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Welcome to Gourmet Husbands: Talking Food Since 2008.
22nd Jan 2018
   

Our top 5's:

Dave and Alicia's Best :
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Lachie & Sarah's Picks :
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  2 : Jacques Reymond
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Times at the Bar
Tue 24th May, 2011 - by Lachie
 
The "problem" of the casual sister restaurant

Several extremely well regarded Melbourne restaurants have sister restaurants branded as a more casual, or "second tier", version of their up-market siblings. This may or may not be intentional; the smaller, more casual restaurants may have been intended to be their own brand so to speak, but I think in the minds of the dining public (and certainly in my mind) they are inextricably linked to the other ventures of the head chef. Press Club vs. Hellenic Republic, Cutler & Co. vs Cumulus Inc., and Ezard at Adelphi vs. Gingerboy all fall under this category (in my mind, MoMo is also linked to Maha, though they have nothing to do with each other as far as I know).

I make no secret of my love of opulence and luxury - oh that I could afford as much fine dining I would like - but of late something has dawned on me. It has hit home that since starting this blog I have eaten at every one of the restaurants listed above, and without fail you know which ones I preferred? Yep, the "casual" ones. Let's not mince words here, they're still not exactly cheap eats, we still generally end up dropping close to two hundred dollars on a night out (if we're drinking...which we are). But the quality of the food is generally worth every penny, the wine and drinks lists is still pretty extensive (often with a higher emphasis put on cocktails), and there's the added x-factor: fun.

It may be that Sarah and I generally go out to eat at the bar of these places on a Friday night, after a long work week. Starting a weekend with good food, wine, and ambiance is obviously a tick in their favour. But on the flip side, we usually go to the fine-dining style places when we have something to celebrate, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. so I'm scoring that a 1-all draw for the mood we're in when turning up at the door.

There's definitely fun to be had sitting at the bar, especially places like Cumulus Inc. with the kitchen right in front of you, it's the best type of dinner theatre as far as I'm concerned. When there's no kitchen behind the bar, there's still plenty of people watching available, trying to work out who's on a date, who's celebrating, who's trying to flirt with the bartender in front of their partner etc. While I don't mind having my wine poured for me from a decanter, there's equally a feeling of warmth I get in my liver by having a bartender/mixologist at my beck and call.

Then there's the food. Again, I've made no secret in the past about my disinclination to share, sharing is for hippies and "social media experts". However, I've come around to the idea over the past year. Provided we're talking small bite-sized kinds of dishes, or when it's just the Gourmet Wife and I, then there's definitely something to be said for passing the plates. It also gives you more freedom when the menu comes, you can sample many more of the dishes, or just go one or two and a massive hunk of awesome looking main (I'm looking at you, lamb shoulder at Cumulus). Breaking free of the entree-main-dessert trinity can be kind of liberating.

Finally I'll get to my own personal bugbear - service. I've written/ranted about this before. Good service doesn't make a night out; bad service can sure break it. When you're sitting at tables draped with white linen, with a dozen pieces of cutlery and a different shaped wine glass for every varietal, you're expecting wait staff to be professional, attentive, and above all present when you want them. When you're sitting at a bar, the wait staff is right there. You want something, you look up, they're there. If they're busy, you can see they're busy and you cut them some slack because you can tell they're doing their best and will get to you when they can. The fact is you will need them more often when you're ordering many small dishes, but they are always just a raised eyebrow away.

So what is the key to this change of heart I've had? It's certainly not lowered expectations, although maybe it is altered expectations. I'm certainly not giving up on the top end of town, looking at the list of places I've been in the last twelve months I still rate Rockpool, Guillaume, Taxi etc as awesome places to spend a night out. But recently, the idea of sidling up to a bar on a Friday night and enjoying great quality food and drink without feeling the need to change out of my jeans, has become extremely appealing.


Footnotes:
- Other places I (along with every other blogger and his/her dog) highly recommend for this type of dining include Coda and Longrain.

- This blogpost was inspired by our recent outing to Gingerboy, review can be found here.



