Monday, January 30, 2012

Hotel Lincoln

The Hotel Lincoln sits in Carlton, away from the main thoroughfare of Lygon Street, in a quieter corner of the suburb.

Which is almost a shame, as the building is teeming with history, dating back to the 1850's, with the original name of "Lincoln's Inn" registered in 1854. It used to be a watering hole back in the day (well still is in a way I guess), and it was a cool place. Everyone was there. The labourers, the office workers, the politicians, the academics…you don't get many places like that these days do you? It would have been so interesting to find out what sort of conversations were happening those days.

These days though, the heritage listed Hotel Lincoln, after some work done to return it to it's art deco glory, is also filled with good food and absolutely stellar service.

So whilst there is no real relation between Hotel Lincoln and Mr. Abraham Lincoln, other than name, I do love that the current fit out is sort of themed around him. It's very elegant, well poised and quite respectful indeed.

The motifs could look tacky, but being black against the charcoal coloured walls, it was subtle and refined. As much as I love colour and flamboyancy, I also very much appreciate and adore minimalism.

We were at Hotel Lincoln for a family dinner, to celebrate my Aunt's birthday. She always complains that no restaurants are ever open for her birthday (7th of January), so I went out to prove her wrong. My mum has been to Hotel Lincoln before with friends with raving reviews. And to add the cherry on top, a few people who work there now, used to be my managers and work with me when I was still in my waitressing days and having not seen them for ages…well it was a delight to be in their presence…and I also know they are amazing waiters/waitresses. We were certainly not disappointed in the service department, and not just because we were friends, but because they were entirely knowledgeable and superbly professional.

With 2012, came a new menu and a head chef (Ross Beeley), exploring new flavours for the seasonal modern Australian menu.

We started with a lovely wine recommendation. The Pierre Sparr 2007 gewurztraminer. I remember having Pierre Sparr's pinot gris, so was curious to see what the gewurztraminer was like.

It was surprisingly sweet! In a good way though, if you had given it to me blindly, I would have thought it more to be a dessert wine, although it doesn't look like it. Syrupy, and sweet like honey on the top note, but as it makes it's way down it develops an earthy, more complex flavour. Absolutely delicious. Want all bottles. ALL BOTTLES. No you can't have any! Or well maybe. But you have to share with me. I'll bring you cupcakes.

The bread smelt amazing. As if the restaurant suddenly opened a giant oven door right next our table. It was soft and fluffy. Mmmm.

We shared a couple of entrees, as Asian's do best. It's always kind of funny when we're picking things to share, as you have my dad and I who tend to like the rich, 'naughty-for-the-waistline' things, mum who likes more elegant, lighter entrees, my brother who's just a wildcard and Brad who really is not too fussed. So you end up with a random mish mash of things.

The charcuterie plate was a delight. I loved it when a charcuterie plate is actually served on a lovely wooden board. Feels quite rustic.

We had chorizo, chicken liver parfait, wagyu bresaola (which, as a silly note, I have typed in my iPhone as 'Wafts bresaola'), duck rilette and jamon, with matching pickles or fruit.

The chicken liver parfait was by far the favourite, it was rich, it was creamy, it was liver, it was rich. If you like liver, this is so your thing. If not….try it anyway. Maybe you'll be converted. The duck rilette was not as popular, my dad deciding that it didn't have enough fat in it, therefore, did not have as much flavour. Which I do agree on, but overall, really enjoyed this plate and do recommend it.

I jumped on the baked figs with blue cheese and Jamon Serrano like….well like a fat kid on cake. Seriously, what combination is better? Whilst my mum balked at the blue cheese and attempted to nibble off the tops of the figs, I was dreaming of bathing in the melted blue cheese. So rich. Again. But who can resist the salty, sweet….stinky-blue-ness of it all?

