Brioche by Philip

Brioche by Philip is one of those places that was a big deal when it opened, but now, despite having opened numerous additional locations, it’s almost faded into obscurity behind the hype of the unstoppable waves of new and increasingly instagrammable foodie hot spots.

I’ve stopped in a few times, to grab a coffee and maybe a danish, as I’ve passed by it’s various locations on the way to somewhere else – it’s never been a destination, as such.

In stark contrast to Doughnut Time, which has lines round the block every time it opens a new location. And yet, it’s exactly that offering that caught my attention today. The doughnut/donut fad is real. It’s real and it’s big. There are doughnut stores blossoming across the nation like some kind of delicious plague. And Brioche by Philip has obviously tried to get on the back of that wave with their bronut – that’s right, a brioche donut.

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My initial thoughts are that they certainly aren’t as Instagrammable. The filled ones in particular look a little, well, flat. But I figured I should take one for the team and give it a try. I opted for that little beauty second from the right – Nutella Caramel Glaze. (At this point I might also add, that at $6.50 with a small coffee it’s also a fab deal compared to the current soaring prices of the doughnut economy.)

My initial thoughts on pulling it from the bag were Ohhh here we go. Another sickeningly sweet creating on the doughnut fad train. The caramel glaze was thick and sticky, coating my fingers and threatening to make a mess before I’d even taken a bite.

But oh.

My.

God.

bronut

This bronut is a gift from the gods. It wasn’t sickeningly sweet at all (personally I can’t even get through half a Doughnut Time doughnut without feeling sick). It was light, fluffy, and perfectly balanced. The nutella centre and the caramel glaze set each other off, highlighting the respective hazelnut and caramel flavours respectively, without just tasting like sugar. The texture was soft yet firm against the teeth, the al dente of the pastry world, giving way to the glaze with a juiciness that reminded me of a rum baba, but not at all soggy.

Friends, I am completely, utterly converted.

And I don’t know how the doughnut craze sweeping the nation has not yet caught onto these.

Get on it.

(For the coffee lovers amongst us, they also use a blend from 5 Senses Coffee which has a pleasant nuttiness to it.)

 

Chicken Episode

This wasn’t a restaurant/cafe that I was intending to review, so I don’t actually have any photos of the food. It’s only in hindsight that I realise this is definitely a place you need to try.

I’d driven past Chicken Episode a few times, being just around the corner from where I’ve been living lately. But this time I noticed that in the window was written 2ND BEST CHICKEN IN ST KILDA.

2nd best???

This bizarre claim had me googling the venue, only to find – no website, no Facebook page, nothing but a Zomato page with opening hours and a few photos of fried chicken with screaming rubber chicken heads poking in from the edge of the frame.

Consider me intrigued.

We headed down to Chicken Episode at about 9:30pm on a Saturday night (they were open till 11, thank you late night chicken gods) and there was nobody else there, but the young man and woman operating the store were super friendly and helpful, guiding us on our sauce selection and generally joking around. We asked about the “2nd best chicken” and if so, what was the best? And were told that they just didn’t want the responsibility of claiming to be the best!

Well, no worries, I’m going to make that claim for you. This is the best fried chicken I’ve had in a very long time! It was super crispy, plus they gave us a few cubes of free sample while we waited which was cool. There are so many sauces to try I’ll definitely have to go back, but on this occasion, we picked Lucifer Spice. It didn’t TASTE that spicy but be warned, if you have a sensitive stomach or just haven’t eaten that much chilli recently, it will go through you like a curse. Yet I still want more.

The shop is also quirky with funny comic strips and decor throughout, and the chips were damn good, full of flavour without being overly salty, not entirely sure what they did to them! Probably my favourite local chicken shop that I’ve stumbled across, and totally addictive. More Korean Fried Chicken please!

 

 

Attica

Just as this extended chefs tasting menu is a long meal, this is a long review! Attica in Ripponlea, headed by Ben Shewry, is one of Australia’s most lauded restaurants. It’s accolades include Restaurant of the Year (numerous times), Australia’s Best Restaurant, and 21st Best Restaurant in the World. If you haven’t looked into it yet, you also have to book 3 months ahead. Seats are released on a the first Wednesday of the month at 9am, for the 3rd month out. And you’d better be online at 9am because chances are they will all be gone within minutes.

