Review: San Antone by Bludsos (Melbourne, VIC)

Level 1, Crown Casino
8 Whiteman Street
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 8658 3441

After a day of roaming Fitzroy and Brunswick, my friends and I ended up at Crown Casino. It’s been a while since I’ve set foot on its carpeted floors and goodness knows why and how we ended up there. It was, however, Easter Monday and a lot of places were either closed or packed out for dinner – maybe we figured that our only chances of snagging a table somewhere without going too far from the city was at Crown.

We ended up at San Antone by Bludsos, a kinda-but-not-really new eatery just around the corner from Village cinemas. Being completely out of the loop when it came to new openings in Melbourne, I didn’t know that this place existed though my dining companions Aaron and Cathy had heard about it. A product of third-generation barbeque pit master Kevin Bludso, San Antone is a new player on the Melbourne American barbeque scene. With restaurants in Compton and Hollywood, Melbourne was San Antone’s third location – and going by how packed it was on a Monday evening, it seems like the gamble has paid off for Bludso. There was a queue to get into the restaurant, but we were lucky just to make the cut for the last empty table.

Peach iced tea ($8)
Peach iced tea ($8)

After having spent the good part of that afternoon hitting the beers, I decided to stay away from alcohol. Instead, I opted for San Antone’s homemade peach iced tea. At $8, the tea was a bit of a rip given that it was rather sweet and one-dimensional; I couldn’t even taste the advertised thyme they added in the drink.

Meanwhile, Aaron ordered the ‘American-style diner coffee’ which was $4 – a laugh because hello, this is Melbourne! This is the land of amazing coffee, bitch! Curiously, the coffee appeared in the dessert menu rather than the drinks menu but Aaron specifically requested to have the coffee ‘served now.’ It took until after we were halfway through our food for his coffee to arrive – and only after three reminders to the staff. As predicted, the mud didn’t taste so good.

Shared platter for two ($64)
Shared platter for two ($64)

We shared a meat platter between the three of us. Although the platter was designed to be shared between two, the waiter didn’t object when that was all we ordered – and it was just the right amount of food to share, too. On the plate was some pulled pork, half a chicken, a chicken sausage and San Antone’s signature beef brisket that had been cooked in Old Hickory smokers on low heat for 12 to 15 hours. They also threw in two types of homemade barbeque sauce (one hot, one not) and some sides: chilli con carne, mac and cheese and slaw.
fb3Oh yes, that brisket.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I was in love with our meal. In most cases, the meat was dry and lacking in flavour beyond smoky but even that was one-dimensional. The only good bit was the brisket, but only because there was just enough fat on the meat to carry the flavour through. I found the sides ordinary too – the chilli con carne was nothing I can’t make at home while half drunk after a night out while the ‘tangy coleslaw’ was anything but tangy. I guess the mac and cheese tasted okay but then again, it’s hard to go wrong with pasta and cheese.

San Antone has hit the jackpot with its mass bogan appeal, but it will have to work hard if they want to steal fans away from the likes of Le Bon Ton, Blubonnet BBQ, Big Boy BBQ et al. San Antone’s initial offerings of authenticity may appeal to begin with, but its dumbed down flavours and price point is likely to deter many from returning.

San Antone by Bludso's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Merrywell

Crown Casino
Corner of Clarendon Street and Crown Riverside
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9292 7468

I always look forward to having post-work dinners with my friend, Matt. But because he’s a lawyer with virtually no social life to speak of, it’s often hard to arrange an evening that suits us both. Thankfully we were both free one Wednesday night so we agreed to meet up. Now, the plan was to visit Melbourne’s new fromagerie but the hectic traffic out of the city scared us into staying away from the roads, at least for a few hours.

Matt parked his car at Crown that day so the most logical choice was to go to a restaurant in the casino. When it came to deciding which restaurant to choose, we both looked at each other and said, ‘The Merrywell’ at the same time. Now I’d never been to the American diner-slash-gastropub but I really wanted to go. Meanwhile, Matt had been twice already and because he loved it so much, he was keen to go again.

We rocked up in the middle of the dinner peak so tables were harder to come by than a decent coffee in the US. Luckily, there was a spare table on the balcony so we happily squeezed in underneath the heated lamps. We were immediately given a drinks menu and although the cocktail list was impressive enough, we both decided to skip the alcohol because we’re such squares these days.

Now, I had heard wonderful things about The Merrywell’s many burgers from their simple cheese burgers to their BBQ burgers. To my horror, I only saw one burger on the Merrywell menu – and one that contained pork belly. While I like pork belly as much as the next Asian, I really did want a simple no-nonsense beef burger. The closest thing that fitted that description were the mini wagyu burgers which was featured on the starters menu and came in threes. I asked the waitress if they and a side dish were enough to fill a person up and her response was, ‘no.’ I didn’t listen to her so I went ahead and ordered them anyway.


We started off with some onion rings with lemon rosemary aioli ($12), a side that Matt strongly recommended. The onions rings were beautifully light, crispy and golden and we loved the herb-y and creamy aioli with very slight hints of piquancy.


These chips ($14) were my sides. I expected them to be the hand-cut variety so I was surprised to see that they looked the way they did, all round and whatnot. I wasn’t sure I liked them (I prefer mine long and straight, thanks) but I did like the bacon aioli that came with it. Mmm bacon.


Here are my mini wagyu burgers ($19). Each little burger came with white cheddar, caramelised onions and pickles. They were nice enough but I thought the beef patties were way too pepper-y and spoilt the burgers’ overall flavour.


Meanwhile, Matt ordered the dish called ‘our fried chicken’ ($27), having loved it the first time he had it a month or so ago. The dish contained something called ‘125th Street chicken’ (a nod to Harlem?) and on the side, chocolate waffles and ‘killer bee honey.’ Chicken, waffles and honey on the same plate? It was weird but damn, it worked. Really well. The chicken pieces were out-of-this world crispy and drizzled with sticky honey, they were incredible. And if the dish wasn’t heart attack-inducing enough, there was a blob of lemon cream on the side. Matt, who doesn’t eat big portions these days, couldn’t finish his chicken – but that was okay because that’s what I was there for.


Heh, cute.

It was a busy Wednesday night at The Merrywell but I reckoned the service was pretty good (until the point where we asked for the bill and they seemed to forget about us) and the food, fantastic. I later found out that there The Merrywell is made up of two sections, one called ‘Downstairs’ and one called ‘Upstairs.’ We just happened to sit upstairs whereas the downstairs section was more casual and had the entire burger range to choose from. D’oh.

My burgers might not have been the best I’ve ever had but that’s not going to stop me from returning. I enjoyed the onion rings and thought that Matt’s daring chicken dish was amazing. Plus, there were so many things on the menu that I wanted to try. Mac and cheese balls and Philly cheesesteaks, anyone?

