As a parting dinner with my boyfriend before he returns to his temporary home in Melbourne for studies, we decide to try out this Japanese-Franco fine dining restaurant. Parking wasn’t too difficult to find on the streets, neither was the restaurant. My first impression of the restaurant while walking towards it on the street was classy yet relaxed. The restaurant front was all glass windows ceiling to floor, allowing us to peek into the small but cosy front dining area consisting of small tables separated spaciously with a red cushioned leather bench lined against the windows. As we stepped inside, we were greeted politely by the waiter who pointed us the direction of our table. The atmosphere was quiet and relaxed, lighting was dim and romantic. Great atmosphere for him and I!
The Japanese-French bistro is run by Harunobu Inukai who has worked with many extraordinary chefs throughout his life including Joel Robuchon in Tokyo and Tony Bilson at Bilson’s, where he was awarded two chef hats. Also the former executive chef at Galileo, at The Observatory Hotel, Chef Harunobu fulfills his dreams opening his own restuarant, Blancharu, in 2008. And unsurprisingly, he has already earned one chef hat here for his casual twist in his signature fine dining.
Late and hungry as we were, I reluctantly agreed with the then aggravated, starving boy to have the 3 dinner course instead of the 7 course chef’s degustation or the 5 course truffle degustation which I was very eager to try, as he could not wait between courses to fill himself up. Nevertheless, good food is good food.
We started with slow cooked pork belly (Half eaten Slow cooked Pork belly with tomato cabbage with tarragon cream) for him (unfortunately could not force a photograph on a starving person’s untouched dish), and chawanmushi (Chawanmushi with fennel cream and tobiko) for myself.
Chawanmushi is basically a Japanese egg custard dish or soup, (literally meaning “tea cup steam” or “steamed in a tea bowl”) and french call it consomme. It was served extra hot, with tobiko or fish roe on top. The custard was smooth and creamy, and inside the soup I found bubbles or balls of whiteish colour that pop when it was chewed and hot soup was released from the inside. The soup was simple yet delicious. I am someone who can not give up a nice, simple warm soup! He liked it too, though didn’t find it too appealing for him compared to his slow cooked pork belly which I didn’t have a chance to steal a piece of.
Next up was slow cooked duck, “Akita sugi-ita yaki” style. Slices of duck was placed between two thin pieces of cedar wood and placed on the grill. The cedar wood was still lightly burning when placed on the table. The waiter took away the top layer of the wood, leaving succulent and tender-looking pan seared duck.
I really wanted to try the Spatchcock dish but a 40 minute wait was needed for it and a minimum of two people were required to order it. So that wasn’t an option as he was craving the duck. I finally chose the lamb dish. The lamb (Twice cooked Lamb saddle, lamb rib, couscous and ratatouille) was cooked over four hours. However, the lamb saddle was a little disappointing. The meat wasn’t as tender as I expected, was a little dry and rough. The lamb rib on the other hand was juicy and tender, and full of flavour.
After our mains, we found ourselves still a little bit not full. So we decided to order another entree, which from the waiter’s description of it left our mouth watering. The roasted quail breast (Roasted quail breast, gourmet salad, porcini Madeira sauce). The outside was a crunchy texture that crumbles when bitten. Inside was tender quail meat, which when combined with rich Madeira (made with Madeira wine) and porcini mushroom sauce did not disappoint.
Now, we were ready for dessert!
He opted for the gateau chocolate with strawberry cream tower (Minute bake gateau chocolate and strawberry cream tower). Which, again, I didn’t get a chance to taste. He enjoyed it as it wasn’t too sweet for him. The chocolate was not too rich, the texture of the cake was soft and springy and was a little bitter in taste.
I believed in my love for creme brulee, hence my choice: Traditional creme brulee with coffee ice cream. As it was placed on the table, I couldn’t hold my excitement to crack the toffee layer and take the first spoonful.
The first spoonful took me to heaven. The custard – silky smooth and melted in my mouth; the toffee layer – cracked easily like a thin layer of ice and had a little of a bitter, burnt taste; and the coffee ice cream – richly espresso flavoured, accompanying the sweetness of the creme brulee.
Overall, it was a delicious meal and of very good value (a total of $150 for the two of us including two glasses of wine). I still think that we should have opted for the 5 or 7 course which were also unbelievably well priced ($69pp for 7 course or $99pp for 5 course truffle degustation).The service was quick, friendly and knowledgeable, even though the waiter was “not at (his) best today”. Would I return? Yes, I would and would like to try the spatchcock or the braised beef mains and chicken terrine entree next time!