Busbys Restaurant, Highett

Japanese Scallops, braised pork belly, pistachio, carrot puree, caviar - Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett

There was a time in the not too distant past, when restaurant dining at motels were the order of the day. As a young girl, I remember driving past all the motel restaurants along a particular stretch of the Hume Highway, trying to get a glimpse of all the activity inside and longing to enter through the canopied entrance into the captivating world beyond.

Some may say that that style of dining is of a bygone era. Big named hotels with celebrated chefs have now become the preferred platform for showcasing culinary creations. Yet beneath the glitter and contrived opulence, the art and enjoyment of fine dining can often play second fiddle to the ambivalent mood of wait staff and time-bound sitting arrangements.

Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett
Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett

However in the suburb of Highett, Busbys offers a dining experience that could easily rival that of the famous hotel chain bearing the same name, but won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

Go beyond the retro façade and you will find a modern refurbished interior and an inspired interpretation of French bistro dining, but without the high-end price tag.

BCC9D5FE-81BE-426E-B5A0-0137B6690D1B

Executive Chef Jack Chan, who has had considerable experience working in luxury hotels across Asia, is behind this transformation. With an acute awareness of the local dining scene, Jack saw an opportunity to offer a style of dining and cuisine not readily available in the Moorabbin area.

Relaxing into the club-style chairs in the bar area for a pre-dinner drink, Wilson who is our maître d’ for the evening, takes meticulous care to ensure that the wine selected is fresh and up to a particular standard. The wine list is current and reflects a small but excellent selection from both local and international producers. And believe it or not, Busbys is one of those rare establishments where you could actually order a bottle of wine and still have enough change from a $50 note to still buy one more glass.

Old-fashioned name. Old-fashioned service. Old-fashioned prices.

Seated in the dining room, Wilson presented us with the dinner menu which is presented in a style similar to that of a French bistro. Not only is the menu both eclectic and enticing, with each dish in the just the entrée section alone sounded delectable in its own right. I must admit that it’s incredibly hard to choose just one. Just as well my dining companion was in a sharing mood!

Japanese Scallops, braised pork belly, pistachio, carrot puree, caviar - Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett
Japanese Scallops, braised pork belly, pistachio, carrot puree, caviar – Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett

It’s not too hard to imagine my expression when the food arrived at our table … Like. OMG. Wow. Each dish resembled a work of art in its own right and certainly worthy of a barrage of photos before even attempting to try and eat each dish.

One of Jack’s signature dishes is undoubtedly the Japanese Scallops, braised pork belly, pistachio, carrot puree and caviar. Jack prides himself on sourcing only the best and freshest produce available and Japanese scallops (which I must admit doesn’t sound particularly French) are noted for their quality and taste. Everything about this dish is a class act. You could also call this meal ‘luxury on a plate’. The texture, the taste and the presentation alone is worth every cent and you would be almost crazy not to order it.

Vodka and Beetroot Cured Kingfish, cucumber, fennel, citrus junos - Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett
Vodka and Beetroot Cured Kingfish, cucumber, fennel, citrus junos – Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett

Similarly, the Vodka and Beetroot Cured Kingfish with cucumber, fennel, citrus junos is also stunning in its simplicity and design. Beneath the funnel of thickly-cut kingfish slices, is a hidden treasure of thinly shaved fennel remoulade on a bed of fresh cucumber. The light smattering of dill across the top also adds subtle fresh flavour to a classic dish.

Goat cheese souffle, champagne salad, Grana Padano, raspberry vinaigrette - Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett
Goat cheese soufflé, champagne salad, Grana Padano, raspberry vinaigrette – Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett

The Goat cheese soufflé, champagne salad, Grana Padano, raspberry vinaigrette was served in a elegant ceramic bowl and artfully arranged across the plate. After dissecting through the exotic flavours and layers of the salad, the one thing that stood out for me was the extremely light, fluffy and fresh (and tasty) texture of the soufflé, which is everything it should be.

Good hospitality can be really hard to find but when you encounter great service, the kind that is attentive and client-driven, your whole evening is transformed into a magical and memorable experience.

We had a lot of fun chatting with Wilson throughout our evening about the food and potential wine matches. Somehow during the course of our conversation, our smooth-talking maître d’ talked us into ordering main dishes as well. What could possibly be more classique French than bouillabaisse and duck?

I have a particular fondness for duck at the best of times and the presentation of the Duo of duck, breast and confit of leg, orange glaze, julienne vegetables reaffirmed my love for this type of dish. The vibrancy of colour was stunning to behold, let alone its elegant presentation. The duck is deliciously moist, not overwhelmed by its accompaniments, and the fresh segmented orange wedges are a perfect foil for the rich flavour of the jus.

Bouillabaisse, prawns, calamari, fresh fish pieces, mussel, tomato confit - Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett
Bouillabaisse, prawns, calamari, fresh fish pieces, mussel, tomato confit – Busbys Restaurant and Bar, Highett

I’m not usually a victim of food envy yet when the Bouillabaisse, prawns, calamari, fresh fish pieces, mussel, tomato confit dish was placed in front of my friend, it took a lot of restraint for me not to immediately reach across the table and start helping myself to her meal. It was spectacular in every aspect – the seafood is fresh, tender and full of flavour.

