The Burgers are Sexier at Merrywell

I recently announced my intentions to become an Olympian in the 2016 games in my previous post. So it is important that I start training by eating healthily. I expect that my friends would support my dream, perhaps even cheer me on to a medal. However, one of them seems hell-bent on distracting me from my goal. It’s literally gut-wrenching when your friend is trying to derail your plan, and it’s pretty evil too. She told me of a place called The Merrywell which is located at the corner of Clarendon Street and Crown Riverside. She also told me that The Merrywell is an American outfit headed by two legendary chefs, Sammy De Marco and Grant Macpherson, and that their food had received good reviews. She repeatedly told me that for over a week and eventually my bad eyes prompted me to google pictures of heavenly looking burgers. So I did what every good, focused athlete would not have done. I gave into temptation, shelved my Olympic plans and dragged my friend to lunch at The Merrywell. Any guilt I felt, any regret I had have since vanished. The Merrywell is bringing sexy back with their burgers and fries.

Funky vibes from The Merrywell make it difficult to resist.

We walked into the glass house that is The Merrywell which comprises two levels: downstairs and upstairs. There are also two different menus for downstairs and upstairs. Seeing as how we visited in the afternoon, we ordered from the downstairs burger bar menu which also features daily specials. If you visit after 5pm, you get to order cute nosh from the upstairs menu such as piggies in blanket and lollipop buffalo wings. Sunlight streams in from the outside to illuminate the tall ceilings, bright decorative pop-art paintings and high tables with classic wooden finishes that are immediately noticeable and attractive. There is a comfortable spaciousness so you do not feel cramped but nor do you feel that the service staff are so faraway that they are out of reach. We were invited to sit anywhere we wished to, so we hopped onto the high chairs at the tables in front of a TV. It also gave us a great view of their extensive range of alcoholic beverages available to order at the bar. It is easy to see why The Merrywell may be an ideal choice for afternoon drinks. Far from being a grungy pub, The Merrywell is a clean-cut classy venue that offers $15 burger and pint deals from 4pm – 6pm everyday. This has to be one of Melbourne CBD’s unbeatable value combinations and not just for well-heeled businessmen. The causal vibe at The Merrywell is a big draw card for Melbourne’s young trendy crowd eager to unwind and catchup with friends.

Everyone knows that it is not enough to impress with the surroundings, the real bacon so as to speak is in the quality of the food offered. After glancing through the menu which featured friendly salt and peppers shakers against a red background, we decided to share two different burgers: the Bistro Burger (slide in fries, au poivre sauce) and the classic burger called The Merrywell (lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, tomato, special sauce, bacon and fries). I was keen to try The Merrywell Spider or the Cherry Coke Float, but then I remembered that whipped cream would really sink the boot in my Olympic preparations. Instead, I settled for the lemon, lime and bitters whilst my friend stuck true with Adam’s ale. The pink hue of the lemon, lime and bitters came served with a wedge of green lime – kind of cute but I didn’t squeeze the lime into my drink because it was sour enough.

Whilst waiting for our burgers, we talked about the latest experiments and some interesting findings of the week. We didn’t have to wait long for our burgers, and our stomachs fluttered in excitement every time we saw the serving staff nearing our table. We were third time lucky. With a friendly smile, our waiter placed the temptations in front of us. Both burgers came served with knives and forks. But everyone knows that the proper way to eat burgers is with your bare hands to get all the finger-licking goodness. Don’t worry about making a mess because there are tissues packed into a cute red holder that looks a little like a jukebox on the side of every table. You can mop up later, just dig in first!

The Bistro burger sat on a white-beige plate reminiscent of ones you get when you fly in the air; whereas the classic Merrywell was served in a red basket giving it a fun carnival feel. Fries were slid into the bistro burger allowing them to soak up the juices of the beef patty as well as the au poivre sauce. I suppose Merrywell might have gotten the inspiration from watching generations of kids do that at McD’s. In contrast, perfect golden, crispy shoestring fries were served in a slightly crumpled brown bag alongside the classic burger. I imagine that little potatoes in farms across Australia grow up dreaming of become fries in The Merrywell kitchen, because then they would have been sacrificed to a noble cause. They make the fries at McD’s look shabby and they are so well seasoned that you do not feel as though you are licking a salt pillar. You have to take our word for it on how good The Merrywell fries are. Both of us normally do not like fries all that much, but we inhaled these ones greedily. Even when we were so full, our hands could not help reaching out to those delicious shoestrings. Clearly, it’s mind over gut.

