December 24th, 2006

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - The Restaurant at 3 Weeds

Last night I got to tick off one of my 'want-to-do' restaurants, The Restaurant at 3 Weeds. We did it just in the nick of time, too, as the chef - Darrell Felstead - whose creations I was keen to sample, has his last day at the restaurant today, moving on to open his own venture in Foveaux Street in March 2007. And after last night's dining experience, I will be watching for this opening carefully! The new chef at this venue also sounds well equipped to take it to new and exciting places, with experience at restaurants like Est. in his background.

Our dining pleasure was enhanced by the company of Miss gigglznwrigglz , ozgenre , Naras (an ex-Hellfire Apprentice  Master - Captain Spanky) and his wife Carrol. With everyone being up for a true gourmet experience, we opted for the degustation menu with matched wines, preferring to leave our dining pleasure in the hands of the chef awarded a Chef's Hat in both the 2005/6 & 2006/7 Good Food Guide.

Most of us chose to start the evening with a Spiced Lychee Martini, which impressed no end! Garnished with a chilli, this was a delicately flavoured drink that lingered on the palate thanks to the addition of chilli to the mix. Our choice was further reinforced by the entrance of the Veloute - a bisque-like mix of pumpkin and ginger - which complimented the martini's flavours delightfully.

The next dish was one of the reasons we had ended up at the restaurant in the first place - Cured Ocean Trout with avocado ice cream, spiced cucumber and green apple vinaigrette - and it did not disappoint! The fish was delicately cured in quite a neutral way. It made me wonder if vodka was involved in the process, because the only other time I have had such a silky, delicate morsel of cured trout, it was vodka cured. The icecream was a taste sensation, and complimented the fish beautifully, by being delicate and creamy; whilst the vinaigrette gave the dish a lively edge. I enjoyed the 2005 Campagnola Soave Classico Superiore 'Le Bine' Garganega/Trebbiano from Veneto, Italy both as a stand alone wine, and as a match for the dish.

Our next wine was perhaps the most surprising - a 2005 Willow Creek Vineyard Saignee, Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula, VIC. It was a bright pink in the glass, with strong notes of wood for such a delicate looking wine, and it only truly came into its own with the food - Smoked Duck and Earl Grey Jelly Terrine with duck egg sabayon and cured liver and shiso salad. What a superb little dish this was - I can only liken the texture of the duck to Wagu, and marvel at the way the flavours in this dish combined to leave the duck as the strongest note, with a tantilising complexity provided by the other ingredients working in perfect harmony.

My interest was further piqued by the next dish's complete shift in direction. It was a Fricasse of Mirror Dory and yabbies with foie gras puree, trompette foam, pea vinaigrette and elk salad served with a 2005 McHenry Hohnen '3 Amigos', Marsanne/Chardonnay/Rousanne from the Margaret River, WA. Imagine if you will a crunchy, sweetly caramelised piece of gently flavoured fish topped with a curled yabbie tail, surrounded by white foam, delicately flavoured with my current favourite mushroom Trompette de la mort. This pile of deliciousness is surrounded by small groups of lime green peas, in a vingigrette sauce that leaves a vivid smear on the plate if you moved them.

In terms of how it tasted, well my partner thought that the yabbies were a little overcooked, but as it was the first time I had eaten yabbies, I'm not able to make my own assessment. Personally I loved the dish, but I was a fraction disappointed that the mushroom foam was so delicate in flavour - it got lost when consumed together with the dish's other components, but by itself, I loved it. As for the wine, it represented another great match, as the dish brought out the complexity of the blend nicely. As a drink alone, I found it a little too oaky for my taste.

The star of the evening for me was the Sweetcorn Risotto with cepe cream and basil jelly as it represented a risotto that eclisped all the ones I have had before. The basil jelly was laid at the bottom, then the sweetcorn risotto was ladelled over it, with a brown foamy mushroom flavoured sauce bubbled on the top of a superheated plate. By themselves, each component of this dish was nice, but not outstanding, but eat them together, and wait for the fireworks! I particularly liked the way that the basil jelly made the risotto seem less heavy. The wine served with it was probably my favourite of the evening, a 2003 Domaine Day Viognier from Mt Crawford, SA, but I must admit to enjoying most of it AFTER I savoured every last grain of my risotto, so I have less to report on the matching sucess of the wine and the dish.