Although I was lucky enough to have a taste of the Bouillabaisse, I’ve quietly resolved to go back to Busbys soon and order it on my return visit, which I envisage will happen very soon. The restaurant hosts weekend high-tea events for $39 per head (almost half the price of its contemporary hotel equivalents) and there are also live music and degustation dining events planned within the next few months.

So when you next think of the Hyatt, think Highett instead. Same style of dining experience yet considerably cheaper and infinitely more enjoyable.

Everything old is definitely new again.

http://www.thebusbys.com.au/

Busbys Restaurant & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

ALDI Degustation Dinner

Most people, like myself, either have a love or hate relationship with the ALDI discount supermarket chain. There was a time when I loathed the place and decreed that my parents were forbidden to buy any Christmas or birthday presents from there, which they took great delight in doing. Yet fast forward five or so years and I’m the one calling them up suggesting that they buy me the $99 sound bar in the weekly special buys catalogue for my birthday gift and eagerly scouring the bins for that matte black imitation Le Creuset cast iron pot I’ve been coveting for my kitchen.

Every Wednesday morning feels like Christmas to me when I click on the website and see what the new “7 Day Deals” are. I can’t exactly pinpoint the moment when I had a complete change of heart, but what I do know about myself is that I hate being ripped off and there is a substantial price differential when I purchase branded groceries from the other supermarkets than when I shop at ALDI. I have friends that are confounded by the store layout, wondering why on earth there are lawnmowers next to the frozen food section and why I can be bothered shopping there, and there are other friends who are also enthusiastic shoppers or cooks and like me, love a good bargain.

Given my love of good food, great wine and ALDI, I decided just for a bit of fun to combine all three passions and invite some friends over to my place to participate in a degustation dinner challenge. The rules were to create a dish where 90% of the ingredients are sourced from ALDI which is then served with a matching wine selection, also purchased from ALDI. Perhaps something similar to the mystery box challenge on Masterchef if you will, but where you have a whole supermarket to inspire your culinary creativity.

I nominated myself for a fish course and a pasta course, Mez and Adrian to prepare the meat courses (one being chicken and the other being a red meat of their choosing) and Alisha responsible for the dessert and cheese course to finish, all served with an appropriate wine match. With each guest having exceptional knowledge, qualifications and experience in wine, I was really looking forward to seeing what we came up with.

My ideas for the fish course changed over the duration of the three or four weeks prior to the actual dinner event. Originally I had been thinking of serving portions of grilled white fish over a bed of black rice with a red curry sauce, or perhaps serving a salmon dish but after flicking through a Dish magazine, I was inspired to incorporate mango into my dish, given that it was in season. After doing a reconnoitre of the ALDI fridges to confirm that I could obtain prawns for my dish, I went with Prawns with Lime and Mango Dipping Sauce as the first course. I had read about the highly-rated Corte Carista Prosecco DOC ($9.99), from Veneto, Italy in a wine trade magazine and knew that it would be a match made in heaven. And the result? Pretty good considering that I had never made the recipe before or tried the wine until that evening. The sparkling wine with fragrant floral notes was lovely to drink and well matched with the seafood. Cutting mango properly is still a skillset that I need to develop but I got there in the end, and the tropical fruit went well with the spiced marinade and wine. The only thing I didn’t source from ALDI was the mint required for the dipping sauce. Unfortunately ALDI didn’t have any on hand and my local market sold a bunch for a $2.00 so I figured I still won out.

Ricotta and spinach cappellaccio, spiced pumpkin purée, crispy sage, burnt butter sauce and walnut crumb - ALDI Degustation Dinner
Ricotta and spinach cappellaccio, spiced pumpkin purée, crispy sage, burnt butter sauce and walnut crumb – ALDI Degustation Dinner

The next course was my own creation, inspired from a Coles food magazine recipe which had roasted pumpkin, sage, wilted spinach, walnuts and a packet of Latina Fresh pasta. Thinking about the ingredients and what I could get from ALDI, I went with Ricotta and spinach cappellaccio, spiced pumpkin purée, crispy sage, burnt butter sauce and walnut crumb. You can source a pack of the ricotta and spinach cappellaccio for $3.99 from the cold storage and the rest of the ingredients are readily available. Similar to the situation with the mint, the sage on hand at ALDI looked a little limp, so again I got something more robust and cheaper from my greengrocer. Thinking I needed a white wine match for this course, I dropped by my local ALDI last week and spied a bottle of the Peter Mertes Gold Edition 2014 Riesling ($9.99) from Mosel Germany on the shelves. This wine is very dry on the palate with nice soft, fruity aromas that pairs well with a variety of food so it again was a great accompaniment.

Pork Fillet with a mustard cider sauce, cauliflower purée and broccolini - ALDI Degustation Dinner
Pork Fillet with a mustard cider sauce, cauliflower purée and broccolini – ALDI Degustation Dinner

The next course was prepared by Meredith who was originally thinking of preparing a braised meat dish so that she didn’t need to prepare too much in my kitchen but when reviewing what was available in the meat department, she was inspired to cook a Jamie Oliver recipe that she had tried before, Pork Fillet with a mustard cider sauce, cauliflower purée and broccolini. Mez came armed with a meat thermometer to ensure that her pork fillet was cooked and served at the optimum temperature, and the mustard cider sauce and purée pre-prepared making the serving process a lot easier. The chosen wine match was a Tudor Pinot Noir 2014 ($12.99) from the Yarra Valley region in Australia. The pinot which had the typical aromas of red fruit, particularly raspberries, was soft on the palate, medium-bodied and a nice, long finish. Even though I’m a Shiraz girl, I was thinking that this wine wasn’t bad at all and while the serving suggestion on the bottle recommends gamey meats, the soft texture of the wine paired well with the soft texture of the pork fillet. I really loved this dish, particularly the slightly-sweet mustard cider sauce and smooth purée.

