Every so often I try and have a meal out and my body just won’t let me. It happened at Moxhe, and it happened again at Gimlet. This particular episode of bad food bolus obstruction sensation was precipitated by my downing of a large volume of psyllium husk and probably not enough water just prior to the meal. My gastroenterologist friend CJP thinks it might be eosinophilic oesophagitis, but my actual gastroenterologist hasn’t had a chance to weigh in yet.
Let me therefore treat you to a description of our meal at Gimlet at Cavendish House, mostly through the eyes of someone watching my girlfriend eat.
We started with some raw albacore tuna with compressed cucumber, sorrel, and vinaigrette ($36). The menu lists a similar dish with bonito instead of albacore, and I wonder if this was an on-the-day substitution to suit whatever was available at the fish market. In general the compression of fruits and vegetables is foreign to me, though I did not believe this particular version of cucumber to have been compressed as completely as it could have been by, for example, the hydraulic press channel. Overall I didn’t have the best impression of this dish, I think because as humans my partner and I prefer bluefin and yellowfin tuna greatly over albacore, which has a bit more of a floury texture than we would like. Rather than being the star of the show, the albacore tuna here was more of a vessel for the good flavours of the vinaigrette.
My enjoyment of the Half Southern Rock Lobster, wood-roasted in saffron rice with bisque sauce ($150) was greatly diminished by my weakened physical state. My impression of this, from what little I had, was that it was absolutely quite delicious, surprisingly big (though it was a solid $150), with beautiful rice that had a bit of crispiness around the edges, a little similar to claypot rice but I’m sure more similar to other rices from other cultures that I’ve not yet experienced. The capsicum dip was not really necessary with such a wonderful intrinsic flavour of the seafood and rice. My partner absolutely demolished this, almost exclusively on her own.
I did not have a single bite of these kestrel potatoes with buttermilk and caper dressing ($16), but my potatolord partner did not like them, so that I think is quite telling.
We enjoyed this gelato ($17), with rhubarb, jasmine rice and candied ginger. The flavours were interesting, and in a different lifetime could’ve been served in a chicken-rice themed degustation as a palate cleanser.
OVERALL THOUGHTS: We had not a cheap meal at Gimlet at Cavendish House, with the only true standout dish being the wood-roasted lobster. That said, that expensive-ass lobster was actually extremely delicious, and I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to someone with the money to burn. I would suggest that you call ahead to ensure there is lobster availability, and also avoid the other things we ordered so that you may happen on some other smaller dishes that are better than what we had.
We ate at Poly to welcome my friend and colleague HZM into the warm embraces of the NSW public service.
The fried potato with salted egg yolk ($16), layered internally and topped with some chives was a bit of a cube-like hash brown. I think it’s generally well liked, and certainly my potatohead of a fiancé liked it, but it didn’t really do much for me. It was just salty and oily like every other fried potato dish out there.
This comté tart ($20) was small and expensive but kind of amazing. The pastry was good, but the filling was superb, rich and creamy flowing cheesy umami, though I think it was a bit less warmed-up than the online photos from secondary sources show it as.
The cannibal sandwich ($18) with mostly raw beef (presumably) and horseradish cream between buttery fried bread was excellent. I don’t know if this photo shows a quarter or half of the full serving, but either way the quantity you get is low, but the taste is high and you shouldn’t look past it if you’re an animal eater.
The grillda ($12), was very good. I didn’t love the gilda at Continental Deli, but this skewer of anchovy, tuna, olive, and pickled chilli was a completely different story. So umami, and yet so fruity. Incredible.
I don’t know what this was, but do not really care enough to try and find out. Some kind of plant. Didn’t wow me.
This Black Angussirloin steak with bone marrow and pepper sauce ($68) was not bad, but not astounding. I don’t really like to order steak at restaurants as I feel like I can cook steak myself without much drama and to a fairly good degree, and so I am always quite doubtful of the cost-quality balance. I know that there are many out there who will disagree, but the combination of small butchers offering dry aged beef and easily accessible home-based sous vide techniques has really changed the game as far as steak is concerned over the past decade. Sure, I might not be able (or rather willing) to make a pepper sauce to smother my steak in, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the optimal thing to smother a steak in anyway. Essentially all this is to say is that it was fine.
