Best Eats of 2014 and Forecasts for 2015January 2, 2015
Happy 2015 everyone! What a fantastic year 2014 was for Let Me Feed You – lots of exciting events and launches were attended, many delicious meals enjoyed, and most importantly this wonderful new blog was launched! I’m excited and hungry for what 2015 has to offer. But first, I thought I’d reflect on last year and also set out some of my predictions for the new one. Enjoy!
Best Eats of 2014
It’s been a great year food-wise – I’ve had some really wonderful meals out at restaurants and bars. Many a notable time with Mr N, with my family, and with friends at all sorts of restaurants.
Best Country Restaurant: du Fermier
First things first, Annie Smithers is a gem. An absolute gem. Her restaurant in Trentham, du Fermier, is a cosy, warm room where Smithers and her kitchen serve up rustic French food. The best part? You don’t even have to make up your mind about what to order – each week there is a different menu of an entree, main and dessert, and they do an excellent wine match if you’re that way inclined (I’d recommend a half wine match, generous by any standard, if you’re driving home). The first time we went, Mr N and I were treated to a duck and pork belly cassoulet, and a chocolate meringue with cream for dessert. I returned with family a month ago and we had a leek tart, fantastic Bress-style chickens, roasted to juicy perfection, and a chocolate-cherry mousse for dessert. Du Fermier is the epitome of French provincial cooking, and far and away tops my list of country restaurants. Trust me, you won’t want to leave.
Best for Group Dinners: Jinda Thai
Jinda Thai. Think curry, chilli and a casual atmosphere. To me, that’s the makings of a darn fine group dinner. Most importantly, Jinda Thai takes bookings and is priced very reasonably – you could easily eat very well at under $30 each for food, and not have to constrict yourself to vegetarian or chicken dishes. When I went, we ate soft shell crab som tum (a must), a huge plate of beef pad grapow, and an aromatic and spicy duck curry. To that, add a couple of beers and a warm atmosphere and you’re sitting pretty. The crepe cakes are pretty good too – if you go with a big group, order one of each flavour and compare to find the best!
Best Place to Bring Your Family: Epocha
I say Epocha is the best place to bring your family not because it’s daggy, the food is boring or they have an abundance of high chairs available. I say it because it’s the ultimate crowd pleaser. Epocha reminds you why it’s called the hospitality industry – you feel like a real guest when you dine here (I’ve dined here twice, although I’ve yet to write about it). The food is, broadly speaking, European, with a focus on Italian and Greek dishes. It’s the kind of food everyone likes. The venue, in a townhouse opposite the Carlton Gardens, is quiet and homely, and the service is by far the best I experienced all year. It’s a welcoming, warm restaurant, and I hold Angie and her team in very high regard.
Best Tapas: Bomba
I’m a sucker for a good tapas meal. Ever since a family trip to Barcelona in 2010, I’ve really taken on a taste for this Spanish way of eating. On a warm evening, I love perching at Bomba’s bar and ordering a Lillet Rose with an orange slice, and perhaps a couple of slices of chorizo and some olives, a croqueta or two. Then moving onto a glass of Tempranillo and sharing some prawns, a pork jowl, and a little side salad. It’s just heaven. Their rooftop bar is also kicking, especially on a Friday night, but it’s particularly good mid-week when the place is quieter and you can enjoy a glass of something and get some fresh air.
Best Steak: Station Hotel Footscray
I wrote about the Station Hotel quite recently, so I’m sure many of your remember how pleased I was by their good old fashioned steak menu. The range and quality of steaks available at the Station Hotel, coupled with the local and relaxed atmosphere, smart pricing and a killer wine list makes this a winner in my books. So head on over the Westgate and order a place of beef, hand cut chips and béarnaise sauce!
