How I ended up at this ooohhhh–soooooo cool bar and eatery in Melbourne I’m not so sure. But so glad I did. A Japanese fashion student sales assistant recommended it to me as a hidden speakeasy-style terrace serving some of the city’s best cocktails and Cantonese food. The 113 Lonsdale St facade really looks like a seamstress’s and the uninitiated may probably walk past without realising the seductive world that lies behind.
The night began in the basement at its Sweatshop bar where bartender Andrew from Ireland knocked up a delicious citrus infusion garnished with apricots mascerated in brandy liqueur. Finally a cocktail with complexities and subtleties not just a whack of sugar and alcohol. A brown paper bag of prawn crackers the perfect accompaniment.
Then it was up the wooden steps to the 3rd floor for dinner in a simple narrow dining space. We shared some green onion duck pancakes, slow cooked glazed lamb shanks with eggplant puree and steamed blue-eyed cod with chili and lime. The dishes were rich with flavour but we were kept waiting for our mains (the place was unusually packed for a Tuesday night) and the service was abrupt and harried. But when we stepped out onto the street into a cold Melbourne night I realised that I’d been wrapped up in a warm spicy cocoon that I can’t wait to return to.
Justin North’s hard-earned reputation as one of Australia’s best young chefs may have a lot to do with his surname – he just keeps on heading in new compass directions. He makes unexpected U-Turns, reverse parks and then suddenly steps on the accelerator leaving your heart in your stomach – literally. He does suspense better than Hitchcock.
Yesterday, during the Winter Forum of his now highly-anticipated ‘Producer’s Lunch’ at his Becasse restaurant, he showcased his growing passion for sustainable produce and the army of devoted farmers and growers who bring that food from their farmgate to our fork.
Producers featured included Kinkawooka seafood from Port Lincoln, Cornucopia poultry, Lakes Folly Chardonnay from the Hunter Valley and Redoak Organic Pale Ale – a microbrewery just up the road on Clarence St in Sydney.
There were some exquisite matchings – the coffin bay oysters with the 2007 Lakes Folly Chardonnay, the roast duck breast with a spiced ale jus and the salted caramel in the chocolate dessert with a nip of Hennessy XO Cognac. Lakes Folly’s reputation is immense and sampling their ’07 chardonnay was a highlight. The other unusual discovery was how drinkable the Redoak pale ale was with food.
Best of all, seated at our table was a wonderful selection of foodies and producers – Sandra and Rodney Kempe from Lakes Folly winery, food journalists Lisa and Myffy and Mr So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance Andrew Cam who elicited as many shrieks of delight as the food did!
Here’s what we ate…..
Canapes: Coffin Bay Pacific oyster, sable of goats cheese, compressed melon with local proscuitto, Woodbridge smoked trout
Entree: Raviolo of scallops and prawns, shellfish vinaigrette and prawn bisque
Main: Roast duck breast and ballotine of leg with pumpkin and mandarin puree, candied ginger and spiced ale jus
This was an exquisite dish of delicately balanced flavours, set off by the spicy notes in the beer
Redoak organic pale ale
Dessert: Coffee mousse, salted caramel, chestnut Mont Blanc, chocolatte Cognac sorbet, spiced chocolate mousseline, honeycomb and cocoa dentelle with a Single Origin ‘Bundja’ coffee
MC Simon Marnie and Justin North through a glass of Hennessy XO Cognac
Dinner parties are making a comeback in a BIG WAY.
As we all reassess our credit-binge lifestyles and conspicous consumption, the good old-fashioned meal around the table with friends is having a resurgence.
But a good dinner party isn’t easy to do. It’s not really about what you serve (although that is important). It’s not really about who you invite (although balancing the mix of personalities can be fraught with danger for the novice). It’s not really about the conversation (although a few stimulating debates can help any meal soar) and it’s not really about getting everyone sloshed (although that helps!).
The essence of a great dinner party is the genuine warmth and hospitality of the hosts. It’s instinctual and organic and learned largely from your own inherited family food experiences. Good hosts relax their guests, and most importantly have a good time themselves.
On Saturday we were invited to a dinner party in Bondi that sets the bar on all these levels.
An assortment of agents provocateur gathered around a long rustic table surrounded by artwork and books and discussed the issues of our times. Ask me now what we talked about and the details are vague. But I did stagger home with a warm outer glow from the wonderful food and wine and a warm inner glow from sharing time with people who think and care.
Is it pretty obvious I’m angling for another invite?
Salt and pepper crusted beef barbecued on the Weber
Baked new potatoes with garlic aioli
Green leaf Salad
Old-fashioned Apple Pie with vanilla ice-cream