Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Breaking the Rules" Beer Dinner at Woodland House

Wall of beers

I was absolutely thrilled to receive an invitation to the "Breaking the Rules" dinner at Woodland House, a special event they put on for Good Beer Week. Woodland House is the new incarnation of iconic Jacques Reymond, which I loved when I visited in 1999 and again in November 2013, so I was greatly looking forward to trying it out.

Woodland House
78 Williams Road
Prahran, VIC 3181
Ph: (03) 9525-2178

For this special event dinner, the restaurant broke their food and wine matching rules, and created a five course tasting menu, matched with a selection of small batch and exclusive beers from some of their favourite local breweries.

Prickly Moses 'Otway Light', Barongarok, VIC
Purple congo potato crisps, Crumbed pork rilette

To start: a light beer and some delectable amuse bouches.

Purple congo potato chips

These purple congo potato chips were incredibly thin, light and crispy. I loved the purple colour too!

Crumbed pork rilette

The crumbed pork rilette was perfect drinking food - crunchy and hot, with lots of tender pork pieces encased in the crisp crumbing. 

Bread board

Freshly baked bread was brought around - white, wholemeal, cheese brioche - and it kept being replenished throughout the evening. Hooray. I know they say not to fill up on bread, but trust me, it is worth it to fill up on this bread!

Soft butter with black salt

First Course
Squid, braised raddichio, lovage, dandelion
Dainton Family 'The Good Son' Golden Ale Kialla, VIC

The first course proper was a tender braised squid, with lovage, dandelion and the bitterness of braised radicchio. The beer match, Dainton Family's 'The Good Son' Golden Ale, was quite a mild and clean-tasting pale ale which matched the delicate flavours of the squid well.

For Sandra, our resident non-seafood eater, the squid was replaced with vegetables.

Second Course
John Dory, sheep's whey, bottarga, dill
Red Duck 'Buck' Naked Saison, Ballarat, VIC

The second course comprised a perfectly cooked piece of John Dory on top of sea vegetables, topped with a crisp piece of (I believe) kale, and finely shaved bottarga. The Red Duck 'Buck' Naked Saison was quite light and fresh - I found it to be quite an easy-drinking beer.

The non-seafood version of this dish was made with pumpkin. It was really pretty but Sandra found it a little bland - I think it is hard to replicate the rounded saltiness of bottarga without using seafood.

Third Course
Western Plains pig tail, snail, parsley
Kaiju 'Hopped Out' Red Ale, Prahran, VIC

The pork was my favourite out of all the savoury courses. The pig tail was very tender, with a thin layer of fat on the top, and a sweet caramelised topping, almost like a crème brûlée. I also really liked the vibrantly green parsley sauce. This dish was matched with a very local beer (just made down the street, in Prahran!), the Kaiju 'Hopped Out' Red Ale. This was a bit heavier than the previous beers, with a slightly biscuitty malt taste.

Fourth Course
Duck, sour plum, black barley
Bridge Road Brewery & 8 Wired 'Nieuw Bruin' Wild Fermented Brown Ale, Beechworth, VIC

The duck dish was also very impressive - a very rare slice of duck breast was served on top of black barley, and the whole dish was lightened with the addition of sour plums. The matching beer, the Nieuw Bruin, was the most unusual one of the evening - to make it, a base beer of a rich malty ale was fermented in Cognac barrels, and then inoculated with Chardonnay yeast. The beer was very complex, with darkness, sour notes, a bit of malt and a lot of other flavours. I really liked it.

And then diners were surprised with a bonus cheese course! 

Cheese Course
Saint Miguel cheese, boudin noir, potato crisps
Red Duck 'Porter' Dark Ale, Ballarat, VIC

The cheese was served slightly warm, and was topped with boudin noir and crisp potato chips. It was a novel way of presenting cheese, and so delicious! This was matched with a dark beer, the Red Duck 'Porter'. It was dark, malty and quite rich, with a hint of a toffee flavour to it.

Fifth Course
Chocolate, caramelised apple and elderberry, raisin
La Sirène 'Praline' Belgian Chocolate Ale, Alphington, VIC

Chocolate, caramel, elderberry, raisins

The dessert was so fun! Our waiter described it as being like all the best desserts combined into one. There was a chocolate parfait base, a quenelle of caramel ice cream, chunks of nougat, caramelised apple, elderberries, raisins and a cap of fluffy meringue. This was matched with a chocolate ale. On reading the menu, I thought the idea of a chocolate ale might just be a novelty, but it was actually really nice - brewed with vanilla pods and cacao nibs, it had a smooth and rich taste.

