Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Press Club Banquet

Back again, and only two months after my original dining experience. However, this time I was to share the experience with some good friends of mine. We were down in Melbourne on a field study for our Architecture degree but of course I had another reason to go down.....explore and eat...and that is exactly what we did.

We decided to get the banquet as opposed to individual meals as we could try a wide range of dishes, and after talking to Kyle (the waiter I befriended on my first visit), we were convinced, as he said he would get the kitchen to put on some special dishes for us, how could we say no!

No matching wines this time though, instead a bottle of Winstead 'Instead' 2004 Pinot from Tasmania. It was beautiful and light with flavours of cherry. Perfect for some of the game dishes we were about to try.

Like the Symposium, we started off with breads. This is a staple part of Greek cuisine. There is always bread and if there isn't it IS a tragedy. We had to try NOT to eat too much bread as I knew what banquets were like, and if Maha (George Calombaris' second venture) was anything to go by, we were going to be absolutely stuffed by the time we left.

But who could resist Greek Country Loaf; Cinnamon, Honey & Pistatio loaf or Sundried tomato Foccacia with Cypriot EVOO & Cypriot Black Sea Salt.

Our first course, Meze, just blew us away. It was a platter of 6 tasters which we all ate an individual portion of. Each combination was so different in flavour, texture and ingredients that it left us knowning this was to be a spectacular dinner.

So we started at the top right with the Saganaki Martini: tomato tea with cucumber and capsicum which is drunk after eating the lightly fried piece of kefalograviera cheese (which is like a Greek gruyere).
Moving clockwise we had the dolmathes wrapped in bastouma (a cured meat very prominent in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern countries). The saltiness of the meat gave the non meat filled dolmathes some dimension without it being too heavy, which some dolmathes stuffed with mince are.
Next were two dishes that were to nibble on or use as accompaniments to the others: mixed marinated olives and pickled cabbage.
The 'Greek Fries' (a miniature version of a dish I had on the deg) consisted of lightly battered and fried whole prawns with their shells which is meant to be dipped in the Attiki honey sauce and eaten whole. Again, they were beautiful and crisp, and dipped in the honey sauce was a nice touch as the prawns already have a slight sweetness to them, which was enhanced.
My favourite were the skewers sticking out of the board which consisted of octopus and anchovy pieces coated in a pistachio praline. As you may have read before, they are to die for. Sweetness, saltiness and such a combination of textures from the hard nuts, creamy butter, chewy octopus and oily anchovies.
Lastly mussels with a light tomato relish topped with melted cheese on top.

The next course, or Entree 1, was Seared scallop souvlaki with chicken keftedes on a salad of Santorini capers with a cauliflower vinaigrette. The idea of mixing such delicate seafood with a 'chicken meatball' may seem strange, but the fact that it is chicken makes it work. Normally kefdethes are made of beef mince, which would overpower the scallops, but the chicken was mild enough in flavour to let the scallop's flavours be shown and not overpowered. The cauliflower helped dampen the chickens flavours so the sweetness of the scallops was tasted.

Entree 2 was probably the second or third time I had had roasted quail. In dolmathes, now that was different to me. I was only ever used to cigarette sized ones my Yiayia would make with beef mince, but with the quail, which was so soft and tender with a sweetness to them, they were delectable. They were served with vegetables 'a la greque' i.e. somewhat candied vegetables including carrots, fried thinly sliced potato and a fruit jelly, served with a mustard and tahini vinaigrette which compliments the flavour of the quail well. Often game is paired with something sweet to balance their heavier flavours. I have read since this dinner that quail and vine leafs are two ingredients that go so well together. Throw in a sweet fruit like grapes or pomegranate and you will have the base of a fantastic dish.

The intermediary course was quite a fun dish. Comprising of a salad of Labne coated in chives; cumin roasted beetroot with Attiki honey sauce; and eggplant relish with saffron butter. We each took a little portion of all the flavours and were given a pistachio muffin. The idea was to combine all the flavours and experience different combinations. All were nice but the saffron butter was outstanding, smooth, creamy and strong in flavour and worked well with all other flavours but especially the eggplant. It is a shame it is such an expensive ingredient, but after you read how it must be pollinated and hand picked, it is easy to understand why.

