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A visit in Nov 2014. Vue De Monde Melbourne 3 and 1/2 stars of out 5 In terms of pure quiddity of experience, Vue De Monde is a superb example of the modern Australian restaurant. You check in at the plush lobby on the ground floor and the lady guides you towards a dedicated lift- futuristic and gleaming black with white lighted lines - that ascends 55 floors up into the Rialto Tower. The lift doors open directly to staff who welcome and guide you to the airy vantage location of your table. The view makes Melbourne city slowly melt into the great Australian outdoors on a wide horizon. The room’s air-borne corporate slickness atones for it not being a Palace of Versailles-like Louis XV. Half a dozen snacks arrive in quick succession and perch on sculpted polished rocks, all sitting on a leather-skin tabletop. Australian specialty produce, like marron, barramundi and even wallaby (you don’t count your karmic meter here) form part of the menu that lines up 12 legitimate courses served to you by black-suit-clad gracious ladies and gents, with a serious cheese cart thrown in ,or more correctly rolled in by a French-accented young man with a blond twirled moustache. Chef and businessman Shannon Bennett makes Noma & the New Nordic wave splash into the Australian high-life. Liquid nitrogen canoodles with the caveman practice of holding up meat and bone with your bare hands and taking it apart with excited mouth. You can’t blame them for not trying. "Wallaby" - exceedingly gentle texture , otherwise unremarkable. Lamb heart - - 'smelt' of the hearth particularly - the texture did not suggest offal at all. Duck tongue - 'caramel slips of meat'. "Wagyu"- roasted by finishing touch table-side. Ultra-soft - a toddler (outside Mumbai) could safely chew on this. The opener of Barramundi , however, is a brilliant inspiration. A fried hunk of the said fish is placed in front of you without cutlery, and use of hands and directly applied mouth is suggested. French upper-class sophistry drowns in the Australian mines and beaches as you lift the torched meat and bite past the crisp crust into soft flesh. You can gnaw to the bone - the culinary equivalent of making love in a elegant public park. Matters get further down and dirty when the hostess draws up, takes the cheek (of the fish) - and carves it out tableside - not a pretty sight but viscerally important matters are often not. The cheek meat (underwhelming) goes into a small lettuce roll. Picked clean! Herbs in bowl are first frozen by liquid nitrogen , then they ask you to powder it with a pestle , then a cucumber sorbet is added - interesting theater which ends by tasting beautifully refreshing. Desserts were a let-down. Marque Sydney 3 and 1/4 stars out of 5 Passing through Crowne Street, near Sydney downtown where Marque is situated, I was struck singularly by how similar it looked to certain suburban roads of Bangalore before the latter city went to the dogs. Mark Best showed splendid and innovative technique but taste was not always empyrean. Chunk of octopus tentacle fried with chilli - one of the few seafoods on this entire Australia trip that I enjoyed. "Fish scales" (dehydrated thin slices of scallop) atop NZ bass grouper - nice stunts but middling gustatory impact. Quail - looked fantastic but tasted ho-hum. Intriguing technique followed with “Honeycomb with cultured cream”. To sugar syrup and honey, soda bicarbonate had been added to create the bubbled out pockets that simulate a honey-comb. Quay Sydney 3 stars out of 5 (what a disappointment!) The most awarded restaurant in Australia in the last 10 years, let me down. Depth of flavour was often a phantom and Peter Gilmore's choices sometimes flummoxed me. Calling two months ahead instead of earlier , I was lucky to get a reservation but unfortunate at the same time because a massive cruise-liner, the staff forewarned, would be docked right beside the restaurant windows thus blocking off views of those landmarks. Rescheduling my whole trip to get around the timetable of this obliterating behemoth , or plotting nefariously to get that ship’s ass out of my way on that afternoon, were both unappealing to me, so I accepted my lot , hoping for food and top-class service to call all the shots. Quay’s first overture ( never mind that the Opera House was blocked from view) was the kind of syncytium that I had expected from Peter Gilmore. A jelly of smoked eel neatly conveyed its intended flavour, tenderness distinguished saltwater poached chicken , but the greenlip abalone you could barely taste. Still at the end of it, the cultured soft symphony of it all, minimized my gripes. Smoked and confited pig jowl had an agreeably tender bacon-like flavour but Gilmore’s choice to blanket it with crunchy, sometimes hard bits of sesame and roasted koji rice nearly destroyed the dish. Some of those hard grains lodged firmly in my teeth and I , in the interests of savoir-faire, had to repair to the bathroom to extricate them rather than risking the same procedure at the table with a fork’s teeth. The menu’s last offering before dessert had broad-bean pods sitting on top. Flicking off one specimen, I tasted it with high hopes. Resonant vegetal zip remained