Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Goodbye, ST ALi North. 
Hello, Green Park Dining.

THREE-WORD SUMMARY Good for everything 

Must-order Casa Mariol Vermut Negre with orange to whet the palate 
Better off without sitting at the tables in the main thoroughfare 
Top tip live music on Sundays from 5pm to 7pm 
The crowd families with kids, catch up crowds, bloggers, locals 
The damage $40pp excluding drinks for dinner, $12-23 for breakfast & lunch 

Green Park Dining opens first thing tomorrow at 7am sharp where ST ALi North once stood. Owner Jesse Gerner (the fellow behind Bomba in Melbourne CBD and Anada in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) was an original partner at ST ALi North, but he sold his share to focus on Bomba. Gerner recently shook hands with former ST ALi North business partner Salvatore Malatesta, bought the whole thing, and turned it into an all day eatery. 

Green Park Dining’s co-owners – the ‘Green Team’, if you will – have an impressive combined resume: Jamie Munro-Lynch (ex-Charlie Dumpling, Anada, Circa and Cutler & Co.) is in charge of the floor, Howard Stamp (ex-MoVida and Le Bon Ton) is at the helm in the kitchen, and James Madden (ex-Kirk’s and City Wine Store) has put together the drinks menu with wines from our home soil as well as France, Italy and Spain. 

I attended a preview dinner last night with a throng of media, blogger and industry folk. Eades & Bergman have done a fantastic job of simply but effectively revamping the formerly cold, reverberating shell into a moody space with forest green walls and colour-coordinated ferns. A timber divider breaks up the once-hollow dining space, and a wine bar replaces the coffee area, complete with both stool seating and booths with leather banquettes. 

Food-wise, a Spanish influence sneaks onto the menu, but Gerner has been telling the media that Green Park Dining shouldn’t be pigeonholed into the Spanish category. Breakfast favourites are likely to include the smoked brisket hash with a fried duck egg; scotch egg with black pudding and rosemary glazed bacon on brioche; and cornbread with avocado, scrambled eggs, tomato and chipotle relish. Lunch, served from 11am to 3pm, is short and sweet: gnocchi, aged Murray beef burger, pan-fried fish, cider-braised pork and an ancient grain salad with pickled cauliflower, asparagus, capsicum and goat’s cheese. 

Come dinnertime, your best bet is to start with charcuterie and follow with either two courses for $30 or three courses for $40. At the moment there’s a fish, lamb and vegetarian option for main with mascarpone tart, profiteroles or chocolate salami for sweets. The bar menu is more extensive with small share dishes such as braised oxtail croquettes, steak and pepper tartar with potato chips and fried rabbit with tarragon mayo. Bigger plates include meat from the grill and wood-grilled fish. I’ll be popping in for a digestif and the frozen chocolate and hazelnut Aero bar. 

The highlight dish from the launch was the supple kingfish ceviche punctuated with pale green daubs of avocado, coriander, chipotle and zingy jalapenos. Meatier dishes – such as pork and rabbit terrine and fall-off-the-bone Murray Grey beef ribs – were richer in flavour, while snapper on a bed of stewed zucchini was delicate by comparison. Side plates didn’t drop the ball, ranging from seasonal greens and colourful roast carrots with labne, to golden fried potatoes spiked with garlic butter. Park St Pastries supplied a selection of sweets, which will be available from a display cabinet throughout the day. 

At the most basic level, Green Park Dining has all bases covered, whether for a midweek drink, Sunday session or family brunch. There’s a children’s breakfast menu ($5-6) with play equipment an arm’s length away, live music on Sundays (New Orleans piano and horns), a snacky bar menu, Clement Coffee to complement your eggs, intimate candles in the evening, and then some. Pulling off such a broad offering is a brave move, but if Gerner and his experienced team can do it, Green Park dining will quickly become a Carlton North staple. 

Contemporary, Spanish Influence 
815 Nicholson Street Carlton North, Victoria, Australia 
(03) 9380 5455 
Open daily 7am-11pm 
No bookings 

Green Park on Urbanspoon

Thank you to the team at Green Park Dining for the introduction to the establishment.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sydney Surry Hills Restaurants

One girl, 30 dishes and 24 hours in Sydney – Part 4/4 

We gathered our bags from reception where Matt insisted we catch a cab to dinner. “It’s only a kilometer away,” I lied. I was met with groans as we descended the stairs back out into the bustle of Sydney CBD. The groans continued for the slightly uphill, 20ish minute walk and I was suddenly privy to what it felt like to have a toddler. At one stage, a piggyback was offered. “It’s the next street on the right,” I said three times. And just as I promised that if it wasn’t in fact the next street on the right we would hail a cab, the Meagher Street sign came into view. A little further down was Ester, brought to Chippendale by the same crew behind Berta and 121BC, and we couldn’t have finished our Sydney stopover on a higher note. 

