Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the best meal ever (so far...)

Wow. What a meal. That is the best meal I have had so far in my life. True, I have a lot more restaurants to try but previously I would have struggled to pick a favourite meal. Not so anymore.

In the six non-consecutive nights we had in Melbourne we managed to fit in meals at Taxi, Vue de Monde, Koko and Jacques Raymond. There are so many incredible restaurants in Melbourne and not enough time to go to all, but these seemed like a good selection. We were gluttons at all of them, accepting the full menu at two of the four. At Vue de Monde this was the ten course Gourmande menu. Gourmande, meaning someone who eats a lot, very appropriate. Of the ten courses, plus amuse bouche, palette cleansers and petits fours, only two were just ok, and the rest were outstanding. There was a lot of food theatre at the table, but a meal is partly about entertaining and the smoking bowls, the dry ice drinks and the bouillabaisse made at the table in a 1970s coffee machine were all delicious as well as entertaining to watch. I hate going out for a meal and receiving a dish I feel I could have made better myself. Only the chocolate dishes here were in that category (and maybe the cheese course). All of the other dishes were far beyond my culinary abilities, the creativity was inspiring and the ingredients both difficult to obtain and luxurious (too expensive for an amateur like me to experiment with!). Flavours were perfectly matched to be interesting, complementary and without overwhelming each other. Challenging the palette without distracting from the quality of the ingredients. Our first dish of salmon, with smoked, fresh, mousse, foam and jerky set the standards for intensity of flavour and variety of texture. The crayfish mousse wrapped in courgette (zuchinni here) and topped with a buerre noisette sat in a shallow Provençal vegetable soup with crayfish pieces was a favourite of all of us. Just divine. The first dessert course matched our first savoury in strength of flavour and texture variety, this time the central ingredient was raspberry: a raspberry mousse on crisp rice flavoured with raspberry and dotted with snap-frozen raspberries. On the side of the bowl was a raspberry cannelloni (striped raspberry sugar shell) filled with raspberry rice pudding and drizzled with a raspberry coulis. Yum, yum, yum and yum. The service was friendly and knowledgeable though I was surprised that after one of the servers knocked my brother’s glass of red wine over me (the poor waitress) they didn’t refill his glass and though the manager came with his card and offered to pay the dry cleaning, they didn’t offer any discount on the meal. Strange.

Of the five courses at Jacques Raymond only two were really good. The others seemed, to me, to be an attempt to be too clever, pairing strange ingredients that didn’t quite gel. Steamed spinach and dehydrated strawberries is an interesting idea but not particularly compelling and especially not next to vegetables I can't remember decorated with rubbery slivers of black truffle, a special “extra” we were persuaded to have. A piece of pumpkin laquered with palm sugar and miso, served on a vanilla puree with coriander, fennel and a soy and sake glaze was suberb, however. It was obvious when the ingredients weren’t as high quality, and too many of them weren’t. It isn’t like me to be too critical and I guess I just had too high expectations after hearing it was given best restaurant for 2008. Perhaps they were foreseeing better things for the coming year than they were able to produce for mid-December 2007? Though it’s considerably less expensive than Vue de Monde I’d still rather pay more and eat there.

Taxi was fabulous. Great quality food, beautifully plated. Slow service but pleasant enough. I was taunted by a cherry mousse with a Valhrona centre that had one tiny square of Manjari in the middle of cherry-hinted warm air. It had me (and my brother) digging into the chocolate stashes at home. With the views of the Yarra and the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere, and obviously the great food overall, I would definitely go there again.

Koko reminded me of an episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares where the chef was scolded for cooking everything on the grill and Gordon told him it was making all the food taste the same. We had teppanyaki. Our first course of sushi and sashimi was fantastic and the quality of the seafood and meat cooked to follow could not be argued with, but I kind of missed the impressive plating and accompanying sauces that normally happens in these restaurants. Even though we were given three bowls of sauces each to dip into as we pleased, somehow sloshing a bit of soy over the sizzling steak and a dab of butter and squeeze of lemon on the toothfish made it just seem less magical. But I guess everything just pales now in comparison to Vue du Monde... But I'm happy to face up to the challenge of trying to beat the best meal title in 2008!

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