In the mood to splash out on seafood? The Atlantic fits the bill

The Atlantic
8 Whiteman St
Crown Entertainment Complex
Southbank, VIC

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I mentioned in my last post on Sake that I’m a little dubious of restaurants along Southbank – to me, many lack any real ‘soul’, translating into standard, boring food. So when I was recently invited to a bloggers’ dinner at The Atlantic, I was a little hesitant. But while it may seem like this is “just another Crown restaurant”, one distinguishing fact sets it apart from all the others: the chef is Donovan Cooke.

Over 10 years ago, Cooke ran one of Melbourne’s best restaurants, Est Est Est. In it’s day, Est Est Est was at the forefront of Melbourne cusine, bringing fine dining back in an era where diners were wanting a more casual, brasserie type experience.

More than a decade later, Cooke is back running the enormous Atlantic kitchen. Capable of seating 300 people, it may seem that a place of this scale would produce food that is formulaic and ‘standard’, but Cooke’s drive for quality and his dedication to sustainably sourced seafood ensure the menu is not only innovative, but devised in such a way that it can be revised on a daily basis to work with what species of fish are available. This means that the fish on offer one day may not necessarily be available the next.

It would be a mistake to visit the Atlantic without trying their freshly shucked oysters, which are proudly on display at the entrance to the restaurant. The night we visit we are treated to oysters from Wallis Lake (NSW), Smoky Bay (SA), and Moulting Bay (TAS), which are served with a light vinaigrette and fresh lemon.

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There is a definite “classic” leaning to the menu, which is divided into cold and hot starters, fish whole and filleted, and a ”from the land” section that lists steak options, a rogue chicken dish and a token vegetarian offering. To begin, drawing on his classical training Donovan reinvents the seafood cocktail, combining crab meat, scallops, moreton bay bugs, prawns, iceberg lettuce, rockmelon, apple, basil, and soft boiled quail egg in a creamy dressing ($30). It’s a simple dish that may not knock your socks off but will bring a nostalgic smile to many faces. The crab bisque, however, is the better of the remastered classics, carefully balancing scallop mousse, preserved lemon, basil and rockmelon balls ($25.00).

The extensive starters menu continues with pan seared scallops and calamari with celeriac and apple remoulade, squid ink mascarpone, salmon roe ($26.00). It’s a great example of Donovan’s artistry as a chef, and there’s no shortage of beautiful dishes here. The Alaskan king crab with red capsicum coulis, crab mascarpone, balsamic gel and smoked paprika ($26.00) is again a meal to be eaten with the eyes.

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It’s not just pretty food though, it’s delivers on taste as well. The Wood-fired grilled calamari with marinated kipfler potatoes, radicchio, parsley, capers, garlic croutons ($27.00) is sure to please even seafood beginners. The wood firing adds an excellent smokey flavour to the calamari, which is matched by the bitter radicchio. The tian of kingfish, pickled king oyster mushroom, semi dried tomatoes, bonito flake and chilled mushroom consomme ($27.00) is another excellent starter.

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Onto mains, and one of the best options is to have a whole fish cooked on the bone, either wood fired, roasted or steamed. The night we visit there’s whole baby snapper on the menu ($41.00). Served simply with fresh lemon and the option of an olive oil, garlic, chilli and anchovy sauce, it’s treated with the simplicity and respect it so deserves. Scared of eating fish on the bone? Take advantage of the offer to debone the fish at the table. It’s tableside theatre at it’s best.

MFF_Atlantic_SnapperMFF_Atlantic_Snapper2If fish bones aren’t your thing, the signature confit Ora King Salmon with braised baby savoy cabbage smoked bacon, baby carrot and jus gras ($40.00) might be for you. Aptly named the wagyu of the sea, this salmon has all the flavour of the wild variety while adhering to the strictest sustainability standards. Plus, it comes with bacon.

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If you’re after something more exotic, there’s the pan fried hapuka, served with risoni scented with prawn and aromatic vegetables with fennel salad and shellfish foam ($44.00). It’s a real celebration of seafood, successfully marring a range of seafood elements.