The Merrywell on Urbanspoon

Rockpool Bar & Grill

Crown Casino
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 8648 1900

Ahh! So now that my uni exams are done and dusted (ditto Essendon’s season *sad face*), I have all the free time in the world to do all the things that I’ve had to put on hold for a month. Stuff like, y’know, restaurants, bar, friends, exercise and Glee. And blogging. Oh yes, there will be lots of THAT coming your way, readers. You all should be so lucky… or not. So anyway, let’s cast our minds back to April this year. A time when the weather was not as dreadful; a time when the Bombers were actually top-eight contenders and a time when facebook told my friends that I was still in a relationship with Adam. Fast forward two months later and things have changed  — but that’s another story for another time (though if you were to ask me to ‘elaborate’ on the Bombers point, I will just tell you to STFU). Tonight, however, the story is bovine-loving* Adam’s birthday dinner at Rockpool.

*pun intended. I AM, after all, a Taurean.

Although we’ve both been here before, it felt like we were walking into Neil Perry’s first Melbourne restaurant that Friday evening in April. Having had the famous Rockpool wagyu burger two years ago – and thinking it was good – we were keen to nibble on Perry’s meat all over again – the uncut, the un-minced and ungarnished version (ooh-er, that sounds dirty!). Although Rockpool will forever be a classy restaurant embossed with tinges of masculinity by way of mahogany, leather and dark wood, it still retained an air of typical Melbourne casualness during the lunch hours. At night, however, it’s a whole new story. The music is dimmed and the lights are turned down substantially, to the point where you can only just see what the words on the menu say which is never a good thing. It does, however, produce the intended effect – the restaurant is cool, sexy and very New York-like. Okay, so the above photo doesn’t particularly portray it very well, but you can blame the Metro train that just so happened to be whizzing by when I took the shot. And my crappy low-light photography.

I ordered a glass of Telmo Rodriguez Tempranillo ($12), bold and fruity and smelling as sweet as this season’s ‘in’ perfume, while Adam opted for a Campari ($9). ‘Are you sure you guys ordered the right drinks?’ asked the friendly-but-somewhat-smart-arsey waiter who was a Swedish traveller, having just hopped off the plane from Canada. ‘No,’ I said, with a slight giggle, ‘I hold the pants in this relationship!’ which somehow segued into a lengthy conversation about the differences between fine dining cultures in Canada, Europe and Australia. Once Mr Sven left, Adam and I then sat in comfortable silence (with random bouts of frantic Supercoach score-checking on our smartphones) while we sipped our drinks.

First there was butter. A solid, slab of slightly warm butter. Mmm.

And then there was bread. Okay, so not the best bread but whatever, I’ll take it from the front, from behind and from the side… just as long as I smothered it with lots and lots of the aforementioned butter. Mmmm.

We shared an entrée of Hand Cut Linguini with Spanner Crab and Spicy Prawn Oil ($30), which arrived evenly divided into two plates. Let me start by saying that this has got to be one of the most unusual pasta dishes I’ve ever tasted (and this is not including the random sht I concoct at home). The first thing I thought when I popped a strand of pasta into my mouth was, ‘this tastes like pad thai!’ It really did. It was a delicious mix of chillies, lemon, hot oil infused with the flavours of prawn heads, fresh spanner crab meat, tomatoes and thin shreds of kaffir lime leaves. It was like, Italy, meet South-East Asia. So, so good.

For our mains, we decided to share two different types of steaks from the ‘beef from the wood fire grill’ menu so we can see if we can taste the difference between a BLING BLING 38-day David Blackmore full-blood wagyu (9+ marble score, yo!) 200g rib-eye ($115) and a peasant (well, relatively-speaking anyway) Cape Grim dry-aged 36 month old grass-fed fillet ($55). We were presented with plates, containing four pieces of moo-cow  and initially, we had no idea what the hell was happening – someone on my facebook even commented on the similarities between the second piece and a penis (man, I have such mature friends!). Then ‘Sven’-the-waiter explained. Basically, they chopped up each steak into quarters so both of us got two pieces of ‘bling bling’ and two pieces of ‘grass,’ each. ‘Sven’ told us which piece was which but neither of us paid attention because we were both eyeing our steaks with ferocious intensity, not listening to a word he was saying. If you didn’t know a thing about steak, you’d think that all four pieces were the same … but you’d be wrong.

The ‘bling bling’ (above), for example, was super-soft thanks to the heavy duty marbling of delicate fat tissues. Every time my knife made contact with the steak, the meat would tear off easily – kinda like tearing apart a piece of tissue paper – and literally melt in your mouth. It had a rich, nutty flavour that melted into nothingness as you chewed, with only the slightest hints of ‘beefiness’ coming through once you’ve swallowed the morsel. This was the first time I’ve had 9+ score wagyu and to be honest, I didn’t think it was OMG-WHOA-WHOA-WHOA! good. I’m a bit of a health freak myself (which is somewhat funny, given I’m a self-confessed foodie and all, but WHATEVER, there’s nothing that says that you HAVE to be one or the other) and at the time, I had become accustomed to eating grass-fed beef because it’s better than grain-fed beef from an environmental as well as a health perspective. Plus, it tastes cleaner and ‘beefier’, so you can understand why I preferred the Cape Grim. The flesh was clean, like it was hand-plucked by fair maidens from the luscious pastures of Tasmania and even though it had nowhere near the levels of fat the ‘bling bling’ contained, it was still lovely, tender and full of flavour – even more flavoursome than the ‘bling bling’ which is supposed to be the flavoursome of all beef. Bah.

You may be wondering why the plate looks so spartan, with only a lone lemon wedge on the side. The plate of steak(s) may not have looked pretty but believe me when I say that the steaks were flavoursome on their own that you really didn’t need anything else on top. We were, however, given some Béarnaise sauce on the side to dip our steaks in and a roving waiter (not ‘Sven’) came around with tubs of condiments to choose from, including hot mustard and a very lovely hannis harissa paste which was deliciously sweet and spicy.

Even though the steaks were enough to fill our tummies up (might not have looked like much but trust me, we were pretty full), it didn’t feel right to order steaks without some sort of vegie side. We ordered the whole organic carrots with garlic yoghurt and dill ($9) which were nice enough – I really like the cacik-like yoghurt sauce – but probably the wrong side to have with steaks. The mushy peas with slow-cooked egg ($12) sounded a lot better, as did the ‘mac and cheese’ but ordering the latter would have defeated the purpose of eating relatively healthily…

… Okay, I lied. We also ordered onion rings ($9). What?! Don’t look at me like that! We HAD to.

