Monday, May 21, 2012

Vue de Monde

Location: Level 55, Rialto Towers, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9691 3888
Cuisine: Modern Australian, Degustation

After talking about going to Vue de Monde for years, we finally made the much anticipated trip there today. So anticipated that two of us flew back from interstate just for the meal. 

This is undoubtedly the best of Shannon Bennett's restaurants (some may recognise the name from a recent MasterChef episode featuring a peach melba dessert). The restaurant recently moved into the top floor of the Rialto Towers, which could only add to its class and prestige.

The entrance is slightly set back from the other Collins Street entrances. We walk inside and a lady greets us at the counter. After checking our booking, she escorts us to a lift. Amusingly, the lift buttons only go up to level 54, but we don't need to push anything. The lady has already arranged for the lift to take us up.

On reaching the top floor, we meet the rest of our party in the Lui Bar, and are then led to our table. The decor is simple and classy, the decor mostly wooden and lined with kangaroo skin and fur.

We have a decent view from our table, although the dull greyness of Melbourne sky doesn't make it seem as impressive as it probably is.

the view from our table
The other view from our table is much more interesting. We're seated about 2 metres away from the open kitchen where the chefs do their final plating of dishes. It's like we're watching MasterChef live, but without the judges.

open kitchen
Everything in this restaurant is coordinated but different. We find a pile of rocks on our table - but they are no ordinary rocks! Removing the lid of one reveals salt flakes and ground pepper. Another is empty, for serving butter in later. The flat stones are used as bread plates, and the ones that look like piggy banks are knife holders for the meat dishes to come. 

these rocks aren't just there to look pretty

As we are seated, we are presented with a number of exquisite little dishes dubbed as 'snacks'.  These little appetisers were an exciting and light way to start the meal.

parsnip crisps with apple and chestnut sauce | celeriac, sunflower seeds

The parsnip crisps look just like packet chips, but are much more delicate and a little nuttier in flavour. The sauce provides a sweet and tangy contrast to the chips, but I would gladly eat the chips on their own.

The celeriac puree with sunflower seeds is served in small triangular filo parcels. Smooth and creamy, but nothing terribly exciting.

waiter making kangaroo rolls
One of things Vue seems particularly proud of is creating an experience that their customer's won't forget easily. The curing and rolling of the kangaroo slices is but just the beginning of the interactive dining experience we are about to enjoy. Interestingly, the waiter rolls up the slices with a pair of chopsticks.

salt cured kangaroo | oysters with lemon

This is the first time I've tasted kangaroo, and I'll admit I was a little hesitant about the idea. But as with most things, when you're at such a highly acclaimed restaurant as we are, you try everything. The kangaroo is very well cured and tastes very much like other cured meats. Neither overly gamey nor tough, it was actually quite nice to eat.

The oyster dish is essentially an oyster puree or dip, encased in a clear gelatin wrapper. The casing tastes like softened agar agar jelly, and the oyster puree is smooth and creamy.

smoked eel, white chocolate, caviar | duck crisps

What a contrast between these two snacks. The smoked eel was unanimously the best of the snacks - the  eel was smoky and not too tough, the caviar added a beautiful smoothness with the slight 'popping' texture. But the hero was the white chocolate, which gave each piece a sweetness that can only be likened to caramelisation but a thousand times better.

After a number of exciting snacks, the duck crisps are a little boring. The pieces are indeed crispy, but tastes dry and has to be eaten with the dip. Nothing overly special about this one. It's a little disappointing that the 'truffle marshmallow' which is on the menu and a number of earlier reviews, is not on the menu for our meal.

As we taste each of these, our waitress comes over to explain how the ordering works. For some reason the waitress has the idea that we are uneasy with ordering the degustation (which is a little confusing as none of us have mentioned anything of the sort). We ask about options and are basically persuaded to try the gastronomes degustation. The a la carte menu is not offered to us as a choice, or even mentioned. Something to note at this point is that there is a price difference of $100 between the a la carte, and the degustation (and one can only guess which one was more expensive).

We are, however, given the option of starting off with the degustation with the ability to stop it at any time and skip to dessert. With no real reason to say no, we order the gastronomes degustation and a bottle of German riesling to share.

