The stretch of river that is home to Southgate is quite lovely. Young lovers stroll by the water hand in hand enjoying the view of the city skyline. Gaggles of tourists hoist their bulky DSLR cameras onto tripods at dusk attempting to capture the pink and orange sky as the sun sets over the river. It’s a great part of Melbourne. But despite the tourist pull and some impressive city views Southgate is not somewhere I frequent often for a meal. So when I was invited to road test two restaurants as part of Good Food Month I jumped at the chance to get to know this riverside precinct a little better.
For the month of November Southgate is offering some great specials on signature dishes at eight of its restaurants. You can find out more about it here. Signature dishes are available for lunch and dinner. It’s a great way to try the best that these restaurants have to offer and enjoy a meal by the river.
First up we visited Pure South. Pure South has all the hallmarks of a quality riverside restaurant. Well dressed waiters greet you as you step through the doors, light streams through the windows bathing the crisp minimalist table settings in a soft glow, and the river glitters only a few metres away.
Pure South has enjoyed its home by the river for many years but only recently lured chef Ashley Davis to its kitchen. Davis’ resume is impressive. A 2.5 year stint at London’s Helene Darroze saw the restaurant go from one Michelin star to two. Back in Australia Davis led Pure South to restaurant victory, nabbing a chef’s hat in the Age Good Food Guide awards within 6 months of coming on board.
Despite trophies and gold stars littering his CV, Davis explained to us that his philosophy at Pure South is simple – to use good quality produce and to let that produce shine. Using ingredients sourced from Tasmania, King Island and Flinders Island Davis creates dazzling dishes that really pay homage to the region.
We started the evening with a tasting plate of various cold meats, a chicken terrine wrapped in prosciutto, chorizo, pickled vegetables and a tender smoked fish. This is apparently a plate for one but was more than enough to whet both of our appetites. The fat chunks of chorizo were punchy and juicy with a peppery finish that lingered on the mouth. The whole dish glistened under the drizzle of a strong olive oil which amped up the luxury and was a beautiful accompaniment to the char grilled sourdough all on its own. It was a very promising beginning.
Next we were presented with the signature dish for Good Food Month, a hefty char-grilled Cape Grim grass fed Black Angus porterhouse, hand-cut triple cooked chips and all the house-made condiments being a seeded mustard, shiitake mushroom sauce, horseradish cream and a tart salsa verde ($35 as part of Good Food Month).
The porterhouse was excellent, cooked medium with a slight char grill crunch on the top and a beautiful blush of pink in the middle. It was tender, thick and oozing with juices. Whilst I tried all the condiments I preferred my meat condiment free. Let the produce speak for itself they say. It certainly did in this case. The hand-cut triple cooked chips were soft and fluffy on the inside but I would have preferred a bit more of a crunch when I bit into them.
Next up was a pan fried and baked Tasmanian salmon served with pea puree and gnocchi. I must say I don’t think I have ever experienced such fantastic crisp skin on fish before. It cracked and crunched with each bite and a burst of salt flooded the palate with each mouthful. The salmon had been very generously seasoned but it worked well. That was all there was and that was all it needed, a beautiful piece of fish well cooked and well seasoned.
Pure South was an excellent surprise. It’s maintains a relaxed elegance without being pretentious. The dishes were unfussy, the servings were generous and the food was superb.
Tutto bene enjoys a first floor position at Southgate with gorgeous riverside views. We were seated in the prime balcony position on a perfect sunny evening but were disappointed that the plastic covers were down obscuring the scene below us.
The restaurant was lively and heaving with people on this particular Saturday night. It had a great celebratory atmosphere. But we were here to try the signature dish, the Anatra Risotto ($25) of organic duck, porcini mushroom and sage.
The risotto was thick, creamy and cooked to a firm but not hard al dente. It had a spicy flavour, with notes almost of cinnamon and five spice. It tasted like Christmas. The spice complemented the chunks of duck and woody porcini mushroom. A wonderful dish with a glass of fresh pinot noir. I can see this dish working well for a mid week work lunch.
For dessert we opted for the opera cake with salted caramel and shards of peanut brittle. The cake was light with layers of soft almost whipped mousse. Unfortunately the caramel layer didn’t have enough of a salt punch for me and it faded against the pillowy chocolate. The peanut brittle took centre stage perched atop the cake and was a nice crunchy accompaniment to the mousse.
The signature dishes at Pure South and Tutto Bene are available for the month of November as part of the Age Good Food Month. You can find out more about Good Food Month here. There are some great events on around the city and some fantastic restaurants getting involved. Get on it!
I was invited to try Pure South and Tutto Bene as part of the Age Good Food Month and enjoyed a complimentary meal at both restaurants.