Thursday, 6 August 2015

Mexicali Rose | Richmond

The Two Bears were indecisive on where to grab some grub one night, so we ended up making a snap decision and pulled up outside Mexicali Rose in Richmond. Not overly impressed with how it appeared from the outside, we raised our furry eyebrows and said to each other, "Hey, we have a 25% off voucher from the Entertainment Guide, surely that'll offset any possible ordinary we'll get dished up, right?" Right. Hmm, not.

Let's make this one snappy because, we don't have a whole lot to say.  Hubby bear ordered the Burrito Colorado ($24). The menu says this dish is "slow cooked beef in sauce of  new mexico chile" - which is apparently onion, garlic, cumin, pepper & sour cream - okay sure. They merried it up with some basic salsa, black beans and rice. "How was it?" I asked.  Hubby bear responded with a twinge, "Yeahhhhh, errrr, it's just okay. Nothing Taco Bill can't do blind-folded."

Burrito Colorado

I got the Vegie Chimichanga ($21) which was a grilled tortilla hiding a bundle of mixed grilled vegetables, pico de gallo, coriander, and cheese. The filling of my chimichange was actually good, but I curse myself for not recognizing what this menu description meant: 'salsa barbacoa', because that was quite honestly the most significantly inappropriate, sickly sweet, unnecessary topping you could possibly put on anything Mexican. Who puts sweet BBQ sauce on a freakin' chimichanga!?!?! It didn't even enter my mind to try and translate the description because I was expecting a salsa - not BBQ sauce!! Thank gawd for the sour cream and rice salad, it helped wash the disappointment out of my mouth.

Chimichanga hiding under horrid BBQ sauce

I think you get my drift here. 2 stars all the way bambinos.

Flavour: ★★
Quality:   ★★ 
Service: ★★
Value: ★★ 
Atmosphere: ★

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Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Grand Hotel | Richmond

Warmth + Continuous food = feeling mighty fine. Wow, I sound like I'm in the womb, but I assure you it's quite the opposite tonight: I'm celebrating a 130th birthday. Yup 130 years. But not for a person, a building: The Grand Hotel in Richmond.

You Melbournians may not realize this place was a sight for sore eyes back in the day, it bridged the massive gap of cow paddocks of woop-woopville Victoria with the promise (and a drink or two) that the city wasn't too far off. That said, the pub was also a hot spot for all the dapper locals of the 1880s, not to mention being known for some back alley raucus and controversy!

But it's 2015 and not 1885, and no, we're not going to the back alley on this particular night <wink>.
Hubby bear Shawn and I approach the iconic building on a cold, rainy winter's night; lured by the sights and sounds of hospitality that literally glowed through the windows - I kid you not. This is the sort of place you want to be inside of.

Shawn opened the door and as I stepped through, I swear I heard the building whisper, "See? I'm still f-n' awesome you little hipster wannabe!" Okay, so it wasn't a whisper, maybe more like a raspy heckle. Sure, sure, the building didn't really talk to me, but the feeling I got once inside made me smile nontheless.

Bake and Co + The Three Piece Suit make a lovely birfday table...
Almost at once we were greeted by the Grand's brilliant team, given appropriate drinkage to start the night, then fell into easy chatter with them and the sociable crew from Zomato, who so kindly invited us to the Grand's birthday bash. After looking around it became very clear the owners of the last 13 years have respectfully restored this amazing building to shine with both historic pride and modern convenience by way of tweaking the layout and adding tasteful decor.

Not long after our cheeks started to glow red from the warm fire in the front room and our empty wine glasses, we were led upstairs to a cozy communal area which ties their trio of private event rooms together...and that's when we all got down to bid-niz.

But before I go any further, let me get this out right up front: The Grand Hotel know how to host an event. And not that chinsy confetti and paper mache style of event. The sort of event that you'll remember for many (many!) years to come.  "How so?" I hear you ask? Well, let me answer, my friend!