Chicken à la Adrian with a ‘Stop & Go’ accompaniment - ALDI Degustation Dinner
Chicken à la Adrian with a ‘Stop & Go’ accompaniment – ALDI Degustation Dinner

Three courses down and three more to go. When I asked everyone to send their dish descriptions and wine matches so that I could write up our dinner menu, Adrian sent me something along the lines of Chicken à la Adrian with a ‘Stop and Go’ accompaniment which sent my imagination into overdrive. I confused ‘Up and Go’ with the term ‘Stop and Go’, thinking that I was going to be served chicken breasts poached in a breakfast beverage and naturally I should have known better. Adrian had sourced all his favourite ingredients at ALDI to create chicken thighs fillets parcels stuffed with baby spinach and haloumi, and wrapped in thin slices of prosciutto. The ‘Stop and Go’, or red and green items, were oven-roasted, vine-ripened baby roma tomatoes and asparagus, dressed with a balsamic finish. Adrian chose Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva 2010 ($9.99) from Rioja, Spain which was a wine I hadn’t tried before, but will probably buy a lot more of in the future. Rich and elegant in taste, with a soft lush texture coming from the length of time the wine was aged in oak, this wine had a boldness to it that cut through the salty flavours of the cured meat but complemented the roasted vegetables and chicken. Very, very nicely done.

Alisha was brave enough to come along to our dinner adventure and immerse herself in the weird, wonderful world of ALDI. Her dessert choice for the evening was a Dark chocolate mousse with fresh strawberries inspired by Jamie Oliver’s 30-minute meal challenges and she was also tasked with preparing a cheese platter to finish the meal, selecting the ‘Emporium Selection Aged Warrnambool Cheddar 20-month’ and ‘Danish Smooth Blue’ cheese with assorted crackers with a Keeper’s Glove Special Reserve Tawny. The dark chocolate mouse was delicious but I probably did Alisha a disservice by putting in the fridge beforehand so it lost its mousse consistency when it was served but chocolate never goes out of style. The cheese selection was delicious as was the tawny port which matched well with both the dessert and the cheese dishes.

Approaching midnight and having successfully indulged in six delicious courses and some beautifully selected wines, I was quite pleased that my quirky idea turned out to be a great success. Who knows what exotic dishes we will conjure up in our next ALDI-inspired culinary adventure?

https://www.aldi.com.au/en/

The Grand, Richmond

Last June, a dear friend of mine introduced me to a very special culinary experience at The Grand dining room and afterwards I didn’t hesitate to join their special VIP program. When you sign up as a Grand VIP member, you are entitled to a free six course degustation dinner (with the value of $85) to celebrate the occasion of your birthday. The only stipulation in the deal is to bring one paying guest, so when I received an email from The Grand reminding me that it was that time of year again, I didn’t hesitate to make a reservation.

My friend Vikki was about to depart for a month-long sojourn to Italy so it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to catch up over an Italian-centric menu. The dining room at The Grand is an oasis away from the busy road outside and the constant stream of semi-trailer trucks driving past en route to the Burnley Street freeway access. With white linen tablecloths, walnut Thonet dining chairs, and colourful glass bubble chandeliers you could be forgiven for thinking that you had been transported to Europe.

In order to commence my birthday season, it was quite right that Vikki and I should indulge in the $55 wine match to accompany the evening’s Chef’s menu. Upon being seated, we were encouraged to get the evening rolling with a delicious glass of Adami Garbèl Brut Prosecco NV  from Veneto to enjoy with the marinated olives, assorted bread and the olive oil also produced in Italy.

Whilst still enjoying the Prosecco, the first wine for the evening, the 2013 Monte Tondo Soave Classico was poured in readiness for the first course of Barbabietole con quinoa e mozzarella di bufala (Candied roasted beets with quinoa and buffalo mozzarella). The wine is intensely perfumed with both hints of florals and fruitiness on the nose (we thought maybe orange blossom and white stone fruit) but surprisingly quite soft, smooth and subtle on the palate. Both Vikki and I aren’t huge fans of quinoa and unfortunately we were still not persuaded after tasting our entrée but the lovely wine matched well with the creamy texture of the cheese and sweetness of the roasted beetroot.

The next course was Carpaccio di trota salmonata (Ocean trout cured in berries and citrus with shaved celery) matched with one of my favourite wines, a 2014 Foster e Rocco Rose from Heathcote in Victoria. The fish was cured beautifully and topped with thin strands of celery to balance the texture and provide fresh bursts of flavor. The wine is subtle pink in colour, highly fragrant with hints of red cherries and red apples on the nose yet rich in texture, with a dry and refreshing mouth feel.

The next wine to be served was phenomenal and had me hooked on the first sip. The 2013 Mountadam High Eden Estate Chardonnay was served beautifully chilled, had such a depth of flavor and texture that I think I stopped Vikki in mid-sentence and insisted that she try it. The accompanying dish, Capesante con topinambur ed insalata di finocchio (Seared scallops, Jerusalem artichoke puree, fennel salad) was just as elegant yet more picturesque. The scallops were cooked perfectly with segmented citrus, shaved radish and fennel to complement the puree. The textures and flavours of the dish combined with the wine were outstanding and definitely my favourite course for the evening.

