Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Degustation of Tastes

Jonella sent me this quote today.

An old woman once said, "There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad, and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, hope for the ones who don't. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living."

How very, very true. It appears this is how I've come to live my life. Life is about friends, experiences, joys. It's about making mistakes, living the lows and finding a way out of them.

Life, at the moment is pretty good. Buoyed quiet happily along by the fact that the Australian Tax Office has just given me two weeks wages back on my tax return. It's part of this is the reason the car was purchased when it was. It was also part of the reason that the I got to strike another entry off the bucket list last night.

It's funny, you put stuff out there and it appears to come back to you. A month ago I was writing that I wanted a new car. I made that happen - even if the bank owns two thirds of it, I have the new car.

The other bucket list entry now ticked off is the partaking in a degustation menu at a great restaurant. To some people, this would make no sense. Why would you want to go out and have little bits of dinner rather than a big meal - and pay for it royally?

Well, though I can't say I'm a foodie - I'm on my way there. I really do love food. I love to cook, not that I get enough time or opportunity to do it well or often. I love trying new things. I'm a bit of a macaron connosieur. Then again, I'm the girl who takes delight in baked beans on toast and I smother anything barbequed or a poached egg and smoked salmon breakfast with tomato sauce. Foodie / Philostine - take your pick.

Regardless, I have Millie, my wonderful foodie friend from to thank for this. On reading the bucket list blog, she came back to me the following day saying that she'd join me in the experience. Millie is an inveterate foodie. She and her husband have been into wine and food for as long as I've known her and I trust her judgement implicitly. She was the one who recommended Sake Restaurant on the weekend - a recommendation that I'll never be able to thank her for enough - all of us would go back there in a heartbeat.

Anyway, Millie said that as her husband was going to be way for a week with work, going out for a posh dinner somewhere would be a great thing to do. She'd happily pop my degustation cherry - and offered a list of restaurants she'd recommend.

On the list were the following:

Libertine (
Money Order Office  (
Jacques Reymond (
Koots (
Da Noi (

Looking over the list, I could mark off the Money Order Office - I'd been there many years ago with Blarney and Sam for a birthday dinner - which was lovely. The only other one I knew of was Jacques Reymond, a three-hatted dining experience in Armadale, touted as the best French Restaurant in Melbourne. This true culinary force to be reckoned with, it stuck out. I went back to Millie, asking if she was serious about the Jacques Reymond suggestion and she responded with enthusiastic agreement. "So glad you were up for Jacques Reymond. I threw that in there in hope." I questioned her about the cost of the night, knowing that a night there would put me back half a car payment. Nope, she was fine with that.

So the night was booked. I asked a couple of other friends if they would want to come along. This was considered carefully. Nobody knows what anybody else's financial situation may be - but having an idea about who might have a bit of cash about and asked if Jonella and Emm might be interested in coming along. Emm, a lawyer had to back out at the last minute, but Jonella was really enthusiastic. Three word nerds out for the night. Heaven help us.

It turns out, last night was just blissful. Wonderful company aside, the food was absolutely amazing. What I call "pretty" food. If I'd taken my mother there, she's be asking where the rest of it was. Eight small courses of absolutely delightful cuisine. Things I'd never try normally, bits I would never think went together, unusual combinations... it was wonderful.

I'm not a food critic. I don't feel worthy of being a food critic - as mentioned before, I'm a huge fan of Heinz baked beans on toast and I have a bit of a penchant for anything that looks like a chip, though I can wax lyrical about macarons, ice cream and coffee. But I'm going to channel my inner Lloyd Grossman and Matt Preston here (though you'll never see me dead in a cravat) and give an appraisal of dinner last night.

The Jacques Reymond degustation experience is just that - an experience. Peerless service, polished silver and glassware, ambient dining rooms. crisp table linen - something that I've forgotten about. From the moment the waiting staff lays the napkin in your lap, you know you're in for something wonderful.

The three of us ordered a glass of 2008 Petaluma Crozer sparkling to start the evening. Crisp, dry and fragrant, a proper palate cleanser for the evening. For an extra $100 the waiting staff will match the wines with dinner - but as the three of us were due at work the next morning we went by the glass. Not on a school night and certainly not when we were all driving.