From the start of this night, alllll the way through to the finish, GH ensured there was an array of fun things to get and stay involved in, from creating our own mains and encasing them in terra cotta clay to bake (thank you Chef Federico for the wrapping lesson!), to widening our eyes with a most dazzling private dining room organized by The Three Piece Suit, to keeping our A-D-D personalities diverted with an array of finely presented & tasy dishes, engaging conversation and storytelling, and even a game of 'Guess The Ingredients' of a mystery dish! And no, I didn't win that super-sized Moet prize! Damn it taste buds! Why did you fail me that night?  Oh, and let's not forget the massive lit up table sprinkled with goodies from Bake And Co. tempting us all night long...

The "Mystery" course in a specially made ice shot glass.
What was it? An ice cream version of tomato, basil and mozzarella.
Anyhoo, onto the food. It's all about the food.

While we mingled, large ovals of canapes encircled us and Shawn LOVED the cured ocean trout with citrus and berries - unbelievable flavour he says!  What's more, he even loved the Poached Veal Tongue crostini with salsa verde, until he found out it was tongue! Nah, he still loved it, but just chased after the trout after that!  What about me? The veg? I had a couple of delictible mouthfuls of Tomato & basil bruschetta. Oh yeah, a classic and a winner - everytime!

cured ocean trout with citrus and berries
Poached Veal Tongue crostini with salsa verde
Tomato & basil bruschetta
We were diverted into one of the event rooms that was set up for us to play with our main meals. No really, we played with our food! But then Chef Federico got us on track by showing us how to properly dress and season our mains, then wrap them tightly like little pottery burritos for him to cook and present to us later.  That was all sorts of awesomeness, but I would honestly prefer someone of Federico's standard to do this for me - as I had very little confidence my main was going to come out as nice as Shawn's. Anyhooo, after all the fun and games, we're whisked away into the dining room across the hall, where we remained the rest of the evening!

My setting once inside the private dining room... a lolly jar with my name on it? Hmmm...

What an amazing sight to see!

To whet our appetites (aka. tease), Shawn dug into an incredibly tasty Pepper Crusted Venison Carpaccio with goat cheese mouse & beetroot that was delicately presented, but bold in flavour.  My vegetarian counterpart was a lovely little Quinoa Salad - super tasty and probably one of the stand outs (for me) for the evening.

Pepper Crusted Venison Carpaccio with goat cheese mouse & beetroot 

Best Quinoa salad EVER!
Mouths now sufficiently watering, the next dish couldn't come out quick enough! ha! Shawn said the combination of flavours of the Agro Dolce quail with procini mushroom puree was brilliantly done. While I was practially shocked out my seat when I tasted my veg dish of Brussel Sprouts, quail egg and black truffles - I don't even like mushrooms (it's a texture thing), but I promise you I ate this all by myself! I enjoyed it so much I didn't want to give Shawn a taste (but I did, hey - 16 years of marriage - you gotta make some compromises! haha!).

Agro Dolce quail with procini mushroom puree

Brussel Sprouts, quail egg and black truffles
By now, I'm happily jigging in my seat, tummy getting happier by the moment by the exciting dishes being presented.  What's next? Broad bean, pecorino & mint risotto. Yeah, I hear you, risotto can be a boring 'meh' meal sometimes, but this wasn't the case, this was truly a rock star dish of flavour! That pecorino does wonders!

Broad bean, pecorino & mint risotto
Now, while Shawn enjoyed little morsels of Mortadella cappelletti in brodo, I got an incredibly tasty Burnt Butter & Sage Gnocchi.  Oh goodness, do these people know how to pack flavour into food!!  Gnocchi is another personal favourite of Shawn's, so yes. Sharing happened again. Lotsa love here peeps, lotsa love.

Mortadella cappelletti in brodo
Burnt Butter & Sage Gnocchi
Then, the drum roll please - the dishes we seasoned ourselves appeared baked in their little shells like a hardcore Christmas pressie!  Shawn clearly seasoned and accompanied his Barramundi like a pro, because when he broke his terracotta encasing and unwrapped it, it looked amazing!  And its taste fell nothing short of that adjective as well.

