This photo was taken last year at my friend Joanne's 21st. I've cringed at every single photo she took of me that night. I look like a bloated balloon compared to all my stunning friends! My friends Joanne and Mel (they are on the far right and far left respectively) have developed a taste for fine dining. Mel's uncle frequently takes her to expensive restaurants and Joanne likes the fine dining experience. Name any classy and expensive restaurant in Melbourne and Mel and Joanne has probably been there.
This year for Joanne's birthday, we practically spent the whole day eating at nice restaurants. We first went to +39 for some classy pizzas, then to Shoya for an epic 12-course banquet. Get ready for some food porn!
FIRST STOP: +39
+39 is a small, cozy but polished restaurant. Its walls are lined with humungous Nutella jars and booze. I hear their dessert pizzas are nice, but we couldn't fit in dessert as we wanted to save space for our banquet later that night.
The first time I heard of +39 I was at uni. I was talking to my Sex and Gender tutor and she told me she had just eaten some burrata. I had never heard of burrata. She described it as a ball of mozzarella filled with cream. After that heavenly description, I vowed to go to +39 and eat burrata. At the time, I looked up their menu and I noticed they did some kind of burrata pizza. It sounded bloody amazing. I told Liam about it and we decided to go there for my birthday but the place wasn't open on my birthday so we settled for something else.
We ordered an entree of burrata: four blobs of pale mozzarella, resembling small poached eggs, were surrounded by pickled vegies and olive oil. I have to say, this was a let down. I just couldn't taste any cheese flavour and it lacked seasoning. Even the pickled vegies, while cutting the richness of the cheese, tasted one dimensional. I doused my burrata with salt, but it didn't do much. Karmen agreed the cheese lacked seasoning. Joanne's not a fan of fresh cheese so she didn't have any. I don't know if that's actually what burrata tastes like. Perhaps burrata needs to be eaten in a different way, maybe with some high quality bresola or something?
The first pizza to arrive was the margherita. The crust was thin, but chewy. The cheese had just enough bite which was enhanced by the fresh tomato sauce. The handful of scattered basil leaves were fresh and fragrant.
The prawn pizza was the last to arrive: a cheese-based pizza scattered with crunchy prawns, cherry tomatoes and discs of zucchini.The cheese had a subtle "unami" flavour to it, which nicely contrasted with the tartness of the tomatoes. I liked this one best, probably because I'm extremely partial to prawns.
Later on, we did some shopping then met up with Joanne's boyfriend David and headed down to Moomba for a few rides. We had to do something to work off lunch in time for dinner!
LAST STOP: Shoya
Our dinner at Shoya was booked a few weeks in advanced. Needless to say, we were super excited for it. Shoya does a few banquets, from a ten-course meal to an epic 18-course. We stuck with the 12-course meal, costing $120 a head. It's a lot of money for me. I don't think I've ever spent so much on a meal, but when I think about it, it works out to be $10 a course, which isn't too bad.
Shoya is a fine dining restaurant tucked away in Market Lane. It is a quaint, classy, yet oddly cozy restaurant. Our waiter was extremely friendly, informative and attentive.
First course: smoked salmon carpaccio with truffle, salmon roe, micro herbs, grilled fish skin and wasabi mousse. Our waiter instructed us to roll up the piece of salmon and eat it in one bite. It was divine. The wasabi mousse complemented the salty smoked salmon nicely.
Second course: affectionately named "goldfish" by the waiter, this dish was a mixture of minced chicken, sweet plum, herbs and lentils shaped into an egg shape, then cooked in a teriyaki sauce and topped with a flower petal. I don't remember what the flower was called but it surprisingly added a savoury taste to the dish.
Third course: ABALONE! Diced abalone steamed in an apple-onion sauce with tiny cubes of house-made cheese and a healthy handful of shredded spring onions. Oh and the sauce had some kind of fish liver in it, but I'm going to pretend it didn't. Liam freaked out a bit about the fish liver thing too.
