I think that one of the most fascinating things about food is the trends that come and go, and the changes that occur in people’s diets over time as they reflect these changes. Growing up with a mother who came from a deer farm in post-war Korea, it means she knew how to make the most of what she had. We were brought up on things such as pork belly, ox tail, tripe and tendons at a time when most butchers here in Australia were willing to often give them away for free due to little to no interest from the population. However, my exposure has been skewed very heavily towards Korean and other Asian cuisine, so I’ve never known much about how these “offcuts” are used in Western/European cuisine (other than the ubiquitous black pudding, of course!)
So having grown up with this sort of mentality, when Jo from The Commoner (both the owner and the twitter personality) reached out to me to invite me to one of their themed dinners this year, I was instantly drawn to their “Back to the Butcher” event – an exploration into nose-to-tail dining!
Very much in theme with Melbourne’s tradition of hidden gems, The Commoner is a small restaurant in an old converted house sitting inconspicuously on Johnston St. In fact, being right across the road from popular night spot The Night Cat, I wonder how many fellow Melbournians have trotted right by it’s doors without realizing that had they only made a stop there for dinner, the evening’s revelry could have really gotten off to a rollicking start!
One of the main attractions of this event for me was the fact that the cuts for the event are being supplied by Warialda Belted Galloway, a farm that started as a hobby/lawnmowing service and over the years has grown into one of the most recognized free-range brands that many restaurants are proud to have listed on their menus as a mark of quality and ethically raised meat.
So knowing the reputation and the quality of the products that were being supplied for this event, it was then time for owner Jo Corrigan and her trustworthy Commoner team to turn them into a culinary journey that we would not forget.
Once I saw the full menu for the event, I knew that the evening would be a learning experience for me in more ways than one. Having grown up with an emphasis on simple homemade Korean fare, I’m not the kind of person who eats out a lot (perhaps once or twice a month at most?) and even then my knowledge of food really tends to gravitate towards Korean and Japanese rather than Western or European cuisine. So while I can explain to you what Beef Wellington is, I was delighted to see that after this evening, I would finally be able to say that I’d eaten it! Not to mention mind-blowing creations such as the bone marrow custard, but more on that a bit later.
The Butchers Treat – House made Tripe Sausage
Made from the stomach (tripe) & shoulder
To start the evening, we had a small piece of handmade sausage that used both tripe (which comes from a cow’s stomach lining) and shoulder (also known as chuck), which in my experience is usually a tougher cut that does well when braised or slow-roasted due to the dense muscle contained in it. My brother (my dinner date for the evening) has never been a huge fan of tripe for the rather odd look and bizarre texture, but I encountered neither in this dish – only a delightfully rustic sausage that had been seared till golden and dressed with a cascade of micro herbs (which make almost anything look pretty on the plate!).
I’d never thought that tripe could be used in anything such as sausage, so I marveled at this combination and with that we eagerly waited for what would be next!
Beef Tartare with Piccalilli
Made from silverside and blade
While I’m not the world’s biggest fan of beef tartare, I can still appreciate it for the flavours and textures combined, though admittedly it’s a dish that I know very little about. However, for me this was more about the use of silverside – a cut that I am somewhat unfamiliar with, and the ladies at our table were more than happy to educate me on the cut and how it is traditionally used (in corned beef) – both commenting that they were surprised that such a tough cut would be used in this way. However, I found it to be quite pleasant – the meat was rich and diced just enough so that there was still some texture to each bite, though not so much to make the process of mastication a challenge.
Tongue & Cheek – Oxtail Broth with Smoked Beef Tongue
Broth made from the tail, served with tongue
Now with this dish, we were back in familiar territory for me as far as the cuts were concerned. While my mother had grown up preparing and eating ox tongue, unfortunately she had never taught me to use it so this was new – but I had a deep-seated love for oxtail and the rich, strong flavour that it contains. While we usually use this cut to make a sweet, sticky braised dish, we also use it to make broth and soup stock purely due to the amount of flavour contained in both the meat and bones. This is exactly what came through in this broth, which my brother gulped down without too much ceremony before wondering if there was any way for him to get any more of this magical elixir!
