shards, scratchings & sorbets of No 4 Blake Street
Welcome to a restaurant that celebrates the theatre of fine dining, while maintaining an affordability for frequenters. No 4 Blake Street is the creation of Tom from Tom's Kitchen in Shafto Lane, and is a place that my partner Jeremy and I have grown to love in the two times we've visited.
We first went to No 4 for dinner, which is like a fusion of degustation and ala carte. Basically this is how it works - for $90 you'll get bread, amuse bouche, an entree of your choice, pasta, a main of your choice, palate cleanser and a dessert of your choosing. I love a good degustation, but having some choice woven into the mix makes it a lot more exciting and fun.
Lately we haven't had a whole heap of opportunity for fine dining meals out, but this week is Jeremy's birthday so I've planned an epic series of eating events which commenced with a return to No 4 Blake Street last night. While we normally like to indulge at new restaurants, a few weeks ago Urbanspoon featured this place as one of their 50% off specials so I couldn't resist!
House made butters
We arrived on time for our booking, the door opened for us by the lovely staff as we're greeted with wide smiles. The service here is always so great, which is a great reinforcement for the wonderful food.
After getting the preliminary drink orders out of the way, we're talked through the butters that sit on display in the middle of our table. They're house made, with an orange zest butter, cultured plain butter with sea salt and a herb butter. We're given the choice of olive bread or sourdough, which Jeremy chooses the former and I the latter.
I'm so pleased to see it's warm and soft in the centre, with a nice crunchy outside, though it is a little dense - but most sourdoughs can turn out this way. I've read a couple blog posts from others who've visited No 4 and have mentioned the bread is cold, so I am happy that it isn't the case for me!
The butters are all delicious and rich. I'm sure if you've read this blog before you'll know I truly love butter, and these ones didn't disappoint though the herb butter was somewhat overpowering. My favourite was definitely the plain cultured butter which is lovely and creamy, with a nice tang from the sea salt flakes that are scattered on top.
Once we've made our way through the butter selections, our amuse bouche comes out the table. It's a shot glass layered with a delicious beef stock that has the most incredible depth of flavour, and is topped with a turnip foam that is almost like a marshmallow in its texture. It's a bit weird but I like it!
Sitting next to the glass is a little mound of decadence. A ball of beef tendon awaits for our attention, with a crunchy coating and a part meat, part liquid fatty centre. The trick is to eat it all together as each ingredient is designed to work in conjunction with the others.
Last time we ate dinner here our amuse bouche was beef tendon too, but it was presented in a completely different manner. I like the versatility while using a not particularly common ingredient. So far, it's a great start to our night out.
The next course to come out was the entrees. Jeremy's chosen the Venison Pie, Fresh Tartare, Quail Yolk & Petite Salad, which comes out on a wooden board in separate but beautifully presented sections.
The venison pie looks gorgeous, looking almost like a slice of terrine. The meat is cold which surprises us and is contained by a dense pastry on the outside. There's a chutney on the side, which is punchy and fragrant with spices - perfect for drawing out the flavours of the gamey meat.
I love the look of the salad and the tartare; the use of edible flowers brightening up the dish and bringing it to life. The tartare is just glorious, with that perfect little quail's egg sitting quivering on top.
There's something so captivating about a great tartare, and this one left Jeremy impressed at the delicate balance of flavours and the richness when the yolk is mixed in.
My entree choice was Fresh Crab with Grapefruit, Orange, Coconut and Miso Crumbs. It's three medallions of crab meat that are light, cooling and fresh. The medallion in the middle is covered in a blood orange gel that is zingy and jam packed with flavour.
I love the coconut sorbet and jelly squares - they add so much to the dish. The coconut sorbet is ice cold; creamy and electric. It's a great contrast to the other ingredients.
The grapefruit is sour but sweet at the same time, enhanced by the crunch of those savoury miso crumbs. The herbs used in the dish come from the backyard garden they actually have on site (you can see this if you ever go out to use their restrooms) and are peppery, fresh and definitely needed to elevate the flavour profile.
The 'al dente' course was definitely my favourite for the night. As a complete and utter gnocchi fiend, this dish was just all yeses in my book. Soft, toothsome gnocchi sits amongst a mound of slow cooked lamb shoulder, parsley and a thick sauce that is akin to tasting heaven.
Yes I am harping on, but when something tastes this good can you blame me?! The gnocchi is so pillowy, the lamb tender and melt in your mouth. It's seasoned perfectly and the use of parsley is as a taste enhancer rather than a garnish which I appreciate much more.
A couple courses in and we're starting to really enjoy the evening. The tables around us are full and there's diners cheersing and making all the right mmm-mmm noises. I like the ambience here - there's a low level of music playing and the lights are dim, but you don't feel intimidated and there's a decent decibel level of chatter.
