* Saltimbocca - 250 Glen Eira Road, Elsternwick, 9533 0845
The aroma of la cucina Italiana drifts from the open kitchen to fill this slip of a restaurant. We enjoyed a pizza topped with pesto, grilled peppers, prosciutto and tasty goat's cheese and risotto of a better consistency than many fancier restaurants can manage. A special of pumpkin tortellini was undercooked but the accompanying napoli sauce was remarkable for its depth of flavour.
Open: Tues-Sun 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm.
* Globe Cafe - 218 Chapel Street, Prahran, 9510 8693
This unpretentious, welcoming space, with 1950s vinyl chairs, cakes, friendly staff, piles of magazines and good food all day long, is always packed on weekends for breakfast, when they serve up absurdly large plates of themed eggs and bacon. But go on a quiet weeknight and it's a really pleasant after-work eatery. The menu varies day by day but highlights have been the vegetarian thali plate - little bowls of curry, chutneys, raita - a very good lamb curry with crisp roti bread and the massive vegetarian open sandwich.
Open: Mon 9am-late, Tues-Fri 8.30am-late, Sat 9am-late, Sun 10am-late.
* Suka Rasa - 84 Station Street, Sandringham, 9598 4139
You'd probably have to board a plane to find better curry puffs than the crisp, flaky parcels of potato and onion on offer here. Ditto the seafood curry laksa, packed with fishcake, prawns, squid and tofu.
Open: Wed-Fri noon-2.30pm, Sun-Thurs 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm.
Prices: entrees $1.50-$3.50, mains $5.30-$13.
* Almazett - 210 Balaclava Road, Caulfield, 9509 8959
Another place where you're best off simply saying "bring us food". There are a couple of mezze options but, for $27, they'll basically feed you whatever you feel like until you can eat no more. The original all-you-can-eat concept, perhaps, except that this food is very good. Highlights are tiny deep-fried pastry rolls filled with spiced lamb, the crispy, mint-green falafel, a pilaf tossed with minced lamb and the ultra-fresh tabbouleh.
Open: Mon-Sun 6pm-late.
* Cafe A Taglio - 157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 9534 1344
The groovy St Kilda/Prahran set love this place. It's tres chic but also pretty good value. A few bits of Roman-style pizza (prepared in huge slabs, then cut into squares and reheated on demand) or a bowl of excellent, simple pasta (the gnocchi with parmesan, butter and parsley is a knockout) will set you back about $40 for two, including wine. One of the best.
Open: Tues-Sun noon-10pm.
Prices: about $3-$12.
* Misuzu's - 7 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park, 9699 9022
This intriguing and addictive eating spot offers cheap Japanese village-style cooking in a small but comfortable atmosphere. There's a row of Japanese salads and sushi variations under the counter, which is a pretty good place to start. You pick your own by standing and pointing. Other top nibbles include the perennial gyoza (Japanese chicken dumplings) and teriyaki tofu. There's at least half a dozen different noodle dishes, either soba or udon, and a seafood miso laksa.
Open: Mon-Sun noon-3pm, 5.30pm-10pm.
* Milo - 203 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, 9531 3699
Look hard or you'll miss this rather sleek new cafe, tucked into a corner next to the pedestrian ramp under the railway bridge. There isn't much that gives it away from the outside, apart from a handful of low-key tables and chairs, and inside it's minimal: plain wooden banquettes, three-legged stools and a stainless-steel counter at the back. They do good breakfasts - muesli, fruit salad, eggs, etc - and a handful of tasty dishes for lunch (soups, vegetable lasagne and a lamb burger with fetta and roast pepper relish).
Open: Mon-Sun 7.30am-5.30pm.
* Blue Tongue - 62 Ormond Road, Elwood, 9531 3011
This place has fast become a local hangout - popular, noisy and smoky. Their rendition of antipasto - a round-the-world plate - is great. Enough for two, it offers marinated mushrooms, delicate spring rolls, frittata, wonton and other tasty morsels. The tempura gummy shark is popular, too (though you would probably call it fish and chips).
Open: Mon-Fri noon-11pm, Sat-Sun 10am-11pm.
Prices: mains from $14.
AROUND MELBOURNE © David Syme & Co 1999.
