Back To The Butcher – an adventure in eating head to tail!

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!

It’s irresistable.

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!

For more information, you can find The Commoner on Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to look them up!

The Commoner on Urbanspoon

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.

Mushroom Mania 2012 – The Deanery

DISCLAIMER: This restaurant was reviewed as part of Mushroom Mania month which is happening all across Australia during July 2012. Kitchen Wench dined at The Deanery with compliments of the Australian Mushroom Growers Association.

The Deanery is a fantastic restaurant, and one that most people I find just aren’t aware of. Melbourne is famous for it’s alleyways and this is one such place – hidden at the far end of Bligh Place, just after the well-known Robot Bar. When I came here last year for their mushroom souffle, I was delighted not only by the incredibly pleasant staff and ambiance, but also the wonderful food sourced from fresh and local produce which had quite obviously been treated with care. I ended up falling in love with the place so much that I actually returned for my birthday a few months later. Which, considering the sheer amount that our crew drank, is no wonder that the bartender remembered me.

Of course that may also have had something to do with the fact that I got so incredibly wasted that I came home with a random business card in my bra and no idea of how it got there (o_O).

Anyway, I digress. When this year’s Mushroom Mania event rolled around, I eagerly made my booking in anticipation of what they would have thought up for this year!

Mushroom Mania is an event hosted by the Australian Mushroom Growers Association to promote the fabulous funghi, and over 2000 restaurants across the country participate by making sure to create and include mushrooms on their menus.

However, I knew I was in trouble when I made a follow-up call the next day to check on what the mushroom dish of the month was and was told “mushroom souffle”.

Really?

The same dish?

Don’t get me wrong – it was fantastic the first time around and I certainly didn’t protest experiencing it a second time, but I had hoped that they would have had a brand new creation that highlighted the mighty mushroom for the 2012 event.

After some frantic ringing about town to try and find a replacement restaurant to go to that would suit both my tastebuds and wallet, I had no such luck and so settled on my choice and look forward to what else I might get to try off their seasonal menu.

My dining partner for the evening was my hilariously awesome kid brother M, who long time readers will know is a health-conscious weightlifting maniac (in fact, I can hear him pumping iron in the garage as I type this now!). Being on a low-carb, high protein diet, I made him give it up for the evening so that he would be able to enjoy the dishes that we ordered without worrying about such nonsense.

So when the homemade sourdough and rich, creamy butter arrived at the table, I almost lost my shit as he broke the bread into tiny pieces to savour every bite.

And when our fabulous waitress for the evening offered additional slices, he looked so ecstatic that for a moment I thought his eyeballs might burst forth from their skeletal sockets!

Despite my warnings not to fill up on the bread, no sooner had he devoured it completely that our entree of steamed chicken buns arrived to the table. While I ordered the same exact dish last year, I had so enjoyed it that I felt driven to order it again as it was exactly the kind of dish my brother would love. Fluffy, hand-made Chinese steamed bread buns, with a rich gingery chicken mixture that was accentuated by the toasted sesame and soy dipping sauce. Probably not the sort of entree expected at a restaurant which veers towards the European side of the globe, but well executed nonetheless.

While my brother swayed gleefully side to side at the tastiness of the chicken buns, our waitress suddenly appeared bearing a plate of ham hock and manchego croquettes, served alongside a smoky sauce contained rather adorably in an impeccably cut egg shell.

Don’t get me wrong – the croquettes were fabulous! Crisp, crunchy, barely a hint of oil and full of ooey gooey cheese…

But I may have been more excited by the fact that they had magically cut off the top of the egg in a perfect circle.

In fact, I may have ended up grabbing our waitress by the arm and demanding to know the source of such sorcery – at which point she placated me by telling me she’d ask the kitchen staff and beat a rather hasty retreat.

Of course, being the consummate professional that she was, she soon returned bearing the egg-topping tool in question, which I squealed and played with in my seat like a demented child.

