There was a mad scramble for dinner reservations when word first got out about Champions Bistro. Occupying the dining space in an unassuming suburban bowls club in Melbourne’s South, most sessions were booked out months in advance due to the limited span of the temporary restaurant. It is only now, after a few extensions due to popular demand, that Clinton and Ali are taking a short hiatus in September to rest and recharge. Without neglecting to signing in at the front counter leading to the bistro, we catch glimpses of smoke wafting up from plates and a collective of interesting looking bites which had us highly anticipating our meal.
It is said that sour foods increase the appetite and perhaps it did; the “chips”, with a biting sourness and an evident “sea” flavour from the mussels, left us keen for our forthcoming courses.
Mussel and vinegar chips
The oysters impart a wonderful smoky flavour and leaves a delectable metallic flavour lingering on the tongue, long after we finish with the oysters.
Smoked oyster with apple and horseradish
Appearing more like a slices of tuna sashimi on a nutty flaxseed cracker, the acidity of the spicy home made pickles balances out the fatty neck ham.
Greenvale neck ham and pickles
Morsels of raw prawn nestled in a paper-thin wrap of swede were well suited with the mellow flavours of the nastutium and pumpkin juice. Although the serving plates weren’t the most ideal serving vessel and forced the entire table to, somehow attempt in a subtly manner, tilt and manoeuvre the flavoursome liquid into our spoons to incorporate with the delicious packages, it only proved how tasty it was.
Prawn, swede, nasturtium, pumpkin juice
A surprising appearance of house made bread was warmly welcomed. Hot from the oven, we were smitten with the crusty edges and pillowy soft centre with the butter. When butter melts and disappears instantaneously into the bread like that, I can almost justify my rationalisation for more butter.
House made sourdough bread with butter
A pairing of freshwater trout with firm pink fir potatoes showed a lovely balance of flavours with a sprinkling of pine mushroom powder.
Pink fir potato, freshwater trout seasoned with pine mushroom
The next dish stirs up a bit of passionate discussion in regards to the underrated goose, which doesn’t appear on menus in Australia as much as we’d love. With less fat than a duck and a slightly gamier flavour, it was tender and juicy in all the right places. The sticky plum, dehydrated berries and sorrel on the side were ideal in alleviating from the richness of the dish.
Goose, plum, last season berries and sorrel
While I’m more keen to get started on the sweets, the table readily accepts the cheese course. The flavours of this dish are punchy and salty with an array of textures from the savoury meringue and crisp shards of baguette.
Pynegana cheddar, mustard, muntries
While chocolate and beetroot isn’t necessarily a new combination we’ve witnessed, this would be the most delicious rendition I’ve come across so far. A rich dark chocolate sorbet harmonised by the understated raw sweetness of the beetroot and dehydrated berries, finished with some chocolate crumbs sprinkled lightly to provide a textural counterpoint.
Native pepper berry, dark chocolate, beetroot
There is no anti-climax here at Champions Bistro – knocking the meal out of the park with a sensational final dessert. A musky sheeps yoghurt sorbet, possessing the perfect balance of sweetness and sourness, and segments of poached pear and dried chestnut to add textured layers of sweetness and nuttiness to complete the dish.
Sheep’s yoghurt, chestnut, pear
Clinton manages to fine tune his previous experience in world-class kitchens and demonstrate his deft expertise through the considered and innovative dishes at Champions Bistro without the ostentation of a 3 hatted establishment. The nine course meal ($80 per person) is substantial enough for the table although, perhaps bigger eaters would need more to be completely satisfied; for that price though, quality is evident and the suggestion of a second visit isn’t even debated.
Side note: A bit thank you to my besties for taking us out and completing spoiling me that night!