Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Saint Kilda Brew at Veludo

As part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, I was offered media (who's media? oh me, why thank you :-)) accreditation to the Saint Kilda Brew event at Veludo. The event was billed as a beer and belly event. Those are two of my favourite things, and combining them is even better than the sum of its parts. The belly in question is pork belly, while the beer is Saint Kilda Brew.

The story of the origins of Saint Kilda Brew is not new or unique. Two mates, Troy and Jamie, were sitting around watching the footy grand final between the Saints and the Cats and drinking beer when they decided they wanted to make their own beer. Here is where the story steers away from the usual script, where that idea never happens and everyone goes back to their normal lives. Instead, Troy and Jamie have actually turned that idea into reality. They describe themselves as "beerologist", which means that they don't make their own beers, but instead mix various types of beers to create their unique Saint Kilda blend. The Saint Kilda brew is actually a Belgian Blonde with added hops. Their current selling locations are obviously in Saint Kilda, or as Jamie says, anywhere within walking distance of their houses. I personally thought the beer was very good. It was a very easy drinking beer and has a nice hint of hops in it. You can try it for yourself at one of 70 venues around the St Kilda area. You can also buy a carton by ringing the boys on the number off their website.

Onto the food from that night, we started with a nice Antipasto platter. I really liked all the items on the plate. The chorizo were very good, fried polenta croquettes really nice and I loved the cheese that was served with the quince paste.

For the pork belly dish, a large piece of belly was served on a smooth mash and mushrooms. I really liked this dish and the skin, which is crucial for me, was super crispy.

Finally, I loved this billboard of Ciderman, the offshoot apple cider creation from the Saint Kilda Brew guys. The cider is made from pink lady apples and it's really crisp and beautiful, without the sickly sweet taste of some commercial ciders.

I had a great time at the event, met some great people, learned some things about beer and cider making, ate some good food and drank some good beer. Thanks to Troy & Jamie for giving up their time and talking to me, and thanks to the team at Veludo for the great food.

I dined and drank courtesy of Saint Kilda Brew and Veludo.

Veludo on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spice Temple - Some Excellent Dishes, Some Average Dishes

I had read some good reviews of Neil Perry's Spice Temple so had wanted to go and see how his take on Sze Chuan food would be like. It was much reported when the restaurant first opened about how Neil searched through China to find the best dishes for his restaurant. I rustled up 6 other friends and off we went, to sample a huge selection of food.

The restaurant is located in Crown, in the prime location facing the river. I have to say that I really dislike dark restaurants, and while Spice Temple does look really cool, it was hard to find your way around the restaurant or the menu for that matter. Each table had spot lighting but it was really hard to see when you weren't right under a light.

For entrees, we tried some Chili Wontons, Stir Fried Liver and Beef Ribs. The wontons were good, with a good kick from the chili. The liver dish was a bit bland and the ribs, which I expected to be sticky, sweet, spicy, was also a bit muted, but still quite nice.

For mains, the Crispy Spicy Chicken was really delicious, with super crispy skin and moist meat. I like how Neil hasn't held back on the spiciness of the dishes and lets the numbing Sze Chuan peppers really hit your tastebuds.

The Pork Belly Stir Fry was another dish I had high expectations of. It was a good dish, but slightly let down by the pork which wasn't soft and gelatinous enough. A Spicy Steamed Fish was perfectly cooked and excellent.

The Tea Smoked Duck and Crispy Spicy Duck were totally awesome dishes. The subtle flavours of the tea smoked duck worked so well with the condiments and pancakes. I also thought this dish was excellent value. The crispy duck was at the other end of the spectrum and the flavours were in your face, but amazing. The only bad savoury dish was the Wagyu Ma Po Tofu, which was so full of Sze Chuan peppers that it was so bitter in flavour and not edible by anyone.

Desserts is where I felt the meal really lifted. The Mango Granita was so refreshing and zingy. The Swiss Banana Roll and Caramel Parfait were so additively good that we had to order seconds.

The service was very professional and excellent. The waitress looked after our table without any fuss and was also fun enough to make some jokes. The ambiance is very nice in the room, with most tables feeling like they were separate, yet still part of the room. It's that perfect balance between having space to chat in private while not feeling like you're stranded on an island. I would definitely recommend coming to Spice Temple as there are some excellent dishes if you order the right things. It is also rather good value for a meal in a fine dining environment.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Some excellent dishes and good value.

