Thursday, February 26, 2009

Eatering with Miss T Junior at ezard, or: I expand my palate

In a record-breaking display of inexplicable and unaccountable delay, Miss T today posted a significant restaurant review not less than four whole weeks after dining. The seriousness of this matter was compounded by the revelation that the restaurant in question was a premier Melbourne eatering establishment, ezard.

Miss T issued the following statement through
her publicist: “I know I have let the fans down. My fans are everything to me. I am currently seeking treatment in an Arizona facility for exhaustion. I want to thank God, my family and the Academy. ”

Miss T has waxed lyrical befor
e about ezard here.

So with that blush-cheeked apology on record, I did
indeed eat again at ezard, this time with Miss T Junior, who is a long-term foodie and cook, and who received the dinner as her Chistmassy present.

My lovely eatering companion.

I will air my one gripe up front. I have previously commented that although I have no problem with the $35 corkage, although I wish it would be waived for those of us who BYO as none of the wines on the menu are vegan, I do expect that if corkage is charged and customers pay, there should be no silliness surrounding a bottle brought in. I arrived clutching a bottle well under the ezard standard but fully aware of and willing to pay the corkage. The waiter who seated us asked delicately, but not really, if it was a present for someone. I said it was for us and that I was aware of the corkage. He said he would speak to the wine waiter. Now why? This was most awkward, and when the maitre’d came over I explained – and it was not a problem. So why bother commenting – it was the one grump-making experience that I have to whine about.

So, wine glass full, we commenced.

Again, two of the three dipping spices were vegan – the Prickly Ash Szechuan pepper and rock salt, and the dried chilli and Chinese yellow sugar. And again, without the assurance of dairy-free bread, I unabashedly wetted my finger and happily ran it around the plate. The dark, smoky Szechuan and the sweet chilli, with sugar hitting you first followed by a chilli punch to the back of the tongue, are literally mouth-watering.

Our appetiser provided me with a hint as to what my taste of the night would be. It was Tom Kha, a coconut milk swallow of soup with kaffir li
me, lemongrass and chilli. It was warm but not hot; creamy but not thick; limey but almost sour. The sharp first flavours of lime and lemongrass, bringing an almost curdled feel to the milkiness, gave way quickly to the soft texture of coconut milk, lightly honed by a small addition of chilli. It was an extraordinarily well-balanced dish, balancing well the pungent, hot and soft broad tastes of its components.

Emboldened by our waiter’s instruction that the kitch
en could make anything from the vegetarian a la carte menu for me (something I haven’t heard before but will press to great advantage in the future), I ordered the eggplant two ways with sweet and sour pomegranate, and lemon (Miss T Junior, omnivore, ordered something unprintable on these pages, but enjoyed herself very much).

The first eggplant ‘way’ was, not to compare it downwards but to be accurate, a deep fried piece which made me think of the freshest, hottest, most straight-from-the-oil doughnut in the world. It had been brought to the table within seconds of being lifted from the frying, and it was hot-puffy, light as air and crispy golden with an oily sweetness.

Nestled between two such pieces, almost ironic-burger like, was a little salad of lightly oiled fennel and (maybe-perhaps?) dill, which provided the pointy end of the taste spectrum to counteract the fried sweety warmth. Underneath the bottom piece was a dollop of baba ganoush, a contrast of melty texture with a nasal smokey flavour.

Swirled around the plate was a pomegranate jus of sorts, punctured with pomegranate arils (apparently the correct term for the little berryseeds in
side), which was sweet and intense, giving a sugared counterpoint to the astringent baba ganoush, pungent fennel and hot eggplant fritters.

My main, as always, made me shiver just a little bit. On both previous visits I have ordered the Asian gazpacho with fennel, mint and avocado (t
empura-ed avocado, thanks) for entrée, and enjoyed it with such dish-licking relish that I promised myself that it would make a main outing. Fresh, incredibly tart gazpacho, a clear orange in flavour and so finely pureed that no remnant of its constituent parts is discernible, surrounds a tower of tempura avocado and shaved fennel all topped with a crispy roof.

I have wondered and marvelled before at the skill by which avocado can be dunked in boiling oil without creating the slightly disconcerting flavour of avocado when warmed. Like the eggplant fritters, I can only assume that someone is very fast indeed with the deep frying basket.

We ordered a side of potatoes with lovely soft mushy whole roasted garlic cloves and rosemary, which were generous in quantity, flavour and heat (nothing, and I repeat nothing, is more infuriating to me than ordering wedges, whether in pub or haute cusine fine dining, and getting an abomination of floury, lukewarm, collapsing pot
ato mess) . However, there is really only so much you can do with potatoes, oil, rosemary and garlic, and although ezard surely did all that is possible, it was not something that I would choose again over, say, the dessert that was to come.

I sneakily alluded earlier to my taste of the night (didja see what I did? See it, see it? Didja, huh?) and as I know you’re all now on the edge of your seats and the verge of pant-wetting, here it is: coconut. Sur-priiiise!

Surprise for me anyway. I’ve never been much of a coconut groupie, except for slathering my legs in Reef Oil and sticking them in the sun to fry as a 16 year old. It goes along generally with my meh-ness about many fruits, and I’ve never made
a beeline for it in food or scent.

But whereas the beginning of my meal was bracketed with spicy Tom Kha, the end was signed off with a sorbet of sublimity (yes I just made up that word. Sublimeness is clunky, and subliminal is just not on).

I digress. My dessert was three scoops of sorbet, each a little triumph of sweetery (did it again). The middle orangey one you see was a tangeriney sort of a thing, and although delicious, I did not finish it. Why? I give you: a) the two G&Ts I had before dinner; and b) the 2 or 3 large glasses of wine I had at dinner. Lest you think I am a lightweight, I give you c) a 43.4C day (that’s 110.12F for you top dwellers). Yes, the alcomohol had hit me where it hurted and I struggled to down any more.

The pear sorbet was, again, an essence of peariness. Light, sweet, and not as icy as the ice-crumbly orange sorbet, it combined an admirable light creaminess with a real fruit flavour.

But oh. Oh. (As Mrs T would say). The coconut sorbet. Like shavings of coconut flesh creamed until smooth (two non-vegan things there). The taste was fresh, real, authentic and unadulterated. It was clean and creamy, cold and melting. It was without a doubt the best sorbet I have ever had, and demonstrated that in the right hands – such as Teague Ezard’s – a tropical fruit can be both warm, pungent broth and cold, creamy dessert – in one sitting.

Once again, ezard proved that vegan fine dining can be accessible, easy and inventive. The service, apart from the little grrr moment with the wine, was informed and intelligent, and both Miss T Junior and I left feeling very lucky girls indeed.


lisa said...

Soooo jealous! As usual your review and photos are gorgeous. As is your sister.

Miss T said...

Why thank you! I would have loved to have had some more light to get some brighter and less grainy pics, and as noted I was a little bit (entirely unintentionally) tipsy), but yes Miss T Junior scrubbed up quite well that night :)