It’s said that looking forward to something (for example, a holiday) gives you as much value as actually partaking in the event, so from that perspective perhaps it’s not a terrible thing. It’s also not a cheap endeavour (currently at $250pp for the extended tasting menu, with matched wines starting from $150pp) so if this is an extraordinary treat for you, it gives you a chance to put your pennies aside. Be prepared that this is some 3.5-4 hour journey, so you may want to aim for an earlier sitting. The Australian wine list is predominantly whites, but even as a dedicated red drinker I did enjoy them as they were all so well matched.

For August 2016, the extended tasting menu included 12 appetisers, 4 mains and 4 desserts, paired with 7 wines and 1 cocktail in the Australian wine matching option.

The opener of Chef’s leaves, grown in local Ripponlea estate, is really a palate cleanser, but the cream and balsamic it comes with was truly heavenly, leaving us wishing we had more to dip into it. The second course of santa claus melon was equally refreshing. From here, we stepped into the renowned creativity with the third course of scallop (or for vegetarians/non-seafood eaters, whipped walnut and pomegranate in a walnut shell) – both presented absolutely beautifully. The walnut cream was creamy and mild, not the slightest hint of nutty grittiness, and the fine handling required to eat it out of the shell with the tiny spoon really forces you to slow down and appreciate it.

Following this was the Attica take on avocado toast. Only on closer inspection do you realise that this is in fact not smashed, but diced with the most incredible precision. It’s accompanied by juicy baubles of finger lime and an assortment of mint leaves. Although it is on a wafer of sorts, this is incredibly thin, so the overwhelming mouth feel is of creamy avocado.

One interesting thing about the experience is that, offering only the tasting menu, there are no section waiters. Throughout the evening we were served by an assortment of waiters, chefs, a sommelier, the host, and even Ben Shewry himself, who has an incredibly gracious and modest air about him, reminding me more of a teacher gently speaking to a  young child than anything else – but not at all condescending. And it certainly is an educational experience, with all the staff well versed in the details of the menu, and able to guide you on what they think will push your boundaries as far as you’re willing to go, without going too far, a customer service detail that was greatly appreciated.

Dishes included fresh soft cheese with honeycomb (as always, I do love the simple things done well), house cured pork, wallaby blood pikelets (not nearly as terrifying as that sounds), ‘vegemite pie’, a mussel (or alternatively, oyster mushroom) crumbed in a delicious and light coating, a mouthful of tender beef on bone skewers, and aromatic cold chicken broth with an assortment of herbs and flowers, ranging in strength of flavour but all picked that day.

Even though they have been small bites, at this point we were starting to realise that it’s nonetheless quite a large meal. And then we fell into a trap. Before the mains, we were served saltbush with macadamia cream, and beautiful freshly churned butter with fresh bread. As delicious as this bread is… if you are starting to feel full DO NOT EAT IT. Because there is still so much more to come and you don’t want to fill up prematurely!

Mains.. up first one of the dishes that probably pushed my boundaries a little more, the kangaroo tartare, here not visible under it’s armored coating of purple carrot slices. Yes, this dish is completely raw. I expected it to have a rather gamey flavour, but in fact it was just melt in your mouth tender with a very strong flavour from the native berries and spices in the sauce. I possibly found the flavour a little TOO strong, as some of the berries are quite bitter, but it was a really interesting experience into what can be done with almost exclusively native ingredients.

All parts of the pumpkin was probably one of our favourite dishes, despite being meat-free, and comprised of meltingly soft pumpkin flesh, cream, seeds, and a crunchy crumb from the tough outer skin. As a non seafood eater I did find the third main of Marron to be quite boundary-pushing also, however the flesh was very sweet and fresh and completely without the ‘fishy/seafood’ taste that can be so off-putting.

