If you’re a regular you will have noticed that there was no Slow Cooked Thursday post yesterday, there will be one coming over the weekend. The reason for the delay was a special one, Mr Good took me to The Press Club for a birthday dinner, a very indulgent, exquisite birthday dinner. We’ve been lucky enough over the years to enjoy some wonderful meals at wonderful restaurants, the banquet at The Flower Drum for a friend’s birthday, a seafood feast a Toofey’s – sadly now closed – where we had a private dining room with our combined families, and amazing yum cha in Hong Kong where a local did the ordering for us. This meal was far and away the best dining experience I have ever had.
This was my third (I think) visit to The Press Club and each time I’ve looked longingly at the degustation (or Symposium as they call it) menu. This time we did it, all nine courses! Though we opted out of the matching wine option, just because they were mostly whites – which I enjoy but Mr Good doesn’t – and nine different wines is way too many for me. Instead we had bubbles (beer for him and sparkling for me) and shared a bottle of a Yarra Valley Pinot Noir – a light enough one that it wasn’t too heavy with the lighter courses.
Now if I was talking to my family I would give a complete and detailed run down of all nine courses, but I thought that might be trying the patience of my readers here so instead I’ll just give you a taste of what we enjoyed most, the highlights if you will. We both thoroughly enjoyed each course, but the stand out for me (somewhat ironically given my current veggie trend) was the slow cooked – twenty-four hours! – wagu oyster blade steak served with olive oil potato puree, heirloom carrots and Tuscan kale (I think?) and topped with a taste sensation, smoked oats. The steak was meltingly tender, a term I never understood until now, and the accompaniments were just mouth watering. The crunch of the oats with the softness of the meat was very special. I know the judges on Master Chef are always going on about texture, I never really think too much about it in my own cooking, but I SHOULD!
In a very close second place (for the savoury courses) was the Hapuka on a bed of fermented cracked wheat and parsley butter with a salad of shaved calamari, cabbage and fennel. As they say on Master Chef, the fish was cooked to perfection and the parsley flavour, which was quite strong ( Liz I thought of you), was so well suited to the subtlety of the fish.
Mr Good’s pick, surprisingly, was the slow roasted celeriac with Jerusalem artichoke, parsnip, Greek pickled onion with some sort of sweet black sticky sauce (balsamic reduction perhaps?), an olive oil sorbet – quite a revelation – and smoked walnuts. This dish also included a meaty tasting paste which I missed the explanation for. This dish was perhaps the most complex and when I tasted some of the individual components they were a little odd, but put them together and something magic really happened. The cold and warm together, soft and crunchy, not to mention the various flavours combining in wonderful ways. This is the sort of dish that screams chefy-ness, that could only be invented by someone who truly understands the palate or by some kind of weird, yet happy, accident.
We both agreed that the second dessert was pretty mind blowing. It was a chocolate and butterscotch parfait with dark chocolate sorbet, pear and capsicum jam and candied olive crumble. The olive and jam had such an unusual effect on the dish, a distinctly savoury flavour combined with the intense sweetness and richness of the two chocolate components. We enjoyed a glass of their recommended dessert wine, complete with history and explanation given by their specialty wine waiter (I’m sure he has a more sophisticated title than that, sommelier perhaps). This was thick, sweet and caramelly.
A quick run down on the other courses, they included deep fried veal sweetmeats with a green bean, anchovy and cauliflower salad, seared swordfish (I had a little moral dilemma with this one as it’s an endangered fish and something I would never buy ordinarily) on a bed of seaweed – which I found just a little too salty – black Tasmanian truffles with wild mushrooms and maron tails which was a very earthy dish, deliciously so, despite the seafood component, venison loin with a raw beetroot salad (Mr Good kindly said my home grown beetroot tasted nicer), lentils and spiced chocolate (it also apparently had raspberries in it, but I didn’t taste them at all). The other dessert we’re a little sketchy about, it definitely included some sort of berry meringue, creme fraiche and something that had a lavender flavour (almost soapy in my opinion). It was more of a palate cleanser, than full on dessert.
Now when I say this is the best meal I’ve ever experienced, I mean it really was a complete experience. The service was impeccable, without being at all stuffy, our waiter was friendly, attentive, but discreet. There were well timed breaks between courses and never a feeling of being rushed (we did however have a late booking so there was no one waiting for the table). Drinks were topped up just before you notice them getting low (though this makes keeping track a bit tricky, we had planned for a taxi home though so this didn’t bother us at all).
To complete the package, this was the first time Mr Good and I have been out together without the girls for a very long time and those last few times have been hasty meals eaten close to home. This one we savoured at a very leisurely pace – thanks to the awesomeness of my sister, babysitting until quite late on a work night! What’s more we chatted like we used to, prior to kids, that is about things other than parenting. We talked about what we would do if (when?) we move to the country, plans for an amazing veggie patch and some chooks. We caught up on each others work and the lives that we sometimes seem to live quite separately from each other. It was wonderful and exactly what we needed. It is so easy to forget that we’re actually in a relationship with each other, rather than just a job sharing (though not equally) position of parents.
Obviously this kind of restaurant, and especially this kind of spectacular meal comes with a certain kind of price tag. It’s quite shocking really, but we made a decision that instead of gifts to each other we would this, experience the kind of food reserved to the very top restaurants. We do it rarely, we save for it and we enjoy every. single. bite! It is going to take something brilliant, unbelievably brilliant to beat this. But that won’t stop us trying. And just as a final aside, their water glasses – heavy glass with an orange swirl through it, obviously hand made – I would do almost anything to get my hands on.