Monday, August 27, 2012

The Press Club

Location: 72 Flinders Street, Melbourne 3000
Phone: (03) 9677 9677
Cuisine: Greek

It's been another weekend of good old Melbourne feasting and where else to start but with the highlight?

The Press Club is probably George Calombaris' most well-known restaurant and it certainly lived up to expectations. The entrance is tucked away just inside the Ernst & Young building on Flinders Street, but once inside, you can't even tell. 

The interior is smart and elegant, with a nice calming ambience. A friendly waitress leads us to our table, takes our coats away and returns with a drinks menu. We're asked whether we'd like still or sparkling water, and after requesting tap, we're informed that is not available. Fair enough if that is the restaurant's protocol, but we later hear a waitress offering our neighbouring table if they would like tap, still or sparkling. Not impressed.

We order cocktails and scan the two options available for lunch: a kerasma (four course sharing menu) or the mini symposium (five course degustation of chef's choices). The Zeus dessert from MasterChef All Stars catches our eyes, and we're pretty much sold. The waitress returns with a wooden box to explain the menu and the specials for the day. With truffle season drawing to a close, it must be on the menu. The waitress opens the box to reveal a large ball of truffle, the aroma immediately wafts across the table.

We're left to ponder our menu choices but with the truffle smell still lingering, it's not hard to decide. We go for the symposium, and add in the truffle special as an extra course.

olive bread, white bread, anchovy butter
The bread arrives - small stacks of olive bread and white bread, with a quinelle of anchovy butter. The butter is to die for - smooth, rich and salty - and it melts into the warmed bread. A great starter, and when offered seconds, we accept without hesitation.

Artichoke - Jerusalem, celeriac, parsnip, smoked walnut, toursi onion, kalamata olive
We're impressed with our first course. From meat lovers like us, any dish that comprises simply of vegetables doesn't ordinarily appeal, but the number of techniques that have gone into the various components on this dish somehow win us over. 

The artichoke is sweet and tender from slow cooking, the onions have been made into a sweet caramelised sorbet, the celeriac is fresh and a little crunchy, and the parsnip is soft. The smoked walnut and olives scattered around the place draw the dish together. But the best part is the quinelle in the centre - subtle flavours of olive oil and grains that taste like cereal in a sorbet.

Swordfish - "Poseidon god of the sea", sea weeds & vegetables, ouzo mayoneza, pink fir
This is the first time I have knowingly eaten swordfish (hey, who knows what people put in 'fish' dishes these days?) and it's impressive. It's gently seared on the outside, and still rare in the centre. The fresh pieces of fish almost have a jelly-like consistency, but firm enough to hold its shape. The delicate flavours balance well with the crunchy savoury seaweed and shaved vegetables. The ouzo mayonnaise is sweet and ties the dish together.

Tasmanian truffle, marron, girolles, kritharaki
A foodie's heaven. After much anticipation, our truffle dish arrives. It's a risoni (Greek rice) based dish, with pieces of marron meat, a mushroom foam and generous slivers of truffle. When they said the special was to showcase the truffle, this certainly does the job. The risoni is cooked to al dente, plump from soaking in its cooking liquid, the marron pieces are sweet and tender, and the mushroom foam is creamy and intense in flavour. 

But the hero is the truffle which has been delicately sliced so thinly that it almost just melts in the mouth without being too overpowering. Truffle is the most amazing thing in the world, end of story.

Hapuka - Trahana, parsley, strawberry clams, maratho, kalamares, lahano
It's my first time eating hapuka and it is certainly an interesting experience. It is one of the firmer types of fish, with a texture that is almost crocodile like - overcooked fishy flavoured chicken. The foam on top is perhaps a little overkill in that it doesn't add much flavour or texture to the dish, but the crisp shavings of vegetables, and the green olive sauce give the dish the added flavour it needs.

Wagyu - 24 hour oyster blade, helleniko kafe, celeriac, horta, heirloom carrot
On arrival, the dish looks a little like your usual steak and mash. Not so. It's no ordinary beef. The wagyu is so tender it cuts easily with a normal knife, and just melts in the mouth. The heirloom carrots are sweet and slightly caramelised, and the white emulsion on the side is slightly sweet and creamy. The grains on top again add an interesting texture to the dish.

Sokolata - A story of Zeus & his 8 mistresses with Michel Cluizel single original dark chocolate
All those who watched MasterChef All Stars would remember the Zeus dessert. It was slightly disappointing that this dish did not look like the one on the show (in particular, the chocolate bar representing Hera was not wrapped in edible gold), but it was nevertheless a beautiful end to the meal.

A large quinelle of 'chocolate clay' (sorbet) was surrounded by various textures and forms of chocolate - chocolate caramel, chocolate sorbet, chocolate cake, chocolate tuile, white chocolate nougat - and some freeze dried raspberries to add a sharp zingy contrast to the richness of the chocolate. The tuile was perfectly crisp, the chocolate clay was cold and refreshing, and the rest just fell into place. Definitely an indulgence.

The service was near impeccable. Aside from that misleading line about water (for which we were then charged $6 per person), the dishes were well timed and presented by passionate waiters and waitresses who ran us through was we were about to eat.

Overall Impression: 9/10
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