I’ve been to Champions Bistro before just when they were starting out and when they had an ala carte menu. This time, my friends who live around the area as well wanted to try it out given it’s very rare for such restaurants to be around the suburbs and at a bowls club at that.
It used to be $50 for degustation but their popularity really has been phenomenal since late last year and now their tasting menu is $80 and bookings are still hard to get. It’s easy to see why with Clinton McIver’s spectacular creations. I am very thankful they now have an online booking system which clearly shows when tables are available – before it used to be a slow process of elimination over the phone! Be aware that there’s a $60 cancellation policy so choose carefully. Also be aware that the restaurant charges 2% extra for credit cards.
The venue is now a little different to last time – they’ve wisely decided to wall off a portion of the large dining room for the restaurant which creates a more cosy feeling than before.
Our meal started off with three appetiser dishes which were vastly different from each other:
Devilled egg: definitely not what we had expected with a macaroon-like appearance and a tangy filling.
Lamb belly pikelets: succulent and rich pieces of lamb belly perched on top of fluffy pikelets.
Puffed barramundi skin: This one might not be everyone’s liking but I certainly enjoyed it. That fish skin can become so crispy and light is amazing and the lemony spread went well with it.
Next was the ocean king prawn which came served with a duck egg custard. I found the custard a bit too rich but the sauce tied the dish together.
The bass grouper was lovely. Cooked perfectly and paired with crisps and a lemon pith puree. As expected of lemon pith, the puree was on the bitter side which wasn’t exactly to my liking but luckily it was served on the side. I guess I’m in the group of people who don’t like marmalade so it’s not entirely unusual for me not to like lemon pith.
Interestingly at this time, our table was served housemade bread with warmed butter. My friend who was particularly hungry really enjoyed this though we wondered why this wasn’t served as usual at the start of the meal. Our table of four was served the same sized bread as a table of two – we wondered how much the other table would get through but they seemed undaunted by the size of the loaf at all.
Kangaroo has not been featured at many restaurants I’ve been to but here it’s clear that they really focus on using quality seasonal ingredients and local Australian produce. I haven’t had much kangaroo since living in Wangaratta for a short while but from my experiences, it is a sweeter meat than most and easily over cooked. This wasn’t the case at Champions Bistro and it went nicely with the beetroot juice and various berries.
We were a little intrigued by what we might be served at this point because the next item was a toasted cheese sandwich. Having all indulged in a little too much bread, we were rather glad that the serving size was on the smaller side. Served in a takeaway box, the crisps came with brillat savarin cheese and some jam. A rich and creamy affair, it reminded me of what I often have at home with brie and some fig jam. A lovely combination but one of my friends found it a bit rich and heavy on the cardamom.
The chefs here know everyone loves dessert and hence there’s two dishes on the sweet side. The first is sorrel ice served with plum and smoked milk. I found the smokiness of the milk a little overpowering but enjoyed the sourness of the plum paired with the sorrel.
Next was the iced vovo. My friends had to explain to me what an iced vovo was as our waitress said “you can’t go back after trying this!” I wonder if I should try the original after trying this version given her comments! This dish was almost too pretty to eat – I doubt I’d be able to buy anything remotely similar at the supermarket! Fluffy marshmallow with coconut sorbet and freeze dried raspberry. I’m glad they finished off with this dish as by the third course I was already pretty full.
Allow some time for degustations – our table did come late and from the first appetiser to the last dish was about an hour and a half to two hours. It didn’t feel overly long in between courses and we enjoyed the contrast between each dish. The flavours have changed rather dramatically since my last visit with more adventurous and unconventional combinations so come expecting a different experience.
They are about to offer a $50 degustation starting 18th September for Wednesday and Thursday dinner as well as Friday lunch to celebrate Spring – this sounds like a bargain compared to the usual $80 so if you’re wanting to try out Champions Bistro, it seems like this Spring is the time to go!