This is the post I've been looking forward to the most, yet also dreading slightly. I have more photos from my meal at Vue De Monde than any other restaurant that I've been to. The reason for this is that our experience was about so much more than the food.
The moment we set foot on the 55th floor, we felt like we were in another world. There are many photo repeats of the same dishes because I wanted to show the process and how they evolved.
Time to start from the beginning...
As soon as I suggested to Nina that we go on a trip to Melbourne, she wasted no time in making a booking. We weren't able to secure a night time reservation so we planned to go in for lunch instead. I wasn't disappointed by this because I've never had a real fine dining lunch-time experience. I thought it'd be actually nicer than dinner time for a variety of reasons (better lighting, less likely to feel sleepy as the meal drags on).
Pretty drinks menu
We found the Rialto building with a large Vue De Monde sign overhanging the entrance. Even the process of getting to the restaurant floor was an adventure that set Vue De Monde apart from others. We were 'received' by the... receptionist? AKA the lady at the counter downstairs. She checked our booking and directed us into the lift. Once inside, no buttons were pressed. I noticed that others inside the elevator looked equally perplexed. There was no reason to be concerned though, the lift knew what it was doing. It took us directly to the 55th floor.
Gin and tonic
Nina and I had arrived first and Mochi was still parking her car out in Melbourne CBD somewhere so we were directed to the bar area. The space felt dreamy, almost as though we'd stepped foot onto a movie set. There was a glorious view from the bar windows. The furniture and seating was luxe with a hint of kooky. We pulled up 2 mini floral armchairs and soaked in the view, sipping drinks. I ordered a gin and tonic, which arrived with a brand of tonic water I'd never heard of before (Fever Tree).
After Mochi arrived, we were ushered through the hall to the restaurant area on the other side of the floor. The restaurant was quietly busy and the tables were spaced out around the central open kitchen. It managed to be full without seeming one bit hectic or bustling. Our table was huge (considering there were only 3 of us) and we were positioned near a window.
When we were seated, our table was dressed with an assortment of rocks and sticks. Nina and I eyed these curiously. Mochi, who had been to Vue De Monde with her family just recently, looked smug because she knew what we were in store for.
As we were waiting, some parsnip chips with dry dip were offered. They looked almost like store packet crisps but had an abstract shape and were much lighter. I'd find it hard saying no to a large bowl of these in front of the TV. It was a promising start to our meal.
The menu options were explained to us. We could either do the full 10 course degustation or a shortened 5 course option or go a la carte. We decided on the latter so that we could chose what we wanted from entrees, mains and desserts and share. It was lunch time after all - 10 courses was a bit much.
After we placed our orders, the magic started.
A few miniature dishes were brought out to our table. These were our amuse bouche x 5. Tastings, if you will.
I started with the beans at the advice of our watier (I think because this is the blandest of the lot) and they didn't grab me. Well, they're beans! Maybe it was just supposed to cleanse the palate or something.
Celeriac, sunflower seed
The celeriac and sunflower seed parcel was interesting. It was so gorgeous and petite.
Oysters with finger lime
I really didn't like the oysters... they tasted fishy? Nina agreed with me. They were topped with a slice of finger lime but that didn't do anything to remove the fishiness.
Salt cured kangaroo
The kangaroo was brought out to us on a slab of Himalayan rock salt. It was then rolled 'live' by a waiter who was very proficient with chopsticks.
The kangaroo rolls were tasty (though a tad too salty).
Smoked eel, white chocolate, caviar
My favorite appetizer by far (and it ended up remaining one of my highlights of the meal) was the eel with white chocolate and caviar. They were bite-sized pieces of candied eel with a crisp toffee-like shell. Simple in theory but soooo good.
Warm bread in 'kangaroo pouch'
We were getting excited about our meal at this point. The breads were then brought out in a leather bucket (Mochi explained that it was made from kangaroo skin, so it was kinda like a kangaroo pouch).
Our waiter scooped out a quenelle of fresh butter from a giant bucket of butter (I was fascinated by the quantity) and presented this to us, along with some olive oil.
EVOO and butter
B and B - bread and butter
There were 2 diffrent types of bread and I tried a bit with some butter and olive oil.
Ox tongue salad, gascony butter
Next came the entrees. The first we had chosen was the ox tongue salad. All the dishes at Vue De Monde were pretty as a picture so I'll say it this once and try to refrain from repeating that comment. The ox tongue salad was light and very fresh.
Lamb sweetbreads, scallop
The sweetbread with scallops was... interesting. The scallop was cooked well. I'm not an expert on sweetbread but didn't think much of this one. Nina really didn't like it - she found the flavor to be too strong. I didn't mind the flavor but wasn't in love either.
Trout belly, smoked eel, nasturtiums, wasabi
The best entree, in my opinion, was the trout belly. The little components of jelly and dust made it interesting and different.
Slow-cooked duck egg with scallop, onion and black truffle
We then progressed to a couple of 'interlude' dishes. The first was really special: a slow cooked duck egg with fried onions and croutons.
