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

Touchwood, Richmond

The last Saturday in September is considered in Victoria to be one of the most sacred days of the calendar year. Like many people, I had AFL Grand Final social obligations to attend in the afternoon however mine were located on the other side of Richmond, away from the MCG. I caught up with a friend during the week who lives in that location and happened to mention what my weekend plans were and that I was hoping to have breakfast in Richmond beforehand. Her immediate response was “Have you been to Touchwood?”.

I looked up Touchwood on the internet and decided that was where I was heading to for breakfast. Making my way there on the tram and navigating through large crowds of Hawks and Swans supporters, it suddenly occurred to me that having breakfast in Richmond on Grand Final day was probably not a wise decision and that I might be in for a long wait. When I got to Touchwood, there was a lengthy queue of people waiting outside, however luck was on my side and I was seated at a bench seat along the front window as soon as I walked in, with a fantastic view of the comings and goings of Bridge Road to divert my attention.

The café is right on trend with a neutral industrial interior – wooden bench tops with a black steel finish, a combination of exposed timber and metal beams, filament pendant lighting, and brick walls covered in stark white paint.

The seasonal menu is exciting with lots of different breakfast dishes to choose from – sticky coconut quinoa pudding; Dr Martys Crumpets with smashed banana, toasted hazelnuts and fresh honeycomb; Nasi Goreng; a Morning Grain Salad; two wicked versions of Avocado toast accompanied by a variety of fresh ingredients and the description of Touchwood Massive was absolutely mouth-watering but could easily sustain someone for at least 24 hours. I hardly ever see waffles on a menu and feeling that I was long overdue for something sweet, I ordered the “Banana and blueberry wholemeal waffles, organic maple syrup, vanilla crème fraiche and strawberry dust”.

My skinny latte when it arrived was probably one of the best coffees I’ve had for a long while. Made from a special blend of beans roasted by Five Senses, it was deliciously hot, sweet and creamy to taste. From the first sip, I mentally made plans to order my next cup as soon as I could and then my breakfast appeared before me.

Banana and blueberry wholemeal waffles, organic maple syrup, vanilla creme fraiche and strawberry dust - Touchwood, Richmond
Banana and blueberry wholemeal waffles, organic maple syrup, vanilla creme fraiche and strawberry dust – Touchwood, Richmond

With the sun streaming through the front windows, all the beautiful, harmonious colours on the plate seemed to be more vibrant and spectacular to the eye. The waffles were easy to tackle and delicious with the fresh fruit. Little pools of maple syrup kept the waffles soft and sweet however the dominant feature on the plate was the large quenelle of crème fraiche. A little dollop here and there went a long way. I must admit I was a little sceptical about the inclusion of wholemeal flour in the batter but couldn’t detect a hint of it on my palate. The few sprigs of lemon balm on the plate added a few little extra bursts of flavour and is undoubtedly my favourite herb of the moment. The waffles filled me up considerably and I couldn’t possibly finish off the crème fraiche and expect to indulge in the afternoon’s festivities.

The service is great and despite the rapid turnover and succession of clientele, you are made to feel welcome and no request is too much trouble. With amazing coffee and beautiful food, I hope I get the opportunity to go back there before next year’s AFL Grand Final.

Touchwood on Urbanspoon

Baby Cafe & Pizzeria, Richmond

I know it’s unusual to go to a pizzeria for breakfast but when the restaurant is the latest offering by the same owner of the recently defunct Pearl Cafe it almost seems like a logical choice after all.

While the hordes are queueing up to get a table at Top Paddock, directly across the road, there are no crowds and table and chairs a plenty. It seems somewhat selfish, but I was secretly glad that the masses were elsewhere and I could stroll into the courtyard at Baby and immediately sit down and enjoy the beautiful sunshine.

Tables in the sunshine at Baby Cafe and Pizzeria, Richmond
Tables in the sunshine at Baby Cafe and Pizzeria, Richmond

I will admit to trying to find out what dishes were on offer for breakfast at Baby, but the online menu available only showcased the lunch and dinner options. I even asked a friend at work who had breakfast there recently what was available but the only information that I could glean was that Baby had the usual breakfast offerings. So with much anticipation, I waited for the menu.

With so many delectable things to try, my eyes stopped agog at the sight of the word “panettone”. Panettone and I have a very special relationship with each other. This past Christmas, my niece and I had toasted panettone, strawberries and Jalna vanilla yogurt for breakfast (sometimes with a healthy dollop of Nutella). I even made a panettone and strawberry bread and butter pudding for dessert over the holidays (which I think the muchkins and I had for breakfast one day as well!). Occasionally a good friend of mine will give me a little box of panettone as a Christmas gift, which is always received with a happy heart.

Panettone (French toast), mascarpone and macerated strawberries - Baby Cafe & Pizzeria, Richmond
Panettone (French toast), mascarpone and macerated strawberries – Baby Cafe & Pizzeria, Richmond

When breakfast arrived, the panettone was cooked in a French toast style and looked delicious with the strawberries, dollops of mascarpone and syrup drizzled over the top. As I took my first bite, I could only think of one word – Christmas. The sweet flavour of the fruit filled panettone and the cooked strawberries was incredible, mingled with the additional sweetness of the mascarpone and the strawberry-flavoured syrup, it resembled and tasted like Christmas on a plate. As I devoured my breakfast and with the summer sun still shining, I could almost believe it really was December again.