Archive for March, 2010

Milsons Restaurant

March 24, 2010

http://www.milsonsrestaurant.com.au

17 Willoughby Street, Kirribilli

Now living in Kirribilli we’re on the look out for good local eating and Milsons looks the only player if you don’t feel like Asian. We’d been here before when we’d organised a family meal prior to getting married. I think the size of that bill, paying for 20 people had scared me off for a while, but the quality of food was good and so we needed to give it another go.

They were able to fit us in at short notice on a friday night. It’s a gutsy menu giving a full range of modern Australian food with the obligatory Asian twist (you can’t get away from it).

I’ve noticed a trend of where entrees are becoming mini versions of main courses, with an ever increasing price to match. There’s clearly a pyschological thing going on here where people choosing a restaurant based on price only look at the cost of main courses. (We were told they had reduced their prices). So whereas the cost of mains are at a very reasonable $30, entrees are only $8 less so the meal is not going to be as cheap as you think. However in the case of Milsons you do get what you pay for with decent ingredients to match.

Starting off, my entree did represent pretty good value for money and did not disappoint:

Belly of pork with stir fried scallops, shitake mushrooms & vietnamese dressing. I’d happily have eaten this as a main course. It’s a bit of blokes dish – fatty unctuous meat with a touch of finesse on the side and some good acid to cut through it. As always the crackling is a little tough to get through and deters many, but i persevere. I like it.

My wife plumbed for the special of a cauliflower soup (I think) studded with four marron tails.

Again no slacking on the portion size, but it was a pretty refined creamy soup and the tails were well cooked. I was only able to get the briefest of mouthfuls, so it must have been good.

We went a little retro with our main courses. It was friday night, so following the tradition of my upbringing I went for the black angus beef with chilli tomato jam, cavalo nero & stacked potatoes (kind of dauphinoise).

It was quite a mighty dish. I don’t think I was even able to finish it. The beef was a touch on the rare side, but it didn’t matter. It was just a bold dish, let down only by the chilli jam which was overly aggressive and a touch unnecessary. The potatoes more than made up for it, with excellent yielding crispness. It was an ideal plate of food for friday night.

My wife went for Kurabota pork loin with a saute’ of savoy cabbage and bizarrely sweet corn and peas:

Again this was a dish that lacked a bit of subtlety, it was essentially meat on a plate. None the worse for it, but a little challenging. The pork, importantly was on the pink side, so it was still pretty succulent – which you don’t often get. I’m not entirely sure the peas & sweetcorn were a welcome addition. Perhaps there are some things that are best left in the 70s/80s….

We were too full to tackle dessert, being defeated by the sizeable dishes we had received. We enjoyed our meal and thought this a good neighbourhood restaurant to return to. It’s not a place for every night. Although the mains are good value, the overall bill does mount up a bit. But the cooking is certainly competent, it’s just a question of how refined you like your food.

Willow Vale Mill

March 18, 2010

Laggan, NSW

Writing about this place does raise in my mind why I write in the first place. I see this blog as essentially an aide-memoire for how I choose to spend my money & time, capturing what I thought of the places I’ve been to. Clearly being able to share my thoughts with other like minded individuals is a good thing, but when writing about the Willow Vale Mill I’m not writing about a business, I’m commenting on one man’s passion, and accordingly some respect must be paid. Not that this was the sort of place that disappointed.

We had a very memorable, albeit brief stay here, with Graham a great host who personally renovated this huge building and now runs a restaurant of sorts with three rooms for overnight guests. It’s not about money but enjoyment and as a result you get the impression that guests are vetted before they get a reservation, because Graham is essentially having guests round for dinner – and who wants to spend time with people who are going to be demanding or a pain in the arse?

We arrived mid afternoon during a miserable day and were immediately handed a mug of tea which we took in front of the huge log fire. We got to know our host for a while until he went off to prepare our dinner.

While my wife had a snooze I was able to hang out in the kitchen and meet some of the locals who were coming and going. Beers were handed around. It was a very social afternoon.

Dinner itself was equally social. Various guests congregated in the dining room around 7pm. There were about 20 this evening. Wines were chosen from Graham’s collection and we were recommended a decent pinot noir which went down well with the appetizers as we helped ourselves.

And what appetizers! – a variety of semi-dried chorizo, a potato pizza and a f’ing awesome sizzling pan of wood mushrooms accompanied by olive oil drizzled & toasted ciabatta. The mushrooms were as good as I’ve ever had and if I were in less civilized surroundings I would have fought people to keep them to myself.

We also got to know some of our fellow guests as we looked forward to our entree.

This was a simple and wholesome vegetable soup full of thick fresh veggies in a rich tomato spiked broth. We wisely only limited ourselves to a singe bowl, well aware that there would be plenty more to come.