Last but not least, scrambled emu egg – a dish which is as much about the visuals as the flavour. I can tell you honestly that I never knew emu eggs to be such an unbelievably beautiful colour. Whilst I imagine that only the very best eggs have been retained for presentation out of all the eggs to have been scrambled, the incredible deep green, smooth yet textured, sturdy eggs are really something that warrants picking up and handling, admiring from every angle. The egg is served in a ‘nest’ and accompanied by fluffy potatoes tossed through with fine specks of emu flesh – which somehow tastes oddly like vegemite. Neither of us could finish this course as we were both getting very full.

In great need of a break, it’s pleasing that the first dessert course was a cup of tea and ‘mint slice’ in the ornamental garden behind the restaurant. It’s definitely worth taking a stroll, touching the bushes and smelling the fresh herb aromas. A chef is on hand to keep you company, discuss food, plants, and answer any questions you might have. This is also where you choose your own tulip for the second dessert, Tulips DIY.

These are the filled edible tulip leaves, accompanied by a sweet syrup which I can’t quite describe. Overall the dessert is not as sweet as you would expect, but fresh and surprising. I’m not sure it’s something I would go out of my way to order – the matched cocktail, however, was one of the best I’ve ever had. Sweet, floral, complex, yet also refreshing.

The third dessert, Byron Bay Sunrise, is a tropical concoction of pressed apple cones with coconut and filled with finger lime balls, which basically explode in your mouth with tartness. It wasn’t until the second or third cone that I realised they actually unravel completely into a long, thin ribbon of apple, which is both incredibly impressive and also quite fun. Finally, after 4 hours of eating, drinking, and great conversation, the evening ends with a house made take on Fantales, wrapped instead in biographies of well known chefs.

Whilst the menu changes frequently, and you may not get the same dishes that I had, I can say the best thing about this dining experience is the clear effort that they make to take you on a journey. Every dish is explained in detail – not just ingredients but in some cases history and quirky anecdotes – and if you are nervous about certain foods they will hold your hand (metaphorically) and guide you as to what they think will still give you an eye-opening experience without making you too uncomfortable. As someone who has often feared degustations due to dietary preferences, this was really the stand out for me. It’s an expensive meal, and a long wait, but definitely something to tick off the bucket list, as well as a wonderful foray into the flavours of native ingredients.

 

 

The Grand

The Grand Hotel in Richmond is lauded as having Australia’s best Pub dining room. Whilst the hotel itself is a pub, and has a public bar, the dining room itself couldn’t be farther from the traditional pub experience. Mood lighting and textural decor make it feel lush and comfortable on arrival – it is the restaurant equivalent of sinking into a deeply fluffy blanket in a quiet corner. It has received one chefs hat from The Age Good Food Guide for 10 years in a row, an astonishing achievement for what could just have easily been the local drinking hole. The dining room isn’t terribly large, which provides a pleasantly intimate atmosphere – so on to what we’re here for, the food. We had the pleasure of enjoying the 6 course degustation, with the dietary request of no seafood.

Jerusalem artichokes with Stracciatella and Truffle. A deceptively beautiful dish. The artichokes are presented in three textures, one like a smooth roast potato, another crisp and radish-like, and a third crunchy salty chips. The truffle, of course, can be smelt the instant the plate is presented, and beneath it all the Stracciatella, a creamy, curd like cheese that has more flavour than Mozzarella and just complemented everything. It looks unassuming and sounds simple, but had us licking our forks for the last little bit and wishing it wasn’t over.

Capaccio of venison with a pepper and juniper crust. The crispy artichoke chips were present here on the side again, a fact we were quite happy with. The venison itself was incredibly tender, and not gamey at all. The crushed spices however, have quite a strong and bitter flavour, which is an enhancement when all the elements are eaten together but quite harsh on it’s own.  Please note that in the standard degustation, this second course is a char-grilled calamari. 

Rabbit tortelli with king oyster mushroom.  A pleasant broth, beautifully al dente pasta, and again game meat prepared with a minimally gamey flavour. However, while the taste was nice the rabbit (very finely minced) inside the tortelli had a strange and very powdery texture, so this was probably my least favourite dish of the night, and I didn’t finish it. The entree sized cutlery had been replaced after every course, so when this one was cleared and we were left with mains cutlery, we wondered – would there be 2 more savoury dishes, or would we have 2 desserts? Although quite happy with the potential 2-dessert fate, we did receive a new set of entree cutlery and moved forward with savoury dishes – but weren’t disappointed.