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.

Spice Temple on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lina's Bistro - Good French Bistro Fare

I adore French food, from fine dining, to simple bistro fare, to pastries and cakes. When I got an invite from Lina's Bistro to come and dine at their restaurant, I was already imagining the beautiful French food I could try.

I hadn't heard about Lina's Bistro before but later found out it's right opposite the Albert Park Hotel. It's got a cute small shop front where the old skool blue neon sign with the shop's name is in one corner. Inside, the space is a long narrow homely bar and dining area. As it turns out, the restaurant is actually a refurbished house so hence the cosy feeling. The bar area runs along one side wall while the other is lined with spot lit bottles of wine. Posters and framed artwork really give a great ambiance.

We were seated at the tables at the back, on simple wooden chairs and tables. We started our meal with some nice Pinot Noir, because wine is the best start to every meal right, right?

We shared entrees of the Charcuterie Platter and Crumbed Sardines. I think sardines are so underrated in Australia and people see it only as cat food. That's such a waste as they're a beautiful fish, and thank goodness the Europeans and Asians appreciate that and cook sardines in wonderful dishes. I loved the crispy crumbed sardines served with a mayonnaise. The charcuterie platter was also really good, a mix of cured meats, pickles and my favourite Manolete chorizo. The chorizo is really so different to other brands and I highly recommend it.

For mains, we shared a Braised Chicken and Pulled Lamb. The chicken was an extremely simple but hearty dish of tender meat served with potatoes that were also in the braise. The pulled lamb was also tender and had great flavour, served with a gnocchi like dumpling. I really enjoyed the simplicity of both dishes.

For dessert, we shared a Chocolate Fondant and Creme Brulee. The fondant was quite good, although I felt it was overcooked a bit so the centre was not oozy. It was more like a warm chocolate cake than fondant. The brulee itself was rich, creamy and smooth. However, it was let down by the thick sugar topping. I love a thinner topping with slight caramelised parts so that it all melts together in your mouth as you bite into the sugar and custard. The thickness of this sugar topping meant it was really hard to chew through and spoiled the flavour and texture of this simple dessert.

The service was efficient and unobtrusive. When I asked whether I was correct in identifying the chorizo brand, the waiter was able to tell me more about the product, which I appreciated. I loved the ambiance and feel in this small bistro. It's really relaxing and a great space to enjoy food. I liked the simplicity of the food, which was very tasty. I would recommend trying out Lina's Bistro for an easy relaxed meal.

Overall Rating: 14/20, A great relaxing space for some enjoyable simple French bistro food.

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.

My guest and I dined courtesy of Lina's Bistro.

Lina's Bistro a Vin on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 12, 2012

Shou Sumiyaki Sake Bar and Grill - Good BBQ Meats

I love finding new restaurants that turn out to be good. Shou Sumiyaki is one of those. My friend Kevin had organised for Andy's birthday dinner to be there. The restaurant can be easily missed along Little Bourke Street as the shop front is very small. The narrow long space is well split up into numerous ares, with private large areas, the bar area, and small semi sectioned dining area. The black finish of the tables and floors makes for a very elegant classy feel.

The menu has lots of options but we decided to go for the banquet of grilled meat. This consisted of various starter salads, sashimi and lots and lots of cuts of meat to be grilled over the coal BBQ. I usually associate the grilling of meat like this with Korean BBQ but I guess Japanese would do similar. The flavours of the meat were good, with some being marinated and others not. The wait staff were also really helpful in coming to cook the meat and cut it up for us.

What the banquet doesn't include, which is a bit strange, is dessert. We decided to order every dessert on the menu, and they were all excellent. Each dessert dish comprised a number of interesting elements, like the dish below with a panna cotta, caramel popcorn, good ice cream, mochi, red bean, biscuits and cake.

The ambiance in the restaurant is good, with sound surprisingly not too bad given the wooden floors. The service, as I mentioned before was efficiently and helpful, but also rushed. As there are 2 hour sittings, it is a bit of a rush to eat everything in time as there is a number of meat courses. I liked the food and desserts and thought the price was reasonable.

Overall Rating: 14/20, Good BBQ meats and desserts in a nice setting.

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.