Best Fine Dining: Saint Crispin
It’s well documented that I am in love with Saint Crispin. From my first visit in December of 2013 to another in May 2014, I’m simply enamoured with the place. Scott Pickett and Joe Grbac are doing some very special, very smart things there, and by far it’s the place I’ve recommended the most to my friends. I think, firstly, the food is fantastic: interesting, beautifully presented, delicious, technique-heavy. Secondly, the strength of the food is the real star at Saint Crispin. The service is attentive but relaxed, the restaurant has a smart/casual atmosphere, and the price point is very accessible. If you haven’t already been, I highly recommend it as the venue for your next birthday or special dinner, and if there’s pork on the menu, order it!
Best Presentation: The Town Mouse
On visuals alone, I have to hand it to the team at The Town Mouse; their food is beautiful. Just beautiful. When I went there with Mr N for my birthday last year, I was so taken with every plate, whether it be a pair of oysters with chardonnay vinegar sorbet, shaved raw calamari with a puddle of apple and dill juice, or the near-famous ash tray dessert of yuzu curd, coconut sorbet and rum. I should say, of course, that the dishes also tasted delicious, but I’ve included Town Mouse in this list for the sheer beauty of its plating.
Best Pho: Pho Hung Vuong 2
2014 was a year of pho-ploration for me. Mr N and I made a point of trying as many pho restaurants as possible and I think we got to 5 or 6 (often with repeat visits to our favourites). My favourite from all those trips was the classic beef pho at Pho Hung Vuong 2. I haven’t blogged about it yet, but their broth is that perfect balance between restorative and energising. I like my pho aromatic, with lots of noodles, blushing pink beef, and a healthy handful of bean shoots, mint and lemon. Pho Hung Vuong 2 in Victoria Street is the place to get it.
Best Cheap Eat: Jimmy Grants
Although I’ve never blogged about Jimmy Grants, it would be incredibly misleading for me to let the year go by, pretending that I didn’t eat there at least once a month. Say what you will about how authentic/inauthentic it may be, I freaking love the place. I’m Greek and I think it’s good, so you can take my word for it! Mr N and I love heading there after a late study session for a Mr Papadopoulos (lamb) or a Nonna Maria (chicken) souvlaki, the NM being my personal favourite. Sometimes we’ll also get the grain salad, sometimes the village (a refreshing mix of cucumber, mint, coriander, feta and a little pearl barley), or sometimes the chips with feta and oregano. As a sort of tradition, a souva at Jimmy’s has become the little treat I give myself after I finish an assignment – most notably after a morning moot where I (and my mooting partner) were both terribly hungover, Jimmy’s provided a yiayia’s relief. Love you, Jimmy.
Foodie Forecasts for 2015
Raw desserts and fried chicken. Kimchi and BBQ sauce. Pulled pork and kale. Coconut water and doughnuts. It’s been a confusing and contradictory year of food trends, to say the least. But what about 2015? I’m thinking a focus on patisserie, Indian and Italian, and vegetable-centic menus, Ottolenghi style.
I know doughnuts saw a huge rise in popularity in 2014, but my guess it they’re here to stay for another year at least. Doughboys, All Day Donuts and Shortstop all dished out delicious doughnuts this year, with people going berserk on Instagram for the raised and sugared treats. The focus at these places was, and will continue to be, inventive flavours and A-class presentation. I should also mention the bombolone trend, with the Tivoli Road Bakery and Baker D Chirico making trays of custard filled delights. While done in more of a Spanish/Italian style rather than an American style, I think their popularity will continue to grow next year. Don’t put those elasticised pants away quite yet.
A few months back, Y and I made this prediction, whispered secretively and urgently while at the library. A few weeks later, we shared a dark chocolate, honey and sesame charcoal tart at Nora. Disappearing before midday, these artisan tarts, made with a signature coconut charcoal base, have been wildly popular in Melbourne since popping up in select cafes. Even more recently, T by Luxbite in the city has launched with great success, with their signature blend of delicate, carefully created tarts. I think tarts, with their roots in French patisserie but updated with modern flavours and technique, will be the sweet relief we’re all waiting for from the Americana phase of the last few years.