And of course, we couldn’t leave without ordering dessert. Never mind the fact I wasn’t a big dessert person and never mind the fact that Adam initially wanted to leave quickly so he can catch the last quarter of the Brisbane-Carlton game. We decided to split a coconut macaron with custard apple ice cream sandwich ($14) because 1) Adam likes coconut, 2) I like custard apples and 3) we’re both Melburnians and therefore, like macarons by default. I was expecting a hella epic dessert but to me, it was just ‘okay.’ The ‘macaron’ shell was hard, crumbly  and did not taste even vaguely like coconut. It was all sugar, sugar, sugar. Ew. Having said that, I did like the refreshing and slightly tangy custard apple ice cream filling – it was almost sorbet-like in texture but with a little bit of creaminess. Yum.

I can certainly see why Rockpool is a favourite destination for the steak-lovers in Melbourne: the service is impeccable and while the prices are high, high, you’re getting quality to match. I would tell you to only order the ‘bling bling’ steak, only so you can see what a $115 steak is like, but personally I’d recommend going for the grass-fed cuts just because they’re better. Yeah.

Rockpool Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Spice Temple

Crown Entertainment Complex
8 Whiteman Street
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 8679 1888

On Saturday, Adam and I drove to Geelong, then Torquay, then back to Melbourne. Upon arrival in our state’s capital, it was decided that we were going to maze to sample a dessert or two at its temporary dessert bar (which has since closed). But first, dinner. We weren’t utterly famished yet we still wanted a handful of small savoury tastes to nibble on before we got our sugar fix. Therefore, we decided that an hour or two at the bar in any of Crown’s many restaurants would suffice.

Enter Spice Temple. Neil Perry’s Asian-inspired eatery slithered into Crown quietly last year like a dragon about to creep up behind its prey unaware. Given the success of the inaugural Spice Temple in Sydney, opening a Melbourne restaurant was inevitable. Not that we needed more ‘Asian-inspired’ restaurants that are run by gweilos or anything like that, especially another one that charges double the price of the same dish that you could find at Sichuan Dining Room, for example. Well, at least that was the opinion of one or two of my dinner crew buddies when we skimmed through the menu sometime in December last year. Still, Adam and I decided Spice Temple was worth a try. We arrived just after 6pm, with fingers crossed, and asked the receptionist if they were able to accommodate two losers at the bar for nibbles and drinks. She did one better – she was able to seat us at a proper table but we had to be out before 8pm. Easy.

 A waitress led us downstairs where the dining area was, through a long corridor and into an class, yet intimate dining room that was so dark that it was borderline sinister. Still, I give props to Spice Temple’s architect and interior designer; the place just screamed out ‘class’ and ‘money’ but without the tacky opulence that pervaded the similarly-named Spice Market. I also gave a nod to the slow, sexy jazz that growled from the speakers throughout our meal. No props were given to the terrible lighting though. It was one thing to not be able to take decent photos with my camera, but another thing to NOT be able to see the menu without shining your mobile phone’s light onto the page to see what the effk you were reading!

 Although Spice Temple has a decent wine list (of exactly 100 wines), I couldn’t help but be seduced by its cocktail list. Each cocktail, exclusive to Spice Temple, was named after a Chinese zodiac sign. For example, you might choose an earthy ‘Ox’ which contained tomato, Sichuan spices and vodka or perhaps a carafe-sized lychee, gin and sparkling water aptly called ‘Pig’ might tickle your fancy. I am not pompous (well, not really anyway) but I went with the Rooster ($18) because the likes of aperol, orange, limoncello and passionfruit screamed out, ‘Come back, summer!’ and dammit, I miss summer!

The food draws influence from all parts of Asia with a strong focus on regional Chinese cuisines, Sichuan cuisine in particular. Our waiter explained that the dishes were designed to be shared and that in order to gain the best experience, to choose a small mix of dishes from the entrees/salads/noodles menu and maybe one or two from the larger dishes in the seafood/poultry/pork/beef and lamb menus. He also pointed out that the dishes that were written in red were the really spicy ones and to ensure that there was a balance between spicy and non-spicy dishes. We were really only here to graze rather than have a proper meal so we ended up choosing a couple of entrees, a salad and a noodle dish. And because they were on the ‘cheap’ end of the Spice Temple spectrum, we expected them to be tiny too (foreshadowing, much?).

 The first dish we received was the bizarrely-named ‘strange flavour white cut chicken’ (‘SFWCC’) ($18) which, to me, sounded like Mr Perry was being fob-in-cheek and giving a nod to all the Asian restaurants out there with grammatically incorrect menus. A single trail of drunken chicken-style sliced chicken, with bone intact, lay idly in the middle of Lake Inferno (‘Burn, baby, burn.’), a cold but fiery mixture of Sichuan peppercorns, chilli, oil. chopped roasted peanuts, sesame seeds and a little bit of egg noodle. We were instructed to scoop up a piece of beautifully tender chicken, along with some broth, with a Chinese soup spoon and eat it all in one mouthful to savour all the flavours. And savour, we did. Hot damn! It was like a flavour bomb had detonated in my mouth.

 You’d think that the aromatic duck salad with tea eggs and coriander ($18) would be a cooling welcome from the SFWCC which showed no fury before I even took my first bite. Wrong. Despite its subdued demeanour, this salad proved to be much hotter than the SFWCC thanks to the literal dosage of chilli seeds and Sichuan peppercorns. Whoa! It was a lovely salad that packed a lot of bite but I honestly thought that it would have worked better with the heat down turned to medium, or even low.

 We welcomed a small side of Sichuan pickled shitake mushrooms and cucumber($8), one of the many pickled dishes on offer that was designed to ‘awaken the palate and … cool the fire.’ While it didn’t exactly put out the ring of fire that was threatening to burn my chompers off (I thought cucumbers were good at diffusing heat?), it was good to NOT eat something that had chilli in it. Still, it wasn’t enough. The more we ate (and of course we had to eat – everything was delicious so far), the more our mouths burned so finally, we ended up ordering a bowl of steamed rice which was a pretty general serving for $3 – enough to feed the two of us.

Thankfully our final two dishes took a walk on the mild side. A lamb and cumin pancake ($14), cut into mini-pizza slices. It was served with a sambal oelek-style chilli paste which was tame compared to the two hot dishes we had before. The pancake went down a treat. It was amazingly golden and crispy and although the amount of lamb and cumin filling inside was negligible, we still enjoyed it. Who wants love when all you need is cumin?

Finally, our stir-fried sea scallops with velvet noodles and chilli paste ($23) arrived. The ‘velvet noodles’ were home-made flat potato noodles that tasted like gnocchi, but more delicate and silky as its name suggests. Despite the dish having ‘chilli’ in its name, the noodles was more sweet rather than hot -thank goodness. To be honest, if it weren’t for the novelty that was the awesome ‘velvet noodles’, this dish would have been verging on pedestrian. The scallops were fresh but they sat awkwardly next to the crunchy capsicums. But the noodles! Oh, the noodles! *slurp*

When we received our bill, we were also handed complimentary almond cookies which I love. They were beautiful – sweet, slightly crunchy and not too doughy and dare I say it, better than Flower Drum’s almond cookies. Looking back, I had to laugh – we had only planned to stop by for a few drinks and nibbles but we somehow ended up having a complete meal. In saying that, the dishes we ordered were all from the cheap end (entree) of the menu and to think that the portions were generous for a place of this standard, we thought that the $115 we paid for dinner was reasonable. In fact, we were so full that my Easter food baby was kicking me in the belly and (shock horror), we even thought about skipping dessert at Maze (but no, we did persist).

