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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bites: Artezen Espresso Bar @ Naturaliste Terrace, Dunsborough.

The last thing one would expect is 2/3rds of the brunch places in the touristy town of Dunsborough to be closed on a long weekend.  But that was exactly what happened.  Thankfully, none of those closed cafes were my  intended destination.  My sister’s skilled recommendation for breakfast was Artezen Cafe.  Needless to say it was really busy.  Before ordering, the waitress reiterated the situation with the huge weekend crowd and informed us that there is a long wait for food or coffee and it might take up to 30 minutes.  We agreed as we were on our way home and had breakfast earlier in the chalet earlier so we were in no hurry anyway.

First up to share with a round of hot drinks was a slice of carrot cake to keep the boredom at bay. Rich in nuts, my main criticism was how the cake felt too dense for my liking. Its like biting into a mud cake except that its a carrot cake.  I personally preferred something dense but not quite as dense. The layer of cream cheese was mediocre at best because it lacked the citrusy notes that usually strikes a balance with the sugar.  It might be a really small issue but it distinguishes a fantastic cake and one that feels cloying in a few bites.

Putting cakes aside, the first dish to reach the table was the Spanish beans with Pita and Fried Egg.  It was simply a joy to look at with its deep red colour looking ripe, and robust.  Even the thought of how squeezing the wedge of lime would enhance the dish already brings a sense of excitement to the table.  True enough, the dish unfolded really well.  It tasted really good!  It is simple but every bit comforting.

The Big Breakfast makes its appearance twice in 4 days! This time around I added a serve of Hollandaise.  I have mentioned before on how hard it is to draw merits from such a common platter yet so very easy to pick out its shortcomings.  It had to be perfect! This is precisely what I meant.  So few elements leave very little room for error.  But here, I got what I ordered that way I liked it.  Bacon was crisped to perfection, eggs runny and Hollandaise silky.  The flavours in the Hollandaise had a rich body of flavour with a mild acidity.  Nice! 
This was actually a Big Breakfast that worked out really well I would have to say. It is one of the better ones along side the old John St. Cafe and Sayers.

Artezen Cafe is a brunch spot that is godsend.  The brunch is credible and is something I am more accustomed to.  Was this a one off?  Possibly not considering my sister’s previous experience here.  A special mention goes out to the staff because despite the busy crowd that day, they were accommodative with my requests for cutleries and drinking glasses.  So, I can assume that they were really nice or their boss told them that all food critics have camera and so all tourist were probably suspects.  Regardless, for the purpose of this review I shall advance with the assumption that my camera played no part at all.  Next time if you are around town, definitely consider stopping by!  Artezen Cafe is a lovely place!

Artezen Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bites: The Urban Bean @ Bussel Highway, Margaret River.

Breakfast on Sunday is pretty difficult meal to have in Margaret River.  In the ever popular cafe strip along Bussel Highway, most of the popular spots like Morries and Margaret River Bakery were not open which means we were left to the likes of mass produced goods like Dome and Brumby’s.  Thank god though, the Urban Bean which was one of the better cafes were open.  

To share around the table, the first dish that arrived was the Urban Bean’s Breakfast Burrito which came looking pretty good topped with a dollop of guacamole and some tomato salsa. 
Fluffy scrambled eggs on the crisp burrito skin was pretty nice.  It was probably the best of the lot.  The little pieces of sausages in there was a nice touch but the lot as a whole tasted rather bland.  But nothing some good old ketchup cannot fix. A good dollop of dipping sauce was all I needed to go form zero to hero.  Not a bad bite at all.

Mom loves her bread and takes very little meat.  From this aspect, the Breakfast Panini which had a good airy texture was her favourite that morning.  However, sis and I who would usually go for a bit more flavour found the bread dish a little bland and the filling were borderline sad.

Ham and Tomato Breakfast Panini.

The final dish to share was a big breakfast.   The big breakfast is something I would rarely order but in this instance, we were short of ideas and decided to go with a breakfast dish that was easily shared.   It is hard to draw merits from such a common platter.  It is however, very easy to get picked out on the shortcomings like the overcooked eggs and boring bacon.  Surely with no hash or homemade bean one would expect a crispy bacon at the very least no?  In their defence though, it was a very busy morning for Urban Bean.  Queues were out the door at the cafe that morning!
Big Breakfast.

The food at Urban Bean is  decent and honest but it is nowhere near special.  On hind sight, I also felt that the execution could be a little bit more refined.  Tough coffee critics, my sister and parents found the coffee art looking a little sloppy and even the coffee was a little burnt.  This made the Instagrammer very disappointed as it did not allow her to snap the “obligatory morning photograph”.  For me the pot of tea I ordered was simply a pot of tea.  Nothing can go wrong with this English beverage.  All in all, the breakfast was not despicably bad but it was not profoundly delicious either.  But considering the next option is a 24 hour time travel back in time to go to famous Margaret River Bakery or a 100km drive to Dunsborough, I would rather eat at Urban Bean and be appreciative.

