Sunday, October 18, 2009

Beast On A Block At The Point Albert Park

Aquatic Drive, Albert Park Lake
Albert Park 3206, Victoria
Ph: (03) 9682 5566

I had tried to book a table at The Point Albert Park twice, but each time was thwarted by my own lack of organisation and booking too late. Whilst doing my usual research on a restaurant before making a booking, I found that Executive Chef at the Point, scott Pickett, aka Scotty, had a food blog. I did what an self respecting food blogger would do, I emailed Scotty to ask to meet him and talk with him. I didn't hear anything back, and didn't think much more of it.

Can you imagine my surprise then, when 8 months down the track, I get an invite from The Point to attend a Beast on a Block bloggers event. I was ecstatic about the invite and accepted it.

I arrived a little early so took in the views of the beautiful Albert Park. A refreshing cool breeze was blowing across the lakes and the swans were strolling around.

When I finally entered the restaurant, I bumped into fellow food bloggers Neil and Elliot. We all went upstairs and met up with Jackie, Ed, Jess, and Cam Smith from RRR. Sarah and Claire arrived a little later. Sarah, Jess and Claire have already blogged about the night here, here and here.

The man of the moment, Scott, then came out to meet us and give us a bried introduction on what would happen that night. He also spoke with us about what blogging meant to him and why he did it. He even remembered my email. He said that at the time, he thought what an arrogant upstart I was asking to meet him, but look at the situation now and how things changed. In Scott's own mind, he had embraced blogging and saw it as a way to get honest reviews both about his own restaurant as well as the food industry as a whole.

The theme for the night was to see a whole beast broken down into the various cuts, hence the name Beast on a Block. That beast in question was a spring lamb. Before that happened though, Scott took us for a tour around the restaurant. It was an amazing eye opener for me to see how things really operated out back. The kitchen was a lot smaller than I thought. The only commercial kitchens you get to see are at restaurants that want you to see them, and they are made really big for dramatic effect, like at Rockpool.

We got a tour of the downstairs area where stocks are made each day and prep work done on the ingredients for dishes. The freezer housed many fine specimens of meat, ready to be served to customers.

The "Glory Cabinet", as Scott called it, is kept at its spectacular best by Frank the maitre d'. The cabinet houses various cuts of meats, both raw and cured ones. Scott even makes his own sausages.

Once the tour finished, we sat down in the picturesque restaurant overlooking Albert Park lake. Use of floor to ceiling glass windows made sure the spectacular view is not wasted. It really sets a beautiful mood and you can't help but feel good already even before the food arrives.

While Scott started cutting up a 7 week old lamb into the various cuts, we continued sipping on good wine and had some natural oysters. I was really amazed at how easily Scott cut the lamb into the various cuts. It really would take years of practise to identify where each cut was and get maximum amounts out of the good cuts.

The actual meal for the night was presented with just the core ingredients. Our task was to try and identify the full list of ingredients in each dish. We got to take turns out back to see the dish being plated up. Again, it was really great to see the chefs plate up in a very controlled and organised manner. I asked Frank whether Scott was calm or quite fiery in the kitchen, and Frank said he was a very calm cook.

The first course was simply entitled King Salmon. That simple dish was actually a Confit of king salmon with potage parmentier and three different types of eggs. I loved this dish, with the soft salmon confit at 70 degrees falling apart and blending with the salty caviar and potato soup. Finally, when you got to the bottom, you got a surprise with the goats curd.

The next dish entitle Chicken, was actually Carmelised stuffed chicken wing, pumpkin gnocchi, emulsion of potato and black truffle. I've always loved chicken wings, but this dish took it to another level. The chicken wing was luscious and smooth.

Our dish of Marron was a Butter poached marron, foie gras parfait, brioche crumbs and sauternes reduction. The marron was very sweet and worked really nicely with the apple jelly. The parfait was incredibly rich and just oiled your mouth completely, making you lick your lips again and again.

Between the marron and the next dish, there was a break from the food where we all talked about various food topics. One issue that came up was about George Calombaris' dislike of food bloggers. He raised the issue that we provide unfair assessments and that we have no knowledge of food. Neil has written a response, which I think provides all the answers George needs. For the record, I think it's not about who shouts the loudest, it's about who makes the most sense. Readers will make their own assessment of whether they think something a blogger writes is fair or not.

Neil and I also spoke to the sommelier Arnaud, who was matching our wines to the food all night. It was really interesting to hear Arnauds views on wines and how to enjoy them, as well as what you get for your money. I learnt a lot about wines in that 20 minutes and have some further research to do (hehehe as in try a few recommended brands and types).

