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.
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.
How remiss of me for neglecting to mention that we did also receive 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.
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).
It should have been obvious: the Terminus Hotel in Clifton Hill has provided ace food and equally ace beer – in bottles and some local stuff in kegs – and yet, Prof Pilsner informed me that the venue had yet to pop its beer-and-food-dinner cherry (kriek? would be more appropriate…).
Because this was the 2010 AIBA Gold Medal Winners showcase, the beer selection was set and most of us beer nuts would have gone out of our way (read: traipsed on down to our local beer merchant and hassled the bejesus out of them) to drink said beers. Where the excitement lies in what was done food-wise and how the beer and food were paired.
First up, the good old faithful Trumer Pils. I don’t think it’s groundbreaking by itself, but the aim of tonight’s game was to see how it paired with the four (how’s that for spoilt!) nibblies dutifully trailed out to us by the ace staff: crumbed pigs’ head with parmesan mayonnaise, salt and vinegar tripe, salt and pepper calamari, and crab cakes. As usual, my photos do not do the starters justice but had to work with what little I had, please be gentle. I know the photo gods cry when amateurs use flash, honest.
The clear winner in the nibblies stakes was the pigs’ head croquetty thing. Great match with the beer. On my table, there was much love for the salt and pepper calamari, but that’s easy enough to do and do well. I think a lot of people were put off by the idea of offal but the tripe wasn’t so bad though it was inconsistent in its seasoning. You either got a piece that was well salted or far too vinegary. Tristan called it “arbitrarily challenging” which our table supported. I wish I’d remembered to ask what chef Matt Merrick had used in his dipping sauce for the crab cakes – though the cakes themselves were not gobsmack amazing, the sauce was beautifully aromatic and its taste lingering in my mouth kept me guessing constantly at what on earth was used.
Our actual first full course was the winner of the night for me as a match – Bridge Road’s Chevalier Saison with Black Angus carpaccio, goats’ cheese mousse, caramelised vinegar and textures of beetroot.
The cheese chosen and the sweetness of the beetroot capitalised with the fizziness of the Chev Saison, which apparently when being brewed, in Ben’s words, “the stinkier the better”. Prof kindly reminded us that the saison started off as a beer brewed for the summer months to refresh the peasants and weighs in at 6% ABV – you don’t want your hired help too sloshed. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much of that reality cooking show (which I’m only really watching to root for @cookinwithgoths – you kick some arse, sonny Jim!), but this beer and course was a desert island match. Grats to really pushing the beer-and-food-matching envelope, guys.
Next up is admittedly my least favourite course. I’m reminded of my art school ex who said he had a teacher that would ask their class “is this piece successful?” An excellent way to judge but of course what constitutes “successful” is more open to debate. The Feral Hop Hog IPA was provided with celeriac gnocchi, freshwater crayfish, pine mushrooms in a sauce Américaine.
The gnocchi wasn’t really gnocchi: harsh but I said it. It was a rectangular, log-like egg quiche minus the pastry. The dish smelt very fishy though oddly was more sour than it was water-borne. I admit to using Google-fu to trying to see how much sauce Américaine and gumbo resemble each other and when I did have the dish’s rendition of the former, I thought more of the latter. As for the beer match? I love the Hop Hog by itself but wasn’t sold on it being coupled with this dish.
No matter, a good treat we were in for with the next course of slow roasted suckling lamb, pomme purée, mushy peas with watercress and snow pea shoots. The accompanying beer was Holgate’s ESB.
ESB is a fairly malty beast and the more I drink of it, the more I seem to like it (though I have been lucky enough to drink it at the actual brewery, on the handpump. So much goodness). It’s got nice caramelly overtones that make it perfect for this weather and a better match than predicted with the meat, which was topped with a surprise sweetbread!
