Melbourne Restaurant Reviews

One of my 101 Things to do in 1001 Days is to dine at these six restaurants:

Vue de Monde

The Lake House

Three One Two : 27 March 2008

MoVida : 8 February 2008

Ezard : 12 February 2008

Libertine

So this post will be where I mark these off one by one and provide my personal review of each culinary experience.

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MoVida has been voted 2004 and 2006 Best Restaurant in a Specialist Cuisine by the Age Good Food Guide, and last year their dish Cecina was voted the 2007 Dish of the Year. Despite all the awards, I still continue to meet people in Melbourne that have never heard of this restaurant. But as tapas cuisine is one of my all time favourite dining experiences, I’ve had my eye on MoVida since moving to Melbourne 4 years ago.

It’s down a city alley and from the outside strikes more as one of Melbourne’s famous laneway bars than a restaurant. It’s quaint and understated inside, simple decor with basic tables and chairs with very little in the way of table furnishings. It oozes a feeling of Madrid with the style and fervour of Barcelona. This place is always packed, so booking is essential. We managed to get in at the last minute by the good grace of some other fool canceling at the last minute.

I drank in the menu, salivating wildly as my senses all battled with one another over what to order. In the end, I left myself in the hands of my exceptionally attentive and helpful waiter. He selected for me and my companions:

Pollo escabache al Miguel
Spiced chicken escabache tapa on crisp crouton

Mejillones en gazpachuelo
Mussels steamed in Malaga style with a warm broth

Carillera de buey
Slowly braised beef cheek in Pedro Ximenez, on cauliflower puree

Croqueta
Fried silky croquette flavoured with mushrooms

Cecina – “dish of the year 2007”
Air cured wagyu beef thinly sliced with a truffle foam and poached egg

Oh. My. God. The food was absolutely incredible, with each dish having such a distinct and unique flavour that I almost wanted to wait 5 minutes between each morsel just so I could savour the fabulous flavours. But as I was ravenous and the smells of each plate were assaulting my senses with screams of “EAT ME NOW!”, I made my way through the dishes in a flurry of orgasmic gourmet gusto.

Not entirely satisfied just yet, I went ahead and ordered ganache caliente con turron which is hot chocolate ganache pudding with vanilla bean ice-cream and nougat, which took me to the brink of re-enacting that infamous When Harry Met Sally scene. Only, it would not have been fake.

The service was impeccable, not too intrusive yet my glass always seemed to be full (as if by magic) and we never found ourselves looking for a waiter’s attention. The humbleness of the surroundings only made the meal itself that much more surprising and delightful as it blew all expectations out of the water. If you can’t get to experience MoVida just once in your life, then you must try the next best thing… go buy yourself a copy of the recipe book recently published by chef and restaurateur, Frank Camorra and recreate all this from the comfort of your own home.

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ezard was awarded two hats by the Age Good Food Guide this year, and last year. It also received Wine List of the Year in 2007 from the same publication. Hospitality Magazine has awarded ezard its Restaurant of the Year in 2008 as well. While I may feel like I am one of the last people in Melbourne to dine here, the price point probably means that I am wrong in that assumption and indeed half of Melbourne have never even considered dining here due to affordability.

To that end, let me try to take you on the ezard journey through words and pictures.

Teague Ezard began his career in the hospitality industry 21 years ago and has become one of Australia’s most awarded and respected chefs. He completed his apprenticeship in Australia’s best restaurant at the time 2 Faces, under the guidance of chef / proprietor Hermann Schneider. Teague then joined Guernica restaurant (now closed) as head chef in 1994, and continued this role for five years.

Teague terms his definitive food, “Australian free style”. The primary, although by no means only influences, are the cuisines of Asia, particularly China and Thailand.

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Nestled in the basement of the Adelphi Hotel, ezard is dimly lit, plush and glamorous. Two rows of tables clothed in stark white linen and glittering silver and glassware are offset with the dark tones of the velvet cushioned dark wood chairs and long cushioned bunch seats that line one length of the restaurant. This is topped off with tiny little elements of the ‘ezard green’ in the form of throw cusions or the shirts under the suit jackets of the wait staff. The bar lines the other wall with a glass enclosed cellar with floor to ceiling racks of the spectacular array of wines on offer at the restaurant. The kitchen is open, yet so tucked away you wouldn’t even know it was there.

We had already decided upon the degustation menu, or tasting menu for our meal. But before we even got to that, we had bread and the most incredibly array of dipping options placed in front of us. Every dish at ezard seems to have a story, that the waitstaff take great pride in playing out for you as you salivate all over the table in anticipation for what you’re about to experience. The olive oil served was ezard’s famous parmesan, garlic and rosemary infused olive oil. And if that is not enough, a dish with three powders of incredibly exotic origins, one of which fizzed like sugar and chilli mized together, another tanged with sesame, nori and fish flakes and the other zinged like ground szechuan spices. How can you go past fizz, tang and zing?

