Saturday, May 12, 2012

Posh Dinner Night Mark 2

I’ve had Edward Lear’s, “The Owl and the Pussycat” going through my head since dinner last night.

A strange choice of poem to be stuck in your head, but strangely relevant after what was one of the more memorable meals of the last six months. Edward Lear’s nonsense poem about a cat and a bird who elope is one of the three poems I can recite by heart. The other two, Eliot’s Prufrock and Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” (which must be recited wearing a floral bedspread wielding a bread knife as the vorpal sword) just don’t cut it. For the moment, I reckon that this poem sets the tone for last night’s exquisite meal.

See, last night was Posh Dinner night. My friend Millie from Hold the Peas contacted me a few months ago saying that her husband was going away for a few weeks on business and that this was a great chance to catch up and do a degustation dinner. After the success of the last on at Jacques Reymond, I was keen, as was Jonella, who jumped at the chance to have a lovely, refined meal out at a decent restaurant.  A couple of others were invited along but stated funds and work commitments as a reason not to attend. I've been squirreling some funds away over the last month so this was paid for.  

It’s a lovely treat these degustation dinners. You get to taste a lot of different meals and walk away pleasantly full at the end of the night. Some of the things you get to taste are wonderful – others hit and miss – and you always end up with something you would never order.

This time around, we decided on having the degustation fare at Libertine Dining in North Melbourne. It’s a place I’ve heard about and looking at the menu online I was in heaven. Classic French cuisine. NOICE! This is a cuisine that I love, but rarely have, pretty much due to the butter and cream content of a lot of French cooking – or so I perceived.

Being a dreadfully busy week, we were all a little late to the restaurant. Jonella had thankfully picked me up and I called ahead. The maitre’d was pleased we called to let him know we were all a few minutes late – small courtesies which made the night go smoothly – the service at Libertine was faultess regardless of our minor tardiness. Friendly, quiet, exceptionally capable and knowledgeably but discrete enough to never get in the way of your conversation.

Millie was there when we arrived – she beat us in by a few minutes – and the night was off. We ordered a glass of French champagne - Gardet Brut Premier Cru. Millie made the comment that once you have tasted real French champagne, you never go back to the local stuff – and I can see what she means. I was given a bottle of Moet and Chandon which I shared with some friends a few years ago. Unfortunately, at the time, I’d lost my sense of taste – and the Moet tasted like fizzy water with a bit of vinegar for tartness. Then again, curries tasted like cardboard at this time. This champagne was feather light and perfectly balanced. A great start to the evening.

We ordered the degustation menu, as planned, and the maitre’d rubbed his hands with glee – we were in for a treat. He asked about food allergies and Millie told of her seafood intolerance, which he said would not be an issue. And we were off.

The great thing about Jonella and Millie is that they are lovely company. We’re all word nerds, but we are all of similar ages and have similar  interests, so the conversation flowed between the eight courses.

First off the rank, an amuse bouche – or happy mouth maker as I like to call them. From Wikipedia, that suppository of all knowledge is is defined as, “An amuse-bouche  or amuse-gueule is a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre. Amuse-bouches are different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons, but, when served, are done so according to the chef's selection alone. These, often accompanied by a complementing wine, are served as a little tingler for the taste buds both to prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef's approach to cooking."

The cauliflower and parsnip soup with Roquefort cheese was a perfect start to the night. Served in an espresso cup it was also the perfect portion too as a bowl of this stuff would have sent my blood pressure readings into the near stroke category. Beautifully balanced, the tartness of the parnips was counterbalanced by the cheese. Creamy yet light, sweet yet tart – we knew from the first sip that this was going to be a meal to be remembered. I was in a state of rapture from the first sip. I’m normally not allowed cheese – the one thing that will send my blood pressure skyrocketing. Tonight I made an exception and will clean my system out over the next week.

Second course was up and was voted the star of the night by Jonella. Goat’s cheese with Lebanese eggplant, tomato and cucumber and an olive soil. This one got to me too – more cheese – more creamy, tart, gloriously balanced cheese that I’d happily take a bath in if they’d let me. The roasted eggplant set the cheese off sensationally, and the olive soil set off all three tastes and textures.

The thing I love about degustation menus is that you get a decent taste of things – and these were flavours I wouldn’t quickly forget. This was just pure yum.

Conversation flowed around Millie’s recent trip to Hong Kong – somewhere that has now been put on my list of places to go. It sounds like a foodie’s paradise up there, and Millie and her husband Jai really know how to source out some of the best in the world.

The third round was presented to us – the terrine of the day with brioche and relishes. I immediately thought that my mother would love this. A gorgeous terrine, offset by the sweetness of the lightly toasted brioche which was then complemented by the onion marmalade, mustard and cornichons (read really little gherkins – since when did gherkins get a fancy name…) This was one of my standouts for the night. Again, you think about it – as a kid, tinned ham paste on toast with gherkins were a favourite snack of mine. How far has this stuff come along?