THE WINE AND JAZZ APPRECIATION SOCIETY NEWS, VOL 5, NO 33, 4/10/99
An old man goes to the doctor. The doctor asks for stool, urine, blood, and semen samples. The old man can't believe it. He takes all his little sample jars and goes home. At home, he tells his wife that the doctor wants stool, urine, blood, and semen samples. The wife looks aghast and then realisation spreads like the dawn across her wrinkled facial features. "That's easy," she says, relief obvious in her voice. "All he wants is your pajama pants."
A few days in the Harbour city for the National Conference of the Australian Association of Special Education coincided with a Geoff Achison gig at the Playhouse (a theatre within the Opera House). Good of Geoff to organise for me free admission to this late-afternoon solo session. A couple of hundred Sydneysiders seemed to know what to expect from Geoff and his amplified acoustic Gibson guitar. A very fine venue for acoustic stuff and Geoff made full use of the dynamic range of his guitar in the silence of the auditorium. Varying his style from full-blown strumming to feather-light chords and finger-picking, it was a delight to see some real light and shade in his music. Geoff has always had impressive and sometimes jaw dropping technique, though he has at times been criticised for promoting callow flashiness over feeling. I’ve not subscribed to that view, but it did appear to me that Geoff’s style was a little more circumspect than in the past. Whatever, it was a great way to unwind after my own 90 minute conference presentation, and he was very warmly received by the audience.
Little Charlie and the Nightcats have visited Melbourne several times in the past few years, when guesting at large Blues events like Byron Bay at Easter. This time in Oz for another festival in NSW, they appeared at The Conti – larger than life.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Little Charlie - marry me! The musical event of the year at The Conti on Thursday night when Little Charlie and the Nightcats cut loose with a killer evening of blues, r’n’b, and jump blues. Now speaking of flashy - Little Charlie is the king of flash, except that I found it hard to look disdainful with my jaw on the floor! The band came on stage smoking though there were no drawbacks - torched by the simple incendiary device of Charlie’s Gibson guitar, and it held court for the whole evening. Unbelievable solos were punctuated by delicious accompanying riffs to singer/harmonica master - Rick Estrin’s humour-soaked vocals. Breathtaking speed, infallible fingering, leaping from chords to finger-picking to strumming within the same solo, Charlie was a revelation. I’ve seen him a couple of times before, and admired his playing and his feeling for his second choice instrument, but this was something else!
Charlie’s original instrument was the harmonica, and Rick’s was the guitar. When they first played together, they realised that the other was better at their first-choice instrument so they swapped roles. In one tune, Charlie offered Rick the guitar after Rick had feigned giving Charlie some advice during a particularly hot solo. Rick, after much hamming it up about how little he knew about this stringed instrument, proceeded to rip off a very tasty solo on the Gibson. Also feigning incompetence, Little Charlie tentatively picked up Rick’s harmonica and let loose with an impassioned and complex solo of his own.
Although the band has Little Charlie as the headline name, it is Rick Estrin - of the Ricky Nelson hairdo, the red dinner-jacket and the parody of the sleazy night-club compere - who fronts the band, writes a large part of their repertoire, provides the humour, and sings. His lyrics are full of nudges and winks, in the best blues tradition of sexual symbolism. He plays a mean harmonica, and can indulge in a bit of flashiness too - as when he played the harmonica by holding it solely in his mouth (as if to swallow it) and moving it in and out with his tongue to reach the appropriate notes. I suppose it’s the harp playing equivalent of the Texas tradition of playing guitar with your teeth. I don’t know if it’s meant to have sexual symbolism also.
From the opening high energy number, there was barely a pause for breath as a marvellously constructed play-list allowed Little Charlie full rein across different styles and tempos. A sell-out crowd was whooping and hollering - they didn’t need much encouragement to join in singing and clapping, and they warmly applauded all the solos. There was a great deal of within-seat bopping happening too, and the frequent disbelieving smiles on people’s faces signalled the sheer enjoyment evoked by this talented LA band.
The sound at The Conti was wonderful for the music – clean and balanced, each instrument clearly delineated, the acoustic bass (Ronnie Weber) and drums (June Core) mercifully restrained, and the guitar just loud enough to excite without being distorted. Unfortunately, Rick’s vocals were not able to be clearly discerned from where we sat (centrally between the speakers), so his often sardonic lyrics were impossible to understand. The food was pretty ordinary too - its quality has gradually fallen over a period of time, but it has now (I’m hopeful) reached its nadir. Maybe the new owners will attempt to resurrect the quality - though without a price hike, please.
