I've been reflecting on this evening's posh dinner and come out thinking that the meal was a bit like a half-grown Cocker Spaniel.
I will explain this comment shortly.
Once again Millie from Hold the Peas and I went for a planned degustation dinner since her husband was working abroad. Once again, Jonella joined us - and the three of us are happy and easy company.
The site of tonight's degustation dinner - Brooks Restaurant, downstairs off a side street up the Paris end of Collins Street - the site where Momo used to be, along with Jamie Oliver's short lived and fire-bombed Fifteen and until recently, the site of The Kitchen Cat. The three of us were all looking forward to the evening.
One element that I didn't bank on was the fact that for the first time in weeks, it decided to rain in Melbourne. Not just a shower here or there - real rain - an inch of rain in a few hours on the old scale. Being the useless git that I am, I ignored the weather forecast and didn't think about bringing an umbrella. Subsequently, I arrived at the restaurant ten minutes early soaked through to the skin.
I was greeted at the door by a gentleman who ushered me in as soon as I drained the water out of my shoes. Thankfully I was shown to the bathroom where I attempted to dry myself off with the hand dryer. A few minutes later, Millie arrived and still saturated, but no longer dripping, we went to our table where Jonella.
There is soooo many fantastic elements of Brooks, one highlight being the service. From the time you arrive and are greeted by the doorman, until the time you leave, the service is fantastic. Attentive, friendly and no up itself - a cast of characters. It was great to be offered a clean tea towel help soak up the excess water that was still more than apparent on my person. (Seriously, I looked like I'd just got out of the shower)
As for the food and drink. The three of us started with a glass of French bubbles as we ordered the five course degustation on offer.
As I said, I think back on the meal and know that I've part I've just partaken in one of the most beautiful meals I've ever had. The presentation of all the courses was amazing, the flavours subtle and thoughtful.
We were offered a variety of breads on offer - fresh, light and glorious, along with some of the most delicately flavoured olives Jonella and I had tasted. Things got off to a good start.
The first course was a tomato consomme with heirloom tomatoes and silken milk, and herbs. Served in a large bowl, the consomme was poured on at the last minute and the scent of tricolor salad reached our noses seconds later. Light, fragrant and balanced, the silken milk, like a tofu, was a wonderful partner to the tomatoes. Jonella commented that she hadn't tasted tomatoes like this out of Italy (I was about to make a similar comment, though my best tomato experiences happened in Greece) A lovely, light, fragrant start to the meal.
One of the coolest things about Brooks is the open kitchen, where you can watch Nicolas Poelaert and his team weave their magic. A quiet, well-oiled team skate around the space in near silence - if you watch, you'll often see three grown men fussing over a plate as they serve up their creations. It's a part of the theatre of the restaurant and it is wonderful to watch.
We were also furnished with another glass of wine - although a hiccough with the wine list made us have to revisit our choices. Millie's Chenin Blanc was gorgeous - Jonella and I had a glass of Grenache, which on the cool night needed a bit of warming to bring out its best.
The second course came soon after the first - a Meli of vegetables - the restaurant's signature dish.
This is one of the most beautiful plates of food I've ever had presented to me. 24 different elements on the plate from purees, to leaves to olive soil to flowers. Exquisite. And the great thing about this plate of food - nobody will have the same experience eating it. The three of us savoured the flavours and textures presented - and there was a lot to take in. The red cabbage puree was a stand out - then again, there were hints of cauliflower, lemon, nectarine, nasturtiums, radishes... A thought-provoking dish.
The third course came. As Millie is allergic to fish, she had something slightly different.
The Moreton Bay Bug, shiso oil, mussel custard and pickled oysters came dressed under a light, fragrant, herb and salmon roe sprinkled snow. Millie received a vegetarian alternative with elements of roasted beetroot.
This dish was one of my favourites of the night - a subtle mix of seafood textures and flavours cooked to perfection. Millie said that her offering was good, but not something she would choose again.
By the time the fourth course came, I'd nearly dried out. Thankfully the restaurant is pleasantly warm being underground. The atmosphere of the restaurant is great, with the bar near the door holding up patrons as the restaurant service flows. It's a great place to people watch as well - and we were interested to see the mix of patrons who came in while we were there.
The fourth course, the meat course came with a flurry. Beef, beetroot, ginger wine, mimolette, butternut and oats. Once again, again beautifully presented, with leaves of the beetroot sitting on top of the rest of the components. Unfortunately, star of the dish, the beef, failed to shine. The other elements on the dish outdid the beef. The rest of the components were wonderful - but the small piece of beef was just a bit chewy - the flavour divine, but you had to work for it. Our waiter looked a bit disappointed when we gave back our empty plates with a nondescript, "Yeah, well..." If the beef had melted in our mouths, this would have been another stand-out. Alas, it was not to be.
The final course - dessert, was a winner. Rather than giving us all the same dish, the waiter brought out three separate dishes which we shared.
First a white chocolate ice cream, figs, milk and olives. My photo does not do this justice, but this was my favourite of the deserts. I'm a white chocolate freak, and the olives in a crisp wafer with the milk were the perfect foil to the smoothness of the ice cream.
The second dessert, berries, liquorice ice cream, rose and cheesecake had the "oooohhh" factor.
Such an interesting mix of flavours and textures, the rose petals were tart, but were a great foil for the berries and the liquorice.
The star of the night was definitely the dish described as the 'Forest Floor'. Mix of all sorts of things including pork crackling, meringue and hazelnut parfait.
Jonella and Millie, both chocolate fiends, raved about this. The pork crackling worked wonderfully, cutting through some of the sweetness - a brilliant dish all round - though I still preferred the simplicity of the white chocolate myself.
The meal was finished, the bill paid and we left with a slight feeling of being underwhelmed.
I've spent the night trying to work out why I had this feeling. The food was exquisite. The service exemplary. The atmosphere in the restaurant terrific. The company awesome.
As I said at the start, I had the feeling I was looking at a half-grown Cocker Spaniel - full of life and energy, glorious to look at, but missing a bit of substance somewhere that it will grow into in time.
Maybe it was because the weather had turned icy and the summer menu didn't leave me feeling replete - being honest, on these degustation meal days I eat very lightly - and after this meal, I found myself hungry an hour later - not something I expect from a degustation dinner. Possibly the failure to launch with the beef dish let the experience down.
Would I go back? Definitely. I'd like to try the fois gras dishes that Brooks is known for. I really did enjoy the experience, though I'm still wondering why I have this feeling of lack.
Definitely give it a go - and I'd be keen to try a winter degustation to see what the kitchen comes up with - the thought processes behind the food are amazing.