On top of that, the service was excellent – staff were on hand to help with with menu selections and swiftly refill our glasses of water every time it looked like we were struggling with the chillies (which was, well, most of the time). Is Spice Temple simply glorified Sichuan food and does it rip off food from Sichuan House and Dainty Sichuan? Not really. While the portion sizes here aren’t as big as the food at the aforementioned restaurants, you get bang for your buck when it comes to quality. Everything here is super-fresh, delicious, and clean-tasting (yes, even the hotter spices) without the nasty greasy residue. I’m definitely making return visits until I’ve gone through all the Chinese zodiac cocktails and have sampled their larger dishes. Mad hot.

Spice Temple on Urbanspoon

maze (pop-up dessert bar) (CLOSED)

Level 1, Crown Metropol Hotel
Corner Whiteman and Clarendon Streets
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9292 8300

What a weekend this has been! Adam’s birthday festivities, numerous Easter celebrations, a road trip to Geelong and Torquay and having to deal with yet another Vodafail fiasco (those of you who are unfortunate enough to be on that blasted carrier will know what I’m talking about). Short of a miracle, I’ve found a bit of free time in which I can indulge in some essay-writing, CTWV-viewing and blogging. So hooray for that.

So after spending a day down at Torquay and trying our best to avoid all the surfies who were in town for that surfing competition at Bell’s Beach, we drove back to Melbourne to have dinner at Neil Perry’s Spice Temple restaurant. A review for that restaurant will appear on this site very soon (and by that, I mean within three months – hah) but tonight you’ll just have to live with a short review of maze’s pop-up dessert table. If you’re a loser like me and follow all the restaurant goss, you’ll know that maze at Crown are doing this once-off dessert table during the Easter weekend. From the 22nd to the 25th April, they will plonk a table at the bar where diners can rest their tushes on an vacant seat and watch as pastry chef Dan Fletcher whips up desserts in front of you. You can select one dessert (at $14-18 a pop) or go for the three-course trifecta at $35. The dessert table is open on a first come, first serve basis so if you see no empty chairs when you rock up, you’ll have to wait. That’s okay though, because the turnover is pretty high thanks to Dan’s ability to whip up amazing-looking desserts with such speed and efficiency.

Having had an epic dinner at Spice Temple, there was no way Adam and I were going for the three-course-er. After ordering a long macc for Adam, we decided that getting one dessert each was the way to go. The choice of having a matching wine to go with your dessert was available but we didn’t take it up. After all, our stomachs were pumped with chillies and spices, do we really need alcohol to make it worse? Hah.

Adam’s coffee ganache, salted caramel, hazelnut ice cream. This was originally going to be my choice but when Adam said that he wasn’t interested in getting anything else BUT this dessert, I had to choose a different one (and there was no way in hell a food-blogger was going to choose the same thing as her dining companion!). In hindsight, I should have just gone with my first choice (i.e. this dessert) for mine wasn’t THAT fantastic while this one was. The frozen slab of frozen ganache hid a pool of sticky, salty caramel and supported a sprinkling of crunchy, roasted hazelnuts and creamy hazelnut ice-cream. The flavours were rich and intense, and sipping the coffee in between bites heightened the taste of it rather than drowned it.

My white chocolate, yuzu jelly and eucalyptus ice cream. My photo of this dish is an effking fail (and I don’t know Photoshop well enough to un-redden the image and didn’t think to adjust the white balance on my camera), but the dish was only slightly better than this photo. A neat white chocolate parfait provided a sturdy platform for the rest of the elements – a eucalyptus ice cream, which had a subtle flavour not unlike a Vick’s Vapour Drop, and a slightly tangy yuzu jelly. A delicate white chocolate swirl completed the pretty picture which was cool to look at but unfortunately, didn’t really do it for me in terms of taste. I just felt that the whole thing was too sweet – the tons of sugar used to create each element (except maybe the yuzu jelly) overpowered any flavours that were supposed to be apparent. The tangy yuzu jelly did assist somewhat in balancing the flavours out, but when that little blob was finished, it was just me against a mountain of sugar. And that wasn’t good.

The dessert pop-up bar is open for one more night, folks (tomorrow night!) so make your way to maze between 7:30pm and 10:30pm for some post-dinner sweets. I would highly recommend the coffee ganache but not the white chocolate parfait. There are other desserts to choose from too, such as a pavlova, in case none of the above desserts tickled your fancy.

Maze Grill (CLOSED)

Level 1 Crown Metropol Hotel
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+ 61 3 9292 6268

Steak. Who doesn’t love a big, juicy chunk of deliciously rare steak? I’ve had steaks in many restaurants around Melbourne and although I’ve tasted some pretty good ones, I’ve yet to find one that’s made me go LIKE, OMG WOAH! BEST STEAK EVERRRR! When Jan, who has a penchant for celebrity chefs and lunch specials, suggested we go to maze Grill for their $47 three-course lunch, which included steak, I was somewhat reluctant. Earlier this year, I had dinner at maze proper (which shared the same kitchen as Maze Grill) and thought it was good, but not super fantastic. Good enough for me to revisit a maze franchise eventually, yes, but good enough for me to return less than six months down the track? Well, no. So what compelled me to make an online booking for lunch at maze Grill merely five months later? Who knows, but whatever, I’m glad I did it because it was a FREAKIN’ FANTASTIC lunch.

We arrived at the restaurant after a short walk from QV. The hostess, after seeing us stumble into the restaurant looking all sweaty and flustered, led us to a waiting area and poured us some iced water while they got our tables ready for us. With our butts planted firmly onto a cushion, we gratefully drank our water before being told that our tables were ready. We were ushered to a table right by the window where we would bask in the midday sun’s glare and stare at the riveting view of traffic streaming down Clarendon Street. Frankly, I was happier staring at the coat hanger-like light fittings, sleek wooden furniture and fake birdies perched happily on their fake tree branches plastered high on the restaurant’s walls. Knowing that we were here for the set lunch, we didn’t bother studying the menu. I did, however, steal a quick glance at the mains list and thought about ordering the pappardelle bolognaise ($24), but I didn’t.

The effects of the previous night (being surrounded by Collingwood supporters on a euphoric high after a Premiership win required a LOT of alcohol…) meant that I had to say no to a Dr Loosen riesling. Instead, I opted for a glass of iced apple juice whereas teetotaler Jan went for the orange juice.