It felt good the moment we stepped inside: marble, metal, concrete, an impressive dark timber bar and open arches highlighting the kitchen – mimicking Ester’s prized, wood-fire oven. The staff were on the ball. They’re the kind of people who appreciate you have a plane to catch and don’t charge you for a barely noticeable, undersized glass of wine. The menu is divided into snacks, small plates, woodfired, sides and dessert. I got my meat fix from the blood sausage sanga, the ultimate bar snack of a mini morcilla, dense and earthy, on a steamed cloud of white bread with a splodge of aioli and caramalised onion. I couldn’t help thinking how fantastic the pillowy bread would be slathered in butter and liberally sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. 

Simple menu descriptions such as “squid / ink / corn” brought so much more to the table – lemony ribbons of supple squid with buttered corn kernels – with sauces and reductions balancing and enhancing all at once. A rather dull-sounding cauliflower, almond and mint dish was anything but; leaves intact, smoky-charred edges, supersized mint leaves and a creamy almond sauce dotted with olive oil. Broccolini with crisp, fried garlic slices and fermented chilli continued to make me question why I never experienced vegetables like this growing up, while a moat of salt and pepper sauce surrounding a whole blue swimmer crab (pictured at top) instantly became my drug of choice. 

Dessert kept up: a plain but pleasant tropical take on the eton mess described merely as mango, passionfruit and meringue had fresh slices, tangy seeds and sweet, soft chunks of all of the above. But it was the only dish that didn’t spell out the ingredients – “Three Milks” – that won us over. It was a trio of delightful dairy from each animal: sheep’s milk yoghurt foam, cow’s milk panna cotta too silky to hold its shape, and tooth-stickingly sweet dulce de leche made from goat’s milk. I made a completely inappropriate scraping action with my spoon, desperate to ingest the last streaks of dulce de leche. I put down the spoon, looked left and right, and with a quick swoop of my index finger conquered the dregs of dessert. Olive oil biscuit crumbs and rosemary took it from ‘here’ to ‘there’, the latter being that place that separates superb restaurants from great restaurants. You won’t find edible soil and seductive smears at Ester, but you will uncover a kitchen that makes playing with fire awfully desirable. 

We’d come a long way from potentially maggot-infested airport Sushi Sushi. Our food frenzy was nothing less than welcomed gluttony. But looking down at my iPhone, I pointed out to my other half that I had barely scratched the surface of my Sydney to-eat list. “You’ve foie gras’d yourself over the last 24 hours,” he said as we got up to leave. I raised a ‘please explain’ eyebrow in his direction. “You’ve eaten the same way they force-feed those ducks,” he said. “Except no one forced me, and I’m not a duck,” I quipped. I suppose that’s what you get for dating a pescatarian.

Ester on Urbanspoon

The end.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ruyi Restaurant Melbourne

Ruyi Restaurant Serves Up Refined Chinese Food

THREE-WORD SUMMARY quality, designer Chinese 

Must-order chicken wings Better off without: dessert 
Top tip ‘As You Wished’ menu available (5 courses $45, 8 courses $65) 
The crowd suits, celebrating groups, young couples with old money 
The damage around $50-60pp excluding drinks 

Those used to paying $8 for a plate of 15 dumplings should stop reading now. Ruyi is about quality, not quantity, which is apparent as soon as you step inside. The restaurant looks more Scandinavian furniture store than Chinese restaurant with its Hecker Gutherie-designed interior: white tiles, muted green finishes, blond wood chairs imported from Italy, handmade lights from France and custom ceramic crockery made by a local artist. 

When we visited for lunch mid-week there was no one else around to appreciate the décor. Given the empty tables it was surprising food took so long to arrive. The genuine and chatty husband-wife owners pushed service scores back up, while a silky roast duck and tofu soup, slippery wontons and perfect, pan-fried pork dumplings had us spluttering, “Wait? What wait?” between mouthfuls.   

Four flaming king prawns and fluffy bao were fine but not extraordinary, especially compared with exquisite fried chicken wings and soft shell crab, the latter battered beautifully and served with thick and zesty lemon dipping sauce.

