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.