Although my birthday was a couple of months ago, it has taken until now for me to feel like doing anything to mark it. I am not one for celebrating my own birthday anyway – the main question is why? – but it is a socially typical excuse for going to a nice restaurant, and I needed some normal justification.
My original plan had been to do the Dali exhibition and Cutler and Co for lunch/dinner on a Friday, but when I sent my mother the link to C&C’s website she replied with “gloomy” and “expensive” (having only noticed the meaty sharing dishes). I still think that we could have had a fabulous dinner at C&C, but the initial lack of enthusiasm dulled my interest. It is, however, still on my list of places to visit.
As PDC, Mamma needed to be happy to go to a particular restaurant, otherwise I wouldn’t enjoy myself at all. (This ruled out Shira Nui, as though she likes Japanese food she’s not as fanatical as I am. It also ruled out Attica, because it’s too avant garde.)
However, I remembered that a few months ago I had read The Age’s review of Embrasse, and then Ed’s review, and had mentally flagged it as somewhere that might actually interest my easily bored palate. I was also impressed that Nicolas Poelaert had worked at Michel Bras, which is on my “If I won the lottery” wishlist.
I pointed out to Mamma that they were offering venison, which sealed the deal.
The Dali exhibition was mentally stimulating, irritating crowds notwithstanding (“I really need to get back into painting with oils. I could paint like that, with practice and if people stopped interrupting me.”). After a walk around the city and Carlton in the extraordinarily cold weather that struck Melbourne over the weekend, we were happy to skip across to Embrasse.
At 7 o’clock, there were only two other diners, which was a welcome relief after the shrieks of bored NGV-attending children.
We were brought an aperitif menu, and water, and I had to make the usually difficult decision of what to eat.
My general rule when eating out is to have, and only have, what I cannot replicate at home. This usually hinges on produce and/or technique and/or specialised equipment. This also means I don’t eat out often because, with the exception of hatted restaurants, most run of the mill places don’t offer anything I can’t do (better) myself.
On that basis, and having been intrigued before, I went for the selection of root vegetables, mushroom/ink crumbs, 62C egg, wood sorrel, because I doubt I could slow cook an egg like that.
I was also interested in the smoked ocean trout, and the king prawns, and the meli melo, and the John Dory (even though I don’t really like white-fleshed fish or avocado), and the carrots and nettles with oat/golden syrup, and the cheeses. Another time…
Mamma, of course, had already made up her mind and went straight for the roasted venison, cauliflower, barberry, milk/shallot, wild water cress.
We also decided, since I was effectively having only a wee starter, and it was a cold night, that the famous aligot should be tested.
Very impressively, we were brought three types of house made bread – miniature wholemeal soda bread loaves, white rolls and slices of rosemary and oat bread. Mamma will no doubt go down in the annals of Melburnian dining as the woman who has got to the bottom of the bread basket at the finest restaurants, and tried all three (some twice…). I went for the rosemary and the soda bread, and enjoyed the butter with them.
The rosemary and oat bread was, by the by, unbelievably delicious.
We were also brought out two types of amuse bouche. One I didn’t pay much attention to because it had pancetta and therefore I would have to forego it. The other involved Roquefort and a single, beautiful fresh shiso leaf on the top. The Roquefort was divine – a tiny amount, but so flavourful.
After a relatively short wait, we were brought our dishes. I was far too inhibited to whip my camera out at that stage, but I wish I had.
The venison – slow cooked, then roasted – was brought out in two geometrical chunks, deliciously ruby-pink red inside. Though not a meat eater for 12 years, I could almost change my mind after seeing the plate. There was a beautiful floral floret of cauliflower, a splash of barberry sauce, the overall vision one of ruby and pearl.
The aligot was served in a copper saucepan with two forks for twiddling the stretchy mash into a more manageable dollop.
My root vegetables involved a trail of finely wrought and lightly cooked potato, carrot, shallot, possibly beetroot and I’ve no idea what else (swede? Turnip? It was all delicious, anyway), with crunchy black umami-rich chunks of crumbs and a white-veiled soft egg. The vegetables were intensely flavourful, as you only get with good ingredients that have been respected and highlighted by the chef. The crumbs provided a lovely flavour and textural nuance and the egg was not only extraordinary in its perfect, jellyish texture, but one of the best tasting eggs I’ve ever had.
The aligot was divinely cheesy and though slightly coronary-inducing, was welcome on a cold night.
I’m embarrassed to say I ogled the venison so much I almost feel as if I have eaten it.
Finally, the dessert option arose. I had an inkling that Embrasse would proffer desserts the like of which I would never manage at home and therefore had to be enjoyed as the opportunity arose.
Mamma made the choice of chocolate parfait, meringue, chocolate crumb, sorrel granita.
Mushrooms! Growing out of the soil!
The base of the mushroom was the meringue, the caps were the parfait (which tasted a bit hazelnutty), the crumbs made up the soil, the sorrel granita the moss. The leaf skeleton was a sort of langue du chat type biscuit.
Parfait was parfait! I could have eaten bowls of it. The meringue was delightfully crunchy, the leaf melted in the mouth, the crumb soil moist, dense, dark and intense. The sorrel granita provided a lovely fresh, zingy counterpart to the chocolate.
It was the best dessert I have ever seen, or eaten.
For me, Embrasse was as much a feast for the eyes as the palate; quite appropriate after an afternoon of brain-stimulating art.
I can highly recommend it – the food was superb, the service prompt, friendly and accommodating.