne’s shopping for years, and is very nicely organized by types of merchants. First up were the vendors selling clothes, toy, souvenirs, and such items. We took a stroll up and down the long sheds and made a note of a few items to come back for later. (I can’t say what they were, as it will ruin the surprise).

We then headed into the food areas. What an array of vendors. All of the produce is in one covered area, organic separated from conventional. Similar to how the fish mongers at Pike place call out their orders, a few of the produce suppliers were proudly calling out the prices and offerings they had, both very boisterously and in the spirit of friendly competition. The quality of the goods looked great, as it is late spring here, and the first of the early potato varieties were presented, freshly dug from the fields, and there was an abundance of asparagus, spring onions, lettuces, and strawberries.

We crossed into the buildings where they sell the meat and seafood, and once again, all were in their own sections. There had to be 40 butcher shops, which only sell fresh meat, a similar number of seafood merchants, and about half the number of poultry providers. Interestingly, there is a high degree of specialization, as the butchers didn’t sell poultry or cured meats, and vice versa. After taking a few pictures and enjoying the bustle, we went over to the adjoining building where all of the deli products were sold. Here we found all of the cured meats, olives, cheeses, etc. Again, a busy, well displayed and organized place, with everything you could imagine. One of the cheese shops was cutting butter from huge farmhouse slabs, which caught my eye, as well as that of a couple from the UK who were walking past.

Running tight for time, we headed back on the tram with our purchases, and after deciding to take a shortcut, which ran us right into the middle of the Christmas parade, arrived at the hotel 2o minutes behind schedule.

Immediately, we were picked up and headed out for a drive northeast of the city to a country town called Daylesford. The scenery on the way there was very picturesque, as we exited the Melbourne area, which has been starving for rain and made our way into rolling green hills lined with eucalyptus and other gum trees. About an hour and a half from the city, we arrived in Daylesford, the spa centre of the region, where many city folks have weekend and summer homes. Originally built during the gold mining days around the turn of the century, it has now become a weekend holiday town, with spas, natural minerals springs, and a man made lake surrounded by little cottages and homes. Perched on the edge of the lake on a beautiful property sat our lunch destination: the Lake House.

The Lake House is one of those places that exude a personal dedication to a vision. Owned by Allan and Alla Wolf Tasker, the property is 6 acres of lush gardens, with 33 rooms and suites, an award winning waterfront dining room, wine cellar, and day spa. The walls and the custom charger plates feature large festive canvases with kitchen scenes, painted by Allan, and Executive Chef Alla oversees a brigade of capable chefs, lead by chef de cuisine David Green.

Lunch was offered in both a la carte and degustation menus, and we settled on choosing from the former. The menus were beautifully presented, and featured a few pages at the back dedicated to their local purveyors. To begin, I ordered the fresh white asparagus, in a very soft white polenta with parmesan, topped with a freshly poached duck egg. My dining companions had the soup, a carrot velouté with an orange foam, and a brandade croquette with chorizo respectively.

For main courses, I had the duck served in two parts: a sip of consommé and a sliver of seared foie gras to start, followed by the roasted breast. Others at the table had the lamb loin, smoked over pine needles and the tortellini stuffed with fresh goat cheese and served with a zucchini timbale and deep fried zucchini blossom. We all shared some freshly dug and roasted potatoes with garlic and steamed brocollini and baby zucchini.

We passed on dessert, as we had some poking around in the area to do, and headed down to the lake for a look around. After a stroll through the centre of town, we drove a few kilometres to the Lavandula Swiss Lavender Farm, where we had a coffee and some delicious lavender scones with berry compote and cream, as well as a look at the gardens and gift shop.

The drive back to the city took us through a few different small towns, and deposited us downtown fairly full and not wanting a big dinner. We had spied a few tapas places the night before and tried two to no avail, as it was the peak of Saturday night service. We elected to stroll back over to the City Wine Shop next to the European we had dined at a few days earlier, and had a lovely light snack and a glass of shiraz.

The three of us shared a plate of salamis, a bowl of olives and almonds, a nice piece of Delice de Bourgogne, (a triple cream brie), and a house terrine with homemade pickles. All were delicious and hit the spot after a day of roaming.





Melbourne Day 3 – William Angliss and Southbank

Day 3 in Melbourne

The day started with a morning visit to the William Angliss Institute, the largest hospitality school in Melbourne. Here they teach all of the culinary programs, baking, patisserie, confectionary, butchery, and a host of tourism and hospitality programs and degrees.

It was particularly interesting in talking with our hosts at the school to see how they have adapted from being a purely vocational institution in the past to now working very closely with Industry, and have developed a great capacity to deliver custom training packages for employers in any area of the hospitality fields, which are all linked to further options within the national qualifications framework. This is one of the main reasons we are visiting Australia, to see how we can develop those sorts of relationships in Canada in relation to formal training and credentials.

Lunch was served in one of the three restaurants on site, prepared by second term culinary students. I had a starter of duck confit and chorizo ravioli served in a flavourful broth with a garnish of fennel and orange salad. For a main course, I had ordered the crisp spatchcock, (a small guinea hen) and couscous, which was quite delicious as well. I indulged in the chocolate trio for dessert, also very well executed, especially when you consider it is being prepared by students who have been in a program for less than a year.

One program they have instigated that has been very successful had been their Great Chef program, where they have the top chefs from Melbourne come in to prepare 2 dinners with each class of finishing students. What a great opportunity to build relationships, and also for the chefs to recruit directly from the school.

Following the afternoon’s work in developing our Canadian program standards, we decided to take an evening stroll across the river to Southbank and find somewhere to dine there. Very much the way Vancouver’s waterfront has evolved, the Southbank and Docklands areas feature a broad promenade packed with restaurants, street performers, and a number of shops and services.

On a Friday night, the place was bustling, so we settled into a French inspired bistro for dinner. We started with two appetizers, a carpaccio of kangaroo, and a twice baked goat cheese soufflé. The carpaccio was very nice, the kangaroo meat sweet and tender, and garnished with horseradish cream, olive oil, and micro greens. The soufflé was equally nice, with a sweet corn and pickled ginger salsa, as well as a spoon of fresh chevre on top.

The main courses took a while to arrive, and when they finally did with an apolpgy from our server, they were less than perfect. My tuna was cooked fine, but it was a little bland, and my dining companions had similar stories about their choices, a rack of lamb that was somewhat tough, and the Morton Bay bugs (a type of crustacean similar to a spiny lobster) were a bit mushy. We ordered dessert, enjoying the company and the entertainment on the promenade, and were pleased with the “assiette”, a tasting of crème brulee, chocolate brownie, and summer pudding.

After dinner, we took a nice stroll back along Flinders street, and spied a tapas bar I had on my list to check out later, so noted its location for a dinner later in our stay.

After a cleansing ale in the hotel bar, we retired for the evening, as we had much planned for the weekend to come.