The next course to be served was Caramelle di manzo (Beef caramelle pasta with grana padano and gremolata) matched with the 2013 Roaring Meg (Mt Difficulty) Pinot Noir from Central Otago, New Zealand. The pasta wasn’t as warm as I would have liked it, but I suspect that might have been my fault in taking too many foodie pictures when I should have been eating. Our lovely waitress was extremely generous and trusting by leaving the bottle on the table after pouring our glasses. The pinot had a lovely perfumed blackberry and dark cherry fruit character with subtle hints of spice. The wine had a nice long finish and textured tannins which married well with the soft pasta.

We had almost reached the summit when the full-bodied 2011 Zenato Valpolicella Classico Superiore was served with the main course, Filetto di manzo con verdure (Pan seared Eye Fillet with shallots, celeriac puree, capsicum and eggplant). The eggplant and asparagus had a charred, smoky flavor which was balanced by the earthy tannins in the wine. The Eye Fillet was well cooked and nicely complemented by the nutty flavour of the celeriac puree.

The dessert course was a momentous conclusion to the evening with a generous pouring of the 2013 Punt Road Botrytis Semillon to accompany the Bombolini (Crema pasticcera filled Italian doughnuts with caramel ice cream & honeycomb). The syrupy consistency of the wine with rich flavours of orange and apricot marmalade cut through the crispy, sugarary fried texture of the doughnut and the soft caramel ice cream.

The degustation experience at The Grand was beyond compare and even at full price, $85 for seven courses (if you include the bread and olives) is terrific value for money. Let’s just say that I’m really looking forward to celebrating many more birthdays (mine and others!) in style at The Grand.

Grand Hotel Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Mikla Restaurant, Istanbul, Turkey

After I had posted my impromptu degustation adventures at the Istanbul Culinary Institute on Facebook, my friend Paul recommended that I should also try Mikla. I promptly started researching where Mikla was located, and was pleased to find it was very close to where I was staying.

The next day, I went to the Marmara Pera hotel to make a dinner reservation for my return stay in Istanbul, however as it was a Sunday, the restaurant was closed and unable to take bookings at that point in time. The hotel staff recommended that I come back the next day. Unfortunately I was about to depart for a thirteen day tour of Turkey, so that suggestion wasn’t practicable however I was given an email address to request my preferred date and time for dinner at Mikla. The next day I wrote an email, however I did not receive a reply. I wrote again the following week, and still no reply. By this time, my tour had nearly finished and I had arrived back in Istanbul and at the same hotel I had stayed previously. When I had a spare moment, I walked back to the Marmara Pera hotel and made another request for a dinner reservation. My preferred dining option was for the Saturday night, which would be my last night in Istanbul. But of course, despite my best efforts to secure a table for that evening, the restaurant was fully booked. Thankfully, fortune was on my side and there was one table available which would allow me to dine the next evening. There was just one slight problem … I was also doing a gourmet food and market tour the next day. Ignoring the pain in my stomach, I decided to accept the booking.

The following evening, making my way into the lift to take me to the top floor of the hotel, a huge wave of excitement started to well up inside of me. Upon arrival I was escorted into the dining room with a modern and contemporary elegance, and to a table with beautiful night time views of the Golden Horn and the Blue Mosque in my line of sight.

Mikla Restaurant, Istanbul, Turkey
Mikla Restaurant, Istanbul, Turkey

Looking at the menu, there were various dining options available including a three course prix fixe à la carte menu for 160 TL (AUD $80) and a seven course tasting or degustation menu for 240 TL (AUD $120) with six glasses of matching wines for an additional 120 TL (AUD $60). Despite the effort in securing a table for the evening, the thought of eating seven dishes was not going to be a pleasant or enjoyable experience.

I decided to compromise and select the three course dinner option which would allow me to select my own dishes for each course, and I could use the degustation menu as a guide. The added advantage with the prix fixe à la carte menu, is the opportunity to enjoy three glasses of wine that are matched to my selected courses for 70 TL (AUD $35), which was excellent value in my opinion.

The seven course tasting menu comprised of the following dishes:

  • Vegetables & Zeytinyağlı – Zeytinyağlı, Raw and Other Vegetables
  • Balık Ekmek – Crispy Hamsi, Olive Oil Bread, Lemon
  • Dried Tenderloin & Humus – Salted and Dried Beef Tenderloin, Humus (sic), Antep ‘Birdshit’ Paste
  • Grouper – Slow Cooked Grouper, Sunchokes, Green Lentil, Whole Wheat Erişte, Halhali Olives, Chive-Fig Vinaigrette
  • Lamb Shank – Trakya Kıvırcık Lamb Shank, Smoked Eggplant, Stew of Kayseri Sucuk & White Bean
  • Cheese & Honey – Anatolian Raw Milk Cheese & Honey
  • Pumpkin – Crunchy Candied Pumpkin, Antep ‘Birdshit’ Ice Cream, Sesame Paste, Grape Molasses

Birdshit! I could count three dishes on the entire menu that had a reference to that word. When my waiter came over to ask if I had any questions about the menu, I bravely asked what it meant and discovered that it was a pistachio mixture or paste. Interesting.

