Bar Nacional – Bringing Spain to Collins Street

panda 5 rating

Menu:
Raciones and Postres Bar Nacional Menu Comida Menu
D was down from Singapore visiting Melbourne and we needed a place to lunch in the Docklands area – what a perfect occasion to check out Bar Nacional. Bar Nacional is a partnership between Gavin Baker and Pete Evans who bring a bit of their time, memories and experience of San Sebastian to fruition.

Bar Nacional is a warm, inviting venue that is bustling with energy from the moment you step inside – be it at lunchtime, dinnertime, anytime. There is a central bar, with seats and tables surrounding it – the tables range from high to lower tables – and also ottomans and low chairs to sit comfortably. There are earthy tones together with bursts of orange. At the bar there are hanging cured meats to further complement the Spanish vibe.

The menu is created by head chef Alex Drobvsz (Daniel Boulud’s Bistro Moderne, Gordon Ramsay’s Maze) with desserts designed and perfected by Shaun Quade (The Royal Mail, Quay, Biota). Jo Barrett (MoVida Bakery) and Tom Beaumont (coffee director at St Ali) round up the rest of the team. The menu has a selection of tapas (small bites), Raciones (larger dishes – designed to share), and of course ending with Postres (desserts). There is also a Comida Menu which is available for lunch, which allows you try out some of the larger dishes and add some tapas dishes at a cheaper price, as well as adding a half glass of wine for $5. Many of the dishes display the wealth of experience that comes from the Chefs – and has an interesting array of unique ingredients, flavour combinations whilst staying true to the Spanish theme.

There is also a great drinks menu which encompasses wines from Spain and Australia, as well as house-made Sangria, Australian craft beers, ciders – all which when put together with the food are complementary.

For all the cured meat lovers – this is your heaven. There are three types of jamón, including the magnificently rich and sweet 36-month-cured jamón bellota puro, the deep-flavoured lomo (cured and seasoned pork tenderloin), the dry-cured bull negro sausage and a very good chorizo. These are all cured and sliced to order – either in 30 grams or 60 gram lots, but you can just order a charcuteria to get a selection to try them all out!

We ordered a mix of tapas and Raciones dishes for the 4 of us to share. We started off with the Charred Broccoli Croquette. Each croquette was securely placed on the plate with lemon aioli under each croquette. The Croquettes were delicious – golden perfection the outside, a great crunch combined with the rich, creamy and nutty flavouring on the inside. It was refreshing to see broccoli (one of my fave vegetables) to be inside, instead of the usual mushroom / rice combination you find.

We then received the Prawn Salad, Avocado, Lemon Puree, Saffron and Rooftop Greens and the Patatas Bravas. However, V realised that when the Prawn salad came out, there was still a plastic film left on top of the flat solid puree. We notified the waitress and she apologised and brought us a fresh dish sans plastic film. (They didn’t charge us for this dish). The Prawn salad was an interesting dish – it was refreshing and the combination of the elements and textures worked well together. It was a fancy interpretation of a salad that worked well.

The Patatas Bravas was delicious – crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside and finished with a smoky tomato sauce. You cannot go wrong by ordering this dish.

We also ordered the Grilled Bread, Marinated Yoghurt dish. The bread was soft, fluffy and beautifully made and I absolutely loved the seasoning on the crust of the bread – a combination of seasame, poppy seeds, dukkah and spices. The marinated yoghurt got lots of interesting mm’s and sounds around the table – with the result of enjoyment. The tanginess of the yoghurt worked well with the spices in the bread.

Next up was the very, very and by very I mean very impressive Racione dish of the Baked Flathead, Smoked Eggplant and Salad Greens. This has been cooked on a cherry-wood plate in a wood-fired Josper at 400 degrees. For the preparation of this dish Drobysz gets the firewood supplier to cut various fruit woods – varying from peach, cherry, olive and almond – into disc sized pieces and puts the whole fish on the board. The fish is then brushed with garlic oil, salt and pepper and put into the oven. Here the oils from the wood are released and mixed into the fish. The result is a smouldering (literally) dish that comes out to the table together with the brilliant smell of the smoky char. The plating of the dish is fantastic – the fish is casually draped on top of the wood that it was cooked in – to the side is a dollop of the smoky eggplant. The fish was perfectly cooked and was soft with a smoky flavour – the only issue was the abundance of the little bones – however all is forgiven when you eat the fish. The smoky eggplant was the perfect accompaniment to the fish.