COMMENTS With a lot of very good but expensive things and a constantly changing menu, I think I will be back, in time.
It was tricky finding a table anywhere at no notice on our first night in Melbourne, and Lover on Chapel St (the same street where I accidentally bit my partner’s finger at a hot dog restaurant, the now closed Massive Wieners, in 2017) was essentially one of our only options.
I had this meal in a par-cooked state having been awake the previous 36 hours working an intensive care night shift, travelling interstate and sleep-watching through an Aaron Chen comedy gig (my apologies to Mr Chen who, if his set is to believed, lives in the same inner-South-West suburb as me), so I can’t make any real promises about the reproducibility of my findings, and your mileage may vary depending on your level of consciousness.
These fried sweet corn ($10) riblets were great and well priced. The corn was buttery, moist, and well flavoured with lime and chilli, with the chipotle mayo was a good dip pairing. I have only good thoughts about this.
The albacore tuna skewers ($12) were less fantastic, though I think that may be due to the raw fish used rather than any fault of the restaurant itself. I found the albacore tuna to have an unfortunately starchy quality, which perhaps betrays my preference for bluefin in all uses of the fish. The sauce was however sweet and good.
These beef rump skewers ($14) were quite good. The meat was both juicy and tender with minimal charring on the outside, and the apple salad was crisp, fresh, and delicious. The red sauce that this was served alongside was very spicy and fruity, and while it was nice I would’ve been equally happy without it (this opinion may have been different if I had had more than one skewer to myself).
This is the beef crudo ($24) with cured egg yolk and masa. The beef of this beef was cut into huge chunks, which made it a bit weird as I felt like I had to work hard and chew to be rewarded with the flavour inside (which was good). The masa corn chips were very good, extremely thick and well flavoured. They had top tier structural integrity, with crispiness that lasted throughout the duration of the dish, and even though they were designed as a vessel for the meat, they clearly transcended this simple task.
This barramundi ($38) that’s since left the menu was our only main and final course of the night. This was a relatively large piece of barramundi, pan-seared in the traditional sense with a too-hard crispy skin that I thought detracted from the experience. That said, I very much enjoyed the flavour of the cream that the fish was served upon, as well as that of the fried streaks of allium with their strong umami taste and the combination of these flavours with the fish’s flesh. The leek I felt was a bit overplayed, used as a vegetable rather than a condiment, and I feel that all but the world’s greatest leek fans would feel too leaked out by the end of this dish.
This is either the Call Me Maybe ($24) or Melony ($22). I don’t know. I don’t really drink any more.
OVERALL THOUGHTS Pretty good, honestly. Some things were better than others, and by the time this is published all of the things I didn’t like have fallen off their menu and replaced by unknowns, while the things that I liked have remained. Perhaps the next iteration will be even better!
Fermented things have recently and unfortunately become my enemy, and so naturally one of my last dines of the year was had at one of Newtown’s newest wine bars with a focus on cultured and fermented foods.
The Beer Bread ($5 for 3 pieces) was your classic house-made sourdough with salted cultured butter. It wasn’t mindblowing, but it did actually have a bit of a beery flavour to it, which made it many times more interesting than yet another bread. And a soft, salted butter and bread is always a winning combination.
The delightfully small and expensive fish on toast ($10 each) was an interesting and probably South East Asian inspired mouthful of mango and fish. The toast base was extremely buttery, with a mouthfeel that reflected its many unseen layers. The scallop sashimi, as well as possibly some other white fish, was soft and sweet, and complimented by the soft ripe mango. The jalapeno advertised was not easily found. This was a really great snack, but I wish it were a bit larger or a bit less expensive.
The beef tartare ($20) was a bit different to the normal formed slab of raw meat, instead in this mixed in with puffed rice and seasonings. Herbs were used to great effect in this dish, imparting a unique flavour. It was however a little bit physically difficult to eat, and a bit of cracker would’ve gone a long way.