Gnocchi with butter and sage. WOW. This is one of the dishes that has been on the menu for a long time, because it is so well loved, and it’s easy to see why. The gnocchi is definitely up there with the fluffiest, most cloud-like pillows I have ever tried, while the burnt brown butter sauce is so rich and condensed it’s taken on a strong and sweet caramel flavour. A real example of simplicity taken to new heights. I could eat this all day, although it IS very rich. I would most certainly come back here just for this gnocchi. (At this point I was also appreciating the aesthetic consistency of the lovely dinnerware. All similar but not entirely the same, in light and white tones.) Prior to this dish I wasn’t sure I’d be full by the end of the degustation, but gnocchi was the turning point for me as it’s always so filling! Please note that in the standard degustation this course is a fish. 

Pork belly with apple, turnips and fennel. And a little treat on the side in the form of Pastilla. While disappointing that the pork belly wasn’t crackling, it was still tender and delicious. After the gnocchi course, however, it was rather rich (but unless opting for no seafood, you would have just had a fish, so the contrast may be helpful). I made my way through this one slowly, mixing rich pork and sauces with bits of fennel and apple. The Pastilla really added to the dish, with it’s crispy texture and spicy cinnamon flavour layered over the richer meat. It was the bite I saved for last! The sweetness of the cinnamon also complemented the pork well, in the same way that apples do.

Our final course satisfied the sweet tooth well, without being sickening. These cream filled Italian donuts were fluffy, fresh, and not too sweet – nor was the toffee ice cream. While the menu states honeycomb we were told this was saffron honey – which sounds even more indulgent. Any saffron flavour was certainly subtle but did lend it a beautiful golden glow.

Overall, I think my personal favourites were the artichokes and gnocchi, because I am a fan of simple dishes done extremely well, but the whole degustation was satisfying and delicious, overall well worth dealing with the parking in Richmond!

Cheese Bars: Melbourne vs Brisbane

When Milk the Cow first opened in St Kilda in 2012 it caused a veritable storm. Finally, there was an answer for all those people asking “But what if I don’t want to go somewhere for dinner, I just want to have a cheese platter?”. And for those who weren’t asking, they now had the answer to a need they never knew they had.

As a dedicated cheese and wine bar stocking over 150 artisan cheeses, it hit the spot with Melbourne’s specialty foodie market. Aside from that – they do it well. Upon entering the St Kilda store, you’re faced with a smallish restaurant which appears to be half filled by a long, well stocked cheese cabinet. There is a cheese and wine tasting flight to suit every taste, from mixed wines, to all reds, whiskies, beer, cider and even sake matching. Cheese is the highlight of the menu with fondues, cheese platters, and accompaniments such as olives and charcuterie an optional extra. The atmosphere is intimate, with the one large group table bordered along one side with a 4 person hanging bench, and attention to detail in all the servingware – from the wooden flight boards with wine glass cutouts, to the fondue warmers with a beautiful lattice design which the tea light candles shine through, adding to the ambience.

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Milk the Cow fortified wine flight

All waiters have a notebook with additional detail for when their off-the-cuff cheese walkthroughs don’t satisfy your thirst for dairy based knowledge. The venue has been a success, with a second opening in Carlton a couple of years later.

If you aren’t sure what you want, a flight or cheese board is definitely the way to go, but if you’re with a larger group or just want something a little more decadent, the fondues and baked whole cheeses (take your pick of either camembert or brie) and absolutely divine. The camembert was a particular favourite of ours, infused with garlic and fresh herbs, while the 3 fondues on offer vary as to the flavours added.

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French Onion Soup, Serrano Ham, and Baked Camembert

On this occasion we tried the “Grundlegend”, a melting pot of Il Forteto Cacio di Bosca Tartufo Stagionato, Swiss Appenzeller & Gruyere L Etivaz which is “Cooked with Remy Martin VSOP, Madame Coco Blanc de Blancs Brut & truffle honey and accompanied with a ramekin of Stanton & Killeen Rutherglen topaque”. It’s rich. Very rich. If you’re only there as two people, be wary of how much this will fill you up. Even the baked cheeses are a pretty generous ooey gooey mess. It’s definitely recommended to order some charcuterie if you’re getting  any dipping cheese, because it comes with additional breads and lavosh which you’ll certainly need, unless you want to eat the fondue straight from the pot with a spoon (we won’t judge). Even the signature cocktails come garnished with cheese – although we didn’t try any as the flights had our attention. The serves of sides were reasonably generous – we had the Serrano ham on this occasion.

