Over the years this publication has done its best to bring you the delights of dining in the area. This usually entails attending the restaurant, perusing the menu, chatting with the chef and preparing a positive report.
It is something altogether different then to have the opportunity to join with senior management and key staff to sit down and sample the full menu as the chef presents it for comment.
This was the case late last week when your journo joined Alan, Coonie, Glen, Jodi, Jason, Shona, a major supplier (who shall remain nameless) and other key staff at Café Max to taste, and comment upon the menu that is prepared for guests this winter.
In a relaxed atmosphere, Chef Ben McKechnie with Sous Chef Matt Binney sent out tasty servings of the bulk of Café Max’s extensive menu, covering both lunch and dinner.
Starting with special lunch offerings, the tasting was, to say the least, enjoyable. Thai Winter Salad - thinly sliced Thai sausage crowned with a glass noodle salad; The House Linguini with tomatoes, orange segments, garlic, roasted cabbage and wilted spinach with roasted duck; Sambucca Prawn Salad served with shaved fennel, spinach, lemon zest and baby beetroot; A good sized Steak Sandwich or a Chicken Caesar Burger, both with succulent fillings top off the lunch menu.
If you call in to Café Max at any time of the day, you have a choice of Pumpkin Soup, Antipasto Platter, traditional Tomato Bruscetta or a Mushroom Bruscetta. These items also add diversity to the entrée menu.
Mains planned for evenings were even more exciting. Vegetarian Risotto Cakes, leek, pumpkin and roasted mushroom risotto cake, green leaf salad with a balsamic reduction. Weisswurst Sausage, with spinach, potato and parmesan rösti, finished with ber Blanc. Twice cooked Chicken Breast served with hand-shaped Asian ravioli, Chinese master stock topped with coriander salad. Salmon Fillet, pan seared salmon fillet served on a tomato tare with crisp beans and salsa Verde. Smoke Pork Kassler served on slow roasted tomato aubergine puree with wilted Swiss chard and red wine jus. Eye Fillet Steak served with creamed mash potato, wilted spinach, roasted field mushrooms and béarnaise sauce.
Without demeaning the others, the Weisswurst Sausage was a delight, the Salmon Fillet light and clean, and the Kassler tasty.
To finish with, the group enjoyed tasting the Berry and Mascarpone Tartlet served with house made lemon mint ice cream; Apple and Quince Crumble served with vanilla ice cream; Sticky Date Pudding served with honey spiced ice cream and butterscotch sauce; and the Chocolate Brownie served with coffee ice cream and chocolate sauce.
Café Max also has a range of tasty pizzas, adding diversity to the range of choices.
Head chef Ben McKechnie has been involved in the catering/hospitality industry since he was a lad. Mum ran a café since he was eight years old. This will be his third season working at Café Max and in between seasons Ben has travelled and worked in Japan and Canada.
Ben has a penchant for the cheaper cuts and has been known to serve lambs brains, which didn’t sell too well until the floor staff tasted them. Once tasted and understood, the dish sold like, well, hot cakes.
Last year, Ben asked the Food and Beverage manager to buy him a goat. A strange request, but Ben was able to create delicacies and the whole goat was served as specials with people returning to the restaurant and seeking the special.
Matt Binney worked with Ben at Café Max in 2007. He hails from the Gold Coast and has considerable experience both up north and at De Bortoli’s in the Yarra Valley. It was quite obvious in talking with the Chefs that they work well together and have a very good understanding of what is required.
A process they are going through at the moment is staff training. It is incumbent upon floor staff that they take a turn in the kitchen, doing dishes, listening and learning. They will also taste test the food and be totally familiar with everything that is being served. Conversely, both of the chefs, at different times will take their turn on the floor, serving clients and promoting their product.
It is not uncommon for a chef to come out of the kitchen to meet diners. Having the chef on the floor is a different, and yet constructive approach.
At the time of preparing this article, the wine list had not been finalised, but a selection from around 45 different wines should satisfy even the most discerning clients.
Café Max is ideally located in the Village Bowl and will operate from breakfast until well into the evening. Bookings for dinner would be advisable. Ph: 5758 3347
Café Max Chefs, Matt Binney and Ben McKechnie. Pic - Ken Bell.