2 Comments...
And now back to our regular programming.
Tue 3rd May, 2011 - by Lachie
  The OTHER Hanging Rock Wine Dinner

I've made no secret of my love of Hanging Rock Winery's Heathcote Shiraz. It has to be amongst my favourite wines, and I've introduced many others to its virtues. Every year the Gourmet Wife and I attend their annual winter wine lunch, and every year we overindulge, and every year Hanging Rock makes a hell of a lot of sales of their Heathcote Shiraz at this event.

But more importantly (to me), and extremely intelligently on Hanging Rock's part, every year they give away a lot of their wine. Order a case of their flagship Shiraz - get a free magnum, get a door prize or win the "guess the wine" quiz at the wine lunch - get a free magnum; it came up recently that Hanging Rock produce magnums of Heathcote Shiraz ONLY to give away*. As a result of their generosity, Dave and I had amassed 4.5L of Heathcote Shiraz at a cost of $0. We decided that the best option was to get together and drink it, but we'd struggle with just the two of us, so we invited along a bunch of friends that we'd dragged (entirely against their wills I'm sure) to the wine lunch last winter.

So this was the idea, we had a 2002, 2004, 2005 in magnums, and 2006 and 2008 in standard bottles, and we need to come up with a menu to deal with that sheer volume of full-bodied red wine. Well...Dave had to come up with it. I acted as bit-player, appetiser assembler and dish-pig for this particular dinner; this suited me fine, I couldn't deal with the pressure of putting up a meal worthy of hundreds of dollars worth of (free) wine. I have to say that Dave coped admirably, and I'd like to put forward this as an idea of a masterchef challenge for the upcoming season: "Here is several bottles of top quality wine, make a three course dinner for 6 people such that none of them get bored of either the food or the wine".

The first challenge - entree - Dave went for his bullet-proof ingredient: duck. I mean, who doesn't like duck? (insert appropriate Basil Fawlty quote here). The challenge of matching duck to Shiraz, as opposed to pinot, the bullet-proof 'duck wine', was overcome simply by putting Shiraz in the dish. Dave prepared Duck two ways, one of which included his home-made sausages, together with baby-beetroot and Shiraz sauce. It should be noted that this Shiraz was NOT the Hanging Rock, I'm all for "don't cook with wines you wouldn't drink", but my slightly more appropriate interpretation is "don't cook with wine you'd RATHER drink".

This is the point where the first of the Shiraz came out, namely the 02 and the 03. Now I'm quite the wine enthusiast, but I have not developed my wine vocabulary to such an extent that I can accurately describe wines to others. And to be honest, I'm a bit out of practice in terms of actually tasting wines as well. Don't get me wrong, I'm not just chucking back 95 point bottles of wine without a second thought, but I'm not sure I've really been giving them their due attention. I think it's something I have to keep conscious of. That being said, the 02 was a particularly special wine. The 03, while by no means bad (it's not, it's still an outstanding wine), was the obvious loser in the side-by-side tasting; the decanter of the 02 was drained far faster.

Main were good ol' lamb racks, which equally stood up to the onslaught of the younger 05 and 06 bottles. As did the following Bombe Alaska (with Dave's home made persimmon ice cream), which several diners had the pleasure of attacking with the blow torch. The customary cheese platter followed as the last of the 06 was drained. We didn't make it all the way to the 2008, but tracking the progression through the night I think this was wise for two reasons. One we wouldn't have remembered much of the night had another bottle been opened, and two it would be a waste. These wines are cellaring so well that I think opening any younger than 10 years is almost a waste, I wonder how good the 02 could have been if we had resisted the temptation another few years (luckily for me, my father-in-law has quite a collection of these wines going back a few years now, so I may yet find out).



This post may seem like a paid advertisement for Hanging Rock Winery, but I assure you no money or goods have changed hands. Well, they DID give us the wine for free, but they give wine away to many people who don't have blogs. However, if this post does fly across the desk of winemaker John Ellis at some point......just sayin'.


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