The Press Club

26 Apr

The Press Club
72 Flinders St, Melbourne

On Easter Saturday James and I took Joan and Damo to The Press Club as our wedding gift. It’s been on my to-do list for awhile, so when we jumped on it when we saw it on their list of restaurants to try.

image from The Press Club website

I booked the Chef’s Table. You do sacrifice some ambiance – the rest of the restaurant is much more intimate, but I found it really interesting to see how everything worked. The desserts were made on the other side of our table, the mains were done in the second row, and on the other side of the wall was where the ugly stuff (like washing dishes) happened. Also the chefs would do this call and answer thing, where the head chef would give an order, and the other chefs would acknowledge the order with a yell (which Joan said was a “oui!”).

image from The Press Club website

We got to sample this heavenly cinnamon bread that one of the chefs had just baked. It wasn’t even being used as bread – it was baked and then dehydrated to use as a garnish for another dish. That is effort that I can’t imagine ever going to for my home-cooked dishes!

For dinner we wanted to taste as much as possible so we went with the degustation (symposium) menu. The waiter strongly recommended that we go the 6 course option rather than 8 because he felt we would be in too much of a rush otherwise. (I reckon we could have made it, but I see what he meant, because I thought the pace of our meal was perfect – maybe we would have been rushed otherwise) The courses we missed out on were a fish course and also a second dessert that was less rich, and more of a palate-cleanser.

To begin with we had some fennel bread (left) and a multi-seed bread. They were pulling these out of the oven all night. James, Damo and I preferred the fennel bread, but Joan liked the seed one. I was a bit smug because these got taken away before the dessert course, but I was the only one who had finished my bread.

We dipped the bread into olive oil and some black salt.

The first two courses came out together. James finished his second course before I had finished my first!

Course 1 – I can’t find it on the menu, but it was a chicken consommé, with pumpkin puree and granola sprinkled on top.
Wine Match  – Ranman Hanaranman Komachi Daiginjo sake

The first course was savoury from the chicken and sweet from the pumpkin. The granola added some crunch to it, which contrasted well with the creaminess of the pumpkin. James really liked the sake. The sommelier explained that it was brewed with rice that was polished to remove at least 50% of the outer grain, which is daiginjo-shu, the highest grade of sake you can get (OK that bit I looked up online).

I tried to hunt it down based on the name, but as you can see from the bottle, all the writing was in Japanese.

I searched online but couldn’t find it since I didn’t have many search terms to go on. Luckily Henry’s wife Haruka is Japanese, so I sent her a picture of the sake and she was able to translate the writing. She couldn’t find the brand but some of the writing said “Akitashu”, which means that it was made in Akita, and she was able to tell me the name. Yay Haruka!

Course 2 – toursi of heirloom carrot, baby radish, with seeds and carrot ice cream (or was it foam? Man, I should have written this stuff down)
Wine Match – Eastern Peake Pinot Tache 2009 Blanc Du Noir

I don’t remember much about the wine, but I’m not really much for white or rosé. The carrots were tiny but really delicious and full of flavour – very sweet but also kind of tangy (Joan thought maybe they had done something with vinegar).

Course 3 – Scallop with gingerbread foam, pomegranate seeds, and caramelized cauliflower
Wine Match – Soave Classico Superiore D.O.C.G.

The wine was described as having notes of asparagus and broccoli, which I really couldn’t taste, but Joan thought she could detect a kind of grassiness to it. It wasn’t as grossly tangy as I find most whites.

When this course came out I was thinking “you have got to be shitting me”. It was seriously, a single scallop. When you go to Chinese restaurants and get scallops, you get a whole plateful of them stir fried with snow peas! But in all fairness, this scallop was about the size of 5 stir-fry scallops, and it was pretty amazing – really plump and soft, and you could cut into it like a teeny tiny steak.

And the foam was like gingerbread air! I had to clarify with James just then whether it had been a foam or a puree, and he said it was a foam.

James: I remember, because you guys were talking about how gingerbready it was, but I couldn’t taste it and I was so disappointed.

Poor James.

Course 4 – pork loin and crackling with lentils (and I forget what that yellow yolky thing is – I think we thought it was maybe some sort of caramel or honey concoction)
Wine Match – Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé champagne

This was a deceptively large dish, because the pork was folded, so we actually got double the amount of pork. All the plates were pretty weird. In the photo the plate looks like a shallow bowl. A little bit unusual but nothing really out of the ordinary right? Wrong.

I still think it looks like a good plate for nachos.

I always prefer actual pork to the pork crackling. The champagne cut through the sweet, fattiness of the pork. The sommelier said that this is one of the best non-vintage champagnes you can get, though it may have been wasted on me since I’ve never met a champagne I didn’t like. It was awesome though, very

We all oohed and aahed over the glass, and how the champagne shot up in a single stream from the bottom.

Course 5 – lamb best end, a capsicum (?) and chilli sauce and borlotti beans with hazelnuts
Wine Match – Stellenrust JJ 2006 Picalot

The wine was described as being leathery, sweaty and animalistic! I was a bit afraid to try it after that, but it was fantastic. It sucked the moisture out of my mouth, which was pretty weird and unexpected (one of the tasting notes is cedar – I wonder if that has anything to do with it). I loved it with the lamb – this was one of the first times that I’ve experienced a food and wine pairing where the sum was greater than the parts. It was like the wine improved the lamb, and the lamb improved the wine.