The others also ordered the Braised Beef Empanada – which look like mini pocket samousas. They all enjoyed this and loved how soft and flavoured the beef was on the inside.

I couldn’t leave without trying one of Shane Quade’s desserts. I couldn’t decide which of his desserts I wanted but in the end went with the Baked Sweetcorn, Popcorn Ice Cream, Toasted Maize and Brown Butter. And am I glad I did. The dish came out plated beautifully – and is up there with the best in terms of presentation. There was a smooth, ice cream like consistency mousse that resembled that of a corn cob, together with a perfect quenelle of Popcorn Ice cream – I MEAN ITS POPCORN ICE CREAM! How awesome is that!! Finished with Toasted Maize sprinkled on top together with milk powder and fried polenta. It was a mix of savoury and sweet and it really worked! This dessert is quite a heavy dish, but you simply cannot leave any of it behind – its just too good! You find yourself going back for more even after you tell yourself you cannot put anymore down. Definitely try this dessert out! IT’S A MUST!

I had a great time at Bar Nacional – the staff are friendly and really know their dishes – you can ask them to describe a dish of what exactly it is and they are do so with a smile. The dishes are of great quality with a taste to match – aside from the one hiccup with the plastic film (all is forgiven as the food overall was just delicious). Bar Nacional is definitely bringing a bit of Spain / San Sebastian to Docklands – and a result will increase foot traffic to this part of town. Try it out for yourself and see what I am talking about.

Rating : 5 Pandas
Price: $$$$
Menu – Refer to pics above or check it out at http://www.barnacional.com.au/menu
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Modern, Funky and Chilled out
Standout Dish: Baked Flathead, Smoked Eggplant and Salad Greens and for Dessert – Baked Sweetcorn, Popcorn Ice Cream, Toasted Maize and Brown Butter
Service: Fantastic, Friendly, Knowledgeable
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://www.barnacional.com.au
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.barnacional.com.au/
727 Collins Street, Docklands
Tel No: 9252 7999

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 8:00 am – 9:00 pm

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Epocha – Tasty & Wholesome Food!

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halal (1)(ONLY THE CHICKEN IS HALAL)

Epocha which means ‘a new or distinctive era’ in a variety of European languages is a newly opened restaurant in Rathdowne Street, Carlton. It is located in the stunning heritage listed Victorian terrace which overlooks Carlton Gardens. And as owner Angie Giannakodakis, researched and discovered that it was commissioned by gentlewoman Hannah Mabel in 1884 – and the upstairs bar pays homage to her and is aptly called Hannah’s Bar.

Epocha is European inspired restaurant and bar brought to you by Angie Giannakodakis (former front-of-house manager The Press Club) together with business partner Guy Holder. The head chef is Mick Bolam who is the former head chef of Restaurant Sanctuary at Peppers in the Hunter Valley. The main focus of Epocha is around its main philosophy – sharing tasty and wholesome food. It is home style food that pays tribute to its European traditions with touches of Greek, English and French influences (such as the charcuterie and cheeses).

As you walk up the stairs to the terrace house entrance you know that you are about to expect something that you will be awe of – and you wont be disappointed. A elegant and rustic dining room welcomes you complete with wooden floors (that are creaky for authenticity), low hanging lights, dark wooden furniture with a colourful tiled table top, a huge old school style clock on the wall and homely olive green chairs. It really has a homely feel to it and you know you are in good hands as the service is impeccable, warm and welcoming – you just fit right in.

In addition to the main downstairs dining area, there is an upstairs area / function room with a balcony – this is Hannah’s Bar. You can come here for casual drinks as well as play games of backgammon.

We were seating in the downstairs dining area and the first thing that caught my idea was a wooden trolley which had a variety of cheeses as well as desserts on offer. What also caught my eye on the trolley was the wooden frame which housed honeycomb and honey. Such a great idea which once again makes it feel more homely. The menu is split into different sections such as snacks, small shares, large shares, accompaniments, dessert & cheese. There is also a sharing menu which is $68 per person where the Chef will pick what dishes your table gets. We decided to pick some dishes from each of the snacks, small shares, large shares and accompaniments. The waitress was helpful in letting us know if she thought we had ordered too many dishes, and assisted us in choosing our dishes as well.

