Fear not, Longstraws isn’t turning into a food blog; I just need to think about slightly lighter content for this weeks post.
Izakaya Den got their hands on more of my money than anywhere else in Melbourne during 2010.
I could probably include a couple of the dishes on the menu as my favourites, but if I have to pick one, it’s going to be the kingfish sashimi. Perfect paper-thin slices of pale yellow Kingfish, simply marinated in sesame oil. Basic, but such complementary flavours. Add to that, funky, oh-so-Melbourne atmosphere, with bonus hidden entrance and bar seating, Izakaya Den definitely rates high on my this list.
What an awesome little find this place was. Daylesford has long been a foodies paradise, and starting your day with breakfast here will certainly help cement that reputation. The proprietors here combined two of my favourite things – interesting, exciting breakfast options with a focus on regional produce, and an awesome selection of boutique beers – to produce something pretty special.
I ordered the Avocado on sourdough, Holy Goat curd, beetroot relish, rocket, avocado oil, discovering for the first time, Holy Goat’s Fromage Frais, an absolutely amazing goat’s curd. I spend the rest of the weekend in Daylesford attempting to track down some to take home, but alas, to no avail.
Midyear I booked Bistro Vue for a couple of steaks as a thank you to my previous people leader prior to finishing at my previous role.
Having previously visited bigger brother Vue De Monde, I had high expectation for Bistro. I was certainly not disappointed.
Despite lure of the soft shell crab, I ordered steak tartare as a starter, and was delivered an exceptional vividly plate of melt in your mouth mince, accompanied by a ducks egg cracked atop.
I then followed this up with a “bluer-side-of-rare” slab of 9+ marbled DavidBlackmore Full Blood Wagu, and a couple of bottles of 2007 Gilles Robin Crozes Hermitage, before slipping out the back door to avoid the awaiting PETA protesters.
It wouldn’t be a Melbourne foodies “best of” list without a mention of Cumulus.
I had visited a few times prior, but on this occasion I had partnered up with a three other big eaters, and together we quickly resolved to recreate a scene reminiscent of of La grande bouffe (but perhaps with less group sex.. or perhaps not)
We managed to work ourselves up and down the menu, sampling everything from the soft shell crab with chilli and lime, to wagu bresaloa and prosciutto from the charcuterie, to the excellent five tomato salad, tuna tartare, cauliflower and goat curd, and finally, the pièce de résistance of McConnells’ incredible shared slow cooked lamb shoulder.
Full, satisfied, but determined, the four of us then managed to order all the deserts off the menu, finally finishing up with a lovely couple of cheeses.
Gluttony at its best.
Early September, I was conned into attending amateur Shakespeare with the lure of a meal at Cutler prior.
Arriving at 6:00pm, my guest and I only had a short time to eat before needing to head to the show. With this in mind we agreed beforehand just to order a couple of little things at the bar and perhaps share a bottle of wine, and then race off.
Moments after arriving we decided 90 minutes ample time to polish off entrée, main and desert, following which we set out to securing a table in the restaurant.
I can’t remember what we had for starters, but I sure as hell recall what followed.
Suckling pig, sous vide for 12 hours, and then seared off into the pan to crisp up the impossibly thin crackling. Unlike any pork belly I had ever tasted, the crackling broke under knife with the slightest of pressure, and then separated the meat beneath like a chainsaw through a kitten.
Even the best perpared pork belly usually retains a slight toughness to themeat, but here the sous vide had broken down everything up to the last fibres perfectly, transforming the meat into butter on your fork and in your mouth.
My dining companion – with a certain disregard for my financial health – ordered a sensational bottle of 2006 Domaine Collotte which we quickly downed before rushing out the door to watch a gender-boundary-demolishing rendition of Othello.
Attica. Wow. I came expecting the razzle dazzle of Vue de Monde, and while aspects of that are definitely present in the technique and flavour, Chef Ben Shewry prefers a more understated approach to presentation and setting.
Cursorily, the wait staff will recite a little story about the origins of the dish prior to each course, generally describing how they relate to Ben’s time growing up in New Zealand.
The first course was simply titled Snow Crab, and consisted of a white cloud of snow crab, verjus granita, trout roe, puffed rice, barberry seeds, char grilled leek ash, shaved witlof, freeze dried coconut and horseradish powder.
The waiter offered that this dish represented the snow capped peaks of Mount Taranaki, in New Zealand, and should be reminiscent of walking across the terrain.
The complexity of flavour and texture was amazing, and with every bite the emotions the chef was attempting to evoke became apparent; you would feel the fluffy snow – represented by the horseradish power – melt away in your mouth, then twigs would snap below foot – through the barberry seeds, freeze dried coconut, and salmon roe. Finally the warmth of the horseradish gave way to a coolness as the snowcrab melted away in your mouth.
Through the dish you truly were transported.
A few friends and I managed to make it across to Tassie about half-way through the year, and, as usual, we stopped in at Piccalilly in historic Battery Point to see what Chef/Owner Iain Todd had been up to.
Goat is often an interesting one to work with, and here Iain had broken down any toughness again with a long sous vide . Presentation was excellent, with the kitchen using these massive black slate planks – a waiter’s nightmare at a few kilos heft –allowing the vivid colours of the chick pea purree to shine through.
The food is always good at Piccalilly, but my main motivation for including this dish and experience on the list is my constant amazement at what Iain and Elysia have achieved here at still such young ages. A testament to what determination and hard work can produce.
Cuba has a lot of great things going for it. It’s a country of amazing culture and history, beautiful natural scenery, and friendly people.
Cuisine, however, is not regularly featured on this list.
We travelled over in January, and whilst there stayed mostly at the Case de Particulars (basically local family homes).
In most of the casa we were cooked a meal by the family we were staying with, and unfortunately, despite great effort on the proprietor’s part, what was served was generally bland and tasteless. Not that it was anyone’s fault; as you might imagine living in a country where beef is strictly controlled by the government, getting your hands on quality produce is difficult.
Just prior to leaving Cuba we spent a few nights at a wonderful casa in downtown Havana, where we we’re fussed over by our magnanimous host, Karlita.
We were summoned at around 7:30 each night to the kitchen, where Karlita and her staff cooked us some of the simplest, freshest fish I have ever tasted. Perhaps, it was only in the context of what we had eaten weeks prior, but that fried fish, with creamy mash potatoes, and green beans still rates as one of the most amazing meals I’ve tasted.
On reflection, I suspect I’ve never eaten as healthily as I did that month I spent in Cuba. When a country is forced to operate with trade sanctions from all sides, you get inventive at producing and providing your own produce to the people, and in Cuba this often meant first-world luxuries like locally grown fruit and veg, and organic everything weren’t a choice, but a necessarily.
Last but not least, City Wine Shop makes the cut at number 9.
I’m putting this one here not because its food has ever really managed to blow me away, but for its combination of fantastic service, honest, tasty, bistro style meals, and the wonderful fun of choosing your own wine from the well stocked wall making this is a fave for a casual dinner after work.
No bookings, so just rock up and grab a bar at the table, and have a chat with the friendly, professional wait staff while you await the arrival of a big pile of polenta chips and a cheeky bottle of Nebbiolo.