Melbourne’s Ôter may be the hot new French restaurant in town, but it’s still waiting to hit its stride, says
Hits and misses at Melbourne’s Oter.
ÔTER HAS BEEN touted by some as the hot new Melbourne opening of the year – but after a recent visit I was left with cold feet. We arrive early for our booking and are ushered to a ‘holding pen’ with a bar. There are no stools ‘so guests don’t think it’s a bar’, so we stand awkwardly overlooking guests seated at a bench that wraps around the open kitchen. Those not at the counter dine in a subdivided space at tables. It’s a neat subterranean space with cute artwork and an abundance of promise.
Nevertheless, two wines and 20 minutes after our allotted booking, we’re told we will have to wait longer because some businessmen don’t want to leave. We’re offered a complimentary glass of wine. Perhaps the businessmen could have a drink at the ‘non-bar’ while we have dinner.
We are finally seated at the counter and our waitress briefly runs through the menu, some of which is written in French. With around 30 items, there are a lot of questions for those who don’t speak the language.
Ôter is run by Tom Hunter, Kate and Mykal Bartholomew (both Coda and Tonka) along with French chef Florent Gerardin (formerly of Pei Modern) whose food is adventurous for some, polarising for others. And although I’m a fan of cookery that explores snouts, lips and earlobes, as does chef Gerardin’s, his menu entwines French and Japanese technique with mixed results.
A single Clarence River prawn tail is beautifully cooked over charcoal. It has been kissed by heat, but keeps its sweet opaque centre. A small jar houses a goopy 60 degree egg, chicken heart, liver and truffle. It’s grainy and unpleasant. This is not a sharing dish. Perhaps our waitress could have suggested we get one each – it was like sharing a lollipop.
John Dory fillets are cooked beautifully over charcoal. Braised fennel makes a nice accompaniment, though the fish is overwhelmed by a lathering of mustard seeds. Leaves of cos and iceberg coated in French dressing are crisp and refreshing – it’s not often a side salad is the dish of the night, but there you have it.
Then we sit waiting for chef’s spin on Ducasse’s classic boudin (blood sausage). We ask a waitress, who investigates and someone forgot to put it on order. We’re sent a beige raw salad of shaved Swiss browns, ricotta and seaweed powder while we wait another 20 minutes for the boudin – a thick charred hockey puck of pig innards with caramelised onion.
The hit and miss dishes made it all a bit hard to swallow. We opt out of dessert, pay the $367 bill and leave without a farewell.
I commend Ôter’s culinary bravery, but the execution is somewhat undermined by a lack of attention to detail and perhaps blinded by the desire to stand out. I admire the left of centre approach within the throng of this French renaissance we’re all thrilled about. I just hope it finds its feet.
CLOCKWISE (from left): Florent Gerardin; dining at the bar; Swiss brown, fresh curd and seaweed.