Wednesday, September 26, 2007

September 16, 2007: The Press Club

Cindy has been itching to go to the Press Club ever since she fell in love with Georgie Calombaris on Ready Steady Cook while we were living in Brisbane. I think it was his willingness to put together interesting (and sometimes vegetarian!) meals while exchanging witty repartee with Peter Everett, but it may just have been his boyish good looks. Whichever, Cindy's been talking up The Press Club for a while and, after bailing out of our first booking to let Cindy's wisdom teeth heal, we were finally making the trip.

We chose Sunday lunch, figuring that the new chef of the year's restaurant would be packed out at nights. It meant we were there for the Sunday masa lunch - a more traditionally focussed meal than the adventurous dishes Calombaris is developing a reputation for. There are no other options for Sunday lunch, you just sit back and they bring out the food. Once we'd clarified that we were vego, they had a quick conference and reeled off a seemingly endless list of dishes that they were going to bring out. Our waitress seemed new and was a little uncertain about a few things (probably not helped by our vego-ness), but she picked it up as the meal went on.

But first it was time for drinks - I went for a carafe of the white wine, which was pleasant enough, while Cindy opted for a sour cherry soft drink. Instead, she got a limonata, as they'd run out of sour cherry. Except it turns out that they hadn't (this was while our waitress was still struggling a little) - a few minutes later she ended up with two drinks to enjoy - to match with different courses I guess.

With that confusion out of the way, it was on to the food. First off was a plate of bread with olive oil and fancy black salt, which combined tremendously well with the tomato and lentil soup that came out shortly afterwards.

This was followed almost immediately (I'd just finished my soup, but Cindy was barely halfway through) by the meze plate, a colourful selection of Greek nibblies. There was a Greek salad (with some seriously scrumptious feta), a plate of marinated olives (which even Cindy kind of enjoyed), pickled cabbage (Cindy's favourite on the plate), a beetroot tzatziki and dolmathes (my favourite). This was all pretty enjoyable, but it was around this point that we started to get overwhelmed with the dishes flying out of the kitchen.

I'm not sure if you're supposed to wind up with a backlog of dishes on your table or if something was a bit off with the timing in the kitchen, but we had no chance of keeping up. Anyway, Cindy just sat back and enjoyed hers happily letting the dishes pile up around her, while I foolishly tried to keep up with the onslaught and ended up feeling a bit stressed out by it all. It certainly wasn't the laidback Sunday afternoon feeling I was expecting. But that's by the by, let's push on with the rest of the food.

Next up was another wooden meze tray, this time with a plate of spanakopita, a couple of roast tomatoes stuffed with some sort of rice concoction and an iceberg lettuce salad dressed with lemon juice. The spanak was tasty, without being as mindblowing as Cindy had hoped (I think she expecting one of Georgie's more innovative creations - he does some odd seafoody spanaks, so it was bit of a shame that the vegie one was just a standard effort) and the tomatoes looked great (if you like that sort of thing).

With a bit of table rearrangement, the next set of dishes arrived: a bowl of lemony roasted potatoes, a haloumi, shaved fennel and orange salad and a roast pumpkin and almond bougatsa (basically a filo wrap filled with a pumpkin mix). Cindy was really excited about the potatoes, but unfortunately they were a bit of a let down - a little on the dry side and not particularly lemony (we both had fond memories of the oily lemon spuds at Lefka's Taverna in West End). Luckily the haloumi salad more than made up for it. This was easily the highlight of the meal - beautifully fried haloumi, which combined well with the shaved fennel and slices of citrusy goodness. Throw in the grape confit that was drizzled over the whole thing and it was a non-stop flavour explosion. The pumpkin filo was fine, but I was filling up by this stage and it was a little on the heavy side for my near-bursting stomach.

By now our table was overflowing with food - we struggled on bravely and made a decent dint in all of the dishes before eventually throwing our hands up and quitting. Luckily, this was the point where they chose to pause our non-stop food attack, giving us a decent fifteen minute breather before the desserts came out. When they did, we were given a little paper bag containing six different dessert nibbles: some sort of mini Greek donuts, some little baklavas and some sort of vaguely custardy thing. All were fantastic (particularly the baklava, which I'm not usually a huge fan of) and the coffee they served up was high quality as well.

The finale was a series of Greek spoon sweets - preserves of quince, eggplant and pistachio served up on little spoons. They were delicious, although our waitress made some ambiguous comment that suggested we probably weren't supposed to eat all six.