Finally, we came to the theme of the night, lamb. And let me tell you, what a dish of lamb it was. Numerous cuts of the spring lamb were used to create a masterpiece. This was definitely my favourite dish of the night. Each element presented a different taste and texture. Sarah's done an annotated photo of the dish to give you a full run down. The lamb was so tender and sweet that I could have easily eaten a second serving of this dish.

A Pre Dessert palate cleanser of Vodka and cranberry jelly with lemon and blood orange granita was indeed very refreshing. The basil foam actually worked.

Desserts were of two varieties. I got the Valrhona chocolate and chestnut tortellini, coffee ice cream and tonka bean foam. As a lover of chocolate, I loved this dish. The ice cream worked really well with the tortellini. My favourite part though was the caramelised pear beneath the tortellini, as those went amazingly well with the ice cream. I sneaked a taste of the alternate dessert from Sarah of Caramelised pineapple crumble, coconut cream and anise myrtle. It too was a beautiful dessert, refreshing, rich and moreish.

The night ended when Scott joined us for desserts and talked to us about his working background, his inspirations, how he feels about food blogging and his take on what he wants to do with the restaurant. His enthusiasm was utterly infectious, and him talking to us was the highlight of the night I think. I can always eat a meal at a top restaurant whenever I want, but how often do you get insights into the industry from a top chef.

Thanh: You look a lot more handsome in real life than on your blog Scott.

Scott: You look better in real life too.

Thanh: Let's both pose for a beautiful photo.

Note, that conversation above was purely fictional. I just wanted to annotate these rather amusing photos.

A similar meal to the one we had is currently available at The Point. Do yourself a favour and get a taste of the spring lamb before it's gone. It is one of the best lamb you will taste.

Finally, a massive massive thanks to Scott, Frank, Arnaud and the team at The Point for making the night happen and inviting me for a great meal and some wonderful insights.

I dined courtesy of The Point and Executive Chef Scott Pickett.

The Point Restaurant on Urbanspoon


210 Balaclava Rd
Caulfield North 3161, Victoria
Ph: (03) 9509 8959

Almazett is a Lebanese restaurant located out in the 'burbs. Like many other Lebanese restaurants, it's almost a stereotype of itself. Not that it's particularly bad, but it's not particularly good or memorable either. They all meld into this oneness. Let me continue and get back to this issue at the end.

The restaurant itself has a really comforting feel. I liked the clean feel of the place, with everything still looking new rather than old like many other Lebanese restaurants.

The menu had all the usual culprits there, and as usual, we go for the banquet as it seems to be the best value for money. Even the waiter was pushing us that way, probably since it'll be easy for them to cook exactly the same dishes. The dips and salad was surpringsly bad. Usually, the dips are amazingly good, but these ones lacked flavour and were too sour.

The falafel was quite good, but the highlight of the whole night were a couple of entrees of meats and cheese wrapped in filo pastry. These were so delicious and I would eat them until full.

The mains consisted of chicken wings, sausages, kebabs, beans and rice. All were ok but didn't really stand out.

For desserts, we got the usual Mahalabieh, Baklava and Turkish Delight. To my delight, the mahalabieh was better than usual, but still not something I would order. To my further delight, the baklava was actually good, as was the Turkish Delight.

Service was good, and our waiter was accomadating to our constant request for water. For some unknown reason, we were a thirsty bunch.

To the issue of stereotyping of restaurants, it's a shame that most restaurants feel like they need to do exactly the same as other restaurants doing that cuisine. It becomes really boring and bland. At Almazett, they don't do it any worse, but neither do they do it any better. Elements are better, but not all elements. Nothing sets them apart, except maybe the location depending on where you live. Are diners expecting the same of these places or do they do it simply because it's safe and easy. I'm not sure what the answer is, but when you have the same belly dancer doing the rounds of the Lebanese restaurants in Melbourne, I think that isn't a good thing. Surely, the chefs all have some recipes that is unique to them that they could share with us and therefore have a point of difference?

To end, here is Daniel and Jordan looking like a boy band just for laughs. We also ran an experiment that I suggested, that holding your car remote to your head and using your head as an antennae would strengthen the signal. Obviously, the experiment wasn't fully controlled, but I maintain that initial results show that using your head as an amplifier does seem plausible. Go and try it the next time you're outside a Lebanese restaurant.

Overall Rating: 13/20, Good value for money, with food and service ok.

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.

Almazett on Urbanspoon

Hwaro BBQ - Part 2

562 Little Bourke St
Melbourne 3000, Victoria
Ph:(03) 9642 5696

I was thinking of how I hadn't been to Hwaro BBQ for a while, and when I saw Mellie's post about it, I decided to organise a meal there. Little would I know that when it rains, it pours. Because in the space of seven days, I would end up eating there twice, not that I'm complaining as they do the best Korean BBQ in Melbourne I reckon.

