Saturday, March 31, 2007

RESTAURANT: Acabonara Italian Restaurant

Type: Italian
Location: 65 Burwood Road, Burwood
Booking Required: Sometimes

I’ve walked past Acabonara dozens of times and never thought anything of it. From the outside it looks like a below average suburban Italian joint. But a work function drove me inside and forced me to try it. I’ve been looking for a good Italian place lately so I was looking forward to see if it was any good.

The short answer is no.

Normally I’d be struggling to decide how to rate the service, since it ranged dramatically between good and poor, but in this case I was distracted by how utterly terrible the décor is inside the restaurant. I really doubt that it has been updated since the restaurant opened, presumably some time in the 70’s.

They don’t appear to use good quality ingredients in the recipes. The food arrived completely dull and didn’t make you want to eat it. Their pizza is apparently excellent but I wasn’t impressed. The base is too thick and the toppings aren’t of a good quality.

To its credit, Acabonara is quite cheap and the portions are generous. If you are looking for a cheap, filling Italian meal then this may be an option. Otherwise, I’d steer clear.

RATING: Will probably not return to

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Type: Vietnamese
Location: 79 Burwood Rd, Burwood
Booking Required: Rarely

A handy little Vietnamese place on Burwood, just perfect for a quick lunch or some takeaway. Delicious pho, noodle salads and broken rice dishes. Everything else looks a bit average but those core three dishes are very tasty and good value.

RATING: Will return to.

Pho No1 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

WINE: MITOLO ‘Jester’ Shiraz 2005

Type: Red
Origin: McLaren Vale, South Australia
Approx Cost: $25

Purchased at the very last moment to fill a mixed dozen. I was hesitant and clueless.

But Wow! What a meaty wine! A lot of blackcurrant, star anise and juicy berries. A punch on the finish with a lot of fine tannins. It feels like you’re eating, not drinking.

Not everyone will like this style, but it’s just what I look for in a shiraz.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

RESTAURANT: Mr Chow’s Peking Restaurant

Type: Chinese
Location: 33 Kent St, Miller’s Point
Booking Required: Sometimes

You wouldn’t expect a good Chinese restaurant to be tucked away above a pub in Miller’s Point, but Mr Chow’s is just that. Above average food, great service and a nice location.

While it is good, the one thing that keeps me coming back is their tea-smoked duck. It’s amazing. Words can not explain my love for that dish. Other highlights include the shallot pancake, dumplings, curry chicken, and salt and pepper squid. However, Mr Chow’s suffers from the same problem that most Chinese restaurants do by having too much on the menu. Some dishes aren’t anything special and should be left alone.

And it’s even fairly good value if you go in a large group. You can leave feeling very well fed for $40 a head, excellent value for the service and food on offer.

RATING: Will return to

Mr Chow’s Peking Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 19, 2007

WINE: DE BORTOLI Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2005

Type: Dry White
Origin: Victoria
Approx Cost: $20

I think this is my first official review of a wine that doesn’t sparkle. I’m pretty scared dudes. I might need to drink some alcohol for a bit of Dutch courage. But where will I find some? Oh, right…

Fairly pale in colour. Honey and nut open it up and give way to some more mineral tastes. Not too much oak in it which is great to see. Dry, lengthy finish.

Quite a solid wine at a very good price.


BEER: Knappstein Enterprise Brewery Reserve Lager

Origin: Clare Valley
Approx cost: like $4 a bottle (I think)

I just traded an old management text book for a four pack of this and I'm kinda relieved I didn't have to pay for it. Tim Knappstein, Claire Valley winemaker, has done some really good things with wine. However I'm not entirely sure how to take this beer. It's like a straw yellow in colour with a dry yeasty kind of scent. Slightly floral although nothing too full on. The flavour is fairly rich, and for a lager it's quite full bodied. I guess what I'm trying to say is it's not my cup of tea beer. I think it'd make a good winter lager. maybe? try it for yourself.


RESTAURANT: the brasserie by Philippe Mouchel

Type: Traditional French
Location: Crown Casino, Southbank
Booking Required: yes

About a year ago I started working at the Casino in a restaurant and wine bar called Number 8. Allegedly, this was supposed to be Crown's flagship Australian restaurant which doesn't really say much as it was pretty much the only Australian restaurant in the whole complex. However, it was next door to the brasserie by Philippe Mouchel. Now, most of the restaurants in crown are either entirely owned by Crown or fully leased out. Neil Perry's Rockpool is one such example of a restaurant leasing some of Crown's prime territory. However Philippe has arranged a deal where he's in 'partnership' with Crown. Which gives him all the access to crowns facilities (in terms of staffing and logistics this is pretty handy) but he doesn't face the same pressure from the number crunchers to make enormous profits, as well as enjoying a prime location on the Yarra river with a nice view of the city.

I have been here before as I am I friends with quite a few of the staff, which will skew my review in terms of service because I got looked after very very well, although it's fair to say the the standard is generally top notch. Proficient, relaxed and passionate knowledge about the food and wine.

Philippe Mouchel was spotted by legendary French chef Paul Bocuse at age 22 and worked under him for many years and has subsequently become a bit of a star in his own right. He's been hanging around Melbourne for a while now and has relatively recently settled in at Crown. A few years back they received a hat or two in The Age good food guide and recently have made a comeback, earning a hat last year.

Enough shit, here's what I ate/drank.

Started off with a glass of Bollinger NV. Very nice as per usual.

then to share:
the brasserie’s assorted duck charcuterie
Assortiment de charcuterie maison, saucisson, proscuitto, rillette, parfait.

This was nothing short of awesome. I'm a big duck fan in all it's forms and that's pretty much how it came out. The duck prosciutto was great and the parfait went really well with the little patch of greens. Great start to the night.

Confit of Jurassic quail, gribiche condiment, mesclun salad and beetroot vinaigrette.
With a glass of the 2002 La Bastide, St Dominique, Côtes du Rhône, France

As far as I can remember this is the first time I've had quail and it was done pretty well. The flavours were fairly subtle and the gribiche condiment with the beetroot vinaigrette provided a really nice texture, complimenting the quail nicely. Although I'm fairly ignorant in terms of french wine generally, I realised last night that it works beautifully with the right food.

Between entrees and mains we were given a small scoop each of a red wine, vanilla and cinnamon sorbet to refresh the palette. Had a really crisp black current flavour and did the job just right.

Fillet of John Dory larded with chorizo, pumpkin and boulangère potatoes, onion jus
with the 2004 Lamblin et Fils Chablis, Burgundy, France
sides: Sautéed mushrooms with garlic and parsley and Sauté kipfler potatoes with rosemary

Really enjoyed this. It's been a while since I've gone out and eaten fish as I usually get caught up in things like duck or steaks. It came with two big portions of John Dory and the chorizo, pumpkin and boulangère potatoes came in a kind of layered cake. The onion jus had a bit of spice which went beautifully with the gamey flavour of the John Dory. The chablis added a really nice floral touch and overall worked very well. I love the sauteed mushrooms at this place and subsequently feasted on those afterwards while my friend ate the kipfler potatoes.

The brasserie dessert tasting plate
with a 2001 Château Pinson, Sauternes, Bordeaux

This consisted of Two panacottas, a forest fruit berry tart, a crepe, two scoops of sorbet (raspberry and mango), a crème brûlée and some stewed prunes. The highlight for me was definitely the brûlée and the crepe. All round it was a great way to finish the night. The Sauternes was divine. Not overly sticky, just crisp and long and was a great way to finish the night.

Apologies for the length of this post.

I highly recommend this to anyone visiting Melbourne (despite it being in the evil Casino) and I will definitely try to return. It's pretty easy to rack up a bill as the wine markups are pretty hefty, however it's well worth it every once in a while.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

WINE: BOLLINGER Special Cuvee Brut NV

Type: Champagne
Origin: France
Approx Cost: $65

Much of Bollinger’s appeal to me is that its taste is defined. There are plenty of other champagnes that are toasty with heavy biscuit notes, but none as elegant and well-rounded as a Bollinger.

Mid straw; excellent bead and mousse; that recognisable Bollinger toastiness with some overripe fruit. Refreshing.

One of the best NVs out there. Also one of the most expensive, so it’s a tough call about wanting to constantly drink it.


Friday, March 16, 2007


Type: Italian/Modern Australian
Location: 173-175 Burwood Rd, Burwood
Booking Required: Sometimes

“Living Life” ey. An interesting name.

Went there for lunch one day and got their “gourmet” salmon pizza. Very disappointing. Service was average, people went minutes without cutlery; the atmosphere was a bit strange; and the food was dry and cold. I can’t see myself returning unless I’m forced to.

RATING: Will probably not return to.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

WINE: ARRAS Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2000

Type: Sparkling White
Origin: Tasmania
Approx Cost: $45

While the wine reviews have been missing lately, you could be forgiven for thinking that I haven’t been drinking. Far from it, I’ve picked up the pace even more. But I’ve been drinking a lot of non-sparkling wines and I’m still a bit crap at writing tasting notes for them. But they should be up here one day, dammit. Just more practise required.


I could be wrong, but I think Arras is the most expensive sparkling wine in Australia that is produced at a high volume. W was interested to see if it can justify the price tag.

Pale straw with a touch of green. Nothing special about the bead; it leaps out of the bottle but doesn’t keep going. Hits very hard on the lemon and green apple flavours. Dry, toasty finish.