Salted and Dried Beef Tenderloin, Humus, Antep ‘Birdshit’ Paste - Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey
Salted and Dried Beef Tenderloin, Humus, Antep ‘Birdshit’ Paste – Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey

My first selection from the menu was the Dried Tenderloin & Humus. To quote my friend Paul, Turkish wines are a revelation! They are indeed. While I was waiting for my meal, my matched wine was presented and poured – a glass of Plato, 2011 Kalecik Karasi, which proudly displayed a medallion on the bottle announcing that it had scored 90 points at the 2012 Master of Wine (Istanbul). A smooth, dry, medium-bodied red wine with hints of chocolate on the nose. Kalecik Karasi is a Turkish grape variety, which means “black from the small castle” and comes from Aegean wine region of Denizli.

The entrée was delicious but had an interesting presentation. The rocket and other leaf served on the plate looked somewhat out of place with the other elements of the dish, particularly as it was bitter to taste. The birdshit paste was indeed a finely ground pistachio pesto, and did resemble fresh bird dropping when smeared across the white plate. The hummus was a slightly red colour with a creamy texture and went well with the thick cut beef medallions, which were delicious and easy to cut. They were not too salty and looked fresh and full of flavour.

Slow Cooked Grouper, Sun Chokes, Whole Wheat Erişte, Halhali Olives, Chive-Fig Vinaigrette - Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey
Slow Cooked Grouper, Sun Chokes, Whole Wheat Erişte, Halhali Olives, Chive-Fig Vinaigrette – Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey

Those who know me well, know that I dearly love lamb shanks and I would certainly proclaim that smoked eggplant is one of my favourite things, but I was looking for a lighter option and something that is a little less familiar and so I chose Grouper for my next course.

The wine match was an Anfora 2010 Chardonnay Reserve again from the Denizli region, near Pamukkale in Turkey. A beautiful golden yellow colour, the wine was served chilled, and had a glorious bouquet on the nose. I kept thinking that this was one of those wines where you wish you could bottle the perfume and savour it again and again. It smelt of honey, pears, roasted nuts and the toasty flavours of French Oak, indeed an excellent match for the thickness and rich flavour of the fish. This wine regularly features on the best Turkish wine lists.

A lovely tasting meal with a myriad of ingredients and flavours working well together. Chives and fresh lemon zest on top of the grouper, thick green olives in a sauce thickened by thin strips of pasta (or eriste) and the beautiful flavour of fresh dill, which is a staple ingredient of most Turkish cuisine.

İhsangazi Siyez Bulghur Ice Cream, Confit Malatya Apricots - Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey
İhsangazi Siyez Bulghur Ice Cream, Confit Malatya Apricots – Mikla, Istanbul, Turkey

And finally the dessert course. The dessert selection on the tasting menu didn’t appeal as I had indulged in cheese and candied pumpkin on my food tour earlier in the day, so I opted for the healthier sounding option of Apricot & Bulghur which consisted of İhsangazi Siyez Bulghur Ice Cream and Confit Malatya Apricots.

The apricots were fresh and had a wonderful natural sweetness. From their slightly brown colour, you could tell they were preservative free with the confit cooking method helping to soften their texture and retain their moisture. The ice cream was served on a bed of finely crushed pistachios which added a little extra crunch and flavour, to the fine granules of burghul wheat in the creamy mixture. It was a lovely dessert and I’m glad I chose a dish that was elegant in its simplicity and taste.

The matched wine was a Doluca Safir 2011 Semi-Sweet White Wine, again from the Aegean region and made from Muscat grapes. Sweet to taste, the wine had hints of lime and lychees on the nose and was pale lemon in colour and was another excellent choice.

I enjoyed my dining experience at Mikla and am glad that I had the opportunity to enjoy a modern interpretation of Turkish cuisine, complimented with a selection of beautiful award-winning Turkish wines from the Aegean region and outstanding views of Istanbul. Thanks for the tip Paul!

http://www.miklarestaurant.com/en

Enstitu – Istanbul Culinary Institute, Istanbul, Turkey (Tasting Menu for March 2014)

Having thoroughly enjoyed the February tasting menu on my first night in Istanbul, I was keen to come back and try the new tasting menu for March at Enstitu. “Enstitu” is the name of the working restaurant within the Istanbul Culinary Institute where third-year students have an opportunity to experiment, practice and showcase their new knowledge and skills using fresh, seasonal produce to create contemporary Turkish cuisine.

It’s the last night of my Grand Tour of Turkey and our tour group has arrived back in Istanbul without any formal dinner plans. I had mentioned the restaurant to my new-found friends Jay and Margaret from Dublin, and they were willing to dine at Enstitu, particularly as their son is also a third year culinary student back home. After nearly two weeks of buffet breakfasts, buffet lunches and buffet dinners, it almost seemed like a novelty to enjoy an à la carte menu again. I had raved about my previous dining experience at Enstitu and had talked my travelling buddy and gourmand partner-in-crime, Jane into eating there too.  Jane deserves a special mention as she was giving up alcohol for Lent and I was worried that a six-course degustation with matching wine may be too much temptation, but she was keen to give it a go and so we made a dinner reservation that afternoon.

Upon arrival, we were seated at the upstairs dining area as the bottom section where I sat on my previous visit, was full. Our waitress for the evening was a young lady who seemed eager to attend to us, although I think her enthusiasm became short-lived when we started to encounter language difficulties and our inability to communicate in Turkish.