The razor clams with chorizo, garlic and spanish sherry were slightly overcooked, as they were a bit firm, but the sauce was so yummy. Mopping up that stuff with bread! The chilli it did have in it wasn't too spicy, but more the deep heat a curry gives you which warms everything in your body, but doesn't bite and burn the mouth.

And finally, grilled field mushrooms, on brioche, topped with a poached duck egg. Is it just me or are duck eggs getting really trendy at the moment? This was an incredibly comforting dish, a bleedy yolk, a buttery brioche…I just turned to Brad and bemoaned that all this was missing was a fine shaving of truffle over the top…

After our bottle of Pierre Sparr, it was onto a 1997 Grange…and the mains.

The selection of mains is fairly small, but of great variety. You of course have your steak option, with different cuts, but the other mains range from kingfish to goat to rabbit.

I, somewhat surprisingly, along with my Aunt, settled on the rabbit, bacon and prune pithivier with a carrot puree. Rabbit is certainly not my first or usual choice when I go out, but it just looked really good on the menu! On an a lovely hot plate, the pithivier (or for easier reference, pie), was an absolute delight on a fairly cool and wet summer evening. Oh my god though. This thing was huge. My aunt and I could have easily shared just one portion, although since it is a new menu, the chef's still playing a little with portion sizes.

The pie was absolutely delicious. The pastry was so gorgeously light and flaky, with that very satisfying crisp and crunch sound as you're cutting through it. The rabbit was full of flavour and quite rich. Oozing with a delicious stewy sauce. I don't eat rabbit a lot (if ever really), but my dad who has had it a little was really impressed and said it was maybe the best rabbit he's had. What I also loved was that even halfway through eating the pie, you could still see the steam rising out of it. So nice and hot!

I really enjoyed the carrot puree on the side as well, it was…well, quite a lot and quite refreshing in comparison to the richness of the rabbit pie.

Mum and grandma shared a portion of the market fish, which they kindly plated for us, snapper this time, with grilled zucchini, pinenuts, currants, fetter and mint. Mum said her fish was perfectly cooked.

For my brother, the kingfish fillet, with pumpkin, chorizo and confit garlic. I really liked how this was presented, so pretty!

Brad and dad both got the slow cooked goat with green olives, preserved lemon, cows cows and harrisa. I had a nibble on the goat and it was really tasty, a touch tangy from the lemon. Very mediterranean inspired.

We naturally, also got a couple of sides.

A tomato, basil and olive oil salad to make ourselves all feel that little bit more healthy and fit in more vegetables into our meal. Although who are we kidding really?

Any healthiness we got from the tomatoes we completely lost when my aunt's love of mashed potato came out and she insisted we order the creamed potato. Oh my god. Creamed potato. Totally ridiculous. So creamy and rich and buttery and sinful and oh-my-god-my-hips-are-going-to-hate-me but it was totally awesome and worth every bite.

The hand cut chips were nice and chunky, but just needed one more go in the deep fryer to get them really crisp and lovely. We saw another serve go by to another table that were the deep, tanned, crisp brown we wanted. Maybe next time….

So we should've been full. We really should have. But it was my aunt's birthday. We had to have dessert. Right?

Although it was very tempting to order all 5 desserts available, we opted for 3. We started with the chocolate and cherry pavlova…which definitely didn't last for very long on the table, a flurry of forks and spoons (whatever we had in hand really), quickly attacking it. I only managed to steal one lonely bite, but that bite had me in a little happy land. The pavlova was really chocolatey, not too sweet and the cherries were the perfect addition to it.

The passionfruit semi-freddo, with a summer fruit salad, was nice and refreshing after a fairly heavy meal. Real fruity and a little bit tangy as well. Maybe a touch on the sweet side, especially for being such a big serve, it would be hard to finish on your own!

I'm always intrigued to try flavoured creme brulee, so naturally had to get Hotel Lincoln's offering of the coffee creme brulee with shortbread. Fantastic flavour, for you coffee lovers, this is exactly for you. The caramelised sugar top broke and cracked beautifully, but I think it could have been a little more set inside. It was a little too wet for me, texture-wise.

