Monday, November 21, 2011

The Point - Exceptional Degustation Lunch with Executive Chef Justin Wise

If you have been reading this blog for a while or know me in real life, you would have heard me raving constantly about The Point restaurant in Albert Park. It is one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne, delivering exceptional food, service and one of the best views in a city restaurant. Chef Scott Pickett was also one of my favourite chefs, for his food and personality. I even got to see another side of the funster when he got serious in the kitchen on a Saturday dinner service. Hence I was both excited to hear that Scott was leaving The Point to start his own small restaurant, The Estelle, but also disappointed that I would to no longer taste his food at The Point. When I was invited by The Point to speak to, and try the food, of new Executive Chef Justin Wise, I must say that I worried. I was worried about what I would have to say to Justin if the food wasn't as good.

However, all my fears did not surface. I feel almost like I'm cheating on Scott when I say, *whispers* "the food is even better at The Point with Justin in charge". There, I said it. The food, in my opinion anyway, is even better now at The Point. That's a tough call considering The Point is already a two hatted restaurant, but yes, that's my opinion. Let me explain my thinking a bit later.

First, let me introduce you a bit to new Executive Chef Justin Wise. With the rise of the new "celebrity" chef, a lot of people, including myself, choose to go to a restaurant based on the name of a chef alone and his previous work. I must admit that I have never *gasp* (how can I call myself a chef groupie) heard of Justin before. But speaking to Justin during lunch I found out that he has been head chef of The Press Club for a number of years. So hence I felt rather silly asking him how he felt about the pressure of heading a two hatted restaurant. However, Justin just answered the question genuinely and said that since his name is now behind the restaurant, it was still more added pressure.

Having the privilege to speak to Justin for about 4 hours was a real luxury. I think through those four hours, I got a small glimpse into Justin's motivation, work ethics and creativity. Asked to define his style, Justin believes his skill lies in using classical techniques, but interpreting the food in modern ways that appeal to a large audience, and above all else, always using the best quality produce in season. Justin has already made immediate changes to the menu and insisting on using the best produce. This though, does not mean he is so focused on the food such that he loses sight of the business side. In fact, he is one of the most business savvy chefs I've spoken to. He has grand plans for The Point and has already put them into action. He is trying to appeal to more females in the main restaurant with his change in menu, shedding The Point's "blokey" reputation. He has also redone the decking in the cafe, changed the menu and working on drawing crowds to an exceptional space in what is currently a mostly unoccupied cafe on weekends. With the lake as a backdrop and traffic everywhere, for the cafe to be empty is a crime. With the functions areas, he's also insisted on updating the interiors, while also improving the food by directing for all function food to be created in the main kitchen. That was always one of my gripes, that the reputation of The Point was soiled when people said they didn't enjoy the food, when what they tasted was the function room food prepared by the B team. Justin fully agreed and said the brand as whole needed to be consistent.

The kitchen and chefs, have also been whipped into further good shape. The kitchen, and restaurant, is spotlessly clean, with Justin insisting that all equipment and surfaces be thoroughly clean in his first few weeks at The Point. The chefs have also been cut into a lean mean machine, with only those chefs who could perform still there; Justin bringing in a lot of his own team. I think the new discipline was most apparent when my favourite apprentice chef, Johnno, used his finger to taste a sauce and Justin pointed out a spoon to him for food hygiene purposes. I'm not saying that Justin is a humourless drill sergeant who is barking at everyone. Instead, at least out of the kitchen, he seems like an easy going fun guy. He does admit, and very few chefs do until you see them in action, that in the kitchen, he is a tough task master. He said he will help out chefs and teach them, but if they haven't learnt it after 4-5 times, they do need to be talked to.

I could cover a further 5 pages about Justin about his childhood ambition to always be a chef, about learning to cook from his Ukrainian mum, but you would be bored by then. Let me say that, despite not having a resume studded with stints all over Europe in Michelin restaurants, Justin has had very sound working experiences as head chef at The Press Club and Maze. He seems to have a very level head and balances both the food, but more importantly, the business side very well. He has long term plans to stay at The Point, so you know he's putting all his efforts into turning the restaurant into the best it can be. It's early days still, but from the food that I sampled and the discipline and enthusiasm I saw, I think he's well on his way to making it even more successful.

Let me now start on the food. I sat down to an assortment of dishes which feature on the degustation and a la carte menus.
The first three entrees I had were

Roasted quail, braised leek, black garlic and truffle dressing
Hiramassa kingfish tataki, finger lime and nuoc nam dressing
Spanner crab, grapes, fennel pollen, horseradish and walnuts

The quail was my favourite dish of the day and that's saying something. I'm not much of a fan of quail, eating deep fried quail but cooked to nonrecognition, but this dish still tasted like quail and was simply sublime. The quail was crispy on the outside, but so smooth and tender on the inside still retaining wonderful flavour. The pairings with the acidic leeks, soft potatoes was great, with the black garlic and truffle peaking through. The other two entrees of kingfish and crab were again light and bright. I was worried the nuoc nam would be too heavy for the kingfish and dominate the dish and told Justin this when he talked about the dish earlier in the day. But luckily, Justin only used small drops to help lift the super sweet kingfish. Crab salads can be totally destroyed when chefs slap far too much mayonnaise in it such that you drown the crab flavour but again, the light touch by Justin ensured the highlight was definitely the super sweet Queensland crab.

