103 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9077 0451
Riding on the relative success of two visits to The Aylesbury’s rooftop bar, Dave and I excitedly arrived at its downstairs restaurant last Friday night. Our fellow dining buddies, Dan and his girlfriend, Marian, were also looking forward to the dinner – not only because it’s been a while since Dan had seen Dave and I but also because he felt like Spanish (or Spanish-inspired) food that night. After several unsuccessful attempts at booking a table at Anada on a night that suited all four of us, we decided on The Aylesbury. For a restaurant that claims to serve Spanish-inspired food, I thought The Aylesbury was an unusual choice of name. I’m not sure why they called it there – maybe there was some Queen Elizabeth I/Spanish Armada thing happenin’.
A lovely corner table sat prepared for us as Dave and I walked into the dining room, only to find that it was set for three people and not four. The waiter was initially embarrassed but quickly rectified this situation by arranging the cutlery around deftly before adding an extra chair, cutlery and a napkin for the fourth person. Nicely done. Once Dan and Marian arrived, our water glasses were filled, alcohol was presented (a Shiraz for Dave and I, and Gypsy pear cider for Dan)… and bread was provided though mostly ignored, as we didn’t want to pre-fill our tummies up too much.
I’m so used to sitting in Spanish restaurant that are often noisy, filled with loud and cheery music, hot and dimmed for atmospheric purposes. Although I don’t have an issue with them at all, I must admit that I did like the fact that The Aylesbury was different in terms of atmosphere. There was no music, it wasn’t hot, and the blinds were wide open so that you can actually see what you were eating. Of course, it’s not to say that the dining room was stilted – there were a comfortable level of laughter and conversation that permutated throughout the room… and an adequate amount of eye candy for my viewing pleasure as evident in the photo above (I may/may not be talking about Dan and Dave and/or the cuties behind them, or both, heh).
One thing I found amusing about The Aylesbury was the way they wrote their menus – most of their dishes are only described by the main ingredients that make up said dish. For example, this dish of paper-thin lomo (cured pork tenderloins) and figs was simply called ‘pig, fig’ ($12) on the menu, which Marian and I thought was extremely cute. Although I love eating jamon on its own, I liked that the sweet figs created a lovely contrast in flavours.
The others also enjoyed the cold smoked kingfish, dry olives, lemon ($16), though it didn’t really float my boat. I thought that the kingfish was salty enough as it is, and the fact that the dry olives made it even more salty meant that it was just too much for me. And this is coming from someone who loves her salty food. That said, everyone else on the table liked it so I happily let them take the rest of my portions.
The larger dishes took a while to arrive but when they did, we all ooh-ed over how pretty the wild boar, plum dish ($37) was… and WTF-ed over how tiny it was for the price we paid. Both Marian and I thought the meat was way too tough which made the pairing of the boar and the plums a tad awkward. There was no taste, no cohesion, no nothing. Had the meat been a little more tender, though, it wouldn’t have been as bad.
Thankfully, the dry-aged dorset hogget ($37) was kinder to our senses. A hogget is a sheep that’s been slaughtered after a year (so, older than a lamb but younger than mutton), so don’t go expecting meat to fall off the bone just like that should you decide to order a hogget at any restaurant. I thought it was odd that they’d even have this on the menu – to me, it just screamed out, ‘Stodgy British cuisine’ and ‘Lame-o Kiwi kitchen.’ But you know what? It wasn’t bad at all. Sure, the hogget pieces might have spent a little too long on the BBQ but it still tasted good. Marinated in an intoxicatingly Moorish mixture of ingredients, with chilli and cumin being the most dominant flavours, each piece was finger lickin’ delicious.
We also shared a side of duck fat potatoes ($8) – that’s potatoes cooked in duck fat, peeps. Although the potatoes could have done with a little more crunch on the outside, the insides were beautifully fluffy.
My Michel Cluizel maralum chocolate bar with saffron ice cream ($14). I don’t normally go for chocolate desserts, especially something as rich as this. The reason why I ordered this dessert, however, was because I’m a sucker for unusual (and in particular, savoury) ice creams so the saffron ice cream piqued my interest. The chocolate bar was a neat and tiny three-layered dense mousse which was oh-so-rich but yummy for what it was worth. The saffron ice cream, however, failed to woo. Its distinctive flavour was too overpowering and just clashed horridly with the chocolate bar. Saffron, stay out of desserts forever, please.
Dave’s peach, strawberry, cava ($14) fared a little bit better. On his plate were slices of poached peaches and fresh strawberries. A waitress then poured a generous amount of sweet cava wine onto the mound and we ooh-ed and aah-ed as the fruits fizzed upon contact with the alcohol. The dish struck a fair balance between delicate and bold – and it was fun to eat.
Dan and Marian shared a plate of petit fours in the form of a honey sponge cake, a chocolate truffle and a passionfruit meringue ($7). I managed to nibble on the chocolate truffle which was probably richer than my chocolate bar (yes, it was possible!) but nevertheless still delicious. Better was the honey sponge cake that had a lovely dense texture that was moist all over, while the passionfruit curd in the meringue was probably more sugar than actual passionfruit.
To say that the food was a hit and miss was certainly an understatement. Some dishes were below average while others were good, but none of them were particularly worth a second try. Both Dave and I, having already nibbled on some (much better) snacks upstairs at The Aylesbury rooftop bar, were adequately full (though not bursting) whereas Dan and Marian were still hungry, but not keen on ordering any more food from here. Plus, it was almost 8:15pm anyway, which was the time the 6pm session-ers had to leave the premises for the next lot of diners.
I liked the atmosphere, I liked the hospitable service and I certainly liked the rooftop bar (a lot) but I can’t see myself going back to the restaurant again. All of a sudden, the thought of sitting squished up against a wall in a proper Spanish restaurant on Johnston Street with the smell of paella wafting through the hot air sounds very appealing indeed.