After flicking through my 2009 copy of The Age Good Food Guide, I deicded on Punch Lane as the choice of dining locations as my friends left it to me to choose. The description in the Good Food Guide sounded really interesting and turned out to be quite accurate.
Punch Lane is located on the very crowded Spring street end of Little Bourke. You walk into a dark lit restaurant that is separted into two areas. The main bar is situated in the large more brightly lit room housing large chalk boards with specials and wines and numerous wooden tables. We were seated in the more intimate adjoining area where there was only 5-6 tables.
The waitress asked us for drinks and what type of water we wanted. As I don't believe in paying for any type of water, I asked for tap water. While we browsed the drinks menu, the waitress informed us about the night's specials in a knowledgeable fashion. The service throughout the night was efficient and friendly without being atrusive. The timing of the dishes is possibly a bit slow, but I guess some people like to take longer for their meals.
We started with a Tasting Plate, which contained some very interesting and tantalising array of flavours. There was empanadas, chicken liver parfait, Manchago cheese with Quince paste, Grilled Eggplant, Prosciutto and my favourite of the lot, Red Peppers stuffed with Goat's Cheese and topped with a White Anchovy.
Initially, we all wanted to have the Steak. But after some discussion, we decided to go with a larger variety of mains and share it. The mains we choose were obviously the Steak which was paired with a Parsnip Puree and Roasted Bone Marrow. A Confit of Duck with paired with Braised Red Cabbage and Apple. Finally, the Seared Scallops had a Artichoke Mash, Lemon and Caper Butter.
The Steak was very tender but surprisingly, the fillet cut lacked a bit of flavour. I loved the bone marrow and sucked out all of it in one big whoosh. Why don't more restaurants serve bone marrow, it's so unctuous (shout outs to Towser and Agnes, did I use this word correctly?) but addictive.
The Seared Scallops contained large plump scallops that were so full of flavour. The fresh tasting scallops really made this dish. The capers helped to provide a bit of kick to the dish, but the scallops could have been served by themselves and would still be a great dish.
Finally, the Duck Confit surprised me. The duck was not overly dry and the dish was balance of sweet, sour and salty. The apples were a great addition I thought.
For desserts, we got the Vanilla Panna Cotta with Poached Quince and the Rice Pudding with Rhubarb Compote. The pudding was a bit coying and we all just had a few spoons because the Panna Cotta was so unbelievably good that everyone was fighting for that. This was one of the smoothest Panna Cotta's I've tried and the Vanilla bean specks throughout the panna cotta could be tasted clearly. Paired with the fragrant quince, it was a perfect dessert.
The food was surprisingly better than I expected. What sounded on paper like dishes that were served at numerous other restaurants was excuted with skill and good ingredients, giving rise to some excellent flavours.
Service, as mentioned early was both efficient and unobtrusive. The atmosphere in the section of the room we were in was a bit more muted, but not overly so that you dare not speak at all. The lighting was a touch dark for my liking but otherwise it was quite comfortable.
Overall Rating: 15/20, Good food with some good service to match.
Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.