Saturday, September 20, 2008


359 Napier St Fitzroy, VIC 3065 (03) 9417 2274

What do you get when you cross decent food with possibly the slowest and least attentive service I've seen to date in Melbourne? ICI, that's what.
I've lived in Fitzroy for the last 6 years - just around the corner from ICI and somehow I've successfully managed to avoid visiting this place for that whole time. From outside there's nothing inviting about it- a few seats outside and a very small cafe inside, with again very few seats.
There are always people at ICI though, which is apparently a popular haunt for the locals.
Unfortunately for us, my mate wanted to give ICI a go last weekend and offered to pay for my breakfast, so who was I to complain?
No free tables inside or outside. So, we were forced to be those annoying people that stand around watching other people eat, waiting for them to leave. 10 minutes later we got a seat outside. Another 10 minutes later, the waitress decided she was going to finally clean our table of the last people's mess.
Another 10 minutes later a waiter appeared to take our drink orders and advised us, we'd need to go inside to look at the blackboard for the menu. How hard is it to print up some paper menus for people sitting outside? Damn Fitzroy hippies, not wanting to waste paper!
15 minutes after we ordered, one of my friend's Scrambled eggs and toast arrived - this was obviously first, because it was easiest and didn't have any sides like the rest of us.
It wasn't for another 10 minutes at least before the rest of our breakfasts arrived. This is poor form for any cafe or restaurant. Everyone should be served together in my book.
Presentation obviously isn't a factor at ICI, everything is banged on the plate with minimal care and it seems to barely fit on the plate.

Apart from all that - the food is actually half decent. The eggs were nicely poached, the tomato chilli jam had a nice kick and the bacon tasted like bacon.
If you're sitting outside, also watch for the seeds from the trees above blowing into your food. It happened to us, not very cool, but I guess there's not much the cafe can do about it. There's plenty they can do about their service though. Attempting to order more drinks when we finished our food proved hopeless.
If you want to lounge around in the back streets of Fitzroy and act like a local - there are better places to do it than ICI, I'd suggest Minlokal, just around the corner.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Seared Scallops with Spicy Carrot Fritters and Yoghurt Lime Dressing

With the nice weather suddenly coming back to town, I thought it was time for an interesting lighter lunch, full of flavour. i found this recipe on a BBC website from the UK. It's actually a Bill Granger though - the king of lightness and simplicity (I'm talking about his food, of course!)
This is a really simple recipe and you don't need to be an amazing cook to whip this one together in no time. My only tip would be to make sure you only cook the scallops for 1 minute on each side on a hot frypan. Any longer and you will overcook them - making them chewy.

Carrot Fritters:

60g plain flour
125ml soda water
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
235g grated carrot
8 spring onions, finely sliced
25g chopped coriander
60ml vegetable oil

For Scallops:
12 medium-sized scallops, roe removed
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
watercress, to serve

For Yoghurt Dressing:
125g plain yoghurt
1 tbs lime juice
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbs olive oil

1. Place the flour, soda water, egg, cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt in a bowl and mix well. Add the chilli, carrot, spring onion and coriander and stir to combine.
2. Heat frying pan, add oil & heat until hot. Cooking in batches, add two tablespoons of batter per fritter and cook for two minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Cook the remaining fritter batter, adding extra oil if necessary. Place the fritters on an ovenproof plate lined with paper towels and keep warm.
3. Place the scallops in a bowl, add olive oil, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium-to-high heat and cook the scallops for no more than one minute on each side.
4. For the yoghurt dressing, place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine.
5. Place three carrot fritters on each plate, top with the watercress and scallops and drizzle with the yoghurt dressing. Season with pepper and serve.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Jacques Raymond

78 Williams Rd Prahran VIC 3181 Tel: (03) 9525-2178

Of all the restaurants I've visited over the last few years, somehow I've managed to unconsciously avoid visiting any type of French restaurant. So, when I found out that my best mate was going to take me to Melbourne's 3 hatted Jacques Raymond for my 30th birthday, I was over the moon! Not only do I get to visit one of Melbourne's best restaurants, but I get to try proper French food for the first time, too! What would be eating? Frogs legs? Kilos of butter? Snails? I thought I would cheat and check the restaurant's website before going, but it seems that JR don't actually have an online version of their menu.

We arrived at the Williams Rd, Windsor location and I was surprised to not see a shopfront type restaurant, but instead a typical Toorak style Mansion, which most Melbournian's would know what I'm talking about.

