Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Awesome eats: Melbourne take 2

L-R George Calombaris, moi, Stefano De Pieri, Andre Chiang
Is it just me or did we all get so used to seeing George Calombaris on our TV screens thanks to Masterchef that we momentarily forgot that first and foremost he is a chef with serious, considered skill in the kitchen? As part of my recent Melbourne trip I got to eat at Press Club Projects - George's experimental test kitchen of sorts with an intimate table of about 10 guests. One of the most relaxed, fun dinners I've been too - helped along by the phenomenal company of chef Andre Chiang (Restaurant Andre) and our Aussie Italian godfather Stefano De Pieri. Good times. Here are some pics of the dishes on the night. Obviously some could be better but I was so overexcited I think I "downed it first, photo later". But it gives you some idea of the food and I hope is teaser enough for you to go and try it for yourself.

think what really got me, despite the technical skill George and his seriously slick kitchen team offered, was the truly beguiling set of dishes based on only one or two striking flavours. Because lets be honest, that is essentially what Greek food is; a distillation of thousands of years of culture and lifestyle in food that is essentially rustic. Was it Greek taverna food gussied up to be some highbrow, new wave 'other'. Hell no this was Greek food that was present - it was modern but it simultaneously embraced tradition and virtue and humour and delight in every mouthful. And goddam there was some cooking skills. I just loved that George could "take the piss" out of Australian and Greek cultures while still being true to them - that probably sounds crazy but I suggest you eat there and you'll understand exactly what I mean.
Liver lolly
Ok I'll be honest, I judge, quickly. To me the appetizer sets the tone of the night - start with a bang and its all culinary oohs and ahhs all night long.  And this creamy, rusty gelatinous livery lolly pop was just the ticket. So delicious. And yes that is raspberry. Ahhh friends, what a dinner.

Hills Hoist Chips and Dips
Next was the hills hoist chips and dips. Now I don't know what sort of hills hoist George had growing up but it was certainly better than mine if it inspired food like this. Mine was more rusty, with grandma's undies swinging like a national flag in the breeze. This hills hoist version made me wish a little bit that I lived near George's place. Superb. Delicate tastes of sweet, savoury and plenty of umami.

The Walnut

Then we had "the walnut".  George's take on a nut, pear and blue cheese salad. So beautiful and delicate - it was the sort of thing you wanted to dab behind your ears. It had subtlety and depth. Such a lovely transition into the other dishes - a perfect palate warm up.

Burnt Bread crumb
Oh my, this was in my top three dishes of the night. Rich, fatty, textural and gelatinous - all in one bite. If the insides of my mouth could write a love song about this dish they would. If I didnt know more was coming I would have been Oliver holding out my bowl "please sir may I have some more". I had to physically restrain myself from licking the damn plate clean. 

Watermelon/oyster/germinated lentils
This was one of those scenarios of eat first, photograph later. The watermelon had been compressed in the feta brine - taking on all the flavours without any of the creaminess. I just found it genius. It let the richness of the oysters shine through, the lentils gave a much needed textural crunch and the freshness of the watermelon and tang of brine just rounded it off beautifully. Eaters seemed a little divided on this dish but I absolutely adored it.

Green Greek Salad
Nuff said really. This was beautiful, bright, pungent and refreshing. A perfect play before the following heavier dishes.

L-R Whiting Dressed Up as Lamb Souvlaki; POrk/Cherry/Cauliflower

My dish of the night. Whiting dressed up as a lamb souvlaki. George had cooked the whiting in lamb fat - so the fish took on all the flavours of the lamb without any of the heaviness. It was genius - in a single dish he seemed to have distilled the thousands of years of culture and lifestyle - to me it epitomised that notion that the greek repertoire doesn't need a fancy dress and expensive uncomfortable shoes - it is perfect as it is - rustic, clever and full of tradition without any need or desire for unnecessary airs and graces. The pork with cherry and cauliflower - well pork lovers - it was unbelievable. The subtle tartness of the cherry cut through the richness while the radish provided the perfect textural crunch. 


So high on my list of 2015 new year resolutions will be to learn how to make haloumi. I had house made haloumi at Sydney's Nomad and this piqued my interest, and George's version. Holy shit batman - why would you ever have the packet junk ever again - creamy, tangy with just enough resistance in mouth feel. I could wax lyrical about this for hours and I haven't even told you about the lamb. Sweet, so so sweet with just a perfect even layer of fat, I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the meat. I wondered if I was dreaming. Perfection on the plate.

Water to Ice

Ok so you know how I mentioned that I was in an eat now photograph later kind of mood. Well I'm sorry dessert paid the price. I was so overexcited I just ate it and it was over. In an instant. And this makes me truly sad because I wanted to share it with you. George started playing Zorba the Greek then the chefs proceeded to smash plates of meringue over a delightful light, slightly tart sorbet. It was such a great end to the night. I am jealous of Melbournians yet again for having an intimate dining experience such as this available to them. One of many of course thanks to the incredible and fun dining culture in Melbourne but if you can get a booking, do it - it will be one of the best meals you eat this year. 

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