Review: Source Dining, Kyneton, and a Weekend in the Macedon Ranges, September 2017

It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to say that in our previous pre-baby life, many of our getaways were planned around meals. Where we went for lunch or dinner, would often dictate our activities for the day. That was certainly true of our long weekend getaway in the Macedon Ranges this time last year. While we stayed in the picturesque town of Woodend, the one ‘fancy meal’ we booked was in Kyneton – and therefore, there was where we spent our Saturday. 

Source Dining came highly recommended by the Good Food Guide and Gourmet Traveller, regularly earning one hat for their dedication to using excellent local produce, with changing menus to reflect seasonal produce availability. Importantly for me at that point, the menu was also pregnancy-friendly with classic dishes that didn’t feature too much raw food! 

Located on iconic Piper Street in Kyneton, you can easily spend the morning browsing the gorgeous boutiques, antique and local makers stores before gradually making your way down to Source Dining for lunch. If you’ve got a later lunch booking, you can even duck into boutique Animus Distillery for a cheeky gin tasting before going for lunch (note – we didn’t do this, but K did try some Animus gin at lunch!)! 

We keep relatively early lunch hours – I think I would perish from hunger if I had to wait past 12.30pm for lunch! As such, we were some of the first diners into Source, but were rewarded with an excellent table by the window for people-watching as a result. 

Elderflower Cucumber and Lime Mocktail, Gin and Tonic with gin from Animus Distillery, Kyneton

Being seven months pregnant meant a mocktail for me – a housemade Elderflower, Cucumber and Lime Mocktail. Light, spritzy and utterly refreshing for a surprisingly warm September day (or maybe I just remember it was warm because I was running about five degrees warmer than everyone else in the latter stages of pregnancy!). K enjoyed a Gin and Tonic with local gin from Animus Distillery. 

I love house-baked bread and house-made butter – especially when it’s as soft and spreadable as this. I’m pretty sure I ate not just my own bread, but K’s too, with both slices absolutely slathered with butter. In my defense, I was pregnant and hungry. Let’s go with that!

A little complimentary appetiser to get us started – a few mouthfuls of an incredibly fragrant Thai soup topped with crispy crunchy fried shallots.

Pan seared scallops with cauliflower puree, pickled cauliflower, caper and currant beurre noisette, curry spice, $22

My entree – Pan seared scallops with cauliflower two ways. Lovely tender scallops that were beautifully caramelised in the pan, best eaten with the slight crunch of the cauliflower pickle. Scallops are a tricky ingredient to cook right – it’s underwhelming when undercooked, and chewy when overcooked. Finding that balance is difficult, but Source did it beautifully.

House made Ricotta Gnocchi with roast pumpkin, local walnuts, kale, sage, brown butter, crumbed hens egg, $20

I tried some of K’s Ricotta gnocchi with roast pumpkin before he cracked open the crumbed hens egg (uncooked yolks not recommended in pregnancy!) and found the gnocchi just beautifully light and fluffy. Pumpkin, gnocchi and browned butter is an unbeatable combination!

Market fresh fish with celeriac puree, remoulade, seaweed, fried Australian crab dumplings, sauce bisque, $42

Onto mains, and I stuck with seafood – the day’s market fish special of Salmon with crab dumplings. I loved the crispy salmon skin, the crunchy dumplings, and fresh salad, but the real highlight was the intense and richly flavoured bisque. It was simply to die for. I ended up asking our waiter for more bread so that I could soak it up and not waste any at all!

Eucalyptus smoked kangaroo with sprouted organic grains, sunflower, watercress, mountain pepper jus, $42

K opted to order the Smoked kangaroo for his main, a rare treat as we never cook kangaroo at home. I know we should – it’s lean, healthy, and a better choice of red meat when you consider the environment impact. But I do doubt our ability to cook it so it’s as tender and juicy as this kangaroo at Source Dining….

White chocolate mousse with rhubarb, strawberries, balsamic, hazelnut sponge, white chocolate and strawberry sorbet, meringue, $18

We finished with a shared dessert as we were already well-full by the time we finished our entrees and mains – even though I was eating for two! This White chocolate mousse was superb, with a real medley of textures and flavours to explore. My pick was the refreshing sorbet, a perfect palate cleanser after my rich seafood dishes. 