Soon the main courses are presented and I immediately have order envy when I spy Jeremy's dish. It's Duck Pave, Smoked Breast, Duck Fat Brussels Sprout, Sprout Kaut and Chestnut Veloute (gluten free).
The duck is so tender and flavoursome; the paper thin skin on top crispy. The meat is so moorish, but it's the chestnut veloute which definitely steals the show. It's thick and consistently brown with a gravy like texture. However I didn't actually realise it was a chestnut sauce until reading the menu online - so it's more of a mild flavour in that respect, but still an absolutely cracking sauce.
I didn't get to try the brussels sprout, but Jeremy tells me that the outer leaves are crunchy and lightly fried, the duck fat making them naughty but nice at the same time!
For my main, I've opted for the Pork Loin, Butternut Pumpkin, Scratching, Coffee, Pork & Chive Ballotin. When it comes to mains, pork is pretty hard to go by!
The pork loin is crumbed and fried, seasoned to a tee and complimented by the pool of creamed pumpkin puree underneath - which is silky smooth. The ballotin is surprisingly tender despite being a little rubbery under my knife; mild in flavour but working well with the pumpkin textures. I particularly like the puree and the salty shards which are like fancy chips.
The coffee sauce that's drizzled over the ingredients is lacking in flavour, which may disappoint some diners but it pleases me since I'm not a coffee person in the slightest. And I was a little worried it might overpower the other ingredients.
Having it this way allows me to focus on the different pork and pumpkin elements on the plate - crunching on the scratchings (which sadly is a little bland, I think I'm used to my mum's ridiculously crisp crackling) and savouring the silkiness of the pumpkin slice that sits beneath all the other items.
It's crazy to us that we've gotten to the palate cleanser stage of the evening already but since it's a weeknight and we both have a busy day ahead of us, it's welcomed. Last time we came here we had the most incredible palate cleanser which seems to be the benchmark for me - a vivid pink berry sorbet with cold compressed apple cubes.
This time it's something completely different. A slick of orange curd topped with toasted oats, and a scoop of wild fig & kaffir lime sorbet.
The sorbet is creamy and has almost a savoury taste to it, with what seems like a great infusion of spices. I love the oats that sit underneath - they're crunchy, warm and have been toasted to just the right point. While I do think the palate cleanser from last time was better, Jeremy actually prefers this one so it comes down to a matter of personal preference.
For our final course of the night (I nearly convinced Jeremy to get the cheese course but in the end we decided against it), we both pick something different again. It's part of the fun though, as we both like to try each other's food and argue who chose best. Because I'm stubborn I often insist it's me!
His dessert was the Winter Jar, which is made up of tonka bean & vanilla pannacotta, burnt orange jelly, malted crumb and cinnamon ice-cream. There's a sprinkling of pop rocks throughout and a topping of vanilla pashmak.
Before he starts to eat, our waitress quickly sprays some tonka bean essence from a perfume vial, letting off a lightly sweet aromatic. It is a nice touch, and brings in that whole theatre element that No 4 promotes as part of their dinner experience.
There's great silence as we're eating dessert and at first I wonder if Jeremy's enjoying it. I know he loves cinnamon so I figured this was the perfect match for him... and it turns out I was right! He tells me afterwards that this is one of the best desserts he's ever had. Big words I know.
He loves the ice-cream and the dominance of the cinnamon. The pannacotta is silky smooth and there's bursts of freshness while maintaining a playful side with the other ingredients. It's a little jar of happiness.
My dessert is the Passionfruit Parfait, which is accompanied by chocolate gel, passionfruit caviar & curd, and chocolate shards (gluten free). What a gorgeous, gorgeous dessert. They really know their plating here.
The passionfruit parfait is light and zingy, with an ethereal texture as I savour each bite. I'm actually quite surprised how well the chocolate and passionfruit flavours go together - the chocolate is bitter but velvety smooth, and the passionfruit is so sweet it's sour.
There's a great variety of textures on the plate too with the soft parfait, creamy curd, little bursts of juice in the caviar and the crumb underneath. Then there's the passionfruit honeycomb, chocolate crisps and the mousse like gel. There is so much to this dish it's almost mind boggling trying to comprehend and decipher it all.
When the last bite is scraped away our plates are removed with a smile and an offer for tea. We each finish off the night with a complimentary pot of tea (Russian Caravan for Jeremy - which is a combination of lapsang souchong, oolong and keemun, and Peppermint for me). It's a lovely way to finish off our night and to relax before going home.
I have to say, I really enjoyed our return for dinner at No 4 Blake Street - which was made even more lovely by the fact that we only paid $90 total ($45 each) for all those courses. I'm sure I'll be back, only next time it will be to try their high tea which if the photos are anything to go by, looks ah-maz-ing!