Our bread landed in a snug, beanie-like canvas basket accompanied by some soft-as-Sorbet toilet paper butter. Okay, not the best simile but whatever. I was hoping to get some of the delicious seaweed butter that we enjoyed at Maze proper but I guess it must have been a Maze proper only thing. Never mind. One bread was just good, simple white bread while the other one was a very lovely rosemary bread which was extremely delicious with generous lashings of butter.

We were given a choice between two entrees for the set lunch. Jan had dibs on the prawn salad (damn her) so that left me with the roasted cauliflower and cumin soup with almonds and raisins, not an ideal starter on such a warm day. Any resentment towards my choice (and no, I could NOT have the same dish as my dining companion if I was ever presented with a choice) disappeared when I tasted the first spoonful of the creamy, flavoursome pool of gold. The cauliflower soup would have been tasty enough on its own, but the addition of cumin seeds to make the soup spicy elevated it to the next level. The almonds were there for a textural balance while the raisins provided a nice but not essential sweetness to the dish.

Jan’s prawn and miso salad with cucumber, edamame and shiso cress. Wow wee, what a dish! It was a refreshing and light salad, yet strangely verging on filling. Full of vivid colours, contrasting textures and jam-packed with fresh flavours, this vivacious salad was a great way to start Spring – after all, we need something bright and colourful to distract us from the drab black and whites that have plagued Melbourne since Collingwood won the big one. The prawns and greens were dressed in only the simplest of dressings that was tangy, nutty and slightly sweet. Again, our friend cumin seed made an appearance if only to add a bit of spice to the salad.

The main course was a grass-fed Savannah pure Angus rib eye from New Zealand (250g) which came with a small tin bucket of chips. Holly guacamole, will you just look at the presentation…! Although I’m a bit over the whole let’s-present-stuff-on-big-chunks-of-wood thing, I must admit that presenting our steak on chopping boards was much more visually-appealing than plonking them on massive white plates. The roasted garlic and rosemary on the top left-hand corner was not only there to make things look pretty but to provide flavour should we so need to. Mmmmm… garlic mash…

Both Jan and I had requested our steaks to be cooked rare but halfway through our lunch, we were told that the kitchen had made a mistake with our steaks and cooked it medium-rare. While we would have been okay with eating med-rare steak, the kitchen was NOT happy with serving our steaks in a manner that was not requested by us… and so they threw our almost-ready steaks out and started cooking new ones. The mistake was communicated to us with full apologies which we both thought was a ‘tick’ in the ‘good service’ category.

These little tubs of sauce (béarnaise and tomato relish) were $3.50 each but we were given these for free for apparently being so nice and understanding about the whole steak thing. And for being so patient with the ‘lazy’ service as they were short-staffed. Score.

The sauces were for the steak but we couldn’t help but dip our textbook-perfect fries into them. Yummo.

Hello, gorgeous! I may have been a maze semi-hater prior to having lunch here but this steak changed my mind. IT WAS A FREAKIN’ FANTASTIC PIECE OF MOO-COW LIKE, USHER OMG WOW! It was so tender, so juicy and so full of flavour. Heck, they could have served it on a paper plate without the roasted garlic and the condiments and I would have been just as happy. Best steak in Melbourne? Big call, but I’m going to say ‘yes.’ For now. Keep in mind that I’ve yet to try a steak from Rockpool, Vlados, France-Soir and all the usual suspects though.

We were both full after the two courses but leaving before dessert would have just been rude. And so we stayed for the chocolate sundae with vanilla ice cream. Reluctantly, of course. When I received my glass of chocolate-y goodness, I was surprised to find that it was invaded by an army of chocolate and pecan brownies. Not that I was complaining. Not being a HUGE fan of chocolate, I did find the dessert a bit on the too-decadent side but it was still delicious nonetheless and well, let’s be frank here, you can never go wrong with vanilla ice cream.

Our lunch at maze Grill received resounding nods of approvals from Jan and I (click here to see Jan’s review). We both applauded the professional and friendly service despite the fact that they were short-staffed and we both loved the food that was so effortlessly sophisticated and tasty. And it goes without saying that the $47 p/h price tag for a lunch this good was akin to finding the perfect dress at a sass & bide warehouse sale at 90% off. Or finding all seven keys in the A*Mazing maze (ahh those were the days). Or bowling a hat trick against the Poms… you get the gist. We will be back. Oh yessssss.

Maze Grill on Urbanspoon
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Number 8

Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 9292 7899

I’m back, guys! No, I have not returned from some exotic location with a tan to boot nor have I had my internet capped or anything. Quite simply, I’ve been busy with exams. Having to deal with exam date mix-ups, lost USB sticks and a closed book constitutional law exam (FML FML FML FML FML FML) meant that I haven’t had time to sit down and blog. Oh, but I’ve ate. And drank. And ate some more. Blogging, however, is something totally different. And while a two-week absence isn’t normally that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, a LOT can happen in two weeks. New restaurants open, soup are cast aside to make way for couscous salads and leading ladies of popular TV shows get killed off. But anyway, back to food.

The first review off the Flinders Street station rank will be about a dinner that Shirls and I attended two months ago (!!), one which has been on my ‘to do’ list for quite some time (along with Brad Pitt). The photos may be of crappy quality and the commentary may be sketchy (after all, it has been two months) but whatever, a review is being posted tonight and that’s all that matters! (cue appropriate segue to) … Number 8. Apparently Derryn Hinch’s favourite restaurant and one that always seems to be packed to the rafters (okay, I’ll stop now) whenever I stroll past. Like most Crown restaurants, they do a Monday – Friday pre-theatre special where one can enjoy two courses for $43 if they dined before 7pm. Because Shirley and I like early weekday dinners and being tight arses, we decided to give Number 8 a go.

Sitting in an almost-bare restaurant, the waitresses immediately put our chompers to work by bringing us fresh, warm bread and two dips in place of the usual olive oil or butter. A pile of smooth sweet potato gunk appealed to Shirley’s sweet tooth whereas I preferred the garlicky white bean dip. We both thought that this was a great start to the meal. I really wish that more restaurants would bring out dips – don’t get me wrong, I love butter and olive oil is my BFF but to bring out something that’s slightly unusual, well, that gets my vote.

While she had juice, I had a glass of Albarino Valminor DO Rias Baixas (2009 ($15.45). It was a wonderfully complex blend of fragrant citrus notes with a slightly creamy finish. I was glad I gave my usual riesling a miss that night.

Shirley’s entree: Salt and pepper calamari, tomato and lime compote, aïoli and chive dressing. To me, this was their interpretation of the famous pan-Asian dish, the salt and pepper squid. While the squid had a lovely soft texture that was easy to chew, I felt that the dish was a bit too bland. In addition, there was no heat and no cohesion between the squid and the compote salad (and why the effk are they calling it a compote?!). Give me $10 plates of salt and pepper squid from Dessert House any time.