What's the secret to their BBQ, nothing magical, just quality ingredients and the use of a real coal BBQ. Easy, but so effective.

The banchan here are pretty good too. I think they do the best kimchi of all the Korean restaurants I have tried. I haven't tried every Korean restaurant in Melbourne, so maybe there is better out there. However, I really love their kimchi and probably go through 4-5 of those little dishes by myself.

We always order an assortment of meats. They're all really good, but my personal favourites are the Beef Ribs, Spicy Pork and Beef Bulgogi. They also do some mean entrees like the seafood pancake.

The service here is both excellent and occasionally frustrating. Usually it's excellent. They are very attentive and help you cook and cut up all the meat. This is great especially but can be a bit strange at first as you're not used to it. But if you keep talking and not let it worry you, you'll really love just having the food ready to go when you want to eat. The frustrating part is that the staff really do speak very little English and occasionally it's very hard when you are asking questions such as "do you know whether the pork we ordered is coming or if it's been forgotten". But that is a small quibble compared to all the other great aspects of this place.

Atmosphere here is really good, with people chatting away happily while busily eating their meals with their hands. I'm pleased that the standards both in service and food has not slipped since when I first ate here near the opening of the restaurant. Prices have also stayed pretty much the same. This restaurant is definitely the place to eat Korean BBQ.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Excellent Korean BBQ.

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.

Hwaro on Urbanspoon

il Solito Posto

113 Collins Street
Melbourne 3000, Victoria
Ph: (03) 9654 4466

il Solito Posto is one of those restaurants that you would never see unless you knew it was there. It's hidden off a side street and since the restaurant is situated below street level, you only catch a glimpse of the upper ceiling.

Walking into the restaurant, you instantly get a sense of warmth both from the temperature but also the way the room is lit and furnished. I usually hate dark restaurant, but I think in this case it is acceptable as I felt warmth from the use of lighting. I still preferred they lit the room a tad more. We decided to dine in the main restaurant as opposed to the bistro.

Deciding to skip entrees, we each order mains that caught our eye. I was extremely silly and ordered the Pork Rib. I don't really like pork, and the only time I like it is when it's gelatinous pork belly roasted. I was under the assumption that this dish was like that, but instead was a simple pan fried pork. The sauce was rather bland and I didn't like the rosemary flavour on it.

Kim Anh got the Veal Shanks. I expected this dish to be sensational but again lacked flavour. The risotto wasn't very good and again was bland.

Tori's choice of the Eye Fillet was the best decision. The red wine jus had flavour and worked well with the simply cooked steak. The steak was still a tad overdone.

We ordered desserts to share. We got the Italian donuts, Tiramisu and Chocolate Gnocchi. All the desserts were plated up so beautifully, but on the whole were rather disappointingly bad. The Italian donuts were stale donuts served with a trio of berries. The tiramisu flavours were dominated by the cream.

The Chocolate Gnocchi sounded really interesting but instead we were served three tiny chocolate blobs that tasted of bad chocolate. The baci ice cream served with the gnocchi was sensational and one of the best ice creams I've tasted. I'd eat a whole bowl of that for dessert.

The service was friendly and warm. Our American waiter was very funny and made us feel very comfortable. The atmosphere was fairly muted. My theory is that dark restaurant just naturally cause people to be quieter and more inhibited. I don't like that, as much as I despise not being able to see my dining companions or the menu. Hence, the atmosphere wasn't as good as it could be.

The menu is quite simplistic, but the food is not done well. For such high prices that they are charging (mains in the higher $30), I would expect much better. However, what we got was simplistic dishes that lacked flavour. None of the dessert were any good at all.

Overall Rating: 10/20, A nice warm feel but food a total letdown.

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.

Il Solito Posto on Urbanspoon

Captain America's Hamburger Heaven

38 Forest Rd
Ferntree Gully 3156, Victoria
Ph: (03) 9758 0711

When you go to Captain America's Hamburger Heaven, it's blantantly clear what to expect. Captain America's is located way out in the middle of nowhere along a small strip of shops in Ferntree Gully. However, it's reputation is strong enough to entice people out there to eat.

When you step inside, you're greeted by the classical diner type fitout that you see in American movies. There's memorabilia strewn all over the walls. There's also lots of clever puns written all over the ceiling which will keep you amused and with a sore neck after a while.

The menu, predictably, is dominated by a variety of hamburgers. They also have their famous Big Heavenly Burger, which is a 1 kilo burger with 600g of chips that you have to eat in the fastest time to get it free. It is indeed a whopping big burger, as a couple of guys in the next table ordered it. They did not manage to finish them.

