Monday, 30 January 2012

Restaurant Review: Kanzaman

Phone: 03 9429 3402
Location: 460 Bridge Rd, Richmond
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Overall Impression: 8/10

Kanzaman has been both J and I’s favourite Lebanese restaurant for eons now. We recently found out that our “son” (it’s a long story), Frank is best friends with the owner, which makes us now feel like we have family ties to this restaurant even though we really do not. The food however, certainly does have a strong sense of family. Hearty, rustic and smacked full of flavour, it is consistently an excellent dining experience. The service is friendly, warm and prompt. This occasion was no exception.
After looking through the menu and wanting to order everything, we opted for the banquet.
Hommus, Baba Ghannouj and Tabouleh served with pita bread
The dips were all delicious and had perfectly balanced flavours – The Tabouleh had the right hint of lemon juice, the Hommus was creamy and the Baba Ghannouj was deliciously smoky in flavour. It was an appetising start to the meal.
Foreground: Sambousik - Mild feta cheese mixed with mint, onions and spices in filo pastry
Background: Lahem bi ajeen - Minced lean lamb, vegetables and spices wrapped in filo pastry
Chilli Scallops
Kraidis Bi Toum - Stir-fried prawns with fresh herbs, garlic and lemon juice 

Both the scallops and prawns were fresh, juicy and bursting with flavour. The concept of luscious, intense flavours is common to Lebanese cuisine and no one does it better than Kanzaman.

Ashtarout - Chicken fillets sautéed in a mixture of fresh coriander, garlic and finished with a squeeze of lemon
The Ashtarout, as always, was perfectly seasoned. It was an impassioned combination of flavours - fresh herbs and Middle Eastern spices.
Sultania - Lamb eye fillets sautéed in pomegranate molasses mustard seeds and herbs

These people really know how to cook a piece of meat. Without fail, this lamb dish is always perfectly cooked – beautifully seared on the outside and just the right hint of pink on the inside. Brilliant!
Samakah Harrah - Fish of the day seasoned with garlic coriander and walnuts, topped with tahina sauce and paprika
J has had this dish several times but this was my first time having the Samakah Harrah. As expected, the balance of flavours was classical and the fish was cooked with precision.
Suddenly an alluring Arabic belly dancing music fills the room… A delightful belly dancer quickly graced us with her presence.
The belly dancing performance was awkward in the sense that she was trying to gain attention from an extremely difficult crowd. It must be a tough gig being a belly dancer. She stares you straight in the eye and dances near you and “at” you, trying to convince you to dance along with her. I tried to smile back, all the while not being sure where to look. Is it rude to stare at her belly and bosom? Or is that how you compliment her? What exactly is belly dancing audience/diner etiquette? *shrugs* 

I was pleased that a fellow diner stood up to dance with her. He seemed very comfortable. Almost a little too comfortable. All the better, it made it more fun to watch.
Turkish Delight
Mahalabia - A light and refreshing custard topped with pistachio nuts and a lemon orange blossom syrup
Our desserts soon arrived. It was a pleasant end to the meal. I particularly enjoyed the Mahalabia. It was precisely the description on the menu - “light and refreshing”.
Lebanese Coffee

What a banquet!

I recommend coming to Kanzaman for the delicious Lebanese cuisine and staying for the awkward but amusing belly dancing performance. And of course, join in if you dare!
Kanzaman on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Cafe Review: A1 Bakery

Location: 645 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Phone: 03 9386 0440
Cuisine: Bakery, Middle Eastern
Overall Impression: 7/10
With a reputation that precedes itself, A1 Bakery is certainly a culinary gem.
For a few dollars, the spinach and cheese pies with delicious morsels of haloumi within them are a winner. The Lebanese pizzas are also very enjoyable.
The baklava is perfect. For once the sweetness is not overpowering so you can enjoy the subtleties. The baklava rustled like leaves as I picked it up - that is how thin and delicate the layers are! It smelt of butter and toasted nuts.
No frills. The food is simple, to the point and irresistible. 
A1 Bakery - Brunswick on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company

Location:25 Bell Street, Yarra Glen
Phone: 03 9730 1905
Cuisine: Modern Australian
Overall Impression: 7/10
Hargreaves Hill is not your average pub. It is a gastro pub in a league of its own. Serving perfectly executed pub fare alongside Modern Australian cuisine, it is a place J and I have consistently been pleased with. Expect the crackling on your pork to be deliciously crisp, and the mashed peas on your pie floater to be freshly made.
Parmesan crusted scallops on the half shell with celeriac remoulade
Slow Roasted pork belly with parsnip and apple mash
Slow braised lamb pie with rosemary and thyme, mashed potato, and mushy peas
Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Restaurant Review: Royal Mail Hotel