The weakest dish of the night came next, which may have made it seem worse than it actually was. It was Roast Barramundi, ragout of baby gem, white asparagus and peas with caramelised boulangere potato, served with a 2005 Te Mata Estate 'Woodthorpe' Chardonnay from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. The wine leant surprisingly to a fruit (lime) driven palate, with low acid, and a wet mouthfeel. I liked it quite a lot. The fish on the other hand was floury and reasonably bland. Having recently eaten a nice Potato Boulangere at Oscars Restaurant in Pyrmont, I must confess to also being a bit disappointed in this part of the dish too.

The chef redeemed himself on the next dish, a Roast Kurabuta Pork Fillet, Caramelised Confit Pork Belly, with braised celery puree, nameko mushrooms and a Pedro Ximenez jus. I am a little partial to dishes that include an ingredient like Pork handled in a number of different ways. In this example of 'pork two ways', I preferred the small medallions of roast pork loin, particularly in combination with the braised celery puree. The nameko mushrooms were not a variety I had had before, and I loved eating the little morsels of intense mushroomy flavour! The caramelised confit of pork belly had the fat largely unrendered, which is not to my taste, as I do not like the texture of the fat, but that aside, the caramelised skin was nice. The jus went with both cuts of pork, and had a vaguely meaty edge to it that reminded me of jamon, making me like it all the more. Unfortunately this dish was paired with the only wine I did not enjoy - a 2004 Castello di Farnatella Chianti Colli Senesi from Tuscany, Italy, and sipping the wine with the food did little to change this for me.

My second sublime combination of the evening came in the pre-dessert, of Blood Orange Sorbet with pink grapefruit foam, lemon jelly and citrus salad. These ingredients melded so sucessfully I nearly begged for more! The blood orange sorbet was bright and acidic, aided by the frothy pink grapefruit foam that capped it. The cubes of lemon jelly were almost sweet in comparison, and a wonderful contrast in texture to the pieces of blood orange that floated in the sorbet with them.

With my palate thoroughly cleansed, and re-enlivened, I was totally ready for my second favourite wine of the evening which was, unusually enough for me, a dessert wine - 2005 Cookoothama Botrytis Semillon from Darlington Point, NSW. I enjoyed this wine far more than any other Botrytis Semillion I have ever had, probably because it had a fresh spicy acidic bite that cut through the sweetness that coated your mouth with apricot and mango flavours.

When I read the dessert, Rhubarb, Ginger and Sheeps Milk Terrine, yoghurt and crumble sorbet with rhubarb and strawberry salad I was not overwhelmingly excited. However upon tasting it, I was actually delighted. The sorbet was an amazing little crumble coated ball of tart, refreshing flavours. The terrine had two sections - a jelly like pink on, which was nice, and a decadently rich opaque white section, which was to die for! Jumping between the three different taste sensations made for a fitting end to a fabulous meal.

Overall, I would agree that the portions were indeed small, but over the course of the degustation, I found it to be a perfectly adequate amount of food, and to represent good value for money. The vegetarian in our party felt well catered for, as the chef was more than happy to adjust the menu to suit her dining needs, sometimes substituting whole dishes, and at other times making small ingredient adjustments to fish dishes that also contained animal parts!

Service was warm, and attentive, though I will say that had we not been dining in a group of articulate and interesting people, sometimes the delays between courses would have been too long. As it was, we began our journey at 7.30pm, and left the restaurant at midnight. But I did leave with a wide smile on my face, thinking that Darrell Felstead is indeed a great culinary force, worth watching in the future.

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Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Cook Islands - the fishes

For mistressfi here come some shots of the fishes! The first three were taken at breakfast in our resort, looking over the edge of the restaurant balcony (note the bird swooping down to catch the food). One of the reasons that the snorkeling is so good in Rarotonga, is that there is a disease inside the reef which means the fish can't be caught and eaten, so all fishing happens outside the reef. This means that the fish inside are tame, friendly, and love to be hand fed... no fear. As you went out further, there were more abundant fish, of more amazing colours.

These two pictures were taken in knee deep water on the outlying island of Atiutaki. The first is of mullet, and the second one  shows my favourite fish - the  Auriga Butterflyfish, also known as the Threadfin Butterflyfish. I was adopted by a school of about 20 of them for nearly 15 minutes, every time I turned around, there they were. I even hand fed them. I started to jokingly call them 'the boys', and hand fed them daily right out the front of our resort.

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