We start off with some Buffalo ("I didn't know buffalo had wings" - Jessica Simpson) wings and Shrimp. The buffalo wings had a good taste while the shrimp was the bland tasteless stuff of the 80s served with a seafood sauce. Ah, how retro.

We all go for a variety of different burgers, which were just a variation of a few ingredients and sauces. I wanted to try the Captain America's Celebrated Heavenly Burger. All burgers came with a choice of chips or salad. Obviously, I chose chips.

Look how patriotic my burger was, so many flags. Taste wise, the burger was ok. The patty was good quality meat and the ingredients were all pretty good. However, it lacked that hit of flavour that you want. The patty wasn't smokey enough. The bacon could have been more crisp to give a texture contrast. The egg could be cooked a bit less. The pickles didn't have a big enough kick. The cheese didn't melt enough, the buns were a bit bland and not very crunchy. Finally, the sauce holding it all together didn't really excite the taste buds. The burgers at Grill'd are much better and cheaper too.

Finally, for dessert, I had to try the Key Lime Pie. I keep hearing about this American tv shows, and just had to see what it was about. It turned out to be a cheesecake type thing with meringue on top. It was insanely sweet but I rather liked it. I wouldn't be eating too often, but it did have a nice lime flavour.

The service was acceptable. At times our requests were misunderstood but quickly rectified. The atmosphere is very retro just from the fitout and the booth seating. The booth seating meant you were quite isolated from surrounding tables, which can be good if you want privacy. I enjoy a more open restaurant and to hear the vibes.

I don't think I would specifically drive out to Captain America's for a burger as the burgers aren't spectacular enough to justify it. They are acceptable burgers but maybe they need a modern update to reinvigorate the place in terms of taste and style. Or maybe that is their attraction, that nothing changes. Vlado's in Richmond have thrived on being the same for 30 years. Who knows.

Overall Rating: 12/20, A nice retro feel with acceptable tasting burgers.

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.

Captain America's Hamburger Heaven on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hellenic Republic - Part 2

434 Lygon St
Brunswick East 3057
Phone: (03) 9381 1222

I have been to Hellenic Republic for a lunch and it was so good that I wanted to go back and try more food. I went there to dinner with my Greek friend, to get his opinions on the place.

It was so busy that we were only able to snag a seat at the counter. Whilst others might not like this, I loved it. It afforded me the best view in the house of the whole restaurant as well as the kitchen. I even spotted Aaron from Masterchef working in the kitchen that night.

Last time, I tried and loved the Manouri cheese. My friend suggested a hard cheese this time. I forget which one it is, I think this is the Lathotyri. He said he used to eat this cheese on the Greek island where he lived and it brought him right back. It was a hard cheese with an extremely strong taste. I didn't mind it but didn't love it like the manouri cheese.

The Sausages tasted like a bratwurst and were really good. The lamb chops were amazing. The grilled flavour over the coals really made them taste extra special. I never knew lamb chops could taste so good.

Finally, dessert was a stunning Bugatsa. The semolina custard was so smooth and creamy. And the filo pastry, mmm, mmm, mmm. It was baked to perfection and crispy and light. The cinnamon and icing sugar topped off one of the best custard desserts I've tasted.

Service was very good, as we were sitting right at the counter so it was extremely easy to get the waiters attention. The ambience in the room was a wonderful buzzing vibe. People were laughing and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Excellent food and I love the ambience.

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.

Hellenic Republic on Urbanspoon

Nachos Cantina

1650 Dandenong Road
Ph: (03) 9544 9841

Nachos Cantina is strangely located on the side of Princes Highway. I think there's actually a motel next to it. The interior is a corny mix of decorations that should represent Mexico in a comedy show. It's all brightly coloured and strange.

When we see the menu, we all immediately want buffalo wings, made famous by Jessica "do buffalos have wings" Simpson. The wings taste good and we all gobble them up quickly.

The menu is laid out in such a confusing manner that it's hard to tell what is what. I finally decide on the Fajitas. They defintely arrive sizzling as advertised. The meat is quite tender but lacks a bit of flavour. When eaten with the tortilla and other condiments, it's quite good.

Mai and Kim Anh order the Mixed Plate containing a bit of everything. They both thought it was quite good.

Henry goes for the Enchillada I think. Someone correct me if I'm wrong. Again, he thinks it's not too bad.

For desserts, we get a Death By Chocolate, a Flan de Queso and a Sticky Date Pudding. Let me report that all three were crazy sweet and not good.

Finally, look, is that Kim Anh orPamela Anderson in her ugg boots. It's hard to tell. But for the record, ugg boots are not a fashion item.

Overall Rating: 12/20, Food was ok but dessert was too sweet.

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.