Crisp Szechuan eggplant strips made the most addictive of french fries seem dull and should be ordered in place of any veggie sides. There’s sweet and sticky kong bao chicken chock-full of peanuts, but if you’re short on stomach space make a beeline for the wagyu (market price from $40+). The imported Kobe beef with a marble score of nine came seasoned with black truffle paste and presented on a field of fungi (abalone and shiitake ‘shrooms) and asparagus. We should have finished on a high note, as opposed to ordering lacklustre desserts such as undercooked, lukewarm 'sticky' rice pudding. 

In the wine department the one-pager list is heavy on Australian and New Zealand varieties, with stunners from Italy, France and Spain thrown in for good measure. Keep an eye out for seasonal cocktails, too. The $35 set lunch includes a glass of French sparkling and will have you rolling out the door. Opt for the $18 set lunch (a small soup, one bao and two each of dumplings of Ruyi's choice and fried chicken wings) and you risk snacking before dinner. While most people are used to paying for Chinese with spare change, Ruyi – which is more affordable than many restaurants in Melbourne CBD – is the ultimate proof that you get what you pay for. 

16 Liverpool Street Melbourne, Australia 
(03) 9090 7778 
Open weekdays 11.30am-3pm & 5.30pm-10pm; Sat 5:30pm-late 
Bookings accepted 

RuYi Modern Chinese on Urbanspoon

  Thank you to the kind folk at Ruyi and Veda Gilbert for their generosity and assistance with this blog post.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sydney Surry Hills Restaurants

One girl, 30 dishes and 24 hours in Sydney – Part 3/4 

Fast-forward through a restless sleep – the kind where you can’t lie on your belly for fear of exploding – to the next morning. We had stretched our stomachs so much the previous night that we actually woke up hungry. Paramount Coffee Project was first on the agenda; all polished concrete floors, high ceilings and pale timbers. The café is a collaborative effort by Sydney’s Russell Beard (Reuben Hills) and Melbourne’s Mark Dundon (Seven Seeds). Here, single origin beans have residencies, mimicking the yet-to-be-discovered bands that chat across communal tables and visit the Golden Age Cinema downstairs when the sun sets. 

Paramount Hipster Project.

The Paramount Coffee Project on Urbanspoon

I resisted the sweet waffle with peanut butter ice cream, dulche de leche and hazelnut, instead opting for the arrollado. What arrived was less arrollado (a pork roll made with the rejected parts of the pig, bacon, and spices rolled in pork skin, tied with string, and then brushed with chilli sauce) and more brekkie burrito wrapped in foil and served in a plastic red basket. It was a messy affair that required my favourite kind of utensil: hands. Egg yolk ejected from all directions and thick, smoky bacon rubbed shoulders with avocado, house-made ketchup and kale, the in-vogue veggie. We also ate perfectly poached salmon resting on a fennel futon scattered with radish and dill, huddled beside chunky beetroot jam.  

Paramount Salmon Project, a light choice before a day of eating.

As it was a Saturday morning and I had long ago decided I was going to eat until it was physically impossible to continue, we caught a train to Everleigh Markets. You’ll find it in the old Everleigh Rail Yards with the kind of exposed beams and dappled brick walls that the trendiest cafés could only dream of achieving. I let my stomach lead the way, from cheese sample to chutney tasters and back again. I stopped at the Billy Kwong stall to buy a steamed sticky rice parcel hugged by vine leaves, loaded with chilli and speckled with equally crunchy macadamias and roasted crickets. Kylie Kwong was serving as she often does on a Saturday morning. Matt, the pescatarian boyfriend, politely declined the crickets, picking his way around them to get to the sticky rice. I had a moment in the sunshine, clucking over children too young to walk but somehow managing to bop to buskers. I wondered if I would have eaten the crickets if Pinocchio was still my favourite movie; I probably would have let my conscience be my guide. 

The Billy Kwong stall at Everleigh Markets

Billy Kwong on Urbanspoon

Post-market we parted ways: him to a meeting, me to Moon Park, the Redfern restaurant reinventing Korean. I walked there, figuring my body would appreciate the gesture, only to discover a closed door. My attempt to schedule in as many eateries as possible over the weekend had failed me – I had confused the availability of lunch to be on Saturday instead of Sunday. I had to keep moving. It hurt, but as I strolled to Surry Hills past two men, one passed out and pantless, the other in high heels and a miniskirt, I realised worse things had happened. Anyway, my lunch at Bishop Sessa squared the situation. 

Paul Cooper's cucumber and scallop ceviche dish at Bishop Sessa.