This was really amazing. The abalone was really tender. The spring onion added some freshness to the dish, while the cheese cut the astringency of the onions.
Fourth course: steamed egg custard and spinach puree in an egg shell, topped with tempura scampi. This dish was impressively presented in a wooden box full of hay. It reminded me of this egg dish my mum makes. If this was a bigger serve, it'd certainly go well with a steaming bowl of rice. It was kind of like Asian comfort food: it was warm, delicious and semi deep-fried.
Fifth course: assorted sashimi in a hollow ice sphere. This was the dish Joanne was most excited for, and most rightly so! In each serve there was fresh tuna, salmon, scallop (topped with edible gold, by the way), dory and swordfish.
My favourite was definitely the salmon as it was so fresh and soft. Everyone else loved the tuna. The swordish was very firm. Not many people liked the swordfish.
What is this, you ask? It's wasabi, but not just ANY wasabi. This is fresh wasabi. We watched the waiter grind what looked like an unripe green turnip on this small wooden board covered in shark skin. He told us this wasabi can only be found in Tasmania as the climate there is perfect to harvest fresh wasabi. It costs $140 a kilo, and the restaurant goes through 4 kilos of fresh wasabi each week! We were also instructed to smear the wasabi on our sashimi, then dip the sashimi in our soy sauce. The taste is out of this world! It has the kick same packaged wasabi has, but it disappears really quickly, and you are left a subtle, sweet after taste.
Sixth course: stewed ox
Seventh course: tempura hakaido crab legs! Look at the size of this thing! It's bigger than my plate!
Here's Jacky (Karmen's bf) demonstrating how frigging massive this thing is! It was served with some lemon and green tea salt, which was a revelation! Soft, sweet crab meat contrasted with light crisp batter. We got a little messy, but it was so worth it.
After the richness of the last two dishes, we were given a palate cleanser: Soju sorbet topped with sturgeon caviar. This is probably the closest thing I'll ever get to eating cavier and vodka. Soju is a Korean vodka made from rice. It's a lot sweeter than Russian vodka. The sorbet was odd at first: the heady aroma of the soju reminded me of soy sauce. After a couple of bites, I found it more enjoyable: it was sweet, yet tangy, and somehow worked well with the salty caviar.
Eighth course: somen noodles in a bonito broth, topped with grilled snapper and salmon roe. I really liked this dish. The waiter presented the noodles, snapper, salmon roe and micro herbs in a small bowl, then gently poured the bonito stock over the top of the noodles, making sure the roe does not cook. This was such a nourishing dish. The salmon roe provided a sharp, fishy saltiness to the soup and the grilled snapper was very tender.
Ninth course: wagyu steak in a miso, enoki and truffle sauce, topped with a char grilled chilli. By this stage, we were already feeling quite full, but I was not wasting such a good cut of beef! It was very rich, and the sauce was a little salty. It was divine, although I thought the truffles added an almost subtle medicinal touch to the sauce.
The tenth and eleventh course was fried rice and miso soup. It was your standard fare: nothing too amazing. I didn't end up finishing my fried rice.
Twelfth course: a wonderful dessert platter! This is no ordinary dessert platter though: on the top left was a sea urchin cheesecake. It was dense, but not overly cheesy. I couldn't taste anything unusual with the cheesecake. It was just yum! Next to it was a chocolate and sweet plum cake with an uber thick chocolate ganache, topped with edible gold. Edible gold doesn't taste like anything, but when it gets stuck on your teeth, you can feel it. On the bottom left hand side was a sesame pannacotta dusted with green tea matcha. It was everyone's favourite. It was light, cool, and the fragrant sesame flavour was beautifully complemented with the green tea matcha.
So, if you are every in the mood for a 12-course Japanese meal, do come to Shoya. It is a wonderful experience, and everyone needs to try fresh wasabi at least once. I'd love to come back to Shoya and try their a la carte menu, but I'll need to save up a bit before I do.