Winter Vegetables from Collingwood Farmers Market,
House made Mozzarella and Bresaola, Poached Quails Egg
Bressaola made from the rump, mozzarella from milk
Now this right here took top prize for being the most visually stunning dish of the evening. I mean, just LOOK at it! It is basically like taking a frolic around a garden with your mouth open. Well kinda, except for the lack of bugs. Which in all honesty, is a very very VERY good thing!
While the aesthetics of this dish were just sublime, my only complaint would be that I couldn’t decide what elements to pair together for each bite so ended up shredding my bressaola and cutting the incredible mozzarella into small pieces so I could try them combined with the different baby root vegetables that were artfully arranged on the plate.
Incidentally – I’m currently figuring out how to get my hands on more of that mozzarella because it is obscenely good and I want to smother my face in it.
No, I’m not kidding.
Beef Wellington with Bone Marrow Custard, Crisp Radish Salad
Beef Wellington from the fillet, Bone marrow from the bones
For the fourth course of the evening, I have just three words for you:
Bone. Marrow. Custard.
I’ve had bone marrow broth. Roasted bone marrow turned into a sort of spread. Even fed bone marrow to the dog.
But I’ve never, ever encountered it formed into a custard.
And while the beef wellington was simply divine – baby this dish is ALL about the custard. I can’t remember my exact words, but they were something along the lines of wanting to take the custard into a private room to have my wicked way with it.
I could try and describe it further, but I won’t bother since I know that my words will be horribly inadequate. All I can say is that if you will only have one bone marrow experience in your lifetime, this should be the one.
Abbotsford Stout & Suet Pudding
Suet from the fat
Finally (much to the relief of my whimpering stomach) we arrived at dessert which the menu humbly claimed was an “Abbotsford Stout & Suet Pudding“. Which hardly belies the sheer decadence on a plate that is presented when it comes out.
I mean, compare “Abbotsford Stout & Suet Pudding” to my below description of what is contained in this dish:
A long, warm slice of pudding, as dark as night, approaches you swimming in a pool of sticky amber caramel – the heady scent of both stout and caramel fill the air and your tastebuds already clamour for an exploration into the promises it holds.
What’s this? A pitcher of cream? You take it gently in your hand and slowly pour it over the pudding, watching it cascade over the sides before it slowly sinks in and becomes one with the dish.
You gingerly pick up your spoon and are very careful to make sure you get all three elements onto it before bringing it before your salivating mouth.
Your heart races, the neurons in your brain firing madly – is this love? Is this madness? How is such a dish even possible? What evil being concocted such a thing? The suet keeps the pudding as moist and tender as a first kiss, while the stout projects a savoury note that contrasts and compliments the perfectly salted caramel that has infused into every crumb. And oh – the cream! It makes the dish even richer while simultanously cutting through the almost-but-not-quite-cloying sweetness of the caramel. It’s confusing! It’s dangerous!
See what I mean? The menu really doesn’t prepare you for the pure assault of flavour that you’re about to experience.
Don’t get me wrong – this is not the most perfect dessert ever created.
But when it’s winter (in the words of Louie, “baby it’s cold outside!”), and you’ve just had an incredible meal which could really only end with a spectacular dessert…well, this pretty much does it.
In fact, I may have witnessed one of my fellow diners picking up his plate to lick every last skerrick of caramel and every last crumb of pudding from his plate!
This menu will feature throughout the rest of August and at 6 courses + wine matching at $120, is a perfect winter dining experience! With only two weeks of the month left to go, this means the clock is ticking and you’d better shake a tail feather before you lose your chance to go on the magnificent journey that I did – and am still dreaming about!
DISCLAIMER: Kitchen Wench dined at The Commoner for this comped meal as part of their promotion for their Back to the Butcher event, however all thoughts and opinions are entirely her own.