ninja-quick stop at Matsu Hashi

One night, me and Tris were invited to our mate Colin’s place for a fillum night. These things are pretty serious affairs: because they’re marathons, he usually posts up a schedule of when each film will show and what time they’ll start so you don’t ring his very loud doorbell and interrupt proceedings, which is perfectly fair (I still feel terrible about the last time I went and greeted him a little too enthusiastically and thus being that noisy person in the ‘cinema’).

We decided we’d dine in the area and I was absolutely dying for some serious raw fish action. There’s not many options in the Clifton Hill/Fitzroy North area that immediately came to mind (though I do recommend Otsumami in Northcote, it can be busy so we weren’t going to chance being walk-ins).

Urbanspoon yielded us Matsu Hashi on Queens Parade.

Counting our pennies, we rushed in. No EFTPOS. Drat. I rush back out, grab some dough from the nearest hole in the wall and immediately decide upon two bowls each of edamame, the delicious, addictive bastards. I don’t think I’ve ever shelled edamame as fast as I did that night: my technique is downpat. They don’t oversalt them either, which I think is just swell.

edamame

As Tristan had been chatting on Twitter to our dear friend Ranjit about unagi, he ordered an unadon. The bento it appeared in was deceptive and it proved to house a more filling portion than originally assumed. Tris remarked that eel wasn’t something he ate enough of, a sentiment echoed by me also.

unadon

How remiss of me for neglecting to mention that we did also receive starter pickles.

starter pickles

Ah, the deluxe sashimi platter! According to the menu, this boasted a premium selection of Hokkaido scallop, surf clam, tuna, salmon belly, kingfish belly and oyster. The salmon and kingfish were superb, being ridiculously fresh but it was obvious that this was not the case with the scallop and oyster, both of which were lightly bathed in dressing.

deluxe sashimi platter

Our meals came out as quickly as we wanted, we scarfed them down even faster then head off to Colin’s to watch films about evil college kids picking on hillbillies and in keeping with our meal’s theme, one about sociopathic Japanese fish merchants. I’m still not game enough to look up online just how much of the latter was based on reality, shudder but do recommend the former for some good, gory laughs (plus it has Alan Tudyk in it. Yes, that pilot dude from Firefly, RIP).

Matsu Hashi on Urbanspoon

your game plan for Chin Chin

Look, I don’t care how much you love or hate no-bookings policies, I’m just here to offer you these two meagre kernels of advice.

First, if you want to actually dine at Chin Chin, then yes, turn up early and be prepared to wait. Once you’re through the door, the bar is actually rather nice to be seated at.

Second, when you do actually start to get your food, bolt all your plates down. Nothing says “we want you get the hell out of here so we can shovel more people in” more than wait staff who try to take your communal plates with half their contents untouched and the diners very obviously in medias res of said dish. Pout.

Don’t take my word or Tristan’s: on the occasion I visited Chin Chin, I was suitably armed with fellow Melbourne foodie chums Andrew & Sam.

Tristan and I were uncharacteristically early despite my sprained ankle limp (sadly occurring a few days after Bloomsday and thus nullifying all Gerty McDowell jokes) and Chin Chin won’t seat you till all diners are present. This gave us an opportunity to admire our surroundings and share a bigger-than-a-stubby BeerLao: let not the miniature beer steins fool you.

Soon enough, our expected companions joined us and we all began to navigate the menus like the fatties we were – it was pretty difficult to decide what to choose! It’s great that everything is designed to be shared. I did sneak in a text to Billy who had dined here the week before but sadly Sam’s dietary requirements and preferences meant we didn’t get to act upon many of them. This did make for hilarity as we all heartily debated whether or not boar was really the brethren of pig and that if desired, we could indeed pretend it was related to cows.

It seemed funny at the time: Andrew often has that effect upon you.

Before the boar debate started, we ordered the kingfish sashimi with lime, chilli, coconut and Thai basil. What ho, do I smell Ben Cooper under the helm…? Does this mean he’s no longer doing St Ali nights? *lip quiver* The flavour palate does seem awfully familiar… What a note to start on: I could quite happily have eaten three servings of this and left for my provincial part of town feeling like I’d dined like a king.

Before launching into the fish and meat dishes proper, we shared a hot and sour duck liver salad with mint, coriander, lime and ground rice. Looking at some more recent photos of the menu, would appear that this item is no longer available. What, no suck (sic) liver salad?!?! What a shame as it was offally good… *ducks* Ah well, duck liver salad, long may you live in our not-for-consumption hearts.

It has to be said that ordering at Chin Chin is ridiculously difficult: there is a myriad of dishes that all have something tantalising in them and given the amount we all ended up ordering, we should have gone with their ‘feed me’ option which you need a minimum of two persons for. For 7 dishes, you pay $55, for 9 dishes, $66. However, we did not ask if this can take into account dietary requirements so you’d best ask before choosing this option.

After agonising deliberation, one of the seafood dishes we decided upon was the wild barramundi wrapped in banana leaves with coconut red curry, lime and Thai basil: notice a very similar flavour profile to the starter we ordered. I’m not normally barramundi’s prime cheerleader but this was irresistible.

Aside from Sam, the general consensus was that we had to order the wild boar stir fried with red curry paste, snakebeans, ginger and basil. The wait staff seemed to think so too, as this was the dish they tried to forcibly remove from us three times. Yes, despite us still very much scoffing it down greedily.

Because Sam couldn’t have the wild boar, she ordered the massaman curry of coconut braised Hopkins River beef brisket with pink fur apple potatoes and crispy shallots. The boar-eaters did, however, sneak a taste.