Shawn's Barramundi
Trying to act not particularly impressed with Shawn's tasty looking morsel, I broke mine open hoping and praying the Gods would have somehow intervened with my preparation and made my lovely stack of eggplant, capsicum and other veggies taste more than just the salt, pepper and olives I put on them.  But they didn't, they just let me go to pasture on this one.  But that, was my own fault ;)  So what did I do? I ate the incredibly yummy side salad of rocket & spinach that had rad little caramel covered nuts in it! Sweet! Saved by the salad!
Cracking open my terra cotta encased meal!

My Creation (don't covet it)

My Saviour - the Side Salad was delicious!
But no need to get sad, there was dessert still! And it was most welcomed when it came out: The Lemon Delizia.  All lemon, but in varying levels of intesity - and incredibly yummy. A great palate cleanser, but for me - there was a little too much of the lemon zestiness, a little on the tart side. But if you're a citrus lover, this is the dessert for you.

The Lemon Delizia

After all the good times, it's no wonder these guys keep getting award after award. They tick the boxes in what I call "The Holy Trio" (of Foodie Heaven) which is:
(1) Amazing food,
(2) Amazing Customer Service, and
(3) Amazing Atmosphere

Don't dawdle about reading this anymore, get to The Grand to experience what I'm talking about!

Flavour: ★★★★★ ✔
Quality:   ★★★★★ ✔
Service: ★★★★★ ✔
Value: ★★★★★ ✔
Atmosphere: ★★★★★ ✔

PS. We jam packed our lolly jars with every single one of these amazing sweets!! Big love to you all at the Grand Hotel Richmond for such a rockin' night!!

Every sweet tooth's dream by Bake And Co. at The Grand Hotel Richmond

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Sunday, 2 August 2015

Swadesh Indian Cuisine | Preston

Oh you have so much potential Swadesh Indian Cuisine. So if you're reading this, take this as some constructive criticism and a big heads-up you need to turn things around. Just a reminder, we're pre-disposed to loving Indian food, so if you don't fare well with us - take it seriously...

Sitting in an awkward section of Plenty Road in Preston (I suppose there's no non-awkward spot on that strip of road at the moment), this cavernously huge restaurant, which - despite the polished concrete floors, lovely long bar and subway tile feature wall - looks and feels empty, cold and half unfinished. There are some good "bones" here, if they would just hang some big Indian inspired pop-art on the walls (they're big enough!), get some comfortable chairs in there, and play some music so we can't hear ourselves chewing our food - then we'd be excited, but alas, no excitement this time peeps.

Dining area

As for food, it started off really well! We had a Masala Dosa to share, and while Hubby Bear didn't fancy any of the sides, I didn't mind them. The dosa itself was light, crisp and huge and the filling was tasty goodness of potato and cumin.

Then all our hopes and dreams were smashed and things went downhill fast. Firstly, our server seemed excessively shy and unsure about how to go about the entire process of, well, serving food.  Our dosa tray was huge (because the dosa was huge), and while he knew it was our entree dish, he proceeded to bring our main meal items out to the table, even though we had no room for plates! Since we're not fans of watching our food get cold, we hurried to finish our dosa, then had to flag our server down to let him know we were ready for our plates! hahaha! Okay, okay, let's let the lack of table service experience slide as a result of "new business jumbles"...

Masala Dosa
We ordered the Paneer Makhani with Rice and Garlic Naan.  Oh my goodness. Can you see the photo below? Can you see the depth of colour in that paneer? Deep reddish orange? Doesn't it look like it'll be good? Yeah? Will you believe me when I say it literally (honestly!!!) tasted of nothing. It was like the chef put paneer cheese cubes into a bowl of cream and mixed in tandoori coluring. That's it. No tomato flavour, no fenugreek flavour, no nothing. So sad!! The rice and bread were good, but without anything sufficient to eat with them, we just couldn't soldier on and left a vast majority of the meal uneaten.

Garlic naan, rice, Paneer Makhani
Perhaps these guys are brand new to the restaurant scene, so are struggling to find their feet. We really really (really!!) hope they snap out of it fast, and inject that big space with some atmosphere, servers with some excitement, and food with some (any!) flavour because - based on what we had - no one, let alone foodies, will go or return.

