Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Town Mouse, Melbourne - 8 December 2014

I was in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago with 2 other colleagues for a business trip. The only time we got to relax was after our client meetings, so we decided we should reward ourselves with a nice meal after a hard day's of work. The task of deciding where to eat invariably falls to me (not surprisingly being a food blogger). The first venue that I have chosen was the always-popular, one-hatted restaurant, Town Mouse in Carlton.     

Town Mouse is all about good, fine-dining quality food served in a casual, relaxed atmosphere; much like places such as Saint Crispin and Mister Jennings. The decor inside is casual with black tiled walls, timber furnishings and bar stools (not ideal if you have a bad back).  And the service is warm, attentive and unpretentious (who wants stiff service when you're tired after a long day any way?).

The menu, developed by head chef, Dave Verheul, is modern, seasonal and produce driven. It is divided into snacks, raw items, vegetables, meat & fish and desserts. The food is designed to be shared, which was fine with us, as this meant we got to sample a variety of dishes.

House made sourdough bread, sesame butter

The complimentary sourdough bread was very good. The bread had an excellent crust, and a nice, slightly chewy texture. The sesame butter was addictive with toasty, nutty notes to go with the creaminess and sourness of the butter.

Goat's cheese profiterole, caraway, thyme & our honey ($3.50 each)

The goat's cheese profiteroles were the first snack to arrive at our table. We were totally smitten with these profiteroles, which were so crisp thanks to a bit of dehydration and filled with the most amazing goat's cheese mousse. The profiteroles were dusted with caraway and thyme and stuck to the plate with honey from Town Mouse's own on-site beehive. These profiteroles are a must order!

Milk curd, fried bread, broccoli, chicken and lavender jus ($9)

The fried bread were essentially large croutons, which were covered with a blanket of raw broccoli florets. The chicken and lavender jus was quite salty, which was thankfully balanced out by the milk curd. This snack wasn't bad, just wasn't anything particularly special.

Shaved calamari, oyster cream, dill and fermented apple juice ($15)

Our waiter convinced us that we should order the shaved calamari dish, as it has featured on the menu from day one. Calamari was cooked sous vide and shaved into strips of firm, slippery rice noodles. Completing this "pretty as a picture" dish were dabs of oyster cream, dill oil, fermented apple juice and cucumber. All the components were mixed together to yield a clever dish that was filled with clean, refreshing flavours and a great balance of textures.

Heirloom kales, slow cooked egg, quinoa, comte foam and mustard ($20)

The heirloom kales were served as a pile of crispy, kale leaves with a slow cooked egg hidden underneath, comte foam, quinoa and mustard. The perfectly runny egg yolk was mixed with the comte foam and mustard to create a rich, decadent sauce to coat the kale leaves. This was absolutely delicious and one of my favourite dishes of the night.

Slow roasted red cabbage, prune, parmesan and red apple ($15)

The slow roasted red cabbage is perhaps the most famous dish at Town Mouse. And for good reason. A massive hunk of red cabbage is cooked sous vide and slow roasted. The red cabbage was perfectly cooked. The leaves were tender, juicy and cooked with a good amount of butter. The cabbage was filled with lots of caramelised prunes and red apple, which were so good with the bitterness of the red cabbage. The cabbage was finished with a thick blanket of finely shaved parmesan cheese for extra bite. This was easily the highlight of the night for me and it was refreshing to see a venue give their vegetables as much attention and care as their proteins (if not more)!

Smoked pork jowl, hispi cabbage, hazelnut and sour pear ($24)

The smoked pork jowl was "melt in the mouth" soft and fatty. But it was also very, very smoky, which I didn't mind because I do enjoy smoked foods. The pork jowl was sitting in a slick of hazelnut sauce, and topped with fresh, crisp hispi cabbage leaves, and slices of sour pear.

Skate wing, globe artichoke cream, broad bean, oyster, fennel and bay leaf ($23)

The skate wing was the lowlight of the evening. The skate was dry, overcooked and not all that enjoyable. The skate wing came with sauces of globe artichoke cream and oyster cream, neither of which were able to lift the unexciting skate wing. There was also a huddle of shaved fennel, broad beans an bay leaf served on the side. 

Snapper, wood grilled broccoli, clam, capers, olive oil ($34)

The snapper was nice without being spectacular, but cooked noticeably better than the skate wing. The highlight this dish were the wood grilled broccoli, another expertly cooked vegetable. The charred broccoli was nice and smoky and had an enjoyable, crunchy texture. The dish also contained some delicious crumbed bits of broccoli florets, clams and capers.

Red currant, strawberry, lychee and macadamia tart ($16)

This tart was a recent addition to the menu and was a big hit at our table. A tart of red currant, strawberry, macadamia and white chocolate was topped with the most incredible lychee sorbet. This was a light, refreshing and fruity number that I would not hesitate to order again!

Almond parfait, fennel, licorice, chocolate and toasted meringue ($15)

Fennel and licorice desserts seem to be latest craze at Mod Oz restaurants and Town Mouse has also joined the party. This dessert consisted of an almond parfait sandwiched between two sheets of toasted meringue, slices of confit fennel, chocolate crumbs and dabs of licorice. I hated licorice growing up, but when used in moderation, aniseed can be a nice supporting flavour, as was the case with this delicious almond parfait. It was an interesting dessert with good use of different flavours and textures; but probably not one that I would be rushing back for.   

Lime posset, green apple, white chocolate, dill and matcha ($15)

The lime posset was an excellent course and my favourite dessert of the night. It was light and refreshing, like a palate cleanser. A slice of lemon posset was topped with green apple foam - a beautiful combination of tart, tangy flavours. The posset was sandwiched by 2 thin sheets of sugar, and also contained matcha green tea, white chocolate and dill to add additional depth to this dessert.

Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at The Town Mouse. The food was amazing and reasonably priced, with the highlights being the vegetables (which may come as a surprise to some). The service was excellent - the staff were friendly, attentive as well as being knowledgable without being pretentious or overbearing. And I loved the vibe at Town Mouse - a cool, relaxed dining space with a buzzing atmosphere.

Highlight: The slow roasted red cabbage is probably the best cabbage dish you will find anywhere! 
Lowlight: The skate wing was an underwhelming course for me. 
Verdict: Town Mouse represents a new age of dining, where good, fine dining quality food is being served in a more casual, relaxed environment. These are the sorts of venues that Sydney needs more of. 7.5/10 (Great)

The Town Mouse
Address: 312 Drummond St, Carlton VIC 3053
Contact no: (03) 9347 3312

The Town Mouse on Urbanspoon