I am fast burning bridges to my former life as a pseudo-anorexic. The good thing about this is I eat out and enjoy eating out immensely. The bad thing about this is there seems to be so many wonderful culinary stalwarts around Melbourne that I’ve never dined at before. The European Restaurant on Spring Street in the CBD was till recently one such place.
Dinner was at the rather late hour of 9pm. After a quiet, leisurely stroll through the Treasury Gardens and making friends with some possums there, I arrived to find I was first, and on time. A glass of manzanilla while I wait! Eventually a semi-apologetic T turns up having been wooed by the beer choice at Biero Bar over the other side of the CBD. Hello glass of amontillado! I am always reminded of Poe’s short story whenever I see the name ‘Amontillado’.
We were still waiting on our chum Nat but she was running late. My tummy couldn’t wait much longer, so I ordered. I was in the mood for lots of small dishes, rather than one large main.
First up, sage and anchovy fritters. Beautiful, feathery-light batter coupled with the saltiness of anchovies. The accompanying sauce was zesty.
Next up, some jamon Serrano with a generous amount of sourdough. If beer and cheese won’t be the death of me, then cured meats definitely will! I hadn’t had any cured meat for a while so this actually felt like a massive treat.
But no, wait! I haven’t finished clogging my arteries with fatty, meaty goodness. Thus the duck terrine with house condiments and grilled baguette came to the rescue! T wasn’t too impressed with the stingy serving of the terrine. Haters gonna hate, as all you hip kids say. I loved the small side salad, it was so tart and set off the gamey flavour of the duck well.
That was good! Yea, Nat arrived! She chose the Tom Cooper smoked salmon celeriac remoulade and horseradish cream.
She twisted my arm and we both finished off with vanilla bean-flecked crème brûlée. Personally, I prefer mine with a thicker crust of burnt sugar. This one was politely singed.
Still, quite a blissful late night meal. The main menu is available till 10pm and after that they change to a reduced supper menu which still has lots of substantial items to constitute a damned fine meal. Given my insomniac tendencies, I know I’ll be back.
The mission was simple: find ten foodie friends and convince them to part with $75 each for a suckling pig three-course dinner. A year ago, this would have proved difficult, but thanks to the wonder that is the social networking, and the food bloggers community, this proved to be remarkably easy and better yet, all participants were extremely excited. I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Libertine in North Melbourne before for a very special degustation so I was in no doubt that all diners would be in for a very lavish meal with wonderful, attentive service.
A few good friends came, and (hopefully) some new ones – food blogger-wise there was Agnes of Off the Spork and partner, @eatnik and a few of her posse, and Alex, Jess and Jillian from MSG. Billy of Half-Eaten also came but due to his dining partner needing to go to hospital due to a physical injury, he left early, and both of them were missed. For the benefit of those of us on Twitter, I assigned the occasion’s hashtag as #pigdestroying in honour of the death metal band Pig Destroyer. Let’s face it, we were all here to pretty much ‘destroy’ a pig.
Somehow managing to arrive early (okay, I admit it, I made an effort), I had an apéritif. There were some really lovely sounding ones but I decided upon le Père Jules de Pommeau de Normandy which was a mix of Calvados and cider. It’s similar to brandy – sweet but very, very smooth. Upon further reflection, I think I’d prefer it as a digestif. I could also probably drink three times that amount with no trouble too…
Thanks to Billy, I also got to taste some of the gentian-based aperitif. It really does taste of the flower and is very refreshing! It could become popular in summer if it were readily available. Twitter Melbourne stalwart @coliwilso braved absinthe, served in positively scientific apparatus which piqued everyone’s interest. The way the dinner worked was that we were all going to have the same main, but had the choice of one entrée and dessert from a choice of three for both – all items were on the menu available to the non #pigdestroying ilk.
The terrine was venison with pistachio, served with mustard and pear chutney. I went with this because I can’t really resist venison when it’s offered. I was probably supposed to put some sliced terrine on the toasted bread and spread some of the mustard and chutney, but I didn’t really have enough patience to do so.
The Hervey bay scallops come with a forest mushroom ragoût.