Shou Sumiyaki on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mornington Peninsula - Montalto Winery and Restaurant

Montalto winery is a stunning multi-purpose venue that I've wanted to visit for a long time now. I've stopped by a few times to look around the winery but haven't had the chance to dine at the winery restaurant or cafe. I was fortunate enough to finally get to dine at the restaurant as part of my Mornington Peninsula Food Tour courtesy of Q Strategies in conjunction with Mornington Peninsula Tourism.

The winery is owned by John and Wendy Mitchell, whose love of the vineyards they saw on holiday in Europe compelled them to buy and nourish the Montalto vineyard. The winery does a huge range of wines, with their Montalto Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir winning many awards. As well as wine, the famous olive oils are worth a try. The dining at Montalto can range from high end, with the one hatted restaurant, to casual dining in the Piazza cafe, to the super casual and unique dining experience of a fully catered picnic. I saw some groups of people having their picnic and I must say that I was really envious as it looked like so much fun to sit amongst the lawns and plants and enjoy great food.

While my friend Andy and I were wandering around the picnic grounds and admiring the amazing view of the vineyards and setting sun, we also got to look at the stunning pieces of sculptures that are currently on display. Each year, artists can submit their sculptures to the competition and the public can enjoy the works from February to April. The winning sculpture will be permanently displayed at Montalto. My personal favourite is the horse lying on it's back, made of strips of metal. You can just see the horse on the bottom left corner in the photo above.

After admiring all the sculptures, we were seated to our table where the large glass windows meant we got the last rays of the setting sun. Our waitress explained the menu while also suggesting a cuvee to start. When we made our orders, a side of nice warm bread was served with the Montalto olive oil, which was really good.

We started our meal with some entrees. The entree of scallops was excellent, with plump scallops perfectly accompanied by the peas and mushroom foam. The terrine was rich and had good flavour. I loved the pistachio butter that was served with it. Both wine matches went really well and I particularly enjoyed the Rose.

Seared Canadian scallops, petit pois a la francaise, bacon and shiitake foam
Wine match: 2009 Mont Rouge Chardonnay

Terrine of rabbit, shallot compote, pistachio butter and housemade walnut bread
Wine match: 2010 Pennon Hill Rose

For mains, I was definite I wanted the lamb racks when I sighted them on the menu. And boy did they live up to my expectations. The Flinders lamb was some of the best flavoured lamb I have tasted. The meat was also beautifully tender and I loved the jus and pumpkin mash served with it. The duck, which I'm never the biggest fan of as it can taste rather bland, had good flavour. The meat was cooked perfectly but it was the accompanying sauce and puree that really lifted this dish. While there were suggested wine pairings for the dishes, we asked to try the award winning Pinot Noir. The wine was full of complexity and I loved it. I can see why it's won many awards.

Flinders lamb rack, fennel and glazed carrots with coriander jus

Cardamon and honey glazed duck breast, confit leg croquette, pear puree

For dessert, I chose the creme caramel, which I usually love but was a bit hesitant due to the ginger as I'm not a fan of ginger. The final result was a bit mixed for me. While the texture of the creme caramel and great, I found that I didn't like the ginger element, which isn't the restaurant's fault. The lemon verbena added a really nice hint to the dish. The meringue filled with ice cream was really refreshing and I loved the fruit salsa and passionfruit curd served with it. The dessert wines were both very sweet and good in small doses.

Meringue filled with vanilla ice cream, raspberry sorbet and cinnamon cream with passionfruit custard
Wine match: 2011 Pennon Hill Late Harvest Riesling

Lemon Verbena and ginger scented creme caramel and dolce ice cream
Wine match: 2010 Foxeys Hangout ‘Late Harvest’ Pinot Gris

I can definitely see why Montalto has been awarded a hat in the Good Food Guide. While the menu items may read similar to some other winery restaurants, it's the execution of the dish and small flavour touches here and there that help lift the food to another wonderful level. The service was very friendly on the night and I gauged that other diners were very happy with their service too. The ambiance in the restaurant is very relaxed and happy. I will definitely be coming back to Montalto for future meals as I think the food is great in comparison to metro restaurants, not just for a winery restaurant.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Food executed really well with wonderful wines and views of the vineyard.

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.

My guest and I dined complimentary of Montalto Winery.