Whilst we waited for our food we were given warm bread which comes in a knotted cloth bag which is something different. The bread (rye and caraway seed) was freshly made, soft and delicious. I got an oyster to start off with – fresh and tasty. We also got Mushroom Aranchini and Jamon, Fior Di Latte Croquettes to start off with. The Mushroom Aranchini was crumbed and crunchy on the outside and the filling on the inside was perfectly seasoned, and the mushrooms were moist and tasty. My friends did enjoy the Jamon Croquettes as well, and they were on the large side so that was an added bonus. We also got the Spiced Chickpea and Bread Crisps. The spiced chickpea was quite tasty and had a great balance of tanginess and spice. I loved the addition of the bread crisps – I enjoyed the crunchiness against the chickpea dip.

Some of the smaller share dishes that we selected were – Spring Asparagus with Slow Cooked Hens Egg, Tarragon and the Baby Carrots, Honey, Goat’s Curd, Sesame, Beetroot and Skate, Caper, Lemon, Parsley, Fava and lastly the Confit Duck Leg, Peas, Lettuce. The asparagus dish was a very different and interesting dish  – the asparagus was simply sautéed and absorbed the flavours of the tarragon, the hens egg was perfectly cooked and once you cracked it open the yolk oozed out and served as an additional sauce for the asparagus. The flavour combination was a mash of flavours that worked.

The Beetroot and Honey dish was my favourite dish and to this day I talk about it. I LOVED IT. The honey together with the goats curd was a great mix and was delicious – add in the sweetness and softness of the beetroot and carrots and you truly have a memorable dish. Highly recommended.

Skate is a type of large marine fish and this dish came with capers, lemon and fava – which is a type of bean. The sauce was tangy and creamy all at the same time. The skate was cooked fantastically and was still moist and mild in flavour. You really did need the addition of the capers and the sauce to really make the dish and make them it did. Another really tasty dish.

Once we had finished our snacks and smaller share dishes, it time for the larger shares. First up we got the Bird – which consisted of the breast, wing, thigh and leg. Crispy and crackly on the outside, moist and simply seasoned on the inside. This dish was served with a swig of rosemary. The whole fish that we got was Flounder – this came with Fruit Rub, Dill, Lemon and Salsa Verde. The dish comes out to the table as a whole fish and then we get to watch our waitress de-bone the entire fish for us. It’s a great process to watch as they seem to glide through the process – I could never do it with such ease. The fish is buttery and cooked amazingly, the salsa verde and fruit rub give it a mix of tangy and sweetness – you could add lemon if you needed an additional tang. We did order another larger dish but it was never brought out – and we were actually alright with that anyway as we were all so full and still had dessert to go.

Dessert time meant that the trolley was wheeled over to us for us to decide – they all cost $12. We settled on getting one of each dessert – Crème brulee, Chocolate Gateau, Tiramasu and Lemon & Ricotta Cannoli. The Crème brulee was smooth, sweet and small with a delicious crackling on top. The Lemon & Ricotta Cannoli was crunchy and the pastry was delicious – the lemon filling was buttery, sharp and strong all at the same time. The tiramisu ( I couldn’t have this as it had lots of alcohol in it) was quite alcohol filled as my friends told me but delicious nonetheless. The Chocolate Gateau was a clear winner – from the brownie bass to the centre chocolate mousse filling and topped off with a ganache chocolate topping. It looked as rich as it sounds but was such a great way to finish a fantastic meal.

Epocha is a fantastic place that everyone should definitely check it out – be it for a casual drink upstairs or if its a meal at the dining room downstairs. The atmosphere is homely, welcoming and quaint and the service is one of the best that I have experienced in Melbourne. There is antique silverware, vintage cutlery and crockery, colorful table tops, wooden creaky floors all which add to its uniqueness. There is also an international wine selection and the staff are happy to assist in getting you the right selection. If there is one place that should be on your list of places to try out it should be EPOCHA.

Rating : 4.5 Pandas
Price: $$$
Menu – Dinner Menu – can be found at http://epocha.com.au/pdf/Epocha-Menu.pdf
On Sundays there is a four course menu available for a Family Sunday priced at $45 pp
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience:
Standout Dish: Baby Carrots, Honey, Goats Curd, Seasame, Beetroot (this is my new fave salad – IT’S THAT GOOD!!)
Service: Fantastic and Attentive and Friendly. We asked our waitress quite a bit of questions and she answered all of them and if she didn’t know the answer, she found out. They are also very inviting and hospitable. All round great service!
Online Booking: They are currently updating their website so it is best to call or email at eat@epocha.com.au
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://epocha.com.au/
49 Rathdowne St, Carlton
Tel No: 9036 4949

