Sunday, April 4, 2010

Victorian Adventure part two

Day two began early with breakfast by the pool. Full continental buffet with great red wine-poached pears and hand-made muesli with macadamia nuts and various other things and a huge cooked breakfast to set us up for the day. 
Poached pear and muesli

We had a less-rushed look around the hotel with its billiard room, sitting room with various animals’ heads around the walls and brooding dark timber on every surface. We checked out after having a chat to the wonderful Guest Service Advisor ( and hit the road in the direction of Melbourne. 

Kitchen garden

The entrance at Campaspe House

One of the drive ways

The GPS predictably broke down again and got us lost before we dropped off the car and were picked up by our Melbourne-dwelling, formerly Tasmanian friends Chris and Andrea, with whom we were staying. We loaded the bags and broken GPS into their car and made a bee-line straight to the Mornington Peninsula and the highly recommended Port Phillip Estate where our good friend Rob works in the kitchen now run by former Meadowbank Estate head chef Simon West. When we finally got off the freeway and onto the Peninsula we couldn’t help but notice several hand-painted signs offering fresh figs for sale somewhere further down the road. They turned out to be massive, ripe and sweet and only $10 a kilo!
Figs in the car

Initial impressions of the $20 million building at Port Phillip Estate are that it is very unwelcoming. It has the impression of an abattoir, with its stark rammed-earth walls and bare car park. This is, however, where the similarity to a slaughterhouse ends. As you approach the heavy looking, recovered-timber doors with their vast brass knobs, the door silently swings open towards you revealing a view of Port Philip Bay beyond vineyards that will stop you in your tracks and an interior that would make Bill Gates jealous. 

The slaughterhouse exterior of Port Philip Estate
We were a little bit early so turned towards the long, backlit tasting bar to have a look at the house wines. A couple of good pinots were over-shadowed by a superb Barberra from the vines on the estate.
Tasting the rine

They knew in the restaurant that we were coming so we were led to a table in the window and presented with menus. Before even opening the menus we had ordered one of everything to share between the four of us. Chef West’s menu is the same concept as it was at Meadowbank, small plates, with the recommendation that you try more than one (a lot like Piccalilly in fact). The kitchen sent us out a little amuse bouche of Moulting Bay oysters from Tasmania with pickled cucumber sorbet, abalone and sweet corn soup and a blue swimmer crab croquette. All great! The first round of dishes arrived, Simon’s very famous fish carparccio, this time with snapper. This dish was our favourite at Meadowbank, fresh cold fish crispy capers, fennel and radish. Grilled tuna with grapes and pine nuts, crispy battered zucchini flowers with nuts and herbs. Crayfish with brioche and cucumber and an impossibly pretty vegetable salad.

Beyond the vines on a clear day you can see Bass Strait (or so they say)

Inside the dining room

Amuse bouche


Tuna with grapes


Crispy zucchini flowers

Very beautiful salad

Next round: Roasted rabbit wrapped in bacon with a very sweet carrot puree, standout venison with sauté mushrooms and silky cheesy polenta, rare veal with a very good celery remoulade and lacy crouton (this is where the camera battery ran out, meaning the remainder of the trip had to be photographed on the trusty iPhone) duck breast with apple and lettuce salad.

Rabbit with carrots

Venison with polenta

Very rare veal

Yummy duck

We also enjoyed the green beans with hazelnuts and potato gratin as side dishes. On the way out, Simon took us through his kitchen, it was wonderful. They have a cool-room half the size of Piccalilly’s whole kitchen! 

Port Phillip Estate has not been open very long, only a matter of months, and the quality of the food is a real testament to Simon West. Everything was perfect, local ingredients treated with care and skill. Everything was presented, executed and delivered in an artful way and served by enthusiastic and personable waiters. The service here was the best we had in Victoria on this trip.
We made our way out of the restaurant, through the giant doors and 300 metres down the road to the Darling Park cellar door, a favourite from last time we were on the Peninsula - great wines and a must-see for any travellers. Sparkling pinot, reserve chardonnay and cane-cut pinot gris are the standouts.
A stand-out day so far with a world-class lunch and some great wines, but it wasn’t over yet! 
The much blogged, written, talked, and even shouted about Cutler & Co was booked for dinner and the time was drawing ever closer after a three month wait since making the booking.
We returned to Chris and Andreas’ house and relaxed for a hour or so before getting suited and dressed and headed out to Brunswick Street for a pre-dinner drink before walking the short distance to Gertrude Street and the stunningly fitted-out Cutler & Co. We were seated in the bar, offered a drink and given a chance to admire the dining room while we waited for our other dining companions. Superlatives fall short, however. Every detail has been considered, funky lights, distressed walls, a floor to ceiling glass-fronted cellar room, textured glass, interesting things hanging on the walls and effortless automatic glass doors into the kitchen and bathrooms. The glass into the kitchen providing a tantalizing glimpse of lots of chefs getting on with a busy service.
Chef and owner Andrew McConnell’s wife Pascal Gomes-McNabb, is a decorated architect and designer and has worked on all of the couple’s restaurant ventures to date. 