The lamb was the unanimous favourite dish of the night. I especially liked that dark knobbly bit of lamb next to the green spring. And the bite I took with the hazelnuts was unusual, but totally worked.

Course 6 – a sort of chocolate tart, with olive oil snow, banana and peanut butter cake, honeycomb, olive oil ice cream, and bits of chocolate sprinkled all over
Wine Match – Commandaria St.Nicholas Cyprus Dessert Wine 2003

We got extra serves of this wine as a bonus. Yay! Apparently it is one of the oldest types of wine in the world, and the earliest written record is about this wine. It tasted of raisins and honey, and I liked taking sips of it after eating the chocolate since I thought the sweetness helped cut through the intense chocolateness.

James couldn’t taste the olive oil, but I thought if I took a bite on its own I could kind of detect an olivey aftertaste. My favourite part was the peanut butter and banana bread (which I may experiment and try to make).

Overall I thought it was really interesting. I like it when I eat food that I can’t replicate at home, and I love being able to taste so many dishes. I think when you get a tiny amount of food, it forces you to pay more attention to every bite. I know that I tend to get in a zone of mindless eating, where I’m just eating by rote and not even really thinking about the food (though not at restaurants – usually with stuff like chips at home) and this was the exact opposite of that experience. The food was an event in and of itself, which I’ve never experienced before. Hunger-wise I was satisfied at the end of the meal (James described it as “not hungry, though I could probably have eaten more”), which I think is a pretty good level to be.

None of us could detect anything particularly Greek about the experience though. It’s not that we were expecting souvlaki and ouzo, but I mean, we drank sake! Supposedly George Calombaris’ other restaurant Hellenic Republic is supposed to be more homestyle Greek and less fancy, so maybe I will check that out if I want to try some good Greek food.

And now for the cost. For 4 (shortened) symposiums and 2 wine matchings (plus random drinks and coffee/tea at the end) the bill came to $660 plus tip. I never know how much to tip at expensive restaurants. They don’t really seem like places where you leave the change, but obviously it’s overkill to tip 20% like the Americans do, since waiters make a good hourly wage and don’t rely on tips for income. And it’s not really something that people talk about, which adds to the ambiguity about tipping. So here it goes – transparency in tipping. I don’t know if we’re good, bad, or regular tippers, since we don’t eat out very much.

So anyway, the bill was $660. I would have rounded up to $700 and felt like it was a good tip, but James went to $720 and felt a bit stingy since “it wasn’t even 10%”. My way of thinking is that at fine dining places, the service is built into the price, so to some extent tipping is double-paying for service. Even waiters at regular restaurants are earning $20-25 an hour, so that was a $60 tip on top of the $30+ an hour the waiters were probably making.

We eat at Press Club level restaurants about once a year, so it’s not a big deal how much we tip, but I am curious where we fall in the spectrum. Are we unusually stingy since we’re not accustomed to expensive bills? (I read somewhere that American waiters hate special occasions like Valentine’s Day, because people eat at restaurants that are more expensive than they are normally comfortable with, so they get sticker shock when they see the bill, and don’t tip as much because “oh, we’re already paying so much!”) Or maybe it’s standard to round up to the nearest $10 and we are betraying our inexperience by overtipping.

At any rate, it was a special occasion meal, and I do think it was worth it. I didn’t actually realise how much I had enjoyed it until I was writing this post and remembering all the flavours – though now I know to take a notebook with me next time, because every dish and wine matching came out with a pretty lengthy description. Even though I couldn’t recreate most of these meals, there are little snippets of them that I’m totally going to try – the peanut butter and banana bread, maybe pairing some lamb with hazelnuts and picking up a bottle of the Stellenrust JJ Picalot, or seeing if I can grab some heirloom carrots or enormous scallops from the market. And by the time I’ve exhausted all my new food inspiration ideas it will probably be time for us to try another fancy restaurant.
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8 Responses to “The Press Club”

  1. Kalo April 27, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    tipping is australia is a free for all… pay what you feel it deserves, there is no right or wrong

    still not sure if i want to do attica or the press club first… this is swinging me towards the press club though

    • pamperedhousewife April 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

      The friends that we took to Press Club also did Attica, and they said Attica was flawless. They also really liked Press Club, but I got the impression they thought Attica was better. =)

      I have my eye on Vue de Monde next year!

      • Kalo April 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

        vue de monde was quite disapointing to me, ditto the point… i will probably do attica or the press club for my bday this year

      • pamperedhousewife April 27, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

        Why was Vue de Monde disappointing? =(

        That’s what scared me off expensive restaurants for a long time. I get bitter enough spending $50 and having a mediocre meal – imaging spending $700+ and not liking the food!

  2. Kalo April 27, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    food was just a bit meh… i went ages ago (like years) and spent like 200+ just for me and it was good but not great, the point was the same

  3. Kalo April 27, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    nah went with my cousin, we decided to go at last minute and somehow got a table… it was good, just not great, my experience at lesser known melbourne restaurants was better

    • pamperedhousewife April 27, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

      Yeah, for that price you really want a sublime dining experience. That sucks. =( Hopefully your birthday restaurant is more memorable!

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