There was a judicious amount of time between courses, which is always welcome. I’m sure many a diner’s heart set about racing once the suckling pig was presented, brought around to all of us so we could get a good gawk. It’s a little confronting, given that the pig is about 15 weeks old at the time of slaughter.
The serves looked more like this, with dreamy mashed potatoes and with what tasted like mustard leaves. The skin was served too, and it was quite hard to cut into as the hide of the pig is very tender, it being so young. I left mine and concentrated on the tender meat and mash. It caused us a bit of amusement that they gave the lads larger servings than the ladies. I wasn’t going to complain – the servings were rich and filling and I think even a few of the lads struggled.
Not to forget the generous serving of baby vegetables – beans, squash and carrots. Delectable! We were all given extra mash, but don’t think anyone really needed it.
At some stage, I think perhaps just after mains were finished, the chef came out to say hello and tell us a bit about the suckling pig and how it was prepared. It was quite nice of him to do so. I told him that being served a whole pig reminded me of the Filipino lechón (also litson) usually reserved for special occasions, where you get a whole roast pig (of adult size) cooked on a spit and then served with an apple in its mouth. A little macabre…
Back to sweet, fluffy things – dessert. I chose a crème caramel with Calvados, accompanied by herbal tea sorbet. Couldn’t quite tell what sort of tea was used – it reminded me a bit of Earl Grey, and it definitely wasn’t peppermint. Whatever it was, it was refreshing and very palate cleansing, as you can probably imagine. The crème caramel was not at all too rich. Sort of wish I could detect more of the alcoholic nature of the calvados, mmm!
In my second time at Libertine, they’ve still managed to impress me so much. The staff are wonderful and always extremely helpful – I’m utterly useless with wine matching and was recommended the 2008 Leabrook pinot gris, Adelaide Hills from South Australia to accompany starters and the 2007 Pommier Bourgogne Rouge pinot noir from Burgundy, France with the main. It’s also excellent that they don’t make me feel like a wine idiot though I am most apologetic that their wine list is lost on me.
In any case, if you don’t believe my glutton ravings about Libertine, you can read John Lethlean’s review for The Agethough do note it’s quite an old one. I’m sure I’ll be back to dine at Libertine before the year is out – it’s become a fond friend to me. Thanks very much to all the foodies and food bloggers who came and presented superlative company, as well as existing friends Tris, Colin, Suz and Lindsey who indulged my excitement by attending. Special mention must be made to Alex of MSG who was kind enough to drop off a very special doggy (piggy?) bag to Billy and Debbie while they waited in hospital to ensure that they didn’t miss out on the main attraction!
When I initially suggested to my better half that he wine and dine me at a French restaurant that was around the corner from where I used to live, I never actually dreamed I’d get to go. And on Valentines’ Day too. As the day came nearer, I felt I was betraying my supposed modern-(currently straight) girl lifestyle by being excited.
I had good cause to be excited. We would be dining at Libertine, in North Melbourne, and it was a six-course dégustation with matched wines. Quite possibly the most grown-up meal I was ever likely to have. Incidentally, I have been to a dégustation where each course was matched with a beer, but I know a little more about beer than I do wine, though I started my legal drinking career as a just-wine quaffer.
The waitress who welcomed us asked if we wanted an apéritif. Being a massive lush, how could I say no? I asked her for her recommendation and she suggested a few things, and I settled upon the Floc de Gascogne which is a pear armagnac. Delish!
Our very first course was the Hervey Bay scallops ceviche, tomato consommé & Yarra Valley salmon roe.
Initially, I worried that the serving was too small. I probably say that because I gobbled my serve up much faster than my partner. This entrée was refreshing and palate cleansing. I wished I had more of the consommé – the idea of drinking a rather savoury liquid might initially seem foreign, but I could have had more. My partner was not as keen on it as I was. This was matched with a champagne – NV Vazart-Coquart Brut Reserve. We were dutifully informed that it was made from chardonnay grapes, is blanc on blanc which gives it its slightly acidic, clean, crisp finish. It initially tasted like white wine but then had a hint of savoury on the palate. My favourite wine of the dinner, and probably the best champagne I’ve ever had.