Location: 98 Parker St, Dunkeld
Phone: 03 5577 2241
Cuisine: Modern Australian
Overall Impression: 10/10
This was J’s generous 2-year gift to me. It was a trip to my dream restaurant, The Royal Mail Hotel.
There was much to celebrate. We had reached that 2 year milestone, I had just welcomed 2 beautiful new nieces (both born in the same week) to the world and I was starting a new job. The year had come to a conclusion quite abruptly for me. As such, it was also a good time for reflection and contemplation. Staying in the beautiful surrounds of the Royal Mail Hotel could not have been a better option.
view from our room
After a relaxing swim in the pool, J and I both got ready for dinner. It felt slightly strange getting dolled up to walk a mere 50 metres to the restaurant from our room.
We both opted for the menu omnivore ($160 each) with accompanying wines ($115 each). Initially we had thought it might be a good idea to share a bottle but the impenetrable wine list (which was more like a book) got the better of us.
Wine list
Imagine the tax advantages associated with having your own cellar as a wine list in a successful restaurant. Allan Myers is a lucky man.
The restaurant is set up in the most peculiar manner. Every table is set to face the sommelier and his wooden table of wines, an impressive collection of riedel glasses and decanters and wine bottles. It was an amusing sight. It was clearly a deliberate move – perhaps to pay homage to one's love of wine?
pork sandwich
globe artichoke and mayonnaise
chicken crisps
matched with: nv ulysse collin blanc de  blancs
champagne france

It was an incredible start to the meal. All three elements on the plate were superb. Each carefully thought out and perfectly executed. J and I were under Dan Hunter’s spell. We immediately lusted for more. With Hunter's impressive resume (he was the head chef at the two Michelin star restaurant, Mugaritz), we were both excited to see what else was in store.
tomato and prawn, cinnamon basil, daikon ice
matched with: 2010 domaine Tanglore
tavel france

And the dishes continued to deliver.
heirloom carrots, garlic, soy cream, sorrel seeds
matched with: 2009 domaine du belliviere 'l'effraie'
coteaux du loir france

This was an outstanding course. It was difficult to understand the mechanics and the complexity of the dish because you sense that you are not fully contemplating all there is to it. The dish is delicious and tries to be deceptively simple but you cannot help your suspicions. The carrots are what carrots would be in a perfect world. It has the perfect hint of sweetness, tastes intensely natural yet without the impurities you would attach to an average carrot. I apologise for the strange descriptions but it really is one you will have to try for yourself because words simply do not do it justice.
egg yolk and new potatoes, salt cod, fish crackling
matched with: 2007 bannockburn 'srh' chardonnay
geelong vic

The yolk enveloped the potatoes and the deliciously salted fish crackling, creating an explosion of intense delight in my mouth. This was genius. It tasted comforting and wholesome. Every element complemented the next.  
sand flathead, mustard, nori, sugar snap peas
matched with: 2010 crawford river riesling
henty vic
This course was subtle in both texture and flavour. It demonstrated a full appreciation of the delicate allure associated with fresh produce, allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves.
Again and again, the theme of balance in flavour and the importance of different textural elements resounded throughout the courses. As expected, everything was consistently cooked to perfection.
eel and bone marrow, eggplant, pickled vegetables
matched with: 2010 best's 'old clone' pinot noir
grampians vic

*Spoiler alert!*
A good meal at the Royal Mail Hotel wouldn’t be complete with a bit of a challenge to traditional notions. The prominent gleaming brown object is not the eel. Instead, it is the thin, dark and crisp-looking piece on the top!
duck and cucumber, coastal plants, calamari cream
matched with: chateau d'armailhac 5th growth
pauillac france

The coastal plants literally exploded in my mouth, their juices lingered as the duck meat melted and the saltiness of the calamari cream struck a lovely balance. It was a beautiful end to the savoury courses.
Palate cleanser - chamomile
fallen fruit; apple, almond, caramel, chamomile

The desserts were no different. They were impressive at every turn. Did we need three desserts? Probably not, but the joie de vivre of the experience certainly brought out the glutton in us.  
berries and fig leaf, white chocolate and rose
matched with: 2009 marenco 'pineto' brachetto d'acqui
piedmont italy
pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb, chocolate
matched with: nv sanchez romate cream sherry
jerez spain
And it had come to an end. It was an amazing set of 10 courses, all of which alluring, appetizing, and aesthetically pleasing. The delivery of each course was timed perfectly and the order of the courses was faultless.
The service was impeccable. The waiters came in sets of two, so that both J and I received our courses at the exact same time. Without a word, one of them would invariably disappear into the abyss leaving the other to describe the course we were about to indulge in. At one stage my napkin fell to the ground. The next thing I knew, I was presented with a new one. I had not noticed since it happened in a split of a second but J saw it all happen (he described it as fascinating). Apparently one waiter immediately took the fallen napkin from the ground while another brought me a new one. 

Earl grey chocolate petit fours

What a tremendous start to 2012. You have set the bar inordinately high, Royal Mail Hotel.

Thank you for this indulgent gift, my sweet J.

Royal Mail Hotel on Urbanspoon