I was surprised to learn one of my aunt's favourite things was affogato, as I've never seen her have one before. But that's what she got to finish her meal. I would be so worried I wouldn't sleep!

All in all, the whole family was totally impressed by dinner. We had an absolutely lovely night, with great food and fantastic service. I've been really keen to get this post up and share this place, as I would easily and very comfortably recommend it to anyone looking for a dinner suggestion. Come with friends, come with your lover, come with family, share a couple of dishes and have a good time!

Hotel Lincoln

91 Cardigan St
Carlton, VIC 3053

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Drugstore Espresso

You may not believe this now, but I was an incredibly introverted kid. Through highschool and even through university. I was the sort to keep to my corner, hide in the library at lunchtime and read high fantasy novels on my own. And, oh my god, can you imagine trying to meet new people? What a crazy idea! I was so socially awkward. Maybe still am a little I guess!

Fortunately, those days are (somewhat) behind me. I love being a part of the food blogging community and as a result of that, enjoy meeting lots of like-minded people and of course, eating and drinking merrily!

I remember the first time I was to meet Bryan, I was quite nervous…but now we're out brunching quite regularly! I've always found I've had good encounters with other food bloggers, as it's so easy to connect over food, the joys and concerns of I am always keen to meet more!

And with this mindset, I decided to approach the ever cheery Wince and see if he would be interested in brunching with Bryan and I. I don't think I had ever seen someone who could exude so much excitement and energy in 140 characters on twitter and thought we would all get along quite well!

So we squeezed in a very last minute brunch, before Wince headed off to Malaysia for a month, at the fairly new Drugstore Espresso in South Yarra.

The cafe is quite small, but quite cute, with the counter downstairs kept fairly open for takeaway orders and those eating in, tucked away upstairs in a little (slightly dark) mezzanine. I loved the shelves on the wall, stocked with coffee beans and dotted with little retro memorabilia.

My usual chai latte, good, nothing to complain about!

Unfortunately since we were visiting shortly after Christmas, the kitchen was not open and we could only order from the fridge at the front next to the counter. Ah well, will just have to visit again I suppose!

The fridge was filled with a lovely colourful assortment of options, so we weren't too restricted at least!

Bryan picked out the bircher muesli, which was sticky and quite sweet. It was deliciously like dessert! I personally quite liked the nibble I had!

For me, the Asian style chicken salad, which was so fresh and vibrant. It was so nice to have a fairly light brunch for a change, eggs do get quite heavy! The chicken was also, a little surprisingly, lovely too, it wasn't dry at all.

Smoked salmon bagel, partnered with a cheery salad for Wince. Bagel's are something I'm not at all familiar with, but to me, this was really tasty! Makes me think I should have tried more bagels (even if my body would not have liked me so much) when I was in New York!

Jo's choice of the pork belly sandwich though was an absolute winner. With a bit of apple, a bit of mayo and some lettuce, I was swooning over the mix of flavours. The apple came through really lovely and sweet and I was quite amazed at how everything just melted into my mouth (yes, I did steal bites of everyone's dish. Can't help but be a piggy!). I'm used to the bread usually being quite a bit harder, but this was not the case here. Delish!

So although we didn't get to have any hot dishes this day, I was pleasantly surprised at how yummy and satisfying our meal was, and will certainly be back to try some of the hot dishes, as I already have friends asking for a visit...!

Drugstore Espresso

194 Toorak Road
South Yarra, VIC 3141

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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Brix - Degustation

You know I've all been here for breakfast already, so if you'd like a little romantic tale of the vibe and the atmosphere, just pop by here.

But I'm going to try to keep introductions short. I was back. With Bryan and Fakegf/Jo. Our mission? To indulge in the $80, 5 course degustation menu. 5 courses for $80? Not a bad deal if you ask me.

