Saturday, 22 February 2014

Melbourne Series - Vue de Monde

In my first post about our Melbourne food safari (see post here), I talked about our thought process and planning to get down to Australia's food capital. What I should have mentioned was that there was a completely different script going through SC's mind, and it was a little different to what was going on in my mind.  As soon as I heard about a possible trip to Melbourne, I was instantly fantasising about the great food I'd get to eat.  What SC was actually thinking about was visiting the James Bond exhibition at the Melbourne Museum!  I'll admit that I was a little bit excited about this when she first mentioned it, but once the planning for the trip started, it was all about the food and I quickly forgot about James Bond.

No food safari to Melbourne would be complete without going to arguably the country's best restaurant with, in many minds, Australia's most innovative chef - Shannon Bennet.  I'd been so keen to get to Vue de Monde for many years and I almost got there a couple of years ago when I was flying solo in Melbourne for work.  I'd even called up and arranged a table for one but at the last moment decided that this was an experience best shared, then opted for another iconic Melbourne restaurant in Grossi Florentino (before I was blogging, so no post).

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't feeling a little giddy at the prospect of getting in and trying the incredibly inventive food of Shannon Bennet.  There was no restaurant in the country that I wanted to check out more, and that includes Sydney restaurants like Quay.  While currently not sitting at the top of the restaurant awards tree, Vue de Monde has it all, three hats with the Australian Good Food Guide and the Age Good Food Guide along with three stars from the Gourmet Traveller and ranked number seven on the top one hundred list from the same magazine.  It simply does not get much better than that for a restaurant, well maybe being included in the San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants in the world might be pretty good too...

Vue de Monde sits atop of the world in Melbourne's iconic Rialto tower, literally taking up the whole of the 55th floor providing stunning views of the Melbourne landscape - normally!  One the day we visited it was hazy from bush fires and the view was somewhat muted as a consequence.  Prior to it's current lofty location, Vue de Monde was originally in a little terrace building in Carlton before being relocated to Normanby Chambers in the CBD.  I'd loved to have tried the stunning little diner in the early days, especially to track it's history and growth, but was happy to settle for the current ultra modern setting.

We'd booked an early 6pm sitting and took a leisurely stroll down Collins Street to arrive at the Rialto a little early.  It gave us time to speculate what the restaurant would look like when we finally traversed the final few meters and took our seats.  As 6pm approached, we entered the Rialto building's special Vue de Monde entrance and were greeted by a concierge in the foyer, who took our jackets and ushered us to the lift that would take us to the ultimate dining experience.

And that experience started the moment we stepped out of the lift and were greeted by a staff member who showed us to the bar for us to wait until our table was ready.  This very much reminded us of our visit to Daniel in New York (see post here).  We were treated like rock stars and made to feel very important, a feeling that would continue throughout the night.  After a few moments at the bar, we were told our table was ready and we finally entered one of the most amazing restaurant spaces I'd ever seen.  A large very open feeling space that was dominated with black and a pared back minimalist feel that was enhanced by the contradiction of the very modern looking Melbourne skyline.  The dining area wrapped around a huge open kitchen which was buzzing with chefs preparing for the night's meal.

Vue de Monde is a degustation only restaurant and our waitress explained that we had two hours before the next sitting and recommended between six and eight courses.  Of course I wanted the full experience and stated that we would love the full ten courses and we would easily get through the lot, as long as they kept bringing the food out.

As we waited for our taste of the menu, we really looked a the table for the first time, which had an interesting array of shaped rocks and natural wood logs, which we soon discovered would be used in displaying our food throughout the night.  We also had a tea sommelier come across and give us a sample of the paired tea that would accompany the meal if we so chose.  I have to admit that this was a first for me, a tea sommelier indeed!

Before any of the official courses or the amuse bouche came out, we were given a little tub of house made salt and vinegar chips with a macadamia nut puree.  It was a light way to start the meal and whet the appetite with the light and creamy macadamia nut puree complimenting the saltiness and crunch from the chips.

Then came our amuse bouche, which were all presented on rocks that were already on the table and formed part of our serving platforms for the night.  I started with my oyster, which had carefully been shucked and then re-lidded to maintain the visual appeal of the dish.  Fat, plump and wonderfully creamy would be the best way to describe the oysters.  Then I snaffled up the smoked eel with white chocolate and caviar, with the salty flavour and texture of the caviar popping in the mouth to complement the slightly sweet and smoky eel. After carefully considering my next choice, I went for the salt cured wallaby, which came initially presented on a salt rock, then was rolled up with a smidgen of wasabi and placed on it's presentation rock.  The wallaby was so tender and sweet with just the barest hint of the wasabi.  That left the final bite of truffle marshmallow to devour, and devour it was, picked up with fingers and popped into my mouth, the soft marshmallow was wonderful with the earthy flavour of the truffle.

Truffle would play a major role in our meal at Vue de Monde after selecting the truffle option that added an extra $60 dollars each to the meal, but promised to deliver on lots of the lovely shaved truffle.  As soon as SC heard about the option, it was as good as sold, she just loves truffles.

Our first formal dish of the ten courses was the barramundi with potato, caviar and lemon.  The barramundi was from Queensland so we felt a little affinity with the wonderfully cooked fish.  The plate itself was a work of art, and with precision placement the fish looked like a little exclamation mark when including the very tart lemon puree.  The fish was sublimely cooked and very tasty and you only needed a little sliver of the lemon puree for each bite to balance out the dish.  There was some texture from the rolled potato which was covered in edible flowers and caviar for that salty punch.  

Our next dish reminded me very much of another recent degustation I'd had recently (see post here) except lamb was the protein.  The Flinders Island lamb, olive, anchovies, sunflower and a mountain of shaved truffle was cooked two ways, as a loin and as a lamb belly strip.  I loved the flavour combinations of the sweet lamb and the saltiness of the olive and anchovies.  My favourite was the loin, which was cooked perfectly for me, but just a tad over for SC.  I thought the lamb belly was nice, but I've had the best lamb belly in the world a number of times at another three hat restaurant (Esquire), so invariably I made the comparisons.  I'm not sure that I got as much from the truffle as SC, it was nice but only nice.  SC on the other hand was in truffle heaven.

One of the most flavoursome dishes of the night was next with the Blackmore wagyu with smoked bone marrow and saltbush.  I loved the presentation of the chopped ingredients, which came in the bone and had a wonderful sauce from the concoction dripping from each end, which I really wanted to mash my face into the bone to get.  The sweetness of the bone marrow worked really well with the slightly salty foraged saltbush and marrow didn't have that texture that can be a little off-putting if not cooked expertly.  It was wonderful and I wanted more of it, please!

There was a bit of theatre with the kangaroo with charcoal and onion.  A smouldering log was placed in front of us, just like you would find in a bush camp, with a piece of nearly raw kangaroo cooking on the charcoal of the wood.  Kangaroo should be served rare and as I took photos of the grilling flesh, it was quickly placed on a stone plate in front of us, just to make sure it wasn't over cooked.  This dish was simplicity itself, a piece of rare kangaroo fillet with three charred onion rings and an onion puree.  I loved the rare kangaroo, which I eat regularly, and the slight char flavour from the onion rings. 

With more theatre and perhaps my favourite part of the evening, we were presented with a bowl of edible flowers and natural herbs, along with a big container of liquid nitrogen.  The nitrogen was poured into the bowl and we used a mortar and the bowl as a pestle to gently crush the freezing flora into a fine powder. Once we had that task completed, a perfectly formed quenelle of cucumber sorbet was placed onto it with the aim of blending the lot together.  It was fun to do and amazing to eat with the freshest flavours I've had in a long time.

It was shaved truffle time again with a generous amount of truffle covering the duck yolk with pear.  The 66 degree slow cooked egg yolk was completely covered in thin slices of pear to form a protective barrier.  Added to the plate for extra textures were stewed pear and what appeared to be pear tuile that gave different flavours as well as contrasting texture.  While I didn't think the first truffle dish was warranted, this worked wonderfully with the earthy flavour of the truffle balancing out the rich and decedent duck yolk.  The yolk was perfectly cooked and provided a slow ooze over the plate and was readily devoured by us both.

SC was starting to fill up by this stage with the dishes rapidly coming out so we could meet our two hour deadline, which suited me fine as I got to eat some extra food.  The simplicity of the presentation of the marron with sweetbreads and lamb floss was beautiful to behold.  The marron was still warm and in pristine condition after being peeled.  You ate this one with your fingers and then dipped the warm marron in the pureed sweetbread with a little bit of texture from the sweet lamb floss.  This was definitely yummy.

SC had joked at the beginning of the night that she wouldn't mind some beef tongue and this was exactly what she got with the next course of warm beef tongue with beetroot and bone marrow.  This was where a little bit of molecular gastronomy came into play with a mound of frozen creme fraiche to balance out the sweetness from the beetroot, tongue and bone marrow.  I quite liked the combination of flavours on their own, but it was certainly a much more amazing plate of food when you mixed the warm and cold together.

As a little bit of a break from the meat and very rich flavours of the previous few dishes, a simple yet elegant looking spear of baby corn was presented with truffle crumbs and a lemon puree.  The corn spear was weird as it still had all the fibre that comes from corn in the cob and it was a little difficult to eat and even harder to swallow.  Lovely flavours, but I think the corn fibre could have been removed from the dish.

As a way to separate the savoury dishes of the night from the sweet, we were brought another little palate cleanser of celery wrapped around some goats milk and coconut ice cream.  It was a lovely little ice block that contrasted sweet ice cream and slightly bitter celery.  On the chopping board sitting strangely with the ice creams were some kale chips.  Right, this insanity has got to stop.  There is no good reason for kale, none, full stop!  I did get a little bit of amusement watching SC eat her kale chip when she turned it upside down to eat it and all of the salt sprinkled on the kale chip spilled over the table!

Dessert time and the old adage that you have a second stomach for dessert was severely put to the test but was saved by the fact it looked spectacular and got the saliva ducts flowing.  The cherry with raspberry and yoghurt was a simple name for a complex dish, which became more complex due to the addition of our third and final shaving of fresh truffle.  The cherry and vanilla parfait looked a little lonely on the plate before a pile of frozen raspberry pieces was added and then covered in truffle.  I love cherry and raspberry, so it was a no brainer that I would love this dessert, but SC is a fan of neither but really enjoyed the flavours, so it must have been good!

Last, but certainly not least was the chocolate soufflĂ©, which was one of the neatest and most uniformly risen soufflĂ© I had ever seen.  It looked spectacular and smelled wonderful with a rich chocolate sauce sitting on top but got even better as a warm creme anglaise was poured over the top and ran down the sides to the plate. This needed to be good as we were seriously full, and I got through my whole dessert before taking pity on SC, who had struggled through half of the dessert but couldn't finish.  It almost did me in too, almost!

We finished off the meal with a selection of petit-fours, which again provided me with a seriously good belly laugh.  One of the petit-fours was a collection of Pippi shells with two chocolate shells with a little broth included to make them look real.  Obviously too real for SC as she slurped out the broth, then threw the shell back on the plate - hilarious!  After quickly realising her mistake, she gobbled up the white chocolate.

Our two hours at Vue de Monde were up and we were completely and utterly stuffed.  It had been an amazing food journey in what amounts to one of the best restaurants in the country.  I'd been hoping to see Shannon himself at the pass serving up a storm, but alas it was not to be.  We did see head chef of the restaurant Cory Campbell at the pass and at times he looked a little stressed out, which I guess is normal in a place with such a high standard and amazing reputation.

Make no mistake, Vue de Monde is a super expensive restaurant, in fact, in all of the restaurants we have eaten around the world, including three world top twenty restaurants in the US, we spent nothing like what we forked out at Vue de Monde.  The starting point was $250 per person but we added the truffle package, which took it to $310 per person, and that's before drinks.  There is no doubt that the experience was amazing and the food journey tantalisingly close to perfection.  But, and there is a but...  I can't help feeling that it's just a bit too pricey, it's good, but I've had equally good food at restaurants where I've paid $100 or less for a degustation.  It was most certainly something I am glad we did, but I think the price takes into consideration the rent of the top floor of the Rialto.  Great, but I wouldn't rush back, even for a special occasion.....


The cucumber sorbet
And the final palate cleanser!
The salt cured wallaby came out on a salt rock and then was rolled up
They were sensational
The seared kangaroo came out on this little 'camp fire' and it added the charcoal flavour 
Lots of little hidden gems, the salt and pepper was hidden in one of the many rocks on the table
The bread and butter.  The butter was made into a lovely little quenelle in front of us from a huge tub of butter
The duck egg before the truffles were shaved over the top - beautiful
The kitchen hard at it
Black with contrasting white was the theme of the dining area - its to give a natural feel to the environment
Two of the petit-fours with the Pippi shells in the background.  Se if you can pick the chocolate shell!
A fresh and unusual way to finish, chocolate lamingtons and eucalyptus ice pops
Cory Campbell stand proudly by his award winning kitchen

Vue de Monde on UrbanspoonVue de Monde

1 comment:

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