To kick off our evening, we ordered a bottle of Sarafin 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from one of Turkey’s premier wine producers. A pale lemon colour, with orange blossom and lychee detected on the nose, the wine was crisp, dry with light acidity and citrus on the palate. A lovely way to start our celebration of our last evening in Turkey together.

Tasting Menu for March 2014

Mushroom consommé – I’m not a fan of mushrooms at the best of times, but I didn’t find this soup too overwhelming, although my friends commented that it was very “mushroomy”. It tasted like a typical consommé should although the soup was a little lukewarm when served.

Seabass ceviche with citrus, cucumber and avocado sorbet, celery stalk salad, carrot puree with coriander – a visual masterpiece but I think the hit for me was the cucumber and avocado sorbet which is a little complex to describe. Served on a bed of flaked almonds, the sorbet had a creamy texture on the palate which was attributable to the avocado but with a crisp, fresh cucumber finish. The creaminess of the avocado meant that the sorbet had more of an ice-cream consistency and texture but it was a taste sensation. The other highlight of the dish was the ceviche which again, had a smooth texture with sweet flavours. A delicious dish which was well matched with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Homemade ravioli with fennel and artichoke, fried artichoke (matched with DLC Sultaniye Emir) – another well presented dish although the pasta seemed a little dry and bland after the spectacular fish course, however the fried artichoke garnish which incorporated flaked almonds added a nice crunch and textural element to the dish.

At this point, we asked for our serving of red wine earlier as it is specifically matched to the beef dish, however from prior experience, the wine servings are generous and almost impossible to finish with the matched dish.

Duck leg confit, mini apple tartin, baby spinach with chilli, duck glaze – I loved this dish although we all agreed that the duck, while perfectly cooked, tasted extremely salty. The apple tartin was the surprise element with the sweetness of the baked apple cutting through the rich duck meat. The spinach was a perfect accompaniment although I didn’t detect any chilli on my palate but that may have been overshadowed by the strong flavours from the duck and apple tartin.

In hindsight, we were glad that we asked for our red wine offering earlier as the wine was an excellent accompaniment to both the duck dish and the beef dish. The red wine was extremely smooth, and beautiful to drink. With a light floral aroma and red fruit flavours, the DLC Öküzgözü had the softness of velvet on the palate, with faint hints of oak and vanilla. Almost as delicious as the duck dish.

Pan fried beef tenderloin, potato puree with parmesan cheese, oven baked root vegetables, red wine sauce (matched with DLC Öküzgözü) – a beautifully styled dish. The beef was cooked medium to medium-rare. The potato puree was nice but the dish was let down by the undercooked vegetables that didn’t look like they had visited the oven on that particular evening. The beetroot tasted as though it had been pickled and the sharp flavour was a little strong on the palate.

Dessert sampler platter: Orange jelly, mini pumpkin macaron, sour cherry ice cream, chocolate mousse cake – The dessert dish was a spectacular array of colours and flavours. I love rich, creamy desserts so my highlight was the chocolate mousse cake, closely followed by the delicious mini pumpkin macaron which had hints of spice, predominantly nutmeg. The sour cherry ice cream was a little sharp for my palate and I had a mouthful of the orange jelly, which was nice and simple but not my cup of tea.

Usually this dish is served with a liqueur, unfortunately for some reason this was not available on the evening that we visited. With our waitress unavailable for assistance, the head waiter downstairs was extremely obliging and offered us other refreshments as a substitute.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that when you convince your friends to come and try a restaurant that you have raved about, it is not going to live up again to your expectations. We had a lovely, memorable evening enjoying our friendship and celebrating good wine, food and each other’s company. However our dining experience was little marred by our waitress who went from enthusiasm at the start of our evening, to total avoidance as we progressed through our tasting menu. Whilst the language was a barrier, at all times we were polite and friendly and obliging, cognisant of the fact that we are dining in a training facility. That being said, if I ever have the good fortune to visit Istanbul again, I will certainly come back and visit Enstitu and enjoy another culinary adventure.

http://www.istanbulculinary.com.tr/eng/

Enstitu – Istanbul Culinary Institute, Istanbul, Turkey (Tasting Menu for February 2014)

It’s been a dream of mine to visit Turkey for a little while and I had resolutely decided that 2014 was definitely going to be the year that I was going to get there. As I planning my Turkish adventure over the Christmas holidays, I had started to look through TripAdvisor to familiarise myself with things to see and restaurants to visit whilst I was staying in Istanbul.

Arriving in Turkey in the early afternoon, it was my first Saturday night in Istanbul and I hadn’t eaten all day and I was starting to feel hungry. My knowledge of Turkish cuisine revolved around pides, Turkish bread, donner kebabs, strong coffee and mezze platters and I was looking forward to my first taste of authentic Turkish food and wine. I had flicked through my TripAdvisor app and my hotel was located somewhat near a modern wine bar called Solera Winery that I liked the sound of, so I attempted to memorise the route and started off on my new food adventure.

Having never been to Istanbul, I was enjoying discovering the European architecture in my little neighbourhood and I got carried away walking along the winding, cobblestoned streets and was ambling and peering into cafes and restaurants slowly making my way to my intended destination. As I was walking past, someone just ahead of me had stopped outside a busy restaurant with a big wooden door and cosy lighting coming through the windows to read the menu and suddenly on a whim I thought that I might take a look too. I looked up to see what the restaurant was called and saw “Istanbul Culinary Institute”. It was one of those light bulb moments where I remembered that I had seen that name before, either when I was researching cooking classes to do in Istanbul or on TripAdvisor and before I knew it, I had pushed open the big wooden door and went inside.

