Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hellenic Republic- East Brunswick

434 Lygon Street, East Brunswick

Feels a little cheesy reviewing a restaurant that has had such overwhelming media attention, but here goes.

As is tradition, I rocked up at Hellenic Republic on Thursday night without a booking. Now I know this is a little risky, but, I attempted to make a booking several weeks ago, and was assured I would get a call back...the phone never rang. I'm not exactly one to sit around twiddling my thumbs, so I took my chances. On this occasion, the risk payed off and we were seated in the lovely court yard.

Next to us was a party of 6, who seemed to have opted for a set menu. While the food looked lovely, there appeared to be a lot left over. Unnecessary waste is a bit of a pet hate of mine, so at $49.50 per head, not including drinks we opted not to go with this option.

At this point, I really must point out just how ridiculously friendly/helpful/professional the wait staff are. At some places, showing up with no booking can almost guarantee you pissy service and a bad table. This is simply not the case at Hellenic Republic.

It was not difficult to decide what we would eat. We had come for the Lamb. I must disclose that I have eaten here before. Just once! And I have been dreaming/raving about this Lamb spit ever since.

You really can't just jump straight into the lamb, you would only be cheating yourself. There are so many other lovely things which can accompany the center piece of the meal.

We began with the Kefalograviera Saganaki with Peppered Figs and the Melitzanoslata (Eggplant Dip with red onion) and Pita. Really, these dishes are not accompaniments, they are little superstars in their own right. The Saganaki is incredible. In most cases, I'm not much of a fan, I find the flavour overpowering and unenjoyable. But at Hellenic, the cheese still has a powerful flavour but balance out by the mellow taste of the fig.

Everything was so fresh. The dips were beautiful and didn't have that came from a tub taste. The pita was soft and maybe even wholemeal?

Then came to lamb, with tzatiki and a village salad. It was everything I remembered and more. Juicy, tender, magic.

While the menu is centred around the seafoods and meats, there are plenty of vegetarian options.

On the whole, everything about the meal was enjoyable. While we may not have gotten as much variety and volume in food as those who go for the set menu, we had more than enough to eat. I literally rolled out of the place.

My only gripe, a little more selection on the wines would be nice. I felt a little limited for choice. What can I say, I like a bottle.

Every aspect of this Calmobaris venture is supurb. From the decor, to the service , to the website. It is easy to see that nothing happens here by chance. I'm not saying that it is impossible to have a less than fab time here, but on this occasion, it was exactly what I was looking for and I offer 18/20.

At $90 for two, including wine, I would say that value for money is pretty dam good.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Los Amates Mexican Kitchen- Fitzroy

34 Johnston St
Fitzroy VIC 3065

Los Amates Mexican Kitchen claims to be the best Mexican food in Australia. No Tex Mex crap to be found here. I suppose they thought they should get that off their chests from the get go. OK, I'm up for it. Lets just jump in head first.

This partucular Thusrday evening began with a rather grumpy phone call, "what do you mean your not coming home for dinner? Your out drinking? But I'm hungry!" the phone call was followed by a text "our boys are out drinking, we should go out for dinner!" a quick reply read "rad, meet me at work and we will go from there". Thank god, I will be eating soon, my blood sugar is dropping rapidly.

Los Amates was the chosen venu, and with no booking, we were lucky enough to be seated straight away. I really should learn to make bookings more often. Apparently there are many many organised people out there, making bookings for dinners two and even three weeks in advance. Sheesh, I need to get with the program.

Los Amates isn't exactly the prettiest restaurant, the tables and chairs are old and a little crappy, but the walls are covered in bright vibrant murals. The mood is quite festive and comfortable.

I'm not exactly fluent in Spanish and the wait staff were friendly enough to walk us through the menu. In addition to being unorganised, I am also indecisive. In my current state of starvation, there was no time to waste so the vegetarian combination platter ($30) was chosen and corona with fresh lime ($8) to wash it down.

Just as everything was settled, the boys phone wanting to join us. A bigger table is obtained with little fuss, and a meat eater platter is ordered. The food arrives as the boys do, for a chaotic evening, everything is going swimmingly.

The combination paltter was rather impressive. It had five selections;Sope, Quesadilla, Molletes, Tlacoyos and Tacos.Each item was different from the other. The platter offered bold flavours of lime, coriander and chili with contrasting crispy iceberg lettuce, beans, cheeses and tortillas. By the time I got to the second mouth full I was really excited. To he honest, for a $30 platter, there could have had more of each selection. A hungry man could easily finish this to himself.

Left not quite satisfied, the boys had another serve of tacos and the girls would try some dessert. We selected a Flan de la casa ($7.50).

The flan was like a very moist corn bread with a rich caramel sauce. It was unlike anything I have ever had before, and throughly enjoyable. There was definatly enough to share.

This is actually the second time I have dined at the Mexican Kitchen and I would definatly return. While I enjoyed the platter, I would not have it again. The second plate of tacos was a generous size, and I would go this option next time around. Between four people including drinks, desserts and extras the total was $130. Not to bad.