And when the main dishes came out, they didn’t seem to stop:

A rack of pork, leg of lamb & side of corned beef, accompanied by sauteed greens, roasted vegetables, potato bake & a room temperature dish of tomatoes, cheese & courgettes. Phew…. The guests all helped serve, plates were piled high and a happy chatter filled the room.

It was gutsy, earthy food, perfect for a friendly dinner party. Graham, our host worked the room and made sure we were all having a good time.

By the time dessert arrived, I think everyone was suffering from meat sweats, but knew they had to persevere:

On the far right of the above picture was a cherry tart. Aside from the mushrooms it was a highlight of our meal – crisp pastry, sweet fruit with a nice compote, coupled with homemade cream (that’s the plate of white gooness above) which was truly delightful.

It was one of those meals which was big on generosity and we stumbled sated to the veranda to relax as the revelry continued inside. We were grateful our bed was so close and we eventually retired, two very satisfied people, knowing that we’d had a day to remember.

We were the only overnight guests and had a quiet morning and simple breakfast before we got on our way.

It’s clear the Willow Vale Mill has a unique appeal and it seems that the majority of guests are repeat visitors, which says a lot about the enjoyment of this place. I just hope Graham enjoyed our company enough to have us back. We’d very much like to return.

Eschalot

March 14, 2010

http://www.eschalot.com.au

24 Old Hume Highway, Berrima, NSW

A weekend in NSW was started with the Friday night dash out of Sydney. This of course presented an opportunity to have a pleasant meal out of the big smoke. Bowral & Berrima are in easy striking distance and Eschalot looked to be the named restaurant in the area.

Having recently lost it’s hat after 3 consecutive years, it was hard to gauge what the meal would be like, but we decided to give it a go and it was nice to seek refuge in such a lovely building with the weather so dire.

The restaurant itself is divided up into several small rooms which doesn’t do a lot for the ambience or give the place a buzz. Instead the atmosphere is relatively hushed, but the friendly and approachable service sort of makes up for it.

A litte amuse-bouche was proffered:

Rather unusually it was pork terrine with apple, a bit of departure from norm of cauliflower soup. It was decent enough, but didn’t exactly wow the taste-buds.

The meal got off to a better start with an entree of seared scallops, duck neck sausage with a fennel & orange salad:

The scallops were fat, succulent and well cooked. I also liked the duck sausage as a riff on the normal black pudding. It came together well with the orange providing necessary sweetness. It was a competent dish.

My wife plumbed for a special of stuffed courgette flowers with a simple salad of diced tomatoes & cucumber.

It had a fresh garden feel, but to be honest the flavours were a little muted.

The main courses followed a meaty theme. My wife will order anything that features something resembling potato dauphinoise. So she opted for loin and shoulder of lamb with leeks & pommes sarladaise.

The loin was a beautiful colour and consistency, probably as a result of sous-vide. She wasn’t such a huge fan of the slow cooked shoulder, since it’s a more fiberous cut of meat, but it didn’t matter with the carbs proving a hit – heavily layered sliced potato baked in the oven.

I decided to stick with more duck and with roasted breast and confit leg with poached pear and juniper jus.

Again the two style of meat cuts provided the contrast and interest. The pear was a welcome counterpoint and at least something different to potato accompaniement, though I suspect this was a ruse to get the customer to spend another $9 on a side dish. And considering the mains were nudging $40 it was taking the mickey a little bit… Anyway the dish went down well.

We decided against ordering dessert. I think it was getting late and the hearty dishes made pudding a little unnecessary.

We thought this an OK meal. The cooking as mentioned was competent, but lacked all important subtlety and a bit of wow, especially considering the price. This is a fine restaurant for the diner seeking comforting cooking with quality food, but it would need something a little extra to get me back. But you could do far worse.

Caffe Roma

March 7, 2010

http://www.sydney-caffe-roma.com/

9 Kellett Street, Potts Point

I’d spent a total of 7 months in Australia and still not stepped foots in Kings Cross. I’m British, how can this be?!

Partly because I was born middle-aged,  don’t go clubbing and am not a single man, it hasn’t really been on my radar. We decided to rectify this and spent a night in the cross a few weeks ago. This meant going a bit crazy and having 3 martinis before dinner, followed by venturing to a few bars and some people watching. If you’re not living life on the edge, your taking up too much room.

Anyway back to dinner. A colleague from work had recommended Caffe Roma for great pizza. So with a little bit of fuzziness and having had some som tum at Libertine around the corner we ventured to it. It was a fun buzzy venue with seating outside and a constant stream of people.

I think we ordered Proscuitto & Funghi with one or two extras:

It was a fine pizza with a good base – a nice combination of sourness & chewiness. The extra ingredients may have made it a touch sloppier than it would have been. But it was easy to look beyond since it tasted very good.