And so begins one of the biggest meals of our lives..

pan seared scallops
For the first course, our waiter takes us to the beach, by placing a mound of sand on the plates in front of us, before eventually placing a scallop shell filled with two pan seared scallops, an emulsion of sorts and some herbs. The scallops are perfectly cooked, juicy, delicate and slightly crisp on the outside.

marron tail, tarragon butter, marron salt and marron tartare sandwich
The seafood theme is continued with a sweet succulent piece of marron tail, served with a quinelle of tarragon butter and marron salt, and a sandwich of marron tartare. The idea is to dip the marron into the butter, then into the marron salt. The marron is fresh and perfectly cooked. The butter is delightfully smooth and buttery, with a strong trace of tarragon. One of the best butters I've ever had (second only to the seaweed butter at Gordon Ramsay's Maze). The marron salt just balances out the combinations beautifully.

The marron tartare sandwich draws the entire dish together. The crispbread holding the marron is light and crunchy, whilst the tartare has a wonderful lightness and freshness to cut through the richness of the butter.

And none of the butter is wasted because the next dish to arrive is the bread.

bread served in kangaroo pouch with French butter
Bread is bread, and this bread is nothing to rave about. Two types of bread are served - a crusty sourdough like bread, and some smaller sesame seed based dinner rolls. The bread is warm, and our waiter then brings out a wooden bucket of butter (imported from France) which he expertly quinelles and sets out on one of the stones. The butter is rich and smooth, but my preference lies with the tarragon butter.

The next course is more like a science experiment than a meal - pumpkin soup made through cona infusion!

cona infused pumpkin soup 
Our waiter brings out a strange contraption made up of conical flasks filled with ingredients. As mugs of pumpkin, sour cream and herbs are set out in front of us, the waiter quickly works the machine, typically used for making coffee, and infuses a broth with an intense pumpkin and aromatic flavour. Once boiled, the infused liquid is poured over the ingredients in each mug.

Mix, and the cream combines with the liquid to form a soup. The soup is a little creamy, with a strong deep flavour. A little more cream or even some pureed pumpkin would have made the soup a little creamier though.

Soup finished, it's time for breakfast.

fried duck egg, lamb sweetbread toasted bread,
pickled onion, onion jus, shaved truffle
Eggs on toast? Soldiers? How about the fine dining version? A fried duck egg is surrounded with an onion jus, and served with pieces of lamb sweetbread, toasted sourdough, pickled onion. At the last minute, a waiter liberally grates fresh black truffle all over the egg. Ahh, truffle goodness.

Break into the egg and the rich yellow yolk runs amok, mixing into the onion jus and making a nice runny mixture to dip the sourdough into. The lamb sweetbreads have an odd chewiness to them, but it's still relatively tender to eat, and there is a subtle sweetness. The onions are sweet and provide the needed 'crunch' to the dish.

More molecular gastronomy arrives in the form of micro herbs served in a mortar. A waiter brings out liquid nitrogen and pours it over the herbs. We are instructed to pound the now-frozen herbs into a crumbly powder before a quinelle of cucumber sorbet is slipped on top.

cucumber sorbet with crushed herbs
This palate cleanser looks rather simple and sounds a little bland, but the sorbet is surprisingly fresh and sweet, reminding me of muddled cucumber in cocktails. It's almost good enough to be a dessert on its own.

barramundi, smoked bone marrow
We are brought back to seafood with some slices of barramundi fillets, with have been pan fried and served with smoked bone marrow. Aside from the caramelised crispy edge, the fish is probably one of the blander dishes on the menu. The fish is well cooked, but we keep looking for the 'wow factor', but don't seem to find it. It's not like the other dishes.

pigeon, carrot, clove, orange
Our waitress had said that game was on the menu, and game there was. Confit pigeon thigh and breast sit surrounded by some chopped carrots. An orange and clove flavoured reduction is poured over the pigeon after it is placed in front of us. The pigeon is amazingly tender and flavoursome. The carrots are a little undercooked. The hero of this dish is the intense sweetness and strong aromatics in the orange reduction - a very pleasant way to cut through some of the richness from the confit.

pigeon nest
Served at the same time is a pigeon nest - pieces of pigeon meat served in a little potato nest. It's an interesting combination of textures and flavours and adds a nice crunch to the other pigeon dish.

Our last savoury dish again arrives in components, with the terrine and beetroot on the plate, and the raw pieces of wagyu on a little portable barbecue, which the waiter cooks on skewers. Once the meat is cooked, the waiter places a slice on each of our plates, before drizzling it with a sweet beetroot sauce.

wagyu terrine, barbecued waygu fillet, beetroot
The beef is cooked rare (one of the few occasions where I have eaten something cooked less than medium) so it is amazingly tender and juicy. 

