Melbourne food update: He says she says, Touche Hombre, The Botanical.
I may have been absent from the blogging scene for quite some time, and with a tendency to sometimes evaporating for months on end, you might think I may have stopped eating. That could not be any further from the truth. As you may have noticed on some recent posts, I have only recently (*ahem 4 months ago now) chomped my way through Europe, and have returned with a well-trained stomach carrying an insatiable appetite.
Knowing there is never a shortage of new food destinations in Melbourne, there is always something to tempt the taste buds. So here is a short compilation of a few of some of the newer places on the block I’ve been chomping through but haven’t managed to write about. A few are new names in town, and some reinvented.
Where: Corner Tattersalls Lane & Lonsdale St
Contact: 03 9663 0811
Brought to you by owner Davis Yu (associated with The Millswyn and more recently Claremont Tonic), this new venture to join the wave of Mexican-inspired eateries, attempts to set itself apart with its cool funky vibe of Los Angeles Latino street culture. The music grumbles loud all week, with no shortage of cocktails and tequilas to numb the senses via a very casual miss-match of drinking vessels and eating utensils.
P.S. It is incredibly dark and red, so please excuse the red-tinged photos.
The food is Mexican. So what is different here that is not identical to the dozen other similar providers? Over the course of the night we tried many, many items. Here is a short highlight:
[Top down] tostaditos de pollo; La Margarita; Breakfast Taco; lamb ribs; elotes callejeros (grilled corn); tacos de jaiba (soft shell crab); chocolate and chilli peanut cookie; dulce de leche.
The lamb ribs are sure winners taking on fragrant Merquen spices, honey and ample fatty juice which really reminds me of The Aylesbury’s version. The elotes callejeros (grilled corn) may be a tad overdone with cheese and butter, but plenty of people will love the juicy sweetness with that extra oomph. Among the tacos, the breakfast taco made with the lot, was highly popular amongst the bloggers around the table, with a huge helping of omelette, cheese, beans, pork sausage, avocado.
Servings range from small bites to more substantial, and the food generally packs in a whole lot of flavours. Some hit the mark and were brilliant, some were a little unusual but subject to personal taste (eg. chocolate and chilli peanut cookie), and some of the tacos were on the bland side, lacking punch and spice. Touche Hombre is certainly a worthy contender among the Mexican eateries, and a great place to hang out, if anything a little too red.
[Dined courtesy of Touche Hombre]
[He Says she says]
Where: 1101 Toorak Rd, Camberwell
Contact: 03 9077 7866
He says she says, owned by a group of entrepreneurs with absolutely no food industry background – think engineers and architects – is bringing to Camberwell a new Modern Australian eatery. No doubt the fit-out is elegant and would easily join the ranks of Melbourne’s classy restaurant décor. But what a disaster was probably the first thing that lit up in my mind – what about the food? Luckily they have roped in Michael Harrison as head chef (previously head chef at Ice and Syracuse) to hold the fort.
On the night we sampled some of the entrées available on the brand spanking new menu, and also a tid-bit of the mains. P.S. there are limited photos for tonight. As you know, finger food and cameras do not mix well, especially when there is no camera rest (*ahem) readily available.
For something refreshing, think wagyu bresaola wrapped around melons, smeared with a little black garlic mustard – savoury, juicy and sweet. Or think crunchy mouthful puffed rice mixed in with snapper tartare and shaved foie gras. A more traditional bite might be pork and foie gras terrine with pickled walnut and pistachio. What? Pickled walnut? Yes, it ain’t half bad actually. The winner of the evening goes to however, the Hay Smoked pulled Lamb Rump with dollops of tabouleh and yoghurt. It is moist, lightly spiced and very fragrant. I had a greedy three servings of this…
Though I will have to return for a proper sit down experience, this place certainly promises to bring some inner city contemporary much closer to home in Camberwell.
[Dined courtesy of He Says She says, Silver Leaf PR]
The Botanical, hosting La Zuppa soup competition.