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Grundlegend Fondue

If you haven’t been to Milk the Cow and love cheese, it’s a definite must-do. You can treat it as an after dinner or late night venture, but order several dishes and you’ll find that they’re rich enough, and you fill up enough with the grazing style, to cover you for dinner too.

However, if you’re not a Melburnian, the news of the year was that for the first time, a specialty cheese restaurant has opened in Brisbane. The name – Fromage the Cow – may initially make you think it is by the same team as Milk the Cow – but it’s definitely not. Upon entering, the large cheese room to the right is a huge standout – and more reminiscent of an up market grocer (technically they call themselves a licenced fromagerie). It’s clear they are happy to sell you cheese or feed you in the restaurant either way. Beyond this point, the main venue looks pretty much like a standard small suburban restaurant.

To the side is the ‘orangerie’ which might make you think of France, but is really just a long narrow bar with an orange wall. If the restaurant is full but you still need your cheese fix, the exact same menu is available on this side of the venue. The cheese platters here are choose-your-own, and accompanied by a detailed description of 20 or so cheeses on offer – despite the fact they actually stock around 80. Unlike Milk The Cow, there is more substantial restaurant style food here, including bar finger food like arancini, meat based mains, and desserts (although everything does feature a cheese element of course).

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Fromage the Cow arancini and savoury crackers

We were given about 5 menus, but nonetheless remaked to the waiter that we were surprised there were no tasting flights – at which point he hastily added that these were on a separate menu they only handed out when asked, as hardly anyone orders them. Not sure whether this is a case of the market not being ready (sorry Brisbane) or an opportunity lost through not offering it. We selected a red and sparkling flight, and arancini (which were crisp and tasty, but not the main focus of the experience). The difference was immediately noticeable in the presentation – wine glasses with cheeses balanced on the top, presented on a standard black drinks tray. Unlike in Melbourne where a detailed description of the history, tasting notes and features of each cheese was forthcoming, in this case the cheeses were just named. They weren’t presented in mildest-to-strongest order either, but did come with the most delicious oat crackers we’ve ever tasted.

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Fromage the Cow red and sparkling cheese flights

While it seems like Brisbane still has a long way to catch up to Melbourne in the specialty offering market (though it has come leaps and bounds in the last several years), one thing I can’t fault is the quality of the cheeses, as well as the excellent pairings made with the wine. Every single one added volume and complexity to the cheese it was paired with, and we got to experience some truly exponential flavour transformations that really brought out the dominant flavour in each cheese. While I’d recommend Milk the Cow if you had a choice between two cities, Fromage the Cow is still definitely worth checking out, and brings something which is so far unique to the Brisbane market.

Nantucket Kitchen

Nantucket Charcoal Kitchen and Bar at Indooroopilly Shopping Centre, Brisbane, immediately feels like a holiday. Decked out in an elaborate French Colonial style, everything is whitewashed timber, expansive fresh greens, and as much of the sense of sitting on a balcony in a rocking chair as you can get without actually sitting on a balcony in a rocking chair. The decor includes a large print of the early boundaries of the United States, seemingly before the west was entirely annexed. The coordinated crockery too, is all of a rustic style stoneware that adds a distinctively homely feel.

An enormous kitchen was staffed with no less than 8 chefs and cooks on our visit, despite it being a relatively quiet Friday night. It was great to see them preparing for the weekend ahead as well as the open charcoal oven blazing away in the background; unfortunately I didn’t grab a photo.

Our simple starters were the sourdough (which came with smoked garlic butter) and corn breads (which came with whipped salted honey butter), both fresh and delicious. It was a good idea not to have an overly large entree (although, they did all sound delicious) as the mains were very filling.

