Friday, 27 September 2013

Vintaged Bar and Grill - The Butcher Block

Is there anything better than a chef shoot out?  Especially when one of the chefs is a celebrity chef with a huge reputation to uphold.  Vintaged Bar and Grill recently held a spectacular dining event that pitted legendary meat chef Adrian Richardson against Vintaged Executive Chef Jeremy Clark.   Overseeing the battle royale and providing the amazing meat for the evening was 5th generation and celebrity butcher Anthony Puharich of Victor Churchill in Melbourne.

Vintaged is one of those hidden gems in Brisbane and is tucked away on the 6th floor of the Hilton Hotel.  I've been to Vintaged a number of times and am always amazed at the majesty of the transformation that took place a few years ago to turn the dining space at the Hilton into a world class restaurant.  Designed by respected architect Mark Landini and costing around two million dollars, Vintaged is a sleek and classy restaurant that specialises in delivering beautifully crafted meat dishes. 

As I entered the stunning dining area of the restaurant and wandered past the huge chef's table I couldn't help but notice the display that dominated the restaurant and would soon become the focal point for the night's festivities.  The theme of the evening was the Butchers Block and proudly on display were many cuts of meat, some readily identifiable but many not so.  As the guests for the night started to gravitate to the somewhat confronting display, Anthony Puharich commenced the evening with a lesson on the fine art of butchery.

It became rapidly clear that Anthony was incredibly passionate about his chosen profession and that butchery was in his blood, with a lineage that seeped back four generations.  As Anthony ran through the different cuts of meat, letting us know which were his favorite cuts and why, we were also advised of interesting facts about the protein we so readily consume.  Anthony's approach is to use as much of the animal as possible and he was quick to let us know that Australians only use about 13% of the cow for our meat.  For the record, Anthony's favourite cut of meat is the short rib, which until five years ago was very hard to get as it was exported to Japan and Korea.

While Anthony was informing and enthralling the crowd, Adrian Richardson and Jeremy Clark were preparing their meals for the night.  First out were a couple of simple bites with Jeremy preparing a seared beef rostbiff with aioli and Adrian sending out beef tartare on a crouton.  I was so captivated by Anthony's presentation of the different cuts of meat that I missed tasting Jeremy's seared beef.  Luckily I was able to sample Adrian's beef tartare, which was a fabulous example of tartare and did the job of leaving me wanting more.  Without a direct comparison between the battling chefs 'bites' I couldn't pick a winner, although the tartare was indeed a winning start.

After a thorough and entertaining trip through Anthony's world it was time for the large gathering to make our way to the tables and I found myself sitting at the chefs table, with some interesting guests. We were chatting away about the night and food and hardly noticed when the first of the 'primal' part of the night, which turned out to be a roast bone marrow with chimichurri and grilled bread by Jeremy Clark.  I've had bone marrow before and generally loved the flavour of the delicious fat, if not the texture and I found this to be similar to my previous experiences.  The texture of marrow is a bit weird, like a jelly but meaty.  I loved the meaty flavour, which combined well with the slightly spicy chimichurri and was perfect with the toast.

Adrian Richardson's take on 'primal' was a little different and consisted of brescola salad with white anchovy and green olives.  Brescola is air dried salted beef that has been aged for two or three months until it becomes hard.  I would compare this dish to a beef carpaccio where the meat is dried and firm but as a consequence of the process is incredibly full of beefy flavour.  The quality of the meat used in the brescola was superb and the natural saltiness from the anchovy worked well with the beef.  I'm not a fan of olives and set these aside.  I actually think the olives may have made the dish too salty anyway, but I loved it without the green fruit.

Being a non drinker, there was a large part of the night that eluded me but was well received by the rest of the guests on the night.  Winemaker Richard Mattner from Pepperjack and the 10 Saltram Wines was on hand to run through the accompanying wines with the meal.  I'm sure that those that didn't mind a drop, were enthralled with the discussion about the wines!  There was also some great banter between chefs Jeremy Clark, Adrian Richardson and Anthony Puharich with host for the night Peter Marchant fanning the flames.  It was also great to see the chefs walking from table to table answering any questions about the food on the night.  It's always so pleasurable to talk food with people so passionate and involved in what they do.  A highlight of the night was watching Anthony break down a side of beef, and he did it old school, with a hacksaw!

It was time to get started on the mains, or as they were called on the night 'radical' and first to be delivered was Jeremy Clark's char grilled ox tongue with celeriac and baby herbs.  There were quite a few squeamish diners when this dish was presented, but I loved it.  I have had tongue a few times before and always found it to be a 'spongy' and generally not very nice.  In contrast, this was delicious and full of beefy flavour.  The texture was a little 'spongy' but it was cut thick and grilled to absolute perfection.  The addition of the slightly bitter herb puree enhanced the flavour of the tongue nicely and if I hadn't known this was tongue I would have thought it was just a very well cooked piece of beef.  I did notice that there were many empty plates around the restaurant, but there were also a few half eaten plates, so it looked as if this really polarised the gathering.

I was intrigued by the names of each of the courses which up until the final course were fairly appropriate.  While Adrian Richardson's 'radical' course was delicious, compared to the grilled tongue, it was really not that radical.  The rib of beef with wild and cultivated mushrooms tasted incredible, with perfectly seasoned beef that was as rare as you could hope to see without hearing a 'mooo'. Adrian explained how important seasoning was with a dish like the beef rib and how important salt is in the process of bringing out the flavour from beef.  I can attest that he did an amazing job with making the beef flavour 'pop' here.

The last of the dishes for the night was the 'raw' which in this case was some rouzaire brie de nangis cheese with fresh honeycomb.  I'm not a big cheese eater, in particular the soft cheeses and if I do eat cheese, the preference if for a strong cheddar.  I sampled a little bit of the cheese and thought it was ok, then I sampled some of the fresh honeycomb and thought that was pretty nice.  Once I combined the two together it was wonderful and truly surprised me, the flavour combination was genius and I finished off a cheese plate for perhaps the first time in my life.

I looked at my watch and was completely surprised to see that it was quarter to eleven, the night had been so enthralling that I hadn't noticed the passage of time.  I was feeling a bit tuckered out from a big day at work and then an even bigger night, so I decided it was time to make my exit.  As it turns out I was the first guest to leave, which says a lot about the very entertaining evening.

When I reflected upon the food that had been presented on the evening, I was pretty much split down the line between Adrian's and Jeremy's dishes.  I preferred Adrian's 'primal' course of brescola and loved Jeremy's 'radical' course of the char grilled ox tongue.  As far as a chef battle royale goes, I would rather think the chefs were complimenting each other as opposed to competing against each other, so there were only winners on the night.

Vintaged proved to be an amazing venue for such an event and I was pretty thankful that I had been invited along to share in the experience.  It seems as if this type of event is becoming a regular attraction at Vintaged and if you get the opportunity at some time, I can't think of too many better ways to spend an evening.  I had a ripper of a time and had some imaginative and very tasty food.  Ahhh, bliss.


**I was a guest of the Hilton and Vintaged for this event

The crew for the night looking very intent.  These guys take their food very seriously
So many different cuts of meat
Anthony is right at home talking about meat, he finds butcher very therapeutic
Left of photo is the beef tongue, it doesn't look great but in the hands of a master is wonderful
The marrow
The drying process really brought out the beefy flavour in the brescola
In only a few minutes, Anthony had broken down a side of beef.  Amazing to watch
The kitchen where it all happened
The beef is air dried on premises
Vintaged has really transformed level 6 of the Hilton Hotel

Vintaged Bar and Grill on UrbanspoonVintaged Bar & Grill

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