There rarely seems to be a week go by that, by the evening that is well-known as Sunday (and it’s usually after a few and/or a bottle of vino), I have decided to spend the upcoming week alcohol-free and liberally lace the nights after work with something that apparently is called exercise. It shouldn’t be that hard … the exercise bit, that is, not grog ‘cos that’s a tough ask sometimes … but invariably someone or something rears its head and the possible exercise regimen goes out the door (which is where I should be, you know, walking on the beach or whatever), but never am … unless it’s walking to the local wine bar. (I do, mind, walk about three kilometres or so every day.)
I hasten to add that I do have a home gym, some free weights and a one of those Danish balls (it could be a Danish pastry by now for all the time I’ve spent using it lately) so, like I said, it shouldn’t be that hard.
Last week was no different … best laid plans and all that, except that I had a night where my youngest son, Joel, came for an overnight visit, one that coincided with an out-of-town mate who was to work in town and stayed for a few nights (and a second out-of-town mate for another night … he had to pick up his son (aged three) the next morning) … so the only walking was to a restaurant or pub, whichever seemed the best option at the time. A restaurant was first, given that Joel doesn’t drink (or smoke for that matter … not sure where he was when the majority of the family genes were being dished out or maybe they’d given all the bad ones to his older brother right from the get go), but the three of us wandered to Basilico on Bridport Street, Albert Park. At this stage I was a Basilico virgin, which is strange because I’ve been to every restaurant within cooee and it has been there for a few years since the two local Greek brothers sold half of their huge hardware shop and it became what it is now. Later they sold the second half and it became Randall’s, the wine merchants. Good trade, I reckon, a wine shop and a restaurant for a hardware shop. And there were bonuses when the hardware shop closed ... I bought all their fishing lures for a song, but I digress.
Basilico was OK in terms of food, wine list, cost and service, the ideal quadrella. And it’s close to home. The three of us had a hankering for the chicken parma, which did the trick on all three counts. And, as always, it was good to catch up with Joel, who works at the casino and does nights a lot so I don’t reckon our paths cross often enough.
The next night out was to the pub, although not, mind, the closest one to my house … that’s for wannabe wannabes and footy groupies … no, we took the longer walk and was it beneficial? Too bloody right it was, not though for the exercise (which would have been beneficial had we not detoured to Lina’s wine bar after the pub), but for the fact that I found the best steak I’ve had at a pub since God’s dog was a pup.
Take a bow, the Montague Hotel (on the corner of Park and Montague streets in South Melbourne). It’s one of those places that I go to once in a while and always enjoy … and I always say something about going there more often and rarely do. My mate Lloyd had a porterhouse and I had the eye fillet, both cooked exactly as ordered, his medium-rare and mine rare (with a pulse thanks). He had the red-wine sauce and I opted for the café de Paris butter, which I was told later by the bloke behind the bar (he looks more like West Coast’s John Worsfold than does the real John Worsfold, a one-time chemist and now footy coach) was house-made and consisted of 30 ingredients. It was just great … and we made sure we told the bar staff what we thought of the tucker. I reckon people too often complain about stuff but neglect to praise the good things. The steaks came with hand-cut chips, some watercress and a house salad (with fennel, greens, onion and a tasty dressing) on the side. A few glasses of a full-bodied rose did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm for the dead beast. And the pub has the sort of bar in which you can have a conversation without the need to shout … yeah, you do have to shout drinks … but it’s a good atmosphere.
We doubled up at Lina’s (on the rose that is) after the pub. It was there that the owner’s wife told me to get on with the planning for the dinner party that I’m having. It seems to have maybe grown to 10, which, given the size of my dining room table, was/is going to pose a problem. “No matter,” she said, “Let’s have it at our place.” Nice offer though that is, it’s my party and I’ll fry if I want to.
A few roses at Lina’s to tide us over and soon we were on the way to my place to catch up with my other mate who got there some time after 10 … and everyone knows what a bloke should be doing at that time of the night, don’t they? Well, from my point of view, it was bourbon time. Little wonder it was with a heavy head that I meandered my way into the office the next morning.
I was meant to be at Lina’s to meet friends on Friday night, so I hustled through the afternoon doing all my washing, paying all my bills, organising shit that I’ve been putting off for a while … well, you have to be in town to do stuff that’s in town.
I got all my stuff done, gave the wine bar a wide berth, and settled for a well-earned night on the couch with a bottle of chardy ... and a chat with THE One.
I wrote something I shouldn’t have on Saturday morning … and posted it here. I was sorry I did (hindsight is always great benefit or a piss-ant excuse, take your pick), especially when I received a message to say that she had read it.
