I’ll freely admit that I do have a habit of dining out and subsequently sharing pictures of food and wine on social media. In 2014 I’ve managed to cultivate a bit of a reputation, to the point where people ask if I even eat at home, let alone cook. I’m very fortunate that my job not only introduces me to some of the best restaurants in Melbourne and beyond, but also affords me the time and finances to head out and visit places. I’ve done pretty well in the last 12 months, so I thought I’d mention a few of the great experiences and dishes I had in 2014.
I love this place, and the numerous times I went in this year I didn’t have to wait for a spot. I’m pretty sure every time I’ve been in the idea was just for drinks, but I found myself always ordering food, often the fantastic degustation option (which included the highlight dish of duck liver parfait and waffle), and picking a bottle of the deep and broad wine list. Great accessibility with class.
Moon Under Water with guest chef David Moyle
Back in February my employer Lario brought out one of it’s Italian wine producers (Damijan Podversic) for the Rootstock Sydney Festival. As part of the itinerary in Melbourne the sommelier of the Builders Arms and Moon Under Water (Campbell Burton) arranged for a special lunch to profile Damian’s wines. In collaboration with acclaimed Tasmania-based chef David Moyle, Campbell and chef Josh Murphy put together an innovative yet elegant and simple menu perfectly complementing the unique wines from Collio in Friuli. Several raw dishes, a sumptuous beef rib and a lovely potato and salted fish dumpling all stood out, and I’m keen to head back and to visit David at his new restaurant in Hobart (Franklin).
The Town Mouse
This restaurant was my standout for 2013 and the many times I was here this year just further proved why I love it; interestingly selected ingredients presented in a unique way that can still be appreciated by the layman, friendliest most accessible service of the highest quality, and thoughtfully constructed short punchy wine list. If you haven’t been here yet, get on it as it’s one of the best in Melbourne.
Al Pont de Ferr
The dining highlight of my mid-year trip to Europe was undoubtedly Al Pont de Ferr in Milan. This Michelen-star venue on the canals of Milan is a relaxed fine diner, with an astonishingly good wine list, and super innovative menu. You can pick from a number of themed degustations, and I took the Earth menu. Simply stunning presentation and convivial atmosphere, one of the best places I’ve been in Europe.
No question about it, this is my favourite Italian restaurant in Melbourne, and also one of the most under-the-radar in the city. Service doesn’t get much more personal than with Maurice Santucci, and the menu is both traditional and top-shelf at the same time. Whilst the wine list is great, covering many top producers in Italy, there are opportunities to BYO here, something pretty rare in a restaurant this good. The chocolate dessert was one of the highlights of the year.
Belle’s Hot Chicken
OK, it’s no secret that I have a very unhealthy obsession with this place, but it was easily one of the most exciting openings of 2014. The only problem with going in for a feed at Belle’s almost every week is that I’ve eaten the entire menu a few times over. Fortunately there are always new wines to try, and the service is always amazing. Many a lunch was enjoyed to nurse a hangover, and several hangovers were caused at Belle’s as well.
Can’t get enough of this place. Head chef Chris Watson has taken everything he’s learned in his career, particularly working with Andrew McConnell, and simplified everything back to a French brasserie style venue that wouldn’t be out-of-place in Paris. Food is lovingly prepared and simply presented, and I do so love that you can see the ingredients on the plate rather than have them overcomplicated so much that they scarcely resemble what they are actually made from. Once again, I highly recommend the degustation option as it is exciting and outstanding value. Booze is great too.
After living in Japan for a year back in 1999 I found it extremely difficult to find good authentic Japanese cuisine here in Australia, that both captures the seasonality, the authenticity and regionality that exemplifies Washoku. More recently it’s become a lot easier, but there are way more simple authentic Korean places than Japanese of late. The best Japanese meal I’ve eaten outside of Japan was newcomer Kappo, from the team behind Izakaya Den and Hihou. The menu is purely seasonal, and only degustation. There’s a beautiful humility about the experience, not to mention cosy with only 25 seats. It’s authentically Japanese but beautify modern as well.
I’m a bit ashamed that it took me this long to visit Tonka as it had been on my list since it opened. Apart from the fact that it has a lovely view of the Yarra River, and the service and beverages are amazing, I was intrigued by the concept of fine-dining Indian-inspired cuisine. In June of 2013 I took my family for Mum’s birthday to Coda, the bigger brother to Tonka, but whilst it is outstanding the East Asian-inspired flavours aren’t unique in Melbourne. Indian however is a cuisine most would be familiar with – Melbourne has a large Indian migrant population and subsequently no shortage of great Indian restaurants – but the idea of pitching it much higher, not to mention matching wines to it, was a concept I couldn’t pass up on experiencing. Dinner was only slightly soured by the presence of our prime minister on the next table no doubt in Melbourne for the Cup the next day.
On my list of places to go (and return to) for 2015 are; Franklin (Hobart), Pei Modern, Elyros, Attica, Brae, Tipo 00,