Monday, August 31, 2015

Woodland House

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant 

I love socialising, meeting people, eating out, doing things; but there’s always a limit. A point in the night or the day where I’ll start watching the time, and be aware of how long it’s dragging out. 

So when I was invited to the Woodland House for a long lunch…I think I underestimated how long of a lunch it would be…and how much I would enjoy it!

Perhaps it’s the mix of good company, and plenty of social lubricant…alcohol of course! Reflecting on this meal afterwards, I felt like that if it had just been Brad and I, despite how much I do love him, our conversation might have dried up half way through the courses. Long lunches are surely best enjoyed with at least two couples…if not 20 people, which is basically what our table was!

But let me take a step back and tell you a bit more about the gorgeous Woodland House.

Located in a gorgeous house in Prahran, Woodland House was once Jaques Reymond, the only western restaurant my dad admitted to really enjoy, so I was very excited to see 

With Melbourne’s food scene moving ever faster to shared plates, and a smart casual dining scene; where the beats are loud and lines ever prominent, fine dining is getting to be more scarce these days. However, despite that, when we do get fine dining in Melbourne, in particular, I think our restaurants do a fantastic job or elevating it from the stuffiness that fine dining used to imply, to fun yet still beautiful experiences. 

Woodland House was definitely an example of this.

Located in a gorgeous house in Prahran, Woodland House was once Jaques Reymond, the only western restaurant my dad admitted to really enjoy, so I was very excited when I had the opportunity to visit and see how the space had changed. 

It’s an absolutely gorgeous property, the space feels like someone’s beautiful home, with gorgeous installations and art and since the house is split up into quite a number of rooms, there’s a sense of intimacy and cosiness in each space. 

Woodland House is owned by chefs Thomas Woods and Hayden McFarland (who were both trained by Jaques Reymond), and we were gathered to experience their Sunday lunch menu, which let me tell you, goes far faster than you think it does, and is definitely best with plenty of company…as we had! I definitely felt like I was in a bit of a timewarp by the time we finished!

Edible snack, or art piece? Perhaps a bit of both? These paper thin sweet potato crisps were just mesmerising, with their astonishing colour and ever so thin texture. 

Throughout our lunch, we were treated to two types of bread, and our side plate was never left without one. And despite just being bread, both varieties were just delicious and served so that they were lovely and warm in the hands. I particularly enjoyed the danish with a little cream cheese and sumac salt, there was a density, but a lightness to it as well, and I simply adored the saltiness of it. 

Our first dish was a beautifully elegant plate of rockling, crab emulsion and almond. Oh what a treat this was to the senses, the crab emulsion was delightfully aromatic, smelling of the ocean. The scent was a bit stronger than the flavour, which was a lot more delicate, but I enjoyed the texture of the rockling, which was a bit firmer and muscly than I anticipated. Surprisingly textural. 

This was served with a 2011 Tarrawarra ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay from Yarra Valley, which was much lighter than many other Chardonnay’s I’ve had before. Less savouriness and oak, and a touch more sweetness. Devastatingly easy to drink.

Second course was a John Dory with sheep’s whey, bottarga and dill. What a contrast in texture the John Dory had, tender, melting in the mouth; it was simply cooked to perfection. I loved the greens it was served with, although I cannot name them all, draped with a light bit of crisp foliage over the top, with these lovely textural and slightly crunchy greens underneath. I’m tempted to say seaweed as I recall a touch of oceanic flavour, but I could be mistaken!

I was quite pleased that Melissa next to me was not so excited by the next dish, as I certainly was, a lovely mix of snails and pig tails (it could almost be a nursery rhyme!), topped with a couple of such thin an crisp lotus roots. The snails were quite muscly and textural, earthy too with a nice herbaceous sauce or dressing over them. The meatiness of the pig tails complemented nicely. 

Course four, of spatchcock, jerusalem artichoke and black garlic was possibly one of my favourites. I absolutely adore jerusalem artichoke, and the puree was sublime, sweet, yet earthy, taking the edge of the gaminess of the spatchcock, which was just so tender. Definitely wanted more of this please!

Our shortrib, sweetbreads and kohlrabi course also hit the mark, the meat just gently falling apart with a butter knife, but still keeping it’s structure, the fat and the muscle beautifully balanced for a tender piece of meat. The thick caramel-esque sauce certainly didn’t hurt either. Springy sweetbreads always make my day. 