Montalto Restaurant and Winery on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Mornington Peninsula Food Tour - So Many Great Places

The Mornington Peninsula is an amazing area, and I visit it quite often. However, like most people, I tend to stick with what I know and go to the same places. The region is bit sprawled out so you tend not to come across things on your travels too often. There's signs pointing you to all the various places but I would assume that, like me, you don't know what they are and would tend not to veer off your original plan and take a detour. There are many hidden gems to be found in the area so I suggest next time you do veer off on a detour and go to something new. I really got to know the region much better when I was invited by Q Strategies in conjunction with Mornington Peninsula Tourism to visit a number of wonderful locations previously. Imagine my happiness when I was invited to go back and explore more of the region and visit more food producers, restaurants and stay at a country retreat. You can read about my previous travels via the links below

Heronswood Garden
Red Hill Estate
Peninsula Hot Springs
The Long Table
Woodman Estate
Red Hill Brewery

Mornington Pier and Beach

Flinders Pier

Food Producers

This first part I shall call food producers, although I could have also called it "deliciousness producers".

Mornington Peninsula Chocolates
I believe that chocolates are something that most people would love, and at Mornington Peninsula Chocolates, there's a huge variety for you to choose from. They pride themselves on their award winning filled chocolates but also sell a selection of pure dark chocolates for connoisseurs.

Milton Laycock, Isilda and Cass Caldwell run this family owned business and on the day I was welcomed by Cass, who explained that the shop was started after Milton and Isilda saw the movie "Chocolat" and loved it. I for one can say that like the movie Chocolat, chocolates brings joy to me. I sampled some of their filled chocolates and the award winning lime chocolate is definitely excellent. I also really loved the single origin dark chocolate as I prefer my chocolates by itself or with nuts in them.

Other items that really caught my eyes were the chocolate sculptures and objects. You can buy beautifully decorated high heel shoes, animals, lolly pop shaped chocolate and even the letters of your name. They would make awesome gifts for friends and family and would also work well for corporate functions.

Main Ridge Dairy
Main Ridge Dairy, run by Bess and Damien Noxon, was my favourite stop of the weekend. I started off my visit there by sampling all ten of the Main Ridge goat cheeses. I tried soft cheeses, rind cheeses, hard cheeses and marinated cheeses. While all the cheeses were good, a few were standouts for me. I loved the Cilia, which was a soft Camembert style cheese. I also loved the Chevre, especially the award winning marintated Chevre which I adored.

The cheese tasting was really good but the part I loved most was the Goat Milking Tour. Bess took a group of us around and we saw the whole paddock to plate process of the Main Ridge farm. I couldn't help but giggle like a little kid when the goats were rubbing their heads up against me and trying to bite my shorts, shirt and camera. I just managed to save my DSLR camera from one inquisitive goat.

The 200 or so goats on the farm are milked daily and produce on average about a litre of milk each. The goats were trained really well and showed themselves into the milking shed and out. The whole milking process is still quite a manual labour intensive task, with the bottle feeding of the kids being a manual task personally handled by Bess before the current bottle feeding machine was introduced. When you think that 10 litres of milk is used to make the cheese, you can appreciate the cost.

Pure Peninsula Honey

"Hello, I'm the Pure Peninsula Honey Beeswax Bee". You can meet all the real bees of Pure Peninsula Honey close up as you watch them scurry around in their hives gathering the pollen to make honey. You might be lucky to see the bees do their "dance" to tell the other bees how far to fly for the pollen. If you're really lucky, you might even see the queen bee.

At Pure Peninsula Honey, you can get an in-depth explanation about all aspects of bees and honey from owner and apiarist John Winkles. John will be able to answer all your questions as well as tell you about the dozens of beautiful honey and their flavours. You can sample all of them and decide which is your favourite and buy it to take home. I really liked the lighter flavoured honeys, each extremely individual in taste.


The Mornington Peninsula offers a variety of dining options, from simple fare to fine dining at hatted restaurants. I was lucky enough to sample both the simple and more complex food. You can read about the simple fare in this post first.

Red Hill Bakery
For lunch on the first day, I went to Red Hill Bakery to meet Ray and Jill Johns. It was such a pleasure to talk with both of them, as they were down to Earth people. Ray is the chief baker at this second branch of their bakery. They make their breads using slow traditional methods to ensure the most flavour is imparted to the bread. Ray admits that his own failed career as a musician (trumpeter) was what led him to try his hand at baking. Thankfully for us, Ray did take up baking. However, you can still get a sense of Ray's musical stylings when his jazz group play at the bakery every Sunday.

