Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Virginia Plain - Nothing Plain About It

There has been a fair amount of press about Virginia Plain which has been good, bad and indifferent over the last few months so after viewing "Killing Them Softly" at the Palace Cinema, I thought I would visit the restaurant without a booking last night.

Located next to Cumulus, finding the stairs that need to be ascended to get to reception was easy and my first thoughts as I entered this grand long room was that it is unlike anything that I had ever seen before. Thoughts of The Overlook Hotel from The Shining came to mind though. A very long bar which is reminiscent of what you would find at Cookie is the focal point and the dining room is compartmentalised into two areas seemingly. We were immediately greeted and shown to our table and asked if we wanted tap or sparking water. There was no dawdling, and I appreciated that since I was parched.

The wine list was presented to me and it was quite a good read. I digested the introduction and a familiar name appeared: Raúl Moreno Yagüe. I did not know this man was the sommelier at Virginia Plain and after learning this trivia, I instantly knew that this wine list was going to be special. Raúl was once the sommelier at Vue de Monde and is responsible for getting me drunk, er.. I mean complementing Shannon Bennett's masterpieces with beverages on at least 24 occasions. I was hoping to shake Raúl's hand and say "g'day Spaniard" but he was not in sadly. I selected a Slovakian wine - the 2007 Klinec Medana Rebula froom the "Orange" list and I was very impressed. Raúl first introduced me to Slovakian and Lebanese wine for that matter at Vue, and I was happy that his influence has transcended the Bennett empire and continues to influence me.

After the euphoria of the first taste of the wine passed, we decided to order the seven course degustation for $89 p/p. The chef, Andy Harmer is also ex-Vue de Monde, so it was appropriate to see what he had on offer without presumption.

The first dish, a variant of poached eggs on toast, certainly reminded me of something that I had experienced at Vue de Monde in 2007 however Andy's offering is much more playful and relaxed. This is a good thing. The chicken sauce really brought the flavours together and I thought it was a great dish to start off with.

Ocean trout cured in raspberry vinegar with puff sesame seeds and blood orange followed. At first glance, it looked like Tetsuya's signature dish in Sydney however the fundamentals are completely different and exciting. When I lived in Brisbane, I really got into Philip Johnson's various menus at E'cco Bistro and developed a passion for seafood complimented with citrus elements. I fancied them so much that I bought his cookbooks and have tried my hand with various fish and oranges over the recent past however what Andy has created was exceptional. The blood orange complimented the raspberry ocean trout so well that I want to now try my hand at replicating it at home.

A tomato tart followed which certainly matched the Slovakian wine. Both delicate and intense enough to cleanse my palate and prepare me for probably what was my favourite dish of the night, the cod which swam in a sea of darkness; a broth-like soup that is very hard to describe but along with the cut asparagus complimented each other so well. You are deceived because you assume that the dark liquid will not pair well with the fish, but in the end it does - and oh so very well.

The final savory dish was pork jowl and neck. This might not be everyone's taste however I thought the inclusion of this dish to be very appropriate. I have had so many degustation journeys spoiled by the last savory dish which usually is some odd cut of meat. I enjoyed the pork, especially the light and fatty jowl which matched perfectly with the Slovakian wine.

Unpasteurised cheese and a banoffee finished this epicurean journey and I was left in awe, wondering why I had not been in this place before this sitting. Music played (there is a large stash of vinyl records and a turntable behind the bar I noticed) and the music fit the mood of the place and complimented the evening and ambiance. For those of you who have read my review of Nobu, or even the Meatball & Wine Bar, you will know that my pet hate is obnoxious music being played whilst dining and what was on offer at Virginia Plain was classy and appropriate.

We were attended to by four members of staff throughout the night. I found all of them cheerful, pleasant and good humoured and they certainly complimented the food and beverage. Unlike other places that I have dined at recently, service looked to be enjoying themselves and took pleasure in delighting the customers, which we were throughout the 2.5 hour experience.

I noticed subtle influences from the old Vue de Monde on Little Collins Street in the design and of course the food and beverage. Given the cost of the seven course degustation, I honestly think this is the best value for money that I have experienced since I started this blog. Mix that with the professional service and quality of the dishes, I think we have a true winner here.

Virginia Plain
Link to review
31 Flinders Lane Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 7545
My Rating: 16/20
Service: 4.5/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 4.5/5
Comment: Great value 7 course degustation

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
web: www.epicureanofsouthbank.com

When I made this post originally, 80% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked Virginia Plain.

Virginia Plain on Urbanspoon