(These sorts of incidents may in fact be the reason that I quite often find it difficult to find willing dining partners…)

Gentle reader, as you read this you must bear in mind the fact that due to my excitement at dining out with my baby brother, I made a huge fuss that we *had* to order all three courses (entree, main, dessert), but after the croquettes I began to experience that rather uncomfortable sensation of being full.

Slight shortness of breath.

An uncomfortable tightness in the tummy.

Perhaps even some tiny beads of sweat along the upper lip

(Yes, I have a pathetic excuse for an appetite).

Yet the main was yet to come, so I put on my battle-face and prepared to be greeted by a quivering tower of fungal, eggy goodness…

When the mushroom souffle arrived, I was impressed at how proudly it stood and remained standing. So smooth, so golden – in fact looking better than it’s foray into my life last year.

As it’s cheesy scent wafted through my nostrils, I brandished my spoon and dove in, only to be greeted by this…

That’s right.

The inside of the souffle wascompletely fucking raw.

Yes, the liquid insides still tasted good – but I can tell you right now that if I hadn’t been feeling so full from the entrees, I would have been very fucking upset.

Mostly because I knew the way it SHOULD have been. The way it COULD have been. The way that it was last year.

What went wrong, guys?

Last year’s souffle was a proud tower standing tall and paying homage to the wonderful world of portabellos and truffles, and this year there were not as many mushrooms, the batter overwhelming the mushrooms that were there.

Not. Happy. Jan.

Thankfully my brother’s order of the Deanery dry aged (21 days) prime cut with slow cooked onions and hand cut chips, pepper sauce on the side was a thing of beauty and I amused myself by picking off the odd chip here and there (which was perfectly cooked) while watching him devour this hunky hunky chunk of beef.

All in all, the trip to the Deanery was still quite enjoyable – but the fact that they repeated last year’s dish and failed to meet the standards that they set themselves means that I will have to reconsider coming here for next year’s event.


Are you a mushroom-lovin’ fiend? Or have you had a great mushroom meal? As part of this year’s Mushroom Mania Month, the Australian Mushroom Growers Association are giving YOU the chance to win a $150 gift card! All you have to do is go to the Mushroom Mania website and write a short review of your own fabulous mushroom meal experience! Visit this link for more information – http://www.powerofmushrooms.com.au/mushroom-mania-review-form-s295/

Mushroom Mania 2012 – Pescare

DISCLAIMER: This restaurant was reviewed as part of Mushroom Mania month which is happening all across Australia during July 2012. Kitchen Wench dined at Pescare with compliments of the Australian Mushroom Growers Association.

Mushroom Mania is an event hosted by the Australian Mushroom Growers Association to promote the fabulous funghi, and over 2000 restaurants across the country participate by making sure to create and include mushrooms on their menus. As part of the event, last year I stopped by a local little eatery called Pescare where I was utterly utterly horrified by almost everything that I encountered.

But I heard whispers that something had changed, perhaps a change in management? Chef? Operations? But a local reader contacted me some time ago to say that they had been here and that their experience was very different to the one I had, so I decided that it certainly couldn’t hurt to give them another try.

In which case, I felt that it was best to try and re-live last year’s experience as much as possible by sticking with the dishes that had been so very underwhelming last time around.

In terms of decor – absolutely nothing has changed. The furniture, fittings, bar and everything else appeared exactly the same to the discerning eye. HOWEVER – one thing that was remarkably different was that it was MUCH lighter.

That’s right – they’d ditched the “mood lighting” and cranked it up

While Winter isn’t exactly the season for iced chocolates, it was what we had ordered last year and what we ordered again. And believe it or not, they were actually remarkably better. Last year, they came with an icy dollop of ice cream and whipped cream which made the entire thing seem like dessert-but-not-quite (not to mention the fact that the ice cream was pretty MEH), but it seems their approach has changed and now everything is blended together as a milkshake – a change that both my sister and I heartily approved of.