I nervously asked for a table and was seated right by the front door at a table that seated four people, but I felt a little awkward sitting on a large table by myself. There was a table on the mezzanine level that had six chairs and I could see a couple seated on the end of that table having dinner, and in my jet lagged state, I just assumed that it was a communal table. However on reflection, I don’t think that concept exists in Turkey and so when I asked the waiter if I could sit up there on the mezzanine and free up my table for other customers, there was a slight pause and then he went and asked the couple if I could sit on their table. Thankfully, they just smiled and graciously let me sit on the other end of their table and I had an elevated view of the whole bottom dining area!

Looking at the menu, I found that “Enstitu” is the name of the working restaurant within the Istanbul Culinary Institute where third-year students have an opportunity to experiment, practice and showcase their new knowledge and skills using fresh, seasonal produce to create contemporary Turkish cuisine. There were so many delicious sounding items to choose from, but it was hard to go past the Tasting Menu for the month which sat proudly on the front page, consisting of several different courses and matching Turkish wines for a mere 100 Turkish Lira or the equivalent of $50 Australian dollars. In the spirit of culinary adventure, I chose the impromptu degustation option.

Tasting Menu for February 2014

Chestnut soup – My first meal for the day and I was ready for a warm bowl of soup. Although chestnuts are prolific where I grew up, I can’t say that I’m overly familiar with the taste and texture, but this soup was delicious. Almost with the same consistency of pureed potato but with a slight taste of roasted vegetable and nuts. The presentation was fabulous with wafer thin shards of chestnut on the top, a dollop of cream and a drizzle of oil. Contentment in a bowl.

Enstitu made smoked salmon, celeriac horseradish sauce, citrus salad – Uniquely presented with a selection of herbs and pomegranate seeds covering the citrus wedges, smoked salmon and a large serving of a fluffy, mousse-like horseradish cream. It was great but the proportion of horseradish to salmon and citrus didn’t really compute, particularly when the sauce came with a small wafer and I’m not sure I could detect any taste of celeriac in the mixture.

Homemade ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese (matched with DLC Sultaniye Emir) – I was ready for my first taste of Turkish wine and although I prefer red wine, this wine was fruity and crisp. Emir is a native Turkish grape with fresh fruit and citrus flavours. The ravioli dish was a little lukewarm and the pasta was a little tough and hardened at the edges, but it was still delicious with the touch of cream, toasted pine nuts and wilted spinach.

Grilled octopus, beetroot tabbouleh with fresh herbs – I’m starting to slowly fill up but this dish looked and smelt wonderful, and on reflection, the most memorable dish of the evening. A delicious aroma of barbeque brought wonderful flavours to the fresh, chargrilled octopus but the taste sensation was the small portions of beetroot added to the tabbouleh salad, which also had the usual elements of fresh parsley, tomato and spring onion and lemon, but the beetroot added an element of creaminess and sweetness to the softened bulghur. A wonderful tasting dish and I almost wished I could have this every day. It’s got to be healthy, right?

Lamb karsky, siyez bulghur pilaf, eggplant cream, lamb jus (matched with DLC Öküzgözü) – I’m finally at the main course and my long awaited glass of red wine. Öküzgözü is another grape native to Turkey and literally means “ox eye”. Smooth in texture, medium bodied and light red fruit flavours; a little bolder than a Pinot Noir but doesn’t have the depth of a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. The lamb loin was delicious, cooked medium-well but I wasn’t quite prepared for the kidney also served on the skewer, so I carefully pushed that to the side and took a big gulp of wine – I’m sorry but offal isn’t my thing. But I do love eggplant which is a big part of Turkish cuisine and the eggplant cream was delicious. The bulghur was light and all the elements of the dish worked together.

Dessert sampler platter: Mini orange and chocolate macaron, lavender profiterole, mini quince dessert and vanilla ice cream (matched with Banana Liqueur) – The end is in sight with small portions of dessert to finish with a glass of banana liqueur and a café latte. Another wonderfully presented dish with the quince elegantly poached and spiced with cinnamon, and a dark chocolate sauce to accompany the lavender profiterole.

It’s amazing to think that the chefs are still considered to be students when each of the courses had been assembled with meticulous detail and a focus on flavour. I’m so glad that I wandered off course and decided to see for myself what was hiding behind the big wooden door.

http://www.istanbulculinary.com.tr/eng/

Uncorked Wine Tours – Casablanca Valley, Chile

It’s been a while between postings, or drinks you might say, and while I’ve been absent from cyberspace, I took the opportunity to affirm my love of wine and complete the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 2 qualification. The eight week course provided an understanding of old world and new world wines and an overview of wine production and grape varietals in France, Italy, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Chile. One evening, during a lesson on Pinot Noir, I was intently studying a map of Chile and its major wine growing regions and the very next day, I was asked if I would like to travel to Santiago on business. Naturally I said yes and started planning my next wine and food adventure in Chile as soon as I could.

