Saturday, April 26, 2014

Champions Bistro, Clayton by Bureaucrat

For a special meal, we wanted to take Mr and Mrs L to somewhere different.  We wanted to go somewhere that had a set lunch or degustation menu, and we wanted to go somewhere that was located in the eastern burbs.

Heirloom vegetables with anchovy and garlic emulsion

Thanks to the recommendation from Nat Stockley (one of the top contributors on Urbanspoon), we had a fabulous time at Champions Bistro.  When you think of fine dining degustation menu, you tend not to think of heading to your local suburban bowls club.  But this is what it is - an unexpected and delightful dining experience.

The story is that Clinton McIver, ex sous chef at Vue de Monde, at the request of his friends, decided to help out CB for a few months.  Initially, Clinton was going to help out until February of this year.  But we went about a fortnight ago, and he's still there - but who knows how much longer he'll be there as this was always meant to have been a temporary stint for him.  But while he's there, Clinton and his team are creating delicious five and eight course degustation menus at $60-$80pp (wine matching is available for an extra $50).

The dining area is like your typical bowls or RSL club.  A spacious conference type room with standard tables and chairs, with views of the bowling green.  It's clean and it's comfortable but it ain't some fancy restaurant (no damask tablecloths).  In fact, you get to see the chefs come out in the dining area to access the hot water urn for their cooking.

The waitresses are friendly, knowledgeable and prompt - just what you'd get from a fine dining place.  As each table has to order the same five or eight courses, we decided to go for the eight courses.  And the dishes came out quite promptly.

The first three courses were appetisers.  The first to come out was fried potato and scraped wagyu.  Crispy wafers of potato with a moreish, creamy goo of finely diced raw wagyu with avo.

Next was the heirloom vegs w anchovy and garlic emulsion (see first pic).  A lovely fresh, colourful and crunchy salad.  Thin slivers of the the various root vegs - I wish someone made this for me every day so I can get my two vegs!  The mayo was very smooth, and the Lawyer loved it so much he practically lived the pot clean.  The above picture shows a serving size for two people.

The next dish was my absolute favourite dish of the day - macadamia, crab, butter and sorrel.  A light-as-air meringue as the base, which was topped with the sweet and tender crab and a blob of creamy sauce.  It was buttery, it was light, and it dissolved in your mouth in an instant - a moment of utter bliss.  The above photo shows four serves.

The next two courses were the entrees.  The first of them was the ocean king prawn w first radishes and acidulated water.  This was my least favourite dish.  The prawn was big and chunky.  I know a lot of places prefer to serve seafood a bit undercooked, this was just a tad undercooked for my liking.  The acidulated water was spring water with orange juice and horseradish (or some other kind of mustard).

The 'Autumn Harvest' mushrooms cooked in pork juices and sour quince was my next favourite dish.  Meaty slices of mushroom that absolutely tasted like roast pork - wonderful!  I loved the meaty texture of the mushroom being paired with the porky goodness.  I also loved the thin slivers of crackling-like pork on top.  Quite a few of us liked this dish.

At this time, we got two loaves of freshly baked sourdough to go with our meal.  They must have only just come out of the oven, as all tables in the restaurant were being served with bread as well.  It was fantastically warm, soft and flavoursome.  It was great timing because it meant we could use the bread to mop up the lovely mushroom and pork juices.

The main dish was duck with native apple berries served with an orange and carrot sauce.  While you can't really see the duck, it was a fairly meaty serve.  Beaker and I both thought it was like a confit in texture, in that it was very tender and falling apart.  I particularly liked the apple berries - they're like mini apples and had a slightly tart flavour.  With the slightly buttery sauce, the apples tasted like an apple crumble - and it really went well with the duck.  I loved the crispy shards of duck crackling.... yum!

We were all getting quite full.  And we had cheese and dessert courses to go through.  First up was the Pynegana cheddar w black garlic, plum and rye. We were told the inspiration for this dish was them cheese and cracker snack packs you put in a lunch box - except that this was a more adult and sophisticated version.  A lovely smooth, airy mound of cheddar cheese.  I didn't really like the plum and black garlic jam/confit.  The sour plum and strong garlic flavour didn't do it for me and I felt that it would have been better without the garlic.

The two desserts were sublime and fun.  Of the two, this one was my favourite - 'salted pop corn'.  We thought we'd literally get some popcorn but we were wrong!  This wonderful soft meringue that had a strong aroma and tasted of popped corn.  Inside the meringue was this yellow goo, and the whole thing was smothered in this white custardy goo.  And on top of that, it had a generous dusting of powdered pop corn.  Each item tasted strongly of salted pop corn.  It was so fun and just so decadent.

Last but not least was the dish that had us puzzling about as to what it'd actually be.  On the menu, it was simply called 'butter, nut, pumpkin'.  What we were present with was a mound of crumbled hazelnut meringue, a slightly chewy honeycomb crumble (I think), pumpkin goo and was topped with a smooth-as white chocolate and burnt butter ice cream.  While I liked this dish, I felt it was a wee sweet for me.  

Food - 9.5
Ambiance - 7
Service - 9
Price - 10

CB is a hidden gem out in Clayton.  Foodies will love it for the food, and for those who aren't into the snobbery/pretension that sometimes comes with fine dining, CB is a great place to experience the food without the wank (or price tag!).  Eighty dollars for nine course, fine dining experience is pretty impressive in my books (considering that you'd easily pay triple figures per person for the same thing in the inner/city).  

I was really pleased with the thought that went into the menu.  A great balance of meat, veg and carbs.  You definitely felt full.  Achieving this balance isn't as straightforward as you'd expect (e.g., our meat-heavy degustation at Stefano's Restaurant left us full but craving some veg; or the drawn out degustation at Jacques Reymond that left us hungry after 12 courses over 3.5 hours).

The waitresses advised that each week, one or two dishes may change or get tweaked; and by the end of the month, a good part of the menu (if not, all of it) would have changed.

The place is kid friendly - as we had Bubba Chuck with us, the waitresses offered her colouring books and pens for her to play with.

This is a top notch place - I urge you to try it before it's too late!

Champions Bistro
Clayton Bowls Club
37 Springs Rd  
Clayton South 3169
Telephone: 9544 9929

Champions Bistro on Urbanspoon

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