It was a typical Melbourne night, the air was crisp, the traffic on Johnston road flowing consistently and Brunswick street was brightly lit from the street lamps and myriad of restaurants that sat along it.
Mum and I managed to get a park, 30 seconds away from the junction and quickly jumped out and scuttled over to the soothing warmth of the Provincial Hotel where our coats quickly came off as the heat started sinking in.
The dubbed 'duck enabler', Anna (@eatnik), had worked a little magic and organized another wonderful #duckfest. The last one was at Pan Asian, which turned from a small gathering to a bit of a soiree of bloggers, and was a raging success. This time, we were at the Provincial Hotel and it was a more modest and intimate affair.
I had never stepped foot into the Provincial before, I don't mean to take the superficial hand, but on the corner of Johnston and Brunswick, I always just assumed it was your average joe pub/bar.
But oh my, once you walk in and walk through the bar, the most gorgeous dining room is laid out before you. Tablecloth, wine glasses, it was all a much finer affair than I had judged from the outside! Never judge a book by the cover they say...
I loved the room we were squeezed into, rustic brick, dimmed lights, candles on the tables, it was a little bit romantic even....or as romantic as it can get with 30 or so bloggers. It was definitely cosy and comfortable...kind of like a log cabin in the mountains...except made out of bricks.
I had brought my mum along to this duckfest since Brad wasn't free and she was quite curious to see how many ways Westerners could cook duck. Tonight we were to feast on Milawa ducks, a cross breed of 4 types of duck, produced by Russell Mickle and prepared by chef Paul Cooper.
I got a glass of the 'Squealing Pig' pinot noir, just because the name tickled my funny bones a little more than anything. You've got to decide somehow right?
Our first course was a canape of duck rilettes on brioche. It was a fun little teaser to start the night, sweet from the little slice of apple on top which added an extra texture into the rilette. Shame it's only two bites really...
I must have gasped when this was put in front of us, dressed like the prettiest little garden with a golden egg in the middle (it's like an Easter egg hunt!), was a plate of duck neck sausage served Lyonnais style with duck heart & liver and poached duck eggs. I quietly just wanted to take pictures of it all night, but it's just as well that I didn't, as it was absolutely gorgeous. The sausage was absolutely scrumptious, the meat so tender and I very happily scoffed down my mum's portion of offal cuts, since that's not so much her thing.
There were mixed views on the poached egg, but I personally quite liked it. It wasn't as runny as I was expecting it to be, but I quite liked the thicker, gooey consistency it had. It was perfect for smearing over the sausage and liver, adding even more richness to each mouthful. I could see why eaten on it's own people wouldn't have liked it though.
I'm not sure what I expected when I read there was cassoulet on the menu, but when I was told to 'be careful the bowl is hot' and shuffled over, I was not expecting something this ginormous! The duck cassoulet was finished in the wood oven with pork belly and toulouse sausage. Beneath the sea of duck legs sticking out of the deep bowl, was an abundance of other proteins, including beans. It just smelt divine as it was placed in front of us, teasing us as we waited for each of our turns to get some onto our plate...
Oh my goodness. The beans. Were. Amazing. They had absolutely just absorbed all the flavours from the other meats, perfect in texture...I just wanted a whole plate of them. The pork belly was lovely and tender and the duck meat was also falling off the bone. The only real complaint was that the meat was only 'warm' not really 'hot' which was surprising since we were warned about how hot the bowl was! It's also a tiny bit of a shame the beans sort of outshone the meat for me, but if we had really gotten this hot and fresh I think, it might have made the difference.
A funny transition from a heavy course to a lighter savoury course, but one that makes sense in hindsight (as the sweet rhubarb helps prepare the palette nicely for dessert), our last savoury dish was a pan roasted duck breast, caramelized endive and bacon tart fine, rhubarb puree and duck orange sauce.
Nothing to complain about. The duck itself was lovely and flavoursome, cooked well and I loved the sweet rhubarb puree that went with it. Such an interesting mix of flavours that I hadn't come across yet. The endive tart was also quite lovely, even though I am gluten intolerant, I could resist having a few bites of the flaky pastry.
Our dessert course, was somewhat regrettably and somewhat thankfully not duck (the concept tickles me, but it would just seem weird to stomach...), but instead a pumpkin seed frozen nougat, chocolate mousse, almonds and honeycomb.
Pumpkin seed nougat? I was absolutely tickled, I love desserts that are presented like this, for some reason it makes me think of the Roman Forum in Rome, it's got some columns standing, some that have fallen over, a bit of dirt here and there....etc. My mind goes to strange places.
I personally quite enjoyed this, it was something a bit different. I enjoyed the texture of the nougat, and the fact that it wasn't overly sweet. Probably because of the pumpkin seed. I'm not sure how well it went all together per say, as there are so many components, but I would eat this again quite happily as I really loved the smooth but slightly grainy texture of the nougat and of course, it's flavour. Although more chocolate next time please!
It was a lovely night, great food accompanied with great company! I had the pleasure of being seated next to Kenny and Bennie, the cheery father and son team of Consider the Sauce, Bruce and Jane, with the Tummy Rumbles team just across from my mum (although there was a steel pole in the way). I couldn't help but tell Melissa how reading their blog just two years ago is what got me sucked into the world of food blogging and had me start up this one.
So now that I know there is more to the Provincial Hotel than meets the eye, I for sure will be back to try their dinner menu and maybe not have duck next time.
Thanks again Anna! :)