After a long bath to ease my aching feet, I was hungry again! Luckily we had reservations at Maha Bar and Grill. It's part of The Press Club Group stable of restaurants, part-owned by Masterchef judge George Calombaris. You'll even find what I'm starting to describe as a hat-prerequisite, L'Occitane products in the bathrooms... I guess George knows what they look for... I was excited about this one, as I was keen to see what modern Middle Eastern cooking might be. My first thoughts inside the warm, luxurious space was that the service was excellent, however it comes at a price. Frankly I think $45 is too much for a main. There's work on the plates but I couldn't see that much more than I usually see on Sydney plates for the extra $12-$15 bucks they're charging.
The first dish I tried was the House Made Venison Basterma, Japanese Mayo, Fried Spiced Quail Egg with Eggplant ($24) which was a good solid, enjoyable dish.
I wasn't so sold on the Port Lincoln Octopus Stuffat with Pullet Egg, Roast Potato Foam, Aged Garlic and Onion Crispies ($28). Frankly the aged garlic smear tastes like Bovril, which dominates the whole dish. I couldn't find balance, the Middle East or why these ingredients had been teamed together, and it was the dish I was most excited by on the menu. It seemed like a bit of a wank in the end, because when push comes to shove no matter how trendy it looks, it's still got to taste good.
The first hint of magic came in the Duck Bastilla, Spiced Quince Jelly, Kaiser and Walnut Dressing ($30) which finally realised the modern Middle Eastern I'd been hoping to see. It's recognisably Middle Eastern cuisine taken up to fine dining, and all the more impressive because of it!
Perhaps because of my tiny camera, or maybe just because we didn't order a main, the chef sent out this Kirwee Wagyu Sirloin with Oxtail Dumpling, Chestnut and Mushroom Bastilla ($45). It won me over completely - not because it was free (that was a little awkward) but because it was perfect... balance, the way the pasta was cooked, the way the wagyu was charred on the outside yet rare inside... it's a great main and in the end I was glad the chef knew it and send it out despite me not ordering it. It shows he knows what he cooks well, and he cooks this dish very well indeed.
I also fell in love with our ordered serve of Ottoman Inspired Fried Eggplant with Chickpeas, Aleppo Pepper, Coriander and Fermented Black Bean ($9) - a wild side that shows the way that the Middle East intersects with their Asian neighbours. Despite the dishes that didn't win me over and the prices, I'd return to this one, because when you're cutting new ground, you deserve the opportunity to make mistakes, and I'd like to see more of modern Middle Eastern cuisine.
Maha Bar & Grill
21 Bond Street, Melbourne
Ph: (03) 9629 5900
Dining at Lord of the Fries was essential! After seeing it mentioned on Grab Your Fork over a year ago, I filed it away in my mind to recall if I ever found myself in Melbourne. Low and behold, I didn't forget it. Of course I was there for one thing...
Poutine! Here you order a Cone ($4.20) of great fries with a sauce they call French Canadian ($1.75). While it's not totally authentic (they use grated cheese instead of fresh curds), fries with cheese and gravy is darn good anyway! Vegetarians will be pleased to note this is rennet-free cheese. I had to put the box down and walk away after a small sample... it's be way too easy to eat the whole thing!
Lord of the Fries
2-26 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne (Corner Flinders Street)
Ph: (1300) 667 552
If you're the type that dives for a booth in a restaurant, go see something at Forum Theatre. It looks a bit crumbly from the outside, but inside it's quite amazing.
Wrap up your night with a sweet fix at either Walker's Doughnuts, home of the pithy slogan, or the neighbouring Spanish Doughnuts.
Too full to try both, I settled for Spanish, and laughed to see them bastardise churros every which way. You can have them any way you like, so long as it's sugary enough to put you in a diabetic coma and a little on the chewy, oily side. Sadly the hot ones had finished at this late hour, but never mind, I was drunk and easily pleased with a sticky pineapple churros (yes, it's oh-so-wrong).
9 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne
Ph: (03) 9654 5577