Oter, Melbourne – modern French food
This restaurant is now closed.
Given Greedy Girl works in marketing in her day job, she’s always fascinated by how restaurants get their ‘buzz’. One such establishment in Melbourne with plenty of buzz is Oter.
Oter promises modern French food. If you’re hankering for steak frites you’ve possibly picked the wrong restaurant.
The restaurant is in the heart of Melbourne’s foodie strip, Flinders Lane. Early on a Saturday night there are lines out the door of various eateries. Greedy Girl has been known to queue on very few occasions. Once was for the exciting State Bird Provisions in San Francisco – essentially if you’re only in a city for a few days and you desperately want to try the food, then that’s what you’ve got to do.
Melbourne is Greedy Girl’s hometown and she baulks at queues here. Pleased to have secured a booking at Oter to celebrate dear friend Pucci Girl’s birthday, we were intent on finding out what the fuss was all about.
Oter is in the basement vacated by what was one of Melbourne’s best Japanese restaurants, Yu-u. The stairs down have been opened up to the main room, so it’s not quite the adventure it was when one pushed open a fairly anonymous iron door and descended a moodily-lit wooden staircase.
Indeed, the whole area has been opened up. Yu-u had two private tatami rooms for small parties, plus seating along the teppan. The open kitchen remains but the rest of the area is dominated by tables and a largish bar with stools.
The effect is industrial chic – lots of polished concrete – and it’s very, very noisy. We were all seated within 15 minutes of our booking time and didn’t dally in giving our order.
And so our evening progressed. We thoroughly enjoyed our French waitress who was a font of knowledge and we tried to converse with the noise levels hitting several peaks.
It’s almost refreshing to go to a restaurant these days and choose your own dish. Greedy Girl has nothing against sharing plates, indeed, every dish she’s had in gluttonous husband’s company has been shared with him, but hearing the words ‘the menu has been designed to share’ leaves her a little jaded – everyone’s doing it.
So we compromised – we ordered some starters to share and then took a main course and dessert each. Sorted. There were a few dietary requirements around the table, so this seemed the best way forward.
A bottle of Laherte Freres Ultradition Reserve Brut was brought to the table. It was quite a complex champagne that went well with the food.
Gluttonous husband and Pucci Girl shared a dozen oysters. They could easily have ordered six each but the cost for that was higher, so, given the menu was ‘designed to share’ they felt well within their rights. Pucci Girl also wanted to try the bresaola which was served on a puff with apple.
We also took the calamari with broad beans (pictured at the top of this post), asparagus with fresh goat’s curd and meyer lemon, and a crab dish served with beetroot and seaweed. Greedy Girl was intrigued by the coquillettes au truffes, served with Kurobuta ham.
The calamari arrived very quickly and we tucked in. It was fresh and flavourful, with a good level of resistance to the bite. Greedy Girl and The Francophile struggled a little with their pieces, trying to chew through some sinew but – nonetheless – it was enjoyable.
The oysters followed along with Pucci Girl’s bresaola, but the rest of the starters were a fair while in coming. We’d almost drained the champagne before our other dishes arrived.
And they were perfectly fine. The asparagus dish was quite tasty – it’s hard to go wrong with that flavour combo. It was, perhaps, a little early in the season for really good asparagus but the dish was still quite good.
Greedy Girl tried a tiny amount of the crab, not being a fan of beetroot. She feels it overwhelms the other flavours and this was certainly no exception.
The coquillettes au truffes was a nice dish. Little pasta elbows were served with specks of black truffle and the ham. Greedy Girl felt the dish was dominated by the ham but it was very edible.
Our main courses came up. Gluttonous husband took the rabbit, served with tarragon blanquette and bacon. Rabbit is a tricky meat – very easy to dry out and this was a bit on the dry side. The flavours were, however, very nice together.
Pucci Girl and The Francophile both went for the Flinders Island lamb served with pumpkin and sprouts. The lamb looked a little underdone and some of the fat wasn’t rendered down enough.
Greedy Girl had switched to a pinot noir by this stage to go with veal sweetbreads. These were served with a creamy polenta. The texture and flavour were excellent but it was incredibly rich and Greedy Girl was looking for takers to help her finish the serving.
All the girls in our group love their sweets, so dessert was always on the cards. The restaurant serves a number of tarts of the day. The Francophile was keen to try the rhubarb variety and begged for just one slice rather than having to sample all four, as the rest of us had opted for different puds. Our friendly waitress was happy to oblige. All good. The Francophile pronounced the tart very pleasant with a nice tang from the rhubarb.
Pucci Girl took a special of the day – Rhum Baba. Brought to the table with her birthday salutation, a delightful syrup was poured over the top. She was very happy with it.
Greedy Girl, of course, couldn’t go past the Valrhona chocolate mousse. It was exceptionally light and was pleasant enough, even if it didn’t really have an intense chocolate hit.
Gluttonous husband took the cheese platter, finding sugar a step too far at the end of his meals at the moment. He was very happy with the selection, including a blue, a champagne-washed rind and a cheddar.
Just as we asked to finish with a coffee, we were asked by the maitre D to vacate our table, saying we only had a two-and-a-half hour lease on it. We pushed back, saying that was his team’s job to ensure our food was brought promptly enough – and we’d waited a considerable amount of time to get the full range of starters. He wasn’t having any of that – he said we could ‘have a cocktail’ at the bar. Again we dug in – we wanted to finish our coffee in peace, which would possibly take less than 10 minutes, and then we’d happily vacate.
We re-iterated that it wasn’t our responsibility to ensure we kept to the allocated time. If that had been an issue, we should have been told that before ordering dessert but it wasn’t mentioned. Apparently that resulted in the maitre D going off on our waitress and she came over to profusely apologise. We felt bad that she’d copped it; if the kitchen doesn’t get the food out on time there’s precious little she could do.
But such is life when eating out and it’s a deeply disappointing trend. Surely the way forward in this instance was to offer an extra cocktail to the people already at the bar waiting for our table. It’s easy enough to communicate to them that the previous occupants are just finishing up and offer an extra drink for any inconvenience, rather than uprooting us for the final 10 minutes of an evening.
That’s probably too sensible.
Oter has some interesting food but is it somewhere to return to and try more dishes? Maybe. Maybe not. The chef here is Frenchman Flo Gerardin and there’s obviously some considerable skill but Greedy Girl is definitely on the fence with this one.
137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (basement)