Monday, July 16, 2012

The water of life (hint: it's not H2O)

Venue: Eau De Vie
Style: Mediterranean, European share plates / Cocktails
Address: 233 Chapel Street, Prahran [Google Maps]
Phone: (03) 9510 0955
Hours: Mon, Tue & Sun 8.00am - 5.00pm / Wed-Sat 8.00am - 10.30pm
Prices: Share plates $4-35 / Desserts $15 / Tasting menu $55
Bookings: Accepted
Website: On Facebook

The modern restaurant is as much a centre of theatrics as it is concerned with sustenance, if not more so. Across contemporary society, restaurants are the staging ground for artisans of cooking. We've abandoned the circus for the dining room, for high-wire acts featuring custard and elderberry essence, where exotic animals no longer have to jump through hoops for our amusement, so long as they're content being vacuum-packed and cooked sous-vide.

Eating houses can be traced back to antiquity, where they were chiefly aimed at the hungry traveller. Correspondingly, restaurant is derived from French, restaurer, meaning "to restore."

Wayward travellers traversing the divide between glossy South Yarra and off-beat Windsor are encouraged to visit Eau De Vie. The "water of life" to be found here is not the perfunctory, hydrating variety, but that which provides the kind of nourishment that empirical research indicates is key to meaningful, sustained happiness: engagement of the senses, pleasure, good company and irreverence.

Distressed delight (Photo credit: Lachlan Downing - Down the Lens Photography)

Where the liquor selection is a highlight (Photo credit: Lachlan Downing - Down the Lens Photography)

When the lights go down, Eau De Vie reverts from smart brunch venue to seductive cocktail bar, with a generous tapas menu (a misnomer, in that the rotating options traverse Spain as well as Italy, France and the deep American South). Private tables are conducive for intimate conversation, but the L-shaped bar is the best seat in the house, it affording conversation with fellow diners and members of staff, a view of the chefs at work and proximity to Dimitri, a mixologist of great character.

Menus (Photo credit: Lachlan Downing - Down the Lens Photography)

Cocktail list

My Key Lime Pie cocktail is just as I'd hoped: a sharp, acidic punch and a creamy finish. It reminded me of my commitment to make up a deconstructed key lime pie mousse, once Nic and I lock down our Deep South cook-off.

Key Lime Pie cocktail (Photo credit: Lachlan Downing - Down the Lens Photography)

Jalapeño poppers (Photo credit: Lachlan Downing - Down the Lens Photography)

Gentlemen, start your salivary glands. Jalapeño poppers ($4 each) stuffed with ricotta, sherry-soaked raisins, mint and lemon served on whipped sheepskin yogurt make for good drinking food, although my dining companion and I would have liked them to be hotter. I can't detect much mint or lemon, but the milky, smooth yogurt is very pleasant.

Oxtail croquettes (Photo credit: Lachlan Downing - Down the Lens Photography)

Braised oxtail croquettes are also good, with the meat inside tearing away from itself in its trademark, provocative manner. The touch of house-made hot mustard adds welcome heat, but the the celeriac remoulade is the surprising show-stealer, sliced into long, elegant ribbons dressed in seeded mustard.

Kingfish, edible garden (Photo credit: Lachlan Downing - Down the Lens Photography)

The next course proves to be as much a dish for the eyes as the mouth. I was not affected by this item as it reads on the menu, but it proved to be the best thing that we ate. Tender, lemon and beetroot salted kingfish is dressed with shallots macerated in 12y.o. white balsamic and finished with edible flowers. The dish is affecting in its cleanliness on the palate, whilst being very fragrant.

Jambalaya (Photo credit: Lachlan Downing - Down the Lens Photography)

Moor-style Jambalaya is turned out in a hearty serving with slices of chorizo, fresh seafood and fruit (pomegranate this time; fig, quince and smoked pear when in season). I'm slightly disappointed that the dish features only a solitary prawn and a pepper, as I started hunting through the rice for more "treasure" (my approach is the same with Chinese glutinous rice). The chorizo, mint and pomegranate add bites of savoury flavour, freshness and tartness, however I would have enjoyed the rice more with bolder Creole characteristics.

Chocolate, cherries, peanuts

The chef comes past for a chat and asks if we're considering dessert (duh). He describes the sweets on offer, with the pear option sounding provocative and high-concept. After he returns to the kitchen, Dimitri cajoles us into ordering the chocolate, not because it is a weak dish but it will rankle the chef that yet another customer has ordered another chocolate dessert. Pranks aside, the chocolate fondant is outstanding, easily rivalling desserts I've tried at Cutler & Co and The European. Served molten in its cast-iron dish, the fondant has texture and good mouth-feel yet, with chunks of peanut brittle, cherries doused in horseradish, thyme and kirsch and a welcome dollop of clotted cream. Glasses of Pedro Ximenez sherry complete this picture of decadence, which we sip slowly, making conversation between ourselves and with staff into the night.

Sated...for now (Photo credit: Lachlan Downing - Down the Lens Photography)

Never mind your eight glasses of water a day. It is in places like this that I find myself restored.

Eau de Vie on Urbanspoon

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