If food is more your style, you can taste Ray's award winning pies any day of the week. I sampled a Duck Pie and a Rabbit Pie and I declare them to be the best pies I've tasted ever. The fillings were so good, especially the rabbit one. As Ray explained, he stews his meats for a long time to achieve maximum tenderness. The pastry was also flaky and light up top while sturdy enough to hold the filling on the base. I also sampled some of the regions cured meats, cheeses and pickled vegetables with Ray's signature Wine Bread. The wine bread did have a slight flavour of wine and was a nice dense sourdough.

For desserts, the bakery does a range of simple baked cakes, slices and tarts. I went for a simple Flourless Orange Cake, which was really good, served with an awesome cream.

Somers General Store
For lunch on day two, I dined at Somers General store, owned by local glass artist Leisa Wharington. I wondered where the name of the cafe came from and was informed by Leisa that the building used to be the general store serving the surrounding suburbs. The petrol pumps outside are clear evidence of the building's former identity.

Nowadays, the shop serves as a relaxed cafe where locals can come dine, as well being a simplified general store in the adjoining space. It's fortunate that Leisa was committed to restoring the store when it fell into disrepair or else this great space could not be enjoyed. Sitting at the cafe and staring out at the bay is indeed very relaxing. A garden out the back is also a great space, but unfortunately liquor licensing laws means there is no drinking out in the garden.

For my lunch, I chose the Corn Fritters the instance I saw them on the menu. When the dish arrived, I thought they looked a lot like the Corn Fritters at Replete Provedore. After I found out head chef Emily Turnbull used to work there, it made a lot of sense. I thought these Fritters were better than the ones I had at Replete. The fritters were crispier and there was more salsa which helped cut through the sweetness of the sweet chili sauce. My friend Andy ordered the Paris Burger and that too was really good.

For dessert I had the simple Strawberries with Ice Cream. The fresh sweet strawberries were marinated in lemon syrup and served with an excellent vanilla ice cream. Andy had the Affogato with Frangelico, again really good.


As with the food options, the accommodation options in the Mornington Peninsula area is varied and runs the full gamut from simple to extravagant.

Rangers Run Country Retreat
A country retreat sounds like some hippie commune but I'm happy to report that isn't the case. There are no people wearing multi-coloured tie-dyed shirts running around talking about peace, love and harmony. Instead, I was greeted by the lovely Peter and Fiona Oram, who were having a swim and gardening respectively when I arrived. Peter and Fiona run the retreat consisting of three separate cottages. Those cottages used to be lived in by their kids, who have now moved along. Each cottage is slightly different and self contained. It's nicely decorated and has the modern necessities of TV, air-conditioning and fictional books. Yes, reading books are provide. And no, there is no wifi in your cottage. If you must use Internet, there is a computer in the main cottage but otherwise, you will enjoy the relaxing environment where the absence of sound was actually a bit strange at first.

The retreat offers a jacuzzi that you can relax in while absorbing the fresh air and the sounds of trees swaying in the wind. You can also visit the sheep, alpacas or geese in the surrounding area. I found the waddling of the geese rather entertaining and the sheep will rush up to you when you walk near them.

If you have a bit of a green thumb, you can take a stroll through Fiona's fruit and vegetable garden and look inside the large aluminum tanks at the healthy fruit and veg she has growing. The views around the retreat could be straight from a book and are very picturesque. All the elements help to induce a feeling of calm and make you forget about the worries of the world, just for a brief moment.

As you can see, I had an absolutely wonderful time on my weekend trip and met heaps of passionate and warm people. Each had a story to tell, all agreeing how much they love the region and the wonderful sites and foods of the area. As I mentioned to most of the people I met, it takes a bit more effort to organise a trip in the Mornington Peninsula as things are spread about and it's not as likely you will just stumble across everything. However, with the accessibility of the Internet, you can easily work out a great itinerary that will cater to your preferences. A great starting point is the Mornington Peninsula Tourism website, as well as a couple of publications of the region by the tourism board and Mornington Peninsula Gourmet which is targeted at food. Do yourself a favour and go down to the region for either a short day trip, a weekend or longer. Enjoy the scenery, food, accommodation and hospitality of the friendly locals.

I wish to thank all the people I met on the trip who fed and housed me at their expense and also spent some of their time to talk to me and answer my many questions.

Red Hill Bakery on Urbanspoon Somers General Store on Urbanspoon