Vue de MondeNormanby Chambers, 430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia • +61 3 9691 3888 • Map • Website
Vue de Monde has been in the Red Book and on our personal wish list for some time. Just watching the way the food is plated on the website is enough to make you drool all over your keyboard. You will need to plan ahead should you wish to get a table at Shannon Bennett's award winning restaurant (particularly since his appearance on Master Chef helped to make even more Australians keen to try his food). We were lucky enough to get a table on a cold August night after a long day and proceeded to make the most of it in every way.
The restaurant has a cosy and eclectic appearance. You enter through the very austere office foyer of an ex-lawyer's building and are ushered into a warmly lit smallish restaurant decorated with quirky round lamps, brightly coloured glassware and ceramic place mats. My place mat was so pretty I was a little disappointed when they whisked it away and replaced it with more conventional knives and forks etc.
We had some of the best seats in the house should you like to see a kitchen hard at work and to admire the precision and delicacy that goes into plating some of the dishes we enjoyed. We were sitting right opposite the counter where the cold dishes were being plated with an angled mirror above so we could see all that was going on (Bennett is obviously a very confident chef to have his team so on display).
We began with some very simple crisps and intensely salty olives while we drank our welcoming glass of champagne. You can choose either the 5 course Menu Gourmand or the 10 course Menu Gastronome as your degustation options here. We stayed true to form and dived into the Menu Gastronome - it was indeed a tough job but...
Our amuse bouche began with a "Muesli bar" - an assortment of grains served on a rock on top of a defrosted but cold ice bag. Puffed rice, quince and pumpkin soil went into this dish and it was pleasantly crunchy without being inspiring. The next amuse bouche was beautifully served and consisted of a tasty morsel of tuna belly on a spoon combined with a salty and creamy roe sauce nestled in the vertebrae of the tuna - I found myself licking my vertebrae so I wouldn't miss a morsel. We were also served a small cube of vegetable terrine on a toothpick which consisted simply of many layers of extremely finely mandolined slices of green vegetables. It was technically impressive and a good foil to the fish.
The next dish came courtesy of the Heide Jardin de Lègumes. Shannon Bennett has a café in the grounds of the Heide Modern Art Museum on the outskirts of Melbourne and the restaurant makes use of the great kitchen garden on site to supply itself with freshly grown, organic and locally sourced vegetables. We were treated to a selection of miniature vegetables and red skinned thinly sliced carrots resting on a bed of silkiest avocado purée and covered with the most sublime olive oil powder. This powder melted on contact with your tongue into an intense olive oil and sea salt mélange that perfectly complemented the vegetables. It was clever and yet sublimely simple in effect and was perfectly matched with a mineral tasting 2008 Heymann-Löwenstein Uhlen ‘Roth Lay’ Riesling. It was seriously exciting and left my mouth watering in anticipation of what was yet to come.
The next dish exceeded even my high expectations. We were brought some small slices of salmon, decorated with shards of radish and radish flowers and covered in a large glass dome which was filled with a coconut husk scented smoke. The dome was lifted at the table and we were gently enveloped in the fragrant smoke that had subtly impregnated the fish on its way to our table. The salmon had been lightly flavoured on the outside with Murray River salt and brown sugar and the main joy of this dish for me was the exquisite balance that played on my tongue between the salt and the sweet - both present, neither dominating and both backed by the subtle coconut smoke. This was eye-closing ecstatic food of the sort found at Lasserre in Paris. Worthy of at least two Michelin stars in this diner's opinion. I have kept dreaming about this dish in the intervening weeks and it really must rate as one of my top ten food experiences. Thank you Shannon Bennett!
Our third dish was another technical delight, billed as Oeuf de canard et truffe (fried duck egg, onion and black truffle) the duck egg yolk had been cooked at 62 degrees for an hour and a half so that it was warm and yet still liquid upon being pierced with a fork. The "egg white" was a circle of potato puree and the onions were astringent and pickled. The truffle (sourced from Western Australia) was shaved liberally over the dish at the table. This was a playful dish and the egg yolk was absolutely delicious and had a beautiful texture on the tongue.
Up until this point we had found the pace of the meal a little on the fast side, but luckily as the evening progressed things slowed down. Our friendly sommelier had more time to introduce us to his selections and we had more time to taste and enjoy them before the next course came out. He cleverly matched the next dish of pickled vegetables, wild garlic and wagyu tongue with both a Ronco dei Tassi Collio Bianco ‘Fosarin’ Friuli from Italy and a NV Asahi Shuzo Junmai-Daiginjo ‘Dassai 23’ Honshū sake from Japan. The sake was far lighter and fruitier than any I had tasted before and went very well with the wagyu tongue. In other ways however this dish was the low point of the evening. The vegetables were bland and were only technically accomplished in so far as they had been sliced thinly by a mandoline and arranged prettily on the lip of the serving bowl. The wild garlic sauce was a very pretty, intense green but was surprisingly bland in flavour and the Wagyu tongue, whilst adding a smooth and sensuous texture to the dish didn't add much in terms of flavour. The best part of this dish was the delightfully crisp and ripe portion of nashi pear and the chance that it gave me to eat some more of the lovely mini bread rolls fresh from the oven with the superb French Beurre Echiré which was a taste sensation in and of itself.
Although our palates felt cleansed already by the preceding dish we were next offered a cucumber sorbet with an elderflower granita and frozen lime. The sorbet was delightfully smooth and creamy and hid a square of cucumber inside it and the granita was very subtly flavoured with the elderflower.
The next dish was roasted marron, spanner crab, crispy duck tongue and apple and was matched with a feral turfy flavoured dry 2004 Proprietà Sperino Coste della Sesia Rosso ‘Uvaggio’ from Piedmont in Italy to provide the turf aspect to this surf and turf experience. The wine match didn't work in our opinion but the marron was extremely tasty and the crispy duck tongues were a flavour sensation - tasting much like pork crackling. I could see these replacing popcorn as my favourite movie time snack!