First dish out were some choux buns with a hint of Gruyere as an appetiser - a cream puff bun with just a hint of cheese inside. The associations that food recovers always leaves me gasping. My thoughts returned to Trista, who makes the best cream puff ever. The crispness of the shell and the delicate insides. A return to a childhood of family lunches with aging, dowager aunts in hydrangea filled gardens. The gruyere always summons memories of my friend Verity, who makes the best cheese on toast with grilled gruyere and lashings of butter - heart attack in a plate material but a fond memory nonetheless.

I told you food brings up some rather amazing stuff. And this was only the amuse bouche.

The first course proper was presented to us. Millie has a thing about fish - it's not that she's allergic - she just doesn't like it - so for the first three courses, she had the vegetarian option. A small soup bowl came out. Tea smoked chicken and watercress soup, potato foam, and tempura wakame oyster, azeite dende.

One of the great things about this evening is the fact that you eat what's put in front of you not questioning what some of the elements may be. This course was up there in my top four for the night. The tea smoked chicken was robust enough to counteract the tang of the oyster. It was an absolute joy to eat. If there was any beef, it was about the foam. Okay, maybe it's my Myponga roots, but I don't get why you would cover something that is already perfect with potato foam. Why not just give us a chip? But no. There was lots of foam on the menu last night. I know it's an added element adding subtlety to the dish, but really the potato smoosh could have been left off and we would have been none the wiser. Though it did look pretty.

Millie's Soymilk, corn and watercress soup, potato foam, shiitake kakiage and panko cheese was excellent as well, mirroring the dish that Jonella and I had in front of us. That was one of the great things about this experience. Often, when you have a vegetarian or somebody with a food allergy with you, their dishes look completely foreign. This looked so similar, you'd never know the difference.

(sorry, the photo just didn't come out on this one)

The second course was a gazpacho of tuna oriental style, dashi and pure natural tomato jelly, native Davidson red plum. Another winner of a dish. Delicate and refined, the raw tuna was offset perfectly by the tomato jelly and plum elements. Millie, who again had the vegetarian offering of New style gazpacho with pure natural tomato jelly, beignets of Australian bush tomatoes, cucumber and melon, a champagne foam was once again impressed with the similar presentation. One for raw tuna, I wish Millie could have given this a go. Though one for sushi, this dish brought the raw tuna to a whole new level. Certain puts John West and his tinned muck in a very different league. Calm and cleansing, we knew that the next dish would have a bit more oomph.

After a small break, a bread roll and a new glass of wine, in my case a 2010 Ata Rangi Sauvingnon Blanc and Millie a 2010 Toorlangi Chardonnay the next course came out along with the fish knives. I don't think I've seen a fish knive since I was a child. I know my mother has them but rarely uses them.

There were elements to the flavours of winter: deep sea rockling with anchovy and coffee, Mount Buffalo hazelnuts and orange oil, saffron rouille dressing that I loved - others that I could give a miss. The rockling, though perfectly cooked - did nothing for me. However, the compliments of the ristretto reduction and the hazelnuts were mind blowing. I forgot how much I love ristretto - for those not in the know, espresso coffee without the bitterness. Both Millie and I went for that element first - mind blowing. This is one case where I think I would have preferred the vegetarian option. Millie's Flavours of Winter: cannelloni of beetroot and red cabbage relish with all of the accoutrements looked wonderful - and she gave a good report.

Halfway through this meal it struck me that in years gone by, eating like this would have appeared wasteful and indulgent - but to assault the senses in such a manner is a joy. Emotions, feelings and thoughts are brought back as you taste your way through the menu, which I'm told changes seasonally.

Another change of cutlery bought the next dish - another of my favorites - the Western Plains young pork shabu shabu in masterstock, fresh pappardelle, Tasmanian wasabi espuma and ponzu juices. Just for your information, the espuma was foam. They tried to trick us. More nicely tasting foam, but still, foam. I have no idea what a ponzu is but this whole dish was incredible, the pork was melt in your mouth, the masterstock meaty, yet delicate and the parpardelle the perfect foil to the bold flavours, cooked to al dente perfection.

My favorite dish of he night was the next course. Gippsland white farmed rabbit and crispy squid, spiced walnuts and compressed apples, oloroso sherry vinaigrette. For any regular readers of this blog, you'll have an idea about what I think about rabbits. Anything I can do to rid the country of the buggers is a good thing. This was an elegant example of a good use for a bunny, set off beautifully with the squid and spiced walnuts. This dish had hints of things all over the place. The sherry vinaigrette offsetting the apples, which in turn lifted the bunny, which sort of tasted like a posh chicken in a lovely way.