To continue with the medieval-style eating habits, we also ordered the Indian style barbecued goat with cucumber and mint raita. The goat was tender and made for a satisfying carnivorous experience.

We weren’t quite finished: the blokes were curious to try the son-in-law eggs with chilli jam and thus a serve was ordered.

Though there are no photographs, for liquid refreshment, we got both the punches offered on the menu (sadly, I was not able to discreetly snap a shot of their descriptions on the menu). One carafe had a massive crack in it and when we pointed this out to the wait staff, they very kindly supplied us with a complimentary full carafe! My favourite one was the first one which had a lot of Vietnamese mint in it and the table’s consensus was that it was the winning drink too.

Despite having to queue and ward wait staff off our still full plates, Chin Chin is an effortlessly swanky place to enjoy good food that uses various Asiatic corners for inspiration. The menu seems to change quite often (it is different enough now to what it was when we dined there in mid-June) and has invariably assured that I shall be revisiting, in the hope of catching dishes I didn’t get to experience the first time, fingers crossed that they will still be on the menu. Next time, I’ll have room for dessert too, dammit!

Now onward and outward to Cam’s 3D Amazeballs party!

Welcome to Amazeballs 3D!

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

and we have in the red corner, beer – in the blue corner, wine

It seems only fitting that at a pub called The Courthouse one should deliberate upon the merits of both good beer and good wine and so one evening a large contingent of the Australian Beer Writers’ Guild found themselves at The Courthouse in North Melbourne to do just that at the invitation of Scott, the manager and the newly appointed (at the time) head chef Julian Hill.

Now what on earth was a gastropub manager doing, inviting a bunch of self-confessed stinky amber ale lovers to a dinner where there would be wine?! Conversion, of course! Did it work? We’ll see…

I have nothing but deep admiration for wine nerds: there is so much to learn and as much as I would love dearly to be as wine nerdy as I attempt to be beer nerdy (for I also have bucketloads to learn in that area too), the truth is, I’ve no idea where to start. Yes, it is that simple. It also feels more intimidating. It might sound stupid, but this is not a thought process exclusive to foodie-drinkie aspects of my life. I’ve been a classical flute player for half of my life and absolutely terrified of learning jazz because I never felt I mastered classical.

However, as if to ease us in, we were given a canapé that had only a beer match: an ocean trout cornet matched with the Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus. It looked beautiful and tasted delightful and got the table talking excitedly in promise of what was to come.

The first proper course, the entrée, was crumbed pork head with sauce gribiche and remoulade.

It seems any meat on the pig’s head is prized for its porkier-than-usual element and the course was matched with a whopping three beverages: two beers – the Stone and Wood Pacific Ale (formerly known as their Draught Ale) and the Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier, a beer from the oldest brewery in the world. The wine chosen was the Max Ferd Richter Brauneberger Juffer riesling from 2008.

To my palate, the best match was the Kristall Weissbier though even that was not entirely perfect: I felt the course needed something along these lines style-wise but more ‘beefed up’. The Stone and Wood beer oddly enough got too hoppy: not usually an issue I would raise with this particular beer as I find it quite fruity and enjoy its passionfruit notes.

For the next course of venison shanks en crepinette with sweet potato and horseradish, it was the same deal – two beers and one wine and left up to us to nominate the one that best matched the course.

The meal had a distinctly French slant to it and this largely reflects what The Courthouse do, both in their dining room menus and the pub fare available in the less formal area.

From left to right we have the Bridge Road Bière de Garde, Three Ravens Dark Alt Noir (a Melbourne microbrewery out in Thornbury!) and the Alpha Box and Dice ‘Enigma’ Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon blend from 2009.

The liquid match here was no contest: it was the Bière de Garde (god, am I forever jealous I missed out on imbibing this confessed favourite on hand pump at the Tanswell pub in Beechworth. The Three Ravens I had sampled prior to dining and the Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon I found too rough on my palate. Yes, I emphasise ‘my’ palate and fully disclose that it is not one developed for adequately judging wines.

Usually, French-influenced dining gives you the choice of a cheese or dessert course. Scott and Julian exceeded our expectations by spoiling us with both: to finish, we were treated to ‘textures of chocolate’ and raspberry sorbet. It sounds like a standard dessert but the treatment of chocolate in its various iterations ensured it stayed interesting.

The two beverages served with this were the Hargreaves Hill Abbey Dubbel and the NV Sanchez Romate Cardinal Cisneros Pedro Ximenez, the latter of which won most of the hearts around the table as best suiting dessert.

But Hargreaves Hill was yet to come back to a triumph for the last course of Isle of Mull cheddar, beating the De Bortoli Melba Reserve cabernet sauvignon 1999 vintage with their humble English Special Bitter. I confess I am very partial to a good ESB though I seem to recall that this was one of the pairings that divided the table the most.

The excellent news is that you do not have to be an Australian Beer Writers’ Guild member to come along to such a dinner as the folks at The Courthouse have decided to host one for the general public! Simply head on to The Crafty Pint for booking details – several ABWG members will be there and we’d love to say hello and hear your thoughts on whose alcoholic beverage reigns supreme!

Crafty on the right, Champion of Beer. Chris McNamara on the left, Reformed Wine Nerd ponders his defection to the dark, beery side. Could it be that he is thankful for his defection when beer was named the winner on this very night…?

BYO boxing gloves, shorts and boots in your chosen colour, of course.*

The Courthouse on Urbanspoon

*we encourage responsible drinking. Please don’t brawl. Bruises and the like will hurt when you’ve sobered up.