My entree: Handmade ricotta gnocchi, fresh tomatoes, basil, Jingilli olive oil. Those of you who know me will be like, “Since when do you voluntarily order gnocchi at restaurants, miss?!” Well, since the only other option on the pre-theatre menu was wagyu carpaccio, I really did have no choice (and I was over ordering carpaccio for entrees). Okay, so I have a choice which was to order the same dish as Shirley but c’mon, what foodie orders the same thing as their dining companion?! Anyway, the gnocchi was surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because apart from the gnocchi at Ladro, I’ve never had good gnocchi at a restaurant before. I liked that the dressing was a simple, light medley of the freshest herbs and vegies – that went extremely well with the carb-heavy gnocchi. And the whole thing just about filled me up before I even reached my main.

Shirley’s main: Roasted Cone Bay barramundi, baby fennel, à la grecque dressing. You wouldn’t be wrong if you thought that this dish looked dryer than a creek bed during the drought years. The kitchen kept it simple with a slab of barramundi that was roasted until most of its moisture was sucked out, then plonked among a bunch of baby fennel quarters before being drizzled with a simple olive oil and herb dressing. Actually, ‘drizzled’ is too generous of a word – there was hardly any dressing at all. Greek gods such as Aphrodite look hot naked, but not dishes like this. Far out.

My main: Free-range Bendigo chicken breast, organic white polenta, herb salad, spiced jus. Although it was also on the dry side, my chicken fared better than Shirley’s fish. The fact that it actually had wet elements in it (i.e. polenta, more than a negligible amount of jus) helped too. While it was an adequate dish (barring dryness), I didn’t feel any excitement when eating this.

We also shared a side of roasted potatoes, smoked paprika and thyme oil. They were crunchy to the bite and surprisingly tasty which is more than I could say for most of the stuff we had tonight.

Despite our lackluster meal, we couldn’t resist ordering dessert. Shirley opted for a serving of Cocoa Barry Venezuela chocolate fondant, hazelnut praline, milk ice cream, Pedro Ximenez reduction ($16). It was a beautifully executed dessert, the highlight being the chocolate fondant that was as rich and warm as Barry White’s voice and just as seductive. The milk ice cream was there to provide a lovely, cooling contrast in case things got a little bit too hot on the fondant side (which it did). Thanks for the sugar, sugar.

I went simple with my dessert: a trio of sorbets and ice creams ($14). At $14, three scoops is a bit of a rip especially when you can get three scoops of better-tasting ice cream at Trampoline a few blocks down. Still, I didn’t mind the subtly sweet vanilla bean and hazelnut ice creams nor did I mind the vivaciously tangy raspberry sorbet. Not a bad way to cap off what was otherwise a rather predictable meal where the highlight of it was the complimentary dips.

maze (CLOSED)

Level 1, Crown Metropol Hotel
Corner Whiteman and Clarendon Streets
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9292 8300

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay opened his first Australian restaurant, maze, at Crown’s new Metropol Hotel with much fanfare recently. Despite not being a fan of the muppet and his TV shows and despite the overwhelmingly bad reviews that maze had been getting, I, along with Dave and Linda, were still super-keen on navigating maze’s menu where simplistic Ramsay-esque fare with an Aussie spin was on the agenda. All that was required from our side to embark on this adventure was to simply visit Maze’s website and make an online booking. I have to admit that I was scared that my booking might not have come through but a confirmation email on Thursday night sent from maze HQ assuaged those fears.

The Metropol Hotel is not a bad-looking hotel, the only downside of it being that it faced drab Clarendon Street. While it did not look so bad at night, it would surely be a nightmare to look at from your hotel window first thing in the morning. maze, along with its sister restaurant maze Grill, occupies the first floor of this hotel with a bar area the first thing one sees when they walk in. I joined my companions at the bar and ordered a glass of Riesling ($12) as we were early. Once we were settled, we were led to a table in the middle of the surprisingly small dining room facing Clarendon Street. The nightclub-dark dining room would have been perfect for a couple on a date but not for us food bloggers who wanted light, dammit! Coats were hung, menus were given and long, drawn-out speeches about a wine that Dave ordered were listened to. While I give props for the sommelier’s knowledge, I did feel that the schpeel he gave was a bit of an overkill, especially when it was blatantly obvious that my friends didn’t really give a flying eff about the wine’s history and production methods.

Moving onto more pressing matters, the menu is divided into the a la carte section and the chef’s degustation menu. We were told that the dishes on the former section were designed to share and that four dishes per person was the way to go. Although there were some drool-worthy options in the a la carte menu such as the Queensland mud crab, pressed watermelon, pickled ginger, rock melon sorbet ($16), we decided that we could not go past the seven-course chef’s menu at $95 per head where we were actually given two choices between the second, third and fifth courses. Once we gave our orders, we were given warm slices of white bread which was accompanied by a bowl of seaweed butter and Murray River pink salt (above).

#1: Marinated beetroot with goats curd, cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette, toasted pine nuts. Okay, beetroot isn’t my favourite thing in the world to eat so I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed this dish. The mellow and slightly nutty goats curd proved to be a suitable catalyst for the sweet beetroot and cab sauv vinaigrette, cutting through the saccharine flavours effortlessly with the pine nuts adding an exciting textural element to the dish.

#2: We all chose the seared yellow fin tuna, white radish, yuzu, enoki mushrooms, black garlic. This was probably one of the better dishes for the night – the two perfect rectangles of yuzu-marinated tuna did not spend too long on the heat before they were whisked away, centres still raw and all, to be joined in holy matrimony with mini mounds of white radish, black garlic and baby enoki mushrooms. The tuna might not have been the freshest I’ve ever had but damn, this dish’s simplicity and purity made it phenomenal.

My #3: Seared leg of rabbit, jicama, green olive, almond and brown butter vinaigrette. In between two mounds of rabbit leg was a football-shaped mould of what looked like the cooked bunny equivalent of steak tartare. Each bit of rabbit was topped with a thinly-sliced piece of jicama, a root that looked like a turnip (but blander), and the whole thing was drawn together by a lovely almond and brown butter vinaigrette. I’ve been disappointed with rabbit cooked too dry in the past but I was relived to find that this was not the case here.

Linda and Dave’s #3: Pan seared Canadian scallop, caramelised kelp, samphire, mussels, Champagne. One bite of Dave’s dish made me glad that I chose the rabbit for my #3. Although the scallop was deliciously sweet, I felt that the supporting cast didn’t really do much to elevate this dish.

