chez olivier le bistro – take three

121 Greville Street, Prahran
www.chezolivier.com

Third time’s the charm: after an offer by Chez Olivier’s owner to try the restaurant again, and a $100 voucher as motivation, Robyn and I headed back for a quiet, anonymous dîner à deux.

It was a hot Melbourne evening and the cosy restaurant was all but deserted. We chose a table in the cooler back room near the air conditioner but after a few minutes the draught got uncomfortable, so the waiter happily moved us to a larger table away from the direct blast.

A bottle of 2006 Château Noaillac from the Médoc hit the spot despite the heat of the day. We sensibly ordered first and talked later, otherwise we’d never have gotten to the food. For starters, we shared a pissaladière – an onion, anchovy and olive tart – with a serving of coquilles St. Jacques. The tart was tasty but not as substantial as I would have expected. The coquilles were just divine, and I quietly wished that all three were mine. They would be worth going back for themselves.

For main course Robyn chose the confit duck special and I, predictably, chose steak frites. Robyn’s duck was good but, she said, a little overdone. My steak frites was plentiful, perfectly cooked medium-rare and just what I wanted.

Dessert was out of the question but the waiter chose us a glass each of an alternative red to finish the night. All told, the service was friendly, unobtrusive, helpful and attentive. The food and wine were most agreeable, and most importantly, the company wonderful.

At just over $150 for two (most of which was covered by the $100 voucher) Chez Olivier is not a cheap option, and in my opinion it’s still not the best value in town. However, with money no object my conclusion is not to choose Chez Olivier for a large dinner party, but for a smaller table of two or four. At this size, they acquit themselves pretty well.

 

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mmmm pizza

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Late home from work, I rustle up a quick home-made pizza in less time than it takes to order from Pizza Hut.

Half a garlic Afghan bread, a squirt of pizza sauce, a few chopped-up mushrooms pan-fried to dry them out a little, quarter of an onion finely chopped and barely sweated in the pan, one green chilli and one tomato, a good handful of Weight Watchers grated cheese and a generous swirl of Ischian herbs from the Bay of Naples.

Into the oven, out 15 minutes later, Bob’s your uncle. The perfect comfort food, and all for less than 6 Weight Watchers points (if that means anything to you).
A glass of Rutherglen durif and House on the TV, and that’s a perfect Wednesday evening for me.

chowders I have known

A week in Connemara. A week of fresh seafood, especially seafood chowder. You may think that New England has the market cornered in good chowder, but you’d be wrong. The west of Ireland has it all sewn up.

We were miles from the famed Moran’s of the Weir in Clarenbridge, or Monks of Ballyvaughan, but the bars and restaurants of the west coast of Galway held their own admirably. Our first foray was up in Verdon’s of Letterfrack, after a morning’s scuba diving which had us weirdly craving chowder and chips. We sat outside in the summer sunshine, savouring what was the closest thing to a Manhattan chowder we had all week. Tomato-based instead of creamy, our bowls were full of chopped local mussels and generously sprinkled with fresh parsley. The crown bread was fresh and the chips were fresh, not frozen. The brown bread was shop-bought but on the positive side it was McCambridge’s. An excellent start.
On the same day, another group of us lunched at Ballynahinch Castle near Clifden. There, the chowder was more of a bisque, a smooth soup with no lumps in, just a handful of fresh mussels in the half-shell. Those who experienced this one had not discovered the joys of dunking freshly-fried chips into a good chowder, so we cannot record here how good Ballynahinch’s french fries are.
A cold, blustery day saw us take refuge in Glynsk House for a late lunch. There, the bar menu served up a lovely creamy chowder, with plenty of celery, carrot and tomato, and with more than a hint of turmeric in there, and perhaps the tiniest pinch of curry powder. The use of dill instead of parsley was interesting and fresh. Sadly, Mum (a legendary chips expert) announced that the chips, whilst piping hot, were made from frozen. Marks lost. However the brown bread was served as big fresh scones, obviously home-made. Marks gained.

Glynsk House’s sister establishment is Cashel House, a couple of doors away from our holiday home. Our last dinner of the holiday started – of course – with chowder, but despite being a related restaurant it was quite a different bowlful. No turmeric or dill this time, plenty of vegetables, and both white fish and salmon along with mussels. Chips were good and fresh, but no brown bread, just a white dinner roll.

Tigh Chathain in Cill Chiarain served us up a fish chowder – not a mussel in sight. Creamy white and laden with white fish, smoked fish and salmon, it was accompanied by generous basketfuls of fresh pasta dura and white soda bread. Chips excellent, fresh and chunky. And all washed down with an entertaining and informative chat with the barman about the day de Valera unveiled the sculpture of Padraig O Conaire in Eyre Square in Galway.
So, finally we come to our final chowder, in the Galleon Grill in Salthill on our way home. This one was almost white it was so creamy, but it didn’t tasty as rich and creamy as expected. Mostly white fish and salmon, with the odd shrimp and scallop. It could have done with a little more salt but that’s not a complaint, as often soups and chowders can be overly salty. Fresh brown bread scones and proper fresh chips. Marvellous.
All of which prompted me to try my own very first chowder today, just to help me re-integrate into Australian society. A decent potato soup made with fish stock, plenty of shrimp, chopped calamari, mussels, white fish and smoked cod. I did a Glynsk House on it and chucked some turmeric in there too, with plenty of chopped parsley. I simmered the pot for a couple of hours and baked some of my own Irish brown bread scones, and if I say so myself it was a bit of a triumph.