Source Dining is a fantastic destination restaurant if you’re looking for a special meal while in the Macedon Ranges. Kyneton is a lovely little town for a daytrip and we certainly enjoyed our time exploring the region. Other highlights of our weekend included:

  • Three varieties of award-winning vanilla slice from the famous Bourkie’s Bakery in Woodend – my pick is the classic vanilla!
  • Hiking to the top of Hanging Rock, seven months pregnant belly and all. I’m no Serena Williams winning the Australian Open or Kerri Jennings winning volleyball gold at the Olympics, but I did feel rather victorious by the end of it!
  • Visiting the Sand Art Gallery at Romsey
  • Our wonderfully cosy Airbnb accommodation, where we enjoyed some delicious breakfasts and BBQ dinners with local produce
  • Stopping by the Gisborne Olde Time Markets on our way back to Melbourne on the Sunday – one of the largest and most comprehensive markets I’ve encountered!

Unfortunately, our next weekend getaway in November will be planned less around excellent meals like Source Dining, and more around practical decisions like “do they offer a high chair and will a whinging baby disturb the other diners?” Any suggestions for child-friendly restaurants that still offer excellent food in the Daylesford area?

Review: Nora, Carlton

Late last year, I received an email from Sarin Rojanametin and Jean Thamthanakorn of the fine dining restaurant Nora in Carlton. Shockingly and disappointingly, they were announcing the closure of Nora.

“It is with great excitement that we announce the closure of our restaurant Nora. 3 years ago we had a 1 year plan to create a space to explore creativity through hospitality. What a ride.

We’ve evolved over that time, understanding more, making decisions to reduce sittings and guests but expanding the menu and the journey; less is more. More room to create, more opportunity to dig deeper into our roots, cuisine and ideas.

We’ve loved every bit, but we’ve also realised that to fully reach our potential, we need to get back to our land, our home, our roots. To be surrounded by limitless inspirations that will challenge us to uncover new possibilities.”

Broadsheet Melbourne covered this news, and I think they were as disappointed as myself. In saying “But for all our multiculturalism, some things remain challenging for the majority”, Broadsheet were able to explain the reason for Nora’s closure. The food was simply too foreign, too challenging for many palates when the usual Australian exposure to Thai food barely extends past the $10 Pad Thai at the local takeaway. 

Let me tell you now – if you didn’t get a chance to experience Nora in the past three years, you missed out. K and I were lucky enough to dine at Nora in April 2017 on the occasion of his birthday, and walked away raving about our experience and rating it on par with some of the best meals that we’ve had – and we’ve had a few! 

The titles of many of the dishes were mysterious and only very barely gave a hint of what we were to expect – what after all, is Tom Yum Prawn, add extra egg for $2? With quirky titles that hark back to traditional Thai street food, the dishes that show up on your table are uniquely elegant, playing with textures, temperatures and tastes in a way that would challenge any palate.

Some of my highlights include the Daft Punk Is Playing In My Mouth dish of pickled fish, served with chilli ice and black sesame paste. The concept of chilli ice is as mind-blowing as it seems, offering both heat and chill in the one mouthful.

Another highlight, one which we’ve vowed to try to replicate at home, is that of a drink from the matching non-alcoholic drinks menu. Lychee and brie mocktail…yes, brie, as in brie cheese. The strong creamy ripeness of the brie was brilliantly offset by the sweet fresh fragrance of the lychee juice. I think if we were to attempt this at home, we would have to use fresh lychees – no canned lychee could possibly provide that freshness. 

With the closure of Nora, Melbourne has lost a young and innovative dining experience. It wasn’t just a restaurant. It was one of the most extraordinary culinary experiences around, embracing the intricacies of a cuisine that most people under-rate and under-value. Give me Nora’s modern exploration of Thai over traditional stuffy French or Italian fare any day.

Nora was located at 156 Elgin Street, Carlton.

Review: Alcron Restaurant, Prague, Czech Republic

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Here’s something I didn’t know before this trip – Prague boasts three Michelin-star restaurants. I always thought of it as a somewhat run-down former Soviet-bloc country that was still finding its feet, proud of its hearty beer-swilling and roast pork food culture. Who would have thought that the burgeoning fine dining scene is one to watch as well?

Once I started looking into the different options though, there was one that stood out as the ideal place for us to celebrate K’s 31st birthday – Alcron Restaurant. They had fabulous reviews of course, but the intimacy and decor of the restaurant was what appealed. Seating only 24 guests, the small Alcron Restaurant in the Radisson Blu hotel in Prague is decorated with a large mural in an Art Deco style, evoking memories of the glamourous 1920s and 1930s.

I made a lunch reservation for the two of us on his birthday, and kept the destination a secret from K. “It’s a nice restaurant!” was the only hint he received from me. Luckily it proved to be a happy surprise!

