176 Little Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9094 7820
Hello again! I’m saying ‘goodbye’ to Queensland (for now) as we usher some Melbourne food loving to tide us over during these cold, miserable, rainy months. And what a month it has been so far. There have been shake-ups at my (primary) work, and new challenges in the form of taking up a second (casual) position elsewhere, weekend cooking adventures (browned butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies; beef and mushroom udon soup, using beef broth made from scratch and lasagne pastry rolls have been added to my very limited repertoire) and performing as badly as GWS in both my Supercoach leagues.
Thankfully, I know I can turn to food to cheer me up when I’m feeling overworked, sooky or fed up with Marty’s constant teasing. And thankfully, I know that I can turn to Dave for some good-quality conversations over a meal. He had just submitted his final exam for the semester, and I was celebrating, well, nothing in particular, but eh, who needs an excuse to dine out anyway?
We had both wanted to try The Moat, the newish Spanish-inspired eatery located in the basement of the Wheeler Centre. The Moat is a coffee shop, a dining room and a wine bar all rolled into one and can take on so many personas during the course of a single day. Whether you’re there to pick up your latte fix by the hole in the wall at 8am on a Monday morning, or whether you just want wine and nibbles before heading off to see Annie The Musical, The Moat has all bases covered.
We walked along The Moat’s Astroturf-ed path and into the dining quarters, feeling like we were entering a labyrinth of some sort. While we would have normally prefered to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air (and better lighting!), we decided that we weren’t going to risk getting rained on so we went inside and grabbed a table by the bar.
The dining room itself is bookish yet sexy (who says you can’t be both?!), perfect for two dating bookworms to discuss literary works over a few glasses of wines and nibbles. There is even a bookshelf in the dining room where diners are free to browse whatever books are on the shelves, though you certainly won’t find anything written by Stephenie Meyer.
It wasn’t even 5:30pm when we arrived, but the dimness and the coziness of the room convinced me that it was closer to 9pm outside. When the waiter asked us what we were here for, we replied ‘something to eat, please’ and was told that dinner didn’t actually start until ‘much later on.’ We were given the grazing menu instead, which consisted of four small dishes, none of which sounded particularly interesting, as well as the wine list. When the waiter returned, we asked him what time dinner actually started and just to make sure we were on the right page, Dave brought up the dinner menu on his iPhone. The waiter replied, ‘Oh, it’ll be 5:30pm in a few minutes! I’ll grab the other menu.’ Did that mean that dinner actually started at 5:30pm? If so, why were we told that they weren’t serving dinner until ‘much later on’? Seconds later, the waiter appeared with the dinner menu and said, ‘You can look at it, but we won’t take orders until just before 6pm.’ Well, that settled it then.
We started off with a glass of wine each: a 490 Metres pinor noir for Dave ($8) and a Von Bun QBA riesling ($9) for myself. As we sipped on our wines, we discussed new cooking ideas amongst other things while we studied the menu. Dave’s brother, having already been here, highly recommended the braised lamb so ordering that was a given. We also liked the sound of the potted prawns and the Canadian scallops, so we went with those too. I also wanted to try the quinoa salad which came with tomato, cucumber, Spanish onion, toasted seeds, coriander, mint and honey dressing for $16, but for an extra $2 you can get cumin poached free-range chicken in it, too. The waiter, however, kindly told us that the quinoa salad – the non-chicken version – actually came with the lamb and suggested ordering a side dish, perhaps. He recommended the sweet potato side, which I initially didn’t warm up to (not a fan of sweet potato, you see) but decided to be open-minded and give it a go.
The Canadian scallop kebab (as in, kebab, singular)’s pricetag of $16 may initially seem steep to most but it’s a small price to pay for plump, succulent and MASSIVE scallop pieces that would have tasted just brilliant on their own. If Dave was writing this blog, he would have also said that they felt like a pair of supermodel’s tits so it’s just as well that I’m writing it, hey? Each scallop was wrapped in a bit of pancetta before being dressed in apple dressing, then topped with a piece of black fermented garlic. The pancetta added a lovely salty contrast to the sweet scallops and apple dressing, while the garlic added a slight piquancy to the scallops.