After an intensive search on Google for wine tours near Santiago, I came across Uncorked Wine Tours and had the good fortune to book a semi-private tour to the Casablanca Valley, an internationally recognised producer of premium Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines.

http://www.uncorked.cl/tours/tours_lista_es.php

Bodegas RE

It was an early start to a Saturday, but the sun was shining and I was excited to be out of the office and ready to explore the Chilean countryside. I met Stefan, my guide for the day at the hotel, and we headed downtown to meet the other three guests who had travelled from the US and were also looking forward to the opportunity to enjoy Chilean wine. After a short drive out of the city, the first stop of the day was Bodegas RE. The family behind the Bodegas RE vineyard is well known within the Chilean wine industry, however this new and innovative vineyard takes pride in experimenting in diverse varietals of grapes that are traditionally known to Casablanca Valley and Chile, and the results are bold and exciting wines.

After a walk to the vineyard and a tour of the “nursery” where olives and stone fruits were fermenting and maturing into oils and liqueurs respectively, we went through the gift shop and down into the cellar to see examples of ancestral methods of wine production using large clay pots and jars.

The wines that we had the pleasure of tasting at Bodegas RE were:

2011 Pinotel (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Muscatel): a dry, crisp wine, with a bronze-pink colour and a floral, orange blossom and jasmine perfume;

2011 Chardonnoir (55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir): Champagne recreated as a still wine! Gold-pink in colour complete with yeasty, bready notes, with a slightly sweet dried fruit, apricot aroma with an off-dry, medium sweet finish;

2008 Caberignan (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carignan): With hints of ageing and a ruby garnet appearance, with black fruits and hints of black pepper and oak on the nose, with a peppery taste on the palate;

2008 Carignan (100% Carignan): Fruit from 60 year-old vines and single vineyard, a superb wine with deep, ruby red colour, a long finish, dry with blackfruit and white pepper on the palate, blackberry and black plum notes on the nose, hints of oak and stewed prunes. A spectacular wine …. I couldn’t help myself and purchased a bottle on my way out through the gift shop!

2009 Valedo (100% Pinot Noir): The word valedo means “veil”. A gold coloured white wine which is vinified like a rosé and then aged under a veil of flor yeast giving the wine very complex aromas of sweet almonds and white pepper.

http://bodegasre.cl/

Loma Larga Vineyards

A little further down the road, we pulled into a winery that is surrounded by natural parkland complete with a mountain range and eucalyptus trees, and it almost reminded me of being back home in Australia.

With vines growing over the surface of the winery and barrel room, our little group enjoyed a private tour of the winery and walked up into the production area to see the wines ready for export to China and wines maturing in oak barrels.

Specialising in producing several red wine varietals and two white wines, the original country farm house at Loma Larga now serves as a tasting room, where we had the privilege of tasting a selection of one white (2012 Sauvignon Blanc) and three red wines 2013 Pinot Noir, 2010 Malbec and 2008 Cabernet Franc).

http://www.lomalarga.com/site/?page_id=34

House, Casa del Vino

The final destination for the day was House (Casa del Vino) which is a unique centre offering wines produced by the Belen Group, educational tours and gastronomy.

Tirazis, which is the Persian name for Shiraz, is the specialty of the winery and is a cool climate Syrah planted with bush-vines in the Casablanca Valley.

After an enjoyable morning of sampling different wines, it was time to enjoy lunch, which was a degustation affair with matching wines.The first course was a ceviche of grouper, salmon and calamari matched with a glass of Morande 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva. Ceviche is a staple of Chilean cuisine and this dish was stunning in its pairing of the different types of fish, including its textures and colours. The citric acidity of the ceviche was matched with a pale yellow fruity wine with green apple citrus flavours.

The next dish was a delicious squid ink risotto with seafood sautéed in butter and topped with parmesan cheese paired with an offering of Morande 2009 Pinot Noir Gran Reserva. The vegetal aromas of mushroom and leather and red fruit flavours typically associated with Pinot Noir were an excellent match with the rice which was a substantial component of the meal.

Carmenère is a red grape varietal that is uniquely produced in Chile. Originally thought to be Merlot, Carmenère is a stunning red wine that defies description but I think everyone should have the pleasure of enjoying. Our third course was a pork loin with bacon, eggplant, tomato, zucchini, potato and salsa verde served with Morande 2011 Carmenère from the Maipo Valley. Absolutely delicious, although I can’t say which I enjoyed more – the wine or the food.

Then just when I thought I couldn’t possibly eat and drink another thing, a glass of golden Morande 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc was served with panna cotta, fresh berries and a Shiraz reduction. Both were rapidly devoured, so it must have been good.

Normally after I have been filled to the brim with excellent wine and delectable food, I am in ready need of a small siesta however our next appointment was a private tour of the winery to see how the wine is made in a didactic style. Escorted into a large room with stainless steel tanks (which bore some resemblance to the daleks from Doctor Who), large exotic concrete eggs and oak casks, a sommelier explained the wine making process for producing the special blend of Syrah that the winery is known for. The highlight of the day was definitely tasting two vintages of Syrah directly from the oak barrels.

Just when I thought the fun was about to come to an end, we were escorted into what every serious wine-loving girl needs – a private cellar of Shiraz with a trademark Christian Louboutin red concrete floor. All I need to do now is work out how I can build one into my new apartment.

http://www.housecasadelvino.cl/index_en.html

I had a wonderful day enjoying Chilean wine from the Casablanca Valley and beyond, with many different wines and varietals to taste, and the opportunity to enjoy excellent food. I owe a big thanks to Stefan who made sure I got back home to my hotel safe and sound and that my wine purchases were also intact.