Friday, 2 November 2012

Taxi Dining Room - Be Here Now

Before my visit on All Hallows' Eve, I had not dined in at Taxi Dining Room, located on the first floor of the Transport Hotel in Federation Square since 2007. At that time, it not only came highly recommended to me and the person who was whispering in my ear at that time that was saying that restaurant was the new "it" place may have exaggerated a bit. Considering that I was doing whirlwind weekend tours of Melbourne bars and restaurants back then, I was looking for something really special and it never really left a positive or a negative impression really. Of course that was 2007 and what a difference five years makes.

Back in the bygone era of the noughties Taxi Dining Room couldn't stop winning  awards. It even managed to procure two of the coveted hats that restaurants seem to lose sleep over these days and drive mild-mannered chefs to alcoholism, depression and despair. Like with federal politics and Prime Ministers seemingly, restaurant hats come and go on a whim. Sometimes on merit, sometimes for other nefarious reasons. Whatever is the case, should the dining public re-establish a love affair with Taxi Dining Room now, they will not regret it.

The dining area remains bright, meticulously organised and as welcoming as the staff were when I presented myself with the epicurean emo. Views can be enjoyed depending on the perspective where you sit out to the Botanic Gardens, Southbank and the beautiful (sic) Yarra River or the skyline of the CBD. It was the start of a relaxed afternoon and when I learned that a seven-course degustation was on offer, I became as the proverbial dog with a bone. Proper seven-course degustation menus are seemingly rare as hens teeth for lunch so I knew I was in for an experience.

I began to ruminate about the table configuration and how appropriate it was. Not only did it make the most of the floorspace which benefits the restaurant but the tables were not so close together that you would feel like you were in other patron's personal space or be able to eavesdrop on their conversation. After my experience at The Press Club, I have become hypersensitive to being packed in like sardines in a crushed tin box as Radiohead would moan.

Quickly I learned that our server, Laura, and sommelier, Owen, exuded professionalism and were quite willing to go on our relaxed, yet wild, ride through the menu and around the world with the wines offering cold hard facts about the grapes, the reasons for the pairings and also trivia that kept us intrigued.

The meal started with Whiting sashimi with Kombu dressing. After recent trips to Nobu and Koko and thinking of the best seafood dishes that I had, this dish, not only the presentation but the dressing made it taste spectacular and be equal with the best of the best that the aforementioned specialists have on offer. The pairing of 1999 Duval-Leroy 'Authentis' from France certainly enhanced an already divine start to proceedings.

Panko crumbed pork cheek with Ngoc Cham and Prawn dust followed. The pairing of Dr Burklin Wolf 'Wachenheimer' Riesling, 2010 from Germany I thought was bold but also a great compliment. This is a very complex dish with many flavours competing for superiority on your palate however they were not intense flavours which allowed the wine to really do its job and highlight the goodness. 

Probably the most intriguing, if not special, of the dishes followed. Szechuan broth with Asian herbs and Szechuan duck. The broth was unlike anything that I have ever had before. The Szechuan duck would have been enjoying a happy afterlife bathing in this sea of flavour. Like with the Whiting earlier, Owen made a great choice with the Barbeito 'Old Reserve' Verdelho Medium Dry 10yo. -  Madeira - bold and classy and indeed a winner. This is my favourite dish and pairing of the experience which has continued to haunt me long past Halloween became a day in the past this year.

Cone Bay Barramundi with tempura mussels and garlic choi sum followed with a Denton 'View Hill' Pinot Noir, 2008 from our own Yarra Valley. Normally I remain sceptical of pairing Barramundi with Pinot Noir however this worked well and proves that if you lose yourself at times and trust the experts that you will not only gain a better appreciation for various matched flavours but also learn something at the same time.

Rabbit saddle with Lup chong and ginger followed with a 2010 Cape Mentelle Zinfandel from the Margaret River. It had been a while since I had a nice Zinfandel and I see why Owen decided to match it with the rabbit. The rabbit was prepared properly and really renewed my passion for wanting to eat the pest. Another wine, Gros Nore Bandol, 2008 (Mouvedre) was also on offer to taste with this dish and when poured directly from the Magnum, I felt like I was in a hedonistic paradise.

After a Passion fruit sorbet cleanser with coconut espuma, an Ecuador dark chocolate ganache was served for the one dessert course with a Mas Amiel Maury Rouge, 2009 (Grenache Noir) from CĂ´tes de Roussillon, France. Very rich and powerful, which was how I wanted to end this meal with petit fours included.

Chef Tony Twitchett certainly has Taxi Dining Room on track to not only returning to the glory days but in my opinion exceeding what was achieved in the past. Most of the time, child actors are given praise as teenagers only to become ugly ducklings and never achieve much as adults. There are the rare exceptions though and I will steadfastly think of Taxi Dining Room as the Leonardo DiCaprio of the Melbourne dining scene. It was good before. It is much better now, and much like Leo will get an Oscar in the future for something, I am confident that Taxi Dining Room will end up with a few hats in the very short term if they keep up the awesome work. I look forward to returning soon.

Taxi Dining Room, Federation Square Melbourne
Taxi Dining Room
Level 1, Transport Hotel
Federation Square, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 8808
My Rating: 16.5/20
Service: 4.5/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4.5/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: Degustation+wines is awesome

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

When I made this post originally, 79% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked Taxi Dining Room.

Taxi Dining Room on Urbanspoon