Greeted warmly by the waiter and shown to our cosy corner table, the excellent service continued throughout the meal. Served alternately by the head waiter/sommelier and a blonde waitress, we enjoyed conscientious but not overwhelming service with a smile. Recommendations on both food and drink options by both staff were right on point, and they were both well-versed on introducing and explaining the different menu items when they brought the dishes to the table. It was the type of exemplary service that really sets a high-end restaurant apart from others.

This expertise was demonstrated with their drink recommendations. I asked the sommelier about non-alcoholic cocktails and he offered the option to have one mixed specifically to my tastes. With the request of something a bit fruity and a bit refreshing, he came back with a wonderful mocktail made up of a sweet cherry base with a spritz of citrus to freshen it up, with the tasting notes exactly as requested. The chardonnay he recommended to K (2014 vintage from the Piemonte region in Italy) was similarly excellent.

So what did we eat?

We started with bread and butter – but this wasn’t a simple choice! We had the option of choosing from a selection of breads including spinach, onion, pumpkin seed, tomato and olive amongst others. These were served with a selection of chilli butter, seaweed butter, lemon butter and normal butter – my pick was the salty umami seaweed butter which went a treat with the sweeter onion bread.

We also had a complimentary amuse-bouche of Celery Multi-Ways courtesy of the kitchen. In this little dish, the celery was baked with honey, creamed with vanilla and turned into crisps as well – the different methods turning a boring vegetable into something quite extraordinary.

Now here’s the extraordinary thing about Alcron Restaurant that sets it apart from other starred restaurants – you can order as you go. They encourage you to only order one or two courses at a time, so that you can structure your meal as you listen to what your stomach’s telling you. Had a cold seafood starter and now want a hot meat-based main? They can organise that. Want to finish off with a light vegetable dish, rather than dessert? You can do that too – just order each course as you go, and listen to what your body wants.

So for our first dishes, I ordered the Tuna Sashimi with Tapioca, Daikon and Parsley Mayonnaise and K ordered the Quail Breast and Rillettes with Truffle and Rosehip. The tuna tartare with a dab of the wasabi mousse was a real highlight of my dish, and I always enjoy lotus root chips as well. K’s quail breast was remarkably tender and juicy, and he went quite wild over the rich liver pate base of the dish.

We went on to have a seafood main dish each – Seared Sea Scallops with Cauliflower Puree, Roasted King Oyster Mushrooms and Lardo Si Colonata for me, and the Catch of the Day with Yellow Pea Puree, Scallop, Roast Potatoes, Mushrooms and Chicken Jus for K. The scallops were remarkably fat, plump and juicy, aided I’m sure by the melting fat of the lardo that was blow-torched over the scallops at the table! K’s fish had a wonderfully crispy grilled skin, but the real highlight were the crispy crunchy potatoes on the side. On the whole however, I found his dish a little too salty – too much chicken jus perhaps.

After our first two courses, we were both feeling quite full – K more so than me as his catch of the day was quite large. I decided to go on to order one more small savoury dish (the waiter was able to guide me to a smaller-sized offering) for myself – the Organic Goat’s Cheese with Baked Leeks and Beets. I loved the firm globes of goat’s cheese ice-cream with thin slices of radish and sweet baked leeks and beets, beautifully presented in a spring-like wreath.

We finished our meal (or so we thought!) with the Cold and Hot Textures of Valrhona Chocolate and the Marinated Pear with Malt and Nougat for dessert. I loved the different textures of my dessert, with fudge, mousse, caramel crisps, ice-cream and crumble all making an appearance. The real highlight was the salted caramel ice-cream though – I’m a salted caramel fiend! K enjoyed the malt elements of his dessert, with the crisps in particular reminding him of childhood days drinking Horlicks.

Now we thought that was the end of our meal, but as we sat at our table happily sipping our tea (fresh mint for me, Earl Grey for K), the waiters came out with a surprise birthday cake for K! I had forgotten that I’d mentioned a birthday celebration when I made the reservation, but the restaurant hadn’t and had prepared accordingly with not only the cake, but a gift of a bottle of their Alcron house wine for us to take home to enjoy as well. Now that’s superb service – thank you Alcron Restaurant!

Alcron Restaurant proved to be a superb choice for K’s birthday celebrations. Not only do they offer superbly crafted modern European cuisine, they do so with a customer-focus, allowing the customer to really craft their meal according to however they’re feeling. It was a wonderful experience, and one I would recommend to anyone who visits Prague!

Alcron Restaurant is located in the Radisson Blu Alcron Hotel, at 40 Stepanska in Prague, Czech Republic.