The Urban Bean on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 13, 2015

Bites: Knee Deep Winery and Restaurant @ Johnson Road, Margaret River.

On the outskirts of Margaret River is another winery that sets the mood for the perfect afternoon.  Knee Deep is a boutique winery that does amazing lunches from its restaurant that benefits from its picturesque vineyard.  Coming in at 2pm, the service was prompt and we were seated in the restaurant which was heavily accented with wood and glass, a classic combinations!  Its a shame that some of the folding doors were closed!  It would have been really nice otherwise with the gentle summer breeze blowing.

To start, I decided to call a round of bite sized titbits for the table.
The tapioca cracker, sweetcorn curd and leek ash was a simple start that felt sophisticated yet simple enough to appreciate.  The crisp cracker paired with the sweet creamy corn curd was nice because the sweetness has some texture to mellow into.  The leek ash had some impact by means of a smokey fragrance but it was marginal at best.

The Knee Deep winery restaurant has strong dishes when it came to their appetisers.  My choice was the slow-cooked omelette, sweetcorn, manchego, and smoked capsicum relish.  It was a special dish that came out looking amazing.  The omelette was topped with tasty manchego cheese and it sat on a smooth corn puree.  On the outside, it was soft and fluffy whilst the insides were kept runny.  Taste wise, everything really matched and it was an enjoyable experience.

Dad’s appetizer to share with mom was the crispy lamb breast, peas, local plums and garlic nougatine.  Cooked to perfection, the meat was not gamey in anyway.  More impressive was how the lamb was really crispy on the outside!

My sister ordered the cured ocean trout with nori puree, edamame, oyster cream and rice crisp.  If you are a big fan of seafood, this is definitely for you.  However, if you are like me who only like odourless fish you might find the composition a little too fishy!  My sister loved every bit of it nonetheless!

The mains were another round of exemplary cooking.  Out of the 4 mains ordered, 3 were the the grilled Barramundi.  Knee Deep’s presentation was again the highlight of the afternoon.  The slice of fish looked great sitting on well-seasoned fennel salad (almost like the one at Tetsuyas).  Its seasoning was very minimal but complemented the fresh fish perfectly with its slightly citrusy notes.  It also had nice sauce but I reckon it could do with a little more salt.  My low point on the dish though, was the skin that could have been cooked more crisp!  But perhaps the disappointment of not having a crispy skin was relieved by the fact that the flesh was still superbly moist and juicy.  I am not a fish snob but one can definitely tells juicy-sweet fish meat from solid and powdery ones!

On the side, was a bowl of potato fritters tossed with kimchi and spicy mayonnaise.  To finish it, the potatoes were topped with some fried shallots.  The top pieces were the best bit due to the generosity of the fragrant shallots.  Potatoes as side are usually very one dimensional i.e. salty.  The potatoes at Knee Deep were special in the sense that it had the sour kimchi bits that made the potatoes mildy spicy and sour.  As a whole, it added a sense of appetite to the entire meal.  At the end though, it got a little sickening! Probably because I was eating the whole thing by myself lol.

Dad has a tendency to go Asian is very likely wherever we go but this time around, he picked the pork because everyone else around the table had the fish.
I reckon dad’s dish stole the show that afternoon.  He called the roasted Berkshire pork belly, with a hot & sour prawn salad, that tasted somewhat like a Som Tam.  The crispy pork belly was simply astounding.  Skin crisp just right, the meat still tender and the fatty layers in between were just nice.  It was not overly thick or sickening but just nice.  The salad on the side was also hard to fault because the salad dressing had a good balance between salty, sweet and acidity.  Not to mention some juicy prawns too. Just yums and it was definitely a good alternative to usual the pork & scallop pairing!

As a whole, the Knee Deep vineyard is an experience in Margaret River worth mentioning.  The food is honest, the produce fresh from the region and creativity on the plate was effective.  Knee Deep's attention to detail was sensational and the artistic plating is clear proof to this statement.  Also, to the money conscious, Knee Deep is not a vineyard that leaves your finances crying.  Without the happy endings of dessert, the bill came to a modest $220 including drinks for the table for 4 people.  Factor in the entertainment card and we only paid $170 for the meal.  Recommended?  Definitely so.  In fact, next time I will be returning for their degustation!

