Posts Tagged: Epicurean

Cheap wine

But remarkably good.

Calamondah Shiraz Cabernet 2005. This bottle of wine cost only $6.99 at Aldi. I’d happily have paid $20 for it, it was that good. Tegan wasn’t going to have any, but then she tasted mine. I had to get a new glass, becasue I didn’t get my original one back.

And the cheese in the background was also exceptionally tasty.

Adelaide in February 2007

Things I Like About Adelaide (not necessarily in order)

1. The Central Markets

A transaction over bread

They’re so much fun! In Tegan’s words, they’re a foodie’s heaven. The fruit and vegetables there were so good and quite cheap. For example, some of the best looking vine-ripened tomatoes we’ve ever seen were only $4.99 a kilo, and really good-looking bananas were only $1.99 a kilo – a very unusual sight of late. The fish shop was quite good and reasonably priced, there’s a shop that sells nothing but mushrooms, there was a very good cheese shop, good coffee, excellent delicatessens, a good camera shop (in a food market?! very odd, but fun, nonetheless), a little Russian food shop – well, I could go on…

We went there twice on Saturday – once in the morning and then came back about 45 minutes before they closed. The end of day rush was quite an experience: all the sellers trying to offload their remaining produce so we snapped up some real bargains. The markets always had quite a bustle about them, but at closing time there was such frenetic energy – it was great! We still want to go back and rent a house in Adelaide for a couple of weeks and just go to the markets every couple of days for fresh produce and cook for ourselves (and whichever friends we can convince to come with us).

2. The Barossa Valley

Wines We Bought

Not so much in Adelaide itself, but it’s just out of town. We bought some great olive oils from Truro, which is just at the edge of the Barossa – but of course, the main thing is the wine. We went to three vineyards there:

  • Wolf Blass – this was the best wine tasting we’ve ever done. We figured we had tasted most of their normal bottle-sop variety wines (red label and yellow label) before, so paid about $10 to just taste their premium gold, grey and black label reds. Ohhhhh – they were so good – they really put a smile on our faces. The 2004 Grey Label Shiraz was truly wonderful for $35, but their $140 a bottle black label blend was something else altogether: in Tegan’s words, it was so good and smooth that you’d almost be afraid to have it with food. We’re now thinking about having a bottle of it over an afternoon with a great block of dark chocolate on our next wedding anniversary.
  • Penfolds – very disappointing. We didn’t really like anything we tasted there. There was one good chardonnay, but chardonnay isn’t really my thing, particularly at $75 per bottle.
  • St Halletts – this place was marvellous. A wonderful little winery. Everything was good, and a couple of the reds were very, very good – particularly their shiraz and spanish-inspired ones. We bought a few bottles.

3. The Big Day Out

Little Birdy – Katy Steele I

Of course, this is why we went to Adelaide this time (we couldn’t make it to an East Coast show this year). What was good about going in Adelaide, compared to Sydney, was that the lesser number of people meant that it was easier to get close to the front.
Muse, Little Birdy and the Violent Femmes were particular highlights – we had such a good time there and took a few photos we’re quite proud of.

4. the greedy goose
We wanted to have one nice dinner out and this place was only a few blocks from our hotel. We didn’t realise when we went in that it was the winning restaurant of My Restaurant Rules season 2, but don’t hold that against it. The staff were friendly, the food was delicious, the service was excellent. We were very glad that we skipped the tasting menu (degustation) because the main dish of pan-fried duck breast with duck confit, which wasn’t on the tasting menu, was our pick of the night. The dessert was also quite unusual – it involved a whole tomato, poached with cardamon and sugar, served chilled with vanilla bean ice-cream. The maître d’ was also very nice and gave us each a complimentary glass of the fortified wine they had matched to this dish on the tasting menu; and since we only ordered one dessert to share, it was even more unusual to be given a glass of wine each. I’m not normally a fan of desserts, but this one was very, very tasty.

5. Dublin pale ale
This was a house beer at the Dublin Hotel in Glenelg. Neither Tegan nor I are typically fans of this style of beer, but it was quite good and very refreshing on such a hot day. The menu at the hotel also looked very good – but we left that for next time.

Things I Don’t Like About Adelaide

  • There were very many very terrible drivers on the roads.
  • They call a schooner a pint – it’s very confusing when you’re ordering in a pub and they ask if you want a pint, but then give you something smaller.


