Rumi

In further birthday related adventures, I decided to mix it up a little this year in terms of the venue for my family’s dinner treat. Ordinarily we can all be relied upon to choose either Cantonese or Thai restaurants for our family birthday feasts, but I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to explore a cuisine I wasn’t as familiar with at a fancy purveyor of said cuisine. My knowledge of Lebanese food has basically sat at “felafel and hummus” for far too long, so it seemed like the perfect excuse to pay a visit to Rumi.

The restaurant itself is really quite beautiful, with a corner spot that is all windows, soft orange, intimate lighting and tasteful themed touches, like intricately curled metal lamps, and Middle Eastern cookbooks propping up at the bar.

Given that we are a family of greedy gutses, it seemed that going with one of the banquet options was the best route. Once knowing I was a vegetarian, the staff offered to augment the regular banquet dishes with some special vegie ones for me, which resulted in a mountain of food!

First of all was the flatbread, fluffy rounds all coiled up in silver cups and served with crudites (pieces of fresh vegetables and also some pickles), housemade labne and white bean hummus. It takes a lot for dips to be exciting, but that’s exactly what these were – the labne was tart, creamy, yet surprisingly light, while the white bean hummus was all lemony, tahini goodness, kind of reminiscent of my favourite white bean dip that I make at home all the time, but tahini-er (totes a word). And the flatbread! Pillowy and soft, yet with just the right amount of chew, ever so more-ish.

But let’s not just fill up on bread! Served alongside the flatbread were the sigara boregi, cigar shaped pastries filled with haloumi, feta and kasseri. I could have done with about ten more of these little babies instead of the one I had to be satisfied with so that everyone could try one. So tasty! Light, crunchy pastry encasing a salty, cheesy filling with the teeniest touch of spice.

My first individual vegie dish was the burnt eggplant with Persian buttermilk dressing, mint and crispy onions. The eggplant was beautifully soft and quite mildly flavoured. It was pleasant but not whizz-bang memorable.

I was most looking forward to the fried cauliflower with caramelised onions, currants and pie nuts, and boy howdy, it did not disappoint. This was the best kind of fried vegetable goodness, all sweet honeyed onions slapping up against charred cauliflower florets in a combo known as deliciousness.

A small bowl of broad beans with soft onion, almonds and bastourma was my next pointedly vegie dish. While most of the flavours involved were quite pleasing, the broad beans had tipped into slightly bitter territory, and since I tend to like broad beans when they’re early season and more sweet, this dish didn’t particularly grab me.

What did grab me was the BBQ asparagus with egg and lemon sauce and a sprinkling of nigella seeds. So simply done, but SO delicious, all caramelised, slightly burnt ‘gus undercut by tart lemon, soooo good.

The most wildly received dish by the whole table was the freekah salad with almonds, ewe’s milk feta and pomegranate dressing. It was the first time a few of us had had freekah before, and my mum in particular was very taken with it’s nutty flavour, and the tasty, clean-palated nature of the dish as a whole.

My next vegie plate was a fennel dish, with the fennel lightly braised in a creamy and slightly tomatoey sauce, tossed through with crispy pita curls. The aniseed flavour of the fennel did get a bit too much about halfway through the dish (and I’m someone who really likes aniseed! Go figure), but I loved loading up the pita curls with soft fennel and sauce.

There was also this amazing cos lettuce and herb salad with sweet and sour dressing – literally it was just greens and radish rounds, but it was so deceptively tasty!

This was so, so much food that I very nearly didn’t take up on the waitress’s offer of dessert. But it seemed a shame not to have a least a tiny sweet treat to round the meal off with, so we had a little nibble of some turkish delight and halva. The turkish delight was quite nice, though a little bit tough at the edges, like it had been left out in the fridge for a bit too long. Megan went mad for the halva, and I thought it was pretty great too, all pistachio’d deliciousness. A pot of fragrant mint tea was a leavening and refreshing end to it all (although Mum and Megan, who finished with the Turkish coffee, reported back that it was kind of horrible).