Good luck guys, we hope you can prove us wrong :)

Flavour: ★★
Quality:   ★★ 
Service: ★★
Value: ★★ 
Atmosphere: ★

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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Fat Duck (Melbourne) | Southbank

I can see the orange glow coming through my closed eyelids while hearing the birds singing outside my window. It must be much, much later than when I normally wake up on a Wednesday.  As the blurriness of my heavy eyes begins to sharpen, what looks to be an anomalous blob of pink and white on my night stand slowly transforms into a crisp paper lolly bag with the words “Sweet Shop” neatly printed on it. I sit up in bed.


It wasn’t a dream! I was at the Fat Duck (Melbourne) last night! Upon this realization, I rub my eyes and flop my head back onto my pillow as the memories start racing back.

To The Fat Duck!

Let me take you back to 7pm Tuesday, 28 July 2015.

In the lift, full of excited - Fat Duck, here we come!
Appearing more dapper than usual for the night, hubby bear and I were waiting near Nobu in Crown when our sharp-looking friends Alex (suited up to the nines) and his beautiful partner Brittany (in a simple black dress made more elegant by her stilettos) approached.  We said our usual hellos, but all knew what we were really there for. Enough of the niceties, we headed straight to the elevator, got in and pushed the button for one Fat Duck, please.

We shot passed the iconic Fat Duck knife, spoon, and fork signage and straight to the awaiting hostess. Brittany divulged the reservation details then the four of us slid into a very dark, narrow hallway.  A bowling alley styled walk-way sprawled out before us, which lead our eyes further down the way, to a video screen in the shape of a doorway. As we progressed down the lane, footage of chefs working in the kitchen flashed on the little screen, then once we ‘arrived’ the screen turned into a little door and shut; all was quiet. Within that deafening moment, the black wall to our right disappeared and we heard a lady’s voice say, Welcome to Wonderland!

Squeeeeeee!!!!! What an enticing way to start dinner!

Where to now?
The well-dressed busy-bodies (aka Fat Duck staff) swarmed around us, our jackets were checked, and before we knew it, we were all mentally ooo-ing and aaah-ing as we were lead to a plush semi-circular booth, rounded out by two purple velvet chairs.

A “bible” of wine was promptly presented and explained, wine selections made, and we then sat back ready to enjoy the exciting food and impeccable service that only Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant could possibly provide.

The Wine Bible

Onto the Food!

Okay, enough of this storytelling, let’s get to the food. I was accompanied by a fellow vegetarian Brittany, so there are double shots of some of these photos where our mains differed from the boys.

Aerated Beetroot – an adorable little puff ball with horseradish cream in between. A delightful combination of contrasting texture, and the flavours were gorgeous. Such a shame it disappeared so quickly in our mouths!

Nitro Poached Apertifs – concocted table-side, with a smoking? steaming? frosting? container of liquid nitrogen (surely that’s healthy, right?) to toss our ‘drink’ selections in. Brittany and I got the Vodka & Green Tea, Alex the Gin and Tonic, and Hubby Bear got the Tequila and Grapefruit. All the party reported intense flavours, as well as sadness because once again, the marsh-mellow-looking treat literally vanished when you closed your lips around it.  We were all hanging for something more to chew on!


