My big 21st birthday dinner. Where to book? Who to go with? I decided to do something different though, and fly myself down to Melbourne for the week..........why not, I just wanted to indulge.
After consulting many people about the city's best restaurants, which resulted in a four page hit list, my options for the big dinner came down to the following places:
- Vue de Monde;
- Grossi Florentino;
- The Press Club; or
- Guillame Bistro.
I had heard so much about The Press Club, which is a modern Greek restaurant, which at the time had two hats, and after buying the cook book and going gaga over it, I decided that is exactly where I wanted to dine. I was over the moon when my best friend decided to fly down also and have a girls weekend with me.....she can help me spend my money and splurge a bit.
We dolled ourselves up, of course, and arrived (in the rain) at 8:15. Our table wasn't quit early so we waited in the bar, which is a really nice area and great for a more casual dinner. The food that was going out looked amazing. Platters full of lamb, dips, olives and bread, saganaki martini, quail dolmathes.
After being teased for about 10 minutes, with food continuously going past, we were shown to our table which sat along the banquette along the side of the restaurant. It is not a restaurant that tries to be intimate and create a romantic atmosphere. Their philosophy is based around bringing family and friends together where they can talk, laugh and eat together. Hence the layout of the restaurant is not sparse but full of tables which when full brings an amazing energy into the restaurant which feels like it is just buzzing. So I would say it was the perfect choice for the celebration of my 21st....and as many of your know, I can talk the head off anything, so at least I would not feel embarrassed for talking in a fine dining restaurant :P
As we were seated we were served some a glass of Veuve (my favourite and a champagne that has special significance for me as it is something I always share with Zena on our birthdays). It was such a nice gesture and it was the best start to the night as I was over the moon already and I hadn't even had a bite of anything.
Our lovely waiter Kyle started to serve us and placed down our breads: a Greek country loaf, which was crusty and soft on the inside; a walnut, cinnamon and honey loaf; and a sun dried tomato foccacia. They were served with Cypriot Olive Oil and Cypriot BLACK sea salt. We were lucky though because as Kyle set the bread down he mentioned that George Calombaris (the owner and chef) had prepared a special menu for us so DO NOT fill up on bread. Even though we tried, we couldn't resist occasionally breaking off a little more bread to wet our appetite, it was just too nice.
The Somillier then came over and it was a bit hard to choose a wine as I didn't know what we were eating. I was told there were many courses and that we could have wines to match each course. That sounded like a great idea, but since we were in a restaurant with such an amazing Greek Wine list I thought I would ask for all Greek wines, as it is an area of wine I wanted to learn more about, as it is passed off regularly as cheap and very sweet (people just think of retsina).
The first course came out (although I did not get a complete photo of the dish and its presentation). It was a tasting plate trio which started with a Saganaki Martini served in a shot glass with tomato tea, cucumber and tomato, then sitting on top was a thick piece of fried, but not overly oily haloumi hanging over the tea on a skewer. The tea was really cold and refreshing, similar to a gazpacho I suppose, but when eaten with the slightly salty haloumi, it seemed as though you were eating a salad with haloumi, but in liquid form.
The next taster was a skewer of octopus and anchovy coated in a sweet pistachio crust which was probably made of pistachio, raw sugar and breadcrumbs. It was a beautiful combination, the saltiness and oiliness of the seafood with the sweetness of the crust.
The last taster was a freshly shucked oyster which had an eggplant and tomato compote on top which added a savory sweetness to the creamy salty oyster. It was served with its shell on top, a really nice touch I thought, and something you don't see very often.
Course 2 was like a taster as there were many accompaniments which went with the absolutely divine crisp pork belly. Would it be the fig syrup, poached quince which was slightly grilled on one side, natural Greek yogurt, and a coffee crumble which was made of coffee, chocolate, cinnamon and breadcrumbs. To combine all of the components of this dish was a bit too much on the palette, so I found I liked the pork with the fig sauce, then separately mixing the quince, yogurt and crumbs.
One of my favourite dishes was Course 3, a 'deconstructed' Greek Salad which consisted of a seared piece of salmon coated in sesame seeds on an onion stifaldo (onion jam), cucumber with feta foam, tomato water bubbles, Skordalia (Greek garlic potato dip), Kalamata olive infused olive oil, ouzo dust, tomatoes, Greek Dondani feta and cracked pepper. The Salmon was so smooth and worked perfectly with the sesame, something I have never tried, but definitely a seed which is very prominent in Greek cuisine. The water bubbles were like nothing I have tried, so delicate and burst as soon as you touched then, but not as thin as water, a bit thicker, syrup like, but really did taste like a tomato, as did the flavour of the foam which perfectly expressed 'feta', but with such a lightness. The final touch on this dish was the ouzo dust which had a beautiful and strong aniseed flavour which was perfect with every element of this dish. AMAZING
Course 4 was a play on fish and chips. It was a mini fisherman's basket which consisted of crumbed fish, battered prawns, mussels and octopus. It was served with the most amazing salad of shredded cabbage, watercress, lemon juice and olive oil. It was such a nice lightness to match the fried seafood.
This dish felt special for me and maybe made me enjoy it so much more as my Papou (grandfather) loved seafood so much. If I had ever met him I know we would have learnt to love it from a young age, something I wasn't lucky enough to do, but now I do prefer seafood to meat and I know he would have been proud of me.
The last savory dish was the pinnacle of all dishes, and so it should have been as it was roast lamb, medium rare, so tender, juicy and just melted in my mouth. The meat was drizzled with a grape reduction sauce which added a sweetness to the meat, which some might not think would work, but since the meat was medium rare, its texture was much softer and therefore worked, it was not heavy at all but It was served with a mushroom and feta and ricotta Spanakopia. The filo was so golden and crisp but I felt that the mushrooms which were probably braised for a few hours overpowered the dish. But the lamb.............
The last dish was one we were so looking forward to, dessert, definitely something that should finish the experience with a bang, but sadly it left us feeling disappointed. It was a play on a Greek biscuit called Melamakaronia, which is a honey biscuit. The dish consisted of an orange cake which was served on custard with Greek yogurt sorbet, candied orange and a clementine. The sorbet was my favourite part of the dish as it was so refreshing and not overly sweet like other sorbet's, however the cake and custard, although lovely is not one of my favourite things to have for dessert. I was expecting a play on a baklava or stuffed locomathes.
To finish, we ordered coffee and were served a shot glass filled with sparkling mineral water with mastiha at the bottom which we eat with a spoon. Although Zena did not like it, I found it the best ending to such an elaborate meal as it is a gum which has a mint like freshness.
There is so much I could say about George Calombaris. He is so genuine, humble and really wants to just bring happiness to everyone who comes to dine. He truly made our night a night to remember and I am so glad I chose this restaurant to celebrate my 21st with my best friend. We ended up staying until 12:30am as we were too busy talking to Kyle (our waiter) who we became friends with over the night. The staff were so attentive and friendly, something which really makes a restaurant.
Overall my Melbourne birthday week ended up as follows:
Time spent shopping - 3 days max
Amount spend on clothes - $40
Number of restaurants I visited - 10 (3 fine dining)
Amount spent on dining - $900
BUT best birthday present to myself I could have asked for, and exactly what I would have wanted to spend so much money on.