Monday, 9 August 2010

Celebrity Judges Take on The Press Club

"This is Elizabeth Street!"

Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai turned around and paused in the middle of the pedestrian crossing. Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Kylie Kwong looked in earnest. The iron chef frowned solemnly - this was the last time he would organise such an event he thought to himself. Gary Mehigan remained nearby, aloof, in search of an ATM.

The Iron Chef directed them across the road and to the large, stone building that dominated the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth street. A little further along, they came across a polished, brass sign that marked their destination: The Press Club. It was at this point that the Iron Chef's frown softened and his doubts dissipated. On a beautiful, winter's day in the heart of Melbourne, these five judges were about to sample some much raved about food. If only they had brought a camera thought the group as they entered the building.

After some slight confusion as to which way to go, the judges entered the restaurant. The iron chef nervously led the way, and was greeted by a solidly built man in a crisp, black shirt. The maitre d', thought the iron chef. Or the head waiter. Or perhaps just a regular waiter - the iron chef was not familiar with the hierarchy of waiters at fine restaurants. The waiter - who we shall now refer to as "the captain" - led the group of judges to their table. It was a corner table, with cushioned seating running along two adjoining walls, one wall containing large windows that framed a bustling, Melbourne street scene outside. The iron chef took his position on the seat beneath the window. The other judges followed suit: Kylie Kwong and Gary Mehigan sat to the right of the iron chef and Matt Preston and George Calombaris to his left. The captain went around to each guest and laid a fresh, linen napkin on their lap. He then asked the guests if they would like any drinks. They looked at one another, unsure of what to say. Matt Preston offered an "I'm fine thanks" followed by a "could we have a jug of tap water?" The captain somehow managed to keep a serious face.
"No, but we have bottled water. Still or sparkling?"

Once the captain had taken their orders for water, the iron chef observed his surroundings. The room was subdued, sophisticated. Dark walls, bright windows, glowing lights, a bar that ran in front of a busy kitchen. The restaurant had drawn a somewhat eclectic mix of patrons - there were the typical businessmen and corporate types in their dress shirts and suit pants, as well as the middle aged couples with their beautifully styled hair and manicured nails - but there was also a spattering of the dreadlocked and the alternative, the hoodied and the charmless. The iron chef noticed a professor type sporting a red bowtie. The iron chef cringed ever so slightly.

The restaurant indeed had a nice ambience. There was a simple elegance to it - not so much in the price list, but in the crisp, white butchers paper that covered the tables. "The glasses are nice," uttered the iron chef absently as he lifted and inspected the heavy, Murano-like drinking glass. The captain returned with two bottles of mineral water - one still, one sparkling. He filled the glasses judiciously. As he leant to fill Matt Preston's however, he quickly paused and scooped up the glass. "There's a chip in it," explained the captain, "I wouldn't want you injuring yourself here." Matt Preston gave an embarrassed smile. He would have played bashfully with his cravete had he worn one, but instead a black, beaded necklace hung around his neck. Later when he enquired after a drinks menu, the captain announced that they didn't have one. The captain 3, Matt 0.

The menus were presented to the judges by a bulky woman with short, firey hair. The iron chef tried to decipher the menu but he was not familiar with the words - English is such a difficult language, he thought to himself. It was only later when he looked at the other judges for help that he realised they had no clue what was on the menu either. George consulted the waitress and relayed the information to the others. The daily special was an entree of pasta, a main of fish and a dessert of chocolate fondant. The iron chef was happy with these three courses. George and Matt ordered the fish and chocolate fondant, but also a side of potatoes. Kylie opted for a similar option but had the oysters as an entree. Matt decided to venture off a different path and chose to sample the lamb off the spit.

Olive oil, black salt and two types of bread - white and olive - were presented as an appetizer. The olive oil was smooth, and the salt deceptively salty.

The entrees were quick to arrive. A plate of two oysters atop a bed of sea salt was presented to Kylie Kwong. She devoured them quickly, approving of their taste. The iron chef attempted to eat his pasta in a civilised manner, but was unsure how to do so with a fork, knife and spoon. The tagliatele was cooked nicely. The sauce was somewhat of an acquired taste - mussels and cured meat in a light and slightly bitter broth. The iron chef was pleased but not 'wowwed'.

Matt's lamb was the first of the mains to arrive. A large mass of meat accompanied with a side of marouli salad. It would later be revealed that Matt thought the meat was a little dry and the lettuce a tad "bitey". Tough criticism from one with such a refined palate. The other judges were satisfied with their fish dish - a fillet of pan-seared Mulloway served on top of crushed potatoes, wilted spinach and creamy leeks. The fish was cooked brilliantly: the flesh white and moist, though the skin was underwhelmingly not crisp. George - who usually avoids seafood and prefers fish that doesn't taste like fish - approved of it. The iron chef, however, was not impressed when he removed a fish scale from his mouth.

The side dish of potatoes was actually a cup of chips served with a creamy, beetroot relish. The chips were crisp and well seasoned, though perhaps a little too reminiscent of "Lord of the Fries".

And finally the piece de resistance, dessert: chocolate fondant with jaffa ice-cream and a mountain tea foam. Everyone was extremely impressed, especially Gary and George who rated it highly (9 and 10 respectively). The mountain tea foam (the appearance of which the iron chef likened to washing up suds) although odd in flavour, somehow counteracted the rich, gooeyness of the chocolate dessert. And the pleasantly sweet chill of the jaffa ice-cream balanced the warmth of the decandent fondant. Overall, it was a delicious dish that all the judges deemed the highlight of the day.

With their bellies full, and the conversation winding down, the judges knew that their lunch break had come to a satisfying end. Having paid their bill and leaving an embarrassing three dollar tip, they said goodbye to the captain and the bulky waitress and made their way out into the beautiful, afternoon sun. What a lovely, culinary experience in the heart of Melbourne thought the Iron Chef. And he laughed. A passerby had stumbled and their shoe fell off. It's the simple things in life.

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