Next up we had a less is more approach to a meat dish with a tiny circle of rare kangaroo resting on top of a chocolate coffee soil on the very edge of a large and otherwise empty bowl. The coffee flavour rested behind the dark and dominating chocolate and both went very well with the slightly gamey morsel of kangaroo. This was matched with a 2002 Clos Triguedina Cahors ‘Prince Probus’ Cahors, France that we both found a little rough around the edges - in need of air perhaps or just simply not one of our favourite combinations.
I was beginning to seriously feel like some meat and a big Aussie shiraz so was delighted when the charming French sous chef came and personally served us the wagyu short rib with a brilliantly coloured beetroot sauce and an oxtail with the most divine mash I had ever tasted decorated with a citrus flavoured, tart, clover like leaf called wood sorrell that is apparently found growing wild all around Melbourne at this time of the year. The chef explained that they had been unable to decide whether to serve the short rib or the ox tail so had in the end decided to go with both. I am certainly glad they did as both were exceptional and satisfied my meat craving perfectly. They were also matched with a fabulous 2006 Clarendon Hills Syrah ‘Liandra’ from the McLaren Vale that was full flavoured and smooth and matched the meat beautifully. I had a few more eye closed moments of bliss whilst enjoying this dish. The short rib had been cooked sous vide with a touch of port and thyme to infuse and flavour the meat. This cooking method had made it impossibly tender and almost jelly like in consistency with the most sublime flavour. The beetroot sauce was a beautiful colour contrast and tasted superb adding a note of acidity to the tender meat. The accompanying oxtail had been braised to perfection and pulled off the bone and was served with the aforementioned perfect mash. Certainly this was my best ever mash although my dining partner claimed it was equal first with a white truffle oil mash he had eaten once in Northern Ireland. The wood sorrel added a pleasing astringency.
With the removal of our plates after this course we came to the end of the main portion of the meal and a charming contraption was brought to our table - a small toothpick "man" who swung to collect a toothpick in his hand. I find toothpicks a slightly uncouth invention but couldn't resist having a go. Unfortunately the toothpick man jammed and an apologetic waiter appeared in seconds to realign the mechanism and get me my toothpick!
A cheese course followed. A simple slice of a very good washed rind Milawu King River Gold soft cheese served with mustard and apple crackers. Simple and excellent.
Next up the kitchen went into play mode again and presented us with the most wonderful frozen lolly covered in popping candy and served resting above a shot glass filled with lemonade. The frozen lolly consisted of a pyramid of vanilla bean flecked icecream that melted just as the crazed popping candy started to play a symphony in your mouth. It was a slightly disconcerting but fun dining experience. One of the waiters mentioned that he can hear the popping candy going off in peoples' mouths from a few steps away. The lemonade was a refreshing palate cleanser and we felt well prepared for dessert proper.
Our first dessert consisted of poached rhubarb served prettily on a leaf shaped glass plate with candied fennel and milk flavoured icecream and "cream". The fennel was interesting and it and the pure milk flavoured icecream would have been insipid without the bite of the accompanying rhubarb. It worked but didn't excite me as much as the preceding ice lolly. It was also matched with a NV Pennyweight Muscat from Victoria that we found quite average.
As dessert hour approached throughout the restaurant we watched a few different desserts being prepared and crossed our fingers that an intricate and distinctly chocolatey looking finale was to head our way. Luckily it did just that and our charming chef emerged again to serve this last course and explain that the dessert was based around a popular Australian chocolate bar called a Picnic consisting of chocolate and peanuts. A white souffle dusted with cocoa was served on a nutty and slightly salty "rubble" with occasional dollops of milk chocolate custard. I don't know how the chefs did it but the flavour certainly did bring the chocolate bar to mind - although it probably wouldn't have done so without the idea being first planted in our minds. However as Heston Blumenthal states psychocolgy and perception are always a large part of any taste experience.
By this stage of the evening we were both happily replete and about ready for bed after a very long day that had begun at 4am in the morning. Our taxi was ordered and we were served some petit fours in the form of some langues du chat type biscuits served in a tiny frying pan alongside another pan of lemon custard. We dipped one into the other. There was also a fabulous macaroon that simply disintegrated when I put it in my mouth. I'm not a fan of macaroons usually but this one was exceptional.
Finally, as at Gramercy Tavern in New York, we were given a "goodie bag" to take home for breakfast the next morning. In Vue de Monde's case this consisted of two organic eggs and a fresh baked mini brioche with some recipes on a slip of paper for either scrambled eggs or French Toast. There was a lovely orangey herbal tea and two chocolate chip cookies as well. We took the French Toast option two mornings later but I am sorry to say that my own efforts were a far cry from the food in Shannon Bennett's flagship restaurant.
Bennett is developing a food empire with his Heide Museum cafe, the neighbouring bistro, another café "401" in St Kilda and a move to open a new restaurant at the top of the Rialto tower. If this gives the public more chances to try his superb food then we are all for it - as long as he returns to his own kitchens enough to keep the inspiration and creativity flowing. The complete Menu Gourmande at Vue de Monde is not cheap - but it was also one of my top meals anywhere in the world and this combined with the friendly service and humour of the great staff made the entire evening an immense pleasure. If you can get a booking then you simply must go.
Visited: 6th August, 2010
The Red Book rates:
The Red Book also recommends these other fine dining restaurants in Melbourne:
- The Press Club. For a modern take on traditional Greek cuisine.
- Pearl (631-633 Church St., Richmond). For fine dining or a casual lunch in the cafe (Source: Qantas inflight magazine)
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