This is a good sparkling wine by Australian standards and is pleasant to drink, but for the price I’m not convinced.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Type: Indian
Location: 14 Morts Rd, Mortdale
Booking Required: Sometimes

A relatively new inclusion to the Mortdale dining scene (sic), the sheer audacity of Zeeban to open up directly opposite the amazing, well-loved India Times is what drove me here.

I really don’t have a lot to say about it really. The location is average, nothing special about the staff, the prices are average and the food is pretty average suburban Indian food.

While Zeeban has nothing terribly wrong about it (apart from the awful spiced potato/chick pea kebab entrée and the misspelling of saffron on the menu), India Times is better in every department.

RATING: Will probably not return to.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Type: Thai
Location: 480 Crown St, Surry Hills
Booking Required: No bookings after 7.30 (I think)

I’d heard a bit about this place but really wasn’t too sure. When we arrived to see it located in the middle of a car showroom with only one table filled, I thought I had been grossly misinformed. Still, after a bit of a stroll around Crown St to evaluate the alternatives we decided to give it a go.

And I couldn’t be happier that we persisted because Benzin is a gem of a place.

The small, tight menu and wine list both look great. Unable to decide, we grab a bottle of a delicious Four Roads Shiraz Grenache Viognier from Maxwell (not the most obvious choice for Thai but it was quite pleasing) and one of each of the entrees on offer. Chicken curry puffs are better than the standard; deep fried taro and pumpkin with sweet chilli sauce is bizarre but light and moreish; and the betel leaves with whatever was on them were absolutely delicious.

Mains were equally good. Caramlised pork hock is thick and powerful, while the deep fried salad leaf (I forget what it was) with chicken salad was quite good.

I’m not normally a dessert sort of fellow but this place earned the final test. Mung bean pudding and ice cream was a fantastic end to the evening.

Also, fantastic service on offer for most of the evening. When it really filled up they slowed down a little but it was still friendly and attentive at all times.

It’s a tad expensive. If it were cheap I would constantly return to this place. I’m hoping to go back this week with Calypso but, as it is, I’ll have to give it a…

RATING: Will return to.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Type: Thai
Location: 90 Wentworth Ave, Surry Hills
Booking Required: No bookings.

I’d been hearing so many good things about Spice I Am that I just had to go.

Got there just after opening both times so we were lucky enough to get a table. I can see that if you tried to go later you’re faced with a pretty hefty wait.

Not a place for a lengthy dinner, which I enjoy sometimes. They get you in, you order, you eat, you leave. It’s quite and excellent.

Beef salad has a delicious dressing, even if the beef is a little tough. The dishes with chilli jam are enjoyable. Chicken basil stir fry is okay but the chicken is a bit dry. Pad prik king crispy pork belly is very tasty. The duck red curry is tasty, while the green papaya salad was absolutely delicious, if furiously hot. Normally I can take a bit of heat but this was crazy. In that pleasing, endorphin-releasing sort of way.

The prices are good, but the specials are always expensive (and tempting).

BYO is also great to see, but not too many good bottle shops around for an easy pickup. Luckily they bring you as much water as you want. And with the heat in some of the dishes, you’ll need it.

Probably some of the best Thai I’ve had in Sydney, especially the salads.

RATING: Will return to.

Spice I Am on Urbanspoon

WINE: PRIMO ESTATE Joseph Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1989

Type: Red wine
Origin: Mclaren Vale
Approx cost: $40 - $60

I bought this wine on auction a few months ago as I thought it was an absolute bargain for $40. Considering current vintage of this stuff sells for around the same price I thought it'd be interesting to try one that's nearly twenty years old.

What's special about this particular wine is the way it's made. The winemaker, Joseph Grilli, uses the tradtional Italian (Valpolicella) Amarone method which involves laying freshly picked grapes out on straw mats to dry. This aims to give the fruit a "unique style and exceptional depth". Jospeh wines are also built to last, which is why I snapped up the opportunity to get hold of it.

Assuming it was going to be well and truely tainted/fucked when I opened it, I was surprised to to see the cork remained in fairly good shape (even though it was removed with one of the shittest bottle openers I've ever seen) and there was an absolute bucket load of sediment which required the help of a decanter. I poured a dash into a glass to find that the wine had held up quite well, the nose was quite musty and almost smelt like a port. The fruit was definately still there and the oak had softened into a nice cedar flavour. Although it was well passed it's prime, it was still very interesting and it really opened up in the glass revealing fruit flavours ranging from rasperry to dark currents. It displayed really good length and depth and would have gone winderfully with a nice hearty game dish.

I really enjoyed it and I was totally surprised to see it had held up so well. I suspect it had some favourable cellaring considering the appearance of the label. I'm definately keen to get hold of a few current vintage Joseph Amarones and put them away for a few years.

p.s.> I just read Halliday's review of the '02 "Moda" which is the same wine. It sounds like I've ripped a few lines out of it, but I promise I didn't. It looks like Joseph Grilli is maintaining a fairly steady ship producing a well refined style.