Recently burned by a $12 fermented tomato, I was a bit hesitant and wary about the tomato dish, ($22). It turned out however that I was foolish in my concern, as one taste of this tomato dish was able to justify their price. The tomato in this dish was fresh but umami, and delightfully sour but also tempered by the creamy soy milk yoghurt on top. It was an unexpected but wonderful fresh type dish, even suitable for vegan-types.
The chicken liver pate ($16) was really good. I particularly enjoyed the thick cut and lightly salted potato crisps, which had such an amazing crunch that is probably better than any other potato crisp I’ve ever had. They had the perfect size and structural integrity to scoop up (probably too many) gobs of rich, silky smooth chicken liver pate and deliver them to my mouth. The fish sauce caramel base was inventive and delicious, and while my girlfriend didn’t like this dish she was wrong. I only wish that these same chips could’ve been available to scoop up the beef tartare.
The blood pancake ($26) with pork jowl, fried egg, and maple syrup was much sweeter than I thought it would be. Looking at the photo and ingredients list you would likely imagine a savoury dish, but the truth of the matter was that even if the pancake had been savoury in and of itself, the swimming pool of maple syrup would’ve taken care of that. Despite the pork jowl and blood, the pancake was ultimately only a little bit savory, the majority of the flavour coming from the maple syrup which soaked through the entire cake. While I did enjoy the interesting texture, I think ultimately this leaned too much into the sickly sweet side of the flavour scale.
The koji roasted chicken ($42) was good but not a revelation. Juicy, succulent and tender, the chicken was well cooked, with a koji-miso flavour. I didn’t realise that there was congee in the dish, which I am only just seeing now looking at the photo. That might have added something to the experience, but really (and my girlfriend will attest to this) I can cook something similar and not spend $42 doing it.
This semifreddo ($16) with black sesame and white chocolate was very good. Specific details escape me but even the bed of crumbs was delicious.
The panna cotta ($14) with fig leaf and blueberry was visually interesting but orally mediocre. A good choice if you like juicy stewed berries, but a boring choice if you can choose the semifreddo instead.
COMMENTS Overall I quite enjoyed our meal at Odd Culture. Many of the dishes were very good, and even the least good dishes were at least OK. I’d probably not go again until their menu changes, but could recommend it to a colleague or friend. The chairs were sadly not comfortable.
New South Wales comes out of its lockdown and our first fine dine of the season is at Babyface Kitchen, one of only three or four restaurants in the Illawara region to boast a tasting menu.
We start off with the classic sourdough bread and cultured butter. This was exactly as advertised, with nary a hint of innovation.
The snacks course was next.
My favourite of this was the honey bug in bug sauce, grilled over charcoal. The meat of the bug was very similar to other bugs, but what stood out was the deeply umami sauce that surrounded it. It was so good that I actually chewed and ate much of the shell just so that I could taste the sauce that coated it. My girlfriend made fun of me for this, before succumbing and having her own nibble. It’s all just chitin and calcium carbonate after all, and probably not even 1.2g BD of the stuff.
The deboned chicken wing on wasabi leaf didn’t quite do it for us, which was surprising as chicken is my most commonly eaten source of animal protein. I think that outside of extreme desert dryness chicken is something that’s easy to do reasonably well, but I also think that the strength of the mighty chicken wing is not only in its quality but also in its quantity, and the fact that you can just eat like ten or fifteen of them in one sitting. While I understand the whole concept of serving small foods in large plates, having half, maybe one chicken wing fried in a way that did not excite and sitting pretty on a leaf just doesn’t do it for me.
The beef tartare tart was not only a mild play on words, but also the first time I’ve had raw meat in a long time. I trust a restaurant’s ability to not give me EHEC much more than I trust my own. My only complaint here is that it came and went too quickly.
The tea light I accidentally knocked and spilled into the pool of water surrounding it. Tell me you’re poor without telling me you’re poor.