Now, as last year’s stuffed mushroom(s) were unavailable, I felt quite justified in going with something a bit lighter as there were no mushroom-featuring entrees to choose from. We decided on something that would leave the palette unburdened – so bruschetta was a perfect choice. And I have to say that to my surprise, I was actually quite pleased – the sturdy bread did a good job of standing up to the rather moist topping, and the light and clean flavours did a good job of whetting our appetites for the mains to come!

As far as mains go – the lamb shanks were also off the menu (which had quite a few changes in total) so my sister went with the special of the day – beef ribs with chips and garden salad.

Look, – though the chips were quite obviously frozen McCains potato products, at least they were cooked very well, right? Crisp and crunchy on the outside without being smothered in salt, and fluffy on the inside. If this seems insignificant to you, you obviously don’t realize how many suburban eateries F*CK things up completely when it comes to the hot chips.

The garden salad? Well look – if you want to grab a few leaves from your garden bed, chuck a SINGLE slice of cucumber and tomato and two thick-as-hell onion rings on top and call that a garden salad, then more power to you. No, that isn’t sarcasm. No really, it’s not. Okay, well maybe just a tiny bit.

As far as the beef ribs were concerned, they weren’t actually too bad. Obviously braised beforehand and heated before being brought to the table, the sauce was certainly tasty but a bit odd with this particular cut of meat as it seemed the sort of sauce that would better suit some shanks or osso bucco. And my sister certainly polished them off with gusto – but only after scraping as much of the excess sauce off as humanly possible.

The ONE thing on the menu that was unchanged was the Home-made gnocchi with chicken, mushroom, basil pine nut pesto & cream – so this is indeed what I went with. And despite the fact that I took this photo with my brand new Samsung Galaxy S3 (I wanted to test it to see whether it would take decent photos to be used surreptitiously!) rather than my dSLR from last year the dish doesn’t actually look that different.

However, looks can be incredibly deceiving.

The sauce was lighter and not so heavy on the tastebuds (I’m assuming from a reduced quantity of cream), and a much more generous addition of pesto meant that the pesto could actually be TASTED! Dear gods – what a relief! And while the gnocchi itself was cooked to absolute perfection with a soft, cloud-like texture which melted away in the mouth, it was the thick cut button mushrooms which had me hunting them down in the sauce! Last year I had to avoid them due to how incredibly salty they were, but in this year’s dish they were fat and meaty, and so beautifully cooked that they did more for the dish than the chicken did!

In fact, I would have been perfectly happy had they left the chicken out and just put more mushrooms in instead!

I feel that at this point I need to put this restaurant into context. It probably opened up back in the 1990’s when Australian-Italian cuisine was incredibly popular and the Asian population in this area was far smaller than it is now. However, it has failed to keep up with the times – Kingsway in Glen Waverley is now a bustling place busy almost every single night of the week, with a large population of cashed-up young’uns who know good food and good value – so I would be very surprised if Pescare ever saw another sell-out night in their current state.

Having said that – this is a perfect eatery for those older members of the Glen Waverley population who want a peaceful atmosphere, attentive staff and familiar comfort food that won’t challenge their tastebuds. While I would argue that the food is still somewhat overpriced, there’s a reason that this restaurant has managed to stay open all this time, while others have fallen by the wayside.


Are you a mushroom-lovin’ fiend? Or have you had a great mushroom meal? As part of this year’s Mushroom Mania Month, the Australian Mushroom Growers Association are giving YOU the chance to win a $150 gift card! All you have to do is go to the Mushroom Mania website and write a short review of your own fabulous mushroom meal experience! Visit this link for more information – http://www.powerofmushrooms.com.au/mushroom-mania-review-form-s295/

Mushroom Mania 2012 – Libertine French Dining Room

DISCLAIMER: This restaurant was reviewed as part of Mushroom Mania month which is happening all across Australia during July 2012. Kitchen Wench dined at Libertine with compliments of the Australian Mushroom Growers Association.