And I thought we were all done... but then each table was presented with a pretty plate of petits fours.

Petits Fours
Lemon jubes, caramelised almond chocolates, madeleines

Petits fours

There were fresh madeleines with lemon curd, chewy lemon jubcs, and - my favourite - caramelised almond chocolates, dusted in cocoa. I was super full but couldn't help and go back for those almonds. So compulsively delicious!

We were incredibly impressed by the Breaking the Rules dinner at Woodland House. This particular event was priced at $135 a head inclusive of all beers and food, which I thought was great value, especially considering the quality, quantity, and variety of food and beers. I also love how they included lots of little extras for the diners, like the amuse bouches, the incredible bread, the cheese and the petits fours. Based on this experience I would definitely want to head back for another meal on my own coin, whether it be a once-off special event for a festival, or their standard, rule-abiding, lunch or dinner offering.

Sarah and Sandra dined as guests of Woodland House.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Short Round, Thornbury

Sticky dark gingerbread, vanilla mascarpone, treacle toffee sauce, quince paste, poached pear and candied pistachio - $14

Short Round! Y'all know that I rarely venture to the northern suburbs (east side for life, biatches!), but when Sandra booked herself in for a Gravity Floating session in Northcote, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to round up northsiders and general hip-young-things Jenni and Jimbo for brunch!

Short Round
731 High Street
Thornbury, VIC 3071
Ph: (03) 9484-3904

So, the idea was for locals Jenni and Jimbo (there must be a better portmanteau - suggestions in the comments please) to recommend a place, but in a classic Sarah move, I spent the week before excitedly googling and came up with a list of potential places near the Gravity Floating centre before they had a chance to make any recommendations. Oops. None of us had been to Short Round before, but it looked awesome, and luckily everyone was keen.

Short Round

There weren't any queues when we rocked up at one o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, and our group of four got a table straight away. I liked the vibe of the cafe - wooden flooring, lots of space, lots of natural light. First order of business: coffee.

OJ - $6.00; 2 x Magic - $3.80 each; Soy long macchiato $3.80 + 50c

The magics were great - rich and strong but not too bitter. Winner!

Roasted mushrooms, poached eggs, kale, grilled white polenta, brioche pecorino crumbs and porcini salt - $17

Vegetarian Jenni ordered the roasted mushrooms, and it was a very fancy, restaurant-style dish. She wasn't a fan of the kale (because kale, amirite), but overall it was very impressive. I thought that the white polenta, brioche pecorino crumbs and porcini salt made this dish very unique and interesting.

Moules Frites - mussels, garlic, white wine, cream and fresh herbs with fries - $19

I always think it's not worth ordering mussels at restaurants because they're so easy to make at home (and see my previous mussels post for a recipe), but one thing I can't make at home is fries. And these were crispy and salty and awesome. Come to think of it, moules frites is an unusual dish to have on a brunch menu, but I'm glad that Jimbo ordered it, (and even gladder that he let me try some), because it was great.

Brioche sliders with bacon and cheese scramble - $9.50

Sandra's brioche sliders looked a little messy but were very tasty. Sandwiched inside the little brioche buns were bacon and cheesy scrambled eggs - can't go wrong.

House made waffles, honeycomb mascarpone, dark chocolate ganache and salted popcorn - $14

Unsurprisingly, I went for one of the most decadent thing on the menu - house made waffles with honeycomb mascarpone, dark chocolate ganache and salted popcorn. The waffle was thin and crispy and I loved slathering the rich and sweet honeycomb mascarpone all over the waffle. Delish.

Side of fries - $5

Sandra and I also ordered a side of fries to share. Because this is what happens when we eat out and there is no stopping us! Rar! All of the fries!

You may have noticed another dish at the top of this post - the sticky dark gingerbread. I hadn't been able to decide between the waffles and gingerbread for brunch, but everyone was happy to order the gingerbread as a shared dessert, so I got to try both - woohoo! (So yes, that's right, I had two courses of dessert for brunch, with some French fries on the side. Us East-side girls don't play!)

Ugggggh that treacle toffee sauce

The gingerbread dessert was so good! It was pretty intense, so I think it might have been a bit much for just one person, but it was great for sharing. The gingerbread was incredibly moist (heh), with lots of rich spice to it. It was lightened up by the freshness of poached pear and quince (the menu said "paste", but I think it was poached), and the spices were balanced out by the rich and (relatively) bland vanilla mascarpone. There were chunks of pistachio brittle on the plate as well to add some texture contrast - these were perfectly crunchy, not too hard. And then there was the dark treacle toffee sauce. So rich, dark and sweet. Uggggh so good.