Opening Hours:
Closed Mondays
Lunch
Tuesday to Saturday: From 12pm
Dinner
Tuesday to Saturday: 5:30pm to Late
Sunday Roast Lunch: 12pm to 4pm

Hannah’s Bar
Tuesday to Saturday: 12pm to Late

Epocha on Urbanspoon

Portello Rosso – Terrific Tasting Tapas!

panda-4-5-rating4

Portello Rosso is a small tapas and Jamón restaurant located in a laneway off Little Bourke street in the heart of the Melbourne CBD. You walk into the restaurant via two big red rolling doors and are welcomed into a softly lit space that is filled with wooden hues. To the right hand side is a wall of wines, and as you enter there is a wooden table which is the share table from which you the kitchen is visible. There is also room to sit upstairs or at the bar. The atmosphere is romantic and casual all at the same time and is a fantastic place to just relax and chill. The staff are friendly and always have a smile.

The menu is absolutely delicious! The dishes are authentically Spanish from the way of dining and created by Aaron Whitney – sharing dishes-  to the huge variety of wine. Portello Rosso also serves Jamón which is commonly found in Spain, served on a Charcuterie Plate or simply wrapped around Prawns. The Patatas Bravas with Sweet Smoked Paprika, Spicy Tomato Jam & Aioli is my favourite dish on their menu and is the best Patatas Bravas I have had. The potatoes are fresh and juicy and the paprika is smoked to perfection. Roasted Baby Beetroot Salad with Pumpkin, Almonds, Goat’s Cheese & Sherry Caramel Dressing is another winning dish for me. The flavours just worked fantastically and it really didn’t feel like a salad dish. Mojama Air-Dried Yellow Fin Tuna on Grilled Garlic Crostini with Tomato, Cucumber & Herbs should be tried as well – the tuna tastes magnificent and paired with the tomato, herbs and cucumber really does make you feel like you are in Spain. Paella is also on their menu – there are four different types to select from and include a seafood and vegetarian version. They are made fresh to order and will require a 45 minute wait. Another thing to note on the menu is for groups of 8 or more- you can select from a Degustation menu starting from $32 up to $62. Bookings need to be made in advance for this and the different menus can be found via the menu link below.
The desserts are a must try as well – the menu has changed now – but the Spiced Chocolate Pudding and the Creme Catalana were delicious and flavorsome.

Portello Rosso is an intimate space and is great for a catchup with friends before you head next door to Murmur Bar or even a romantic night out that will definitely make you feel a little bit of Spain in Melbourne. Murmur Bar is another awesome place and make the best cocktails and mocktails around Melbourne. What a perfect night out – dinner at Portello Rosso followed by drinks at Murmur =)

The owners of both these establishments, have a third place as well – Brunswick Mess Hall – another bar and eatery which has the best atmosphere. They share the same philosophy of Portello Rosso and Murmur and is another definite must try. In the short time it has been around, it has drawn a massive crowd and Friday and Saturday nights are buzzing. Look for a review coming up in the near future .

Rating : 4.5 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – Tapas dishes – check out the menu at http://portellorosso.com.au/tapas.html. There are also a selection of Degustation menus which start from $32 up to $62 for groups of more than 8 (this needs to be booked prior)
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Casual and Relaxed, and a piece of Spain in the Melbourne laneway. Great for a first date or a night out / catch-up with a group of friends.
Standout Dish: Patatas Bravas with Sweet Smoked Paprika, Spicy Tomato Jam & Aioli
Service: Friendly and Laid Back
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://portellorosso.com.au/reservations.html
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://portellorosso.com.au/home.html
15 Warburton Lane, Melbourne
Tel No: 9602 2273

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 12pm to 3pm & 6pm-Late
Saturday: 6pm-Late

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Fenix – Venue with a View

Dinner at Fenix was my second time here. This time it was for a girlfriends Hens Night, the previous time it was for Lunch. I have to admit that when I was told that we were going to Fenix for dinner, I wasn’t looking forward to it because the last time when I came for lunch I wasn’t very impressed. The food was not bad, but from a Gary Mehigan restaurant I was expecting a LOT more. But I have to say that the experience and the food this time around was a lot better and the food was delicious! Not all dishes were fantastic but a majority of the dishes we had were great tasting dishes and all the girls enjoyed their meals. One thing that is consistent is the service – both times it was impeccable and friendly.

