There are whispers of a new chef, overheard as the waitress ministers to the next table. Is she warning them off? Should we take heed too? Leave now, pausing only to chuck back the rest of the excellent Clare Valley riesling and Strop’s GSM, before bolting for the door? It does seem unusual that the staff would be warning the punters like that. Kind of like saying “We’ve got this new guy in – no idea how it’s going to work out.” We stayed. It was never in doubt really. What else are we going to do? Watch friday night football?
Later, as we waited for our food, it became apparent that the reference to the chef’s newness may have had more to do with speed in the kitchen rather than quality of the outcome, but by this time we were well into our second glasses, and had fully deployed our grandparently glows, as we admired a photo of the Pancetta sitting up in the cab of her father’s truck.
Graze is unusual. It bills itself as a cafe by day and a wine bar by night. We decided to try the night time option, but it would be fun to go back for lunch. The menu looks interesting. Which is not something that can really be said about the dining room. There is very little that could be labelled decor, which is fine if the place is full of people but looks a bit underwhelming when there aren’t too many punters as was the case when we arrived. At least inside. Outside on the street the seats were full of young people drinking, smoking and wrapping themselves around those little burgers that everyone insists on calling sliders. The smoke was a bit of a problem because the doors were wide open despite the winter cold, and the smoke wouldn’t stay outside. Again less of a problem if the place had been heaving, with lots of other nostrils to share around all the tobacco-y micro-particles.
The dinner menu is interesting. It ranges from oysters to sliders, and on to octopus and beef cheeks. It even includes an intriguing mention of shaved cauliflower. We simply had to know what this meant, so despite the inherent desirability of combining little hamburgers with slow-cooked lamb, we opted for pork belly and ocean trout, with the shaved cauliflower salad and chips on the side.
The pork belly was excellent, crunchy and soft, with plenty of flavour. The ocean trout was very good too. It came on a bed of toasted, finely sliced olives and almond flakes, which tasted better than it sounds really. Shaved cauliflower turned out to be finely sliced florets, rather than what I was imagining: a full head of cauli, shaved smooth. Unfortunately, the blue cheese tended to overpower everything else in the salad – just too much blueness really. The chips were very good, big, hand cut – crisp outside, creamy inside. Our waitress was young and friendly. Strop decided that she was probably new, and her bubbly-ness a sign of nerves. I just thought she was a student from the performing arts high school across the road. The service was pleasant, but it veered away from restaurant standard and into pub territory when they began clearing empty plates before we had finished eating. At one point the waitress tried to remove a wine glass that Strop hadn’t quite finished with. She nearly lost a finger.
We decided that it would be rude not to look over the dessert menu since the waitress had gone to all the trouble of bringing it over to our table, and our eyes immediately landed on the madeleines with passionfruit curd (really it was just the passionfruit curd, always a favourite). And, seeing as we are in a wine bar, why not have a dessert wine to go with that? Exactly!
The dessert wines arrived well before the madeleines, which was probably just as well because the glasses were very big. Certainly much bigger than I am used to for dessert wine, but we managed to make a fair dent in them before the dessert arrived. The madeleines were disappointing, more stodge than sponge, but the curd was very good, and so was the vanilla bean ice cream.
We enjoyed Graze, despite a few hiccups. It gradually filled up and had nice a buzz to it by the time we left. The wine was good and they are trying to do ambitious things with their food, and that should be encouraged. It is good to see a place trying to do something different and creative on a strip where too many places are happy to just do what all the others doing. Go and see for yourself.