>chez olivier

>121 Greville Street, Prahran
www.chezolivier.com

Winter Solstice is upon us again. Well: officially tomorrow is the shortest day, but my trip to Sydney tomorrow put the kibosh on our usual 21st June celebration of winter. So a Solstice Eve Sunday luncheon was in order.

Eileen suggested Chez Olivier in Prahran, a tiny slice of France in Greville Street surrounded by chi-chi boutiques and jewellery shops. We found Mena sipping a Baileys at a window seat by the bar, surrounded by pastis bottles, fifties French posters, urns full of wine corks, and French waiters wearing black waistcoats with the tricolour on their breasts.

We gathered at an upstairs table, by a huge picture window – great for natural light. We had the whole floor to ourselves. Mena, in her element, ordered escargots for a starter. Each snail came served in a tiny steel jug, drowning in butter and laced with garlic. My warm goat’s cheese salad had a centrepiece of crusty bread smothered in beautiful chevre. Onion soup, a seafood millefeuille, seafood bisque and a caramelised onion, anchovy and olive tart completed the traditional French fare for first course, all washed down with a good pinot chosen by Kelvin (of course).

After a decent interval, the mains arrived, all accompanied by a 2006 bottle of Sanguine Estate’s Heathcote shiraz. Duck ruled, with Mena choosing the magret of the day served on creamy mash and wilted greens, Robyn choosing the “Frozzie duck”, double-roasted and served with lemon and pepper mash, bok choi and pickled ginger, and a few more opting for the cassoulet a la “Jacky”, with duck confit and pulses.

My bouillabaisse was full of fresh salmon, prawns, mussels and scallops, but could have been a lot more tomatoey and a lot more garlickey. Orlando’s baked salmon was served with creamy mash, and looked good but Orlando thought it ordinary. A second bottle of the Heathcote was ordered, but like a lot of the wine list they were out of stock so we upgraded to a 2006 Sanguine Estate d”Orsa shiraz which did very nicely.

Desserts looked and tasted good for the most part. The mousse au chocolat (Orlando’s choice, naturally) was a huge helping served with fresh strawberries. A few chose the “self-saucing, self-indulging chocolate fondant” which lived up to its legend. My tarte tatin was a little disappointing: none of the bite of a good cooking apple in there. And Mena completed her classic French lunch with crepes Suzette complete with flaming Grand Marnier, which she pronounced divine.

Interestingly, from Sunday to Thursday the restaurant charges $11 a head for whatever wine you have chosen, so despite the wine list suggesting a total bill of about $200 for the wine alone, that is all we were charged – $11 a head. This certainly made up for the limited availability of some wines on the list. Total bill for seven came to $598, which was about $85 a head.

By then, we were alone in the restaurant, the wait staff had mostly gone home and those remaining were preparing for the evening’s sitting. The light was fading as we wrapped ourselves in coats and scarves against the chilly evening air. Quite a civilised solstice lunch to mark the passage of time in winter. Tomorrow, the days will get longer by a cock’s stride, and we can look forward to spring.

As for Chez Olivier, despite one or two pedestrian meals, our overall experience was lovely, and fantastic value too. I can imagine this will become a favourite winter haunt.

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leftovers pizza

No, I don’t mean I had pizza last night and ate the last two slices this morning. As if, in my home, there would be any pizza left for breakfast.

Tonight, despite being Thursday, is the start of my weekend and I wanted Friday Food. (No Andy you do not have the copyright on this…). For the uninitiated, our Melbourne take on Friday food is that is has to be special, it has to be something you don’t normally eat on a school night, it has to be comfort food, it has to be something you like to end the week with but doesn’t take a Cordon Bleu chef to pull off.

I rode home from the city on the scooter in a strange high-temperature, high-humidity fog (really, is this still March?) and focused on pizza and red wine, my ultimate comfort food.

When I got home the Stanton and Killeen shiraz durif was hitting the spot and it was all I could do to call Pizza Hut – my favourite non-pizza pizza hit. (Let’s face it: Pizza Hut is not pizza but it is tasty). As it was March, the month of Slow Food, I focused hard and changed my mind. I would have home-made pizza with toppings made of all the leftovers in the fridge.

Two mini pita breads. Two teaspoons of tomato base from a tub (OK, it was not all slow food sourced from the land, but give me a break). A stray rasher of streaky bacon from a Paddy’s Butchers Sunday breakfast that just got too big. Some baby bocconcini from a weekend pasta dish, with about a week until sell-by date. Five cherry tomatoes and half an onion and a green chilli from the vegie drawer in the fridge. The heads off half a bunch of rapidly-failing broccolini. Spicy Italian herbs. All set.

Divine Thursday night dinner, nine points (Weight Watchers) instead of minimum 15 if I’d ordered in. OK, I would have ordered something meat-lovers and it would have been a train wreck – maybe 20 points which is more than I’m supposed to eat in a full day. But my dinner was a lot tastier and exactly to my taste.

And the fridge is a little emptier tonight because of me.

I thank you.