Last night the tasting menu consisted of:

japanese inspired swordfish shooter

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This dish came out with a small ladel with a tiny stack of sashimi tuna mixted with the tang spice mentioned before that we were instructed to gulp in one mouthful. My tongue screamed “I HAVE ARRIVED” the minute I did this, I am sure. Next to this was a shotglass of sake that had been warmed, flamed and then chilled with a ball of swordfish swimming in it, which was also gulped down followed by more tongue screams only this time it was “MORE MORE MORE!”. (For what it’s worth, I know those shotglasses about have oysters in them, but I am just trying to recreate for you here!)

kingfish sashimi with sesame custard, lime caramel and pear salad

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I had so much cutlery on my table that I wasn’t even sure how best to eat this, but I managed to scoop it up and and it almost exploded in my mouth – the flavours with this dish are intense but in the most fabulous way.

steamed blue swimmer crab and asparagus rice noodle roll with yarra valley salmon roe and coconut lime broth, however I had this replaced with rice crusted tofu with stir fried asian greens and spicy coconut laksa (due to my shellfish allergy)

I was insanely jealous as my partner’s crab dish was set down and the coconut lime broth poured delicately over it. But then my dish was set down (I had asked my substitution to be done on the chef’s recommendation, so I had no idea what was coming) and he poured the laksa around the dish and my fingers started to tingle. I am a big lover of tofu and this was some of the best tofu I’ve ever had, not to mention the creamiest laksa… I almost licked my plate. Almost.

crispy fried zucchini flower with goats cheese, babagnoush, pomegranate molasses, rocket and lemon

Zucchini flower is one of those things that I only ever eat in restaurants, and when it’s on the menu, I always order it. While I would love to figure out how to cook these at home, I think this might mean they lose their appeal or ‘specialness’ a little so I haven’t ventured there to date. The ezard zucchini flower dish lived up to all other zucchini flower dish expectations, and then some. The pomegranate molasses gave a whole new dimension of flavour to this fantastic dish and was set off nicely with the babagnoush.

roasted ocean trout in rice paper with asian gazpacho, tempura avocado, dennel salad and creme fraiche

Two words : Tempura Avocado. Holy taste-and-consistency-juxtaposition Batman! This dish was insane and unlike anything I’d ever eaten before. By far one of my favourites of the night.

rice crusted kurobuta pork cheek with spiced apples, green mango salad, yellow bean dressing

Seriously, they crush up rice and roll the pork cheek in it so that when it’s cooking the rice crusts up and the pork remains soft inside. Seriously. Who on earth would think of that? This was my partner’s favourite dish of the night, probably because it was pig.

sichuan peppered duck with coconut rice, stir fried witlof, blood plum and ginger dressing

I was so full by this stage of the evening that I don’t think I enjoyed this dish as much as I would’ve if I’d had it stand alone as a main. Don’t get me wrong, it was incredible. But my stomach was a little in overload by this point and screaming (quietly, because it knows better) for a break and a rest. But of course we all know there is a separate stomach for dessert, so my eyes still lit up when they brought out…

chilled rhubarb and mango crumble with vanilla ice cream and meringues

I am not usually a fan of rhubarb, but when it’s sandwiched in two delicate slices of mango with a crumble over the top… well let’s just say I coped. This topped off a fantastic evening of fine dining and exceptional service.

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Three, One, Two is by far my favourite restaurant from this moment on. It may well be surpassed by some of the others I am yet to experience, but until then, it has taken first place in my heart.

WOW. What an incredible experience. And I say experience because it was more than just the (fabulous) food that made this such a surprising night.

It started when I made the booking, and I let the person on the end of the phone know that I would be coming with a pram and asked whether that would be a problem. The voice explained that the restaurant is actually quite small and intimate and I waited to hear the usual suffix to this “sorry ma’am, but we cannot accommodate you in this instance”. But instead I was pleasantly shocked to hear the voice say “but we will just remove a table for you ma’am, it will be no trouble at all”. Major tick #1.

The picture above shows exactly where we were seated, only there was a table removed and an abundance of room for the pram. This is actually a little area out the back of the main dining area, flanked by the kitchen (which I could peer through to in the gap in the wall behind my head, but never heard) and a small kitchen-like area where a lot of garnishing and preparation went on (I think, because again, even though they were right there, they never once detracted from our conversation).

The staff were exceptional; friendly and (this is rare) sincere, cordial but not snobby, attentive and so helpful. I actually felt like we were the most important people in the restaurant. There was this one guy, mid-40s or maybe even 50s who was just so fantastic, I wanted to wrap him up and take him home with me. He was like what I’d image “Ask Jeeves” would be if I ever met him in the flesh.  Major tick #2.

And the food. My god, the food. We had three unbelievable courses, but were also treated to complimentary in-between meal taste sensations that were so delightfully well presented that I just wanted to bottle this whole experience and show other restaurants how it’s supposed to be done.

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The first of these little surprises was delivered to us in a cigar box, that was opened in front of us and inside were two very edible cigar-looking delights. The above photo displays how the casing for these is made and how I wish I’d been paying better attention to what was in these, but I was so overcome with the presentation and then the taste that, well… you’ll just have to go and try it yourself. I know there was this incredibly rich and creamy fromage of some description piped inside the casing with a different seal on either end making it look remarkably like a cigar. Only so much better because I am pretty sure this won’t give me tongue cancer.

The menu changes regularly with the seasons and what produce is available, so I won’t babble on about what I ate, in case you whet your appetite to the point of being disappointed when you can’t have what I recommended. But suffice to say, it was one of my all time favourite culinary experiences. You will not be disappointed.

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1 Comment

  1. Great blog. Thanks!

    I am v disappointed to learn that Three One Two is closed as of 1.1.09. Given the wonderful rave write-ups it got (e.g. yours), this seems surprising. Anybody know why?


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