On the whole, it was probably a slightly disappointing experience - I think we'd be better served ordering off their regular menu when there are a few more exotic options like the haloumi salad. Everything else was fine, but none of it was particularly thrilling. The service was a little uncertain, but in a friendly and entirely forgivable way and the room is airy and light in the afternoon (which is good for Cindy's photography). We won't write off The Press Club for our future slightly upmarket dining experiences, but I doubt we'll pick the Sunday afternoon masa for our next attempt.

Address: 72 Flinders Street, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9677 9677
Price: Sunday lunch masa, $55 per person


  1. Thanks for the review, Michael. Along with Three, One, Two, Press Club is one restaurant I am hanging out to try. I wouldn't have gone there for Sunday lunch though. I usually regret choosing the set menu option at restaurants - too many dishes come out and they're usually of the crowd-pleasing type (i.e. not too exciting). In the case of Press Club I want to go there specifically to try the dishes that sound a bit wacky (e.g. "Salad of cumin-roasted beetroot, pistachio biscuit, yoghurt cheese, Attiki honey" or "Fruit and nut stuffed stifado baby tomato, Cypriot cinnamon ice cream"). I'm just waiting for an extra-special occasion to justify the expense!

  2. Hi guys, I have been itching to try the Press Club but it's often the case when you get your hopes up... it was that way for me with Libertine, having tried to get there on three occasions without success and when we finally did I was disappointed and to top it off, I was too full for dessert (it was the wine) and that, for me, is the best part... I will keep trying... I hope Three, One, Two will be fabulous, we met the Chef at a party once and he was very nice with the cutest son you every laid eyes on... Vida x x x

  3. Oh, that's a shame that it was slightly disappointing! I have been there once for a weekday lunch and quite enjoyed the experience. We did the 4 course Kerasma - but there was SO much food. I don't know how they judged their courses, because 4 different items came out - and we thought that was going to be it. Then the mains came out.... after that dessert.... it meant we rolled our way out of the restaurant!

  4. Hiya Dmargster. :-) I don't think we were aware of the set menu when we booked, and it did seem like a deliberate throwback to a more traditional Greek family lunch. I was also keen to try the wackier dishes - especially the dessert that includes tomatoes!

    Vida, I hope you really enjoy 3, 1, 2 when you make it there! We've been there once and it has been one of the eating highlights of the past year. Ooh, but I shouldn't get your hopes up, should I? ;-)

    Agnes, we definitely had the same experience with the portion sizes! So much food.... it would be well worth the $55 if I could actually fit it all in.

  5. I can spot S. Pellegrino water on the table of the first photo. THat's Italian, all the way from the other side of the world. Don't you have water in Australia?

  6. Haha, very observant tippitappi! The cynical answer is no, actually, we don't have much water in Australia. :-)

  7. Well despite the not 100% spectacular review, its still sounds great to me, I have been dying to try this one out too though I will take note & stick to the normal menu

  8. I love my experience @ the Press Club a while back. Haven't been back since. :)

  9. Cindy, I meant to ask you about the black salt, I bought some at an indian store in Carlisle Street just for curiosity sake and my daughter thinks it smells and tastes like POO, do you have a better review than hers???? Vida x

  10. tara bethune-leamen5:55 pm, September 29, 2007

    looks good to me

  11. Ange, I'm still really curious about the night time menu and look forward to seeing what you eat then if you do visit.

    Glad you had such a great visit, Anh!

    Vida, I must confess that I didn't try the black salt. As Michael said, the food rapidly started piling up around me and I couldn't reach it across the table! From that distance, the smell of the salt wasn't offending me at least. :-)

  12. The first place I marked down to visit after reading my Good Food Guide was the Press Club. The sound of all those innovative dishes on the review got me already. Hence when I saw that you and Cindy had gone, I was hoping you would confirm my enthusiasm to go. It's too bad the meal wasn't great Michael, but generally set meals are like that I guess. It's the dishes that the majority of people can enjoy without being too risky or interesting. I think I will still go for dinner there.

    Did you guys see Georgie by the way, with Cindy being such a fan?

  13. Thanh, I'll look forward to your review if you do visit for dinner. Sadly there was no sign of Georgie at lunch! :-(

  14. I was checking out your blog when the title of this post caught my attention. The urge of having a great meal at The Press Club has shot to the max! I've been wanting to try this restaurant for ages now.

    The Press Club, here I come! Well, maybe after my final exam :P

  15. Shirley, I hope it's a night to remember. :-) Perhaps you'll glimpse George once more...?