Lobster Rolls, and more American cuisine
Yes, again. I can’t honestly say we’ll be finished with burgers, ribs and pulled pork next year because I just don’t think we’re done with them yet. Have they reached their peak? Probably. Will they continue to be a significant feature of the food landscape this year? Sure thing. While I am a tad sick of the American, deep fried, man-food trend, I still love Huxtaburger on a weeknight, I had a great night out at Collingwood smokehouse Le Bon Ton, and I also fell head over heels with the lobster rolls at Smith Street pop-up Mr Claws. If those sweet, spicy rolls from the people at Huxtaburger become a permanent fixture, there’ll be no arguments from me!
I call this the Ottolenghi effect. Friends and family know I am completely besotted with the man – most of the meals I’ve made this year have had a Middle Eastern flavour, or are taken from one of his cookbooks. He’s written before about wanting to make food that “smiles”, and I am hooked on that philosophy. Maximum colour, energy and flavour. I’m thinking beetroot, cauliflower, eggplant, bouquets of multicoloured carrots and heirloom tomatoes. Kale can f–k right off, as far as I’m concerned; while I think it’s a nutritious option, it’s been so overdone in 2014 I am over it. But generally speaking, expect to see locally grown and cleverly matched veggies take centre-stage on this year’s menus. The Town Mouse is a great example of a restaurant that champions vegetables while keeping things interesting.
Artisan Mixers and Spirits
Within Australia particularly we’re seeing a rise in artisan spirits and mixers. Think of it as a follow-on from the recent craft beer explosion in Australia. For example, take Australian small-batch gin makers Four Pillars, West Winds Gin, Stone Pine or the Melbourne Gin Company. While recently at Innocent Bystander in Healesville, I spied a bottle of vermouth by boutique label Causes & Cures (made at the Giant Steps winery) with one helluva dapper label. Served with a twist of orange and lots of ice, it’s a wonderfully refreshing drink.
But it’s not just local spirit makers that are proliferating in number: international artisan mixers have also grown at a significant rate. Take the perfect match for gin: tonic water. No longer are you stuck with Schweppes’ ugly yellow label! There’s well-known Aussie brand Capi’s tonic, English tonics Fever-tree and Fentiman’s, and New Zealand label Quina Fina. Heck, The Gin Queen even wrote an entire blog post reviewing boutique tonics!
Italian food seems to have acquired a reputation for being a little daggy, very 90s, and not really up to date with more modern restaurants. In recent years old-school Italian joints have taken second fiddle to newer and louder South-East Asian, Mexican and Korean restaurants, not to mention the brash fried chicken/American trend I discuss above. But that’s all changing.
Tipo 00, Heart Attack and Vine, Il Melograno, Rosa’s Kitchen, 400 Gradi and newly opened Gradi in Crown are all bringing Italy back into style. Simple, honest, home-style, and above all tasty, accessible food, is key to a good Italian restaurant. Whether it be the perfect bowl of pasta with clams, garlic and chilli, a crusty roll stuffed with porchetta for lunch, or a smooth pistachio gelato, it’s all good. Let’s face it, we’re mad for Italian, always have been, always will be.
So far I’ve mentioned American and Italian food, but I also think that 2015 will be the year of the subcontinent. This revival started a while ago with the couple behind Dhaba at the Mill in Kyneton and their successful food truck. Then, from the same people came Horn Please in Fitzroy North and then Babu Ji in St Kilda. Most recently, there’s Tonka from the Code team, which is near impossible to get a seat at. I think the Indian we’ll see in 2015 will be lighter than typical cheap takeaway places, with a focus on colour, spice and modern interpretations of traditional dishes.
That’s it for the roundup of my 2014 favourites and predictions for this year – I hope it’s a fun and delicious one for all of you!
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