Truffle grating in progress
The whole thing was then SMOTHERED in black truffle that was grated at our table.
Oozy duck yolk
Mochi highly dislikes this kind of dish, which she classifies as 'classic French' for its richness, but this is exactly the kind of thing I LOVE. Give me some toast soldiers and it'd make one hell of an ideal breakfast. I have a thing for runny egg. The liberal application of truffle dust helps too.
Our other interlude dish was one that Mochi was very excited to see. This was an interactive part of our dining experience. We fell to stunned silence as bowls of herbs were brought out and then splashed with liquid nitrogen. They lay smoking in front of us. Our waiter then instructed us to pick up our pestles and crush the herbs to oblivion.
Labor of love
Because they had frozen solid, they crackled and crunched under pressure and ended up like a fine, icy herb dust. Once the task was completed, our waiter topped our creation with a dollop of cucumber sorbet.
Cucumber sorbet, crushed herbs
Was this exercise entirely for our amusement? I say no - the sorbet was bloody fantastic! It was a creamy sorbet rather than granular and together with the herbs, it was smooth and refreshing. I would've been happy with this as an entire dessert.
Wagu beef, onion, mustard
We progressed happily to the mains. The wagyu beef was cooked well and kept rather simple.
Bite shot of wagyu
The beef was nice but didn't stand out amongst the other mains.
Duck, yabbie, kale, raspberry
Out of the duck and yabbie dish, the duck was understated (didn't have a strong gamey flavor; which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your preference). We liked the yabbie though - the flesh was sweet and succulent.
Barramundi, tarragon, swede
Again, I'll end with my favorite of the three: the barramundi. I loved all the elements on this dish. The barramundi cubes had exceptionally crips skin. I liked the tiny potato puffs. I liked the miniature quail eggs (not a smidgeon overcooked). The tarragon smear was AMAZING. I don't know what the put in it; if it was Masterchef and I was in a taste test, I'd fail abysmally... but whatever it is, it works.
Passionfruit, licorice, coconut
Next: another interlude. Our waiter jokingly described this as 'beer and nuts'. It contained a shot of passionfruit beer and a ball of icy coconut ice-cream.
From this, we carried onto desserts. We three girls are dessert maniacs. This was a course we had been looking forward to (yes, even after everything we'd already ingested).
Chocolate souffle, chocolate mousse, creme anglaise
We ordered the souffle because it was supposedly unmissable. It certainly looked impressively with a text book-quality even rise.
Creme anglaise going in
Our waiter poured in the creme anglaise. The souffle was airy and light - the texture was divine. I do feel that the flavor of chocolate could have been more intense.
Beetroot, grass, raspberries
The next dessert was a strange one. It comprised of beetroot in what was almost like a rollup form, and grass ice-cream. It was definitely unusual but I'm not sure that I liked it very much.
Monte Carlo biscuit, raspberries, cream
Finally, my favorite of the dessrts... the biscuit with raspberries and cream. We chose this as a 'whatever' third from the menu because honestly, it doesn't sound too exciting. It is a very simple dessert yet it excels in flavor. The raspberries were almost too good to be real. They were fresh and sweet and we noticed that they didn't even have those pesky seeds that normal raspberries do. The combination of biscuit crumble, popping raspberries and velvety cream was just to die for.
Petit fours - lamington, tempered chocolate, champaign jellies, rosewater lollypops
Just when we thought our meal was over and we could go home happy, we had another treat presented to us. All throughout the dessert course, we had been whinging to each other about how 'full' we were. Yet, this beautiful plate of mini sweet treats were placed in front of us (our waiter said 'for emergencies') and within minutes, everything was gone. I told you we were crazy for dessert.
I found my meal at Vue De Monde to be unreal. It was a defining moment in my life time experience of food culture. There are numerous restaurants that have given me delicious dishes, remarkable steaks, perfectly cooked lamb, luxurious desserts and so on. Many of those may trump any single dish from Vue De Monde when judged on taste alone. However, the thing that Vue De Monde brought to the table (literally) was theatre. It was genuinely an entire dining experience, not just about the food but about the presentation, the stories, the evolution of the dishes, fine cutlery, gorgeous views and the fantastic, flawless service.
It's easy to think of the flairs as uneccesary novelties, that perhaps food should be kept pure and that good food need not be dramatized for the consumer. I agree to some extent but I don't think this applies to Vue De Monde. The restaurant stays true to the dishes and first and formost is taste and exploration of flavors and textures. The presentation quirks are done with elegance and subtlety and succeed in highlighting and enhancing the dishes rather than distracting from them.
I was getting to the point where I was convinced that no restaurant, no matter how acclaimed, could really blow my socks off. Vue De Monde did exactly that. It has left a lasting impression on me and given me hope that restaurants can still be interesting. I read a review describing their meal as 'epic' and as overused as that word is, I think it's entirely appropriate here. It will surprise noone at this point that I recommend Vue De Monde highly as a critical Australian dining expedition. It's fantastic food, done well. Simple.