As usual, I arrived with the intention to eat, drink and be merry with one other person and no booking. Both front of house and the barman greeted us and exclaimed that it would be no problem whatsoever to seat us in the dining room. That was music to my ears as I was very hungry and thirsty.
The dining room can best be described as cozy. Not all of the tables were occupied during my visit but considering the configuration of the tables, I suspect cozy would be an understatement if the restaurant was at capacity. The white plastic chairs where comfortable enough and throughout the long dining experience that I undertook, I never started squirming or feeling uncomfortable.
There is an outside area that borders the Sofitel hotel driveway. I was hoping to spot some quality automobiles but there was no such luck. I did spot the self-important people pacing up and down in the area shouting into their mobile phones however along with a few people outside with coffee and smoking. It appeared to be a relaxed area despite the occasional car and taxi traversing the driveway from the hotel.
The restaurant is broken up into three areas. The dining room which would hold about 50 people, the outdoor area and the bar area which has its own limited menu which includes jamon iberico. Throughout my lunch, I would walk past the bar area and the tables would always be filled with people chattering, drinking and eating. It would make for a good casual and impromptu place to conduct an ad-hoc meeting, or even drink and have some bar food. I will be calling into the bar before I see another film at the Palace Cinemas next week, which are located next to the restaurant.
Beautiful house-made sourdough bread with freshly churned butter, water, menus and the wine list were presented to us by Lisa, who was quite friendly and as we would learn, very professional after we were shown our table. My first impression was that the menu was concise so my expectations effectively were raised knowing that they must specialise in a limited number of dishes. All of them should be amazing. I ordered a Lord Nelson Three Sheets whilst I reviewed the wine list.
Service was very keen to take our orders and I had to explain that we were in no rush and were very keen to relax and try many things and not act like conventional diners. The service then adjusted and we were left to our own devices where we were attended to when the appropriate visual cues were made. I appreciated that.
For wine, I stayed local and ordered the 2011 Bindi Composition Chardonnay and I was impressed with how it paired with my first of three starters (no, I do not share being an only child) which was the wonderful Almond Gazpacho with Blue Swimmer Crab which I found amazing. I am highly critical of dishes with Blue Swimmer Crab as I think it is overused in restaurants however a favourite of mine that usually is destroyed when preparing it with vacuous elements. Pei Modern has a winner with this dish and I was so pleased in the end that I commenced proceedings with this dish.
There are so many starters that I wanted to try, it made it difficult to choose so I just kept going. My guest ordered the Steak Tartare and I opted for the Burrata, Blood Orange and White Anchovy. I really didn't know what to expect as logically I did not know how the white anchovy would be presented in a dish like this but once again I was not only surprised but impressed. The anchovy was pressed and made to appear like a flat-bread which was perfect and so nicely paired with not only the 2011 Bindi but also the blood orange and Burrata.
I was advised that the Steak Tartare was divine and better compared to what you get at Movida. Since I do not share, I ordered this dish next. Once again, another winner. I would rate this on par with Movida and also it would be chasing the tail of what you get at Rockpool Bar & Grill.
Sadly as I knew that my stomach was rapidly filling and the wine was leaving me in probably too good of a mood, we decided to order mains mainly so we had an excuse to return and try more entrees and the exciting bar menu. I ordered the 9+ Wagyu, Nettle Puree & Tuscan Red Onions for my main. What a fine cut of meat. It was prepared without a fault and matched very well with the Nettle Puree. There were copious amounts of red onions, some of which were abandoned when I was finished with the steak, which was a generous amount of meat in its own right. This dish certainly was contending for my favourite dish of the evening however that honour would have to be bestowed on the Almond Gazpacho with Blue Swimmer Crab as it is something unique and a dish you will not find anywhere else.
I suppose that expectations were high for this restaurant, not only from me but the usual people in the press since Pei Modern is the love-child of Mark Best of Marque fame in Sydney. After dining at Marque a few times, I certainly see his influence at Pei Modern. More importantly I was able to sit at a table at this restaurant for four hours, feel comfortable and never realise the time and instead I was absorbed into having pleasant conversation, eating, drinking and being taken care of by the staff. I am certainly looking forward to returning soon.
Link to review
45 Collins Street Melbourne VIC 3000
My Rating: 15.5/20
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: Best new restaurant in Melbourne
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
When I made this post originally, 76% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also liked Pei Modern. I am not surprised why the figure is so low.