I think we may have had a bottle of wine. Our spirits were already lifted and meal did nothing to dispel this. We continued on our way, mixing it with the 20 year old vixens on the streets.

It’s nicely hidden this place, but clearly deserves a bit more profile than what I can tell. You could do far worse when you’re in my stomping ground…..I’ll probably be back in a year!

Bond Street Cafe & Wine Bar, Melbourne

March 7, 2010

4A Bond Street, South Yarra

A few hours of shopping (or being dragged round the shops) required a pleasant lunch to distract from the chaos of Chapel Street. Having ducked into a nearby Borders for inspiration we discovered this petite wine bar just round the corner.

Lots of black, a laidback feel and a tapas style Italian menu made it an easy choice for a light Saturday lunch. This is definitely the sort of place for ‘ladies who lunch’. None the worse for it.

We selected a number of small dishes to share and after some good bread and olive oil, things kicked off with a kingfish sashimi & cucumber:

A lovely light summery dish, which was made by the cucumber – a perfect harmony of flavours. I would have happily eaten this all day and it went particularly well with a cheeky bottle of chardonnay.

Reluctantly we said goodbye to the finished sashimi and dived into a twice cooked cheese souffle which health-wise was a million miles from our first dish:

Full of cheesey goodness it was a little on the dense side, but the well dressed salad cut-through some of the richness. Clearly not a dish to eat all day; more like once a month… but it’s one of those dishes that hard to move past when you’re a glutton.

Tuna & smoked tongue followed:

Again a dish of good combinations. The dish was luke warm and as such a plate to linger over. I’m a big fan of seared/raw tuna. It’s important to taste the ‘freshness’ as it were and it contrasted well against the meatiness of the tongue – a well under-rated ingredient.

Our final dish (as well as a salad, not pictured) were croquettes of tomato & aubergine:

I’m mad for aubergine at the moment – the silkiness & depth of flavour when smoked. These were sizeable beasts when arrived and I expected a more harmonious and softer set of flavours. Yet these lacked subtlety and tasted as though they hadn’t been cooked through. Just a little aggressive and would have suited a bold glass of red to settle them down.

However 3 out of 4 plates were good. It was a pleasant weekend lunch and although I don’t think it would be a destination venue, if I was in the area, it would be a cool place to drop into.

Cutler & Co

March 5, 2010

http://cutlerandco.com.au

55-57 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Relatively new in Australia and there are certain events that you have to go to while living here. One is the Australian Open. It’s a perfect excuse to experience the laid back vibe and try one or two of Melbourne’s eating hotspots. Cutler & Co won out against some of the more avant-garde eateries.

Based in trendy Fritzroy, we started with a decent martini in a bar around the corner before heading to the restaurant It was a Saturday night and the place was packed. The place is all a bit post-industrial with exposed brick and girders, and a pleasant vibe. From an interesting menu we started with a variety of oysters:

3 distinct varieties (Heritage, Wallace Lake, Clair de Lune) all were pretty briney with plenty of iodine. Not all together pleasant, apart from the Clair de Lune). I think I prefer my oysters a little more creamy. Clearly I need to do more work on understanding the differences. Nonetheless, they weren’t too disappointing.

… this was due to a starter which made the whole evening worthwhile – Salad Lyonnaise:

What a plate of food – pancetta, garlic sausage, smoked tongue, terrine, confit gizzards & poached egg yolk, with a bit of frizee salad. Every forkful was a different combination of porky goodness with great textures and taste. It was an absolute treat.

My wife had marron on a bed of rocket. I was a little too distracted to pay it much attention, but she enjoyed it. Importantly, she didn’t care for my plate of offal so I had it all to myself.

The main courses continued the excellent start. Against type I opted for fish – Pan roasted Leather Jacketwith an accompanying ‘risotto’with clams:

The fish was well cooked, but perhaps not the best flavoured fish. However the dish as a whole was excellent – Good spicing and a great textural flavours, especially the side dish.

My wife’s dish was also lovely – Slow cooked baby chicken with creamed corn, miso & grilled spring onion:

Remember when chicken actually tasted of chicken? This brought back those memories. A variety of preparations – breaded drumstick, rolled thigh & poached breast. All were excellent with the sweetcorn providing a bit of retro styling.

After a couple of great dishes, we could only share a dessert – chocolate ice cream sandwich, vanilla parfait with salted caramel

One portion divided onto two plates was a nice touch. It was very pleasant. I’m a sucker for salted caramel anyway, so it was always going to be good.

The service was good, if a little cutesy! So finished an excellent meal. This is a restaurant with bags of confidence and a bit of swagger. It comes through in the gutsy and uncomplicated cooking. The touches of finesse are there if you want, but its the big bold flavours which win through, as it should.

We will be back.