Next, we had the potted prawns with butter, shaved fennel, lemon zest and spices ($15). Served in what looked like an anchovy tin can, the prawns were hidden in an, in my opinion, excessive nest of shaved fennel that was cooked in an (admittedly) lovely butter and lemon zest sauce infused delicately with spices (I could taste the delicious cumin!). The kitchen helpfully added some thin slices of bread to mop up the fennel with, too.
While the prawns did taste fantastic, there was just way too much fennel and not a lot of prawn (I think there were about five or six pieces?). Thus, the dish did not exactly represent great value for money. Also, I would have preferred more butter and less lemon zest but this is due to personal preference more than anything.
Then came our braised lamb dish ($30). A bubbly British waitress asked us if we’ve had this dish before to which we both said, ‘no.’ She then explained that the best way to eat it was to eat it like a kebab.
First, spoon some Elvis-kind-of-tender lamb onto the flat bread provided (we got one each), then slather it with roasted garlic labne and quinoa salad. Next, fold up the thing and eat like you would a kebab. Given that we were given pita bread and NOT Turkish bread, I would have said ‘souvlaki’ and not ‘kebab’ but whatever.
kebab souvlaki was good. Real good. The lamb was obviously the star of the show, so beautifully tender ( like I said, think Elvis) and full of flavour thanks to the aromatic spice-rich gravy in which it was slow-cooked in. I could eat spoonfuls of this stuff; it was THAT good. The roasted garlic labne was also great; the flavour was sweeter and not as pungent as your average tzatziki sauce which meant that it did not overpower the lamb. However, it’s beautifully creamy texture meant that it did not play second fiddle either. And while the quinoa salad was good when eaten with the lamb and garlic labne, I was kind of expecting a bit more from it – it just lacked a bit of something. Next time, I think that I’ll order this WITH the chicken option.
I approached the jacket sweet potato with smoked paprika aioli ($8) with a level of trepidation because, like I said before, I am not a fan of sweet potato. If the sweet potato was served on its own, I would have not enjoyed it. However, the creamy smoked paprika aioli did diffuse a lot of the sweetness that I’ve come to hate when eating sweet potatoes. Not bad.
We decided that we had enough room for dessert. Dave ordered the Valrhona chocolate and Earl Grey tea tart with lemon curd shot ($14). The tart was rich. Super-rich. It wasn’t unpleasantly rich, though, thanks to the high cream content, which gave the tart a lovely, smooth finish, and the Earl Grey tea flavour, which gave the tart a subtle smokiness. Next to the tart, there was a shot glass filled with lemon curd and topped with Persian fairy floss. While I understood that the kitchen was trying to demonstrate contrasting flavours and whatnot, we both thought that the lemon curd was way too tangy and sour to be presented next to the rich chocolate tart; the whole arrangement was just too awkward. Even Dave, who isn’t normally a fussy eater, couldn’t put down a spoonful of lemon curd.
Meanwhile, I chose the balsamic poached pear and vanilla mascarpone ($13) over the cheese platter. I liked my dessert better than I liked Dave’s; the vinegar accentuated the pear’s natural acids while still managing to retain its sweetness. Meanwhile, the vanilla mascarpone quenelle provided a wonderfully creamy contrast to the pear, though a little less sugar in the quenelle wouldn’t have hurt.
We both decided that we liked The Moat. We liked the atmosphere, the central yet hidden location and the food (which we didn’t really consider Spanish-inspired but anyway). While our so-called reinvented souvlaki can no way replace a legit post-clubbing kebab at 2am in the morning, we thought the braised lamb was our favourite dish of the night and we’d certainly order it again if we return.