Sunday, 19 January 2014

Rhubarb Rhubarb - A French Bistro worth travelling for

It's interesting how a simple statement can cause heaps of discussion.  I mentioned to a few people at work that I'd been to Rhubarb Rhubarb and was amazed with the number of people who have this superb little French bistro as their local fine diner.  The fact that I'd been to their local restaurant seemed to spark more conversation than normal and everyone was really keen to find out what I though about my first visit to the Wooloowin institution.

With a new year comes a new approach to things and we'd decided that Wednesday nights will be our new mid-week 'eating out' night, as opposed to Tuesdays.  I know, you're probably thinking "whaaaat, don't you eat out every night?"  The answer to that is definitely not, although it seems like it some weeks.  We've also been trying to check out spots outside of our usual 'hunting grounds', which worked out well as I've had my eye on Rhubarb Rhubarb for ages.

I'll be honest, as a central CBD dweller, I don't really get out to the suburbs that much but as we drove out to Wooloowin, it actually struck me that we'd spent quite a bit of time in the area when we were younger.  I had a mate that I'd worked with that lived just down the street from Rhubarb Rhubarb and while everything looked a little familiar, I wouldn't have wanted to rely on my memory to get around the suburb.  As we pulled up to the restaurant, it looked as if it was in a little strip of shops right in the middle of a suburban street and parking was no issue at all, in fact, we had a park right out front.

I had rung earlier in the day to make a reservation for dinner and when we walked through the front door, my initial thought was that it probably wasn't necessary.  We were confronted with a very cute little dining area and the bright red (or Rhubarb) seats that provided a stark contrast to the pressed white linen on the tables.  I also noted that the kitchen was a very open and very close to the tables and provided an intimate view of what Chef Josh Gamble and his team would be up to during the night.  The last thing I noticed was that the place was practically empty, with only one couple in for dinner, and our initial thought was that we probably could have got by without a reservation!  A thought that turned out to be folly.

After taking our seat we were handed lovely little leather bound menus that had a charming tale about the background for the name Rhubarb Rhubarb.  Along with the tale was a heartfelt welcome and the list of traditional and contemporary French offerings printed in a neat cursive writing that reminded me of the menu over at Montrachet (see post here).   There were a lot of options in each of the entrees and mains that appealed and it proved difficult to select only one entree and main each, but this is to be expected in a restaurant that's been awarded and then kept a coveted Chefs Hat from the AGFG.

As with all things we had to finally make a choice and SC elected to go for the quail rolled with chicken mousse on du puy lentils with truffled jus.  The plate was presented simply and rustically with what looked like half a sliced BBQ sausage sitting atop a bed of lentils.  The rolled quail and chicken mousse tasted sensational with the combination working well together and enhanced by the slightly caramelised quail skin keeping the mix together.  I'm usually not fans of lentils (SC doesn't mind them) but these were really quite delicious with what we think was a bit of a soaking from the truffled jus and they just worked with the chicken and quail.

I was never really going to pass on an entree with a couple of my favourite ingredients and I wasn't disappointed with my choice of seared scallops with corn and chorizo salsa and sauce vierge.  The three scallops on the plate were expertly cooked with great caramelisation and tasted great.  Even though I knew that the corn and chorizo salsa would be cold, it still surprised me when I finally set my attention to the middle of the plate.  The contrasting textures and temperatures of the scallops and salsa were interesting on the palate and there was just enough of the sweet chorizo to compliment without overpowering the subtle flavour of the scallops.

We were completely satisfied with our entrees and were feeling pretty good about the mains to come when our super happy waiter for the night brought over a surprise.  It was a refreshing palate cleanser and when I asked what the flavour was he gave us a cheeky grin and said we would have to guess. After a couple of small tastes of the sorbet, I confidently declared that it was strawberry and raspberry.  I'd got it half right, there was also blackberries and mulberries.  

Time for mains and being a huge fan of duck, SC went for the confit duck leg on a porcini ragout with sauce soubise, asparagus and gastriche.  It was a pretty interesting combination of flavours that worked well together with the gaminess of the duck complimenting the earthiness of the mushroom ragout.  The tanginess of the asparagus gave a sharpness to the taste.  I didn't get to taste a whole lot of this one but the few bites I had were delicious with the duck being a highlight, and it fell of the bone so easily.

I didn't get to try much of SC's duck because my hands were full with my main of pork belly with potato rosti, mustard pears and an apricot sauce.  It was huge!  It's sometimes hard to get a pork belly to look good on a plate (Reserve did it well - see post here) but I was impressed with the presentation, which was neat and rustic at the same time.  I've never tried the combination of pork with apricot and I've not seen it around too much, but I have to wonder why, it was great!  I'm sure it helped that the pork was sensational, with a cracking that was just stunning and wonderful flavoured pork flesh that wasn't overly fatty.  I really liked that there was a heap of the apricot sauce, there was plenty for the whole of the pork belly, so each mouthful had some of the pork and apricot combo.  I definitely thought this was one of the better tasting pork dishes I have had.

I did my best to get through my main but I just couldn't do it as well as leave enough room for dessert.  I was contemplating a couple of the options on the menu and when I asked our waiter what he recommended he suggested the creme brûlée, which wasn't on the menu.  It was a good choice and a very good example of a creme brûlée.  Just the right amount of caramelised sugar on top to give a satisfying crack when tapping with the spoon and super creamy and smooth, it was simply yummy!  It was a large size too, so I really appreciated the macerated berries that came with the brûlée, which helped cut through the sweetness.

SC was pretty happy with her choice of chocolate mousse with candied orange, cointreau jelly and creme fraiche.  Presented in a simple glass, the candied orange was underneath the very smooth, rich and chocolaty mouse and required some digging around to get a taste.  Once the candied orange was exposed though, the mousse was elevated to spectacular level with the contrast of the citrus and chocolate playing off each other. The jelly and creme fraiche were placed a little oddly to the side, so were kind of an add on to the dessert, both were nice but just separate to the mousse.  I think it would have been good to have the creme on top with some hidden cointreau jelly for little packets of surprise flavour.

We had been sitting down for about thirty minutes before I was made to 'eat my words' about making a reservation, with every table filled.  I clearly had underestimated the popularity of this little bistro in the suburbs.

Rhubarb Rhubarb is one of the most intimate restaurants I have been to in a long time, with such close access to the kitchen it was clear to see the love and attention that the chefs were putting in.  I guess with such an intimate setting, its not possible to hide anything and the three chefs on the night were working as a close knit team.  I was also really impressed with the solo waiter on hand for the night who was a charming host and clearly quite amazing at his job.

It's nights like our visit to Rhubarb Rhubarb that I really love, getting out of the CBD and trying something new.  What made the visit all the sweeter was the anticipation of our first visit but in the end it was simply amazing food in an intimate setting with a team that clearly loved running a restaurant.  It's no wonder that this place is a neighbourhood gem!


Yep, I love the combination of scallop and chorizo
What made the pork belly so great was the impeccable seasoning - salty and crunchy!  
There is no mistaking that this is a French bistro
Red is the predominant colour, lining up with the name Rhubarb Rhubarb
Room outside for some alfresco dining
Rhubarb Rhubarb on UrbanspoonRhubarb Rhubarb

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