This would be the ‘safe’ course – red meat, mash and peas with a well-chosen beer and just a little bite and wonderful contrasting bitterness from the watercress and snow pea shoots. Our table did wonder whether there was really a difference between “pomme purée” and “mashed potato”. I went to a poetry workshop on the weekend and Geoff Lemon gave us so much sage advice: don’t try to be unneccesarily clever. You’ll look silly. When it’s just peas and mash, there’s no harm in just calling it thus. Was fairly sad not to have the physical space to finish this course, just don’t tell Billy…
It was an excellent strategy to not finish my meat so I could slaughter dessert which was phenomenal: chocolate marquise, chocolate ‘rubble’ and honeycomb. The rubble had cocoa mint and was served in a whipped gel (didn’t quite catch the chef’s full explanation as he’s very soft-spoken). These are my notes straight off my menu: fairly safe choice…the white shit and ‘rubble’ was fucking off the hook’. Tables around as well as my table companions seemed to indicate that the dessert was a raging success given how quickly it disappeared.
This was served with Dave Bonighton’s self-confessed ‘hero beer’, the Mountain Goat Surefoot Stout – such a shame it’s a Rare Breed (read: limited edition). It was wonderful to have the man behind the brewery come and talk to us about how he felt about the beer. I’d also recommend heading down to the brewery this Wednesday to catch some serious Good Beer Week wondrousness. Stout with a chocolate-based dessert – can’t really go wrong. Dare I say, to pilfer an above abomination, this was a dessert island dish.
Given I have nothing better to do than review places on my Saturday mornings (who am I kidding, eating food and writing about it is pretty damn rad), I thought I’d mix it up. I’d try a potentially new and novel approach to a review, a real-time review! While I’m not live streaming my breakfast — even I’m not that inane — I thought I’d start reviewing the place I’m having breakfast at while I’m eating said breakfast.
So, here I am, in Dexter cafe in Clifton Hill, with a cafe latte, It’s 9:53am. This is now my second time here, both visits due to the proximity of Ms G’s yoga class. The first time I came in I was really taken by the staff. Friendly and attentive, without being overbearing or ‘hovering’ over your table. Unfortunately the this visit was brief, and I only had time for a coffee.
So when Ms G asked me to drive her to yoga and she suggested I pop back into Dexter for some nosh I was taken by the idea.
Now, back to the narrative. I arrived, dumped my crummy MacBook with the five minute battery-life, and asked where the power points were. As you can see from this photo, I was literally next to them. However in true Tristan form, I had missed them completely. Coffee was ordered and delivered with a smile. A really solid latte using Coffee Supreme was delivered.
Before the bringer of life (aka my coffee toting waiter) ducked off, I ordered the chorizo, asparagus, avocado and tomato salsa with balsamic vinegar. As I type these sentences I am eating it. Really quite nice. All the right texture contrasts are present: soft and slightly spicy chorizo, crunchy asparagus and creamy avocado. The avocado’s (in cahoots with the poached egg) creaminess really cut through the bite of the balsamic vinegar. I will be getting this again.
Whilst in the middle of my self-indulgent blog post spree a fellow diner singled my dish out, “What’s he having, it looks really good!”. Her waiter then lovingly described the dish and offered to remove the chorizo for her (to make it vegetarian). While in this day and age of vegan/tarians and food allergies, menu variations shouldn’t be hard to come by. Despite this I am still surprised by the irritation some diners can be greeted with by venue owners, treating some customers as inconveniences rather than the valuable word-of-mouth advertisers they can be. I am pleased to say there wasn’t a trace of this at Dexter.
Now that I’d managed to take up an hour and a half eating ‘n’ typing, Ms G had arrived. She ordered the smoked salmon and asparagus with a grapefruit hollandaise. I have my suspicions her choice was based on recent hankerings for fish, but that’s another story. Gem wasn’t as taken with her dish as I was mine — not sure of the freshness of the asparagus, and a being a bread ‘woosie’, found the bread a little chewy. I must agree with her that the bread was a little too chewy, but I am less bothered by something like that.
Gemma was, however most taken with Dexter’s beer choices, being predominately Victorian micro brew selection. It was a damn shame I was playing it respectable and being designated driver, else I’d be boozing it up.
A lovely friendly cafe with snappy service, that plays Radiohead (as well as some other questionable music). If you ever find yourself with time to spare on in Clifton Hill on Queens parade, pop on in.