As part of my Masters degree in Gastronomic Tourism, here are a selection of restaurant reviews that have been submitted for assessment.
A tale of two sittings – Melbourne
From post to most – Pei Modern
Nestled in the motor lobby of the Sofitel hotel in Melbourne blooms Pei Modern, a new classy and contemporary French bistro on the site of a former Australia Post shop. Where will the mail go I wondered as I made my way through the banqueted casual bar area with its timber slatted walls and into the more formal dining room. Ainslie greeted me warmly at the door, vaguely recognising me from my previous lunch there ten days earlier. I apologised for being a party of one as my dining companion had to cancel at short notice, however she reassured me that there was plenty of room and promptly sat me in a large curvaceous banquette where I could sit back, read the paper and enjoy my lunch. On this visit I wanted to explore the outskirts of the menu and not to dive into the modern twists on the classics. I had previously enjoyed the tender duck breast, with a slither boudin noir as luxurious as ten-year old Shiraz and a twist of refreshing clementine.
The anchovy shortbread with Parmesan custard ($4.50) appeared as a petite salty sea raft with precise little dollops of custard. The cream softening the intensity of the fish resulting in a smooth balance of flavours. The little appetiser was so good I ordered another from the bar menu – a singular wood grilled prawn and pork salt ($6.50) was possibly the highlight and perfectly matched the Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc from Nelson NZ ($10). For the main course I chose the special, a whole John Dory with chrysanthemum leaves ($32), which arrived sans head (although I am not sure why). The flesh had an extraordinarily delicate silky texture with a creamy, almost butter-like taste to it. Coupled with a crispy skin, it was one of the most outstanding fish dishes I have enjoyed all year. A signature dessert of caramelised tomato stuffed with twelve flavours ($17) filled my senses with the exotic aromas of an eastern bazaar and on closer inspection, I managed to interpret star anise, orange, lemon, vanilla cloves, pears and pineapple – to name just a few – gently packed into a perfectly formed small tomato which was subsequently roasted. The sensation on eating was literally bursting with flavour sending a cascade of warming spice pleasure through every corner of my mouth.
45 Collins Place Melbourne 3000
03 9654 8545
A Mathis of fact – Akachochin
Paul Mathis, the man responsible for reuniting Melbourne diners on the Federation Square terrazzo where he built his taste temple Taxi Dining Room, Transit and Transport, is back. This time he brings his love of Japanese food to South Wharf, a new precinct downstream from Crown Casino beneath the new Hilton hotel complex.
Rumoured to be authentic Japanese cuisine I was eager to visit Akachochin to confirm this on my most recent visit to Melbourne. The restaurant takes its name from the red paper lanterns that blow gently outside shops of metropolitan Japan. I was suitable impressed with the extensive menu, punctuated with refreshing interpretations of traditional fare.
The yasai ohitashi ($8) a seasonal selection of marinated vegetables in dashi stock were crisp, full flavoured with a hint of brown rice vinegar, mirin and sugar providing it with a balance of acidity that resulted in a delicate piquant flavour. The tartar of chopped kingfish with spring onion, miso, wasabi and olive oil ($15) was a clever translation of its French counterpart because it offered a salty boost to the mild kingfish flavour, amplified by the heat of the wasabi, however the viscosity of olive oil proved to be overpowering to the subtle nuances of the dish.
The best dish of the day was the wagyu beef tataki ($18), featuring cellophane panes of raw beef studded with a spicy chilli paste made from a hot pepper called kosho combined with the dried zest of the yuzu fruit – a citrus similar to a mandarin in size but with a more intense lemony notes that has been made popular by many Australian chefs recently. Seasoned with ito-tougarashi, a shredded Japanese red chilli pepper and garnished with fine chards of crispy leek, this dish had encapsulated up the essence of the modern izakaya.
33 South Wharf Promenade
South Wharf, Melbourne VIC 3006
03 9245 9900