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If you’ve been dragged along to The Atlantic but don’t really enjoy seafood you can relax: there is something for you. The 250g Sher Wagyu Sirloin ($58.00) has a marble score of 8+ and is as good a steak as any along the Southbank strip. While it does come with a little side salad, make sure you order some extras; the brown butter roast cauliflower ($12.00), sautéed baby spinach ($11.00) or the radicchio salad with fennel and pear ($12.00) are all winners, or choose from one of three potato sides – thrice cooked potatoes ($11.00), Russet Burbank chips ($11.00) or Mashed bintje potatoes ($11.00).

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Down to the sweet end of the menu, the hits keep on coming. The pistachio cassonade with chocolate sorbet, pistachio praline and coffee chocolate crackers ($20) and the champagne and strawberry parfait with basil and orange ice cream and strawberry salad ($22.00) will bring a smile to any sweet tooth’s face. But it’s the Valrhona chocolate delice with passionfruit centre, coconut foam, and chilli chocolate soup that’s theatrically drizzled over at the table that is my favourite.

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The prices are relatively high, but the restaurant experience justifies them. The service is sophistocated, the food is refined and well balanced, and the surroundings are affluent. If you are ever in the mood to splash out on seafood, The Atlantic fits the bill.

The Atlantic on Urbanspoon

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Sake: changing my mind on Southbank

Sake
Hamer Hall
100 St Kilda Road
Melbourne, VIC

I’m always a bit dubious of restaurants in Southbank. There’s something about them that lacks.. soul. But after visiting mod-Japanese restaurant and bar, Sake, I might be pursuaded otherwise.

Executive chef Shaun Presland is well schooled in Japanese cuisine, spending 15 years in his adoptive country training to become a sushi master. He then returned to Sydney to open Sushi-e in The Establishment Hotel, the city’s first raw bar, before heading to Nobu in The Bahamas.

This Sake is the third in the series. The first opened in 2009 after Presland returned to Sydney, recieving one star soon after. The second opened in Brisbane, making Melbourne the third in the trio.

Presland obviously drew on his experience at Nobu when crafting the menu at Sake. Fusion dishes such as sashimi tacos and the kingfish jalapeño have followed him here which is probably just as well considering Melbourne is still in the throes of a love affair with Mexican food. The kingfish, lightly cured in yuzu (citrus) soy and served with jalapeño and coriander is a refreshingly light combination of heat, salt and texture, and an excellent start to any meal ($23.00).

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The chirashi salad, also from the sushi & sashimi section of the menu is, for me, the highlight of the menu ($27.00). It’s a wonderful mix of yuzu-dressed sashimi pieces, crunchy salad leaves, noodles, sliced sashimi omelette & flying fish roe, topped with daikon, tsuma & tempura crunch. This aint no limp side salad: it’s packed with flavours and textures that make it a meal on it’s own.

MFF_Sake_SaladThe steamed prawn dumplings are more interesting than they sound ($19.00). Wrapped in rice noodles, these shumai-inspires dumplings served with spicy ponzu are a solid dish, with a unique texture and a kick of heat from the ponzu sauce. But they are, perhaps, a little steep at $19.00 for 6, especially when there are plenty of great dumpling houses around Melbourne.

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Given Presland’s title as a sushi master, ordering from the sushi maki section is a must. The salmon avocado maki is textbook delicious ($17.00). Made with fresh salmon on the outside, and avocado, cucumber, and shiso on the inside it’s exactly what you want sushi to be.

MFF_Sake_SushiBut the buta no kakuni – 12 hour braised pork belly, daikon, 64 degree hens egg, truffle oil and spring onion – is all promise with no delivery ($30.00). It’s hard to imagine that anything with so many delicious sounding ingredients could be so bland, but it is. And a surprise too. After so many hits it’s a surprise this dish tanks as hard as it does, but it’s lack of any real flavour and the sharp bitterness of the daikon makes for a dish that could be found dished up in some poor Japanese village in the middle of nowhere where there is a shortage of food. And tastebuds.

