Monday, February 10, 2014

Northern Light

Without really knowing anything, who the chef was, the concept behind the food or what to expect, but only a quick glance on the menu online and one or two Instagram pictures of gorgeously crafted dishes, Northern Light still somehow called out to me, a shining beacon pouring fresh light into a previously, very well loved space. 

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Residing where the famous Gigibaba once was, Northern Light keeps the decor simple, a few exposed light bulbs (the same as the one in the logo), brick walls and a long cool bar. The small space means it's filled out pretty quickly, but I'm assured that there are a few people on desserts when we arrive late in the evening, as a cool change rushes in, so it shouldn't be too long. I give my number and we skip over to Mr. Wow's Emporium for a spot of imbibing. 

Sooner than Caryn and I could finish a glass of wine, we get our call and scurry back where we are perched up along the bar. 

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I've come to love a good spot along the bar, especially when you have such accommodating and friendly waitstaff, who you end up joking and gushing over food with and never get their name (oops, I'm so terrible!). 

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Now that I've visited, I still struggle to explain what the menu's like, as it's unfair to call it Japanese, as people immediately envision sushi and rice bowls, or associate it with any particular Asian cuisine, and although these sort of fusion flavours are often referred to as Modern Australian, it's unfair to call it that too.

The chef, Adam Liston, has littered his menu with a variety of small sharing plates, showing heavy Asian accents, no doubt influenced by his two years spent in Shanghai (how fabulous). 

We contemplate pickled squid and charred skewers. Even congee makes an appearance on the one page menu, but fortunately dining with Caryn is usually a pretty exercise since we both tend to gravitate towards the same flavours. And after a few recommendations from over the counter, our menu is set. 

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We're surprised with a couple of oysters. Although small, they were cool, plump and intensely sweet. The addition of rice wine and finely chopped shallots was an elegant but exciting addition, moreish, leaving us licking our lips.

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A golden egg follows, caramelised and blanketed by a flurry of fried shallots, and a shower of furikake. These are served as individual serves, and although the menu is generally designed to share, it's one of those dishes where you need one portion to yourself. The yolk is oozy, and I love the crunch from the shallots, it's surprising, but not at all unwelcome. The furikake adds something familiar, sesame and seaweed giving a nice umami hit. 

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I'm almost reluctant to eat the unagi with squid sauce, salted grapes and mojama (shaved tuna belly), as it's just so beautifully plated. I've always loved the meatiness of unagi, but here it's so delicate, an essence of the ocean and almost refreshing as it's served room temperature. The sweetness of the grapes is just beautiful as well and the aroma of the mojama is completely addictive. 

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One of the specials of the night is fried chicken with tonkatsu (plum) sauce, togarashi (a 7 chilli spice) and fresh cut chillies and spring onion. These made me so sad…that they weren't a regular on the menu! A light and crunchy batter encases moist and juicy chicken, with one hell of a chilli punch, we need to take a break to let it boil on the lips briefly before going back for more. 

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A generous plate of edamame, bean curd, chilli and gai lan is a refreshing reprieve from the spice, clean and light on the palate. I loved the texture of the edamame, firm and springy. 

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We were so enthusiastic to get into chilli crab, with XO onions, celery and coriander, I forgot to take a picture before we started getting into it! So here's a half eaten picture instead, hehe! 

Our waiter tells us of a customer who visited and said her least favourite dish was the chilli crab…simply because it was too much work. This made us all very sad, as the joy is in the work, getting your fingers slathered in the XO goodness, intermingled with a nice bite of acidity and the soft and sweet crab meat. There's a nice chilli kick too (as the description might imply).  

As we think that we just can't eat anymore, the XO still tingling in our mouths, the prospect of dessert floats around and…oh…what a surprise! There's space for more.

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Yuzu curd, covered by a light and short sable and with white chocolate shavings is just beautiful. With each spoon, the three components just melt into one zesty, sweet mouthful, creamy and oh so smooth. 

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I can't tear my eyes from the broken ice cream sandwich, which is deconstructed to look like some post modernist sculpture. Although I've read of a green tea ice-cream sandwich previously, on this particular night we were given a chocolate sable with chocolate mousse, vanilla ice-cream and salted caramel. Oh my. I'm struck and smitten with the richness of the cocoa in the sable, learning that it's made with 98% cacao product and no sugar. It's super intense, but balanced well with the light vanilla and the hit of salty caramel. Yes, yes and yes.

Caryn and I were bowled over with how reasonable the bill was, considering we were both super stuffed and had such a lovely night. Service was flawless, smiles, gentle encouragement (to order everything) and so much warmth. I felt like I was part of the family and just can't wait to get back. Northern Light should definitely be on your list this year, not only to watch, but to eat at as well (duh) and given priority, with it's lively and unique approach to traditional flavours. 

As Rob told me on twitter: You must run, loved it! 

102 Smith Street

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1 comment:

  1. Too many new restaurants have opened up in Melbourne this year already - it's hard to cope haha. I hope to visit Northern Light soon though, the dishes sound wonderful, especially the desserts mmmm