The Palace by Luke Mangan – 505 City Road, South Melbourne

This man is a brand. From the olive oil and dukkah that adorns each table, to the beer and wine choices… oh and I’ll just grab a copy of his latest cookbook on the way out. And an $89.95 oil, vinegar and spice pack. I also upturned my side plate to check that we weren’t eating off Luke Mangan crockery. We weren’t. Anyway, good luck to him. Let’s talk about the food.

Unfortunately, the one thing that was not Mangan-branded was the bread. This was more Brumby’s French Stick; a little disappointing. I would have also preferred some Luke Mangan French butter rather than the aforementioned olive oil and dukkah, but I don’t think Luke’s extended his range to incorporate dairy products. Yet.

The menu is extensive and I could have gone for many of the listed starters, but as soon as our lovely server (the service was consistently great) for the day uttered the words “steak tartare”, the decision was over. She had me at “tartare”. You know when sometimes you look at what other people ordered and you feel like you’ve made the wrong choice. I also have really bad luck when it comes to alternating selections at weddings, etc. I always end up with the overcooked salmon when I really wanted the perfectly pink lamb rack. Loser! But I digress… today I won. The tartare was to die for; hand-chopped to perfection and great quality steak, topped with a wee quail’s yolk and served with some A++ condiments. Perfect quenelles of Dijon mustard and white anchovies, capers, shallot and cornichons… all of the finest of ‘fine brunoise’ (demonstrating some damn good knife skills to make very perfect tiny cubes – I knew it had a name). A separate plate contained (enough) toast points, a bottle of Tabasco and a small serving jug of lemon-infused olive oil (probably from the Luke Mangan range).

A friend had the chicken liver parfait with toasted brioche and pear chutney, which would have been my other choice, had the tartare not been available… But I would have won with that choice too.

For mains, we all opted for steaks which were sadly a bit of a let down. This was largely due to inconsistencies in cooking to order. Make no mistake, the quality of the beef was up there, but for what is meant to be a high-end gastropub with the name ‘Luke Mangan’ attached to it; you’ve got to get the requested doneness right. I requested for my 300g 150 day grain fed black angus scotch fillet ($39 with choice of sauce and green beans) to be cooked to a rare doneness; it was medium to medium-rare at best. A Friend requested the same cut as medium-rare. It was clearly medium. The sides ordered (fries, rocket and parmesan salad) and accompanying sauces were bang on expectation, my Madeira jus was unctuous and addictive. Another slight digression, I liked the way the plates had an ever so slight concave, gravitating to the middle of the plate. That meant that the juices pooled in the centre. Perfect for dipping chunks of meat and fries into.

OK, back to the positives. Desserts were amazing. The shared platter ($39) covered all of our wants and was perfect for three people. An incredibly warm and oozing chocolate fondant, offset with a house made cookies and cream ice cream; an exemplary crème brûlée and the highlight, Eton Mess – a great big arty, deliberate blob of strawberries (in syrup form and pieces), bits of meringue and cream. It was light. It wasn’t too rich as you might expect and to quote my sister’s comment to our server “I’m not a dessert person, but that was amazing”. It’s true. She is definitely not a dessert person.

The cheese plate was a little underwhelming against cost ($25 for three 40g slivers, house made lavosh and muscatels… a little scant was our collective opinion). We tend to judge a restaurant on the quality (and generosity) of its cheese plate. It can be a point of differentiation on whether we’d make a decision to go back.

The wine list is large and covers a great range of low end, mid range and higher priced wines, although the mark-ups are skewed towards the steeper end of town. In my opinion, the Coriole ‘The Soloist’ Shiraz ($82) was a little over the mark, but we drank it anyway.

Melbourne is spoilt for choice when it comes to gastropubs… or restaurants that used to be pubs… or restaurants that have beer on tap, particularly in and around the Port Melbourne and South Melbourne environs. For mine, The Graham is still the benchmark and Lamaro’s is a close second. The Palace is in the mix somewhere, but somewhere in the middle. If the steaks were right, it would be a close third.

The Palace by Luke Mangan
505 City Road, South Melbourne 3205
(03) 9699 6410
www.thepalacebylukemangan.com

Good for: picking up a few groceries if you’re running short at home; olive oil, dukkah, balsamic, Luke Mangan Biography… oh, the food’s OK too
Not good for: people that dislike chefs with big egos, people that are allergic to Luke Mangan

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Jorg – 203 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North

OK. Let me first point out, I was not expecting fine dining; the menu tells me that the definition of ‘Jorg’ is “informal European dining”. The décor, most of the menu and the prices (including the very reasonably priced wine list) support this. However, I expected more from the chefs /owners, who previously held positions at two reputable places (ex-sous chef @ Church St Enoteca and ex-head chef Jacques Reymond) and therefore I had anticipated the execution of the dishes to have been better than what it was… we’re talking simple errors, but large enough to stuff up the dish and the experience.

My partner and I ordered a couple of starters to share; a chicken liver mousse and a goat’s cheese panna cotta. The mousse had not set and the choice of serving vessel (more suited to fine dining rather than ‘informal European’ dining) was a slightly curved, petite glass, which made it difficult to (neatly) access the mousse with your knife without creating a mess. I made a mess, not helped by fat fingers. A separate serving of piccalilli was also ordered was just right; crisp, tangy, sweet.

The panna cotta (served around 15 minutes after the mousse, which left us a little confused as to whether we were getting the dish at all, given we were sharing) was ‘cute’; four small lozenges of… goat’s cheese with a few tiny wedges of beetroot and micro herbs. There was no real evidence that the cheese had been through any process other than that of making goat’s cheese as it lacked the lightness (it would have been too small to demonstrate a panna cotta ‘wobble’) of a true panna cotta and the texture wasn’t far off the firmness of a chevre, without the crumbliness. [EDIT: This was before I encountered the goat’s cheese panna cotta @ Eureka 89, which was spot on].