a phantom, as was the sauce, and the thin, meager cut of lamb underneath was tender but nearly tasteless, as though both meat and vegetable had been thoroughly washed off most of their essence. Putting extra words in the menu description “Flinders Island Grass Fed Lamb” had alas not succeeded in putting extra taste into that slice. This “dish”, especially in light of what had come before it, flummoxed me - was this really the great Quay of stunning food that I’d heard and read so much about? Gilmore for some reason will not let a cut of plated meat expose itself to the harsh outside world, so tender slices of duck that came next were totally shrouded by toasted rice and barley. That unpleasantly crunchy coating, no great shakes and surely not a suitable nor a superior replacement to a well-roasted natural exterior, stifled the already delicate taste of the duck. Peter Gilmore’s desserts have become more popular in the public eye, than have his savory creations and my meal justified why that was so. His famous “Snow Egg” - the first offering from the sweets that afternoon - is no doubt a special and wonderfully balanced dessert though its novelty was precluded for me as I’d eaten an excellent version of it years ago in Wellington’s White House. Your spoon cuts through a crisp caramel coat, slices past an egg custard and reaches a sweet nippy core of nectarine ice cream. Go through all the way to the bed of the glass and you scoop up good ol’ vanilla - all this is gheraoed by refreshing nectarine granita. Flower Drum - The best-rated Chinese restaurant in Australia and a fine-dining one to boot! Melbourne 3 and 1/4 stars out of 5 The staff, suit-clad Chinese gentlemen, speak good minimally-accented grammatically correct English! The highlight was a surf and turf beauty - "pearl meat" - the adductor muscle of pearl oyster , was wonderfully slow-cooked till it became the exquisite savoury counterpart of a top-class litchi. Paired with excellent asparagus. Peking duck was lusciously flavoured - a fact which becomes more obvious when you compare it to many other Australia-NZ versions. But their diced pork rendition had very limited charms, fried rice was unspectacular, and dessert was downright clunky. Upnworld.
UPN Presents Cassia : Restaurant Review Rating : 2 & ½ stars out of 5 (above average) Auckland , New Zealand Visited in August 2014 Attracting the entire town’s purveyors and the prime-minister himself, Siddharth Sahrawath’s Cassia arrives with the biggest splash for any Indian restaurant in Auckland. Vegetarians alas are again given the cold shoulder here (if you consider four vegetarian dishes against ten non-vegetarian ones) and so are most curries and the butter-chicken-tikka shebang, replaced and revised by a spin on nouvelle Indian cuisine that’s new to NZ but which has already taken hold in London, Delhi and Mumbai. With 2014’s winter seguing into spring, I entered this instantly popular and packed restaurant which had newly opened and the first three dishes I tried were like the opening morning of a yesteryear Indian cricket team’s innings in chilly England or pacy Australia - the first three players were dismissed with little account within the first forty five minutes. The scallops with frills were only vaguely moreish, fennel brioche with caramelized chicken (fancy-pants name for chicken burger) had smooth chew but it was not dissimilar to a dozen others sampled in India, and the fish with chickpeas was overarchingly spicy. I now understand that the fat ripe-with-potential American scallops should not be expected to be found in NZ, the small scallops of which have limited flavour profile. ’Twas tough to be exclusively persuaded by the admittedly inveigling umami of that plate’s curry emulsion and foie gras quenelle, and the kitchen could certainly have done better than tucking mint raitha with tandoori chicken and the usual vegetal suspects of a burger into comely brioche buns. My perennial gripe that New Zealand’s elite chefs were not giving me a dish of unabashedly bold flavours, was dashed to pieces by a John Dory whose flavour was muzzled by a spice rub, and positively buried by its bed of chilli-laced garam masala. But the Indian cricket team teaches you patience if nothing else. The next dish was like Sachin Tendulkar . Well, not quite…but ambition, versatility and chutzpah were all on display. A fried hunk of tasty duck was placed atop a fiery raw mango pickle-sauce (this particular pickle is a hot favourite especially in South India) but those spicy waves were tamed and made more harmonious when the duck was blended with it, and especially when a slice of lychee, a touch of kumara, a cut of almond (all neatly tucked into the sauce) got onto your fork. It was a true-blue chef’s conception alright, and it was to enjoy dishes like this that I came to Cassia. This bustling place was dominated by patrons of European extraction and I saw only a couple of Indians. Décor here is basement-industrial-casual-“chic” : the fact that the current set endorses it , doesn’t bode well for our future. The stone floor, muted lighting and the globe-like lamps on the ceiling all strongly recalled the Spartan aesthetic of Clooney restaurant two kilometres away, but with the dining area shrunk to half the size. Levi a young man of French descent, who could just easily have come across as Indian, good-naturedly attended to my table - he’d diligently elicit feedback which he accepted even when I unflinchingly offered thorny facts, and sometimes he would not ask and instead clear the plate a bit more slowly, giving me space to volunteer feedback. Considerations of riotous taste notwithstanding, Sahrawath re-imagines boldly here. Ragda Pattis of Mumbai can be a hell of a snack when smartly seasoned and well-roasted - in Cassia, the chickpea bed is retained but the potato cutlet atop is re-made marine. Pickled spicy gobbets of meat in jars are relished in small quantities as side-licks in Sahrawath’s ancestral state of Haryana and here those bites are audaciously amplified into an entire main course. But the tomato kasundi he uses lacks the delicious simple-complex impact of elite Italian tomato sauces. This red sauce was ill-suited to two different seafood preparations - succulent but insufficiently seasoned “Bengal” snapper, and also soft-shell crab the taste of which was lost in Indian-style cornflour batter. I’ve eaten multiple renditions of seafood in Sidart and there too, knack with marine delights was in shortage. Chef and proprietor Sid Sahrawath works on alternate days here while the rest of work-time sees him in his equally popular world-cuisine flagship “Sidart”.The pattern of hits and misses, and bustling ambience (neither are suitable for a sane date) is evident in both restaurants. But Cassia’s potential is undeniable - fenugreek lamb was presented as soft, robustly flavored chops paired in inspired fashion with full-throttle chutney. The latter packed coconut, curry leaves, chilli and tang with superb balance, and marvellously evoked India’s finest spice mixes - this concoction should be tasted by the many Kiwi café proprietors who peddle innocuous preserves in the name of “chutney”. Sahrawath went on to give fine example of transplanted cuisine with one of his vegetarian presentations, in which he hid a neatly roasted and slick aubergine under a blanket of smoky and satisfying spinach sauce - well-known in India as palak paneer - flecked with molten cheese and texturally perked up with crunchy kale and bean sprouts. In desserts, an exquisite cardamom pannacotta was partnered with a stunning lychee sorbet ,and pleasantly feathered by a rose meringue. The casualty on that plate was that night’s watermelon sorbet which (I’ll be polite to Cassia) should never have been put on that dish. But passion fruit rice cream was unsuccessful - it is admittedly very difficult to cook this sweet rice pudding (Payasam or Kheer) in light and refreshing style. Tariffs : Good value. NZ$ 80 for 4 courses. The staff can sometimes can ask patrons at tables who are nearing the end of their meal, to shift to the bar to have dessert ,so as to seat the waiting customers. This is against the tenets of hospitality and on my second night ,I was the recepient of this undesirable turn of events. Moments before, my regular waiter changed and a young lady from the staff came up and asked “Are you aware that this table is booked?” I’d been sitting there for one and a half hours having just finished my fourth savory course of the night and whichever way I look at that question, it remains as a stupid query to pose to your customer at such a juncture. When I paid the bill and left, and later had a quick look at bill , I noticed that they hadn’t charged for the dessert. Regardless of whether it was an atonement or a mistake on their part, I wasn’t anxious to clarify the matter because the tip I left had exceeded the deficit. But such upsets need to be weighed against the charming service provided by such gents as Matthew, the maitre’d who I’ve seen in elegant performance elsewhere. He’d float in and out of the dining area while keeping an eye on the reception desk. Tall and lean with an icy cool grace and measured carriage which belied the simple attire of his black full-sleeve shirt, his occasionally swift step would smoothly cease and he’d gesture with subtle chivalry for a lady to pass first. At the desk at check-out on my first night here,, when a young lady of the staff requisitioned feedback (about the restaurant, not her) I was trying to express myself when I noticed a couple next to me waiting to pay the bill so I hurriedly concluded the affair and was about to half-rush out when Matthew, who’d quietly epiphanized behind me with my coat helpfully held wide open, issued a gentle verbal remainder. “Oh!” I stuttered further embarrassed by my forgetfulness. My cards ,the bill’s paper sheet and mobile were clutched in both my hands which had become too unwieldy to pass inside those sleeves so I fidgeted, and then ditching all savoir-faire tried to somehow pluck the coat away from his fingers so that it could be worn later, but Matthew, patiently without moving a muscle, waited while I took the hint, put the outcropping papers in my pocket, and slipped both hands into the openings as the jacket was eased onto my shoulders. You don’t meet many people, especially in busy informal restaurants, who are determined to be hospitable. Photos http://www.upnworld.com/restaurant/view/id/53/title/Cassia+