Dinner by Heston – Level 3, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

There are a small handful of chefs that I genuinely revere because I’m enamoured with their style, technique and use of ingredients and flavours.

Heston is within this handful and he has been for a long time now. I was livid when the arseholes of the finance world hired IT experts to game The Fat Duck booking process, but I can now finally say that I’ve experienced a Heston meal and although it wasn’t The Fat Duck, Dinner by Heston was a magnificent consolation.

In the past, there has been a tendency for me to bang on about value; taking in all things considered – food, wine and the overall experience. Surprisingly, Dinner by Heston is a lot better in the value stakes than I had expected, although you may not think that when you peruse the à la carte menu; the food is on the pricey side.

The average price for a starter is $35, mains are around $55 (unless you want a steak, which will set you back $75-$85) and desserts are in the vicinity of $25-$30. Sides are $12. It’s the wine list though that has the potential to not cause too much damage to your credit card; that is, if you can also resist the temptation of supping on a $24 cocktail, whilst waiting for your table to become available. The vastly extensive and (literally) heavy wine list book will take some time to work your way through and if you’re on a budget, you can find some much-loved gems on the list that still have a typical restaurant mark up, but aren’t overly steep in price. Of course, like we did, you can also place your trust in the hands of the Sommelier if you find the list overwhelming.

Like a number of other reviews I’ve read, the theatre begins when you attempt to negotiate your way into the restaurant. Maybe it’s a test. We passed… albeit eventually and an automatic sliding door led us to a stunning open kitchen that overlooks a dining room with dark colours, tempered by light green chairs and tan leather banquettes. It’s instantly inviting and comfortable. The kind of place that makes you pleased that you’ll be spending the next 3 or 4 hours here.

Our table wasn’t ready, so we were ushered to the bar for a cocktail (call me cynical, but it does makes me wonder whether this was a subtle tactic). This is apparently Heston’s first endeavour into extending his repertoire into bars, so we played along and had a cocktail that was swiftly expedited. My Olive Leaf Martini (c. 1930) was clean and crisp. It was explained to me that the olive leave flavour is an extract from distilling the leaves. I like my martinis dirty, so perhaps the technique was lost on me. My dining partner has an aversion to gin, so he settled for a Pineapple Sparkler (c. 1910), which formed the basis of some objectionable jocularity for a few minutes until our table was declared ready.

Again we were ushered, this time to our table and we were given a prime window seat, overlooking what was a very clear Melbourne night. Sadly, this was an evening of platonic bromance and therefore any romantic inferences were completely lost on us.

One week into being open to the public, after a couple of weeks of offering soft openings, Dinner by Heston was still running at half capacity, with a full complement of staff. Needless to say, the service was impeccable; prompt and very attentive. But also friendly too, which added to the pleasantness of the evening.

So, down to the food. It was great. It was delicious, precise and pretty. But this is Heston, so you should expect no less.

The Menu

Meat Fruit (c.1500, $38) was ‘the’ dish that I have always wanted to try. An ever-so delicate chicken liver parfait that is expertly covered with a thin film of mandarin gel, textured so it looked like a mandarin more than some mandarins I’ve seen in Coles.

Meat Fruit

The parfait was sublime; light as a feather, not too rich and the citrus flavour from the mandarin gel was a perfect contrast.

Meat Fruit

Bromance opted for the Salmagundy (c. 1720, $36), which by definition is a fancy salad containing all sorts of things. This one contained chicken oysters, braised artichoke stems, marrowbone and pickled walnuts atop a well-balanced horseradish cream.

IMG_0391

We drank a modestly-priced Torbrek Woodcutters Semillion, which was, I don’t know… maybe $50 – a standard mark up for a $20 bottle.

Mains were hard to choose and as much as I wanted the Black Angus Rib eye with mushroom ketchup and fries (c.1830, $85), it was a steak. And whilst it would have been a damn fine one too, this was about trying other things, so I settled on the Powdered Duck Breast (c.1670, $54), which was cooked in Ale and served with charred artichokes. Sadly, we ate all of the bread, so there was none left to mop up the sauce. I didn’t ask, but should have.

Powdered Duck

Bromance went for the Lamb & Cucumber (c.1830, $56), which was a marriage of roasted best end of lamb with a braised cucumber, crumbed sweetbreads, broad beans, barilla & mint. Sunday roast on steroids.

Lamb & Cucumber

Our accompanying sides (Green Beans with Shallots and Fries) were underwhelming for not only the cost, but also the disparity in quality against the other quality dishes. They were pretty pedestrian and when you put fries on a menu, I expect fries. Not chips.

We turned to the Sommelier for advice on a red to compliment both the lamb and the duck, with a price point in mind ($100). He successfully recommended a French Grenache, which was fruity, but packed a bigger punch in the tannin stakes. Ten out of ten for matching and drinking.

Chocolate Bar

For dessert, Bromance chose the Chocolate Bar (c.1730, $26) with passionfruit jam and ginger ice cream. He liked it, but he wasn’t successful in masking his diner’s envy. My Brown Bread Ice Cream (c.1830, $26) vied for dish of the night with Meat Fruit. The ice cream was drizzled with malted yeast syrup and perched onto a bed of salted butter caramel. Little bits of fresh pear alternated with crisp miniature brown bread croutons. Heavenly.

Brown Bread Ice Cream

Whilst desserts come with a recommended dessert wine, we are but humble and creatures of habit and unanimously settled on much loved De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon ($80).

If you have room, there is also cheese and for some additional theatre, the wait staff will wheel out the Nitro Ice Cream Trolley and serve you a personalised cornetto, hand-churning your ice cream with liquid nitrogen, at your table. Sadly, not for us, but maybe next time.