Dear Nick, Alan and co at Libertine French Dining Room,

I love you.

Will you marry me?

<3 Kitchen Wench

I’ve said time and time again how much I adore this restaurant, and last week’s visit was a case of falling in love all over again. When I was approached for this month’s Mushroom Mania event – I jumped all over it like a fat man on cake as since I rarely eat out, it gave me a justifiable reason to again visit one of my favourite restaurants in town! After an excited phone call to confirm participation and making a booking, I bounced through the next 24 hours in sheer anticipation of my dinner to come!

In case you aren’t aware, Mushroom Mania is an event hosted by the Australian Mushroom Growers Association to promote the fabulous funghi, and over 2000 restaurants across the country participate by making sure to create and include mushrooms on their menus. Now while I’m pretty selective about what events/promotions I choose to participate in, I adore anything mushroom so this is an event that I am honoured to participate in every year! I mean, not only are there a wide variety of mushrooms to appeal to almost every palate, they are versatile, tasty, and very very good for you! High in protein, low in fat – you can now even get mushrooms grown to increase their dose of Vitamin D (which is well worth knowing, since the media have been harping on about how we’re all apparently deficient in this crucial nutrient!).

At any rate, after last year’s “SURPRISE!”, Nick was well prepared for my visit this year with a magnificent creation…but more on that later 😉

Though it took quite some time for us to decide on our entrees, my companion J decided to go with the “Jerusalem artichoke, baby salad onion & fromage blanc ‘tarte’” – a deconstructed tart that was as beautiful on the tastebuds as it was to behold. Special mention goes to the fromage blanc – at first glance, you expect something that will be dense and heavy much like cream cheese, but Nick the magician has worked this into a creamy cloud that dissipates on the tongue. The tart, salty, creamy cheese is a wonderful pairing to the soft, sweet onion and one that we both highly recommend.

As for me, being here for Mushroom Mania month, it was only right for me to order the “Smoked fish & truffle duxelles pithiviers with forest mushrooms on a squid ink paste”

Slowly read that description back.

And exhale.

I love Nick’s attention to detail when it comes to presentation, and while I’m usually unimpressed by “pastes” and “soils” and other molecular gastronomy techniques, here it had purpose other than visual aesthetic. The squid ink paste was quite strong and salty, but sparingly spread across the plate so the diner can choose how much they scoop up with each bite. The pithivier was beautiful (as to be expected), but my favourite part of the meal was the baby king oyster mushrooms and enoki mushrooms – two of my absolute favourite Asian mushrooms combined into a very French dish, cooked beautifully so they had the perfect amount of bite and could hold their own in a dish of such strong flavours.

I think it was at this point of the meal that I started to audibly whimper, so I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to any other diners who were there that evening and that I may have distracted with my “Harry Met Sally” noises…

Ordering mains presented both J and myself with much deliberation. We both knew that we wanted protein (I may have used the phrase “I want an animal on my plate!”) but what do you do when you want to order everything but only have the shared stomach space for two dishes (if that?!).

The gorgeous Alan (apologies if I’m spelling this incorrectly) who has been the incredible front of house for Libertine over the past three years advised me of the rolled rabbit loin and as I am an absolute sucker for bunnies, I knew that was mine for the taking. As for J, she decided that the right choice for her this evening would be the “Veal rib-eye, choucroute & sauce Bordelaise”.

Once it arrived at the table, I may have suffered a pang of envy.

Just a little.

But it passed as soon as Bugs Bunny arrived for me…

Tender rabbit loin that was beautifully crisped outside and just cooked on the inside, the rich meat was wonderfully offset by the sour bed of red cabbage that it rested on.

At this point, I do have to express one gripe with the food here – just one. And it’s a problem that I’ve encountered every single time that I’ve been.

