Sunday, 4 January 2015

Vue de Monde, Melbourne - 9 December 2014


Vue de Monde is a restaurant that has been on my wish list for a long, long time. I finally ticked this restaurant off my culinary bucket list during my work trip to Melbourne in December.

Shannon Bennet is a chef that has a significant reputation and one of the most respected in Australia. He's worked for some of the world's greatest chefs in Alain Ducasse, Albert Roux and Marco Pierre-White. His restaurant, Vue de Monde, is considered one of the best restaurants in the country. So my meal at Vue de Monde came with expectations as high as its lofty location, 55 levels above the city. 


The dining room boasts an impressive 360 degree view of the city, it was like being in an observation tower in any major city around the world. The view only got better as the night wore on, initially as the sun sets and then when the bright city lights were switched on.  


The space is surprisingly actually quite understated; gone are the the white table cloths usually found at fine dining establishments. There is a native / colonial theme with wide kangaroo skin covered tables with leather and fur armchairs, generously spaced around the room.

There is a lot of theatre when one dines at Vue de Monde. Diners are able to look right into the sleek open kitchen, which sets the stage for the chefs, and many of the dishes are presented, finished, or served at the table by the chefs. 


There are two dining options on offer a four course a la carte menu or the gastronomes menu (or degustation).  The degustation menu can be anywhere from a 6 course menu (for $210) all the way up to a 10 course menu (for $250, the most expensive in the country for the time being until The Fat Duck opens next month). My intention was to have best experience possible, so I went for the 10 course menu (because... YOLO).

The 10 course menu started out with a myriad of small bites before moving onto the main menu. Interestingly heavier courses appear early in the menu while lighter courses round out the savouries. 

The food displayed an evolution from Vue de Monde's classical French roots to a more contemporary menu, focusing on local produce and native ingredients like wallaby and saltbush. 

Snacks (clockwise from top-left): BBQ lamb hearts; Potato crisps, macadamia puree; Salt cured wallaby; Smoked eel, white chocolate, caviar; Oyster; Duck tongue, mountain pepper; Pine smoked salmon pearls
Several small bites were laid out onto the table in rapid fire succession. I must say that this was easily one of the most dramatic starts to a meal. Each of these bites were very tasty too.

There were salt and vinegar potato crisps served with a macadamia puree and cubes of compressed apple. I would be very happy with a bagful of these chips to munch on in the lounge room!

Next to arrive was a thin ribbon of salt cured wallaby that was brought out to the table on a heated slab of pink salt and rolled up with chopsticks by a waiter. The wallaby was amazing, so soft and melting away in the mouth.

The combination of smoked eel, white chocolate and caviar may sound odd, but it worked really well. The soft, smoky eel was coated with a thin, crisp toffee like white chocolate layer and topped with salty caviar. The sweet and savoury flavour combination was nice as was the contrast in different textures.

A single Bateman Bay oyster was impeccably fresh, briney and served simply with finger lime.

The duck tongue were slightly chewy and coated in a delicious, sweet glaze and mountain pepper gave the tongue some kick. 

Smoked salmon roe was served with a tarragon butter emulsion and a variety of fresh, seasonal vegetables (radish, turnip,beans, broad beans) for dipping. The smokiness in the roe was quite subtle but I did enjoy the salty bursts of flavour from the roe and the smooth, nutty butter emulsion.         

My favourite of the snacks were the BBQ lamb hearts, which were char grilled and perfectly tender and medium rare inside. The lamb hearts were served with pineapple jam.  

The sun sets over the city
 
Barramundi, potato, chicken, caviar
The first course of the degustation was a Northern Territory line caught barramundi cooked over a BBQ. The barramundi was well cooked and took on a delicate smoky flavour of the BBQ. The fish itself was solid without being spectacular. For me, the best parts were the things around the fish. A ribbon of potato was rolled and filled with a soft, creamy chicken mousse and topped with caviar. The barramundi was served with a sauce of chicken reduction, apple vinegar and butter. 

