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Fitzroy VIC 3065
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I’m going to take a break from writing about my Queensland foodie adventures and divert back to Melbourne for just a little bit. Why? Because I feel like it, dammit! Meanwhile, I’ve received a lot of positive feedback about my Gold Coast and Cairns reviews (thank you to those who have left comments and sent me e-mails – they make me happy!) so I’m glad that I’m doing something right. Stay tuned for more in the not too distant future. Tonight, though, I’m going to write about a dinner that I attended just over a month ago. Although there is generally a decent delay between any one meal and an actual review of said meal being published on my blog, I do feel bad for not having blogged about this one until now. Thanks (and sincere apologies) to The Commoner and Wasamedia for inviting my friend, Matt, and me to this dinner. Alas, the post is finally here.
The dinner I’m referring to is one of a series of dinners that Modern British restaurant, The Commoner, will be hosting in 2012. Every Thursday night, in addition to their ordinary a la carte menu, they will put on a ‘movie-inspired’ degustation menu that will change every two months. Their current theme is Poultrygeist, which means that their menu is poultry-based. The next theme they’ll be doing, launching on April 5th, will be Claws (Claws, Jaws. Geddit?!?!) which would no doubt involve some delicious crustaceans (minus the shriek factor, you’d hope). But for now, let’s focus on some pretty birds.
I had been to The Commoner for brunch before, and thoroughly enjoyed it. So when I got the invite for this dinner on launch night, I knew I had to go. As soon as Matt and I stepped into the cottage-like restaurant, chef and owner, Jo Corrigan, warmly greeted us. She showed us to our seats at the communal table by the window, where we were to dine with two other food-bloggers, including Ashley, and their guests.
Shortly before our first course arrived, we were given some Bress Bon Bon cider from Harcourt Valley. Being a cider fan and having had my fair share of ciders over the years, I’d like to say that this was THE best cider I’ve ever tasted. Yep, better than Bulmers, Rekorderlig and even the finest of pear ciders from France. It was full-bodied, slightly creamy, finished off with just the slightest amounts of crisp and tanginess. Whoa! And the best bit? They refilled our glasses. I loved it so much that I went around ringing bottle shops around the inner city areas to see if any of them stocked the cider. While most did not, thankfully King and Godfree in Carlton did.
Our first course arrived just as I was going through my second glass of cider: Ossau iraty, crispy chicken skin and onion jam, all sitting prettily atop a piece of crostini. It was the perfect start to a fantastic meal: the crostini and the chicken skin were on par in the crispiness stakes, with the creamy and mild-tasting Ossau iraty, a French cheese made with goats milk, creating a textural balance. Meanwhile, the onion jam provided some sweetness and a little bit of tartness to the mix. Delicious.
Next, we had the seared scallop with barnyard jelly, fresh peas and carrot crisp, matched with a glass of very dry Mon Redon Cotes du Rhone Blanc. I loved how they were more liberal with tonight’s theme with this dish, with the main feature not being avian in nature. Instead, a giant scallop, so sweet and succulent, was the star while the barnyard jelly played best supporting actress.
We all thought that the ‘stuff’ around the scallop was a soup of some sort, but we were all shocked to dig in and find that the texture was gelatinous. Well, duh, Libby, that’s why it’s called a ‘barnyard JELLY.’ Yes, yes, I know, reading fail. Anyway, we were told that the ‘jelly’ was made out of chicken stock and chardonnay vinegar, before being chilled. Obviously, I’m used to eating sweet jellies so it was initially hard to like this savoury jelly with the slightest hint of acidity. After a while, though, I got used to the taste and texture and ended up liking it.
I had barely started on my previous wine, when the waitress came around with the next wine for the next course: the Bress la Gallina white, a mixture of viognier, chardonnay and sauvignon amongst others. It was a lot sweeter than the previous wine, which meant that it went down a lot quicker with the next course, called ‘a feathered set.’ The set consisted of a Scotch egg with piccalilly[sic], pheasant terrine, and spiced duck neck sausage and mustard fruits.