Red Cabbage Gazpacho – there’s nothing like eating cold Pommery grain mustard ice cream in cold cabbage gazpacho.  Really, there isn’t! ha! A very tasty mixture of the sharp mustard against the sweeter gazpacho. Delicious. What’s next? What’s next?
Savoury Lollies – oh hoorah!! This is like one of those “Heson’s Feasts” episodes, where everybody’s eyes are wide with curiosity! From left to right, we had a rocket-shaped icy pole Waldorf Rocket Salad, then the boys had a Salmon Twister wrapped in avocado and horseradish (we ladies simply had a Purple Carrot wrapped inside ours), and then The Feast, which for the guys was an incredibly tasty Chicken Parfait and for us veggies, a savoury Mushroom parfait.
Jelly of Quail, Marron Cream – this was a whole rock show in and of itself!  We all sat with the earth-laden ‘Listerine’ style mints on our tongues, as the taste got enhanced when the staff activated (by way of mysterious tea pot) the mossy smells of the forest – which wafted over the table and onto the floor.  The boys had their qual with a caviar sorbet, oak moss and truffle toast. We vegetarians had a Jelly of Smoked Mushroom with truffled cream and truffle toast. Yum, crunchy truffle toast. 
Snail Porridge – only actually eaten by Alex, he was the only one out of our group who would eat the little buggers. He said there were just enough and they were tasty with the Joselito ham and shaved fennel on top. Pictured is the vegetarian version, which was Parsley Porridge with shaved fennel.
It’s pretty cool to note, from a vegetarian point of view, that so far all our meals – both veg and non-veg – appear to match on the table. It’s nice to actually see how much thought went into making our experience just as exciting as the meat eaters :)

Parsley Porridge (the veg 'Snail' Porridge)

Roast Marron – professed as Hubby Bear's second favourite dish of the night, the plate was lovingly decorated with shiitake, confit Kombu and sea lettuce. Myself and Brittany had Roasted Aubergine sitting on aubergine puree with confit Kombu. So okay, our plates didn’t really match this time, but we still felt the love (and I think this was one of Brittany’s faves for the night).
Roasted Marron

Roasted Aubergine

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – the staff start this course off by giving you a bookmark to give some back story about the Mad Hatter (BTW – it might not be a bookmark, but that’s what I’m using it for now! Ha!). Then they come around with a wooden box with ‘ticking’ watches in them so Shawn and Alex can select one, and drop it into their teapot. They swished it around, the ‘golden’ watch dissolved to create the mock turtle soup.  Brittany and I had the same, less the watch procession as it had meat stock, so our teapots were simply delivered with what we think was a vegemite type of stock.  The boys seemed to enjoy their soup, but I think both Brittany and I thought the flavour a little lacking in ours.
The Teapot!
Making the Mock Turtle Soup

Mock Turtle Soup

No bother, we all enjoyed the toast sandwiches (top of the ‘hat’ display were the meat ones, bottom were veg). By the way, yes – they were sandwiches with toast as part of the filling!
"Toast" Sandwiches

Sounds of the Sea – this was the legendary course that made Shawn and I put the Fat Duck on our bucket list to begin with.  We’re all handed seashells with iPods inside, playing the sounds of lapping waves from the ocean.  Raw fish adorned Alex and Shawn’s ‘beach side’ plates with edible sand, us vegos appeared to have the same, less the meat.  I actually didn’t like this one much at all. But then again, I was never a fan of eating things that tasted like the sea, even when I did eat meat in my previous life.

Salmon Poached in Liquourice Gel – adorned with endive, golden trout roe and sprinkled with vanilla mayonnaise.  Although he liked it, this was probably one of Shawn’s least favourite dishes.
For this course, Brittany and I had meal presentation divert paths with our significant others. Our plates differed quite a lot to our meat-eating counterparts, but it was still lovely nonetheless. The large round plate was presented with Beetroot Risotto, which was trapped in some sort of casing with sour cream sorbet. Perhaps it was the last ocean-tinted flavoured dish that tainted my taste buds, making this dish not as exciting for me. Tasty, but starting to get a bit of a ‘sour’ to my tongue.
Beetroot Risotto
The Duck – hands-down was Shawn’s favourite dish, by a mile. He’s not even into duck, and has never liked blood pudding! Perhaps it was the combination of chicory and green coffee that made it all better?  There was also a sort of Duck “Prawn” cracker thing, which came out in a glass of intense spices and seeds like cardamon pods. Both Alex and Shawn said it was nice, and it had the same texture and flavour (somewhat) of a prawn cracker! And there was a cigar looking thing, nobody can remember what it was, but I recall Shawn saying it had flavours reminiscent of what was in the glass in front of them. But who knows, and who really cares. It’s the Fat Duck.

