27 Mar Papa Goose – Modern British in Melbourne
Having walked past Papa Goose many times before while en route to other restaurants along Flinders Lane, I was always intrigued by the “Modern British” tag they used freely given the label has undergone somewhat of a renaissance of late thanks to top chefs such as Tom Kerridge and Heston taking outdated classics or traditional pub-grub and giving it a Michelin Star makeover. Papa Goose has been going a while in Melbourne terms, so I couldn’t help but head there for a try.
Typically anytime I read British as a cuisine I immediately think Sunday Roast, Veg and Yorkshire Puddings and true enough this place does just that. However, take one look at the menu and you will quickly see that like many restaurants embracing British cuisine, the modern twist is there, some true classics given a new lease of life thanks to the incorporation of exotic ingredients. British cooking had quite a bad reputation up until maybe 10-15 years or so ago, but if places like this continue to deliver quality takes on old classics then the cuisine as a whole should continue to grow in stature.
It is clear to see where Chef and co-owner Neale White gets his deft touch in the kitchen from, having worked at Aubergine in London, (with Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea), trained under another Michelin star chef in Marcus Wareing and then followed with a stint as executive chef at The Saint (also in London). After a venture in Byron Bay, he moved to Melbourne and helped start up Southbank favourite Pure South Dining, before eventually starting up his own restaurant Papa Goose, a nod back to his London past and carrying on his love of getting the best out of seasonal produce.
The restaurant itself consists of an elongated room – narrow and seating a modest crowd of people while allowing plenty of elbow room between tables, clearly putting customer comfort above squeezing that last drop of profit out. The lengthy room also features an opening along one wall leading into the kitchen that is becoming so popular in restaurants these days, allowing customers to get a glimpse at the hard work that goes into producing the fine food that comes out, while the other wall is a window to the laneway outside.
The start of the evening involved being shot down in my attempts to opt for the degustation, the waiter Josh making sure I was confused about what I wanted. “Here we go…”, I thought, “there’s a bigger markup and we are being up-sold immediately”. His recommendations though did sound highly appealing, so I ignored my suspicion and placed my nights dining firmly in his hands. What a move – as it turns out, this guy really knows his stuff and besides the first rate service from Josh and his colleagues throughout the evening, his recommended dishes turned out to be amazing.
After finishing the complimentary bread and butter and while we awaited our wine to appear, we were greeted with an interesting amuse bouche consisting of a watermelon sorbet with some savoury herbs that worked very nicely as a warm up for the palate and as I enviously watched other tables with their platters of Roast and Veg I couldn’t wait to dive into things.
The first of the Entrees was a Zucchini flower dish, served with squash, eggplant, heirloom tomato, burrata, smoked tomato and a red-pepper sorbet. The smokiness was quite prominent which I must say I wasn’t sold on, but the zucchini flower was nice as was the burrata. The savoury capsicum sorbet, be it the flavour itself or just the pure shock of it being a sorbet (since it actually looked like more tomato) really gave the dish an edge.
The second starter dish was the smoked scallops, quite a small serving as you would expect and again a smoky flavour but this time expected and more subtle. The scallop tartare, radish, salmon roe, lime and rosemary granita finished it off and the whole thing was light fresh and balanced. I may have had more memorable entrees but there was little wrong with this dish and a good way to kick things off.
The main courses were what we had been sold on by Josh, pointed towards the corn-fed roast chicken breast in particular, accompanied by creamed spinach, charred baby leeks, baby king oyster mushrooms and a wonderful thick, velvety and rich madeira jus. There was a tiny bit of liquid on the plate but I suspect this may have just been moisture from the chicken itself ,which was possibly the best cooked chicken i’ve ever tasted, succulent, moist – the adjectives don’t do it justice and if they bottled that jus they could make a fortune.
The second main course was the special of the day, another recommendation from our knowledgable waiter, consisting of a deep-fried confit duck leg and what was described as duck “belly”, small medallions of duck breast that had a lovely crispy skin but served quite rare so were incredibly tender. The meat of the leg fell right off the bone and was that fantastic salty-rich goodness that you can only get by cooking something this way and the skin was crispy delight. The plate also had pear, baby leeks and cannellini beans which helped mellow the rich flavours slightly and another amazing jus brought the whole thing to the point of a sheer bliss on a plate.
The start of dessert saw an iced mango parfait served with a frozen passionfruit surprise in the centre. The green tea cake and yoghurt sorbet all helped bring the dish to a wonderful balance that really finished the night on a light refreshing note, not to mention the plate looked really pretty.
The star dessert though was the ginger spiced parkin, served with balls of poached pear, chocolate porter, honeycomb and gingerbread ice-cream. While not as light it was still so so good. The moreish parkin, a kind of treacle sponge, had an almost crunchy outer and a soft, rich and moist centre that seemed to hug the rest of the ingredients in a tender embrace, everything singing out “eat me” with every bite, something I was only all to happy to oblige with. While possibly not the best choice after the heavy confit duck, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
We matched the evenings meal with a lovely 2012 Port Phillip Estate Pinot Noir, something which I had tried before when visiting the winery itself on the Mornington Peninsula and the slightly savoury tones suited the choices for mains perfectly, delivering velvety smooth texture, hints of cherry aroma and a nice lengthy finish. The wine list as a whole is impressive, not the longest i’ve seen around but more than substantial. As you would expect with a venue keen on it’s roasts there are a larger selection of reds on offer, but the whites are still plentiful to choose from.
For those who wish to indulge in some fine cocktail action, be it before or after dinner, the Mary Fortune Wine Bar is located upstairs, again a long room with a bar stretching most of one side. It features an impressive selection of craft beers, a well stocked bar of all your favourite spirits and of course an indulgent cocktail list.
Such an impressive evening, and while the start of the evenings food may have been absolutely fine, the mains and desserts were truly worth the visit alone. The service was first rate and the staff did their utmost to ensure a good night. I will certainly be heading back there to try out their Sunday Roast, as if this was anything to go by then it will be worth every penny – definitely worth a gander.