Press Food and Beer (and more Food)

My long awaited dining experience at Press Food and
Wine
was an exercise in conflict.
Entering well after 8pm for, what is for me, a late dinner, I found both
lighting and decor darker than I had expected. The lower level provides
a more casual, bar-like atmosphere and while ascending the stairs I
found myself wondering if this is where all the cool kids hang out while
my inner Nanna was snorting about the loudness of the music. It actually
looked like fun, but I had come for serious eating so was glad to find
our table upstairs in a quieter, more formal setting.

Staff were attentive and friendly, their sleeveless white shirts beneath
dark aprons had me amused and wondering when they were going to break
into a Big Pig number
while silently wishing they’d put away their armpits. Conflict. Just
getting old I think.

After sighting the menu I realised that this was a place where design
and branding took a leaf from the book of minimalism so the food could
take centre stage. It did so, in a big way. I had so looked forward to
this since it’s one of the restaurants I knew that proudly broadcast the
ethical origins of their produce, particularly the meat, and also
boasted a nose to tail philosophy of eating. I was keen to support it.

I’ll be honest, while I did listen intently to the specials, I didn’t
look too long at the menu before coming back to one of the top entries -
The Tasting Menu. Any restaurant that makes the offer “let us feed you”
knows me well. After the answering of a few questions; “Any allergies?”
(No), “Vegetarian?” (Not any more), “Ok with offal?” (Yep) and “dessert or cheese?’ (Cheese!) our waiter was off to plot our gastronomic
destiny.

As a craft beer type, I was pleased to see The Wheatsheaf
Hotel
's Jade Flavell mentioned as a
collaborator with Press on the beer list. Since we had just been to The
Wheaty for some pre-dinner refreshment, we were happy to continue
imbibing more of the same. Though a number of our first choices were
unavailable on the night, we enjoyed two brews with our feast and I
think our waiter was secretly pleased to be assisting us with our
choices. That's probably just me being a beer geek though.

Following fresh bread and seasoned butter came Pork Buns with Kewpie.
Amazing brioche-like buns with tasty roasted pork, but I didn’t want
lettuce and mayo. I have been spoilt with another’s Korean style pork
bun, and wished for heat. In hindsight, I also found this entree strange
and as I will later discuss, conflicted both with my appetite and the
overall structure of the menu.

Next, one of two offal dishes. Lambs brains with potato salad and a
watermelon, orange, feta and fennel salad. I have never tried brains
before, and may not again. My theme of conflict had me observing the
slightly gamey flavour and creamy texture with a hearty “meh”, and
alternately trying to overcome my own revulsion at the reality of what I
was eating! They weren’t unpleasant but I would have liked them to have
been served hotter and needed sweetness to offset the natural, slightly
bland creaminess of both brains and potato. We drank this with a Nogne
O
IPA

which was rich and malty with quite an lingering bitterness.

The next two dishes came out together and they were a strange pairing.
More than generous servings of wood smoked squid and lamb sweetbreads.
Both were outstanding - the photo here shows only the squid as the
sweetbreads (formerly on the platter scraped clean in the background)
were the best i’ve had yet and were devoured before I remembered to take
a picture! Served with a thick, savoury sauce not unlike caramel, it was
perfection in flavour and texture. Think oyster sauce with none of that
sweetness. Wonderful. The squid was also perfect - the smokiness
teetered on the edge of overdoing it, but didn’t cross the line. My only
criticism was that these two dishes sat incongruously alongside one
other, I was starting to get full and hadn’t even gotten to the “real”
meat yet! It was becoming clear that this tasting menu was more about
showcasing signature dishes than about designing a menu that made
complete sense to the diner. The portions were massive, the textures and
flavours rich, powerful, sometimes clashing. I was feeling overwhelmed.
With this and the next course we shared an Emersons 1812 Hoppy Pale
Ale
. Surprisingly
rich in colour, this beer was both malty and citrusy with a dry finish.
It did it’s best to cleanse.

Hanger steak. Also known as Onglet. This is what I had been waiting for.
36 month old Grassfed beef from Denham Farm in the Flinders Ranges, this
dish was served with caramelised shallots and, strangely, giant
unmelting pats of herbed butter that were largely unnecessary. This
wonderfully flavoursome cut of beef was cooked to perfection and would
have been the ideal end to a delicious, if heavy and slightly confused
meal. But then there was the duck to attend to. Oh, I didn’t mention the
duck?

At \$65 pp this tasting menu sure had value for money, and I must tell
you - I am no delicate flower when it comes to the size of my appetite.
I come from good Italian stock, eating is our national pastime but I hit
the wall at the sight of that duck maryland. It’s never happened before
and the idea that a cheese plate was also coming out was almost more
than I could bear. I can’t comment on the duck more than to say it
looked great, crispy skinned on a bed of speck and cabbage, but I did
little more than pick at it as I began to shift uneasily in my chair.

I’m not a sweet tooth at all, but I actually considered changing the
cheese to a dessert course thinking the sugar might awaken some portion
of my appetite that was otherwise completely unavailable. But cheese it
was, and somehow it was eaten but possibly not enjoyed as it could have
been (ok shut up, I did have a glass of marsala). I would have liked to
have lingered but it was getting warm up there and I needed to walk it
off.

I’ll be back to Press, but I’ll be ordering off the menu next time.