Flinders Island lamb, olive, Australian anchovies, sunflower
The Flinders Island lamb, served as 2 different cuts, was one of my favourite courses of this meal. The highlight was the rack of lamb, which was cooked beautifully rare and pink in the centre. The meat was wonderfully tender, juicy and full of flavour. Less impressive, but still delicious was the leg. The lamb was served with an amazing hazelnut puree, olive, anchovies, mustard foam and a disc of apple to cut through the rich flavours in this dish.

Blackmore Wagyu, smoked bone marrow, saltbush
The David Blackmore Wagyu tenderloin served on a bone with bone marrow was by far and away my favourite course of the evening. The sauteed cubes of wagyu tenderloin were tender and so delicious (probably the "beefiest" tasting cow that I have ever had!). If that wasn't enough, wagyu fat was rendered down and shaved over the top like Parmesan cheese to enhance the beefiness of the dish. The pear, cherries, saltbush and macadamia all added another dimension to this meaty yet beautiful dish.

Liquid nitrogen is poured over wood sorrel
 
Cucumber, wood sorrel
Now that the heavier dishes have been served, a palate cleanser was brought out. A little bowl containing an array of flowers, wood sorrel and herbs was laid out in front of me and liquid nitrogen was poured over the top. A wooden pestle was place on the table and this is where the fun starts. I was instructed to grind up the herbs til they formed a fine powder. A quenelle of cucumber sorbet was then served on top to complete the palate cleanser.

This was an incredible palate cleanser, one of the best I have ever had in a restaurant! The cucumber sorbet was ridiculously refreshing and the flavours were so light, clean and zesty. And it was fun!

Duck, yolk, pear, truffle
Next was a duck yolk covered by slices of pear and served with fried bread crisps, mint and truffle paste. The slow cooked duck yolk was rich and oozing, perfect for dipping into with the crisps (who doesn't love enjoy eggs and soldiers?!) The pear and mint both helped cut through the richness of the dish. 

The one thing that was missing from this dish was the truffle flavour. I couldn't taste any truffle flavour in the paste. This dish was crying out for fresh truffles to be shaved over the top. But unfortunately this was not offered (on most nights, fresh truffle can be added to the menu for an extra $60). I would not have hesitated to pay the extra for the truffles but as I looked around the dining room, it seemed like Vue de Monde didn't have any fresh truffles in their pantry that day. 

House churned butter
 
Sourdough bread and butter
Sourdough bread and butter was served in the middle of the menu rather than at the start.  Butter is churned daily in-house and I could really taste the cultures in this butter. It was smooth, creamy and had a nice sourness. The sourdough was served warm and had a nice crust, perfect for spreading the butter onto. 
 
Marron, marzipan, brown butter
Next was a seemingly simple dish of Western Australian marron tails, a brown butter emulsion and marzipan. I was encouraged to pick the marron up with my fingers, and to dip it into the emulsion.  The marron, which had a tarragon leaf inside, was quite simply, perfectly cooked. The marron was sweet, succulent and had a beautiful bouncy texture. The addictive brown butter emulsion was nutty and the marzipan added texture and sweetness to the dish that complimented the marron.

Ox tongue, beetroot, bone marrow
Next was ox tongue, beetroot and bone marrow, with frozen creme fraiche added at the table to finish the dish. I was instructed to drag a little bit of the deep red ox tongue and beetroot mixture into the creme fraiche powder but not to mix it all together. The ox tongue was enjoyable, really soft and melting in the mouth albeit a little salty. I love beetroot and I thought its earthiness and sweetness worked well with the ox tongue. The creme fraiche was interesting.  Not only did it help balance the richness of the dish, it provided a nice temperature contrast as it melted on the tongue.  