Portion size.

I mean, I know that my appetite isn’t the best (another friend of mine may have called me the most pathetic dining partner ever), but dear gods – I have never ever been able to finish a three course meal here. EVER. And this is even after I unceremoniously dumped an entire piece of rabbit onto J’s plate as I was desperately trying to leave room for dessert.

In fact, by the time that the table looked like this:

I was almost in tears from how overwhelmingly full I was.

And of course front of house extraordinaire Alan chose this moment to come by and ask if we wanted to order dessert.

What I wanted to say was “Dear man, have MERCY! I am about to explode in a mess of guts all over your other diners! Did you not see how much food we just put away? Of course I want dessert but I don’t have room to fit it in ANYWHERE!”

What I actually said was a polite no thank you, and a request for my coat and the bill.

And this is what arrived instead.

A goat’s curd & preserved lemon cheesecake, with grilled tamarillo and hazelnut biscotti on pistachio paste.

Fighting the urge to break into a sobbing fit, I settled for whimpering very loudly before I succumbed to the siren sugar call on the plate in front of me and dove straight in.

Just look at it. I mean, is it not a thing of beauty?

This is without a doubt possibly the best cheesecake that I’ve ever eaten out a restaurant. The goat’s curd was light and creamy, without any of the heaviness or denseness that one traditionally expects from cheesecake, and it’s sweetness was beautifully offset by the tart lemon curd and tamarillo. Though both J and I had to fight to fit this in, we did manage to devour the whole thing (bar a few bites, but I won’t feel too guilty about that!)

My thanks goes to Nick and his amazing staff for yet another memorable meal at Libertine, and I promise I’ll be back before Alan takes off to New York for his next adventure! And thanks again to the Mighty Mushroom guys for giving me a reason to visit one of the best French restaurants in town!


Are you a mushroom-lovin’ fiend? Or have you had a great mushroom meal? As part of this year’s Mushroom Mania Month, the Australian Mushroom Growers Association are giving YOU the chance to win a $150 gift card! All you have to do is go to the Mushroom Mania website and write a short review of your own fabulous mushroom meal experience! Visit this link for more information – http://www.powerofmushrooms.com.au/mushroom-mania-review-form-s295/

Libertine Love

My first encounter with Libertine was at the 2010 Taste of Melbourne, but I found it so impressive that when I realized it was just a quick jaunt from my workplace, plans were made by a few colleagues and myself to visit this lovely little venue for a proper taste of just what they could do.

Located on Victoria St (near the corner of Victoria and Errol) in North Melbourne, it’s a little removed from the usual city-bound crowds, however don’t let that fool you – it’s definitely one of the most pleasurable dining experiences that I’ve had in our fair city, and it’s location means that there’s less noise and distraction from the lack of sidewalk madness.

Silverware

From the moment that you step inside, you can appreciate the cozy setting and warm energy that has been put into this restaurant, and the combination of white linens with the wooden panelling on the walls and antique silverware gives it a real charm and personality all of it’s own. You can tell that the owners have put thought into even the smallest details, and it makes quite a difference from those stark and almost sterile eateries that can be found around town.

Bread & butter

Another impressive point was the service – with only two servers on and a full house downstairs, we found both staff members to be incredibly polite and helpful. Plates were cleared only when the entire table was finished, and we found our glasses being topped up so quietly that our conversation throughout the night was barely interrupted by their attentiveness.

Having dined on a Wednesday night, I’m guessing that there was less pressure on the staff than compared to a Friday or Saturday night, but the service was so stunning that all of us commented that this (next to the food) was the true highlight of the evening. Standard service is, well, standard. Good service is not uncommon. But perfect service? How often do you experience this? It may be that I’m not one to dine out every single week, but this was without a doubt the best service I’ve experienced all year while at a restaurant.

So, having covered those two points, let’s get to the food…

Entree 1

Since the third member of our party was arriving late, my friend and I decided to start with some entrees to whet our appetites and quieten the gnawing pits in our stomach. Even though we’d been looking at the menu since lunchtime, when presented with the difficulty of actually having to make a choice, our poor waitress was left standing with a polite smile as we hummed and hawwed through the various options. Paolo finally selected the Cured quail breast, boudin blanc & game consommé (above), while I couldn’t resist the call of the Hervey Bay scallops, boudin noir & eggplant relish (below). The quail and boudin blanc were perfectly cooked, and the consommé was beautiful with some sweetness from the onion and fragrant from the sage…however I felt that my dish was the superior, with the delightful pairing of scallops with boudin noir (blood sausage), and the tangy eggplant relish cutting through the richness and fattiness of the sausage to provide balance to the dish overall.

Entree 2

When it came to the main, I’m afraid that there was even more hesitation as we worked through all the dishes listed on the menu (as well as bearing the recommendations of a friend in mind, who had dined there the week before), but when our waitress mentioned that the special for the evening was a cassoulet (a French white bean casserole) and that it was the last time it would be served for the season, all hesitation left our minds and we settled on three serves of it for the table.

And on the specials board

I’m generally not a fan of ordering the same dish as others when eating out, purely because it means I can’t sample other offerings (and I think one of the joys of dining out with friends is that you can order a variety of dishes and try them all out!), however there were no regrets on this evening. The cassoulet arrived from the table, bearing a beautiful home-made sausage, a leg of duck confit and a piece of beautifully cooked pork belly. All this surrounded by tender white beans (which looked like Cannellini but may have been haricourt?) and topped with a generous heap of herbed breadcrumbs.

Looking back now, I do have one regret…that we didn’t order one less dish of this since the generous (and rather filling) serves meant that there was quite a bit left over!

At this point, I was about ready to fall over sideways and just roll all the way home, but my two compadres decided that it was not right to leave without sampling some desserts, so we decided on the Whisky caramel crème, frozen banana toffee & sablé as well as the Mandarin parfait, honey brittle & almond chiboust (the online menu says cumquat, but on the night we were told mandarin…which is fine by me!)

Dessert 1

The whisky caramel creme with frozen banana toffee is the choice of preference for those with a proper sweet tooth. The caramel creme is boozy and soft, and the banana is incredibly sweet – you’d call it candy except the flavour is that of fresh (though incredibly ripe) banana. Personally, I prefer my bananas a touch underripe so I found it a tad cloying for my tastes, however Paolo devoured every part of this dish with much gusto and joy!

Dessert 2

As I’m a big fan of citrus-flavoured desserts, for me the winner was the mandarin parfait. The parfait was incredible – fluffy and creamy without any graininess or stickiness to it, and the mandarin flavour leapt off my spoon with such freshness and liveliness that it took me by surprise. So much so, that I asked the waitress to ask the chef how he had captured the mandarin flavour so perfectly in the dish.

She came back to reveal that there had been some lime juice in there which may have accentuated the mandarin flavour, but I had not been able to taste the lime component at all so that speaks volumes about how carefully this dish has been constructed.

At this point, all three of us were full to bursting, so we requested the cheque while slowly making moves and groaning from the effort of getting up to leave…

Cheque please

When they brought out these three adorable little friands.

Like the little cakes in Alice in Wonderland, all they were missing were little tags saying “eat me”

I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. But then Amy ate hers and made little pleasure noises, and the Paolo inhaled his with a little sigh…and then the one little friand that was left looked so lonely and cold that I couldn’t help but succumb to it’s siren call.

Looking back, it really wasn’t the wisest decision that I’ve ever made…but I can’t say that I regret it 😉

At the end of the day, all I can say is a big hearty THANK YOU to Libertine for such a wonderful dining experience – and I can’t wait to come back and try what else you have to offer 🙂

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