I ordered the Cape Grim eye fillet, with peppercorn sauce. On the side was a slab of rather thickly hewn bacon that had a delicious smoky flavour – almost verging into ham steak territory with it’s meatiness – as well as some roasted baby carrots which unfortunately were a little underdone and slightly bitter. The peppercorn sauce had a surprisingly smokey barbecue flavour which was unexpected, but certainly went with the American theme. The eye fillet, however, more than made up for any other elements of the plate which may not have been quite to my taste.

I ordered the steak rare, and it had obviously been slow roasted before being seared with those distinctive charcoal lines, for two reasons. Firstly, the strong smokey charcoal flavour which was infused through the meat. Secondly, despite being very rare, the degree of done-ness was consistent all the way through the steak. If you’ve ever tried cooking a quality, thick piece of meat yourself, you’ll know how difficult this is to achieve. There was no bloody blue centre – despite only the outer millimeter or so being well done, the rest of the steak was consistently rare from the edge through to the middle, and warm. Of course the texture was beautiful and tender, but it’s been a while since I’ve had such a perfectly cooked steak, so it was a pleasant surprise in a suburban Brisbane restaurant with only one steak on the menu!

The staff are evidently well trained, with our waitress remembering the full order for a table of 4 without a notepad or moments hesitation, and the manager stopping to offer to take a photograph for us when she saw us arranging ourselves.

Two of my family members ordered the mushroom tagliatelle, so I got to try a little of this as well. The pasta was very fresh and good, perfectly al dente but the mushrooms were surprisingly all of the pale white variety, with no browned or golden tones. The truffle flavour was present, but what we were expecting to be a very rich and creamy dish was actually quite light. It was however improved with some salt.

For dessert I ordered the chocolate whisky tart with blood orange sorbet, which surprisingly came with charred sweetcorn as well as popcorn as part of the garnish. The popcorn was an ok addition, but I’m not sure how I feel about the charred sweetcorn. I’d definitely say this is a dessert for sharing – it was a very generous size for something so unbelievably rich and fudgey, and I don’t think I managed even half of it on my own, but it was decadent and delicious. The refreshing sorbet helped to cut through the richness, and was a great way to end the meal.

Overall, I think this is a great place to go for a quiet suburban dinner that still offers quality, great service, and also a broad range of dishes that were all still beautiful. Some of the cuisine is a little off the line of what you might expect, but it all went to make the meal more interesting. If you’re dining in a group who may have different tastes, the variety on the menu is a big plus. It’s also a beautiful venue for functions, and I believe they also do weddings, which I can definitely see working well, particularly with their enclosed verandah area. The shopping centre makes for easy parking as well. I highly recommend the steak!

Yak Italian

Yak Italian had been on my “to-try” list for some time, after tasting some of their fresh hand made pasta at a sample night. Be aware that pasta is absolutely the focus here – as in, they don’t even have a dessert menu – so if you’re not after pasta, there are SOME other options, but not a lot. Maybe try somewhere else.

For a starter, we couldn’t resist the simple cheesiness of the foccaccia di recco – which is simply a small pizza based stuffed with Taleggio and squacquerone cheese. Carby, cheesy, rustic and delicious. I wouldn’t have minded if there was some garlic on the top as well, but it was still a cheese-laden indulgence. Quite heavy too, we shared this between two but if you just wanted a nibble and maybe something else as a starter, sharing between 4 would be fine too.

All their pasta is hand made in house, tender and fresh. I chose the Gnocchi with lamb ragu, whilst my friend had the Pici. I was a little surprised by the ragu – they did tell me there was a change and it had been made with rabbit as well, but it seemed mostly rabbit and pork sausage with no discernable lamb. It was also very sparse on the sauce, where I was expecting a rich tomato-y concoction with tender meat. However, as I stated – this experience is really all about the pasta, and that was absolutely divine. Whatever dish you order, be prepared to focus on the taste, texture and freshness of the pasta itself, because it really is the hero, whatever you choose to dress it up as. And of course, perfectly al dente.

We also had a cocktail and wine each, but didn’t stick around for coffee – as mentioned, there was no dessert menu on offer, which felt strange at first, but we left full anyway, so were probably saved from our own gluttony by its absence!