And then there’s things I’m indifferent about, such as Glenelg beach: really, why do people rave about it? It’s boring and not a particularly nice beach – kind of like Brighton le Sands in Botany Bay in Sydney. I guess people in Adelaide like it because it’s all they’ve got.

Home again

All in all on the trip, we did about 26 hours of driving, just short of 2500km with an average fuel consumption of about 9.5L per 100km.

Forty One

Well, on Saturday night we had our dinner at Forty One for my Dad’s 60th Birthday – opting for the degustation menu with matched wines. My overall impression: while it is an absolutely fantastic restaurant, it didn’t 100% do it for me.

Some context here: I went to Forty One with my family five years ago for a special occasion and I would rate that visit as the most spectacular dining experience I’ve ever had. The food, view, surroundings, service – they were all basically perfect. However, that was one of my very first ultra-high dining experience and since then I’ve been to some other exceptional places, like Galileo at the Observatory Hotel, Shoya in Melbourne, Restaurant Balzac, Aubergine, Atlantic, etc etc. In fact, quite high dining doesn’t seem to be a rarity for me anymore (not that I do it every week, but still much more frequently than I ever used to). In fact, the degustation menu at Forty One was the third degustation I’ve had this year, and there might be another one coming in a few weeks time. So, I’m conscious that I might be setting too high expectations for Forty One and that maybe I’ve been looking at my previous experience there through rose-coloured glasses. In fact, I can hardly remember the food from last time, except that it was very good.

On Saturday night we started with a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Mis En Cave (brut) – very tasty, one of the nicest champagnes I’ve ever had and better than the Veuve Cliquot we had before leaving home (did I mention that we really pulled out all the stops on Saturday night?! I can hardly believe I’m rating which French champagne is better than another! When did I become such a yuppy?!) However, I was a little disappointed because the first course arrived while we all still on our first glass of champagne from the bottle – and the accompanying matched wine was a champagne. Interestingly, the glasses came out with a little vodka in them, and they then poured the champagne over that – quite an interesting sensation and taste – but it really made it match the food quite well, which was a venison carpaccio. This was one of the highlights of the night.

Skip ahead with me a couple of courses to the john dory sautéed with oxtail, shallots, chanterelles & icicle radishes: this was another of the choice dishes, in particular (funnily enough) for the oxtail. The oxtail was presented much like a loosely formed sausage, but it had the most delicious flavour, particularly when combined with the john dory. The pinot noir they served with this course also matched particularly well. The medallion of white veal, potato gnocchi & WA yabbies was also quite exceptional – the yabbies were so fresh and tasted so wonderful. For the cheese course, I had a washed rind cheese with matched wine, which was excellent. I also tasted Tegan’s cheese (although I can’t remember what it was), but I only had one bite before giving it back.

The desserts were a bit uninspiring though – we had a dessert platter to share amongst the five of us (a larger version of their dessert platter for two) – a few things on here were good, the coffee and caramel parfait was exceptional, and the rest of it was just ok.

So, overall:

I feel that going to a restaurant like this and spending that much money you’re expecting two things: food beyond compare and service beyond compare. I didn’t feel we really got either on this visit.

The food was great, but it didn’t rate as one of my best dining experiences ever – there was very little in the meal that I thought was absolutely exceptional. Several other restaurants I’ve visited even in the last year have had better food, and at a much lower price. The last time we were there I remember being presented with several little ‘palate cleansers’ between courses, “compliments of the chef” as they said. Just as I was lamenting the absence of these on this visit one was brought out to us. Actually, these were probably amongst the tastiest things we had all night: I can’t remember what the first one was, but the second was an artichoke and truffle soup, presented in an espresso cup. We all agreed that this was so good, that the waitress brought us another one before the next course came.

Also, the service was good but not a patch on what it was five years ago – I guess that’s largely a matter of economics, that they are spending less money on staff and therefore have a lower ration of staff to guests, which would explain why the prices basically haven’t changed for five years. I figure that also explains why Forty One won best restaurant in Sydney and best restaurant in NSW awards back in 2001, but is now only a one chef’s hat restaurant in the SMH good food guide. Some examples: it was a lot quieter last time – there were less tables and more space between tables. Also, I’m certain the tables were a little larger last time. The staff displayed a much greater level of professional friendliness last time, by which I mean that the little bits of conversation while we were being seated or served at various points was appropriately friendly and complimentary (we still remember one waitress complimenting my Mum on her outfit last time and saying that she looked like a butterfly) – basically, I felt they had a higher calibre of waiter last time round. The service last time was also absolutely perfect – when they served meals or cleared meals, there would be one waiter per person on the table – they had a maître d’ or floor manager who oversaw the restaurant and coordinated the movements of all the waiting staff. This was great as it meant that when any course was served, everybody would receive their meal at exactly the same moment, while the maître d’ would be standing there to explain what had been served. And when meals were cleared, it was done so quickly that it hardly interrupted your conversation and concentration. This was missing on Saturday night’s visit and it was this absence, more than anything else, that disappointed me.

