Hungry Hinch


To steal from TW3 David Frost’s satirical TV show from the 1960s:  That Was The Year That Was. It’s time to make some foodie observations on 2010.

I won’t make this a culinary The Good, The Bad and The Ugly because, at this stage of my dining out career, I try to avoid The Bad and The Ugly. Try a few new places but, increasingly, I’m a creature of habit and go back to the same favoured places.

I find myself going there for a specific dish that I know they’ll do well every time. And sometimes just because I find the ambience totally to my liking.

Or I know it won’t be a hassle and the service will be smooth and well-timed.

As in comedy, timing is important. In fact, to regular restaurant goers, it is near the top of the list. If you feel pressured, or hurried, or feel they need your table for a re-set, your whole dinner can be ruined. Not to mention the heartburn aftermath.
That was the case recently when we went to the hottest new place in New York --  a trendy new Italian restaurant in downtown Manhattan called SD 26.

As I said in my blog [My Liver. My Life. Post # 28]:

‘You know it’s an “in” place because the wine list comes on an iPad and you’ve barely had time to burp after your appetiser before the main course arrives so they can get you out and re-set the table’.

It almost ruined our night.

One of my other pet peeves from 2010 – and this one ranks even higher for Mrs. Nosebag because she is vegequarian. Why is it that in many restaurants, even big reputation, big ticket, places, they cannot seem to deliver plates of  vegetables that arrive hot at your table?

They have obviously been prepared out of synch with the main course and sit, losing heat, for minutes in the kitchen?

One place that is innocent of that charge is Neil Perry’s Rockpool at Crown. Not only do they serve the freshest, hottest plates of vegetables, they also have the best tasting carrots you’ll find anywhere.

Rockpool also scores a guernsey for impeccable service. It’s a Perry trait. It’s like a faultless, well-oiled machine, but the staff still remain friendly and attentive without fawning.

I also have noticed how, before they re-set a table, they wipe down the vacated chairs.

That same quality of service is duplicated at Perry’s new Crown venture, Spice Temple, which I dined at recently and will review soon.

Anyway, here are a few other Hungry Hinch memories from 2010 and not in order of importance.

Best Sunday lunch: Riva at St. Kilda Marina. I remember the opening of Riva  about ten years ago. Thought the night was awful and early reports didn’t give the place much of a future.

Owner Drewe Bellmaine has turned it into diverse food and entertainment venue. You can have a romantic dinner for two at night during the week, with drinks overlooking the palm trees and the bay.

There are family lunches, often birthday party tables of 8-10 young women, weddings downstairs and  he packs them in on  New Year’s Eve (2500 revellers) and the big New Year’s Day recovery session (3500).

 Riva is now also one of the most mentioned celeb-spotting venues in the gossip columns.

[I’m a bit spoiled there because the chef now serves me a special ‘Hinchy bread’ which is Turkish bread slices cooked with lashings of garlic and fiery chilli oil.]

Balencia  deserves a mention because the relative newcomer has carved a niche on St. Kilda Road. Good Italian food, generous portions, and Joe is the most accommodating owner-chef. Give him notice and he’ll get you the best Yumomoto oysters from Ocean Made in Richmond.

Actually, Ocean Made deserves an individual mention. I buy genuine New Zealand whitebait from there. The seafood at the old Guillaume [soon to re-open in Crown] all came from Ocean Made as does the seafood at Spice Temple.

And if you are at South Melbourne market, the guys at Aptus somehow keep their cool, amidst the deep queues, as they cheerfully dispense tonnes of oysters, bug tails, lobsters, fresh fish and mussels over Christmas.

An award for great value and consistency goes to Dish at the Royce Hotel. I dine there a lot as my local. Every time my mother-in-law says ‘We’ve never had a bad meal here’. And she is right since they revamped the place about three years ago.

Speaking of hotels, restaurants in hotels are rarely great. As soon as I typed that I thought of The Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel and the smorgasbord at the Four Seasons in  Beverly Hills. They both rated a mention in an earlier Hungry Hinch report called Munching Worldwide [ Dec. 14, 2010.]

Closer to home, Radii in the Park Hyatt, is one of the best restaurants in Melbourne. It has a clever, stylish, menu with stunning entrees and impeccable vegetable dishes.

Crown features heavily in all this because I enjoy going there – to eat and drink and not to gamble.

I love lunching outside on Coffin Bay oysters and garlic prawns and watching the summer passing parade at Number 8. We enjoy drinks at JJ’s where they make me a great Virgin Mary – or a Bloody Shame as I used to call the vodka-less drink in my drinking days.

In 2010 I enjoyed the new seafood menu at the back of the revamped Albert Park Hotel. The menu reminded me a bit of the Oyster Bar in New York. Heaps of dishes on it and they prove that what they serve is fresh by physically crossing out what’s sold out or unavailable on the daily paper menu.

And an honourable mention: The prawn and avocado crispy pizzas cooked by my father-in-law Jim Hayton in his newfangled Cooking Essentials hot air glass oven. Healthy and delicious.

A 2010 tradition before we settle in for a game of Texas Hold ‘em.

I wonder what’s in the culinary cards for 2011?

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