Bishop Sessa on Urbanspoon

Chef Paul Cooper – who Melbourne lost to Sydney a couple of years ago now – launched Bishop Sessa with Erez Gordon. Like many establishments, they drill home the use of local and sustainable produce, but Cooper has practiced what he preaches for years. They take it seriously: sides of pig, beef and lamb are aged and butchered out the back. After explaining I wasn’t overly hungry, I was served the incredibly good value six-course degustation ($69). It started with a steamed quail bun – or ‘bao’ – the pinkish meat all crispy-skinned and sweet with hoisen sauce. Technically not part of the menu, Cooper won’t refuse customers who order it for fear of an uprising. 

Each dish was as exciting and as balanced as the last, gradually getting heavier until it climaxed in a snake of bittersweet chocolate mousse tart, surrounded by mounds of chocolate soil, honeycomb boulders, a chunk of grilled banana and punchy salted caramel ice cream. The middle leg of the meal consisted of a delicate dish with curls of cucumber, avocado mousse and ginger beer sorbet prettily arranged atop slivers of scallop ceviche; roast pork covered in lemon verbena crackling served with tender calamari; and confit duck lasagne layered with thick homemade pasta, sweetened with miso consommé and scattered with oats and beetroot chutney. 

A dessert for for a sweet tooth at Bishop Sessa.

After I finished I sat for a while eavesdropping on other diners. Their "oohs" and "ahhs" flanked by "isn’t this lovely". I had about an hour – and many more calories – to burn, so I left the narrow space with it’s high bar and low banquettes and slowly strolled to Central Station. I took my time traversing Crown Street, stopping to gawk at a fabulous hairdresser with a mini picket fence in the doorway to prevent two poodles – one dyed pink, the other purple – from escaping. I brought a ring and a card, contemplated ice cream, and finally met Matt at the station. He was starving. 

Doggs Breakfast at Reuben Hills.

We walked back up to Rueben Hills, feeling like Paramount Coffee Project et al. groupies. He ate a fresh and zesty combination of ceviche, salsa and pink grapefruit segments on rustic corn chips, but I still had ice cream on the brain. I couldn’t have asked for a better result than the doggs breakfast ice cream sandwich, a mutant Monaco bar, more brownie than biscuit, presented on an enamel plate with a giant blue spoon to match. They had heaped so much salted caramel on the plate I actually left some. Rueben Hills spreads itself between a block and two storeys. It’s got the refined ‘we’ve gutted the shit out of this place’ look. There’s ubiquitous exposed brickwork, LED tubes fastened to the wall for art’s sake, copper pipes and a blue tiled table that adds a pinch of colour. The upper floor, where the roasting happens, has been shaped in a crescent so people can see both up and down. 

Reuben Hills on Urbanspoon

More eating meant more walking, the kind that starts in chatter and ends in comfortable silence, exploring the CBD purposelessly until we could feel blisters forming on our heels. We passed enough time to fit in another meal before dinner, but it had to be close to the hotel so we could get our bags. Revising Chat Thai with more space in our bellies seemed like the best option. It was that awkward time slightly nearer to dinner than lunch, where all sense and reason gives way to insatiable snacking. Our snacking involved an overflowing plate of pad Thai, all slimy flat rice noodles swimming in tamarind and palm sugar, juicy bean sprouts, peanuts and fat prawns. I washed my half, the bigger half, down with sweetened coconut milk infested with green pandan jelly worms. “You’re weird,” said Matt, although secretly I have a recurring dream where my affection for textural oriental beverages (a la bubble tea) causes nearby Asian customers to silently nod approval in my direction.

Pad Thai and traditional pandan drink at Chat Thai.

To be continued...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

TRAVEL: Langhe e Roero, Italy

I left my heart in Langhe

I know what you're thinking, "A month between blog posts, how could she?" I have a pretty damn good excuse. I've just come back from my new favourite place on Earth, Langhe e Roero in Piedmont, Italy, and you can see the photos and read all about it here.

At the start of the year I submitted a recipe and a story to World Nomad's for their Passport & Plate program. I found out a few months later that I had been selected to go on one of my most memorable travel experiences to date. 

I spent 12 days in Italy, nine of which I was hosted in Langhe e Roero. I have created a separate page (you'll find it under 'pages' in the column to the right of this blog) where I have written about every, single detail. It starts with a poem I wrote which will be put over a video created by Carl Pendle, who filmed the whole trip; then an introduction to the area followed by a 'thank you' to the people who made it possible; and finally a day-by-day account of my travels. You can read it in one big chunk on Poppet's here, or you can head to my World Nomads journal and tackle it one day at a time. 

Never before have I felt so at home in a foreign place. Langhe e Roero confirmed for me the things that truly make me happy: beautiful food and wine made by inspiring people who live in a UNESCO-listed landscape of undulating hills and understand that the best things in life are always better shared. 

I hope it inspires you to visit this stunning corner of the world.