As you can read in my previous posts, Scott's Lamb Assiette was my favourite dish at The Point. Justin has also done a lamb dish

Murraylands grain fed spring lamb, charred baby leeks and vincotto dressing

This lamb dish was excellent, of equal deliciousness to Scott's. Three cuts of lamb, loin, saddle and rump I think, were cooked in different ways to highlight each of their flavours. Justin has also included sweetbread and peas. A very light vincotto sauce lets the meat shine through. Whereas Scott was more into heavy sauces, which were nice, I prefer this lighter touch with a softer sauce. Even the addition of a bloody mary wafer added to the lightness of what is a heavy meat dish.

Kangaroo. Uuggghhh I hear you say. That was my thoughts too. I can't say I've eaten any good kangaroo meat before, all super tough charred lumps of protein. I was very skeptical but Justin assured me customers were liking it. I was served the

Kangaroo loin, Tasmanian native pepper, bush tomato, cardamom and carrot terrine

The kangaroo was so tender and had good flavour. Obviously it is gamer than beef. I liked it, but would still prefer a steak. I found the kangaroo a tad on the salty side when eaten alone, but when I ate it with the carrots, was perfect as that was sweet. Bush tomatoes are excellent and people should use it more.

My first dessert (I do love dessert so two is better than one) was the

Candied and pickled beetroot, blueberries, coffee, sheep's milk yoghurt

Oh. My. Goodness. This dessert blew my mind in the same way as Attica's Terroir did. The mix of sweet and sour and texture was sensational. Using red and yellow beetroot and cooked in two manner provided an amazing contrast. The beetroot were the foundation and then built upon layer by layer. There were frozen blueberries, mint granita & frozen mint leaves giving a cold and fresh element. There was a hard pistachio cake giving crunch and nuttiness. There was a raspberry sorbet and sheeps milk yoghurt giving an acidic and sour element. There were soft chocolate squiggles, chocolate dirt and popping candy for a rich taste. Amazing. I would rate it one tiny bit under the Terroir because I wanted more acidity to further cut through the sweetness. But that's being extremely nit picking. It is an amazing dessert and a must try. It's like art on a plate as well.

So while the previous dessert was complex in taste, texture and styling, this dessert was equally brilliant in its simplicity executed perfectly. I had a

Banana souffle, caramel fudge and condensed milk ice cream

So I'm not the biggest fan of sweet souffles. I rarely find them appealing as they seem to be thin airs of nothingness, a bit like eating a Krispy Kreme donut, and I hate those. Now I finally know why I haven't loved souffles before. Restaurants were making it wrong! Justin explained most restaurants made their souffles by just using egg whites, as it was a more stable mixture and easier to make. Instead, the correct method was to use a cream patisserie. So Justin insists his team make their souffles with a cream patisserie base. And what a difference it makes. While still light, there was a bite to the souffle. Lashings of banana is swirled through the souffle and tastes so good. Then to my surprise, there was a centre of oozing caramel right at the base of the souffle. Woweeeee, I felt like a little kid finding a surprise. Coincidentally, that's exactly what Justin said he wanted to do, to remind people of their childhood days when they ate lollies and were surprised with the centres. A condensed milk ice cream on a chocolate dirt accompanies the souffle. While great, I think the souffle alone is all that is needed, such is it's simplistic brilliance.

That wraps up a sensational chat with Justin Wise and an equally sensational meal at The Point. I give full marks to the food and the direction it's going. I believe it's better than the previous menu even. So if it's a two hatted restaurant before, where does it put it now? 2.5 hats is my opinion. It still needs some extra oomph in other departments (service, table setting, interior design) to lift it into the three hat realm, but that can definitely be done. I will continue to go to The Point and spend my money to have a wonderful dining experience. I highly recommend you try out the new menu as well.

I thank Justin and The Point for giving up their time to host me and feed me. I ate complimentary of The Point.

The Point Restaurant on Urbanspoon


  1. What, you love The Point? I've never heard you rave about it before. ;)

    Looks great - awesome photos. I still haven't made it down there - boohoohoo.

  2. Looks great! I was wondering how The Point would be after Scott left - looks like it's definitely worth a revisit!

  3. agnes, how can you not hear him rave about it before? i think he did, a couple of times, in this blog.

    food looks good. might give it a go next year. :)

    i still cannot wait for your hk posts mister. are you teasing or whut?

  4. Alas, I still have not yet visited the Point, despite your continued love and praise for it! Your photos are so pretty, the food is so incredibly artistic!! Definitely want to visit even more now just to indulge in prettiness...

  5. I've never been a fan of sweet souffles either!! They just never taste as intense as I think they should. But it seems you got really lucky - with the whole meal too ;)

  6. What's this about you and the Point? You hardly ever talk about them at all! Hahahaha

    And you have cheated on Scott :P

  7. Looks amazing. I haven't been to The Point for quite some time, but definitely keen on returning, especially after that post. Your blog is looking great as well Thanh. Looking forward to getting back into the writing myself after a long absence.

  8. wow everything looks amazing! i really like the little chocolates in the dessert. looks like corals haha!

  9. Agnes, you must have been eating and not listening to my raving :-)

    Sarah, it's still fantastic and definitely worth a visit.

    Michelle, Agnes is just joking. I've spoken and written about The Point so many times.

    HK posts will come soon. I'm not teasing, just super slow with the photos.

    Ashley, you must go. Food is stunning, visually and flavour wise. Thanks about the photo, getting better at Lightroom.

    Vee, yep this souffle was so good.

    I-Hua, I feel dirty having cheated on Scott :-)

    Jon, welcome back. Did you regain your blogging mojo?

    Sugarpuffi, those little chocolates look so pretty indeed.