Trifling criticisms aside, this was the musical event of the year for me.
James Halliday's latest tasting notes...
This week's wines:
Value special Banrock Station Unwooded Chardonnay 1998
Up to you Crawford River Cabernet Merlot 1997
Worth having Leo Buring Clare Valley Shiraz 1997
Off the beaten track Gehrig Estate Old Tawny Port NV
Simply the best Hardys Tintara Grenache 1997
Banrock Station Unwooded Chardonnay 1998 Rating: 86 Best drinking: 1999-2000 Price: $10.90 Drink with: Takeaway Background Right from day one, the Banrock Chardonnay has exhibited above-average flavour (and quality) for a Riverland wine. What is more, it is an unwooded Chardonnay which succeeds where so many fail.
Tasting note Light to medium yellow-green; as ever, nice citrus, melon and peach fruit comes through strongly on the bouquet, matched by well-balanced flavour and length on the palate. Gold medal 1998 Cowra Wine Show.
Crawford River Cabernet Merlot 1997 Rating: 86 Best drinking: 2001-2006 Price: $20 Drink with: Rib of veal Background A blend of 50 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 50 per cent Merlot, and like the Cabernet Sauvignon, speaks as much of Bordeaux as it does of Australia. A wine that will inevitably reflect vintage conditions, for this is a distinctly cool region for these varieties.
Tasting note Medium red-purple; fragrant cedary, leafy, briary aromas are followed by an attractive palate with sweet berry fruit finishing with long, fine tannins.
Leo Buring Clare Valley Shiraz 1997 Rating: 87 Best drinking: 2002-2007 Price: $30 Drink with: Rare roast beef Background A newcomer to the Leo Buring range, and a welcome one, showing Clare Valley Shiraz to full advantage.
Tasting note Medium to full purple-red; the bouquet suggests a traditional full-bodied big extract style with a deal of oak, but the palate is a surprise packet, with opulent dark cherry fruit the leading force, supported by well-balanced oak.
Gehrig Estate Old Tawny Port NV Rating: 86 Best drinking: 1999-2000 Price: $18 Drink with: Coffee
Background The rich Tawny Ports of northeast Victoria are quite unique, infinitely richer and sweeter than their Portuguese counterparts.
Tasting note The colour is dark, with a few red hues still there indicating intermediate age. The bouquet is solid, with sweet fruit and some rancio; a big, rich Rutherglen style on the palate which, like the bouquet, does not show any signs of staleness.
Hardys Tintara Grenache 1997 Rating: 94 Best drinking: 2000-2007 Price: $25 Drink with: Very rich meat dishes Background A marvellously packaged wine, with the best super-deluxe bottle on the Australian market at the present time, but the wine is much more than a pretty face. It is made from unirrigated old vine McLaren Vale grenache, with a percentage of shiraz incorporated at the time of crushing (around 10 per cent) and spends twelve months in French oak, or American, depending on whether you believe the back label on the wine or the separate information provided by the brand manager. All of this reflects some refinement of the first release in 1995, and in my view is the best Grenache in Australia, challenged only by the top d'Arenberg releases.
Tasting note Strong purple-red; there is a cascade of rich, ripe fruit aromas ranging through raspberry, plum, black cherry and spice, with the French oak playing a subtle support role. The wine is satin-smooth on entry to the mouth, with the fruit flavours representing a continuum of the bouquet. Fine tannins and subtle oak.
In addition to the wines for which full tasting notes are provided, I inevitably taste a large number of additional wines which are either not of the same quality or of the same interest. For the sake of completeness, I list these (and publish the points) under the heading 'Also tasted'. Typically, these will be wines which receive 80 points or less, but there is no hard and fast rule about this. Lower-pointed wines that are inexpensive may well get reviewed; conversely, more expensive wines that just scrape past 80 points may not be reviewed.
