Australian fine dining – Vue de Monde Melbourne
On the final night of a recent visit from La Reine Fille (don’t call her Princess) and her beloved Tippy Toes, it was off to one of Melbourne’s tallest buildings for what we hoped would be the epitome of Australian fine dining, at Vue de Monde.
Since 2011, the restaurant has occupied the upper reaches of Melbourne’s Rialto building, complete with a vertigo-inducing smoker’s balcony, 55 floors in the sky. This was largely open to the elements for a good many years but more security precautions were introduced a few years back when a group of besuited men turned out to have parachutes in their backpacks and base jumped from the spot.
But we were there to introduce Tippy Toes, on her first visit to Melbourne, to the best of Australian produce – and not only on the table.
Vue de Monde is a real celebration of Australia, extending to kangaroo skin chairs and pieces of Mallee root upon which the extraordinarily expensive Cristofle cutlery is laid at the leather table. The cuisine, under current executive chef Justin James, showcases a great many indigenous ingredients.
For a visiting foodie, it’s a real treat. Not only are there sweeping views across the north, east and west of the city (southerly views can be accessed at the Lui Bar on the same floor) but it’s an opportunity to eat things they’ve possibly not had anywhere else in the world.
Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband have dined many times at Vue de Monde, experiencing the various incarnations since it opened in an unassuming corner shop in Carlton back in 2005, with Shannon Bennett at the helm of a tiny kitchen. We first decided to give a go based on a gimmick at the time – a $100 burger. Well, we didn’t eat the burger but we had some of the finest French cuisine we’ve ever experienced. Bennett now presides over a hospitality empire and his flagship restaurant has had a few head chefs over the years, to carry on the overwhelmingly French style.
Other aspects of the dining experience also remain highly consistent – a great many tables overlook the open kitchen, there are very knowledgeable staff (which, from the variety of accents heard over the course of the evening are taken from various parts of the world) and your choice from the extensive wine list is served in exceptionally fine glassware. All round, it’s a class act.
We opted to take the full tasting menu, ordered a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve champagne, and settled in, trying to shield our eyes from the setting sun. Early evening diners should be prepared for the powerful glare.
In previous visits, a number of our courses were presented by a chef (you can read that post here) but all our dishes were brought by wait staff. It wasn’t entirely easy to understand some of them – the noise level is not a din but it’s not whisper quiet either. There is no menu so Greedy Girl, rather than type surreptitiously into her phone all night, enquired as to whether we’d be given a list of dishes at the end of proceedings. It would be emailed, she was told. All good.
First up were a selection of amuse bouches. All looked quite dramatic.
The ‘snowy’ bundles were very soft to pick up and crusted with the parmesan flakes. Ume plum is a Japanese ‘salt plum’, while kumato is a Spanish variety of tomato. The flavours were enjoyable but the texture was a surprise. The quail egg needed to be also popped in the mouth in total, lest the gooey yolk dribble down one’s chin. Again, it looked amazing but the flavour hit wasn’t quite there in Greedy Girl’s opinion. The wallaby parcels were delectable – perhaps a little confronting for Tippy Toes who had posted pictures of interacting with Australian fauna all over her Instagram in previous days.
Up next was an incredibly pretty assortment although the plate itself seemed a bit rustic for the surroundings. This was kohlrabi noodles with herb emulsion and cured duck yolk. Kohlrabi is in the same family as cabbage. This was a light and refreshing dish.
Next, we had the dish presented at the top of this post. One of the great things for seafood lovers when they travel to Australia is to experience the delight that is marron, a species somewhere between a crayfish and a yabby, from Western Australia. This dish was in two parts. First up was the marron tail, served with almond and lemon verbena. One just drew the tail through the other condiments on the plate and popped it down the hatch. So good!
The other part was a marron sausage sizzle with seaweed mustard and onions. You can see the caramelised onions in the top left of the picture below. A fun presentation, it was a dish none of us had experienced before. We were given some small hot dog buns and made our own mini hot dogs. Delish.
While we’d been able to rule out certain ingredients, there is a huge amount of variety on offer here. Our next dish was Jonella farm baby corn, river mint and charred corn sauce. This particular farm is in Cardinia, in the heart of one of Victoria’s major market garden areas. The baby corn was still slightly crunchy and the dish was quite light – a reasonable foil for the richness of the marron course.
More uniquely Australian produce followed – red hair kangaroo tartar, native berries, saltbush and Lapsang souchong, accompanied by wattleseed dampers cooked over Binchotan coals with leatherwood honey. One simply scooped up the mix which was savoury and fruity and folded it into a piece of damper. Kangaroo is a much underrated meat – a great source of iron and incredibly lean.
It was time for some fish.
This was a beautifully golden fillet of barramundi, served with baby cucumber, sea grapes and kumbu oil. It’s line caught by fisherman Mark Eather, who turned his back on nets to ensure the sustainability of fish stocks. Eather now supplies fish to a great number of Australian fine dining restaurants.
Barramundi has a distinctive taste – for a white fish it can be quite strong. It’s native to northern Australian and south-east Asian waters and a much prized catch. Kumbu oil is similar to olive oil in taste.
It was time for a palate cleanser and coincided with the end of our champagne. With the menu moving towards meat, we chose a 2011 Curly Flat Pinot Noir from Victoria’s Macedon Ranges. Indeed, earlier in the evening, we could discern the ranges, to the north west of Melbourne, from our soaring vantage point. But first, the palate cleanser was presented and it was time for us to do a bit of work. We were provided with a small stone bowl with a collection of herbs (mainly sorrel and edible flowers) in the bottom and a pestle. These were snap frozen with some liquid nitrogen and we were invited to crush them with the pestle before a quenelle of Davidson plum sorbet was put on top.
And so to meat courses – first up was quail with cauliflower, dates and coffee. The quail was very pink, but tender, and the dish worked. It’s not a combination Greedy Girl has ever thought of, so kudos to the imagination and palate of the chef.
Next was another vibrant plate – David Blackmore wagyu Tenderloin with carrot and saffron. A beautiful piece of meat, Greedy Girl happily tucked in, although she wasn’t a huge rave for the sauce.
And so ended our savoury courses. Next up, gluttonous husband and Tippy Toes indulged in all the stinky delights of the cheese trolley. Pardon the mixed metaphor but Tippy Toes was like a kid in a lolly shop. The selection blew her away and she and gluttonous husband happily dived into a very generous selection.
We were next treated to another incredibly ‘Aussie’ experience – gumnuts. This is the second time we’ve had these little frozen sorbet balls that look like they should be hanging from the eucalyptus tree.
It was followed by something Greedy Girl really struggled to get her head around – a crème fraiche sorbet with pumpkin and tea tree. Greedy Girl freely admits she’s not a huge fan of pumpkin and this wasn’t really suited to her taste buds.
But if there’s a better way of making up for a dessert not particularly enjoyed, Greedy Girl has yet to experience it – a chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise.
OMG. Yum. Seriously. ‘Nuff said.
But wait, there’s more. One final Aussie treat for Tippy Toes was the humble lamington – sponge cake dipped in chocolate, infused with jam and rolled in coconut. Done.
And we were done. A slight hiccup on leaving was the assertion that our coats would be waiting for us when we reached street level. That wasn’t actually the case but, c’est la vie. With little goodie bags in hand, with some treats for the next morning, we digested our meal with a leisurely walk home.
Vue de Monde is, without doubt, an impressive restaurant and it seems to have carved a niche to give visitors a chance to experience a host of ingredients they’ve possibly not tried before.
Vue de Monde
Rialto Towers, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne