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Thursday, 30 June 2016

Pierre Roelofs Dessert Evening



A few years ago, when I lived northside and spent a lot of time around Smith Street, I first heard of pastry chef Pierre Roelofs' dessert degustations, then held at Fitzroy's Cafe Rosamond. (I've since heard they were previously at Monsieur Truffe's former Smith Street site.)

The idea was you paid a set price (around $50.00 each, from memory) for a set number of courses of dessert only. Yes, DESSERT ONLY. I remember being impressed by (a) the concept of a degustation comprising solely desserts (if you're a sweet tooth too - admit you're also in love with the idea), and (b) the variety explored within such a constricted genre - sometimes focused around certain ingredients, or catering to certain food requirements (e.g. lactose intolerant, vegan). Possibly, the variety was to make it more interesting for Roelofs, or more inclusive for potential customers ...but it just all sounded really clever. Roelofs is Kiwi-born and trained in Switzerland for some years. He prepares each element of his desserts personally.



Unfortunately, the Rosamond evenings ended before I had a chance to partake. A stint of quiet was followed by several random Roelofs events, including similar degustations for a short time at Adriano Zumbo's Fancy Nance (21 Daly Street, South Yarra) (where you received four courses for $65.00), and a soft-serve pop-up outside Green Park (815 Nicholson Street, Carlton North) (timely: in the middle of summer, January 2016). Having missed all these, I was excited when a good chef friend of mine suggested we do the dessert degustation at Roelofs' new home, as of April 2016: Milkwood (120 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East).

I knew Milkwood as a regular cafe, having eaten brunch there several times. It makes sense to me that a daytime venue be utilised by night for a different purpose. Not only does it bring more attention to each business individually, through buzz about one or the other, but it would split (or at least lighten) the cost of overheads. In Melbourne's competitive cafe/restaurant market, any penny saved to keep an awesome business going is a good thing.

My friend looking forward to desserty goodness


We pre-purchased our tickets online: $55.00 each for what turned out to be three courses of dessert - but I think should actually have been four, according to the website and online reviews. At the time, I felt relieved: I'd expected four or five courses, but after two, wasn't sure I could stomach that many! They weren't overly sweet, for desserts - but of course, the nature of dessert is that it IS sweet. Those three courses taught me the maximum amount of sugar my body can handle!



It was strange rocking up to a closed Milkwood, its front room packed up and lights dimmed. A sign on the window pointed us down the side path to a back entry, and we found ourselves in the light, neutral back rooms of the venue. We were politely greeted by staff who were obviously enjoying the novelty of serving desserts to excited guests, and were led to our table.



An archway and lots of light-coloured wood gave the place a clean, Scandinavian feel. Water was served from pastel country-style pitchers, and a light, country-kitsch theme continued in the crockery, and even the arty bill. We ordered from the non-alcoholic drinks menu (truth be told - slightly disappointing, but probably healthier, since we'd already down a few drinks with our light antipasto dinner up the road) and awaited our first course.

It was an earl grey meringue, atop a rich base of apricot, almond creme and sablée (pastry). The flavours and textures complemented one another surprisingly well, and also went very nicely with my chamomile tea.



Next was a lime coconut ice-cream, with a lime jelly, jasmine and rum raisins. I'm not normally a fan of rum raisin, but the sweet-and-sour lightness of the lime and coconut helped cut through its richness.



Finally, third course was a chickpea sponge (unusual, right? but yummy!) with passionfruit cream and gel, and a chocolate crumb.



I was rather disappointed that one of the courses did not turn out to be Roelofs' signature 'dessert tube' (of various changing flavours) - I'm guessing this is the course that we missed out on. Perhaps they'd run out (the table next to us didn't get them, either). But, as I said - three courses of sugar was plenty for me, and in any case, I enjoyed the courses we did receive.

Dessert Evenings can be booked through the Pierre Roelofs website, and are currently scheduled in once per week, as far as August. Make sure you book ahead - they are very popular - and you will need to pay ahead, too. Approximately one hour and 20 minutes is allocated for each sitting. The set menu is changed frequently, and dietary requirements *may* be able to be catered for, with plenty of notice (but it's best to enquire).