Rumi provided a really varied, interesting exploration of a cuisine that I have long wanted to be more intimately knowledgeable of. There was a high proportion of truly memorable dishes experienced, and even the less memorable ones weren’t bad, just more of an acquired taste. I’m certainly keen to try Rumi’s sister restaurant now, the ‘Lebanese pizza’ purveying The Moor’s Head. I wonder if there’s a hummus pizza? Someone should get on that.

Rumi

116 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

Ph: 9388 8255

rumirestaurant.com.au

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PM 24

As a special three-way birthday treat to ourselves, Jen, Em and I decided to splurge and have ourselves a lingering lunch at PM 24. Because of course that is the proper way to go about birthdays, with lavish French food.

PM 24 is well fancy, as you would expect. I was quite nervous on sighting the black and white tiled floors, tasteful wood furniture and charming actually-French waiters that this was going to turn into a rather expensive outing. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that lunch at PM 24, while not being something you could conceivably afford to do every week, is actually quite good value for the quality of the food you experience.

For the meaty aspects of this meal that were enjoyed by Em and Jen, you can have a look over at Em’s blog Enjoy Eat Watch, where she goes through our visit in detail. I’ll just be focusing on the vegie specifics.

First we were all offered a complimentary starter, a pumpkin veloute. This was essentially a neat little pot of very high-quality pumpkin soup with a crown of cream or perhaps creme fraiche, and scatterings of chives and croutons. Delightfully smooth and bursting with flavour for such a wee thing, it did what a starter should do and got us all very excited for what was following.

Our shared proper starter was the cheese and Jerusalem artichoke souffle with sauce fondue. I quite comprehensively lost my mind over this one. The feeling of sinking your spoon into the souffle was like the sensation of cutting through water, it was that unbelievably light. Not so light was the accompanying cheesy fondue sauce, which I kept grabbing ever more spoonfuls of while cackling manically (this is a thing with me, apparently, whenever I’m liking a dish too much I just start wildly laughing, go figure). Oh Jerusalem artichokes, I love your earthy, buttery flavour so much, I wish you weren’t such a bother to prepare otherwise I’d cook with you all the time.

My main dish was the pumpkin agnolotti with mushroom fumet and candied walnuts. Crowned with a fuzz of foam, the pasta encasing the pumpkin filling was delicately tender, and all the other flavours involved were surprisingly gentle, from the sweet tang of the soft walnuts to the woody hum of the mushrooms, all building into a tremendously well-balanced dish that creeps up on you in a savoury crescendo.

Of course there had to be potatoes in the mix somewhere, and being a French restaurant we had to go with the pommes frites with parmesan and rosemary. These were fiercely crispy on the outside, yet still moist and fluffy within, a very more-ish ship. My only complaint for basically the whole meal is that the rosemary wasn’t very apparent at all here.

I also ordered the cauliflower gratin, which was probably going too far in terms of ‘things drenched in cheese sauce’. It was lovely, but I would recommend choosing either it or the souffle, not both in one sitting!

I also filched quite a few of Jen’s side of green beans threaded through with sauteed leek (Jen seems to be constantly compelled to order anything that features green beans when we eat together, a habit that I’m all for encouraging). These were beautiful, the beans achingly fresh, the leek all translucently golden winding its way around the beans. I gobbled up probably far to many of these than I should have, sorry Jen!

We were completely stuffed by this point, but then the charmingly French waiter came by wafting a tray of cakes under our noses, and really that’s just cruel because I certainly have no self-control upon the sighting of cake. We ended up deciding to share a square of chocolate mousse between us. Extra charmingly, when the plate with the mousse came out the waiter had written “Happy birthday!” in chocolate sauce cursive on it. Awwwww! The mousse had a thick layer of raspberry struck through it’s middle, and the sweet-tartness of it added a touch of fruity relief to the richness of the chocolate.

What a feast! Throughout I drank a nice hefty glass of Eric Bordelet cider, a sweetly refreshing French (of course) fizz which, if I hadn’t of been driving, I would have liked to have had a lot more of.

Obviously PM 24 isn’t the sort of place you could eat at every day. You’d die from cheese sauce overindulgence for starters. But for a special occasion or when you have a craving for French food done simply and well without too many curveballs at a price that doesn’t delve too deeply into your pockets, you should be well satisfied. Make sure to wear your stretchy pants.