The cheese course was certainly out to steal my heart. Beginning to gently melt on the warmed plate, the cheese made with a combination of cow and sheep milk, was topped with a black pudding crumble and crisps. Swoon. If there’s one thing better than cheese…it’s warm cheese, with the punch of the black pudding. It’s rich, a little oily on the lips, salty from the crisps, with a meatiness and touch of iron from the black pudding, all equating to heaven. 

To finish, an ever so little (couldn’t it have been just a wee bit bigger guys?) dessert of a celeriac friand, with macadamia milk sorbet and fermented pineapple. I was definitely sceptical of celeriac in my baked goods, but am no longer a sceptic, there’s a lovely natural sweetness that celeriac does have and I was surprised how prominently that flavour appeared, despite being baked. It was also surprisingly delicious and like I said…I only wish our portion was a bit bigger (or if we could have had another)!

And to surprise us at the end, a couple of petit fours, delicious jelly jubes and chocolate coated nuts (think they were hazelnut, but don’t hold me to my word!). 

By the time we wrapped up our meal, four hours had passed. Four! How did I not even notice? It had only felt like I had been there for two. The staff at Woodland House are so professional, but so friendly and approachable, and paced out the meal so well, bringing wine in at the appropriate time to fill the gaps, topping up our bread and so on, so that there was always something happening. As said as well, I think long lunches are definitely best enjoyed with multiple people; I feel like after 3 hours I may have struggled for conversation if it was just Brad and I! 

Fortunately, these long lunches are saved for Sunday, as the amount of wine one consumes during these things is also quite surprising and I didn’t quite realise how much I had drunk until I stood up and started walking a bit. I literally got home, jumped into my PJ’s and prompted to sleep for a solid hour in a drunken stupor/food coma. Blessed Sundays. 

I think what I enjoyed most about this experience though, was that this didn’t really have to be a special occasion meal. It was just a relaxed Sunday, over four hours, with food that is beautifully executed, but also refreshingly approachable in a sublime environment. Why wait for an anniversary? 

78 Williams Street
Prahran 3181 VIC

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Aria Chocolate Afternoon Tea

There are just some things that are done better with the right company.

For example.

I would never, ever, ever, bring Brad with me to go have high tea. He might have a tea. Might eat a sandwich. But just watch me gorge myself on everything else. We would eat, then we would leave. And that’s not the point of high tea.

However, show up with my TTVN crew (Adrian, Wince and Chris) and we live lush darling. 

We were supposed to meet up one particular Saturday, to drive down to the Mornington Peninsula and hit up wineries.

Then someone suggested that since it was cold, maybe we should get a spa treatment.

Which then evolve to, well we don’t actually have to leave Melbourne to get a spa treatment.

Which evolved to a ‘Did you know for $35 we can go hangout in Langham’s spa?’, which then evolved to ‘oh should we go have high tea too while we’re there?’

Which is how we found ourselves at 10am twirling on courtyards overlooking Flinders Street station (or maybe that was me), relaxing in a warm bubbly jacuzzi, before freshening up and heading down for our 12pm appointment at the Aria Chocolate Afternoon Tea. 

Now, I’ve done a couple of high teas, I’m not super experienced with them, but I have to say, Aria’s Chocolate Afternoon Tea is something else. 

Beautiful set up with gorgeous Wedgwood crockery, which just makes you want to lift them daintily with your pinky out and a glass of bubbly on arrival. 

And then. That dessert spread. Oh my god. What a smorgasbord. Who needs three tiers of sweets, when you have a full chocolate buffet at your fingertips? Lush cakes, mousses, churros, caramel tarts…even a station for freshly made crepes and ice-cream (the strawberry ice-cream was my favourite, so fruity!) There’s a lot to like here and you can eat as much as you want (or can). 

But before jumping into that, you have to order your tea, in which you are given a tea menu with around 20 teas on it to choose from. And once you finish one…well you can order a different tea. Adrian, Wince, Chris and I went through three teas each, each served in gorgeous silver pots. 

Do remember to start with your savouries first though, which come in the traditional three tier stack,  with sandwiches, smoked salmon and prosiuctto and cheese nibbles on the top, warm, creamy and decadent mushroom Vol Au Vent’s at the bottom and gorgeously fluffy scones in the middle. Remember that clotted cream and jam too please!