The second course was foie gras parfait with botrytis sémillon jelly & brioche. The foie gras was encased in blanched (in colour, not in method of preparation), whipped butter which offset its richness perfectly. I must confess that I didn’t think the sweetened jelly really worked with the pâté. It feels like terrible sacrilege to say that! However, it matched the glass of the 1996 Coteaux de la Biche Vouvray Moelleux ‘Collection’ from the Loire Valley, France very well. The wine was sweet and though the waiter told us this particular one is not affected by botrytis, further online investigation actually suggests the contrary. I felt it was actually pretty desserty and too sweet for my taste. I would have ideally preferred a wine more savoury and matched to the pâté. It would have been so easy to consume more of the pâté but again, Libertine were judicious with the serving size. A smidgen more and we would have been full, which is no good for the rest to come.
By the end of these subtle, tantalising entreés, my appetite was whetted for more substantial fare. Spoilt me got my wish.
If the plate is looking a little bare, don’t be alarmed: alongside the Rose veal rack & sauce Périgueux featuring winter Périgord truffles, was a hearty ratatouille.
Full disclosure: I am not a big fan of squash as a vegetable, and ratatouille had it in spades. However, I ate it with gusto on this occasion. The rustic, aromatic herb and garlic breadcrumb crust made the vegetables a treat. We were informed that Rose veal is slightly older than standard veal and is put to pasture. It is also from Warrnambool. Someone from the kitchen would come and lovingly dole out portions of the meat and selected vegies, then another would give us veal jus and the ratatouille in a separate pot that we could help ourselves to. The wine selected to accompany this course was the 2001 Château Tour Haut Moulin, Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France. So moreish! I was crestfallen that I missed out on an extra glass of it because my partner was slower (or more polite) in his wine guzzling than me.
Unusually for me, the main was my favourite out of the savoury courses. I’ve had veal only once before and it was extremely disappointing, but Libertine have turned me around to its appeal. I’ll never be able to become a vegetarian again, honestly.
At this stage of the meal, it was time for a palate cleanser, an espresso cup with white chocolate vermouth sorbet. I can’t quite commit to an opinion about these two flavours together. Definitely interesting, but it didn’t quite knock me out of its chair.
No such trouble for the next dessert of warm Heidi raclette feuilleté with apple purée – easily my favoured out of the sweet courses. You’ve got apple purée, Swiss gruyère, crushed hazelnuts, and those tender green shoots are sunflower shoots! The waiter did not hesitate to find this out for me. They are very savoury and more flavoursome than watercress and even alfalfa. But in honesty, I am a base creature – melted, pungest cheese with a slightly tart fruit? Hell yes! Alcohol-wise, it was accompanied by Henriques & Henriques ‘Finest Medium Dry’ 5 year old Madeira which is sweet, and somewhat like sherry.
Hello, my beauty…
The indulgent dégustation was coming to a close in the form of figs ‘reworked’ in the following ways: crème brûlée with fig compote as topping (part of me feels that it’s not a true brûlée without the burnt sugar taste); fig-flavoured cream; fig on pastry with thyme (would have loved more thyme); hard caramel encasing fig ice cream. With this we were served the 2007 Delas Freres Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, from the Rhône Valley, France. It didn’t smell overly sweet but rather slightly acidic and a little bit sour. Not quite what I was expecting.
At the very end of the sumptuous dinner, we were given petits fours, and had a choice of either coffee (which partner had) or tea. I elected to have Darjeeling tea. I was hoping for the offer of a digestif, but none was made.
To give an indication of just how much I loved dining at Libertine, not long after I decided to get together some foodie friends and food bloggers to take advantage of their suckling pig feast (they require a minimum of ten people to book for said feast). They recently had a Wednesday special where they would offer bouillabaisse, but I wasn’t able to dine there to sample it. French cuisine is not something I have considered much, but my visit here has piqued my interest and cannot wait to return. It’s not somewhere I could personally afford to dine at regularly, but that just makes it more of a treat. A bientôt, Libertine!