I had a serious discussion with Marc, just yesterday, about how food recommendations can only be taken as a guide because everyone has such different attitudes, expectations and opinions on what they eat at a restaurant. How many times have you heard someone say "you HAVE to go to ___" about some place that you personally think is crap? It happens to me a LOT, and I'm sure the reverse happens too (my deepest apologies go out to anyone who's visited a restaurant on my recommendation and hated it).
For this reason, I have a select tier of friends who share restauranting values with me and whose opinions I take very seriously. That's not to say we all agree on absolutely everything but we usually harbour similar views. Nina is one such foodie friend who's proven to have great taste (sort of pun there) and she spoke so highly of her experience at Anise that I jumped at an excuse to go.
Anise is located on Brunswick Street, down towards the New Farm end. Marc and I headed in last Saturday night for a big wine and dine session. The restaurant is tiny, but rather than 'cramped', the dining set-up is best described as 'intimate'. Seasonality is a strong part of their food philosophy so the menu is constantly changing. If you decide to take a peak at the menu on their website, don't get too attached to any particular dish in case it's not on offer when you go there.
What's intriguing about Anise is that there are no individual tables. At all. There's a big bar that everyone sits around and your food and wine is brought out from the bar side. One might expect this to feel strange but there's something about the dim lighting, ample supply of wine and fellow guests who respect good food that dispells all feelings of awkwardness. There's this general vibe that we're all here to eat, drink and be merry.
And that's exactly what we did.
Anise offers two modes of ordering, either the degustation (with or without matching wine) or from the a la carte menu. Marc and I arrived there feeling pleasantly loose after a bottle of red and were in no mood for decision-making so we took the easiest route: degustation with matching wine.
I won't give a blow by blow on what wines we had because I am just too unknowledgable about wine to even pass judgement. I'd rather avoid embarrasment and stick to food appraisal.
Freshly shucked oyster - with lemon and Spanish onion (NV Stefano Lubiana Brut Reserve, Granton)
We started with an amouse bouche of oyster with lemon and Spanish onion. The oyster was wonderfully fresh and juicy with a subtle sweetness. As someone who isn't a fan of raw oyster, Marc commented that this wasn't too bad because it didn't just 'taste of the ocean'.
Sea bass - with winter vegetables, saffron, clams and mussels (2010 Radford Reisling, Eden Valley)
Our first course was the sea bass with winter vegetables. The baby vegetables were cooked well but I couldn't really detect the saffron. I thought the fish was a tiny bit dry but the skin was nice.
Quail - with endive, spiced pear and white asparagus (2009 Guccione 'Veruzza' Trebianno, Monreale)
Next came the quail with spiced pear and white asparagus. The quail was incredibly flavorsome and moist. I don't think I've ever had a quail so juicy! I don't imagine that would be easy to achieve for such a small bird. We were trying to guess what the white asparagus was; Marc commented that it 'tasted like vegetable' and when I tried it, I thought it was spring onion and baulked. I was very amused reading the menu just now reading and discovering what we actually tasted. Damn deceptive albino vegetable. Regardless of that hiccup, Marc and I both agreed by the end of the night that the quail was one of the highlights of the entire meal.
At this point, our 'entrees' were completed and we were offered a palate cleanser of ice, ginger and yoghurt. Even though this is just supposed to refresh our taste buds, I found it quite tasty! Like a not overly sweet dessert almost.
Wild mushroom risotto - with porcini veloute (2011 Le Petit Mort Nebbiolo, Ballandean)
The first of our mains was the wild mushroom risotto. Mushroom risotto is offered on lots of menus and generally gluggy and ininspired. In fact, I have that perception of most restaurant risottos full stop. This was something else. At the end of the night, our friendly bar guy slash waiter asked what our favorites were and Marc and I declared 'the quail and lamb.' What I had forgotten about (multiple courses of matching wine will incapacitate anyone's memory) was the mushroom risotto! I really loved this dish. Prior to this, I had been trying to eat 'parts' of my courses, rather than the entire thing because I wanted to save room and not be too much of a pig. With this mushroom risotto, I couldn't help myself. I polished off the whole thing. The mushroom flavor was complex and intense and the consistency? Don't even think about gluggy. The rice was still a bit separated but silky and creamy. Delicious.
Lamb backstrap - with confit leg, pomme sardalaise, cavalo nero and cherry tomatoes
Next came the lamb backstrap with confit lamb leg. Again, the meat was perfectly cooked, allowing the quality of produce to shine through. The little potato pile was tasty too! As I mentioned before, this was another dish that left a great impression on us.
Chocolate and cognac mousse - with pineapple, buffalo yoghurt, macadamia praline
No matter how many courses of savory I go through, I'm always keen on dessert. We finished on a silky smooth chocolate and cognac mousse. It had a smear of tart pineapple and buffalo yoghurt that worked to cut through the sweetness and richness of the mousse. The macadamia praline added the all important crunch factor. It was a simple and elegant dessert and a great way to end our meal.
Petit fours - macarons
Only... it wasn't the 'end' just yet! We still had one more surprise. Just in case we had any room left in our bellies (we did), we were sent off we a couple of macarons.
Marc and I had a great time at Anise. It was a unique experience, sitting around the long bar. Toward the end of the night, other guests were finishing up and leaving and we got to know our bar guy a bit better. He was just such a lovely guy and even recommended me a place to get my phone screen fixed. The food at Anise has a strong focus on good produce, respectful execution and just the right accompaniments to emphasize the heroes of each plate. We didn't find any dishes overwhelmed with fuss and flair and at a time where many restaurants are going wild with food chemistry, it's nice to be reminded that the best tasting things are often the most simple things done well.