We initially took our time, savouring the items we had on our tiers…only to be surprised when a waitress came around after with another full of tray of savouries in her hand, asking if we wanted top ups of anything. We couldn’t believe it. We got two rounds of the mushroom Vol Au Vent’s. 

It’s amazing how fast our allotted two hours went by, they unfortunately do have to politely kick you out for the next round of guests, but with the right crowd, it’s certainly not surprising. I had initially thought Aria’s Chocolate High tea was a bit on the expensive side, at $79 a person, but considering everything is free flowing (apart from the bubbly), and it is more of a high tea buffet than a traditional high tea, it’s absolutely amazing value, and in a very lovely setting. 

The Langham Hotel
1 Southgate Avenue
Melbourne 3006

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Tokyo Tina

Brad would probably not be fussed if we didn’t do anything for his birthday.

But why on earth would I give up an excuse to go out to have dinner together? Really?

When I told people of my plan to take him to dinner to Tokyo Tina, I got a lot of “Good Luck”. “Go early” and I have to admit…I was a little worried initially. I certainly ain’t keen to be doing a Chin Chin style queue for 3 hours, so had a whole lot of other potential restaurants in the area lined up in my head…just in case.

Fortunately, we were in Tokyo Tina on a Thursday night and the wait wasn’t long at all. We must have gotten there around 7:30pm and sent to a waiting spot at the bar, where we ordered a round of drinks and a nibble but before that could even get to us, we were seated at the bar. Not too bad if you ask me!

It’s quite nice sitting at the bar, a touch dark, but lit atmospherically and it’s always fun watching the bartenders to their thing. 

I enjoyed a refreshing umeshu on the rocks to get me started, and got involved with some karaage chicken ribs with gochujang. For $10 the serving was generous, Brad and I getting around 3 ribs each. They weren’t super crunchy, but the batter was definitely full of flavour, and the chicken tender. Finger licking good. 

The ocean trout sashimi that we had was a bit underwhelming unfortunately, although it looked beautiful, the citrus dressing it had over it completely overwhelmed the flavour of the trout, which I had always thought was pretty bold. In this instance it was completely overshadowed, and although I normally love trout, I have never had it sashimi-ed and wasn’t in love with the texture personally. I suppose there’s a reason the Japanese have always used Tuna and sashimi, which are incredibly smooth and velvety in texture, there was a bit of coarseness to the trout texture which I wasn’t completely sold on.

The tempura eggplant, miso chawanmushi and pickled ginger put everything back on track though, pumping with umami deliciousness. I loved that the eggplant got the tempura treatment, providing lovely crunchy textures through the otherwise soft textured dish, made it very moreish indeed!

My absolute favourite thing of the night though (which I’ve just realised is no longer on the menu…why guys why?!) was the king katsu, a 300 gram pork battered and fried cutlet with shredded cabbage some damn delicious plum sauce (or something along the lines). Oh my gosh. For $20, I would have returned for this along with a bowl of rice any night of the week. It was pretty much the size of my face, insanely and delightfully crunchy, but also so tender…when all combined with the sauce that it sat on…it was just pure perfection. So sad to now learn it’s no longer on the menu. (Please bring it back!)

To finish, we opted for ramen. I was quite excited to learn that they do provide a gluten free option, so we got one small bowl with gluten free ramen and one small bowl of regular so we could compare. 

I got the classic ramen, with a tonkotsu (pork) base, pulled pork, ramen egg and spring onion and Brad got the miso ramen with miso base, shiitake, enoki and oyster mushrooms with a ramen egg. 

Unfortunately, especially after coming back from Sydney and enjoying Ippudo’s delightful and cheap ramen, Tokyo Tina’s ramen did just not live up to much. My classic ramen’s soup base just had no flavour. I couldn’t believe it, whilst Brad’s had much more flavour than mine, but was still lacking and did not impress either of us. Believe me, we’re not usually difficult judges, and try as I might, I just could not enjoy the ramen.

Regardless though, even if we did finish on a bit of an unimpressive note, there was definitely some high notes that would keep me coming back. The smaller more fusion style dishes are definitely the way to go, and if that king katsu is back on the menu…I’ll be there in a flash. So short of the long, enjoy grilled stuff, skip the ramen! 

66A Chapel Street
Windsor 3181

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