Proceedings commenced at Gin Palace with their sublime Gin & Tonic #2's since Ezard was not expecting us until 9:00 PM. Although our intention of having the signature Ezard degustation option was announced to the restaurant when the booking was made, I was fearful that the experience would be amalgamated into a frenzy of activity and be over in the blink of an eye considering the start time. The restaurant however assured us that would not be the case and in fact that you can order the degustation menu up until 10:30 PM. That is impressive.
We arrived early for our booking taking a chance that our table would be ready and we were not disappointed. The lovely lady who greeted us at the door turned out to be our server and led us to our table. It wasn't the best table in the house by far but I was happy to be seated away from the M1: the main thoroughfare of the restaurant that borders the bar and will also take you to the lavatories.
Sparking water quickly arrived along with bread. I ordered a classic Gin & Tonic to begin with. Without looking at the menu, I announced to the server that we would be enjoying the (eight) course degustation option. She said that I should still review the menu but I indicated that I like to be surprised.
The restaurant manager, Quentin wandered over to give salutations and greetings. We both recognised each other from the old Vue de Monde on Little Collins Street as he had the (dis)pleasure in those days of looking after my table on occasion. At that point, I knew that we were in good hands.
One of the signature dishes, a Japanese inspired oyster shooter arrived in tandem with Quentin holding a bottle of 2012 Kirei Shuzo 'Karakuchi 80' Junmai Nama Genshu Sake from Hiroshima, Japan. I can certainly understand why this is considered a signature dish. An explosion of tastes ensued and when aptly paired with the Sake, not only did I have a new found respect for the restaurant but appreciated the way that the Sake did not overpower the shooter and the shooter in turn did not overpower the Sake. Most people believe that wine is best matched with raw bivalves but this is not the case. Sake in my humble opinion is the most natural and logical pair and it is very rare to find a degustation that will exploit this delicate balance for all it is worth.
Citrus and vodka cured salmon, black quinoa, olive oil jam, smoked yoghurt, tangerine vinaigrette matched with a 2000 Pol Roger Brut was the next colourful delight to be presented to us. Simple but effective matching of the delicate seafood tastes with the champagne were highlighted by the enigmatic olive oil jam. What a mysterious and intriguing taste. Beside the oyster shooter, the taste of the jam is what left the greatest impression on my palate. The diner is also left to their own devices to add a variety of spices that languish on your table and this is the dish that is best enhanced by them.
Whenever I am presented with spanner crab, I am a happy man. Fortunately for me, the third dish was a steamed spanner crab dumpling with Yarra Valley salmon roe. Spanner crab playing hide and seek in a dumpling was a novel approach that certainly worked. I am a bit biased when it comes to spanner crab as it is classically one of my favourite foods and the restaurant did not let me down.
A salad of beetroot, asparagus and Jamon Serrano, parmesan custard and a black truffle vinaigrette was next. Beetroot is usually not suited for me and I have never had it with Jamon Serrano before. The result was a pleasant surprise. It just proves if you keep an open mind that you can find simple delights in food that you would not normally appreciate. At home I want to experiment with the beetroot and a Jamon Iberico now and see what that is like.
I thought it was adventurous to pair the next dish, a pan roasted baby barramundi with carmelised eggplant, tomato and lime salad with yellow curry dressing and a Dolcetto. A 2010 G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba. The onmnipresent floral smell certainly paired well with the baby barramundi and the wine never overpowered the fish, which was the first thing that I was concerned about when I saw the match unfold.
Moving from a floral bouquet to a rich apple one followed with the slow cooked Bangalow pork belly with apple pudding, fennel, white peach and calvados jus. Just looking at the pork and you just know in theory that it should be bad for you - but the things that are supposedly bad for your health are so damn good. If the pork was any softer it would be emulsified. A very tasty dish that actually melted in my mouth.
When you order the degustation menu, you are asked to make one choice - choose between the Chinese style roast duck and the Wagyu beef. Feeling very gluttonous as we could not make a choice (nobody should have to choose between those two dishes) we opted to enjoy them both much to the surprise of the restaurant however anything is possible provided that you are willing and able to pay the surcharge for the pleasure.
The duck with green chilli and an oyster sauce dressing was matched with a 2010 By Farr "Farrside" Pinot Noir from Geelong. I love Pinot Noir and most recently have come to appreciate the offerings from Geelong (thanks Pinot Palooza!) however I thought that this big and bold Pinot went well with the duck and the introduction of the spice along with the green chilli was exciting.
Thinking about it more, it was probably silly of me to order the additional course as I felt like I was going to explode when the eight score Wagyu beef with potato terrine, garlic, red wine jam, mushroom soil and a bordelaise jus came out. The 2002 Hans Herzog "Spirit of Marlborough" Merlot Cabernet was paired with this oddly delicate steak. I would have liked to have seen it matched with a wine from Bordeaux as that is where the recipe for the jus originated however I liked it. I was starting to like everything though as my alcohol intake for the day was starting to overwhelm my sensibilities.
A very generous serving of five different cheeses concluded our evening and although a dessert tasting place was on offer, I physically got not eat any more.
Ezard beguiled me however not in a deceptive way. It lived up to its good reputation and Quentin and the team looked after us well. Most importantly the food and wine encouraged pleasant conversation for the four hours that we were at the restaurant and made for a memorable evening (and the start of the morning) and for that I am grateful.
Link to review
187 Flinders Lane Melbourne VIC 3000
My Rating: 16.25/20
Value For Money: 4/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Ezard.