Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Bistro Vue - Return from Exile

For me when I was just a lowly tourist and visiting Melbourne with some sort of frequency, it was my opinion that if I was going to dine at a Shannon Bennett property, it had to be Vue de Monde. It was as simple as that. On a few occasions in years gone past mainly because of lack of planning and the short notice that I gave to the restaurant, I ended up visiting Bistro Vue at Normanby Chambers on Little Collins Street, which is actually the old site for Vue de Monde before the restaurant moved to the top floor of the Rialto Tower.

With a fit-out that resembles what you would expect to be suitable for the House of Bourbon where the only thing missing is the Sun King sitting at one of the many large chairs with soft red upholstery where it could be confused that the Grand Dauphin takes up residence in a circular corner booth looking out over the third estate, this bistro, for the lack of a better term, not only possesses a simple charm but transports you back to a bygone era on a back street of Paris where the only characters missing are the multiple Jacques drinking DeFarge wine at the long and impressive bar made out of zinc.

When we called into the restaurant which tricks you by being named a bistro so that they can over-deliver and thoroughly impress as most diners would not hold a bistro up to the same standard as a restaurant - case in point: expectations would be higher should you dine at the contemporary Vue de Monde versus the traditional Bistro Vue. Fortunately the Grand Dauphin was holding court elsewhere and we were kindly offered the corner round table. Service was very accommodating and the professional yet chipper wine steward, Marcus, was able to offer us matching wine with the l'humeur du chef ($110/each) - chef's choice, or degustation menu, which proved to be exciting in its own right.

Whilst enjoying a gin and tonic (sadly they did not have West Wins gin however the Bombay Sapphire flowed) the kitchen prepared a simple but fitting amuse bouche to start - rusty wire oysters, essentially the best oysters of the day ultimately paired with a non vintage Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin "Brut", Champagne. Although this generic vintage is highly available and I have a few bottles at home waiting to pop, it was a fitting match to enjoy the oysters and lemon with.

A very apt and quick transition to the first proper course, citrus cured mackerel was amazing. The avocado and pickled onion that complemented the dish, not only had a Picasso-like presentation, the fish possessed so much flavour that the dish nearly overwhelmed the 2012 "The Story" Marsanne Roussanne Viognier from the Grampians in Victoria. This was an excellent way to start and one of the two highlights of this tasting menu. Strangely, I found subtle influences in this course with one that Andy Harmer prepares at Virginia Plain. Given Andy used to work in the Shannon Bennett empire, the correlation is not that queer though and it made me smile. The mackerel was cured perfectly and given that I prefer this particular fish cured, ultimately led to greater satisfaction.

A simple ferron risotto with mushrooms followed however the shaved black truffles that accompanied it made this a course huge on flavour that had my nose nearly in the food allowing it to take in every possible whiff of the noisome black gold. Besides for my well documented love affair with spanner crab, I become sexually excited when I am in the midst of black truffles. Fortunately for those in the restaurant, white stinky fungus from Alba was not in season as the public should not have to bear witness to that level of excitement however as a whole, this dish was magnificent and I used the remaining bread to soak up every bit of evidence on this plate and gleefully returned the physical dish absolutely devoid of any food. The 2010 Basils Farm Pinot Noir from Swan Bay, Victoria, was an adventurous choice by the sommelier who accommodated our hedonistic whims by providing multiple tastes just to ensure that we appreciated this vintage properly.

A blood orange sorbet acted as palate cleanser during the intermission where we moved to a more substantial offering, the David Blackmore bolar blade. Originally when it was announced that this was the next course, I felt a certain amount of consternation as for some strange reason a cut of beef, regardless if it has the David Blackmore name or not, has never really impressed me for some strange reason. I have frequently said that the degustation experience that I had earlier in the year at Vue de Monde would have been perfect (and suitably ended up with a different rating from me) if the David Blackmore steak was substituted for something a bit more adventurous however in the case of this bolar blade, I was in awe. The substantial marbling of the fat made it possible to cut the beef with your fork and along with the mackerel, made this dish a stand-out. Marcus found a 2010 Terrazas "de los Andes" Malbac which hails from the shadows of the Andes mountains in the Mendoza region of Argentina to match the sublime corner cut of the perfectly prepared flesh.

An experience at a Bennett property tends to have at least one "WTF" moment and this took place with the last official course, a dessert being the Bistro Vue interpretation of a "Snickers" bar which was not only playful but delicious. I had not enjoyed a standard issue Snickers bar in over a decade so the kitchen's interpretation of it certainly restored not only memories but my ability to salivate as I consumed it without much grace or regard for manners. A 2010 Mas Amiel Grenache, Vin Doux Natural from Languedoc-Roussillon, France complemented this course and ultimately the dénouement of the kitchen's grand plan. There is always at least one dish that I muse over for days wondering how they went about preparing it and this was it.

Petit Fours - canelé, pate des fruits and chocolate cigars were first matched with a 2008 Château le Pradey from Saint-Croix-du-Mont, Bordeaux, France. After multiple tastes we thought it would be fitting to celebrate this wonderful menu with a half bottle of non vintage Krug ($310, where the total amount of alcohol consumed considering cocktails and the wine matching came to $443) where we saw the masses ultimately matriculate from all the the tables and we were left in ultimate silence to ponder the evenings proceedings and wonder how five hours passed so quickly. I suppose when you are in a very comfortable environment where the food and wine encourages gentlemanly and pleasant conversation where the service was never intrusive and complemented the experience totally, the minutes can easily turn into hours and potentially days in this place. Not only do I look forward to returning, but I will be doing so often.

Bistro Vue was awarded One Hat in the 2012/2013 The Age Good Food Guide however it really deserves two in my humble opinion. This was one of my "top" dining experiences of 2013 so far.

Bistro Vue, Little Collins Street, Melbourne

Bistro Vue
430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9691 3838
My Rating: 17/20
Service: 4.75/5
Ambiance: 4.25/5
Quality: 4.75/5
Value For Money: 3.25/5

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

At the time of this post, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Bistro Vue.

Bistro Vue on Urbanspoon