On this occasion I would offer 14/20.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Mess Hall- Melbourne

51 Bourke Street Melbourne

The top end of Bourke Street is one of my favorite places in the city. While it doesn't get the same kind of hype that the Paris end of Collins might, it encapsulates many of this things I love about this city. There is the stunning view of Parliament House, the beautiful classical sounds drifting out of Thomas Music, Florentino, Society, The Paperback Book Shop, Pelligrini and the iconic Plane Trees. Among these gems, you will also find The Mess Hall.

On a particularly lovely day in early Spring, I wondered down for a late lunch. At 2pm, there were still a few diners and almost everything on the menu was still available. On offer are mostly Italian inspired dishes, offering homemade pasta's, a range of insalatas, pizza and a separate breakfast menu. When I say Italian, I don't mean the kind that you typically find on Lygon Street. This is fresh, interesting and many of the dishes are seasonal. I chose a roasted veggie panino with feta.

I really love the Mess Hall. If I am meeting up with someone in the city its one of the places that I will always suggest. Even if you are lunching alone, it is a nice place to seek some solitude to 40 minutes. The service is friendly, the food is quick and reasonably priced and the coffee is wonderful. HOWEVER, on this particular visit, I was subjected to another helping of Kate Bush with my meal. What is it with Kate bush popping up all of a sudden? Maybe its just me, but I would have thought her musical stylings would put one off their meal, not contribute to the ambiance. Maybe I'm not hipster enough. Maybe it doesn't really matter.

Besides the Kate Bush offence, The Mess Hall ticks all of my lunch time boxes and I offer 17/20.

Gelobar obsession

I have been living in East Brunswick for almost 3 years now, and I have been vaguely aware that there was a Gelati Bar on Lygon Street called Gelobar. Nicole Jones of Bad Crumbs blog fame has raved about the place, but until recently I had never been. I have to be honest here, I love gelati. I could eat it twice a day, every day of the year. Gelati is not ice-cream. Its a far superior product, that is ALWAYS homemade, and should come from a small specialty store.

Five days ago, I went to Gelobar. In 5 days I have been there 3 times.

Back in the day, I would have gelati every Sunday from Il Dolce Freddo after working at Toto's on Lygon Street, Carlton.

My top five flavours are;
  1. Ferrero Rochet
  2. Panna Cotta
  3. Tiramisu
  4. Vanillabean
  5. Baileys Irish Cream
In recent times I have managed to curb my gelati obsession, limiting my intake to special occasions and really hot weather, or when I really really want some. NOT 3 times in one week.

The outlook is grim. I either have to move OR exercise some self control and step away from the gelait bar. Considering how prevalent gelati stores are in Melbourne, particularly in East Brunswick/Fitzroy/North Fitzroy/Carlton, I think the latter is more sensible and practical.

However, I thank my friends who have joined me on this indulgent ride, with a special shout out to my sister and Jones. Its always nicer to fall off the band wagon with a friend by your side, stuffing their face on the other side of the table.

I could really go a white chocolate and rapsberry waffle cone right now.

St Judes Wine Cellar- Fitzroy

389-391 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Like any good Melbournian, I am an avid reader of the Age's Epicure, and will sometimes even visit the lovely looking restaurants that grace the hallowed pages, particularly if they are on my side of the river.

I was recently in dire need of treating my significant other to a fancy meal. Based on our mutual love of vino and the Epicure's recommendation, I decided to give St Jude's Wine Cellar a test drive.

St Jude's has been around since March 2008, and isn't really the new kid on the block anymore. There are many reviews out there, some good and some not so good. What really caught my attention was the concept of mixed business, bar/cellar/restaurant and the industrial looking warehouse fit out had also caught my eye when walking past some time ago. I managed to score a 7.30 reservation on a saturday night. It was on.

Despite being seated a little close to the door, my first impression of the space was wow. Firstly, its huge. The dim lighting contrasts magnificently with the cool polished concreate floors, and caged wine racks which house the cellar componant of the venue. I was errily reminded of the Japanese restaurant Industria, which Patrick Bateman visits with his girlfriend and her hipster friends in American Psycho.

I found the service to be friendly and professional. We were guided through the wine list, and took the recommendation of the St Jude's Pinot Noir. Regarding wine, you can either chose from the menu, or brouse the cellar and add $15 corckage. Brousing the cellar was quite fun and found the Somilier to be very knowledgeable and helpful. I didn't feel like I was being sold something that was out of my price range or not sure about.

The menu offers five enrte's, four mains and a range of sides, speicals and deserts. There was also a good balance of vegetain options. I opted for the Butternut pumpkin raviolo with sage butter, almonds and mustard fruit. My guest chose the duck breast with red wine jus. We also had a side of braised red cabbage and marmalaide.

Both meals were perfect winter selections. Hitting the right balance of richness and winter warmth. Considering that we had both picked reasonably safe main options, the braised cabbage offered a little quirky twist to the meal. Although, it was a ridiculously large serve. Very few people need to eat that much cabbage in one sitting.

With mains from $32+ and wines starting in the same region, there is the potential to rack up quite a tab. It might not be suitable for a casual mid-week meal, considering that we went out with seeking a little romance and something with a few frills on the side, St Jude's was a good choice. I felt well looked after, and was willing to pay the not so small cheque.

I would recommend St Judes and offer 16/20 on this occasion.