Roelofs' current project is Dessert Studies: basically a collaboration with other creatives to help devise new Dessert Evenings dishes. From time to time, he also runs a Dessert Intensive, a short course designed to share his knowledge, skills and experience with pastry chefs of the future. Details of both projects can be found on his website

This is one chef determined to make the world a sweeter place.


Update: 6 July 2016

In response to this blog post, staff from the Dessert Evenings contacted me and advised that there should indeed have been four courses rather than three, and that the initial course should have been a dessert tube. Apparently there are usually extra tubes on hand, so they are not sure how we were missed. Of course we understand that these things can happen - no biggie! They kindly offered for us to return and sample a dessert tube on another occasion, which we hope to do soon. 




Milkwood Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Mister Jennings

Named for children's author Paul Jennings, this baby in Richmond's on-again off-again hospitality wasteland of Bridge Road is one for the real foodies. It is the solo venture of Head Chef Ryan Flaherty, who has stinted at world-renowned restaurants El Bulli and The Fat Duck, then jointly brought Northcote's The Estelle to foodie fame along with then-business partner, Scott Pickett. Flaherty's passion, creativity and refined skill is evident in his food, and indeed the whole of Mister Jennings (142 Bridge Road, Richmond) is a pretty schmick affair.



It's an unassuming shopfront in amongst the retail section of Bridge Road, near the corner of Lennox Street. Mister Jennings had been on my restaurant hit list for so long that by the time I got there, I'd managed to avoid the 'just opened' crowds, and aside from maybe three other tables, we had the place to ourselves. Then again, it's not a massive restaurant, and it was mid-week in late March -- and to be honest, I was quite happy that it meant we had more of the charming host's attention. *blinks innocently*



Lots of people seem to mention the bareness of the 34-seater restaurant; I found it simple, but warm. Wooden floorboards, chunky Scandinavian-style chairs and tables in blonde wood, navy feature walls, a dark, modern central bar, and low lighting playing on mirrored surfaces... To me, it was all welcoming elegance, clean neutral lines and quiet confidence. Upstairs is a 16-seater function room on the way to which you pass by the kitchen with its separate chef's table (SO want that next time!).



Drinks are a classy affair, the wine list devised by ex-Stokehouse sommelier, Lincoln Riley. I drank a Kiwi Pinot Gris, probably a little too keenly.

It may sound puppy-eyed but I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single thing we ate. We did that "please feed us" thing, and I find that often results in the most exciting food I ever get to try.

To start, we had grown-up Dagwood Dogs, otherwise known as a Boudin Blanc - chicken based, and surprisingly moist. (Yes, that word. You can deal.)



Then, cured scallops with a cold pea soup poured at the table. Light, fresh and creamy, with a generous topping of fluffy herbs. Good lord, I'm getting hungry.




Next up: my favourite dish of the night (and the favourite of many other patrons here, it seems) - frozen kangaroo. ...Wha?!? Any kangaroo I've had before has been in the form of a heavy, chewy, peppery steak - frankly, not that enjoyable. This was the complete opposite: finely sliced, classically prepared carpaccio - that is, frozen to serve, designed to thaw in your mouth - jumbled with a creamy avocado wasabi, julienned nashi pear, freeze-dried raspberries for kick, richness from a sort of congealed beef and wine stock. It was a party in my mouth - cold, fresh, rich and light all at once. It sounds weird, but trust me. You'll love it.



The kangaroo awesomeness was followed by a Tasmanian trumpeter - no, not a musician; a fish! - served with fried curry leaves, squash, caviar and a saffron, onion sauce (soubise). (Sorry, no pic of that one.)

Then we shared a sirloin from the Kangaroo Valley, cooked to perfection and served with simple chunky fries and salad. Thank goodness we shared this one; by this point, I was rather full.





But! Room for dessert... always. We technically had one each, but shared them all.

