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.

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