TABLES Grown-up pleasures
Don’t wait for a birthday or anniversary to try one of Melbourne’s finest diners, advises Stephen Lunn
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: email@example.com.