Once it was time for mains we were all so full, but we are in a Greek restaurant, so it is a necessity to try the lamb, especially since it had just been cut off the rotisserie. It was so tender and juicy, it just melted in our mouths. Served with a beautiful Greek salad and garlic potatoes, it is probably the most traditional meal, or the one that people most link to Greek cuisine. Of course I would have high standards, I mean comparing to my Yiayia's roast lamb and her potatoes which I have been in love with since I was a little girl, but I can say that George does not disappoint and his would have to be right up there with Yiayia........but not better, nothing ever is.

The second main was nice but nothing we were crazy over. It was grilled swordfish served with Risoni, broad bean puree and roasted peppers. The fish was kind of boring to be honest, just served with lemon juice, which I always find with swordfish. Maybe if a stronger flavoured fish was used it would have been more appetizing. The roasted peppers were surprisingly cold, not warm straight out of the oven like I expected and risoni is something I still can't quite enjoy. It is too much like rice without being rice and I just find it odd, but that is a personal dislike.The dip on the other hand was beautiful, smooth and a nice change from hummus.

Still more food? We really were struggling to eat any more, but who could miss dessert. A mixed plate of Loukoumathes with honey and walnuts, which are similar to donuts but are crisp on the outside. They were perfect, which is something very hard to achieve as the batter never wants to form a perfect ball shapes. Next was the richest chocolate tart served with extra chocolate, a biscuit crumble and amazingly fantastic pistachio ice cream. Definitely the best dish there. What girl couldn't love rich chocolate and that ice cream just paired with it perfectly and made it easier to eat more as it broke down the tarts richness.
The last two desserts Greek kafe pannacotta with Greek coffee crumble on top and Creme caramel with a sesame seed wafer were quite boring and after such a nice and full on tart, I decided after one taste not to ruin the dinner and finish with things that I disliked, so I went back to finish off the last loukoumathe instead.

Finally we were finished and thanking the gods no more food was to come our way. It was a great experience overall and I was so happy my friends could share it with me. I was especially proud some of the tried ingredients they would not normally have, such as olives, muscles or scallops. To be able to let my friends into my world of food really made my night, as I am always telling them about the restaurants I go to or the amazing dishes I have just tried, and this was my opportunity to show them why I do it and love it so much.

Finally I added a few photos with the fantastic staff, Kyle our waiter and then our Somillier, whose name does escape me, but he was extremely helpful.


Bellini Valli said...

What an amazing array of foods and flavours Trish. Ut sounds like my kind of evening!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Trish!
Greetings from the Land of the Rising Sun!
The Old Dragon was really impressed by your scroll!
Now, this said, this is a very good posting, for many, many reasons. But the main one is that it was a purely ethnic meal!
You ought to apply with the next Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 event with a similar feast (they will contribute 250$ if they choose you).
Refer to this particular meal.
When you submit your idea, point out your friendship with the staff!
Quails! I never tire of them!
Cheers and all that!

Ivy said...

Hi Trish, thanks for visiting me and I am really glad to have found you. What a feast!! Everything sounded amazing.

---trish--- said...

I'm glad you liked the article Ivy. It was amazing and I cannot wait to go back down to Melbourne to try Calombaris' new restaurant which is simple Meze and a nice casual atmosphere, Hellenic Republic.

It was just reviewed in Gourmet Traveller this month. Hopefully I'll get down there after I return from Europe in July : )

I love your website too and can't wait to try some of your recipes as sadly I have lost my yiayia's recipes as she is starting to loose her memory, but one that I captured before it was too late was our Flaounes.

Rowena said...

What a MEAL! I couldn't get beyond the meze because your description of the skewered octopus and anchovy pieces in pistachio praline was making me weep. I must find recipe.

Thanks for stopping by! How lucky to have worked in a cheese & wine bar...I think I'd love a job like that as there are so many cheeses to learn about and you can't just continue to buy each one on the list (unless you're loadeded) ;-)

I've found some information for you which I'll send in an email.

Peter G said...

I have yet to eat at "The Press Club" and after seeing what you devoured, I def want to head on over. What a feast! A great review Trish!

---trish--- said...

Thanks Peter : )

You will have to go and try it out, but also take the time to go to Hellenic Republic as it is also great food but different approach, more casual with just Meze. George was telling me he wanted it to be like in Greece. The waiter comes over and says "What do you feel like"....then works out a menu from that rahter than picking everything off al a carte. Hopefully I can go down when I get back from Europe in July as there are a few other places I really want to try, especially a Turkish place called Gigibaba.