I couldn’t decide which of the three I liked best – all were fantastic. The Scotch egg was coated in a crispy layer of crumbs, while the yolk remained slightly gooey. Meanwhile, the piccalilli, a British pickle that draws inspiration from India, was so delicately sweet with the perfect amount of sourness and spiciness, providing a lovely accompaniment. I love Scotch eggs, especially when my mother makes them but I have to say that I liked The Commoner’s version just that little bit better because of the not-quite-set yolk. Sorry, mum! I also thought the spiced duck neck sausage was fantastic. It tasted Moorish what with all the beautiful spices and the duck meat’s natural flavour coming through. And it wasn’t terribly salty, too, with the pungent mustard fruits creating a bit of pleasant sharpness. Finally, the pheasant terrine in all its delicateness rounded everything off perfectly. I was expecting this to taste gamier than the duck, only to be surprised at its more subtle flavour. Not that I minded, given how bold the other two nibbles tasted.
We were also given some fresh bread to nibble on during this course, along with some house-made dukkah and olive oil to dip in. Ooh yes. By this stage, we were starting to get a little bit full.
Thankfully, we still managed to salvage room for the ‘main’ course, the brined and wood-grilled quail with pickled butternut, quinoa and date puree. I am not normally quail’s number one fan but I was blown away when I took a bite of the bird off the fork. It was amazing! Cooked in the restaurant’s wood-burner, located in their courtyard, the quail was roasted until its skin became crispy, while leaving the meat inside beautifully tender.
I also loved the bird’s slightly smoky flavour which accentuated its natural flavour. The date puree was sweet enough to bring out the meat’s natural sweetness, but without overpowering it. Meanwhile, the pickled butternut pumpkin ribbons finished the dish off nicely without creating extra heaviness. Pretty soon, I gave up trying to eat the quail daintily with my fork and ate the rest of it with my hand. Undignified? Perhaps, but the staff were on hand to provide clean bowls and lemon-infused water to keep our fingers clean. As for the wine? Why, a smooth and very, very slightly peppery mix of tempranillo, garnacha and syrah, called the Bress la Gallina red. A perfect match.
Our final course – the dessert course – was the duck egg brulee with summer rhubarb and sumac shortbread. I’m used to eating duck eggs in salted form (on its own, and in duck egg
soup congee) so I was a little sceptical when I realised that I would be eating it as a dessert. I need not have worried, though, for the crème brulee was not at all ‘weird’ as originally thought. In fact, the texture was creamier than a normal brulee while still maintaining that lovely delicate edge. The shortbread cookies, so lovingly dusted with sumac, were also delicate and made for the perfect accompaniment as did the glass of Pennywhite Gold that came with it.
Everyone at our table enjoyed the dinner so much, and spent a good portion of our post-dinner coffee session discussing which dishes were our favourites. Mine was definitely the quail, though the others lagged not too far behind. Each course contributed positively in some way to the dinner as a whole to produce what would have been the equivalent of an Oscar-winning feature film. In addition to the amazing food, we also received amazing service by Jo herself and her team of friendly waitresses. They not only knew what they were doing, but gave little commentaries on the wines and dishes with more enthusiasm than a raver on happy pills.
Poultrygeist, along with the other sit-down themed dinners planned for the rest of the year, is $80 per head for food only and $110 with matching wines. I’d say that this is pretty damn good value for what we got. As Matt and I said ‘goodbye’ to the other diners and began walking to the city to burn some calories, we excitedly started to plan our next visit to The Commoner, the Whisky Business-themed dinner in June. Although it’s three months away, I can’t help but wonder what surprises lurk in the kitchen. Perhaps a TOMato Cruise tart with radicchio sauce? Only time will tell!
Disclaimer: Matt and libishski attended ‘Poultrygeist’ as guests of The Commoner and Wasamedia.