Monday, March 22, 2010

The Libertine Gardener

Here's one more fork photo for the road. Those of you who saw my superhero garden fork pose would have noticed I was a little overdressed for gardening. That was because I was off, with my cousin A, to my Dinner at local North Melbourne French Restaurant Libertine for my free 8 course degustation dinner with matched wines. I won the dinner in a food blogger's raffle, menu for hope, which raises so much money every year for a great cause. I am not much of a food blogger, only occasionally adding posts here about how I use the garden harvests and sprinkled with occasional restaurant ravey reviews. So never fear, this is still a gardening blog, but for the benefit of my folks in Adelaide, and because this was simply such a wonderful occasion I felt the need to post about it.

I don't have any pictures because I don't feel comfortable taking photos in restaurants. I think we had food bloggers on the table near us as they had a rather hefty camera and were taking what will probably be wonderful photos of the food fare at Libertines. So anyway let's head back to 6:30 Saturday evening. Having just taken crazy fork photos Cousin A and I found ourselves inside the lush surrounds of this North Melbourne French institution. Velvet couches on my side were a comfortable bonus! We were nestled in next to the bar, complete with Cognacs and other dark substances. We began the meal of meals with a champagne, more out of confusion than anything else because god knows we didn't need the alcohol. So here we go - 8 courses, 6 matches wines, several cutlery changes, and two very full young ladies.

First course was simple and superb. Shaved fennel, with a herby dressing, alongside smooth goats cheese and a quail egg topped crouton. It was basic and brilliant. I've never been a fennel fan but this, to me, was wonderful. Cousin A listed it as her favourite dish of the night. My memory of the wines is hazy but I know it was a Savignon Blanc, it was French, and it was delicious.

Second course was ocean trout gravalax, a dish I had been promised over the phone would be on the menu that evening, and it didn't disapoint. The dill and slight sugary overtones were coupled with melt in the mouth trout. Probably my favourite dish, and indeed it was, until dish six hit the table! It was matched with another white, I forget which. I did keep asking where each wine came from, specifically came from not just the country or even the region of origin, but given the amount of alcohol drunk I have no hope of remembering the exact details. My bad, I apologise. Although I do recall this wine was far fruitier than the sav blanc, having an almost 'zing' to it, but without overbearing sweetness.

Third course was langoustines. Whenever I think of this seafood I think a lobster mated with a prawn. I am not a seafood fan, and when I say not a fan, I mean I pretty much detest it. Lobster I find overpriced and blah and prawns are only good if mashed up and put on toast! So I am not quite the seafood conniseur. However this dish, with this soupy cream corn curry flavoured topping and freshly shelled peas, alonside delicate snow peas was simply wonderful. The langoustine did not make me wince with disgust. Now it is one thing to get me to eat seafood, but to make me enjoy it, really enjoy it, takes the hand of a genius. It was matched with another white, which was neither dry like the first white nor zingy like the second. By now my wine palate was more than a little out of action. If it was a person it would be aged about five and would be sitting under the table, giggling and tugging on everyone's clothes. Three wines, bigger than tasting size but smaller (only just) than a full glass make me more than a little tipsy.

Course four (or five, remember the wine-induced memory difficulties) was a palate cleanser. A sorbet, pink grapefruit and champagne. It was light and nice and did the trick.

Course five was the only lowlight of the night, mostly because it gave me the fat-drenched shakey shakes and made my cousin throw up. At least she got to evacuate her stomach in pleasant surrounds, the women's bathroom were outside, next to a garden-filled courtyard. The door was covered in French newpaper clippings, the one I read (with my limited French) actually discussed Angela Merkel, so was slightly more German than French. Anyway enough about the lavatories. It wasn't food poisoning for Cousin A, it was simply the richness of the food. It seemed to be a dish of pork fat wrapped around a chicken and bacon interior then deep fried. While I ridicule my mother for the times she takes the fat off roast pork and pork belly, I think in this case she would be vindicated. The first few bites were heaven, but finishing it was near impossible. It was simply too rich for our tastebuds. It was matched with a Bordeaux red. Quite soft, I guess to match the flavours. I enjoyed it, despite the shakes, but poor Cousin A was out for the count for a little while.

Course six was scotch fillet, my absolute favourite meal of the night. Covered in mushrooms and bacon in a rich gravy/jus combo with small potatoes and peas (I think) it was heaven. Cooked rare it was just how I like my meat. Served with another Bordeax red, this time a Madoc, poured into a glass so large it would be a vehicle for mulled wine had it not had a stem. This wine was delicious and complimentary.

Course seven was dessert, lemon cheese cake with raspberries on top. Lovely, small, and perfect to finish off with. I love lemon; lemon curd, lemon souffle, lemon anything really. The matched wine was a sticky sweet white, not my cup of tea at all. I've never been a dessert wine fan. It went well enough with the dessert but the pairing still didn't make me love the wine. It was like when I visited Wynn's winery in McLaren Vale. I told the guy I didn't like sweet whites but he made me try and sweet sparkling wine with blue cheese telling me he had never had anyone dislike it in this combination. I was his first disappointment, the sweet sprakling wine did not taste good, and the blue cheese didn't help it.

Course eight was petit fours with coffee. A much needed break from the alcohol. I had a short macchiato, Cousin A an earl Grey tea. Both were lovely. The petit fours were a little rice bubble square with dried berries mixed through, a small brownie like thing with a nut on top and some turkish delight that wasn't rosewater flavoured. All delicious, and a perfect way to end the meal.

So the outcome of this meal was that Libertine does amazing food and has their wine matching skills firmly under their belt. I would go again, if I had the money, but I woudn't order the degustation. Cousin A agrees. Although neither of us were sickeningly full, given the excellent pacing of the meal, we just both agree we are not degustation girls. Probably it was too much wine for us. But this being said I would highly recommend their degustation menu, or normal menu. It was a wonderful experience all around, the waiting staff were impeccable and the food amazingly good. And yes, I'd say this even if I didn't get the meal for free as a raffle prize! Thankyou Libertine for a fabulous night!!!!!

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