Vue de Monde

August 10, 2013

Level 55 Rialto Tower, Melbourne

For my birthday last year, a group of my friends had the brilliance of mind and generosity of heart to buy me a dinner for two at Vue de Monde. You all know who you are – thank you for such a wonderful gift!

So. Vue de Monde. VdM. The big one. I’m going to try very hard to do this meal justice, although the lighting is quite dark in the restaurant so I’m afraid some of my photos aren’t up to the usual standard. I’m also ashamed to say that I ate here many months ago, but some of the dishes we ate are still on the menu now, so it’s not completely irrelevant. I went with H, who was all too pleased to be my date for the evening and provided great conversation for the several hours it took to finish the meal. Without further ado, I give you My Night at Vue de Monde (coming to a cinema near you)!

We had a 9pm sitting, which meant that we had our table for the entire night and could take our time working our way slowly through their 14 (FOURTEEN I TELL YOU) course menu. We didn’t stop for a drink at the Lui Bar, but I’ve heard that the bartender there is especially skilled at making martinis and other treats.

As you can probably guess from my not-at-all-obnoxious emphasis on the number of courses, we decided on the degustation menu, and also had the very friendly and knowledgable sommelier fix us a small glass of wine for each course. I’d never done the whole matchy-matchy thing before as I’m sure I’d be far too drunk by the end to even appreciate what I’m putting in my mouth, but since the glasses were small and the dinner went on for several hours, this was more manageable.

Since moving to the Rialto, Vue de Monde’s presence has risen in more ways than one. Chef Shannon Bennett is very highly profiled in the Australian food media, and the restaurant is a cool 55 floors above street level. Looking over the lights of the city gave our dinner a lovely romantic feel.

I probably don’t need to say that the service was flawless for the entire evening; the waitress who took care of us was extremely professional and had something interesting to say about each dish. The sommelier, as I mentioned above, was a very friendly guy and happily hung around for a chat as we tasted each wine.

The tables are all quite large, and it felt rather sumptuous, just the two of us at this great big leather covered table. All leather used in the restaurant is kangaroo, and some of the chairs are covered in kangaroo fur. The Australian theme continues throughout the restaurant, with cutlery resting on vines from the Penfolds Grange vineyard, apparently over 100 years old.

I thought that was a wee bit extravagant, but I suppose you don’t come to Vue de Monde to have your cutlery rest on some plastic figurine. Perhaps overt shows of opulence rub me up the wrong way and that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with. Sigh … first world problems, hey?

Speaking of first world, how about a glass of 2001 Dom Perignon to begin? Don’t mind if I do. While sipping our champagne, we munched on parsnip chips with macadamia dip and apple cubes.

To begin the meal, a series of small morsels appeared, all perched on various stones and rocks on the table. Most theatrical was the salt cured wallaby, brought out on a big heated salt block, and then rolled up and served. The salt partially cooks the wallaby, so it’s similar to a carpaccio, soft and fleshy. I enjoyed how the salt block, which is used repeatedly, had small grooves in it where they’d rolled previous strips of wallaby meat.

The chilled celeriac parcels with sunflower seeds were interesting if a little underwhelming taste-wise, though I did appreciate the skill that went into making them.

My favourite of the amuse bouche dishes was a small, oily cube of smoked eel with a toffeed white chocolate crust and a spoonful of caviar. Just brilliant; fatty, gelatinous eel with the crunch of chocolate and a salty pop from the caviar.

Finally, a delicate twosome of Claire de Lune oysters with garlic butter.

I mentioned the cutlery earlier; they use Christolfe cutlery, which is exquisitely beautiful and one of the many extra special touches that make dining at Vue de Monde such an experience.

A leather bag of bread was brought to the table – a pleasantly chewy sourdough with warmed rocks also sitting in the bag, keeping our bread warm! Another waiter came by with a large wooden pail of butter that he rolled fresh for the table, informing us that it came from a small village in the North-West of France, where Bennett has been getting his butter for years. After all this pomp and circumstance the time had come to start the main dishes…

Spanner crab, kohlrabi, avocado, beach herbs

2009 Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Gris, Alsace France
This was a stunning dish with which to begin the evening: light and herbaceous. The crab was from Noosa, and the beach herbs had been foraged, as is the trend. The avocado puree and crab were a natural match, with the kholrabi providing some textural contrast and the lime a zesty overtone. A couple of sinful spoonfuls of black caviar broke the otherwise green colour scheme.

Roasted marron, tarragon butter

2008 Zenato Lugana Riserva, Veneto DOC, Italy
Thinking back, only two words come to mind regarding this dish. Again, please. Again, please. Again, please.

They invite you to eat this dish with your fingers, heightening the sensuality of the experience. The idea is you pick up the golden marron tail, drag it through the butter and dip it gently into the salt, before grabbing some between your teeth, ripping the flesh apart and chewing, savouring, licking, and swallowing. It’s all pretty sexy, really.

To finish, and to bring you back to reality (or Vue de Monde’s version of reality), is a crisp wafer with foie gras sandwiched in the middle. It’s an incredible experience.

Fark. Me.

Melbourne Onion Soup, truffle

Whale ale, New South Wales
This soup was a brilliantly theatrical take on the traditional French onion soup. First, we were presented with a beautifully plated bowl with different variations of onion (pickled, burnt, fried), bready croutons and a healthy shaving of black truffles from Manjimup, near Perth. Then a gentleman came along with a percolator and produced a pungent and earthy consommé to pour over our collection of onions and truffles. The scent was terrifically heady and was matched very well with a light pale ale. Warming, homely and comforting, this was a brilliant dish.