So that was Short Round! I'm glad it turned out to be a good choice - nice coffee, pleasant atmosphere, decent prices and delicious food. Hooray!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cinco de Mayo night at Touché Hombre

Touché Hombre

A little earlier this year (the fifth of May, to be precise), I was invited along to Touché Hombre to try out their new menu. Mexican food and tequila cocktails? Just try and stop me! (And who else would I bring but my Mexico-phile cousine, Catherine?)

Touché Hombre
233 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9663-0811

I visited Touché Hombre a couple of years ago for my friend Adri's birthday and really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to visiting again. You may remember that at the time I was deeply suspicious of both "modern Mexican" (I'm less fussed about that now) and no-bookings policies (still not a fan), but even so was impressed with Touché Hombre.

Since my last visit, I see that they've kept the fun and tasty modern take on Mexican food (yay), but gotten rid of the no-bookings policy (double yay).

Touché Hombre

Margarita del Tommy - Espolon blanco, Pierre Ferrand dry curacao, citrus, agave nectar - $16

We started with a Margarita del Tommy, a light and citrussy easy-drinking cocktail. Needless to say, it paired perfectly with the food.

Touché Fried Chicken with habanero cream and lime - $10

The Touché fried chicken was really great - moist chicken in a crisp and well-seasoned batter, with spicy habanero cream and sprightly lime on the side to keep it nice and bright. 

Spicy Lamb Ribs - merquen, coriander, honey - $13

I am so glad the lamb ribs remained, because they were one of my favourite dishes from last time. (I see they've been renamed from "fatty" lamb ribs to "spicy", but they were still delightfully fatty.) The meat was super tender and I loved the earthy mix of spices and the sweetness of the honey.

Tostaditos - chicken tinga, blue crab, pumpkin, tuna

Tostaditos aren't the type of thing I'd normally order myself, as I think that the heartier dishes tend to provide better value for money (and see above lamb ribs and fried chicken for two examples!), but still, I really enjoyed these crisp little tortillas piled with toppings. Each topping had a really distinct flavour and a nice texture - our favourites were the raw tuna with black sesame, soy, and candied peanuts, and the chicken tinga with spicy chipotle mayo.

Kafir Lime & Chilli Margarita - Tapatio Reposado infused w/ kafir lime, chilli, ginger, citrus - $16

Time for another drink! This kaffir lime and chilli margarita really packed a spicy kick! It was both refreshing and warming, at the same time.

Front: Chimichurri Chicken Taco - egmont cheese, toasted pepitas, coriander aioli - $6.00
Back: Mejilla Taco - slow-cooked pork cheek, habanero cream, BBQ corn salsa - $6.50

Tacos! Both the chimmichurri chicken taco and the mejilla (slow-cooked pork cheek) taco were tasty, but I really, really loved the mejilla taco, with its crispy pork, spicy habanero cream and smoky BBQ corn salsa. Give me a plate of those for dinner and I'd be a happy girl!

Fish tacos with green salsa and cabbage

Now, my cousin Catherine has a whole lotta dietary requirements (it's easier to ask her what she can eat than what she can't eat), but for the evening was happy to pick around what she could eat and have little bites of the things on her "no" list, just to taste. However so that she could have something proper to eat, the kitchen kindly put together a nice fish taco for her, with cabbage and salsa verde on the side). Speaking of dietary requirements, vegetarian, dairy free and gluten free options are clearly marked on the menu, and the venue manager, Rich, told us that they can deal with most dietary requirements with some advance notice.

Blood Orange Madagascar - Jose Cuervo tradicional, Pierre Ferrand dry curacao, blood orange juice - $16

Wait, another tequila cocktail? Well, if you insist!

Chocolate Ice-Cream Sanga with chilli and peanut butter parfait - $12

We finished by sharing a chocolate ice-cream sandwich, filled with peanut butter parfait. The chilli taste wasn't particularly prominent, and the chocolate biscuits were a little too hard to cut through, so Catherine and I split this in half lengthwise to share. Ingenuity! The parfait was smooth, with a nice peanut butter flavour, but I would have preferred crisper biscuits.

We had a fun night at Touché Hombre - it's a great spot for a casual meal with good food and nice cocktails - and I'm hoping to go back again soon. Fried chicken and margaritas, who's in?

Sarah and Catherine dined as guests of Touché Hombre.