Knee Deep in Margaret River on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Bites: Leeuwin Estate Restaurant @ Stevens Road, Margaret River

South West Australia you awesome thing! It has been awhile since I took a trip to the region.  4 years or so I believe.  The tree-lined drive has always won my fancy and this time around it did not disappoint either.  My 4day trip down South over the long weekend was plenty enough to enjoy some of the region’s finest beaches and dining venues.  Leaving home at 9am, I reached just in time to enjoy lunch at the Leeuwin Estate Winery.

Mom and dad cringed at the thought of another big dollar bill after our unfortunate visit to Lamont’s last year.  Needless to say, I took pleasure in reassuring them not all establishments are built equal.  Seasons change, palates grow and menus evolve.  

To start, we ordered a loaf of bread $7 and a Charcuterie plank $38 with  cured wild boar meat, one with black truffle truffles and the other plain, pork Rillette, tomato chutney, liver parfait, gherkins, pickled peppers and bread.
Everyone had a bite into this decadent plank.  The offerings were vast and each element was surprisingly tasty.  But not as surprising as my dad wrapping the everything up in the slices of cured meats as though eating an inside out Peking duck haha.  Needless to say, it was a good starter.  Perfect for sharing across the table!

Our curious little appetiser, the scallops sashimi $26.
Consisting of three thinly slices of scallop, an avocado mousse and some salsa in a clear consommĂ©, this was a refreshing bite for the afternoon.  Now, if only we could super size this!  I have to say, it was really small even for one person.

Finishing our appetiser, the service was prompt and courteous with the waitstaff asking us whether we were good to start the next course.  Receiving our positive nods, she cleared the table and came out with our mains just moments later.

Dad’s dish of grilled Tiger Prawns ($40~) served on a bed of Cous Cous with little dollops of Harissa.
Bright, presentable and every bit attractive, there was more substance to this than what meets the eye.  Well-cooked prawns, fruity Cous Cous and a sublime sauce to pair.  Whilst it sounded really simple, it was faultless.  

Mom’s fish of the day consisted of a grilled Snapper, Figs, and Prosciutto ($40~).
Mom was happy to be served what she ordered.  She was happy.  Very indeed!  On her behalf, a bite into this help me understood why. It was simply cooked to perfection.  A decent slab of fresh market fish crisp on top, juicy on the inside which condiments that actually make your tongue wag.  

My sis and I shared the 900 gram Rib Eye ($110) that came with a side of fries and salad.
Damn the steak came out looking grand.  As we were one of the first ones to have our mains served, I could tell that other tables decided on their mains based on what we had when they saw the steak come out.  The steak was a clear winner from that perspective. But was it really all that great?  For starters, our request for medium-rare came out closer to medium bordering well-done.  Whilst it was hardly praiseworthy, what surprised me was that the meat was still really tender despite not being perfectly pink in the middle?  Was it trickery to the eye? I wonder.  The condiments of mustards did not look as rich as the Harissa and BĂ©arnaise served at Rockpool but the horseradish and English mustard played a big part in bringing out the flavours of the steak.  I really enjoyed it for some reason.  Holiday mood? :P

The chips were great.  Thinly cut, fried crisp and came served with a yummy aioli dip.  But as good as it was, I was more impressed with the chef’s accompanying salad for the steak. 
The mixture of hand picked garden herbs like mint, basil and coriander mixed with tiny bits of lettuce and rockets in a generous acid dressing was delicious.  Biting into herbs you get layers of fragrance and freshness pouring out.  Pair it with the steak and somehow the combination really worked!  In this instance it tasted so much better than Rockpool's chopped salad!

To end, we had some desserts to share around the plate

Flour-less orange and almond cake ($12)

Dark chocolate mousse with berry foam, sour cherry preserve and spiced grains.

Pineapple panna cotta, pineapple sorbet and a slice of pineapple.
The desserts on the table were all very decadent.  Our palate did not take liking to several elements like the fresh pineapple in the Panna Cotta because it was cut too deep into the core leaving a fibrous taste in each bite.  I also was not too impressed by the spices grain in the chocolate mousse as the ratio did not feel quite right.  But arguably my biggest displeasure was the lack of depth in the chocolate mousse.  It did not feel quite right.  Something was lacking for sure. In saying that, there were still very good desserts like the orange and almond cake. That was yums! 

Including a round of drinks before and after meal, the bill totalled to around $300 which was pretty decent for all the food we had.  To sum the service, ambience and quality of food, Leeuwin Estate really lived up to my expectations.  My booking here was rather unplanned as it turned out to be one of the restaurants with available tables and luckily enough, the food was up to standard.  Also, its elevated restaurant also ensured that the diners are blessed with views of its open field below

Leeuwin Estate Restaurant on Urbanspoon