Our snack course was followed by an oddly-timed palate cleanser of freshpineapple topped with passionfruit lemon myrtle sorbet and zest of blood orange. My partner enjoyed this fresh tart treat (mostly enjoying being able to eat pineapple without the drama of cutting it open and preparing it), but personally I didn’t feel like my palate was so dirty after a piece of bread and three snacks that it needed cleansing.
Our second bread of the night was made of 50%potato flour and lathered in marron butter. I was quite happy with this bread, and found that it had an unsurprising blini like quality. I was however an idiot and ate most of the bread by itself, rather than with the rest of this course.
The aforementioned bread was served with Western Australian Marrow in XO Sauce. I have some feelings about this dish, but the general vibe is that I felt much less spoken down to than when I went to Quay, which was the last time I had marron at a restaurant. Positive elements of the Babyface dining experience included the larger size of the marron, the interesting and fresh tasting accompaniment of white asparagus, Newcastle greens (a microgreen growery), and ice plant (wow! it looks like it’s covered in ice! You can feel the ice buds with your tongue!), and the fact that no one tried to explain to me that yes, we are indeed in Australia. The sauce was enjoyable and had good umami flavour, however in no way would I describe it as an “XO” sauce, a label which generally hints at a bit of spice and a whiff of scallop. I also found myself wanting for a spoon, a utensil that was provided in plenty at the bread and snack courses but not at the course that actually had a bit of soup. My fault for not saving my bread to mop it up.
These skewers of Port Lincoln squid and pork jowl were seriously good. The Port Lincoln squid offered a creamy texture with just enough crunch, whilst the pork jowl absolutely melted in the mouth. The smokiness of ironbark and the natural umami of the squid was amplified by the delicious squid ink sauce underneath, and possibly a hint of black sesame too. This was really top tier, and even my seafood-averse girlfriend eventually grew to enjoy it, even if she needed a bit of coaxing to actually put it in her mouth.
The squid and pork skewers were accompanied by this buckwheat noodle, sauced with black garlic and covered in pecorino. I must admit that while much care seems to have been taken to prepare them, these did not really enthuse me. I thought that while they probably had enough random complexity of flavour, they didn’t actually have enough general flavour to ward off the tastelessness of the soba. I ended up mixing the leftover squid ink sauce from the skewers into my noodles.
Our main course was based around a piece of 7-day aged lamb rump from some kind of station, presumably in the Australian Outback. It was served medium rare in a pool of its own juices – tender, but not really with any other flavour. The lamb rump was accompanied by the most beautifully caramelised piece of fermented pumpkin, however, which really stole the show.
The main course also featured some potato ?accordions in a strange white sauce that my partner enjoyed far more than me. She loves potato.
The salad, composed of green asparagus, Newcastle greens, and flowers in a bread sauce, was a nice and fresh reprieve from the lamb jus. I could eat this every day.
Time for dessert now, and this cracked puff filled with pistachio cream was excellent. They The exterior had a slight pineapple bun quality, but was more structure and much better than the pastry of every other cream puff I’ve ever had. The pistachio cream was nice and not too sweet. They even poked a candle into one of them to mark the occasion. The girls on the table next to us shared one cream puff and sent the other back. They were full, or should I say fools.
I didn’t care much for the second dessert, a malt ice cream on top of chocolate mousse and mulberry. I thought that while the malt ice cream was good, the white slabs were just a bit too sweet.
So this is actually revolutionary. Babyface Kitchen gives you a little take-away dessert snack to have at home following your meal, or even the following day as a little extension to your culinary adventure.
COMMENTS I had a great time getting back into some tasting menu dining for the first time in over five months. Not every dish was perfect, but I very much appreciated the variety of tastes and experiences on offer. $110 per person was a reasonable price to pay for this meal in regional NSW, but I do hope I will get the chance to return for their cheaper and ever changing a la carte offerings in the future. I also enjoyed the very bare minimum of conversation we had with our waiters and waitresses, who were frequently drawn into deep conversation by the middle aged woman on my left. Her poor husband.