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Chef Hats, Michelin Stars, Wine points, oh my!

By: Magda Walczak

In the past month my boyfriend and I have spent a small fortune on fine dining due to a series of special occasions. What I’ve learned through this experience of spending money I really shouldn’t have spent is that critics are very inconsistent. The ones who score wines haven’t been completely axed from my book, but they’re getting darn close too.

Without further ado, here’s my recent culinary journey, in chronological order…

Becasse, French, Sydney

Awarded two hats by Sydney Morning Herald for 2007, 2008 and 2009, Becasse is often described as modern French with slick service and outstanding food. To be honest, I don’t even remember all the dishes we ordered, mainly because they were not spectacular, partly because I was a little drunk (it was my birthday!). Two things were memorable: 1) butter + cream are supposed to equal fine dining, and 2) the chef “really wanted me to enjoy the full journey of my veal… a bit too much. My veal first arrived at the table after our starters, at which point it was still wrapped in cloth and clay. The waiter brought it out to tease me with it… excuse me – to let me experience the journey of my meal. I then waited a good 30 minutes to actually eat the thing, by which point it was overcooked and without much flavour. My verdict: Much ado about nothing. Skip this one.

Vin Cellar, Modern Australian, Melbourne

No hats, no stars, just good food and damn good wine. This is one of my and Blake’s favourite restaurants. It’s a fancy wine shop by day and a restaurant by night. What’s best is that when you dine, you can purchase wines from their extensive wine list at retail prices. That’s how we were introduced to Gaja’s Sangiovese, still the best wine I’ve ever had. The menu here is not spectacular but it’s inventive enough to suit most foodies. None of their pork dishes or deserts have ever failed me. My favourite thing about Vin Cellar is their lounge. After you mains, you can relocate to the back of the restaurant to one of the leather lounges, and have your desert by the fireplace. Super cozy and romantic. Bring your girlfriend.

Cafe di Stasio, Italian, Melbourne

During Blake’s last weekend in Melbourne (before moving up to Sydney) we wanted to try some of the top restaurants, if only to compare what we’ve had in Sydney. Cafe di Stasio was first on our list because its reviews described it as cozy and personable. When we got there we found out those words simply meant that it was small. Oh, well. At two chef’s hats, Cafe di Stasio was a mixed bag. We started off with absolutely killer oysters with horseradish and Parmesan. Those were phenomenal! Best oysters I’ve ever had. Next we had some expensive but unimpressive carpacio, which was drizzled with truffle oil, and I guess that’s why the chef thought he could get away with it. For main we two of the saltiest dishes I can ever remember having: suckling pig and truffled eye fillet. It’s hard to say anything else about those two since salt was the predominant flavour. I’d probably go back here to give them a second chance, but I’m not recommending this place yet.

Bistro Guillaume, French, Melbourne

At two hats and having won best new restaurant, I was expecting a lot. Maybe that’s where I went wrong. While the service was superb (if not a bit arrogant, but then again it was a French restaurant), the food was average. We had braised oxtail and grilled duck breast for mains, both nice, but nothing to write home about. The side dishes of carrots with cumin and rosemary garlic roast potatoes were the stars of the meal, which is a bit sad. My chocolate fondant was superb, however, but not impressive enough for me to go back again.

AquaRoma, Italian, Hong Kong

AquaRoma is actually one half of a restaurant. The other half is called AquaTokyo and when dining there, customers can mix and match Italian and Japanese menus, which sounds a bit weird so we didn’t try it. The restaurant was recommended by a good friend who’s been in Hong Kong many times and said we should go there if only for the view of the famous Hong Kong Symphony of Lights. The meal was quite pleasant with the standouts being snapper carpacio (Oh my god this was AMAZING! Smooth, fresh fish dressed in a slightly tangy vinaigrette. Beautiful.) and squid ink canneloni. One thing that I would frustrating was that they charged AUD$10 for a glass of Coke. That’s a bit excessive, even for a nice restaurant. I’d definitely go back there again and recommend it to anyone going to Hong Kong on holiday.

Robuchon a Galera, French, Macau

This was the most expensive meal of my life. We were already in Hong Kong and this restaurant was rated as the best so we thought, why not? It has three Michelin stars, numerous wine awards (largest wine list in the world!) and endorsements from who’s who of Hong Kong. Oh my lord was this place pretentious! I’m talking antiques, gold plates, one waiter per person. The service staff were literally hovering around us just in case we needed anything. Personally, I found that quite stressful.

As far as the food, some was fabulous and some was downright awful. We started with a refreshing sangria served in a smoking glass. Sounds weird, I know. It’s hard to describe but it was an experience for all senses and it was lovely. Our starters – soft shell crab ravioli and lobster appetizer set – were the highlight of the meal and were perfect. For mains, we had truffled beef filet which was basically tasteless and oily, and duck breast with foie gras, which would have been fine if the meal was balanced differently. As it were, there was so much foie gras compared to the breast that I felt sick when eating it. We finished off with dark chocolate mouse with something similar to Pop Rocks on top, which tickles your mouth as you eat it, and a perfect strawberry sorbet. If you could ignore the texture of the sorbet, you’d swear you were eating fresh strawberries. I don’t regret that we want as it was quite a unique experience and the presentation of the food was as inventive and beautiful as you can get, but I think I’m done with French food for a while…

T’ang Court, Cantonese, Hong Kong

I have two words for you – suckling pig. My mouth waters just thinking about it. T’ang Court nearly restored my faith in star system (it’s just one lovely restaurant among several disappointments, though). The service was superb, the food aromatic, diverse and delicious and even the ambiance worked. We started off with individual baked crabs, then had sweat and sour lobster soup and for main we had their award winning salmon filet as well as the aforementioned PERFECT suckling pig and duck. There was no need for desert as this was the most satisfying meal we’ve had in a long time. I would go back here in a heartbeat and I think this is a must for anyone visiting Hong Kong.