The classic Merrywell burger looks like the van Gogh of burgers. It is beautiful in a way that will tease a smile out of the most carnivorous of us. It’s magnificence is clasped between two toasted buns that incredibly retain a soft crunch. The buns do not taste sweet like the ones at other burger joints, however, they do taste like a cross between a brioche and the traditional white buns. Sweet rings of onions coupled with tomatos and tangy pickles enhanced the overall taste. I’m not sure what the special sauce is, but it works well with the beef patty. I think it tasted slightly spicy. Where to start with the beef patty? The cheese has melted over the top such that it looks almost translucent yellow. It made all the other patties I had eaten to date look like wimps both in terms of size and flavour. The pink beef is minced to a fine point where it still provides a “bite” so that you can enjoy the feel of sinking your teeth into its juiciness. A burger cannot reach the heights of perfection unless it has bacon, and the guys at Merrywell are well aware of this universal truth. Bacon makes everything taste better, and it makes my world go round. Whenever I have to finish something yucky, I drown it in bacon bits. Crisp where it is not in contact with the rest of the elements, the bacon retained its succulency and fried oil-fragrance. There is an art to eating this burger, and it cannot be rushed. If you find it a little difficult to eat it all in one go, simply deconstruct it and sample the thrill of each component.

Having had the best burger of my life so far, it seems a little unfair to rate the Bistro burger. It contained a lot less components that made me love the classic burger and so it just couldn’t measure up. In hindsight, I should have eaten this one before the classic. I wasn’t fond of the sauce and the flavours were muted compared to that of the first burger. However, my friend really liked the au poivre sauce and mixed in a little Tabasco sauce with her half of the burger to add a slight kick to it. There are condiments such as mustard, ketchup, and HP sauce on the side of all tables, so you can essentially flavour your burger to taste as you like it.

We were so full by the end of the two burgers and fries that we could not contemplate ordering dessert – something that we regret. At only $5, you could have your pick of chocolate mousse, mango pudding or lamington trifle. As painful as missing out on dessert is, it gave us the opportunity of returning to The Merrywell to sample more of their creativity. The burgers and fries at The Merrywell are not for the fainthearted. They are good-size manly feeds. There is a give and take to everything. The burgers served at The Merrywell may battle your arteries, but your tastebuds will thank you for every morsel. If you dare to try them, I wager that they will make the top three burgers in your favourites list. If burgers are not your thing, The Merrywell offers an interesting selection of sam-wiches as well as homely feeds including onion rings, cup o’chili, chicken tortilla soup, and chicken fingers.

Going for Gold with the onion rings at The Merrywell – a more achievable dream for mere mortals such as myself!

Come hang out with the friendly guys at The Merrywell, the outside view is awesome and food is all-American goodness. Oh, and all the cool kids come here ;)!

The Merrywell on Urbanspoon

Persimmon – Art on a Plate

As part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces, National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) brings to life the exhibition – Napoleon: Revolution to Empire. NGV promises it will be a mesmerising event that showcases the finery of French art, culture and life. It sounds like a lot of fun, so I jumped on the website to find out more about it. The first image that I saw is cropped from the painting, Napoleon Crossing the St. Bernard, by Jacques-Louis David.

Napoleon’s very own pretty pony

It depicts Napoleon fashionably dressed in his military finest sitting astride a horse. It is a dead giveaway that he is Napoleon because of his gold-trimmed bicorne hat which looks rather fancy. The second thing you notice is the startled wide-eye expression of the horse. Maybe, someone was clutching the reins a little too tightly with his gloved left hand. The horse also has a nicely combed mane of which some people will be jealous. Some websites let on that the secret of achieving a nice, glossy mane is to use oil, water and vinegar; one even suggested mayonnaise. Who knew that? Given that Napoleon is French, he would probably have used butter instead.

Speaking of butter, NGV is offering different packages where you can dine with the legend on selected dates. You can breakfast with Napoleon, lunch with Napoleon, high-tea with Napoleon or go for broke and enjoy a six-course degustation menu with Napoleon. Napoleon sounds a lot more sociable (and heavier) than history has lead us to believe. Imagine fitting all those meals in and still winning battles. What a guy!

A friend and I had heard of a restaurant called Persimmon at NGV which serves Modern Australian fare. Since both of us had never tried Modern Australian food, we were pretty keen to find out what it was about. Persimmon is located on the ground floor of NGV international. After you enter the building, walk straight ahead and just before you reach the end, turn right and meander down a dimly lit passage way. Turn left and you’ll find yourself at the entrance of the restaurant. In stark contrast to the passage way, Persimmon is illuminated by natural daylight which shines through panels of glass windows and softer lighting on the ceilings. The windows frame the well-maintained greenery of the Grollo Equiset Gardens; and on occasion, the view is enhanced by a few water fowl swimming in the clear waters of the nearby water fountain. The interior of the restaurant has an avant-garde theme about it with bold splashes of black and orange-red furniture that are texturally firm or soft – just like the persimmon fruit itself. The restaurant is itself spacious which means that you will not be cramped or knocking elbows with fellow diners – a bonus given that some popular CBD eateries are often overcrowded.

