Sunday, February 20, 2011

Theatre Restaurants (Vue de Monde, not Dracula's)

Venue: Vue de Monde
Style: Modern French, Molecular Gastronomy
Address: Normanby Chambers, 430 Little Collins St, Melbourne [Google Maps]
Phone: (03) 9691 3888
Hours: Lunch Tue-Fri & Sun 12:00pm-2:00pm / Dinner Mon-Sat 6:00pm-11:00pm
Prices: Lunch Express $60 / A la carte 4 courses $150 / Gastronomes 10+ courses $250
Bookings: Absolutely necessary, can be made by telephone or online

Note: Vue de Monde has since relocated to Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne [Google Maps]



Once upon a dinner service, I was in the midst of explaining saltimbocca to a guest, when the head chef's voice came bellowing out of the bowels of the kitchen. "Nice work, genius. I'd get more value out of you as sixty kilos of mince than as a sous chef!" Stoicism was not his strong point and while the food he served was delicious, diners were regularly subjected to his theatrics, which occasionally turned into a front-of-house floorshow, provided we'd all been too busy to keep count of his vodka shots.

Melbourne's Vue de Monde was one of the first restaurants to introduce me to dining as adventure. Six years ago, I wrote that eating there had cemented my curiosity about food and my desire to step outside of my culinary comfort zone. VDM is the lovechild of the dining room and the circus, with all the promise of a formal meal service punctuated by moments of wonder and spectacle. And with a kitchen that is set up like a stage, lit up and imposing on the dining room, guests may marvel at chefs who juggle, tame wily sauces and traverse a tightrope of logistics, never breaking a sweat or resorting to Wyborowa-fuelled tirades (not during service, anyway).

Having been subjected to my rapturous blathering about The Culinary Temple over the years, an old friend of mine, newly arrived from New Zealand, suggested we pay VDM a visit. He didn't exactly have to twist my arm, as I always look forward to an opportunity to see what new dishes the kitchen has come up with (I didn't always feel so comfortable at VDM; the first time I visited, the opulence of the entrance hall alone made me feel small and unimportant – I was waiting for the maitre d' to address me in a manner similar to that which Homer Simpson is greeted with when he attempts to visit a swanky bar: "Good evening, sir. Would you please leave without a fuss right now?").

Show plate w/ Campari & soda

Fancy handmade chips with fancily dolloped dip

The amuse bouche ("mouth amusement") of smoked eel arrived in style atop a slab of rock. Encased in a thin shell of white chocolate and topped with black caviar, this taster was equal parts oily, smoky and creamy, with touches of sweetness and saltiness. Consider my palate primed.

Amuse bouche: Smoked eel w/ white chocolate and caviar

Our first course of whiting salad with summer vegetables, apple and roe is delicately crunchy and refreshing. The dish was also emblematic for me of VDM's shift even further away from French techniques and towards a more Japanese approach (as seen in Kaiseki meals, which I will rave about another time).

Salad of whiting, summer vegetables, apple and roe

I assume the hot new trend in restaurants for 2011 is pebbles as serving-ware, as our second course is placed before us atop a heated river stone. The main attraction, the marron, is a perfectly cooked piece of seafood, so delicious that I have to work to eat it slowly. The accompanying burnt butter sauce adds a toasted, creaminess to my mouthful of crayfish, but most interesting is the so-called crab sandwich, which tastes just like eating a ham and cheese croissant (the crab is sandwiched between cheese crisps). Delightful.

Marron on a hot river stone, spanner crab sandwich, brown butter emulsion

The circus kicks into high gear with an incredibly sexy, mystifying dish. The duck egg melted silkily across the plate when pierced, mingling in the mouth with the crunchiness of the baby leek. The baffling component was the olive oil, which had been transmogrified into a white powder that had the appearance of feta cheese but the mouthfeel of fairy floss. It melted against my tongue into rich lashings of olive oil flavour (the earth moved for my dining companion as well).

Fried duck egg, lamb sweetbreads, Pickled baby leeks, olive oil powder

We're treated to a palate cleanser of cucumber sorbet and elderflower granita, with a little frozen lime. Each ice-cold mouthful, acidic and sweet, is in sharp contrast to the decadence of the last course. The sugar content however is low, so as not to confuse this with a dessert. Wish they sold it in punnets - I'd be palate cleansing every chance I got.

Cucumber sorbet, elderflower granite, frozen lime

Bona fide theatrics: Human head course


With our palates reset to neutral, the parade of dishes resumes with a bejeweled salad of beetroot, topped with a succulent smoked bone marrow dressing. The beetroot is stunning in colour and has good texture, but is quite bland on its own.

Beetroot, smoked bone marrow

Gnawesome

The final savoury flourish for the evening puts to bed any possibility that I might ever become a full-fledged vegetarian. I already eat very little meat in general, but VDM's Blackmore wagyu beef cheek is too luscious an experience to pass up in this lifetime. Melting meat is set against crunchy root vegetables and full-flavoured herbs. Take a bite, close your eyes, enjoy the ride.

Blackmore wagyu beef cheek, leek

And so we veered off from the simplicity of well-cooked quality produce into the realm of experimentation. Our pre-dessert course stood out as my dining companion's favourite dish of the night. Out came one brown medicine bottle each, spewing dry ice and adorned with a paper straw. Our waiter set a plate in the centre of the table with red balls on sticks (cracking shells with ice-cream inside), sitting on piles of yellow candy. We were advised to roll the sticks in the yellow candy and then take a drink from the medicine bottles. The result? Mouthfuls of ice-cream with exploding pop rocks and the bittersweet jolt of home-made lemonade. It was a riot in the mouth, crackly and whimsical.

Frozen lolly, popping candy, house made lemonade

I'd already eye-humped our first dessert course, watching it go out to other tables. VDM's take on a pavlova is to deconstruct it and cascade it down the side of your plate, with individual components stuck on using meringue. Paper thin ribbons of cucumber hide little pieces of fresh kiwifruit and pineapple, with crunch and texture lent by strawberry chips. Bright mango ice-cream is flanked by berry sorbet and finished off with meringue shards.

Pavlova, 2007 Stellenrust Chenin d’Muscat, South Africa

Suckers that we are for classic French fare, we're pleased to find that our final course is a pretty, fluffy soufflé, with a well of chocolate ganache and a pool of crème anglaise, visibly speckled with vanilla. Pillow soft with a smooth cocoa taste, it would serve as an elegant end to the meal, assuming we hadn't greedily inhaled it.

Chocolate soufflé, chocolate mousse, crème anglaise

And so commences the parade of petits fours: the mini-mousse lamingtons were as the name suggests, little bites of chocolate and berry mousse, dusted in coconut. The dark horse of the petits fours spread were the sweet and sour lemon jub-jub, which looked innocuous but were a happy, mouth-puckering shock once devoured.

Mini mousse lamingtons (left) and lemon jub jub 

Orange jellies in strawberry coulis w/ house made Wizz Fizz

Rosewater marshmallows

Service rolls on


Vue de monde on Urbanspoon

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