Kingfish, kale, buttermilk
Unfortunately I did not enjoy the kingfish, kale, buttermilk course. Kingfish, which was diced into small cubes, had an unusually chewy texture, like gummy bears. The buttermilk sauce and rocket oil weren't anything to write home about either. The kale was enjoyable however. It was smoky and delightfully crispy.

Veal sweetbreads, milk skin, leek
The final savoury course was veal sweetbreads, something that I love to eat at fine dining restaurants. The sweetbreads were paired with milk skin, corn, kohlrabi, leek and brown butter. Unfortunately the cooking of the sweetbreads was inconsistent. While one of the sweetbreads was soft and creamy, the other was overcooked and chewy. Otherwise this was a enjoyable dish without being mind blowing.

Celery, coconut, lemon
For pre-dessert, was a popsicle of coconut sorbet wrapped with frozen celery. The coconut sorbet was nice and refreshing. The celery, while a neat idea, was chewy and stringy. 

Mango, chamomile, lime
The first dessert was a BBQ mango cheek, topped with mango sorbet, camomile, coconut and lime. I am not sure about a BBQ mango cheek in a $250 degustation menu, this dessert still has me scatching my head. At this price point, I would expect something either more technical or a mango so good that it is able to stand up on its own. Unfortunately it was neither. The BBQ mango was interesting with its jam like and sticky texture, but I've had more flavourful mangoes before. The other mango element, the sorbet, was quite good, but again a dessert course in a $250 degustation should be more than just a mango sorbet. The chamomile provided floral notes to the dessert, the coconut added texture and the lime added acidity; I didn't think any of these other elements were able to elevate this dessert.    

Chocolate souffle
To be honest, I was a bit disheartened by the last 4 courses or so by the time the famous Vue de Monde chocolate souffle arrived. Luckily the meal was able to end on a high. This was one of the best souffles that I have had! It was ridiculously light like fluffs of cloud yet so chocolaty at the same time. Never have I had a souffle so airy and so decadent, it didn't seem possible. The souffle was topped with the same frozen creme fraiche from an earlier course.

Petit fours
The petit fours continued with the Australian theme. There were a white chocolate olive oil shell and white chocolate coated pork crackling (hidden among real sea shells), Bourbon orange jellies, eucalyptus ice cream and chocolate mousse lamington. My favourite was the lamington.

Take home pack for the next day
The meal was over 3.5 hours and well past midnight by the time I left the restaurant. I was presented with a morning after pack (what a nice touch!), which consisted of a mini brioche loaf, bircher muesli, honey, chocolate cookies and breakfast tea blend from Vue de Monde's tea sommelier, Charlie.


My meal at Vue de Monde was mostly enjoyable but ultimately, Vue de Monde didn't meet my lofty expectations. At the hefty price tag of $250, I was expecting to be "wowed" by the food from start to finish and for the service to be exceptional. This was not quite the case. Don't get me wrong there were some really quite exceptional courses like the Blackmore wagyu, but the latter part of the the menu wasn't able to keep up with the standard set by the earlier courses (except for the chocolate souffle).  

I was also underwhelmed by the service given the restaurant's status. The service felt rehearsed, it was as if the staff were just "going through the motions". The usual things that you expect fine from a dining restaurant (like topping up water and changing cutlery) were all there, but that was it. The service did not "go above and beyond"; the interactions felt awkward at times and unwarm. This might have been an isolated incident as Vue de Monde is normally known for their service.  

Verdict
Highlight: The David Blackmore wagyu beef course was exceptional. 
Lowlight: The kingfish, kale, buttermilk course lost me.
Overall: Vue de Monde is certainly one of the flashiest restaurants in Australia, albeit one that carries a hefty price tag. There were some exceptional courses as well as some less impressive ones. The service was below par during my visit 7.5/10 (Great)

Vue de Monde
Address: Rialto, Level 55/525 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Contact no: (03) 9691 3888
Website: http://www.vuedemonde.com.au/

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