#4: Pan roasted barramundi, butternut squash, compressed cucumber, pumpkin seeds. Although this dish was technically excellent, I could not get excited about it. Sure, the fish was beautifully cooked, the skin perfectly crispy and sure, there was nothing wrong with the butternut puree. Yet for some reason, this dish rubbed me off the wrong way. It could have been the cube which consisted solely of pumpkin flesh. It could have been the awkward mismatch between the cucumber and the red chilli skin slivers. It could even have been the fact that the fish emancipated a really nasty stench when it was presented to us. I wanted to like it – and indeed I tried – but I just couldn’t.

From then on, the photo quality deteriorates. I would like to say that it had everything to do with my level of sobriety but I had only had the one glass of Riesling so it would be pretty sad for me to admit that. I guess it was a combination of the annoyingly dark lighting, me playing with RAW settings for the first time and my cbf-ness with taking 10 billion shots until I got the money shot. Sigh.

Dave’s #5: Ox “tongue and cheek”, caper and raisin, carrots, horseradish pomme purée. Hahaha tongue in cheek, gettit?! I only managed to try a teeny bit of cheek and a sliver of tongue so my comments should be taken with a grain of Murray River pink salt. I felt that the cheek, which is supposed to be tender and gelatinous, was too dry – it was almost like eating corned beef! – but I was glad that they got it right with the ox tongue which was tender like that Elvis Presley song.

For our #5, Linda and I chose the lamb cannon and shoulder, cauliflower purée, anchovy, stinging nettles. It should be noted here that both #5s were supposed to the ‘main’ dishes so you can imagine how flabbergasted we were when we saw the eating disorder-like portion sizes that graced our plates. I did like our lamb – both cuts were juicy and tender – better than Dave’s cow as well as the succulent jus that went with it. Ditto the smooth cauliflower puree. What really irked me about this dish, however, was that little silver thingy on top of the cauliflower mound – a piece of unsalted anchovy. I did not understand what purpose it served, it was just out of place and annoyed the hell out of me.

#6: Exotic fruit vacherin, passion fruit and banana sorbet. This dessert definitely ticked all of my boxes – it was light, it was fruity and it had sorbet! The sorbet was both sweet and tangy at the same time and complemented the fruits really well (though I don’t know why they were deemed ‘exotic’ – bloody hell, it was just kiwifruit and passion fruit! What I liked most about this dessert, however were the vacherin (basically a fancy name for meringue) which were filled with a deliciously sticky passion fruit curd. Oooh yes.

#7: Our final course was Maze’s rendition of the quintessential Aussie sweet, the lamington, served with rosella jam which was probably the most interesting dish of the night. Basically, the humble lamington was deconstructed and presented in little bits – the base was a rich, dark chocolate ganache which was topped with a not-overly-sweet coconut sorbet, some sort of sponge cake and a crunchy tuille. Eat every element at the same time and you have one mind-blowing dessert.

To finish, a plate of petit fours in the form of white chocolate balls filled with strawberry ice cream. A delicious way to finish off the evening’s proceedings.

The portion sizes may have been the tiniest I’ve seen at a Melbourne restaurant but I surprised myself by declaring that I was full. I came into the restaurant not expecting much but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the food wasn’t as terrible as Stephen Downes made it out to be. While most of the dishes commanded a sense of straightforwardness, some dishes lacked such precision and cohesiveness that eating them was like watching some idiot kid walk into the maze in that game show A*Mazing and wandering around in a daze that they miss two golden keys in their haste to finish the maze in time (I’m sorry, I couldn’t do this review without some sort of bad ‘maze’ analogy. Plus, I’m sure you all watched and loved James Sherry so there).

In saying that, the successful dishes reminded me of that Peter Goldsworthy book ‘Maestro’ where the protagonist’s piano playing skills were ‘technically perfect’ but lacking in fervor and creativity. Those dishes may have been simple, yet they worked because they were held together by a team of chefs who mastered their techniques down pat. Still, I felt that a little ingenuity would not have hurt because apart from the lamington, the dishes were really nothing that Melbourne had not seen before. Given the fact that I did not once drop the f-bomb during this review, you could definitely say that the food in this place did not completely suck.

Service-wise, I thought the staff did their job okay. They were attentive and the food came out pretty quickly. What annoyed Linda, however, was the fact that they were abrupt in that they interrupted our conversations to present our dishes, something that does not normally bother me but obviously bothered her which was fair enough. They did, however, refill our bread happily throughout the course of the meal and because it was pretty good bread, that negated their abruptness a little bit, hah. In the end, we all thought it was definitely Good Food Guide good but nowhere near three-hat level. In saying that, I can definitely see myself coming back to try their a la carte menu or going next door to try the steaks at maze Grill.

Maze on Urbanspoon

Nobu (lunch)

Crown Casino
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9696 6566

My 2009/10 edition of The Entertainment Book was about to expire and the 25% off the bill offer for Nobu was just crying to be used. Despite my less-than-WOW experience at Nobu last year and despite my promise not to return again, I somehow ended up back there again over the weekend. This time, for lunch. Like most other Crown restaurants, Nobu offers a two-course set lunch for $45. Combined with a 25% discount, one can’t really go wrong even if the food quality fluctuates as much as RIO’s share price. Plus, I figured that lunch at Nobu would be a different experience to dinner.

With Jan and Jo in tow, we braved the footy, the International Flower & Garden and Grand Pricks Grohnnn Preee crowds to make it to our 1pm lunch booking. We were free to choose two courses from the extensive a la carte menu except that most of the decent-sounding mains that we wanted to try were marked with an asterisk, meaning that they were excluded from the lunch offer. Eventually, the three of us decided to forgo the lunch special and just get the $45 bento lunch box each.

Prior to the bento box arriving, we each received a bowl of miso soup. Unfortunately, I could not find any photos of the miso soup but pffft I’m sure we ALL know what miso soup tastes like, right?! It was pretty much the same as any other miso soup but, I dunno, somehow grittier-tasting in a good way?

Even though a $45 bento box is by no means cheap, I still expected one single box that was as big as the Good Food Guide. Hence, you can sort of imagine how shocked I was when two waiters came bearing two long-arse boxes for the EACH OF US! How’s THAT for a bento box… or should I say BOXES? Starting clockwise from top left, I will now discuss each compartment in turn (I promise I’ll try to make it short and painless):

Sashimi salad with Matsuhisa dressing: three slices of barely-seared salmon were snugly nestled on a bed of greens accompanied by shredded daikon and carrots. I really liked the soy-based sauce was wasn’t overly salty and had a lovely hint of nuttiness thanks to the addition of sesame oil and mustard.

Assorted sushi: From L-R – maguro (tuna), (hiramasa) yellow tail kingfish and ebi (cooked prawn), followed by three little pieces of toro toro negi sushi (tuna belly and spring onion sushi). I wasn’t expecting much from Nobu’s sushi so I was pleasantly surprised to taste how fresh they were. Okay, so nowhere near as fresh as Shoya but well above average, that’s for sure.