For mains, my partner had the steak ‘du jour’; the cut of beef served on whatever day you dine is served as ‘steak frites + condiments’. The steak on the night was a scotch fillet, which was presented on a wooden board and served with a wine jus and some onion rings. My partner requested some mayonnaise for her chips and the server duly and promptly returned with some fine, home made mayo (tick). The steak itself was cooked to the correct order of doneness and the frites were definitely home made (another tick) and served in its own faux-newspaper printed cone. Nice touch.

For my main dish, I had a selection of seafood (mussels, clams, prawns a couple of small pieces of barramundi and pork sausage in a tomato saffron broth. I had something very similar a few nights earlier at L’Osteria – a cheap and cheerful family-run Italian joint on Nicholson St. L’Osteria won. Jorg’s seafood was excellent; the ingredients used were of high quality, but it was missing something… some crunch and something to mop up the broth… a nice crouton perhaps?

Dessert was a let down. We shared a pear and apple crumble; far too sweet and the crumble topping resembled hot muesli – it wasn’t clumpy and lacked the ‘crumble’ like its name-sake. The accompanying ice cream was described as ‘rhubarb’ – probably there to balance the overly-sweet fruit and crumble, but there was no tartness, nor evidence it was rhubarb-flavoured.

This place has potential, and we’re local so I’m certain we’ll dine there again soon, just to be sure the simple errors we encountered were simply first week faults.

Jorg
203 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North 3068
(03) 9482 3002
http://www.jorgrestaurant.com.au/

Good for: piccalilli… to the point where you get enthused and the very next day, make 1 kilo of the stuff, only to thow it out of the fridge a few months later because there’s no way you can get through a kilo of piccalilli
Not good for: simple errors
 

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Eureka 89 – Eureka Tower, 7 Riverside Quay, Southbank

First thing’s first. You are paying for the view.

The dishes served were OK. But hardly inspiring. Then again, why are you paying too much attention to the food when you should be looking at the stunning view? Meh. It’s Melbourne. I live here.

The cauliflower veloute was rich and velvety and a great contrast the smokiness of the mussels; however it, like a number of the dishes, lacked seasoning. And with no salt present on the table, this couldn’t be corrected. The accompanying Pinot Gris was a great match, as were the other wines throughout the night. Eureka 89 gets a big 10/10 for their wine selection and matching… particularly the 2006 Rolf Binder Veritas ‘Bulls Blood’ Shiraz – an absolute cracker of a wine! But more about that later.
 
The second course was a seared matchbox sized piece of snapper, with a smear of heavily scented vanilla puree, a nicely turned (but undercooked, in my opinion) Jerusalem artichoke and a few other bits and pieces, there to provide some texture, I assume. The vanilla puree picked up the vanilla notes in the accompanying Chardonnay, but it became a little overpowering. The snapper was well seasoned, however the other elements of the dish were not so lucky.
 
The third course was a ballotine chicken wing (the size of a football for hamsters, if hamsters played football), a petite 1/2 scotch (quail) egg, a matchstick filled with something (I forget) and a great blob of mushroom puree which overpowered the whole dish. Chicken (again, under seasoned) doesn’t really taste of much; the puree killed it. The least favourite dish of the night by a mile.
 
The second best dish of the night was the aged beef fillet, 36-hour braised cheek, suet pie – a carnivore’s wet dream and a vego’s worst nightmare. A cracking dish and the seasoning wasn’t too bad, although I realised that I wasn’t a great fan of suet pastry as it was a little too dumpling-y for me… kind of like eating undercooked pastry, but I think this was how it was meant to be(?). The Rolf Binder nectar of the heavens was very well received to the point where we were pretty close to getting up and doing a jig (the wine was slowly taking effect) when we found out that this wine would also the accompaniment to the next course, which turned out to be my favourite.
 
Goat’s curd panna cotta, quince jelly and an oat biscuit stick, which we were instructed to crumble or dunk. Now I usually get pissed off when I go to a restaurant and have a dish served to me that I could make at home, but this is one where I’m glad they did because it was a ripper! Simple. Tasty. Balanced. Inspiring. And of course, lashings of Rolf Binder to wash it down with.
 
The last dish was a bit of a let down. It was a fairly uninspiring: A cute, but undercooked pear with a chocolate soufflé and a quenelle of homemade mascarpone (see: hamsters playing football), which I thought was impressive, but I’ve just looked up how to make it, so I’m not that impressed anymore. Oh and there was some orange so it was meant to be like a Jaffa. Probably. The highlight was the accompanying Pedro Ximenez.
 
The service (a wonderful German girl) was extremely attentive; given we were one of only three tables dining, I guess you’d expect nothing less. At the very least, our server was friendly and seemed to genuinely respond to our banter.
 
If you can afford to spend $195 on a degustation in Melbourne, then I’d recommend stumping up an extra $70 and heading to Jacques Reymond. You won’t get that spectacular view, but in a culinary sense, Jacques is AFL to Eureka’s VFL; leagues apart. However, if you’re from out of town and you probably won’t be as picky (as me) because you’ll be too busy taking in Melbourne’s skyline.
 
Eureka 89
Level 89, Eureka Tower, 7 Riverside Quay, Southbank 3006
(03) 9693 8889
 
Good for: the views, out-of-towners, wonderful German waitresses, goat’s curd panna cotta, Rolf Binder Veritas ‘Bulls Blood’ Shiraz… a cracker! 
Not good for: acrophobes, cibophobes, chrematophobes
 

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