Our friendly waitress ushered us to our seats before handing out the menus and talking us through the specials of the day. She mentioned that the restaurant’s menu is often reflective of what exhibitions they had on. The NGV is currently showcasing Napoleon, hence the menu adopts a French influence. We agreed that we would share the Diver scallops, toasted panko, wakame seaweed, smoked bell pepper aioli, Coq au vin, buttered mash potato, pine mushrooms, onions & bacon, and finish with the Dark chocolate fondant, croissant ice-cream, chocolate pop rocks for dessert. Don’t you love friends with similar tastes in food? It makes ordering so much easier and quicker. After approximately ten minutes, our waitress came back to take our orders. In exchange, she left us a small selection of bread and butter presented on a wooden plate. We liked the warm, yeasty smell of the bread as well as the audible crunch just before biting into softness. You could also sprinkle some salt and ground pepper is you like, but the butter purist opposite me won’t have it any other way. There is no substitute for butter, she would say, and I would have to agree.

The arrival of plump golden hue scallops heralded the start of something beautiful. Crusted with a mixture of panko and fine wakame, the scallops captured both the sand and sea elements. A droplet of pink ginger gel was delicately piped on top of each morsel, creating a visually stunning artwork. Usually not fans of ginger, we found ourselves pleasantly surprised by how its mild tang went well with the sweetness of the translucent scallops. I added a smidgen of smoked bell pepper aioli but apart from creaminess I couldn’t really taste the bell peppers. Were they perfectly cooked and succulent? Hell to the yes!!! From memory, we had halting conversations punctuated with expressions such as “Wow” and “really good” whilst eating the scallops. Yes, that is how eloquent we are ;). As our waitress came to change our plates, we asked if the scallops were going to be on the menu for the next two months. At first, I panicked because she said there might be variations to the menu. Quelle horreur! No more scallops?! She must have seen the slightly stricken look on my face, because she hastily clarified with “small changes”. For example, instead of Diver scallops, they could be serving up Hokkaido scallops. Oh, I think we can live with that :)!

There was a decent wait between the arrival of the scallops and that of the main, but then you can’t rush good things. If the scallops were anything to go by, we had high hopes for the main. The Coq au vin did not disappoint. It was carefully plated with small mounds of golden buttered mash potato and garnished with mushrooms, a small bulb of onion and a cube of bacon. There was a generous portion of well seasoned, juicy chicken, so tender that it fell off the bone easily with a slight nudge of the knife and fork. It is important to stress that the texture of the chicken was not mushy. We are willing to bet that no one likes to eat mushy chicken, which is wrong on so many levels of hygiene and decency.

I think I have used the word “butter” a fair bit in this post, and so here it is again: buttered mash potato. The three words that send my friend’s heart racing in excitement and possibly leaping for joy. In her words, the mash was “velvety smooth and flavoursome without being overpowered by butter”. She also said a lot of other wonderful things about the deceptively light mash, and perhaps in her highest praise yet, “you could almost imagine you were in France”. That is a hypothetical statement since we have never been to France. However, I suppose that the French are pretty adept at making mash potatoes given that “Paris mash” originates from them.

The sliced mushrooms had soaked up the richness of the jus such that it tasted the slightest bit sharp. The jus which by now had formed a small pool at the base of the dish rather made us wish that there was more to go around. As we polished off the chicken, mash and mushrooms, we eyed the bacon. The bacon turns out to be lardon, a cute rectangular marvel with layers of melt-in-your-mouth fat evenly spaced in between succulent pink meat. The fat has rendered the meat tender, and the meat has imparted a hint of smokiness to the fat. A symbiotic relationship at its best. Individually, each component on the plate was faultless; but put together and the sum of them was outstanding.

By this stage, we felt pretty impressed with our experience at Persimmon. Our plates were changed after every course and our glasses never empty. I think it is fair to say that Persimmon provides excellent service in a way that is unobtrusive of your personal space, something that is rare to find these days. The only dish left was dessert. I love desserts and will often return to the furthest places just to eat them again. We had ordered chocolate fondant, croissant ice-cream, chocolate pop rocks. I was sold on the fondant and my friend on the croissant ice-cream. Dark chocolatey goodness spilled and puddled into a gooey mess as I halved the soft fondant which we immediately tried to scoop up to taste. Thankfully for us, the fondant did not burn our tongues. The chocolate fondant contained just the right amount of sweetness without being saccharine. The portion size was just right and the dessert did not overwhelm with its richness. And after a mouthful of the croissant ice-cream, the both of us agreed that this was not a dessert to be shared :). You could definitely taste the croissant from the silkiness of the ice cream which my friend adored. For a playful twist to their dessert, Persimmon scatters some pop rocks along the plate. Eating these and hearing them crackle as they explode brought back fond memories of me sneakily eating pop rocks in grade school.

In summary, Persimmon restaurant is a hidden treasure that turns classic dishes into incredibly delicious artworks – befitting of an establishment located at the heart of culture. Go there to unwind from the hustle and bustle of the city, and enjoy quality service from impeccably polite staff. If this is what Modern Australian is about, then I think Napoleon himself would have been jealous of what Persimmon has to offer.

Persimmon on Urbanspoon