By this time we realised just how lucky we were to have chosen this restaurant. The Libertine degustation was very different to the one we had at Jacques Reymond. I liked the friendly, efficient service and the amazing food at Jacques Reymond, but I loved the simple honesty that was presented on the plate here. Simply delicious, robust flavours – and we all agreed – NO FOAM! Like what was that about?

Next dish out – snails. Yeah, snails. Which were drowned in garlic butter and parsley and served. Brilliant.

I’m a fairly adventurous eater. I was talking to one of the girls at work here and she said that she’s ever eat them. I didn’t flinch. They were lovely. I reckon it’s great to try new things and the French have been eating snails for centuries – how bad could they be? The evening was to have  few more curve balls in the interesting meats department, but we were yet to find them. I really enjoyed the snails. I also enjoyed getting a bread roll and soaking up the garlicky parsley butter and feeling decadent – knowing that it’s back to the diet on Sunday. I was also glad that I sleep alone as I’m sure I stank worse than a chorus girls of Les Miserables after opening night.

The next course, was not so much of a course as a palate cleanser - a morsel to clear the mouth - and clear the mouth it did. The sour cucumber jellies did just that. It was like somebody set off a gentle explosion in my mouth. it was well cool.

The first of the meat courses came. The evening's fare of spiced goat with beetroot and parsnip chips was one of my favourite dishes of the night - the cardamom infused, gamey meat as smooth as ice cream and the parsnip chips divine. I'm a parsnip lover -  a very under rated vegetable if you ask me - just as the zucchini (courgette) wouldn't be missed if it disappeared off the planet.

After a small break, out came the final main of the night (how cool - two little dinners - I love the concept of degustation because of this. A roast wagyu beef with potato dauphnois, sweet breads and vegetables with a peppercorn sauce. The beef was just as I like it - mooing. The sweet breads, which both Millie and Jonella left on their plate, I thought wonderful - until I found out it was the thymus gland of a calf. Veal is something I tend to not order due to ethical reasons - and there was a sliver of guilt running through me as I worked out what I'd eaten.

It's funny, I think of the animals I'll eat without blinking - Skippy, Bambi, Nemo, Thumper (love rabbit - and don't get me on the ethics of rabbits in Australia - they're vermin or food - take your pick) But knowing I've eaten a bit of a calf - not worth dwelling on and it's a lesson in listening to the waiter a bit more carefully next time.

After another break, it was time for dessert. A goat's curd and preserved lemon cheesecake with poached quince. (Apologies for the dodgy photo). I was in heaven. Millie and Jonella weren't so pleased - as there were a couple of chocolate desserts they would have preferred to have on the menu. The brulee crust, the crumble, the perfectly balanced lemon curd and the quince. Oh the quince. For an ugly fruit, heavens, it's wonderful.

Though it does mean that I've had "The Owl and the Pussycat" going through my head since last night and I've been searching for a runcible spoon - also known as a splade. I love quinces. I reckon that if I could come back I'd love to be a mix of Maggie Beer, queen of the quince, and Maggie Smith, queen of the stroppy.

Regardless, dessert left me happy.

The last course, coffee and petit fours. A little chocolate arrangement, a madelaine biscuit and a rhubarb jelly - the perfect finish to an evening of wonderful food.

I was thrilled with the evening. Lovely company, lovely, honest, wonderfully prepared and cooked food that will have me raving for months. My only slight gripe - after a very hard week at work the chairs were very hard by the end of the evening - but that did not detract from what was a superb evening.

Would I go back to Libertine?

Hell, yeah. Well worth the expense for a special night out.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
    In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
    Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
    And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
      What a beautiful Pussy you are,
          You are,
          You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
    How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
    With a ring at the end of his nose,
          His nose,
          His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
          The moon,
          The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.


Kath said...

Hmmmm.... you're a braver eater than me....

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

Posh dinners - yes, had one or two but not generally that impressed to be honest.

Yours sounded great - apart from ...

Parsnips - URRGHH!!

Snails - Never NEVER NEVER!!!

Rhubarb - Satan's vegetable/fruit.

Apart from that - lovely!!




The Elephant's Child said...

Your three by heart poems are mine also. Though I also retain some much shorter Spike Milligan gems.

As a vegetarian your degustation was not for me. Just the same, I love the concept and am so pleased you enjoyed a night of pampering.

Jackie K said...

I LOVE The Owl and the Pussy Cat, I learned it by heart as a kid and often still recite it to myself.
Dinner looks amazing. I've never eaten snails but would try - why not?

Millie said...

Excellent recap of the night Panda. I own splades if you ever need one!