Duck egg, asparagus

2004 Yarrabank ‘Late Disgorged’, Yarra Valley, Victoria
This dish was probably the closest to “unexciting” that the entire meal came. I say unexciting not because it was vegetarian, but because it didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor that all other courses did. Perhaps coming after the buttery marron tail and the earthy onion soup, it just paled in comparison. That notwithstanding, the duck egg had a fantastic texture and was set off nicely by the large salt flakes sprinkled on top. The plate also featured a celeriac puree, an apple and mint vinegar, breaded asparagus stalks and slivers of raw asparagus. Visually, I liked how the duck yolk and celeriac puree together looked like a fried egg, I thought that was very clever.

Cucumber sorbet, crushed herbs

A short break in the meal came in the form of Vue de Monde’s well-known DIY palate cleanser of herbs and sorbet. You’re given a small bowl of micro herbs and flowers, and then liquid nitrogen is poured over them at the table, and you are invited to crush up the frozen leaves with a small pestle. Afterwards, a pale green quenelle of cucumber sorbet is dropped on top and the cleansing is complete!

Barramundi, herb emulsion, bug, smoked bone marrow

2007 Curlewis ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir, Geelong, Victoria
This was the final of the fish-oriented courses, and a beautiful one at that. Slightly crisp and fragrant pieces of Barramundi sat atop a sliver of bug carpaccio, decorated with dried garlic and micro herbs. A buttery bone marrow sauce gave the dish a meaty undertone. I suppose it was the inclusion of bone marrow that made the Pinot Noir the sommelier matched such a good idea – light and fruity, it worked really well with the Barramundi.

Pigeon, artichoke, mushroom, parsley, hay

2001 Barone Ricasoli ‘Casalferro Rosso Toscano’, Brolio in Chianti, Italy
I love game, so this was a standout dish for me, the smokey and dark meat complimented well by the mushrooms. The pigeon leg had been smoked with hay, and the breast roasted until tender, all served with foraged mushrooms, a smoked hay sauce and the obligatory micro herbs. It was matched with a full bodied Italian (dayum, isn’t that a nice image?). A fantastic drop but very rich, so much so that we kept our half glasses for both the pigeon and the following course.

Blackmore Wagyu, beetroot, apple, salt bush

The savory courses simply had to end on a high note, and Shannon Bennett certainly delivered with this dish of Blackmore Wagyu beef. As if evoking an Australian spirit, the Grade 9 Wagyu was grilled on a yakitori-style BBQ grill, before being eased onto our plates to accompany a rich beef cheek rilette, celeriac puree, tangy bush apples and salt bush leaves. A sweet beetroot sauce finished the dish off. Another favourite from the evening, with the blood red of the beetroot mimicking the pink flush of the beef.

After a short break came the cheese trolley, a wonderland of dairy delights that I took great pleasure in surveying. In short, I was in heaven. Have you ever seen so many amazing looking cheeses?

We were each able to choose our own cheeses to try and were given very generous serves of each. From left to right, I had the Saint Menuiere goats cheese with ash (wonderfully chalky), a 6 month aged camembert (beautiful), a comte (warm and peppery), a Saint Francois (light and yoghurt-like), a Pont Leveque washed rind (strong and fantastically smelly), and a stunning piece of Roquefort. It was such a treat.

Accompanying our cheese were glasses of 2011 Eric Bordelet ‘Poire Granit’ Perry from Normandy (excellent), some relishes and conserves, fresh apple sticks and a brilliantly hued collection of breads.

Passionfruit, liquorice, coconut

To help us turn our minds to the sweeter things in life, a small pair of coconut sorbet spheres and two slim shot glasses of passionfruit and liquorice “beer” appeared. Refreshing, cold and fruity, they were an excellent entree to the dessert courses.

Mandarin, violet and vanilla custard

2006 Cloudy Bay Late Harvest Riesling, Malborough, New Zealand

The first plate was undoubtedly one of the prettiest desserts I’ve seen in a very long time. It was so beautifully plated I almost didn’t want to eat it. Citrusy mandarin flavours came through the sorbet and segments, with a floral high note from the violet meringue semi-circles and a brilliant vanilla snow (freeze dried ice cream). I’m not normally a fan of floral tastes in my food, but this was fantastic.

Chocolate souffle, chocolate mousse, creme anglaise

NV Chambers ‘Old Vine’ Muscadelle Rutherglen, Victoria

And, for the grand finale, Shannon Bennett’s chocolate soufflé! The soufflé arrives with a dollop of glossy mousse sitting on top, before a waiter comes by and, having poked a hole in the dessert, pours in a healthy dose of creme anglaise. Decadence embodied. A little fortified action from the muscadelle finished things off nicely.

Finally, a selection of petit fours to cap off the meal: edible pink musk gum leaves, eucalyptus sorbets, popping candy chocolate, raspberry jelly and chocolate mousse lamingtons, and gin and honeydew jellies.

Gin jellies! Is there any greater pleasure in life?

Finally, as a parting gift, we each received a care package for breakfast the next day containing brioche, honey from the Heidi Vue cafe, muesli, tea and some shortbread. So, so lovely. This final touch really epitomised the entire evening – attention to detail and a seamless ability to make people feel special. This, I suppose, is the real attraction of Vue de Monde. Feeling like you’re someone special, like you deserve to be taken care of and waited upon and showered with Dom Perignon and Wagyu and truffles. The kids, the uni books, the work presentation can wait till tomorrow. Be a little selfish. Treat yo’ self.

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