One was an almond sponge thing (for want of a better description... nope, there's none) served with pear, green tea, and cream.



There was a basil tuile with mascarpone and strawberry.



And finally, a chocolate fondant (yes!) with caramelised banana (noooo... nothing personal - bananas and I are not friends).



See? All kinds of yummy goodness.

Mister Jennings is a self-proclaimed bar and eatery, open for lunch and dinner. Although I'd be more inclined to go here for a good, proper meal, I wouldn't mind trying the perch-at-the-bar thing for a bit of classy wine, banter and nibbles. It's a grown-up affair, which makes me wonder what the real Mr Jennings would make of it.






Mister Jennings Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Tenpin

In my initial Googling of this place, I had to specify "restaurant" in the search term, because it was still new and Google thought I was looking for a bowling joint. Tenpin (67 Beach Street, Port Melbourne) is actually named after a giant bowling pin - not really relevant to South-East Asian cuisine, I would have thought, but hey! why not. I do very much like the bowling alley style font used in their logo, however. Retro and with a swish!



Port Melbourne is a bitch to get to. Seriously, if you don't have a car, Uber or a cab is your best bet. (Sort out your s*^t, PTV!) I got there in a very roundabout way via PT, getting into the city first to catch the 109 tram right to the end (near where the Spirit of Tasmania docks) and walked five minutes down the road. Although annoying to get to, no one can deny this restaurant's premium position: literally across the road from the beach, looking out to Port Phillip Bay. We were there on a February evening (only a few months after it opened in December 2015), and the sunset views were spectacular.



The restaurant is fronted with glass - not surprising, considering the outlook - which gives it lots of natural light (well, in the warmer months, anyway).



Once inside, there is basically one large room, with bench seating down the left wall, a long communal table down the middle, and a couple more tables on your right. A bar and the kitchen sit down the back.



I loved the sparse industrial look of the place, designed by one of the owner-partners, apparently: concrete walls, timber flooring, structural beams, all interspersed with luxe velvet cushioning along the bench seating (in an surprisingly appealing mustard colour), clever lighting, and little splashes of red in art, flowers, placemats, a fire hydrant. I wasn't really a fan of the lights spotted along the concrete wall - they looked unfinished (maybe they were?!). But everything else about this place was confidently bright and airy, with personality.





The many hard surfaces mean Tenpin would get quite noisy, so considering the decor and noise level it's probably more suited to young-ish types than, for instance, families. Great for a date or dinner with a small group of mates! Since our visit they have also opened the upper level - with an outdoor deck. Woo to the hoo.



The wines tend more to the European side of things here, which I love, and I enjoyed a couple of glasses of my favourite varietal lately: Gruner Veltliner. My dining companion informed me that cocktails were a thing here, so she tried a cherry sour cocktail, which I gotta say, looked pretty amazing.

But What About The Food? 
The head chef here, Ashley Richey, had been putting out Middle Eastern-style food down the road at Mr Lawrence at the London (run by the same owners), and had also previously worked at Chin Chin - so I expected pretty exciting stuff and some kind of pow-wow factor. Overall, it was pretty great food, and it packed a punch, but there were a few hit/miss things that I'm guessing were mostly due to the menu still being ironed out.

We ate...

Edamame, with the pleasant addition of sesame - one of my faves

Scallop - great flavours, but a bit too overloaded to eat easily,
and a wee bit too much chilli for me

Pork belly - delicious! We hadn't finished all the crackling
before the plate was taken away though :(

Mahi-mahi fish with XO sauce - tasty but again, a bit on the hot side for me

Gai lan - always a winner

Chicken curry - with a beautifully balanced
peanut/chilli sauce, and quality bits of chicken


The service was also a mixed bag. Our host was delightful and charming, however our waitress swung between charming and cold, almost rude. Again - perhaps something that is likely to be ironed out over time.

I was with a blogger friend, so we ate on the house this time, which was very kind. And would I pay for a meal here? Absolutely. The decor, view, cocktails and food would entice me back. Aside from a few small things to take care of, Tenpin is on the up and up.






Tenpin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato