270 Swan Street, Richmond
Union Dining opened recently-ish on a quiet stretch of Swan Street Richmond, and I have been eager to go since I first heard about it. It occupies a corner building that was formerly a Greek restaurant, and is run by Nicky Reimer (used to chef Melbourne Wine Room) and Adam Cash (ex-Cutler & Co. front of house manager). The food is European with mainly Italian influences.
Through the door we head into the white and green tiled world of Union Dining.
The bar area features a white tiled counter and some small high tables and stools, and is separated from the dining area by a striking mustard leather bench. Large arched doorways lead to another dining area, very sophisticated with its dark green walls, and the addition of a large mirror at one end adds the illusion of a never-ending space. The mustard of the bench marries well with the tiled floors and the bentwood chairs.
I quite liked the use of Hessian cloths as lampshades, they set a lovely golden glow onto the surrounding tables.
We arrived quite early, but the restaurant was already happily busy, and we settled down with some drinks. Dad, who’d arrived before the rest of us, was contentedly sipping on a Grand Ridge beer from Mirboo North. Mum and I, after I squealed delightedly at the menu having seen my favourite cider on offer, brought the drinks to an international scale with some Aspall Suffolk Apple “Cyder”, from jolly old England.
When I was studying in the U.K., a pint of Aspalls was my order at the local pub, so it was a pleasant trip down memory lane for me. Not nearly as heady as the French variety, Aspall is nonetheless a pleasantly crisp drink, and an excellent accompaniment for a pub quiz.
Unfortunately there was no pub quiz in store for this evening, but my disappointment quickly disappeared as I read through the menu. The dishes in the appetisers and entrees section were particularly delicious-sounding, and I think better than the mains, so take my advice and order more of the smaller dishes and salads to share.
Our first entree was my favourite dish of the whole night: the porchetta tonnato with rocket. SUCH a fantastic dish: I loved the combination of the salty capers with the mayonnaise and the pork. This dish made me think of Italy and may have inspired some travel plans.
This dish was so good that, after we’d each helped ourself, there was a small bit left on the plate. Deftly, I scooped it up, making no apologies, and sat it reverently on the side of my plate and saved it until I’d finished all the other entrees. It was too good, I just had to finish with it.
The escabeche sardines with green chilli and feta were also brilliant, and served with fennel, carrot and parsley. This dish had a good whack of chilli, and I thought the flavour combination was very clever. But we only got three sardines, and there were four of us.
I must say that a pet hate of mine is going to a nice restaurant and ordering a dish and only getting, say, three prawns, or lamp chops (or in this case, sardines) when there are four of us. I mean, if that is the usual serving size, I think waiters should inform diners of that and give them the option of asking for one/two more. Because it just seems so stupid, giving a table of four an odd number of items that aren’t easily shared, and yet I see it in so many restaurants around Melbourne and it peeves me off.
Rant aside, this is a lovely dish but keep in mind that there are only three sardines.
The terrine de maison was one I was particularly keen on ordering, but I didn’t really enjoy it unfortunately. This terrine was pork trotter with fennel and pickled Dutch carrots. The carrots were my favourite element, sour and slightly crunchy. But the terrine (while the meat had a surprisingly light flavour) was dominated by this awful, almost chemical taste from the binding agent. My family didn’t seem to mind but I found it very unpleasant.
This was our final entree, suggested to us by the waitress. Bresola with eggplant relish and harissa chickpeas. Another fantastic dish, I loved the smokiness of the eggplant and the hint of spice from the harissa (which was hot but not over-powering). And who can go past an excellent slice of bresola? Here again, we only got three pieces, but it was easier to share in this dish.
Onto the mains. Although the mains listed on the menu looked scrumptious, and I was keen on getting the snapper fillet, my attention was caught by one of the specials of the day. The waitress described it as a “small main”: char-grilled de-boned quail on white polenta with pecorino, grapes and mint. Feeling reasonably full from the entrees already, and wanting to sample dessert, I thought this was a good option.
I’d never had a de-boned quail before, and I’m very impressed with the skill that must go into it, as it made eating the quail infinitely easier. The creamy white, cheesy polenta was great, especially with the extra virgin olive oil drizzled (or should I say poured) around the outside. The grapes, here hidden underneath the green leaves, were a fantastic way to lift the dish and give it some freshness.
Mum and A both had the spring baby lamb (surely a tortology?) with oregano, green chilli, pecorino and baked semolina gnocchi. They both thought the presentation was good, and the flavours were top notch, but commented that the pieces of lamb were a little bony. Perhaps a nicer cut would have been preferable.
Dad went with the pan-seared baby snapper fillet with lemon and pearl barley risotto, the dish I was thinking of ordering. As much as I enjoyed my quail, I did suffer from dish-envy after tasting his aromatic, lemony risotto with lovely flecks of vegetables. I also love the use of barley in dishes these days, it has such a satisfying bite to it. Dad said the fish was cooked perfectly.
My feelings about our side-salad are two-sided.
On the one hand, I LOVED the mixture of ingredients: artichoke, cubes of beetroot, barley and whipped feta. Some of my favourite ingredients and wonderfully executed.
On the other hand, this tiny dish (and it really was tiny) cost $17 dollars, and included two artichoke hearts. The artichokes would have been the most expensive ingredient and even then, not particularly luxurious. Certainly beetroot and barley aren’t hard to come by. I was just so disappointed, really, at the outrageous over-pricing of this dish. Seriously, two artichokes. A fingerless man could count that many artichokes using his stumpy-hands as counters.
For dessert, Mum and Dad shared this almond honey cake with poached pear and orange blossom yoghurt. The first sensation upon tasting was one of overwhelming sweetness from the honey, but this gradually melted into the more savory almond taste. The yoghurt was also helpful in abating the sweetness.
A was in chocolate heaven with his chocolate tart, chocolate mousse and passionfruit curd. He said it was all very rich and very good, and that the passionfruit helped cut through the chocolate.
I finished my meal with the Italian trifle with zabaglione, sponge and coffee liqueur. Quite similar to a tiramisu, but the zabaglione was lovely and thin, and not as heavy as cream. As it was though, I struggled to finish it and enlisted the help of Dad who kindly obliged.
In all, a fantastic meal at Union Dining. The service is good to begin with but can become somewhat patchy as the night goes on and the place gets more crowded. The food was great, I’d highly recommend it, but you need to be prepared to pay for it.
Our meal at Union Dining was a rather momentous occassion: I finished my first blogger’s notebook! A happy and sad time: a milestone reached, a friend lost (am I becoming overly dramatic?). Good thing Mum had thoughtfully bought me another in anticipation.