Where: 169 Domain Rd, South Yarra
Contact: 03 9820 7888
Earlier this year La Zuppa (an Italian food company, creating easy and healthy 2 minute microwavable soups, which are available at supermarkets) launched an online competition in search of a new soup flavour for their 2013 range. Out of around two thousand entries, a total of five finalists were selected for a final judging panel to select the winning recipe. I was lucky enough to be invited for the process.
To make it a little more interesting and obviously more appealing for us judges (*ahem a little bribery happening here) the new head chef – Luke Brabin – at The Botanical was tasked with cooking a soup based on those five flavours and creating a matching dish to go with them, plus matching wine. Wooot!
[Pictures from top down:]
Soup: (1) Mexican Corn Soup. (2) Carrot, ginger, coriander soup. (3) Chicken, sweet potato, corn soup. (4) Tuscan vegetable and bean soup. (5) Curried pumpkin soup.
Matching dish: (1) Chipotle prawn, watermelon, chilli and corn salsa. (2) White cooked chicken, sesame, chilli and soy. (3) Steamed Hapuka, corn and coriander salsa. (4) Pork cotoletta, Italian coleslaw. (5) Lamb Rogan Josh, raita.
Dessert: (1)lime cheesecake, strawberry essence, kiwi fruit, candied celery. (2) chocolate mousse gateau with citrus, cointreau bavarois, citrus terrine.
While the concepts brought to life by Luke were generally of high standards, two soups stood out like stars in the night. The Mexican corn soup – my personal favourite – had a fiery kick of spice and turmeric, a velvety elegance, and a touch of fresh juicy watermelon. The watermelon was a simple addition, but a perfect marriage to counter the relative heaviness and provide textural contrast. We (the panel) came to the conclusion that if this was to be marketed, that instructions to add fresh watermelon would be a requisite. The marketability of the strong flavours and the logistics of this “watermelon” addition were the only negatives here.
The other lead soup was a stark contrast to the former. The chicken, sweet potato, corn soup was hearty, very homely, a perfect comfort food. The broth has gorgeous depth of umami and sweetness. The flavour notes are not as spectacular, but its main marketability point is that it is very healthy, and would be something you could have on repeated occasions without feeling beaten by the intensity of some of the other recipes.
The carrot felt lost in the ginger heat (2), whilst the Tuscan soup (4) has been done to dead. The curried pumpkin soup (5) carried a similar hit of heat in the Mexican corn soup, but lacked a distinct individuality that would make it a clear contender. Having to contemplate not only the subjective preference for taste but also marketability, makes one appreciate the thought processes behind selecting new products to promote (i.e. What is already on the market? What flavours would be easily received?)
As for the matched dishes, these were created especially for our event and may or may not appear on the official menu at The Botanical. Regardless, I particularly enjoyed the white cooked chicken reminiscent of Hainan chicken with strong aromas of sesame, chilli and soy. The steamed hapuka too was perfectly cooked with fall away flesh, served with the simple sweetness of corn and coriander salsa. The pairing of the watermelon and corn salsa was refreshing and helped alleviate some of the residual heat on the tongue with the Mexican corn soup. There were also hints of Indian and Italian in the other dishes, not all of which struck my delight as much. There is always a risk of overdoing it with pan-ethnic-cuisine as the taste buds can easily get muddled by the party of flavours.
There were certainly some hit and misses with both the soup creations and with the accompanying food by Luke, but being fresh to the helm of The Botanical, there will be some consolidation of grace and elegance with the various ethnic twists.
Note. the winning soup for La Zuppa’s new range will be announced sometime later this year.
[Dined courtesy of The Botanical / La Zuppa / PR Edge / Valcorp]
A few teasers of new places on the block, just before I end this post…
[pictured left to right]
Top: Hell of the north – beautiful bistro style French. Le Flaneur – new French brunch café in Hawthorn. David’s –stir-fried eggplant.
Middle: Coffeehead – a bowl of pulled beef and penne. Coffee. Breakfast thieves – rhubarb and pannacotta.
Bottom: beautiful coffee at Coffeehead. Davids – chocolate sesame balls on the reinvented menu.