Cutler interior

We were seated and presented with menus and a wine list the size of a funky coffee table book. The seven of us decided to go with the $130 degustation menu and ordered a few bottles of wine. We were joined by Courtney (who used to be our assistant restaurant manager), her partner and Tom who recently left our kitchen team to work at Maze under the Gordon Ramsay banner so we set about catching up on what they had been up to in Melbourne since leaving Piccalilly.
Amuse bouches arrived in several parts. Wagyu beef bresola that we were instructed to wrap around a twig of anchovy pastry. Biting into the pastry we discovered that a thread of onion had been baked into the centre of it. Pearl white octopus tentacle with a slice of nearly crispy chorizo sausage. Oysters, shucked to order with lemon and, finally, to round out the first course, what looked like a white prawn cracker but turned out to be a Parmesan cracker. All great, all unexpected and all presented with flair.

Wagyu bresola

Octopus and chorizo

Oysters and permesan crackers

Next, cured kingfish with compressed and slightly pickled cucumber and horseradish snow. The fish was cured to perfection still soft but not glassy. Cucumber and horseradish added a little something to cut the richness of the raw fish. Again, presentation was superb, a matte black slightly curved plate made the whiteness of the ingredients really jump out.
A terrible photo, but this is the kingfish

Pressed quail terrine had been cut into a perfect centimetre thick rectangle and had been topped with a pretty salad of delicate leaves, fennel and radish. It was served with a cylinder of brique pastry filled with a silken foie gras mousse. We are suckers for liver in general, but the decadence of quail and foie gras was a real winner.

Pressed quail terrine with foie gras cigar. The line across the plate was a white sultana puree
Next up was Iain’s favourite. Guess what? Heirloom tomatoes simply cut and plated with fromage blanc, a little smoked eggplant and zucchini petals. Simple, beautiful and tasty.

Western Australian marron with persilane, jamon and celery came out next. Succulent marron paired with the succulent and slightly salty Persilain was a nice synergy. The jamon melted in the mouth. There were some tiny filaments of the skin of red capsicums that had been dehydrated until nearly crispy and then added to the dish - they looked great but added little to the flavour of the marron.
Marron with persilane 

The final savoury dish was a lesson in simplicity and richness. Slow-roasted rib of wagyu beef alongside a pale and silky parsley root puree and XO spring onions. The beef itself was so moist and tender it did not require a sauce, the rich and subtle puree was cut by the salty spring onions that sported just the right amount of chilli. The three perfect elements.
Melting wagyu

Sweet dishes were also a sight to behold. First was figs, both fresh and compressed with coconut cream, crystal clear and slightly purple lavender jelly, olive tuilles and sheep’s milk yoghurt. Sheep’s milk is a rare treat as most of it goes towards cheese long before chefs ever get a look at it. The olive added a saltiness that worked so well with the yoghurt and figs.
Figs with coconut cream

Lastly the very famous violet ice cream with chocolate ganache and sour cherry. We had heard a lot about this dish, its slightly reminiscent of Peter Gilmore’s famous raspberry dessert. Stunning would be the only word to describe it. Subtle, balanced and floral were the flavours. Clove meringue, freeze-dried raspberries, maltodextrin, and a microwave sponge that was lighter than light rounded out the dish and the meal. Every bit of hype surrounding this signature is well deserved.

Standout dish, violet ice cream

Service was slightly stand-offish but very efficient, we highly recommend getting your name onto the bottom of Cutler & Co’s three-month waiting list and getting in there before McConnell and Gomes-McNabb get itchy feet and move to another location as they have made such a habit of over the last 10 years.

We walked out past the uber-funky flashing neon light that alternates between Cutler, &, Co and headed for the city for a nightcap at the Gin Palace and were home by 1:00am.

Part Three tomorrow...

1 comment:

  1. Much as I'm curious about all the food you guys devour on your adventures, you have such a vivid way of transmitting the feeling to me of actually being there, it doesnt seem quite so urgent!
    Love reading about what you've experienced. Looking forward to Part 3....