If you’re a fan of Heston; seen the TV shows, read the books and even made the recipes, then this is something you should experience… as long as you know that a lot of the molecular gastronomy kit was packed up and shipped back to The Fat Duck in Bray. This is not the holistic Heston experience where you’ll eat Lego that tastes like bananas with whale penis… you know; like all of that Heston stuff you see on TV. But I knew that and I was up for seeing how Heston and his team have recreated some of the ye olde foods of ye olde times and thrown in some Australiana for good measure. And it works.

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The Bottom End – 579 Little Collins St, Melbourne

Buying lunch at work can be placed into three categories. At one end of the scale, there’s lunch on the run (i.e. takeaway) and at the other end you’ve got the substantial restaurant meal where it’s unlikey that you’ll be heading back to work in any fit state. Somewhere in between there’s a need for a cheap and cheerful lunch – like a pub meal; something that’s a little more than a bowl of noodles and throw in a cheeky pot or two or a glass of wine with a few work mates… a.k.a. the perfect Friday lunch. And of course, it needs to be in close proximity so you’re spending more of your lunch break in the venue as opposed to walking to and from it.

The Spencer St & Collins St part of the CBD (aptly referred to by twoMunch as the “Baghdad end of Collins St”) lacks these in-betweeners. You can only go to Saint & Rogue so many times for a quick feed and a drink, or God forbid, The Exchange Hotel.

I generally only go as far up Little Collins St as Hugo’s for my coffee, so I rarely notice much else going on. Although I knew that the dodgy former Irish Pub on Little Collins St was being renovated into something, however until I read a burger review last week on The Burger Adventure, I had no idea that we were being rewarded with an alternative lunch venue.

The Bottom End is a pub, disco and diner all rolled into one. Recently opening for lunch on Fridays, its apparent popularity has seen it extend its lunch trade to Wednesdays and Thursdays as well. The distinct, gothic black exterior houses an interior which can be roughly described as a hotchpotch of retro American diner, medieval, baroque and 70’s kitsch, amongst other things – but it all seems to work and you feel quite comfortable once you adjust to your surroundings.

There’s a solid selection of beers on tap (Coopers Pale and Sparkling, Carlton, Stella), a couple of ciders and a good range of bottled brews to satisfy most. Wines are split into three categories; cheap ($25 / bottle), reasonable ($35 / bottle) and good ($45 / bottle) with a red, white, rose and sparkling offered in each category. In the unlikely event that P-Diddy turns up, there’s a 2004 Cristal available for $450.

There are also many classic cocktails and a bunch of not-so-classic cocktails, like the Australian Martini (vodka, Cointreau rinse, vegemite smear, coon cheese, pickled onion) and Rave Juice (Agwa, energy drink and a glow stick in a bag). Needless to say everything is done with a massive dose of good humour, even the gents’ toilets – but I’ll leave that surprise for you to see for yourself.

So, onto the food. The menu is American Diner: quick out of the kitchen, lots of fun, not the healthiest of fare, but great to share and more importantly goes well with the aforementioned booze. I was intrigued by the ‘famous’ Mac ‘n’ Cheese balls with garlic aioli ($10), so they were duly ordered as an appetiser. They were probably as good as deep fried balls of macaroni and cheese were ever going to be; six bite-sized morsels, a few flecks of bacon in the mac’n’cheese mix. It was probably a little on the bland side – a creamy centre served with a creamy aioli. A dipping sauce with some contrasting bite probably would have served better.

For the more substantial part of our meal, it was the Bottom End Cheesey Bacon Burger ($16) for the majority of us and a lone Philly Cheese Steak ($16) for the minority. Other choices included NYC Buffalo wings with blue cheese sauce, a hot mortadella roll, an Italian hot dog with all the trimmings and a New Orleans classic Po’boy, featuring prawn, chorizo and egg – all served with seasoned crinkle-cut fries and all $16.

The burgers arrived quicker than you could say “well, honk my hooters” and we were presented with some burgers of tower-esque proportion where width gave way to height; a precursor that this was going to be a messy, pain the arse of a thing to eat. And it was, but it was also delicious.

Inside a homemade brioche bun, a juicy (bordering on too juicy) beef patty mingled with some smoky bacon, two kinds of cheese (gruyere and smoked Dutch). Lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle also made a cameo. Oh and there was a dab of The Bottom End’s ‘special sauce’, which I think was the same sauce served with the accompanying crinkle-cut fries… ‘fry sauce’ – a mayo with a bit of ketchup and a tart, vinegary finish – I’m thinking pickle juice.

The Philly Cheese Steak featured a white hero roll stuffed with chopped scotch fillet, green capsicum, fried onions and provolone cheese whiz; an American processed cheese spread which is the cheese served with an authentic Philly Cheese Steak. The recipient, who has eaten the real thing in the U.S., declared it a damn fine reproduction.

The crinkle-cut fries were of your frozen variety. I wasn’t expecting hand cut chips and I didn’t really care that much as I was struggling with just finishing the burger.

Look, this stuff is definitely not first date food. You will get a little untidy trying to eat it and you will go through five or six napkins in the process. But you will also have fun with a few workmates over lunch and a couple of beers. And if you’re one of those people that can’t find the time to get away to do something like this every now and again, then perhaps you need to tap your boss on the shoulder and suggest some time out for a bit of team building… and better yet, you know a great place where you can do this.

The Bottom End
579 Little Collins St, Melbourne
(03) 9629 3001
www.thebottomend.com.au

Good For: A quick bite to eat at lunch with your workmates, post-work boozing and ‘poof doof’ on Saturdays, apparently
Not Good For: The health-conscious… although there is a Waldorf Salad on the menu

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