The terrine is average, it has some odd flavours we couldn't place, but it tasted much better when eaten with the apple (or pear?) puree that was in the centre of the plate.

Definitely would have preferred more of the barbecued wagyu instead of the terrine.

Savoury dishes over, the waitress brought over the cheese trolley to transition us from savouries into desserts.

assortment of cheeses | assortment of bread

(from top) rhubarb, apple, quince | figs, caramelised onion, pear
After getting an indication of preferences for types of cheese, we're given a selection of five cheeses (two goat's cheeses, a cheddar, a camembert and a washed rind). It would have been nicer to be given a brief run through all the available cheeses and then choosing our own, but the waitress seemed to set the pace and direction so we feel obliged to go with the flow. 

Usually a fan of cheese, most of these actually don't appeal to me. The goat's cheeses and the washed rind are too intense for my liking, and the cheddar, whilst sharp, doesn't have as much complexity in its flavour as I was hoping. The camembert is my favourite - smooth, creamy and not too overpowering. 

We're presented with three types of bread and a variety of jams and condiments to accompany the cheese. There's a beetroot loaf, sourdough and some thin slices of raisin toast. The beetroot loaf has an interestingly pleasant subtle flavour, but didn't taste like beetroot. The raisin toast is thinly and crispy, working well with the softer cheeses. The sourdough is, well, sourdough. The condiments were a nice sweet chewy contrast to the bread and cheeses. 

To bring us into dessert, we're presented with an 'interlude' of what the waiters dub 'beer and nuts'.

'beer and nuts' - passionfruit and licorice 'beer' with coconut sorbet
It is essentially a fizzy passionfruit and licorice soda-like drink served with small balls of coconut sorbet. A brilliantly cool and refreshing way to tantalise our tastebuds for dessert.

First of the desserts is a deconstructed Monte Carlo biscuit.

deconstructed Monte Carlo biscuit with raspberries and cream
Totally love this dish. Shards of toffee balance atop fresh raspberries bursting with juicy sweetness and cream. It has everything it needs - sweet, sour, creamy smoothness and crunch.

chocolate souffle
Last course, and we're presented with a rather large chocolate souffle. A waiter slips in a scoop of chocolate mousse at the last minute. We are a little underwhelmed by this dessert. The souffle is soft and fluffy and has puffed up and risen out of the cup well. However, I found that the souffle left an eggy flavour in my mouth - possibly from being in the oven for too long (but desserts are my forte so it could be due to any number of reasons). The mousse is smooth and rich, and is seemingly wasted melting and dissolving into a eggy souffle base.

A small platter of petit fours wraps up the meal.

petit fours
The platter has some lamingtons, eucalyptus flavoured sorbet balls, shards of chocolate and musk, and wooden board with some odd gelatinous jelly coins. The lamington is soft and fluffy, coconutty on the outside, and light and airy inside. The sorbet like balls are cold and rather pleasant to eat, however the rest of the platter is doesn't seem to blend in well.

But wait, it doesn't just end there. On leaving, we are presented with some goodies to take home, or what they call 'for the morning after'. A small loaf of brioche, a packet of granola, some rose petal and fruit tea, a mini jar of Heide honey, and some small chocolate biscuits.

Vue de Monde is not just about the brilliant food. They seem to pride themselves in providing their customers with a pleasant and entertaining dining experience, complete with all the theatrics a restaurant of this calibre and sophistication can get away with.

Everything ran like clockwork - dishes were brought out in a nice slow pace suitable for a late Sunday lunch, and the waiters worked around each other to construct the dishes that were finished at our table. We loved the theatrics, and the way the waiters engaged with us, explaining each dish and throwing in the odd joke or so.

And what a view to end the day with?

Vue de Monde is certainly an experience worth trying out at least once in your life.

Overall Impression: 9.5/10
Vue de Monde on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Location: The Royal Hotel, corner of Cork and Harp Street, Gundaroo NSW 2620
Phone: (02) 6236 8777
Cuisine: Modern Australian

It's not often we venture out of the 'city', but when we do, we go in search of good food.

After visiting a few wineries and Robyn Rowe Chocolates, we arrived in Gundaroo for a late lunch at Grazing.

The restaurant operates from inside an old hotel and the owners have managed to keep much of the historical vibe through the set up and decor. There is even a live fireplace in most of the rooms.