Jonella looked at me and said , "You're enjoying that."
I replied, "A dead bunny is a good bunny. But this brings dead bunny to new levels."
You have to remember where your food comes from...

The last savoury dish consisted of Wagyu beef rump and oyster sauce, eggwhite omelette of pickled chokos, grated daikon and chilli, our ketchup sorbet. We were asked at the start of the meal if we wished to try some Western Australian truffles sliced over our steak. All of us took up the offer, for a rather princely sum. None of us had ever tried truffle au naturel. Once again, perfect meat, but some of the elements left me wondering. For the second time in a week I had grated daikon placed in front of me. Personally, I reckon I've tasted better flannel juice - that's what daikon reminds me of. A whole lot of smudgy blah. The rest of the dish - excellent. Though truffles, as we found out, are best accompanying something, not on their own. They really are remarkable with other parts to a dish - but raw, they're like a not so rubbery mushroom. It was worth the money to give them a try. For me, it was a bit of a revelation finding a bit of steak that I didn't want to smother in  tomato sauce. I didn't dare ask for any. (Mind you, I've faced the consternation of Trin, Sam and many, many others, many a time at breakfast when I ask nicely for some with my eggs)

So then came dessert. You can't say no to dessert, can you, especially after such a meal.

I think that they cater for hobbits here. First dessert was my favorite of the two. An iced coffee and chocolate martini, Tahitian vanilla, caramelised nuts. This was all a bit sublime. Jonella and I were salivating with glee. Everything about this dish was perfect, from the coffee cream on top, to the quinelle of chocolate mouse to the strawberries and jelly of vanilla in the bottom of the glass. Both of us looked for ways to get every last skerrick out. Absolutely joyous.

And finally second dessert. After such a winner with the chocolate martini, we wondered if they could come up trumps. All of us thought this was good, but the previous dessert just pipped it at the post.

The deconstructed cheese cake galette of fresh Timboon fromage blanc l‘artisan, warm fruit pudding, mountain bush pepper berries ice cream seemed a lot, but for the fragments we tasted, the previous combination won out. Still no idea what a Timboon is - sounds like some sort of Scottish country dance. I was very taken with the pepper berry ice cream - then again, it's ice cream - what is not to like?

There couldn't be more? No? This was the perfect degustation menu. We were left replete, but not stuffed. An amazing experience in flavours and textures. An evening of wonderful conversation and enjoyment. We couldn't ask for more.

Well, the petit fours they presented us with the bill - they jsut topped everything off nicely. Churros with a glorious ganache, macarons, these little "raspberry jam jubey things (the best on the plate) all good stuff.

As I said before, all of us left half our next car payment short - but it was sooooooo worth it. It was a near perfect meal.

Going home, I stopped in at the Seven-Eleven. For Smarties. I had a cake to ice. My birthday cake - well cakes. I made one for dream group and one for work. And what does the crazy cake maker put on her own birthday cakes?
Well, smarties of course - and lots of them. See?

Pretty, eh?!

There was only one downer to making this cake. On leaving work Monday night, I mentioned to Traralgon that I was going home to make my birthday cake.
"That's not the way it's supposed to be. Somebody's supposed to make you a cake."
I stifled a sob. Nobody around to make me a birthday cake (though I've had a few offers).
"Ah, I have to take one to dream group. I'll half the mixture and bring one in. I promised the team I'd do it."
But Traralgon was adamant. "You're not supposed to make your own cake. Just like you say that it's not a birthday cake without smarties on it, you're not supposed to make it yourself. That's the other rule."
"Well welcome to my life, Traralgon." I turned on my heel and went off to catch the tram home.

Jonella found me at the tram stop five minutes later in a little bit of a state. Not a big state, just having a few tears. I was over tired from the weekend and in need of a bit of space.

"You're not alright, are you." she said after I explained what was going on.
"Not really. But I'll get there. Time and sleep will help. Which it did." Jonella has enough on her plate at the moment.
"Well, you know what to do." she said.
"It's not about a silly birthday cake."
"I know. But put it out there."

Wasn't I saying that earlier?


Kath Lockett said...

Happy Belated birthday wishes to you, Pand.

I've made my own birthday cake more years than not, so don't worry on that score - who cares what its origin is, as long as you feel 'special' on your day?

Jackie K said...

Mmmmm, Jacques Reymond!
So glad you had a good birthday.
Don't stress about the cake - most women make their own, or they wouldn't get made.
Smarties look good!