About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Acquum with Stephen Downes
It was a bit like playing James Bond.

My mission was to find out certain information about an establishment which the Herald Sun food critic, Stephen Downes, wanted to visit. It was information about a change in chefs and ownership of a wine bar that he sought and the answer was enough to put the kybosh on that particular place for the moment.

Stephen then asked me to check up on Acquum and satisfied with the information gathered, asked me to book under my name, explaining that booking under his name wasn't viable. Well, he has been famously kicked out of restaurants before, and there is no point in giving the game up prior to a visit and receiving a manufactured meal and experience which may not be indicative of what to really expect.

Nor did I know what to expect from my Menu For Hope prize, a meal with Stephen, as he critiqued a restaurant, organized by Ed from Tomato.

I arrived at the designated time, to find, unsurprisingly, Stephen already there, lurking in a corner under a stairwell. He explained we had been offered a window table, but opted for as much anonymity as possible. I didn't get to see much of the restaurant as my seat, understandably, was facing the wall.

We ordered some wine by the glass and discussed the menu in detail, there were a couple of the entrees that he wanted to sample, but after that I was free to order as I liked. It seemed that he wanted a representative sample of the offerings, rather than anything outlandish or overworked.

I'm going to leave the food side of things to Stephen in his review that has now appeared, except for a dessert; suffice it to say that we were in accord with everything tried, sharing our entire meal. I was basking in my element as we dissected each dish, debated the different flavours and discussed what techniques had been employed.

Near the end, the very charming waitress told us of the dessert specials, one of which was an orange, lime and mango jelly, or gelatina as it was described. She was enthusiastic about it, not in the kind of way whereby a particular dish is pushed because there is plenty of it, or it's going to be thrown out if not sold. It sounded worth a look, but Stephen begged off, explaining a bad experience with jelly as a kid, something about the texture that made him gag and he had never gotten over it.

When it arrived I plunged my spoon in and was immediately rewarded with the flavours of one of the best desserts I've had recently, the flavours worked off each other superbly. The texture was soft and yielding, with just the right wobble and the balance between sweetness and acidity was perfectly executed. It was by far the best dish of the night. I looked straight at Stephen, pushed my plate across and told him he had to try some, despite his misgivings. A glimmer of a pained expression swept quickly across his face, but he gamely tried some and was impressed enough to feature that dessert in his review, it was that good.

The night was over all too soon. It had been fascinating to watch a food professional at work and if you ever get the chance to share a meal with Stephen, I suggest you grab the opportunity with both hands; he is very generous with his knowledge and also a fabulous dinner companion to boot. It was a great night out.
  posted at 3:52 pm

At 10:40 pm, Blogger Ed said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. Stephen said he enjoyed the evening too. I'm actually very fond of jelly from good experiences as a child and should try this place.

At 12:23 am, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

That is just too fun James Bond indeed! Maybe he'll want to use you as a foil again sometime. That would be great fun.

At 1:22 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi ed, and thank-you for putting it up as a prize. You would like their jelly for sure, it had the best flavour.

Hi tanna, it was kinda fun being a little sneaky, the reward being a great night out. Fingers crossed.

At 6:42 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the owner of Acquum it was with some trepidation that I awaited Stephen's review. Whilst he gave some constructive criticism which we are already addressing, I'm delighted in his recommendation of us. Happy eating. John R contact@acquum.com

At 7:01 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi john, I can imagine how you must have felt waiting all that time. I enjoyed the meal there, but was in agreement with Stephen regarding the apparent lack of seasoning, but acknowledge it is a contentious issue these days, damned if you do, damned if you don't. Good luck with everything.

At 10:41 am, Blogger gigi said...

One of my most fondly recalled meals was at just such a table, tucked cozily away under the stairwell. It was a pleasure; sounds like yours was as well!

At 3:08 pm, Blogger Jon! said...

Glad you enjoyed the night Neil. It was a prize I would have dearly have liked to win.

I can just imagine the tension of a restaurant owner knowing that every little detail is being observed.

All the best,


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