To replace our usual chai lattes and coffees, a glass of the Keller Trocken Riesling for me and bottle of Knappstein (which I am personally quite fond of myself) for Bryan.

I don't often do oysters when I go out, but we figured we'd add a course to our degustation and get the Duck Bay oysters with a red wine and shallot vinaigrette to start our night. They were sweet, they tasted so fresh. Not an expert on oysters, but still fully enjoyed. Love the little 'sand' bases they are sitting on as well!

Soft, soft butter. Mmmhmmm. And they had gluten free bread for me as well!

The whole dinner that night was a food-blogger-wielding-SLR's dream. You will just have to envisage Bryan and I avidly flailing with excitement as each dish was presented, accompanied by a very brief and vague description from the waiter. On one hand, this description is a little annoying, because you really want to know what EVERYTHING is on the plate. And there's a lot of stuff. At the same time though, you end up eating everything a little more carefully to try and suss it all out!

The first dish, smoked tuna, avruga and seaweed.

I don't think any of us breathed as we admired how elegantly everything had been tweezer-ed into perfection. It also was incredibly aromatic, and smelt like you were standing with the sand between your toes, eyes cast out over the big blue.

Delving into it, we found enoki mushrooms, crispy fish and puffed rice. We quizzed whether the jelly had miso in it. I loved the fantastic play on textures, which always gets me, the crispy, the soft, the slightly chewy.

We really had the perfect vantage point to check out the chefs (Joel Anderson and Daniel Dobra) as they constructed our dishes. It was like watching an artist work, a little bit here, a little bit there, a smear of sauce as well.

Beef and oyster. From the ocean, we move to where it meats the land. Again, on a warm plate, the food smelt amazing. A cooked oyster, a raw oyster, an oyster mushroom, beef, both raw and slow-cooked, all added their own flavours. I personally loved the addition of the raw oyster, as it really added a lovely sweet contrast. Oh and the bone marrow. Buttery, buttery bone marrow!

Anyone have any idea what the ribbony stuff is? It delighted the three of us, with it's smokey smell, yet it's seaweed flavour.

The knives came out. We knew we were getting more meat.

From the darker wintery beef, we moved onto a dish that just sung of spring. The dish came across as bright, light and airy, I was smitten with the colours! Venison, roast onion and cloves, the latter which could be detected in the white powder. The venison was gorgeously tender, cooked perfectly!

Peas, lamb, lettuce and mace. After all the elegance and hints of richness, this came as a bold statement in the meal. The lamb was near impossible to fault, it fell apart beautifully and was gorgeously rich and fatty. My mouth waters to think of it! I also enjoyed the lamb sweetbreads, which reminded me of chicken a little bit funnily enough!

However, I did find the brown 'powder' a little overwhelming, it tasted of aniseed and was quite potent to me!

Surprisingly after just 4 courses, I was feeling fairly full. Of course though, dessert was next.

Blackberry, beetroot and basil. As we were in the holiday month, I loved how much the dessert tasted like Christmas. Yes, because I've held Christmas in my hands and taken a huge chunk out of it. All jests aside though, the wafer scrolls on top were gingerbread, which to me, is Christmas. I also loved the addition of the yoghurt foam, as it was so light and fluffy. It added the perfect amount of tartness to counter much sweetness. Such a unique dessert and although I tend to like my desserts rich and decadent, I really enjoyed this fresh take.

A couple of hours later, plenty of laughs and too many pictures taken, we got our bill with a side of cheeky madeleines, to finish us up.

I personally loved our dinner. It was really a bit of a flavour playground, with the waiters leaving us to our own devices to try and pick apart the different elements. And of course, the meal itself is an absolute visual spectacle. I'm personally super excited to come back maybe in another month or two when the menu changes up a little bit so that we can try something new...

The Brix Cafe & Bristot

Rear 412 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy, VIC 3065

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