PM 24

24 Russell Street, Melbourne

Ph: 9207 7424

www.pm24.com.au

Newmarket Hotel

Sometimes Muffin and I go on food missions, where we basically go on reconnaissance to restaurants to test and see whether they’ll be suitable for future celebratory dinners. In this case Muffin wanted to see if the revamped Newmarket Hotel would be a suitable venue to take her family to for her birthday dinner. And me, well, all I needed to hear was that the menu was Mexican-influenced and I was all on board.

The first impression of the fitout is that the Newmarket is sliiiiiiiick as all get out. Pub look on the outside, living in a gorgeous terrarium on the inside. Now I want to live in a gorgeous terrarium, particularly if the food is as good as it is here (clue: REALLY FUCKING GOOD).

Our starter was the guacamole with salsa fresca and tortilla chips. Sounds simple, but it was simple done well. The guacamole was slightly chilli-spiced, and it was all together very snackable, I couldn’t stop nibbling even after other dishes hit the table.

I was far too overexcited about the prospect of sampling the BBQ corn on the cob with chilli and queso fresco, and had indeed been telling anyone who would listen at work that day that I was having corn-onna-stick for dinner. Alas, this particular corn on the cob does not come onna stick, but it does some with finger bowls! Which is good, because otherwise you’d make a filthy mess of yourself what with all the tasty sauce. The corn was beautifully charred to the point of having a very more-ish quality, it was lucky Muffin swiftly took the other half because I was ready to gobble it up too.

Being me, I had to make sure that there were some potatoes in the mix, so I made sure to order the triple cooked bravas potatoes with two sauces. The unidentified sauces were a brown, smoky one that was probably some variant of barbeque sauce, while the other was white and reminiscent of kewpie mayonnaise. Whatever they really were, they combined with the crisp squares of potato into a quite sophisticated take on a staple.

Balancing out the potatoes was the quinoa, broad bean, pecorino and mint salad (though I have a feeling that there wasn’t any mint and that it had instead been replaced with some other herb). This was a fab palate leveler as well as a tasty dish in and of itself, the nuttiness of the quinoa all nicely complemented by the herbs and broad beans. I really love grainy salads and this was a very good representation of the type.

After all this sharing we decided to sample a quesadilla each. I went with the blue corn quesadilla with spring vegetables and asparagus. This was like a little delightful slice of spring, all greens jumping brightly off the plate, with the hint of summer approaching in the levels of chilli heat involved. Beautifully plated and flavoured, THIS is what fancy Mexican inspired food should be like.

Muffin had the quesadilla with huitlacoche, wood BBQ mushrooms, spinach and jack cheese. I’d never tried huitlacoche before, and Muffin was kind enough to supply me with a taste. It’s very nosey, similar to when you eat a delightfully stinky cheese and all the pungency attempts to escape through your nose. Which is probably an obnoxious experience for some people, but for me just amps up the savoury factor.

We had a little rest and then decided to tackle a shared dessert together, because really how could you not? The caramelised date and banana cake with peanut butter parfait was HEAVEN. Unlike a lot of sweet dishes that combine two differing elements in taste and consistency together, this wasn’t an exercise in contrasts. The cake and the parfait were perfect together, you couldn’t eat one without the other.

We didn’t get a chance to try the Newmarket’s cocktail menu, which was a shame as from our seats adjacent to the bar we were treated to viewing the preparation of all kinds of delectable-looking beverages, it was quite a show! (Probably helped that all the bartenders were capslock level HANDSOME) We’re pretty keen to go back just for cocktails and nibbles; it’s nice that it’s a multifaceted venue in that you don’t just have to treat it as just a sit-down dinner place.

Reconnaissance achieved, you will be pleased to hear that Muffin did indeed take her family back to the Newmarket for her birthday, and it received rave reviews all round! She also sent me a drool-worthy text message detailing everything that they ate, which made me draw two conclusions: 1. The internet is truly poorer for the fact that Muffin does not have a food blog of her own, and 2. That I need to go back in order to experience the pear cazuela. Melty chocolatey pear heaven, you are destined for my face.

Newmarket Hotel

34 Inkerman Street, St Kilda

Ph: 9537 1777

newmarketstkilda.com.au