We talked, I took down the post. We chatted for a while, always a good thing, before she had to go.
It wasn’t long after that I got a call from a mate who was keen to catch up for a bite to drink, always a fair option on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon.
I decided to meet him at the Vic Market because I had to buy a couple of new sleepers (for my ears, my back yard isn’t big enough for the other sort of sleepers). I lost my long-time sleepers and earrings during one of the more robust activities in Vanuatu a couple of weekends ago … including an axe earring that was given to me by an admiring woman about 20 years ago. Perhaps it was a sign to move on, hope so, cos it’s long gone ... the earring that is, not the sign.
Anyway, long story short. I bought some sleepers and we decamped to … well it had a good track record that week … to the Montague Hotel for, of all things, a couple of Cooper’s Pale Ales, a bottle of Heathcote shiraz and a beautifully cooked eye fillet with Café de Paris butter. Again the steak was exemplary, cooked just so.
It’s amazing how an afternoon flies when you’re in good company, good surroundings, with good food and a good drop or two.
Can’t get any better. Can it? Well, yes it can.
At five o’clock on Saturday afternoon, sitting in the bar and I thought “what about dinner? I wonder whether she would say yes.” So I fired off a message, asking THE One if she would like to have dinner with me.
The response was quick, decisive and welcome. Simply “yep”.
Then followed a quick farewell to the Saturday lunchers, a brisk walk home, stopping along the way to book a table for two at EIS (literally translated, it means ACE … I’m sure I read that somewhere), a tiny restaurant that serves contemporary Japanese next door to Randall’s the wine shop.
We had been there before and loved it, so why not? The degustation/Omakase menu, at $105 a head, is a cracker and well worth the price of admission.
A shower, a shirt (for me) and a minor traffic jam (for her) and a glass of Scotchman’s Hill chardy (for both of us) later, we armed ourselves with a brolly (for the rain not protection or anything like that) and made a beeline for EIS.
The staff is friendly in the extreme. Welcoming smiles all round and a firm handshake from the boss and we were seated, ready to rock.
And rock we did.
Here’s the menu with matching wines. Accept that there were plenty of ooohs and aaahs from us as the courses rolled on.
Fresh oyster shot with mint vodka, sliced chilli and wasabi tobiko, some ocean trout carpaccio with basil pesto and a glass of Louis Boillot Champagne from Bourgogne.
The oyster was nothing short of amazing, the trout (it could well have been salmon) was excellent and the Champagne was yeasty, bubbly and delicious and smelled a treat. Jesus wept, what a start.
That lot was followed by a chunky scallop with orange vinaigrette, again delicious.
Next, seared eye fillet sushi (not sure of the fish type) with sea salt and lemon juice, and a spicy tuna nori roll with roasted sesame, complemented by a glass of Momo sauvignon blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand. The fish was beautiful but it was the wine that starred here. It, like all sav blancs from that region, had a huge nose but was unusually mouth friendly in the extreme. It was magnificent. It just keep getting better, the night not the wine.
Next, it was pumpkin soup (yep, true) with truffle paste and three king prawns submerged in its goodness.
Next it was a change of pace, with some grilled Wodonga beef eye fillet, matched with a glass of Bay of Apostles pinot noir (from near Geelong). I’m a sucker for pinot, THE One not quite so, but sheesh, we loved it.
We nursed the pinot along to accompany the grilled eel, steamed rice and Dashi green tea, a combination made … OK not in heaven, but you get the drift. It was good.
Miso-marinated lamb with sautéed spinach and mashed potato was the last savory dish for the night, accompanied by some Mt Langi shiraz from the Grampians. Three tiny cutlets, sweet as all get out, and shiraz to wash it down. Jesus was still weeping (with joy) at this stage. It really was good although I reckon I may have done better mash at various times in my mash career. No matter.
Dessert. Like we needed that … but we had a crack. It was warm chocolate cake with 70 per cent Belgium cacao and black sesame ice-cream, served with a glass of Umeshu plum wine into which was plonked a large round ice block.
Neither THE One nor I could finish the chocolate cake … not because it wasn’t good, but because, well, enough was enough.
And you think so, eh?
Well after we paid the bill, it should have been off into the night, but no, a last nightcap … one glass of chardy at Lina’s seemed like (and was) a good idea.
The food, service, wine and general atmosphere at EIS made for a memorable night. By the time we finished dinner, THE One and I were the last two in the place, although there were still four staff hard at it.
We’re still smiling about it. Lots.
ME IN A NUTSHELL
- G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.