Vintage Wine Rating
1998 Blue Pyrenees Estate Leydens Vale Riesling 79
1998 Blue Pyrenees Estate Leydens Vale Sauvignon Blanc 78
1997 Blue Pyrenees Estate Leydens Vale Chardonnay 80
1996 Blue Pyrenees Estate Leydens Vale Pinot Noir 77
1996 Blue Pyrenees Estate Leydens Vale Shiraz 81
1997 Brown Brothers Victoria Cabernet Sauvignon 82
1999 Delatite Unoaked Chardonnay 81
NV Delatite Delmelza Sparkling 82
1997 Domaine de L'Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Cotes du Rhone 77
1997 Domaine de L'Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Cuvée Prestige 82
1997 Domaine de L'Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs 79
1995 Domaine de Valmagne Abbaye de Valmagne Cuvee de Turenne 74
1996 Domaine de Valmagne Abbaye de Valmagne Sh Mourv Gren 74
1996 Domaine de Valmagne Cabernet Sauvignon 72
1997 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Shiraz 80
1997 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 77
1998 Hewitson Grenache 81
1997 Jane Brook Estate Atkinson Cab Sauv Cab Franc 80
1996 Lindemans Bin 25 Chardonnay Brut 77
1997 Lindemans Padthaway Reserve Chardonnay 80
1996 Mountadam Cabernet Sauvignon 83
1996 Normans Lone Gum Unwooded Chardonnay 80
1996 Normans Cabernet Sauvignon 77
1997 Orlando Gramps Barossa Semillon 78
1998 Orlando Gramps Barossa Chardonnay 79
1997 Orlando Gramps Merlot 79
1998 Penny's Hill Vineyards McLaren Vale Chardonnay 79
1997 Penny's Hill Vineyards McLaren Vale Shiraz Cabernet Merlot C
1998 Primo Estate Il Briccone 83
1998 Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Sauvignon Blanc 78
1997 Vivarto Sicilia Rosso 79
1998 Yalumba Oxford Landing Limited Release Semillon 78
1998 Yalumba Oxford Landing Limited Release Merlot 82
Please note: All wines are rated out of 100 points, corked wines are marked accordingly and have not been rated. Copyright © 1999 HarperCollinsPublishers / James Halliday
Into the radiance By JOHN LETHLEAN
You want a sign of the times? A barometer of where dining's heading? Eat at Radii. Yes, a restaurant in an "international" hotel, the Park Hyatt.
It will sound odd to some - I'm surprised to find myself saying it - but some of the most exciting food I've eaten for a very long time is coming out of the flash, open kitchen at the Park Hyatt's new, multi-tiered disco-restaurant. Straightforward, unfussed food where the priorities are flavor, produce and great ideas rather than complicated presentation, or technique for the sake of itself.
The fact that Radii pulses with contemporary music and buzzes with the activity of a thousand waiters; that the open kitchen flames and snorts smoke like a drunken dragon; that the interior design puts you in mind of your own personal Academy Awards ceremony; and that the prices are possibly lower than most well-regarded stand-alone restaurants at, say, Southbank or St Kilda, is all a bonus. But it is chef Paul Wilson's bold, rustic-with-finesse food that should etch itself on your culinary memory.
Matched to a high-elegance, low-formality ethos that eschews the usual anachronistic claptrap associated with fine dining, hotel-style, it makes Radii the bravest restaurant any hotel has launched in Melbourne for a long time. The Park Hyatt was built and is owned by Ted Lustig and Max Moar, who also own the Grand Hyatt in the city. Indeed, on several visits to Radii, the flamboyant Mr Moar has been conspicuous by his presence.
The opulent, faintly art deco look of Radii, set over five levels, won't be everyone's cup of tea. There's a lot of high-gloss timber, marble, glass, shiny metal, internally lit pillars, revolving psychedelic up-lights, baby-spots on each step of the spiral staircases to give you that "thanks for the Oscar" feeling as you ascend from bar to table. There is much to take in.
There are no tablecloths; linen here is ecru, not white; and there are no signs of Christofle or Villeroy and Boch. But still, everything used by the restaurant is of superb quality and good design: a contemporary style of special. During the day, Radii is more measured and lighter, with views of paved courtyards and St Patrick's Cathedral. The mood change at night is complete. With its omnipresent contemporary soundtrack (when was the last time you heard Portishead in a hotel restaurant?), Radii at dinner time feels more like a lavish, conspicuously consumptive nightclub than a place to eat. But the kitchens - two of them, both naked to the world - are indisputably the focus, with Paul Wilson, the expatriate Brit chef, late of the defunct Georges, firmly in charge.