Baby tiger prawn tempura with ponzu: The first thing I noticed about this dish was that THEY BLOODY POURED THE PONZU DRESSING ALL OVER THE PRAWNS INSTEAD OF THE ROCKET AND ENDIVE SALAD! Of course, this made the prawns extremely soggy which would have naturally provoked a volcanic reaction from me. Luckily for Nobu, the ponzu sauce was so lovely that I restrained myself and ate my dish, soggy prawns and all.

Black cod with miso with oshitashi (spinach with roasted sesame): Nobu’s signature dish and one that every person who walks into Nobu MUST order. Not ordering it would be like ordering a Hawaiian pizza but without the ham or the pineapple (though what kind of person would order a Hawaiian to begin with… anyway…). I loved the dish the first time I went to Nobu and my love for the beautifully silky and buttery cod certainly did not wane. Love, love, LOVE IT!

Finally, we have the spicy garlic vegetables with rice. I can honestly say that after tasting such wonderful dishes, this one was a bit of a let-down. The sauce tasted vaguely like kim chi which was already a minus-one for me (not a fan of that stuff) but the fact that it was something that I could find at a suburban shopping centre food court made it a complete fail. On the other hand, I guess I could say that the rice was uh, filling.

All up it was $135 but we brought it down to just over $101, making it a very affordable $33.75 per head. We were so full that we could not fit dessert in even if we tried – a far cry from my last visit to Nobu which left me hungry still that I had to go elsewhere for a plate of dumplings. This lunch alone was enough for me to restore my faith in Nobu, perhaps as a lunch venue but the jury’s out on whether I’ll be back for dinner.

Nobu on Urbanspoon

The Brasserie by Philippe Mouchel

Riverside at Crown
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9292 7808

I know this site needs a little Backyard Blitz-ing at the moment but if it weren’t for Jan, who helped me with CSS issues, I would not have even had it up and running over the weekend. To express my gratitude, I decided to take her out to lunch on Saturday. Because Jan has not yet visited a hatted restaurant, I decided a good starting point for her would be The Brasserie by Phillippe Mouchel at Crown. With their tasty, simple French fare at a steal for $43 for two courses (or $48 for three) at lunchtime, it’s a good place to take anyone who has yet to have a fine dining experience without intimidating them. Plus, portion sizes are reasonable given the price so your companion does not need to worry about having to rush to Maccas after lunch to get some “proper food” to fill themselves up.

Although the temperature was slightly chilly, we decided to sit outside under a gigantic Bollinger umbrella. As we nibbled our warm ciabatta rolls  – dipped in a lovely, fruity Jindi olive oil and home-made dukkah – we decided to go for the three course option.
(Yeah, we got charged $12.85 for mineral water. I should have said “tap water” rather than just “still”).

This was my Trimbach Riesling ($14). It only arrived AFTER I received my main which I wasn’t too happy about. Their excuse for not giving me the glass earlier on was because they “ran out and had to get another bottle from an outside source.” While I appreciated their efforts in going out of the way to get the drink I wanted, I thought that they could have, oh I don’t know, suggested an alternative white wine out from their extensive list? I mean, I would have been just as happy with the Dr Loosen.

Jan’s entrée: king salmon gravlax with dill and yuzu mayonnaise, egg condiment, toasted sourdough. We’ve seen this dish featured in a lot of peoples’ blogs so we figured that it would be like, WOAH. While I liked the way they presented the salmon in various forms (a cooked strip with the crispy skin on and as a “tartare” with chopped boiled egg), I just didn’t think it tasted that special.

My entrée: wagyu carpaccio with mozzarella, field mushrooms, green bean and Parmesan salad. When I gave the waitress my order, she arched one impossibly arched eyebrow and asked me, in a mildly condescending way not dissimilar to the manner in which a Greek waiter at Kouzina once asked me if I actually had Greek food before, “Do you know what a carpaccio is?” I think I must have given her a ‘bitch, please’ look as I replied, “Yes, I DO know what carpaccio is” because she immediately softened her expression before telling me that the restaurant makes her that question. It turns out that a lot of people order the dish just because it has the word ‘wagyu’ in it but they do not know what a carpaccio is. Hence, when they are presented with a plate of raw beef, they kick up a stink. Fair enough, I guess.

Anyway, my carpaccio was lovely. Probably one of the better versions I’ve had so far, and arguably on par with Bottega’s fine specimen of a carpaccio. I was worried that the Parmesan salad would overpower the delicate flavour of the wagyu but it actually complemented it quite well. A highly recommended entree.

Jan’s main: duck leg confit with potatoes salardaise, rock and endive salad and poached duck egg. I reckon Jan chose wisely as this duck was simply divine. It was so tender that each sliver of duck meat fell easily off the bone with a prod of a fork and so full of flavour. What I liked the most about this dish was the little crumbed croquette-like ball that was sitting prettily on the plate…

… Once cut open, it revealed a soft-boiled duck egg. Oh effing yum.

Compared to Jan’s main, my pan-seared scallops weren’t all that spectacular but it was nice all the same. There were a total of five succulent scallops – thankfully all of a decent size – all of which took centre stage in a puddle of heedy Argan oil broth, supported by a medley of artichokes, carrots and coriander pesto. Although we both felt that the broth was perhaps a tad too salty (though not so salty that you couldn’t taste the natural sweetness of the scallops), we both thought it was nevertheless a tasty dish.

The side dishes that came with our mains. Jan got a serving of tasty kipfler potatoes with rosemary and Parmesan (background) which were a better choice to my okay-but-nothing-exciting sauteed green beans with confit shallots.

The great finale: the dessert tasting plate, presented on a wooden board.

From L-R:

Tonka bean creme brulee (lovely flavour and texture, but thumbs down to the skin which was soft rather than hard)

Pistachio sorbet (it would have been good had it not been for the unnecessary usage of almond flavouring in it)

Lemon Sorbet with pineapple, passionfruit and coconut cream (my favourite dessert – it was an intricate layer of flavours and texture. Thumbs up to the lovely meringue base too)

Rum baba soaked in cointreau, mango pieces with whipped cream (I effing hate rum baba so I do not have an opinion on this one)

Dark chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce (I’m not sure what percentage of cocoa was used but it must have been around 80-90% as it was so rich and bitter. I’m glad the raspberry sauce was there to counteract all of that cocoa.

A close-up of the dark chocolate mousse.

The bill came to $122.85 but thanks to the Entertainment book discount, we got it down to $92.15. Apart from a few service issues (my chair was kicked by a waiter who did not apologise, the waitress forgot our orders and so had to recite them again and my card was dropped on the ground), we had an enjoyable meal. Food-wise, there weren’t too many surprises but sometimes all you need to make you happy is honest, reliable French fare that doesn’t involve bells and whistles.

Brasserie By Philippe Mouchel on Urbanspoon