Running a fine dining restaurant is a tough gig. Young chefs Tom Woods and Hayden McFarland are just about to clock up their first anniversary at Woodland House, having spent some formative years cooking in the same space under noted chef Jacques Reymond. The beautiful Victorian-era mansion in the inner-city Melbourne suburb of Prahran, has been dramatically redecorated to mark the transition from the master to his proteges. It’s glamorous and atmospheric and an appropriate venue to mark a send-off for Clean Plate Club founding member FullAsAGoog, who’s off to live in Hong Kong.

For dinner on weekends, there’s a choice of five or eight course tasting menus. We decided to go the full distance after our waiter told us the courses were quite small. Greedy Girl begs to differ; this proved to be a power of food. We settled in with a bottle of Larmandier Bernier blanc de blancs. The various dietary requirements around the table (no nuts or red meat for Nuts About Town and the pescetarian Ms Divine) would give us a clear idea of the flexibility on offer. Also in attendance were gluttonous husband (an honorary member for the evening) and our colleague Ate His Crusts.

The style here remains French with a few Asian twists. Throughout the evening, delicious breads were available to mop up any skerricks of sauce, in particular the dashi broth served with spanish mackerel. But Greedy Girl is getting ahead of herself.

First up were purple congo potato crisps, presented on a tree branch. These were slightly translucent and an enjoyable, light start. Greedy Girl would have preferred a saltier hit from them.

Purple potato crisps

Purple potato crisps

We moved then, to foie gras and kiwi fruit bonbons. Everyone except Ms Divine had these; her version contained a carrot centre. The bonbons needed to be popped into the mouth whole and crunched down upon, releasing liquid foie gras. The kiwi fruit gel on top was a pleasant touch, fruit and foie gras behing a classic combination. Greedy Girl wishes she could have waited longer to eat them, to allow the filling to cool and the flavour to be more pronounced.
Foie gras bonbons

Foie gras bonbons. Careful, they’re hot!

The first of the fish courses followed, spanish mackerel with lotus root, shiitake mushrooms and a couple of slices of okra. A burnt dashi broth was poured at the table. The dish was very well balanced; Greedy Girl isn’t generally fond of mackerel but ate all of this. No flavour dominated and she enjoyed mopping up the rest of the broth with the bread.
Spanish mackerel with dashi

Eminently moppable sauce here!

Next was monkfish. This was served with pickled salsify and a lobster bisque. The monkfish was cooked well but the star of this plate were the vegetables which had a lovely crunch and tang. The lobster sauce again was mopped but it didn’t pack a huge punch.

Monkfish with lobster bisque

Good looking dish but the best bit was the veggies

Rainbow trout was up next. The fish was cooked well and the skin was particularly tasty; it was served with grilled cuttlefish, squid ink and a ‘young’ radish. Again, for such a strong fish, this was a good balance of flavours.
Rainbow trout

Beautifully cooked rainbow trout

We’d already started to struggle with the volume of food and we weren’t even half way. After we’d handed back the menus at the start of the evening, our waiter left a couple of small menus folded on the table. Apparently there were a few surprises that the main menu didn’t reveal; this was left just for our reference (and Greedy Girl’s blogging purposes) later. The first of the ‘surprises’ was spanner crab. This was a reasonably light dish; the crab was accompanied by bamboo salt and coconut, as well as ginger and lemongrass. All the flavours could be discerned but both Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband thought the hero of the dish, the crab, was a bit lost.
spanner crab

Asian flavours with spanner crab

Before we moved to the meat dishes, there was a palate cleanser. This was a pomelo sorbet with cumquat and lemon myrtle. It was an interesting combination and quite effective – for everything except making more room in our bursting stomachs.
Pomelo sorbet palate cleanser

Pomelo sorbet palate cleanser

The first of the meat courses was veal, accompanied by a 2008 pinot noir from Punch, in the Yarra Valley.
Veal and asparagus

An exceedingly tasty veal dish

While there are a few carnivores among the Clean Plate Club members, some still expressed disquiet about eating veal. Having said that, very little of this was left on the plate. It had been poached and roasted and was incredibly soft and tender, almost buttery. It was served with asparagus, which has been in season here for about a month but didn’t have a huge amount of flavour and saltbush. The veal, however was the star of the show. Our meatless friends were treated to a pretty-looking profusion of vegetables instead.

Vegetable medley

The veal alternative

The next meat course was venison. This was served a gleaming ruby red, enhanced by red currant and beetroot and bronze fennel. The meat was very tender and not hugely gamey.

Venison with beetroot and red currant

A very red dish

Our meatless friends were treated to some light gnocchi in place of the venison.

Similar accompaniments but with gnocchi

The final meat course of the night was the wallaby pictured at the top of this blog. It was Flinders Island wallaby, served with red rice, broad beans and bushpepper. Greedy Girl found her meat to be a bit dry but gluttonous husband said his was tender. On the upside, he felt Greedy Girl’s serving had more flavour.

Our meatless friends were presented with a red mullet dish.

Red mullet

A fish too far?

Neither Ms Divine or Nuts About Town particularly relished this dish, exacerbated by the fact that we’d just had too much food by this point. Red mullet is a fairly strong, oily fish but Ms Divine commented it was too oily a taste for her and felt the dish was too salty.

And so to dessert. First up was chocolate. This was a disc of soft milk chocolate with a quenelle of butter ice-cream and wood roasted corn. Greedy Girl prefers bitter, dark chocolate and didn’t warm to the texture of the corn. Gluttonous husband enjoyed the richness of the ice cream.

Butter ice-cream and milk chocolate

Butter ice-cream and milk chocolate

The second dessert was a toffee apple parfait with Cyprian salt. A very pretty plate, we were all transported back to childhood on seeing the cloud of fairy floss surrounding the red toffee. It was a fun way to finish.
Cyprian toffee apple

Fairy floss fun

Declining the offer of tea or coffee, we were presented with some petits fours – cocoa covered nuts …
cocoa covered almonds

Petits fours #1

Followed by madeleines and yuzu jubes.
petits fours

Petits fours #2

The quality is evident at Woodland House, but the eight-course menu (with extras) was just too much. There was also, perhaps, not enough variance in the courses. Ms Divine mentioned, and Greedy Girl concurred, there was too much fish – the menu would have had more light and shade with more seafood – some nice prawns or scallops, for example. There was also not enough contrast in the meat courses – some white meat would have gone down a treat.

It is, however, a beautiful spot for a special dinner; having only been open 10 months, the chefs are probably still finding their style. It will be a place to watch.

Woodland House

78 Williams Road, Prahran

Woodland House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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