Inside Melbourne’s 2013 Restaurant of the Year. By Angeline Nicholas
Our maitre’d looks like a secret service agent. Grey suit, earpiece, cropped hair.
He silently leads us through a dark, chilled wine cellar and presses a concealed button beneath the counter. A glass door swings open and we walk into a room flooded with light, the city of Melbourne 55 floors beneath our feet.
Theatrical? Perhaps. But truth be told, such theatrics make the dining experience at Vue de Monde a lot of fun.
Don’t expect starched white tablecloths at this establishment. Sure, the silverware is from Christofle, but weathered kangaroo skin covers the tables, adorned only with river stones and gnarled vines (plucked straight from Penfold’s Grange, in case you were wondering).
Despite the nod to nature, everything feels beautifully designed – like you’re eating in a Georg Jensen store. Less than 20 tables circle the open kitchen so diners can choose to admire the cityscape, or watch the chefs at work. For Masterchef fans, it’s addictive viewing.
But the real show, of course, is the food. Today is a special occasion, so we choose the degustation menu and settle in to watch as, like magic, a string of appetisers appear. On first glance, they look like delicate petit fours but I’m mistaken. “This is eel in white chocolate with black caviar,” the waiter says, gesturing at an object, which looks like a jersey caramel. “Oyster rémoulade in apple gelée,” he explains, pointing to a grey substance encased in a transparent flying saucer. I take an experimental bite of the former.
Despite the odd-sounding combinations the flavours meld together seamlessly. The sweet balances out the savoury, a perfect culinary ying and yang. My mind tries to catch up with my mouth. Is that chocolate? Where is the eel?
There’s not much time to contemplate before our first course, the spanner crab, arrives. Delicate mounds of sweet, white crab with mint-green dollops of smooth avocado and discs of crisp kohlrabi. It’s almost too pretty to eat.
In typical Vue de Monde style, the chefs form part of the evening’s entertainment, and the next plate – West Australian marron – is delivered personally by head chef Cory Campbell.
“Take it, drag it through the sauce and do whatever you want with it,” he jokes. Not too dissimilar to lobster, the marron is exquisite. Juicy, buttery, bursting with the flavours of the sea.
The next dish is also a riot of different ingredients that seamlessly meld together: poached duck egg with onion puree and asparagus.
Three courses in and it is time for a palate cleanser. Before our eyes, a bowl of brightly coloured flowers and herbs is doused with liquid nitrogen. We are instructed to use a pestle to grind the frozen contents to a powder before the chef tops it off with a spoonful of citrus sorbet. It’s refreshing and sweet and let’s face it, a showy dash of liquid nitrogen is a bona-fide crowd pleaser.
But there’s also substance behind this show. King prawn and striped trumpeter fish both arrive covered with soft, garlic foam. Wagyu beef cheek, poached for eight hours, falls apart at a mere nudge of my knife. A miniature hibachi with skewers of beef tenderloin, is served with a sweet beetroot reduction and a healthy dose of freshly grated truffle.
Animated waiters explain each course as it arrives, then apply the same hands-on approach to dessert, appearing at the table to spear open a hot Valrhona chocolate soufflé and spoon in a thick crème anglaise, flecked with specs of vanilla.
Indeed, the service is exceptional. Throughout the meal, Chef Campbell controls the open kitchen, yet still finds time to interact with the patrons, even insisting on giving us a leisurely tour of the function room and the kitchen while service continues flawlessly without him.
In keeping with the Australian theme, the evening’s grand finale is served with a touch of national humour – and a broad grin. One of the staff places a two-up board in front of us, with vodka jellies shaped like coins, and a stump of wood where chocolate mousse lamingtons and musk leaves are hidden amongst a branch of eucalyptus.
Campbell is justifiably proud of Vue de Monde. With its innovative cuisine, immaculate service and theatrical presentation, this establishment does deserve its three chef hats and under Campbell’s guidance, is likely to keep them for some time.
Exquisite food, passionate service and stunning views. Even battle-weary food critics should be entertained.
The innovative, beautifully-designed food, and Chef Cory Campbell’s personal touch.
At $250, the degustation is by far the most expensive of all three-hat restaurants in town – but we’d still call it worthwhile.
The Rialto, Level 55, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria
This is special occasion territory, but worth it. Four courses from the á la carte menu cost $150 and the Gastronomes degustation will set you back $250 for 10 courses. Allergies and special diets can be catered for.
03 9691 3888; vuedemonde.com.au
We take our hats off to these previous ‘Restaurants of the Year’
For quiet suburb Ripponlea, local restaurant Attica has created quite the stir – twice being crowned Restaurant of the Year (also in 2009), plus numerous other awards. The menu is all about delectable tasting plates and showcasing innovation: once a week they test out new and exciting dishes as part of the ‘Chef’s Menu’.
2011: Royal Mail Hotel
Who would have thought a country pub would be awarded three hats? But the Royal Mail Hotel is something else. Located in the small Victorian town of Dunkeld, this unsuspectingly first-class restaurant uses local organic produce grown on site to create delectable tasting plates, enjoyed amongst a tranquil rural backdrop.
2010: Jacques Reymond
Only ten minutes from Melbourne’s CBD will bring you to a grand Victorian mansion that holds a gastronomic gem within its heritage walls. Served in three uniquely separate dining rooms, the degustation menu is mod-Oz with French influences matched to an exquisite wine list.