Friday, January 20, 2017

2016 – Highlights from the Eat and Be Merry Crew

2016 has seen the Eat and Be Merry Crew enjoying itself, not just all over Melbourne, but further afield – down the Mornington Peninsula, north to Sydney, the Gold Coast and Far North Queensland, and even overseas to New Zealand and Malaysia.

We stretched our budgets to fine dining; we shared with families and friends at everyday cafés and restaurants; and we chowed down in food halls and from that latest gastronomic trend – the food truck. Amazingly, we achieved an even better “We Loved It” strike rate than last year, with just over one in every two posts being given the highest rating.

Are we getting better at choosing venues, or is the food scene around Melbourne just getting better and better? We’ll leave it to you to make that judgement.

So, which places and dishes were so good that they have been etched in our memories – the ones we will return to again and again; the ones that will be the benchmarks against which we judge future dishes?

The Crew was asked to nominate just two great memories from 2016: favourite venue, and best dish. Surprisingly, none of the Crew nominated a ‘best dish’ from their ‘favourite venue’, showing that great food is only part of a memorable dining experience. Bureaucrat’s favourite venue highlighted the use of hand-crafted timber furniture and artworks blended into the décor; Obelix’s favourite managed to be both welcoming to young families and provide a fine dining experience – a remarkable achievement.

In no particular order …

Beef and vegetable pot pie at Tolga Woodworks Cafe
Beef and vegetable pot pie at Tolga Woodworks Cafe

Bureaucrat’s idea of a perfect venue seats its diners at hand-crafted solid timber tables and chairs, surrounds them with local artworks, and then delights their taste buds with local produce simply prepared to highlight freshness. She found it last year in Queensland at the Tolga Woodworks Café.

panko-crumbed chicken fillet,
Her best dish came from Two Seeds in Ashburton – the panko-crumbed chicken fillet, served on a super fresh and crunchy salad loaded with sugar snap peas, fennel, orange segments, rocket and brazil nuts. The combination of fresh fruit, veg and nuts with the tender chicken was fantastic.

Cod with a saffron sauce and Israeli couscous at Tender Trap
Cod with a saffron sauce and Israeli couscous at Tender Trap

“Fine dining made accessible to young families”. That is how Obelix summed up her favourite restaurant. Tender Trap in Doncaster East offers a thoughtful menu and wine selection, attentive service, delightful ambience, and is welcoming to young (read boisterous) family members.

grilled black cod with miso and wilted spinach
Yokoyama in Doncaster provided her best dish – a grilled black cod with miso and wilted spinach described as “the most exquisite piece of seafood my tastebuds have ever encountered”. It has set a standard that she doesn’t expect will be bettered for some years to come.

Argentinian roast lamb at AUSTiNS
Argentinian roast lamb at AUSTiNS

Bilby Blue’s favourite was a Prahran pub bistro that only months earlier had been serving parma and chips, however when we dined at AUSTiNS at Mt Erica Hotel the conversion to Spanish excellence was complete. The invitational event showcased a great range of tapas, mains and desserts, each a burst of flavour and texture on the palate.

prawn and crab moqueca at Pablo Honey in St Kilda
AUSTiNS’ almost claimed best dish as well with its Argentinian roast lamb, but after much agonising, this award went to the prawn and crab moqueca at Pablo Honey in St Kilda. This was a chilli shellfish stew with a lively and beautifully balanced sauce that enhanced rather than overwhelmed the delicate seafood.

John Dory parmigiana at Italian Chef
John Dory parmigiana at Italian Chef

Choosing my own favourite for 2016 was very difficult, but out of a very tough field Italian Chef in South Yarra emerged triumphant. It showed that you can push culinary boundaries in marvellous ways while still honouring traditions.

crispy pork hock
Best dish was similarly a close-run race, with Black Toro in Glen Waverley winning with its crispy pork hock, braised in masterstock and served with a chilli caramel, green apple salsa verde and butter lettuce. Incredibly tender with a delightfully crispy skin, the sweet chilli caramel contrasted perfectly with the sour green apple salsa verde.

And finally, Foghorn Leghorn threw me a curve ball by nominating a restaurant that he didn’t review during 2016, but found himself returning to again and again. As you might expect, though, a restaurant that gets repeat visits has been reviewed several times by the Crew over the years. It is the Gold Leaf, with a few venues scattered around Melbourne. (Burwood 2011 & 2015, Docklands 2013, Preston 2013). He also admitted that he hasn’t reviewed his best dish, and promised to review it during 2017.

We wish all of our dear readers a Happy New Year and great foodie experiences for 2017.

From Benny and the rest of the Eat and Be Merry Crew.

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