He has put together a killer menu. Nothing I've tried in three meals here has disappointed. Wood-fired oven dishes, rotisseries, and powerful flavor partners (fish and tapenade; lamb and pesto crumbs or olive/anchovy pissaladiere; polenta with truffle) make for an approach that is far removed from the refined, Frenchish direction of most of Wilson's fellow countrymen in restaurants around Melbourne.
There are obvious parallels here with Langton's restaurant, Philippe Mouchel's successful turn from haute dining to bistro priorities. And, like Langton's is, Radii will be very busy - provided the somewhat loose service comes together. But the food.
Wilson's calamari cooked in an iron dish in the wood oven with chorizo sausage, smoked paprika, tomato, basil, parsley, olives and charred pickled green peppers ($12) provides one of the indelible memories of eating here: a sublime marriage of ingredients that imbues the calamari's flavor and texture with porky, smoky, sour and salty qualities that hover somewhere around southern Spain but seem so right on the fringe of the Melbourne CBD.
Then there's the creamy, pale truffled polenta that comes topped with a poached free-range egg, a slice of black truffle and an almost transparent, square sheet of Parmigiano Reggiano and a splash of rich, tangy beurre blanc. The particular smell of the fungi wafts up, and the dark orange yolk and polenta team for a textural-olfactory knockout, creating the most extraordinary comfort dish ($15).
Or the very simple dish of eight baby scallops grilled and served with a tangy-herby citrus beurre blanc, garnished with orange zest, and delivered to the table in a long, white porcelain canoe ($12.50).
There's Wilson's clever "cassoulet" of blue eye ($20), another wood-oven-cooked dish that arrives in a chunky metal pan with a piece of superb crumbed fillet at the centre. Around it, imbued with a smoky aroma, is a tomatoey goo laced with the starch of tarbais beans, broad beans and baby clams. It is a sensational, robust dish with rich, complex flavors, yet the clarity of the fish itself is profound. Equally can I recommend the one pasta dish we saw - excellent spaghetti with Puy lentils and a miniscule dice of vegetables, mixed wild mushrooms, cubes of celeriac, wafers of duck prosciutto, truffle oil and shaved parmesan ($19).
Wilson's menu includes many items to share, with the price listed "per person". Try, if it's on the specials list, a rotisseried leg of baby milk-fed lamb from Saskia Beer in the Barossa, marinated first and coming to the table sliced but with the shank bone left in.
The lamb comes with broad beans, a quality lamb jus, lots of fresh basil and an individual pissaladiere heavy with anchovy, caramelised red onion and black olives, a profoundly Provencal soaker-up of juices and gravy, and Wilson's play on a Yorkshire pudding.
The meat is amazing, with the faintest, salty-olive crust, pinkish and moist, but firm inside, and it reminds me profoundly of my rural Victorian youth, when meat was bought from a butcher who ran his own flock. The teamwork with its partners is simply stunning ($28 a head). Or a whole snapper, baked in the wood oven and served on a bed of white rice blended with calamari tentacles and a squid-ink beurre blanc ($22).
Try a Radii dessert plate, yet another bargain at $14, and you'll see a selection of almost uniformly fine sweetish things: lively sorbets, a filo pastry mille-feuille of Valrhona chocolate mousse with marinated citrus fruit, a brilliant "cappuccino creme brulee".
We'd go back for the sauternes custard, which arrives in a tres-swish conical vessel, with a layer of sauternes jelly enveloping whole green grapes. The bottom layer of custard is light, fresh, not too sweet and faintly vanilla-speckled, while the jelly cuts the creaminess perfectly ($12).
Wines are fairly priced. And they can even make coffee, served with superb Valrhona chocolate biscuits. Perhaps they sense silver service, and the food it usually comes with, is on the nose for most people under 50. By creating Melbourne's first destination hotel restaurant for a long time, Radii may be a real wake-up call for its competition. Eating here is fun.
The summary 17/20
A radical departure for hotel dining, Radii bristles with ideas and faultless execution. If the restaurant has an Achilles heel, it is loose service. At these prices, who cares?
Owners: Lustig & Moar Group managed by Hyatt International Chef: Paul Wilson
Wine list: interesting, some depth and reasonably fair prices
Vegetarian options: two entrees, one main
Seats: 150; private room 12
No smoking: there is a cigar room
Outdoor dining: yes
Wheelchair friendly: no
Parking: reduced rate of parking in Hyatt carpark