MFF_Sake_PorkBut Sake redeems themselves with an impressive dessert platter, which does nothing to convince Western palates that Asian deserts aren’t anything more than a bit, well, average ($38.00). The platter puts a Asian spin on otherwise typically western deserts: green tea and sesame ice creams, chocolate fondant, yuzu citrus tart, and chocolate mousse surround the hero Green tea churros. Combining the Spanish technique of fried dough with the Japenese flavour of green tea, these tiny morsels look more like some sort of tempura battered green vegetable than dessert item. But they work.

MFF_Sake_DessertWhile Southbank might not have the reputation as a flavour destination, it’s places like Sake that are looking to change that. Be warned: it’s on the pricey side, but as long as you stay away from the 12 hour pork you can’t go wrong.

Sake Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

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Lemon Middle & Orange

Lemon Middle & Orange
25-31 Rokeby Street
Collingwood, VIC

MFF_LemonMiddleOrange_CoffeeIn the back streets of Collingwood lies a hidden gem named Lemon Middle and Orange. Previously an old paint factory, the cafe is named after an old sign owners Margaret Lawless and Liam Ganley found during the renovation, which refers to the chrome pigments used in paint.

The fitout is industrial and minimal, with upside down paint tins used as stools, a nod to the buildings heritage. “It’s basically just timber, stainless steel and glazing,” says Ganley. “Everything in the cafe’s really pared back. All the internal walls are bare block; they’re not rendered, they’re not treated. The floors are concrete and we didn’t do anything with the ceiling. All the money went into the joinery.”

Lawless and Ganley draw on their Irish heritage to inspire their menu, brought to life by chef Sam Morris (Auction Rooms, Rockwell & Sons). This is most evident in their breakfast dish of poached eggs with black pudding and potatoes, served with soda bread and butter. “We bake our own brown soda bread, which is traditional Irish bread,” says Ganley. “Every household has its own recipe for it at home. We bake that on site every morning.”

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The menu is succinct but studded with dishes sure to please: daily croquettes served with poached eggs; house hot smoked salmon, potato latkes, poached eggs, fennel & horshradish creme fraiche; or banana and chia bread.

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But it’s not just breakfast on the menu, they have you covered for lunch too: there’s daily salads like pumpkin, cauliflower, black rice and mint; bagels filled with rare roast beef, cheddar, rocket & beet relish; or ciabatta filled with chicken and apple slaw.

It might be small on space, but Lemon Middle & Orange delivers big. A great menu, friendly atmosphere, good coffee, it’s exactly why Melbourne is so good for brunch spots.

Lemon, Middle and Orange on Urbanspoon

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Not so common at Hawthorn Common

Hawthorn Common
302 Burwood Road
Hawthorn, VIC

In the space that was formally Canvas / Chester White / a million other things, Hawthorn Common looks set to take root. Owners Danny Colls (Café Racer and Silo by Joost) and George Sykotis (The Press Club, Jimmy Grants and Gazi) have created a space that is modern, spacious and intriguing: covering the walls are black and white portraits of those who have helped create Hawthorn Common, past clients, builders and tradesmen, and Colls’ baby daughter, Poppy.

The place is a model for sustainability, with the food going full circle. Everything is “milled, rolled, fermented, baked, preserved, dried, roasted, composted and returned to grow again” reads the menu. This isn’t such a shock when one of the owners helped establish Silo by Joost – the CDB cafe where nothing goes to waste.

At Hawthorn Common, the philosophy is much the same. The coffee is roasted in house (they have three of their own blends), herbs are picked fresh from the garden, and all the bread and rolls are baked in house from flour milled on site. They also culture their own yoghurt and pickle and preserves their own fruit and vegetables. It’s a wonder they have any time left to cook.

But Chef Stefano Rosi (ex-Café Vue and Vue du Monde) does manage to find time to create dishes that are elegant and beautifully executed. Dishes like the cured trout with radish, beetroot and wasabi mousse are pretty as a picture and beautifully balanced ($18.00). The oily trout paired with the sweet beetroot is a classic pairing.