Fenix is owned by Masterchef Judge and Chef Gary Mehigan in the picturesque part of Richmond with overlooking views of the Yarra River. The restaurant is split level and impressive with its floor to ceiling glass windows surrounding the whole venue to allow for the views. On the higher level, there is a fire place which sets the mood to cosy and is great for those wintry Melbourne nights. The set up is formal yet somewhat casual at the same time and the friendly staff do make you feel at ease. Fenix upstairs also serves as a reception centre for weddings or cocktail functions. For further info refer to the following link – http://www.fenix.com.au/page/Weddings.

As we walked into Fenix and were shown to our table we were greeted by none other than Gary Mehigan himself. Gary went around to each of the tables that night and said hello and had a little chat which I thought was a very nice touch. When he came over to our table (of 15 girls mind you) he obliged to take a photo with about 8 different cameras. Gary was very obliging and even suggested different poses for the different cameras.

My friend who had booked for the Hen’s Dinner was told at the time of booking that we would need to pick from the set menu either 2 or 3 courses, however when we got there and were looking at the menu’s we were told that we could pick from the A la Carte menu and choose any of the dishes, so we didn’t have that restriction. This was very nice of them as we had free reign on the menu. Most of the girls had  selection of Entrées and main, whilst some had all three courses – Entrée, Main and Dessert (Yes…I was one of them =p).

For the Entrée I ordered Blue Swimmer Crab Stuffed Zucchini Flowers with Cashews and Black Garlic Dressing. These Zucchini Flowers were very tasty and the right amount of seasoning. The Crab was cooked perfectly and together with the black garlic dressing made for a great combination. The other Entrée I tried was the Atlantic Salmon Ceviche with Watermelon, Persian Feta and Coriander Shoot Salad. The mixture of salmon with the fresh flavours of the watermelon was delicious! This Entrée was actually one of my favourite dishes of the night. The addition of lime added the extra tang and further enhanced the feta used.

My main dish was Yellow fin tuna & spanner crab spaghettini, confit tomatoes, olives & lemon. There was an addition of caviar and breadcrumbs. I really enjoyed the breadcrumbs which added to the texture of the dish. The spaghettini was nicely flavoured, however I wasnt a fan of the yellow fin tuna. The yellow fin tuna still had an overly “fishy” taste and some bits were dry. I also tried the Ricotta & basil gnocchi, Otway forest shiitake mushrooms, spring peas. This is one of the best Gnocchi dishes I have tasted. The gnocchi was melt in your mouth and as I am a huge fan of mushrooms, was the best compliment to the dish. The Squid Ink Risotto, Seared Japanese Scallops, Green Asparagus Salad was also great. There was a tang mixed in with the flavours of squid and scallops. All dishes were of a generous serving size and were really filling. I was regretting ordering dessert!

For Dessert my order was Dan’s decadent chocolate trifle passion fruit jelly, hazelnut crunch. The aim of the dish is to get every layer in one mouthful. The addition of popcorn on the top was an interesting addition that you dont usually see on many desserts. This added for an extra texture amongst the trifle, jelly and crunch. The other desserts ordered were presented beautifully and tasted just as great. The Baked orange cheesecake, citrus salad, blood orange sorbet also came with some edible flowers on the side, which added extra colour and pop.  The Bourbon vanilla bean crème brûlée, chocolate & honey madelines I was told was amazing and a definite must try.

I must say that my experience at Fenix the second time around was fantastic and the food was of higher and better quality than the first time around. The venue is great and the dishes tasty. And also you might just get a photo op with Gary himself.

Rating : 3.5 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – Various Menus – go to http://www.fenix.com.au/page/Restaurant – there are variety of menus, from Spring Dinner Menus, Express Lunch, Sunday Set Lunch, Dinner, Breakfast and Bar Snacks
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Classy – a room with a view of Melbourne from 55 floors up
Standout Dish:
Service:
Online Booking: Yes via http://www.fenix.com.au/page/Book_a_Table
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.fenix.com.au/
680 Victoria St, Richmond
Tel No: 9427 8500

Opening Hours:
Coffee – from 8:00am daily
Breakfast: Saturday & Sunday: from 8:30am onwards
Lunch: Monday to Saturday:  12:00 – 3:00pm
Sunday Lunch: Set lunch from 12:00 – 4:00pm
Dinner: Monday to Satuday: 6:00 pm – Late

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