The menu is extensive and very appealing. There are a number of entrées that seem relatively light, and the list of main comprises mostly of comfort food and game. Country cooking at its best.

smoked Tumut rainbow trout terrine with cucumber salad,
fresh horseradish and coriander seed pastry tuile
The smoked trout terrine is smooth, fresh and delicately flavoured. The tuile it sits atop is crisp and aromatic, which works well in contrast to the terrine. Unfortunately for me, the menu didn't warn me of the huge mound of rocket that the dish came with - I would have much preferred more cucumber. But it was an excellent dish to start off the meal.

kangaroo tail and beetroot tortellini with garden beetroot relish,
goat’s cheese and wattle seed burnt butter
I'm not the biggest fan of kangaroo, but my friends who tried this were very happy with the dish.

Braised shank and slow cooked breast of duck with sourdough
dumpling, white bean puree, cauliflower and braising jus
Duck. One of the most difficult meats to do well and Grazing did it beautifully. The duck was still pink inside, the duck fat was well rendered, and the meat was juicy and tender. The braising jus had a nice rich flavour which complemented the dish beautifully.

the ‘Grazing Pie’- Cod, scallop, mussel and riesling pie with
root vegetables, creamed leek and potato mash
Pie. Doesn't sound all that fancy, and certainly not the typical dish I'd expect on the menu for 'fine dining'. But just read the description and tell me you're not salivating. The pie was rustic-looking and sat on top of a rich creamy leek and potato mash. The golden brown puff pastry encased a steaming mixture of soft flaky pieces of fish and fresh scallops and mussels with a creamy white wine sauce. The only thing missing was some freshly cracked black pepper, which would have brought the dish up a whole new level. 

Aside from the mash being a little over seasoned, it was the perfect winter warmer.

The desserts definitely brought us back into the fancy fine dining world.

strawberry semi freddo cone with maple and hazelnut crunch,
Persian fairy floss and strawberry clouds
After a relatively heavy main, I opted for the semi freddo as a refreshing end to the meal. Strawberry yoghurt was frozen into a cone shape and coated in maple flavoured crushed hazelnuts. The cone was surrounded by fluffly fairy floss, cubes of strawberry flavoured aerated cream and crispy sugar crackers. It was the ultimate combination of textures and flavours.

garden grown quince crumble with candied fresh fig and cinnamon custard
Another winter warmer - quince and candied figs topped with a crunchy crumble, baked and served with a side of cinnamon flavoured custard.

fennel pollen scented free standing crème brulee with fresh
blackberries, carnation milk sorbet and puff pastry ‘biscuit’
Definitely an abstract take on a classic dessert. Rather than being served in a ramekin, the crème brulee was set into a square shape, and the custard was infused with fennel pollen. I personally found the flavours a little odd, and missed the dark toffee crunch of the traditional version.

The service was friendly and helpful, although the dishes took much longer to come out than expected. The dishes were good value for money (entrées $17, mains $33, desserts $16) and the ingredients were fresh and locally sourced. Totally worth the drive out.

Overall Impression: 9/10
Grazing on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Public Bar + Dining

Location: Cnr Flinders Way and Franklin Street, Manuka, ACT 2603
Phone: (02) 6161 8808
Cuisine: Bar

A friend has been talking about Public Bar for a while, so today we stopped by to grab a quick bite before heading out to the movies.

Public is located on the corner of its block, which means that, unlike most bars, it gets a fair bit of natural sunlight flowing in through the large glass windows.  

There's a fairly extensive menu (especially for a bar) which ranges from freshly shucked oysters to burgers, pizzas and tapas style sharing plates. We order food and cider and sit ourselves next to one of the windows.

steak sandwich with roquette, free range egg, romas,
caramelised onion, tomato chilli relish & aioli
My friend's steak sandwich is huge and comes served on a large wooden board with a side of fries. Plenty of accolades for this pub favourite.

sand whiting, tempura battered with apple aioli and chilli oil 

I was after something a little lighter, and the apple aioli on the menu caught my eye. The barman must have been a little confused, because I asked whether how the fish was served and he said it came as one piece. How wrong he was, although I did have a suspicion that the sand whiting sounded a little like white bait.

The whiting fillets were small and there was more batter than there was fish. But the batter was crisp and not laced with oil as some fried fish can be. The highlight was definitely the apple aioli and chilli oil dipping sauce. The aioli was smooth and garlicky, with a fresh hit of apple that cut through the creaminess. This was contrasted with the chilli oil surrounding the aioli, designed to give the dip a bit of a kick. It was a beautiful combination of flavours that I wouldn't mind served with wedges or chips.

Best part of all, they had Monteith's cider on tap!

Overall Impression: 8/10
Public @ Manuka on Urbanspoon