We were greeted at the door by three elegantly dressed waiters. The best way I can describe them is if you've seen that episode of The Simpsons where the waiter has the argument with the Mayor's son about the pronunciation of the word 'chowder'. The waiters very much resembled that character. The spiffy suit, the slick hair and one even had the very cliche' little French moustache. Our main waiter for the evening had a very radio/car-salesman-esque voice where everything he spoke to us about, sounded like he was performing a voice over. If only I could show you a photo of him. (Actually... I found one on The Age website)

....only when the waiter saw my camera (still in it's case) he very politely advised that the chef did not allow restaurant visitors to take photos of their food. Apparently there are these things out there called 'blogs' and people take photos and post them on their blog and write reviews about restaurants. Really?? Who knew?? The waiter mentioned that the chef thinks that most of these photos look rubbish and are a poor representation of the food, so they don't allow photos of the food. But apparently, the chef is happy to make a booking with you, if you're a photographer and you can come down during the day and take photos of the food. Somehow, I don't think that is going to happen.

Ah well. Rather than sit through an entire degustation menu, and attempt to take photos of the food, this time I could just sit there and enjoy the food and the service. The degustation menu is 7 courses, which the chef decides on for you. There's no list or menu to tell you what you're having, you just make sure you tell the waiter if there's something you don't like or don't eat and they will accommodate.

First up was a Crayfish and Pork Dumpling (Ravioli) with a Dashi Broth and Topped with shredded and oven dried apple. What a wonderful start! I'd never had Crayfish before this. So, nice- yet not very French, I would say more Japanese.

Second course was a bit of a jumble of flavours. There was Ocean Trout Sushimi, Duck Breast, Water Cress and Foie Gras. Well, I know Duck and Sushimi is very Japanese , but we did have some Foie Gras on here. I'd never tried Foie Gras before tonight, probably for two reasons- one because it's so expensive and the other because a lot of people believe the process for making Foie Gras is cruel. But that's another story. It tastes, like a cross between a very rich pate' and butter. It also has the texture of a soft butter.

Third Plate was Hiramasa King fish, with (from memory) a skin of miso and a buttery sauce. The fish was a very small fillet, which was standing upright on the plate. It was very attractive and the colours looked delicious. We were even given very special cutlery for the fish. Apparently the only real difference to the fish knife and fork though is the fact there is a little knick taken out of the side of each.

Fourth plate was a very rare slice of Venison, which was only briefly seared on the outside. It came with a extremely thick and sticky beetroot and red wine jus and was served on cauliflower florets in a delicious white sauce. I'm a big fan of Venison and this one was done particularly well. Very, very tender and so flavoursome. Perfect with the sweet beetroot reduction.

Fifth plate was what I would consider our main meal. Apparently there was a choice of Lamb Cutlets and Veal, but as there were two of us, we were just given one of each. For a place that prides itself on customer service, it would have been nice to have been given the option here.
The Lamb again was cooked very rare and seemed only just seared. I know Lamb isn't meant to be cooked right through and still be slightly pink, but even I would have considered this a little under-done. The lamb was served with a savoury Pistachio foam, which was another new experience for me - I've never tried a 'foam' before and I have to say I like the idea of it and love the taste and texture. My friend had the Veal, which was poached in Milk and was also served with a Milk foam over the top - kind of a 'baby cow cappacino!'

Sixth Plate was a cheese course. It was a delicious South Australian Goat's Cheese, wrapped in a vine leaf from the farm where the cheese comes from. There was also a little mound of salad and 3 pieces of walnut - generous! The cheese was very tasty indeed and was just the thing I needed at this point in the degustation.

For the seventh and final main plate, we had our dessert course. Dessert was served in a 1990's-esque tubular vase type contraption which was lying on it's side. You needed a long spoon to get in there and get out the food. It did look very pretty though. It was a layering of flavours and textures. On the bottom was crushed nougatine, which was more of a biscuit like texture than the chewyness I expected. On top of this was a scoop of an amazing Oregano and Mint ice-cream! Who would have thought to put Oregano in an ice-cream? These guys did and it was fantastic! The Oregano was not overpowering at all, like I thought it would be. Laid over this was a slice of peppermint marshmallow. Very subtle flavour and texture. And on top of it all was an extremely strong coffee foam, almost like having a Short Macchiato!

Finally, with our tea and coffee we were given a lovely looking plate of Petit Fours, which the kitchen had written a nice, little happy birthday message across the top in chocolate. I managed to sneak a photo of this one on my mobile phone.

Jacques Raymond overall was a fantastic experience. Everything was pretty much perfect, from the service, to the ambience, to the decor, to of course the food and even the gent's toilets were pretty snazzy. Dinner there isn't cheap though by any means. For the two of us, the bill totalled over $400! That includes four imported beers. I thouroughly believe though at most restaurants that you get what you pay for and on this occasion, you're paying for perfection and perfection always comes at a cost. I'm just glad that on this occasion, perfection was my birthday present!

* Unfortunately, as I usually use my photos as a reference to remember exactly what we ate, this time i'm just going from memory, so my descriptions may not be 100% accurate. If the restaurant would like to correct me though, they are most welcome to contact me to do so.