Of course, one major difference between Forty One and other similarly priced restaurants is the view, which is simply amazing – looking out over the harbour and towards the ocean. And our table was at a window, so that was quite impressive. Even the bathrooms have an amazing view – so I’m really glad that hasn’t changed.

On the whole, I was really glad to go there for a high quality, amazing family outing on a very special occasion, but I probably wouldn’t choose it again when I’m looking for somewhere to go on a special occasion for just Tegan and I. What we particularly enjoy is spectacular food, and Forty One didn’t quite have that; if the service had been what I’d remembered, that would have more than made up for it, but the service was merely really good, instead of its former superlative status. Next time we’re after a special restaurant for a big occasion, I think I’ll attempt to go to one of the other Sydney restaurants that is famed for its chef more than its location, e.g. Tetsuya’s or Rockpool or Claude’s or est.

Curious fact: funnily enough, Forty One is actually on the forty-second floor of the Chifley Tower.

I scanned in the copy of the menu that they gave us: Front and Back.


I ate gold

I’ve been travelling to Melbourne for work a bit recently and have quite been enjoying dinner and drinks out while there. I really enjoy some of the cocktail bars there – recent ones including Polly, The Long Room and the Golden Monkey. The first two of those are the best cocktail bars I’ve ever been to.

On Monday night, though, I ate at Shoya Japanese Restaurant in the Chinatown part of the Melbourne CBD and it was pretty much the best Japanese meal I’ve ever had. Because I was on my own I sat at the sushi bar, so I could see the executive chef (and owner) working away in front of me on sushi and sashimi, which was pretty cool. As is my wont in places like that, I just set a budget and asked him to feed me whatever he wanted to cook.

I received all the dishes on their banquet menu for that night – and I really should scan it in and include it here – it was amazing! The gold came on top of the sashimi – it wasn’t a large platter, about three pieces each of tuna, salmon and (I think) swordfish. On top of the tuna was a piece of sea urchin (again, I think) and on top of that the chef placed a couple of small flakes of gold. I can’t see how it works, but it did seem to add to the taste, And the meal overall was fantastic, and included some fairly unusual ingredients, considering that it was done in a traditional style. I had broiled duck, thinly sliced and cooked in miso sauce, an appetiser which involved scrambled egg served in sea urchin and topped with salmon caviar, grilled wagyu beef rib served on a large piece of grated white radish, and the meal finished up with black sesame panacotta. Basically, the whole meal was utterly delicious, and I also enjoyed chatting with the chef (it was a fairly quiet night). The staff were all very friendly and the manager and assistant manager also came and spoke with me as well. I had asked for a copy of the banquet menu to take home and show Tegan, and the manager said that if I brought Tegan back, if there was anything we particularly liked that wasn’t on the menu to ask the chef and he could do it. Amazing. Needless to say, I’ll definitely go back with Tegan, hopefully before too long.

The other interesting thing about Shoya, and one of the things that convinced me to walk in, was that their menu mentions that Chairman Kaga of Iron Chef fame was spotted there one night and he obviously enjoyed it so much that he ate there four nights in a row, sitting in different parts of the restaurant – and he then sent a note and a painting on rice paper from Japan, noting how excellent the restaurant was, rivalling any in Tokyo. Apart from that being a ringing endorsement, I apparently sat in the same seat at the sushi bar that the Chairman had sat in, which is very, very cool.


We just had a great and spontaneous weekend away. On Friday night over dinner with good friends Richard and Kathryn, we were discussing cheese, wine, travelling and related things. So, I asked if people wanted to do some cheese tasting on Saturday, in Milawa. Anyway, in about 10 minutes we’d decided on the trip and organised to meet Tim and Ammi Narraway at Milawa, and stay with them in Wagga Wagga. So, off we went on Saturday morning – and it was great.