TA­BLES Grown-up plea­sures

Don’t wait for a birth­day or an­niver­sary to try one of Mel­bourne’s finest din­ers, ad­vises Stephen Lunn

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

WALK­ING through the im­pos­ing front door of Jac­ques Reymond in posh Prahran, we can be for­given for bring­ing with us some se­ri­ously high ex­pec­ta­tions. This is one of Mel­bourne’s culi­nary land­marks, for many years con­sid­ered among the city’s best restau­rants and one of only two to merit a three-hat rat­ing in the 2009 edi­tion of The Age Good Food Guide. Hardly a hid­den gem.

That Mon­sieur Reymond man­ages to sur­prise us with his menu is, there­fore, some­thing of an achieve­ment. In­stead of the an­tic­i­pated bold French fare, we are of­fered dishes in­flu­enced more by the streets of Tokyo’s Ginza than the av­enues of Paris’s 5th ar­rondisse­ment.

And at Tokyo prices, too. Other than for that in­creas­ingly rare species, a busi­nessper­son with a big ex­pense ac­count, Jac­ques Reymond is an event restau­rant: an­niver­saries or birthdays that end in a zero, mar­riage pro­pos­als and the like.

We are here to thank Fi’s par­ents for a year’s worth of weekly mind­ing of three rum­bus­tious boys. What bet­ter way than a grown-up evening in a grown-up restau­rant and no chil­dren in sight? And grown up it is, too. The main din­ing

Culi­nary land­mark: Jac­ques Reymond’s com­pact din­ing room is exquisitely fit­ted out with muted colours and bold light fit­tings room is quite small com­pared with some of the city’s other big-name restau­rants and is exquisitely fit­ted out with muted mush­room colours and big, bold light fit­tings. The ta­bles are a suitably dis­creet dis­tance apart, though it’s not so stuffy that a dropped fork would lead to gasps and dis­ap­prov­ing looks. And the func­tion rooms in other parts of the con­verted house are full, de­spite the fi­nan­cial crunch. Were it still de rigueur (or in­deed le­gal), the room suits an af­ter-din­ner ci­gar; the whole place takes just 60 din­ers.

Vow­ing not to talk all night about the kids and their cute an­tics but to have a grown-up con­ver­sa­tion about cur­rent events, we re­ceive the menus and for a mo­ment I think things have gone re­ally old school.

None of the dishes has a price next to it; is this one of those twee places where the woman is given a menu without prices and I’ve mis­tak­enly re­ceived it? Closer in­spec­tion re­veals a se­ries of tastes. The menu of­fers en­tree-sized dishes only, al­low­ing, Reymond says, a more suit­able for­mat in which to sam­ple his fine-din­ing op­tions. Fair enough, but note th­ese en­tree-sized dishes will set you back more than $30 a pop. Three cour­ses cost $98; four, $125; and five cour­ses (which are re­quired to re­ally feel sat­is­fied), $150.

There is also a de­gus­ta­tion menu, de­signed around the sea­son, of five cour­ses and dessert for $150 without wine and $240 with matched wines. The dishes of­fered are dif­fer­ent from those on the main menu.

Two of us put our­selves in the hands of the fa­mous chef, who says he’s fer­reted out the finest Aus­tralian pro­duce to re­flect the flavours of sum­mer. The oth­ers take the a la carte route, helped through the process by knowl­edgable wait­ing staff who, like a good cricket um­pire, en­sure the evening runs seam­lessly without be­ing no­ticed.

Pro­ceed­ings open on the de­gus­ta­tion side with rock lob­ster dumpling in ap­ple and dashi broth. Topped with a crispy Asian salad, it has clean flavours, firm tex­ture and a gor­geously sweet broth, mak­ing for a mem­o­rable start, even though it’s first cab off a long rank.

Fi starts with an or­nate (some might say busy) quar­tet of small tastes that Reymond de­scribes as ‘‘ the four senses of sea and earth’’. Each is in­tri­cate, del­i­cate and flavour­some. An oys­ter kilpatrick topped with crispy pork and pep­pered wa­ter­melon, a sliver of hi­ra­masa king­fish with an or­ange and gin­ger sauce, duck foie gras with mango chut­ney and scampi sashimi all look great and set the stan­dard for the more sub­stan­tial dishes to come. The chil­dren barely rate a men­tion; the menu dom­i­nates con­ver­sa­tion. (Those seek­ing French onion soup should head to France Soir down the road.)

The de­gus­ta­tion con­tin­ues apace with a com­bi­na­tion salad of duck ma­gret, foie gras and tuna sashimi; it’s an un­usual trio that looks and tastes fan­tas­tic in com­bi­na­tion. It is quickly fol­lowed by hi­ra­masa king­fish with miso, green pea and mint puree and spicy tomato jelly. The fish is moist and firm and sweet with the flavour of the miso. While the pea and mint puree adds an­other layer of com­plex­ity, the one small crit­i­cism is that too many dishes have in­gre­di­ents blended into a frothy puree. It al­most be­comes a mo­tif.

The two high­lights of the de­gus­ta­tion menu are the veni­son with beet­root glaze and a veal fil­let with mus­tard and lemon sour cream. The first is vis­ually spec­tac­u­lar, rich red and bold. The sec­ond is more sub­tle, though the flavours linger on the tongue.

Fi’s meal is no less im­pres­sive. Her four-sea­sons start is fol­lowed by seared Her­vey Bay scal­lops ac­com­pa­nied by lit­tle tastes of smoked eel and smoked ocean trout in sake tem­pura.

She also tries Reymond’s unique ver­sion of beef ’ n’ reef, which is slowroasted veal poached in kombu, cit­rus

Dressed to im­press: Seared scal­lops Jac­ques Reymond 78 Wil­liams Rd, Prahran, Mel­bourne. (03) 9525 2178; www.jacques­rey­mond.com.au. Open: Tues­day, Wed­nes­day and Satur­day, 6.30pm-10pm; Thurs­day and Fri­day, noon-2pm, 6.30pm-10pm. Book­ings es­sen­tial. Wine list: Ex­ten­sive. Price: $380 for two, in­clud­ing wine. Note: Jac­ques Reymond will be host­ing a fundrais­ing din­ner for the Vic­to­rian Bush­fire Ap­peal on Wed­nes­day, March 4. Five-course menu, in­clud­ing wines, is $155; all pro­ceeds will be do­nated to the ap­peal. More: din­ing@jacques­rey­mond.com.au.

Pic­tures: Michael Pot­ter

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