Gastronomic blowout (Part I)

Saturday, 9 July 2011

No Melbourne experience would be complete without having at least one exxy dinner :) I figure that you go to these places once (or twice, depending), with high expectations and test those waters. Since time was of the essence (two and a half days is never enough anywhere really), S and I managed to narrow down our short list of dinner venues to just 2. You would honestly need a few years to be able to try everything once - this is exactly why you need to take up residence there for a while haha. Anyway, after very little deliberation, the Press Club was one we decided on. Having made the booking in person that morning (a Tuesday, so luckily we got a table) we were ramped up for a modern Greek-Cypriot feasting.

Now I will be honest, I had never heard of George Calombaris until Masterchef aired on tv. The fame monster probably can't hurt his cheffing career, and nowadays it has turned into a bit of a popularity contest. Once you've made it on tv (with your own series or whatnot), you've made it, so to speak. In fact, being a chef is becoming increasingly glamourized. I have no idea why - I can only imagine what it's really like - with the searing heat, the stress, ridiculously long hours, repetitive/menial tasks and the hierarchy of the kitchen (clashing egos much?). It's not really my cup of tea. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain is a good eye-opener on the subject (White Heat is next on my list). So sometimes it pays to actually go out and eat something special - chefs have been slaving for hours to plate up your dish come 20:00.

But I digress.

The Press Club on Flinders St is George Calombaris' first restaurant baby and since its opening, has certainly left its mark on the Melbourne dining scene. He was crowned the Age's Young Chef of the Year back in 2004 (when I was still in high school!) and then Chef of the Year 2008. His claim to television fame were some appearances on Ready, Steady, Cook which I will choose to ignore...(not a fan). The Press Club group now has its name to 6 different restaurants in Melbourne. It's a veritable (mini) empire in the making.
The Press Club's bragging rights...
Awarded (critics don't lie, or they shouldn't)

  • 2 chef's hats, 16.5/20 (The Age Good Food Guide, 2011)
  • 1/3 stars, #66 in the top 100 Australian Restaurants (Gourmet Traveller Australian Restaurant Guide, 2011)
  • Best new restaurant (The Age Good Food Guide, 2008)

Alrighty, so S, a couple of other friends and I were booked for the second sitting of the evening, at a quarter to nine. As soon as we stepped through the doors we were met with the maitre d, who as if psychic, knew who we were (we were seemingly the last table to arrive, and only 5 minutes late) and glided to our table, at the same time offering to take our coats for us (it was chilly out) and asking whether we preferred still or sparkling water. Well, okay! I'm rolling with the whole professional wait staffing thing. It's a nice change from all the waiters that a) don't care b) don't know what they're serving c) forget stuff. These people were a collective well-oiled machine. 

Our water glasses were these gorgeous kosta boda (i'm guessing?) orange glass tumblers that weighed a ton but looked great. Don't judge me cos i comment on glassware :P Anyhow, the restaurant was pretty dark, as they all seem to be these days and it was PACKED!! TUesday night, at 9pm and all the tables were full. No one's complaining I'm sure. I've heard from somewhere that the restaurant's takings from Friday and Saturday cover the running costs (rent/linen/wages etc) and money from other days is bascially profit. The demographics of the place were basically business men, middle aged couples and foodophiles, like myself. The table of 6 suits beside us went all out and each ordered the 'symposium' degustation of 8 courses. We couldn't help but have a sticky beak, it seemed like they tried a bit of everything but a fifth of the size of normal. I love the idea of a succession of little plates, but i doubt i'd be able to enjoy it as much, come the sixth or seventh course...which is a shame really. I've heard on the grapevine that it takes weeks or months for you to get a table at the Press Club on a Saturday night - crazy.

From the inside out: the view from the kitchen. The seats in the foreground are called the Chef's Table and you get a fantastic view of the pastry chefs plating up their dessert creations all night - awesome stuff. Photo from Broadsheet
The menus come attached to newspaper holders which is nice and keeping to theme. I was quick to pick my main, but note that George's Mum's roast chicken was on the menu (share between 2) with black truffles and "all the trimmings" - whatever that means. It's probably some sort of heavenly chicken smorgasbord, which i'll have to leave for 'next time'. My choice for main was the Duck: duck breast and leg, celeriac, cabbage, kokkinisto and pink fir.

And behold...

Nevermind the jus is a bit splattered, it's beaauuutiful. Even looking at this photo now brings back happy (and delicious) memories
Wow. Just wow. Don't you hate it when the plate looks so gorgeous you don't know where to start? It is true, we do eat with our eyes...and noses and tastebuds. Let's start with the star attraction: the duck was beautifully cooked and blushing pink. It almost melted in the mouth. How was it kept so tender? I'm not sure, but some secrets should best be kept. The slices of duck sat on a bed of red cabbage which was wonderful and sweet. The kokkinisto or duck sausage on the left added another texture to the dish. The celeriac puree (smooth as) and jus (glossy and lush) topped it all off. Not a skerrick was left when I was through... This is a great example of how to execute the perfect dish - all the checkboxes receive a big tick from me. 

S ordered the sal-mon. A wise choice...

Hello, salmon. Another masterpiece of plating
Whenever I eat out, I like to share - and in return, sample everyone else's food haha. I'm sure that's how the critics do it - order one of everything and then divide the spoils. For this dish, the salmon was tender and moist (under normal circumstances, I hate that word). The crispy kalamaris (squid) ticked the 'crunch' box and the eel kroketes (croquettes) were beautifully rich and creamy. I give props for this one also.

And then, in a moment of madness...

We ordered every dessert... We totally went there. We essentially had ourselves in for a dessert degustation. Oh, yes there is always room for a sweet, or 4. It was funny when they all came out, the poor waitress had to describe each dessert in vivid detail, what's on the plate, how it's prepared - you could really feel the pressure she was under to get it all right. She ended with a sigh of relief and  "I think I've got everything...". Meanwhile, we're all thinking, let us get stuck in! It is nice they make the effort though, it is not unappreciated.

The dessert collage - oh, you know I just had to. Top left: Aphrodite, top right: a Greek rendition of tiramisu, bottom left: chocolate tasting plate with ice cream and chocolate mousse, bottom right: butterscotch and pear tart
 The Aphrodite is a real scene-stealer. Featured on Masterchef, the dish comes along with a board full of rose petals and pretty things and when liquid nitrogen is poured in, you have the smell of roses wafting over the table - it's like you've just stepped into a rose garden. This is such a Heston thing to do, making dining a very sensory experience. The passionfruit and white chocolate mousse is to die for btw... Another dessert highlight, was the Greek tiramisu - we finished that one off pretty quickly! A cheeky waiter made a comment when he came over to clear our plates, "Whoa, you guys did well. Can I get you another round?". Thanks mate, now what exactly are you implying?

Opinions on this restaurant seem to be divided, there are some (including Georgie's own mother) who believe that his take on greek cuisine, modern with elements of molecular gastronomy 'bastardize' traditional greek food. I think the whole point is that the inspiration for his food lies in yaya's homestyle cooking. He's certainly not rejecting one for the other. I for one, thoroughly enjoyed myself and the food on offer. Our feasting at the Press Club was finally complete and a fantastic experience. We waddled out to the tram stop late in the night, happily patting our new potbellies. Thanks for reading xo


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