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Even breakfasts arrive looking like they’ve already had the #beautiful filter applied. The “Common Eggs” are in fact not so common: served poached or scrambled with mushrooms, silverbeet, tomato and bacon crumble with a beetroot relish, it is a unique take on an otherwise pedestrian dish. The silverbeet replaces the typical sautéed spinach and does so without compromising on flavour. It’s a good substitution, and one that makes it difficult to go back to the mundane.

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If you’re tired of the usual breakfasts on offer around Melbourne, you should try the black pudding served on toast with peaches, apple and fennel. Be warned: it’s a rich dish, so order a side of silverbeet to cut through all that richness.

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If black pudding isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of other more conventional breakfast dishes on offer. There’s mushrooms served with feta and watercress which comes loaded with cheese. Otherwise if you like sweet breakfasts, there’s pancakes with vanilla and honey syrup on offer that will make your friends jealous.

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While the quality of the food is excellent, at times the quantity can be lacking. On one visit, a side of mushrooms was no more than 5 small, albeit delicious mushrooms for $4, just under $1 each.

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Had a late night? Hawthorn Common has you covered. While everyone else is tucking into their grain salad (yes, there’s one on the menu), you should order the Common Burger with mustard mayo, pickles bacon, tomato, cheese and lettuce served with wedges and homemade tomato sauce ($18.00). It’s by no means the best burger going round – the brioche is a bit too crumbly for my liking, but it does the trick.

MFF_HawthornCommon_BurgerHawthorn Common is (hopefully) the end to a revolving door of cafes to open at 302 Burwood Rd. Visit for breakfast and lunch through the week, or pop in for dinner on Friday nights. If you’re up early Saturday, they even host yoga on the deck outside. Make sure you order a kale smoothie to enjoy after.

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Hawthorn Common on Urbanspoon

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The last salad as a single lady

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I love a good salad, so when I cooked this one and failed to take a decent picture I umm’d and ahh’d about whether I would post it since the perfectionist in me didn’t think it was up to scratch. But after Miss Mrs B, for whom I made the salad asked for the recipe, I thought it was worth posting.

Mrs B asked me to make a couple of salads for herself and a few friends for a dinner party she was hosting the week before she was due to get married. Around the time I was trying to work out what to make, I visited Collective Espresso in Camberwell for lunch and had an amazing chicken and grain salad. I knew it would be perfect for Mrs B, and so was inspired to create something similar.

The end result is an interesting mix of grains and chicken, with a light lemon and olive oil dressing, perfect for a light but sustaining lunch or dinner. These days you can find freekeh and cracked wheat at Woolworths in the health food section, and the black rice with the regular stuff.

100g freekeh
120g cracked wheat
60g black rice
2 tbsp + 1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
60g rocket
100g pickled ginger, larger slices halved
300g tinned chic peas, drained
1/2 rotisserie chicken
1/2 cup greek yoghurt
salt & pepper
sumac & sesame seeds, to serve

  1. Wash freekeh, cracked wheat and black rice separately. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan and add the freekeh. Toss to coat and cook for 3 minutes until nutty. Add  a pinch of salt, cover with water and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 45 mins or until just tender, keeping the water topped up if needed. Drain well and run under cold water. Drain again and set aside.
  2. Place rice and cracked wheat in separate saucepans and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt to each and bring to the boil. Cook until just tender, about 15 minutes, keeping the water topped up if needed. Drain well and run under cold water. Drain again and set aside.
  3. In a small jar, combine lemon juice and 1/2 cup olive oil and season to taste.
  4. Pull the skin off the chicken and discard. Pull the meat from the bones and shred into bite sized pieces.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the freekeh, cracked wheat, rice, parsley, rocket, ginger, chic peas and chicken. Pour over the lemon and olive oil dressing, season with salt and pepper, and toss well.
  6. To serve, spread the greek yoghurt over a serving plate. Top with salad, and sprinkle over sumac and sesame seeds.

Serves 4-6

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