My overly-elaborate definition of regret is not blogging for four months, then dining at Epocha in Carlton. With absolutely no desire beforehand to post a review, then realising too late into the night, it was a misjudgement. This place is worth reviewing.
However, my secondary overly-elaborate definition of (slight) regret is placing our unbridled palates into the hands of Sommelier, Angie Giannakodakis (there was nothing wrong with that part), to match wines and not talk cost. Being slugged $220 for a 1970′s vintage Eiswein (which was delicious) that at the time was declared “not expensive” was an important lesson learned that there are different perceptions of ‘expensive’, especially when it comes to Sommeliers. It wasn’t expensive compared to, say the $980 1981 Chateau d’Yquem that was also on the wine list. Or maybe in respect of other Eiswines, which can command up to $400-$700, but you see my point.
This got me thinking about the tactics that restaurants use to potentially discombobulate diners and extract more revenue on already paper-thin margins. Hey, the capitalist in me doesn’t blame them; most of them need it. Look at how the industry is suffering at the moment and every extra dollar makes a difference. On this night, we simply went with the flow as to what was offered to us.
For example, we ordered two espresso martinis and two espressos at the end of the night. Clearly on a roll with the wanton disregard possibly coming from our table, one of the staff came forward and suggested we “may as well ditch the coffees and make that four espresso martinis”. What are you going to say, no?
By placing ourselves into the good hands of the staff, the bill reflected that. If treated well, you become comfortable, you don’t want it to end and you can easily succumb to the upsell… like the Eiswine, the martinis… hey, it was our choice and they did their job extremely well and we had an excellent night. It’s merely a heads up to the cost-conscious (and reminder to me) to be more wary. Actually, excluding the cost of the Eiswein and it was pretty good value, around $175 for food matched with wine.
Epocha opened in September last year and it sits comfortably amongst the Victorian terraces on the top end of Rathdowne Street, across from Carlton Gardens. Inside, you immediately feel that it won’t be a difficult task at all to stay as long as you can, in an inviting room of dark timber, candles, crystal decanters, marble fireplaces and low light. It’s romantic, but it’s also a place where you’d feel very comfortable with a group of your nearest and dearest. The website states that they look forward to welcoming you to their home and they are spot on.
The menu is very much pan-European; it’s a little bit of everything from across the continent and some Rule Britannia thrown in for good measure (well, they are part of the EU). There is also a great emphasis on sharing. The $68 sharing menu is good value and probably more or less the same in cost if you were to order the same dishes a’la carte. Value went from good to great by taking the option to add the 550g Côte de Boeuf (on the menu for $64) for an additional $12 per person (for a table of four); a self-proclaimed feast and they weren’t wrong. The offerings were more than generous; rustic but very much refined.
House-baked bread arrived in a calico bag. Still warm, the bread was dark and sweet, like it had been made using a stout or a porter. It was flecked with caraway and a wonderful house-churned sea salt butter sealed the deal. Mixed olives ($6), with their own little silver tray for pits (the little things that made a difference) were full of flavour. The chicken liver pate ($9) was smooth and rich, but not rich enough to want to go back for more. The toasted bread-to-pate ratio was spot on.
I had a lot of favoured dishes throughout the night but the crispy pigs ears ($6) were outstanding and yet, probably the most simplistic. Finely shaved pigs ear, deep fried and seasoned. It was just missing a cold beer. Mushroom arancini ($8) were small, delicate and packed with flavour.
That was the end of the first wave of food. The second wave delivered venison carpaccio, with pickled mushrooms, hazelnuts and some spherified PX sherry ($16). Definitely the classiest dish of the night and one that I’d go back and selfishly have all to myself… with some pigs ears and the Kefalograviera saganaki ($14). Perfectly pan fried, salty, some punch and texture from currants and pickled apricots, a little acidity from some verjuice and a touch of honey for sweetness.
The quinoa salad with apricots and yoghurt ($14) was the healthy option of the night. Probably much needed in hindsight. Another belter was the Blue grenadier (with perfectly crispy skin) with a creamy pearl barley and celery risotto and shards of cavolo nero ($34).
Wave three saw us tucking into slow-roasted lamb leg, served in a rich pan gravy and stuffing ($38), a dish called simply ‘Bird’, which was the breast, thigh, leg and wing of a bird, presumably chicken ($32). All of the protein dishes had their own respective jus and they were all sublime, including the bone marrow jus that accompanied the 550g Côte de Boeuf, which was cooked perfectly to medium rare. This was protein overload. Fortunately two serves of duck fat roast potatoes ($9) and the obligatory green vegetable in the form of green beans with toasted almonds ($9) eased the pain.
Just when you think you can do no more, the final wave arrived… although nothing like the preceding tsunami-sized waves of protein; this was more akin to gently caressing the shore as it broke (it’s diners) and receded. Small, simple, decadent desserts. A couple of slices of (what might have been) a frangipane tart, some of the best choux pastry profiteroles I’ve ever had, filled with a light vanilla pastry cream and covered in salted caramel, a couple of slices of (again, what might have been) chocolate delice and a trifle-like thing in a glass that no one really touched because we were all too full. Things always get a little sketchy at the end. Desserts ($12 a piece) are rolled out on an old-school dessert trolley. A nice touch.
The wine list is extensive and if you’re one of those people that tends not to stray from stra’ya when in comes to wine, then perhaps this is the place for you to get out of your comfort zone. You won’t find any Australian wines on the list, nor anything Australian for that matter. Not unless you’re dyslexic and misread Austria. There’s a price point to suit all and like us, if you’re unsure about what’s what when it comes to wines of the Old World, you can always place your night into the hands of Angie, but unlike us, be a little more upfront about your preferred spend.
Epocha is a must-try. You won’t be disappointed.
49 Rathdowne St, Carlton VIC
(03) 9036 4949
Good For: Guaranteed, rib sticking, interesting, honest, wonderful food and wine. Impeccable service. It’s a gem.
Not Good For: Vinoxenophobes… I’m copyrighting that.