The Duck
Duck 'Prawn' Cracker
Me and Brittany’s mains were very different again, we were presented with Vegetarian Bone Marrow with an assortment of root vegetables in a broth that was suspiciously like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party broth. We both didn’t favour this one. Perhaps my dislike was based in the very subtle underlying bitter vegemite broth flavour combined with bitter root veg, which compounded my already souring tongue.  Although we appreciated all the technique that went into this dish, I don’t think either of us finished it. But it’s not easy getting all 17 courses to be a 100% match to every person’s taste, right? Right. So forward we marched!

Hot & Iced Tea – this was a delicious little dichotomy of feel. One side of the sweet honey-like tea was ice cold, while the other was hot.  Yay! Palate cleansed for me, this was a nice change in flavours from all the mains we had just gone through. Looks like we’re onto the sweeter side of things now.

Botrytis Cinerea – apparently this is the name of the ripening process for certain sweet desert wine grapes. I couldn’t pronounce it, but I sure ate it. A crazy concoction of delicate ‘balls’, some filled with yoghurt, others with blue cheese, sweet bursts of flavour here and there – and pop rocks exploding to make the experience multi-dimensional. There’s just nothing like having your food punch the inside of your mouth! Ha!  Very detailed and complex – both in appearance and flavour.  

A Piece of the Puzzle Cereal – this was a root-based cereal that came with parsnip milk. Sounds savoury but was definitely sweet. In each cereal box, we got a piece of a puzzle, which contributed to the massive Heston mural on the wall (which is apparently being transported back to England after their stint in Melbourne is done). This reminded me a bit of a Cracker Jack box, where you get to eat something sweet and get a prize, too!

The Not-So-Full English Breakfast – looked savoury but was mixed with sweet. The ‘eggs’ were presented to us first, with me and Brittany’s being a special saffron mixture, then cracked and whirled around tableside again – in that insane liquid nitrogen stuff (ingesting that won’t affect my health down the track, right? Hahaha!) and presented, just like scrambled eggs, on a tiny piece of toast. The boys had piece of “bacon” on theirs.  This course was accompanied by an Earl Grey marmalade, completed with edible jar lid.  Of course, everybody has one of those.

With the bacon
Without the bacon

Whisky Wine Gums – this course did an ‘about-face’ from all the sweets we’ve been eating. Not a palate cleanser, more like a palate blaster! Despite it being a fun rendition of the best whisky’s from around the world, I’m not a fan of whisky, so I struggled to chew these ‘gummies’ down. Thank goodness for Alex. I’m pretty sure he cleaned up on this one as he got all the ones I didn’t eat!

Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop – a shout out to the initial video Heston gets his guests to watch when they complete their booking, this lolly bag was full of little goodies we got to take home with us. Including one with an edible wrapper, and a playing card encased in its own envelope.


Let's come back to now...

"Ahhhh, what sweet memories" I think as I end my reverie. I roll back over in my bed, then eyeball my lolly bag in hopes there's a little morsel of magic left inside....

The Conclusion

So all in all, what did I think?  I thoroughly enjoyed 13 delicious courses (yes, I got 17 but I didn’t particularly like 4 of them), got to eat at one of the most famous restaurants in the world, was treated with great respect and care by the staff, and got to sit in the company of my wonderful hubby and fantastic friends for nearly 6 hours. Yes, dinner went for nearly 6 hours.  My ass was flat, but my tummy was full. And I have a take-away lolly bag. Life is good!
What about the price? Everyone gawked at the price. I say, it doesn’t matter about the price because look at everything we got! Not only 17 courses, but incredible hospitality, and an experience of a lifetime. Sure it was $525 per head without drinks, but people pay that (or more) to see bands or music concerts. How I see it is, we paid that to eat a concert.
So, one more item off our bucket list!
If you can go. Just go. Don’t overthink, just shut up and enjoy!
Flavour: ★★★★★ ✔
Quality:   ★★★★★ ✔
Service: ★★★★★ ✔
Value: ★★★★★ ✔
Atmosphere: ★★★★★ ✔

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