In what I hope to be my swansong as far as interstate travel before I head overseas, I was determined to get value for the Public Service Travel Allowance by visiting some of the restaurants on my Melbourne ‘must do’ list.
Every time we head to Melbourne as a work group, there is much debate about where we will go, where we can get in and how much we should really be spending and eating on what is, after all, just another school night. This time however, things were different – we had a reason to celebrate! Anton was engaged (‘We are to be wed’), I was going overseas and Kylie was raising a toast to her Dad. What better reason than to head off to Bistro Vue. It would have been Vu de Monde but unfortunately (or fortunately for our wallets), it’s closed on Monday nights.
The blurb on the website says that Bistro Vue is inspired by the turn of the century (20th I assuming) back street Parisian Bistros. Backstreet is the operative word here – with the main restaurant in darkness, it was a guessing game as to how we actually accessed the Bistro or whether we were even in the right place. We walked into what appeared to be the foyer of an office block and after trying a few locked doors, we found one that was open and walked into a dimly lit court yard that adjoins the Bistro. There was a name etched on the glass door but I wouldn’t exactly say it was a beacon that we headed towards. It’s obviously cool to limit the signage (Gigibaba, Bar Lourinha etc) but it’s just frustrating for patrons who are trying to find a good feed.
We were seated in a small dining room which was busy with more than one sitting at a large number of tables. There is a second dining room that wasn’t operating on the evening we visited. The tables were quite close together which was fine for the four of us but perhaps the couple at the next table would have preferred to sit a little further away so they could enjoy their romantic meal without listening to our hilarious tales of drama and dilemma. I thought the décor was a bit chintzy and felt like I’d stepped into a Baz Luhrmann movie with all of that red velvet, brocade and mottled paint. Simple place settings, very nice bone handled knives straight out of Nanna’s top drawer and decent linen serviettes blended casual and quality and made it easier to accept the wooden tables with no tablecloth.
Thankfully the menu was manageable so between us, we covered a variety of entrees and mains. The bread roll/stick was curious. It tasted fine but was distinctly amateurish, something perhaps that I would turn out on a first attempt. I have read elsewhere that these are ‘petite baguettes’ but they were neither fluffy bread roll nor crunchy breadstick – just a curious chewy baton that resembled a rusk.
Entrees arrived – a Pissaldiere ($18) , Duck Salad ($18) and I opted for the French Onion Soup with Beer, topped with Gruyere ($17). The soup arrived capped in puff pastry with the gruyere on top. Removing the cap revealed a golden soup that was scaldingly hot. Whilst I waited for it to cool, I tried the other two meals (after all, I am the chief correspondent). The Pissaldiere looked a little overcooked as it was very brown but tasting it’s salty, oniony, olivey goodness, there was no need for concern. The salad comprised shredded salad veges such as cabbage, witlof and shredded duck in a light dressing (appeared to be part vinaigrette and part light cream). Thankfully the salad had been made at room temperature (rather than out of the fridge) which made it tasty if somewhat plain option. The soup had cooled sufficiently and also had the desired savoury hit I was after although I would have preferred a richer colour achieved from caramelising the onions for longer before adding the stock. The gruyere has also cooled into a crunchy gallete, proving some extra texture for the soup.
Our genuine article French waiters with their ‘oh ho ho’ accents, brought out our mains of Lamb Wellington ($36), Poulet Roti with Wild Mushrooms ($36) and a Bouillabaisse (undetermined pricing) as well as a side order of Whitlof (their spelling) Waldorf Salad ($8). I can’t tell you anything about le Poulet (chicken) as it was a whirl of food and drink by then but I didn’t hear complaints from Julie. The Lamb appeared to be a loin, encased in a lattice work of puff pastry served on a jus with petals of zucchini. Again, I would have preferred to see some more colour, this time on the pastry – it seemed a little under baked and hadn’t puffed as much as it should. The meat however was rare but incredibly tender and without a hint of fattiness which can really be unpleasant in rare lamb. As I’m writing this, I’m wondering if perhaps it was cooked Sous Vide and then encased in the pastry and finished in the oven? Using this technique means the proteins are ‘set’ but the food retains it’s original appearance (crazy molecular gastronomy at it’s best!). I had read in a review that the Lamb serve was small but my serve was a very big, so big in fact that I shared the second portion with my fellow diners and left the remainder.
I really couldn’t tempt anyone with the Waldorf Salad which was a real highlight – finely sliced celery with walnuts and slightly bitter and very crunchy witlof in a light and creamy dressing that coated the salad leaves without being cloying. The only hint of sweetness were the thinly sliced apples. Basil Fawlty would have been proud. I love a good seafood soup and will often order a bisque or chowder if it’s on the menu. Kylie’s Bouillabaisse arrived with the seafood piled in the middle of a shallow bowl. The soup itself was then served with a flourish from a small porcelain jug, around the edge of the seafood. Bordering on the consistency of a sauce, the soup was very, very thick and incredibly rich. It was a fairly modest portion but it was more than sufficient after the entrée (or as they say on the fancy menu – hors d’oeuvre). An accompaniment of some bread would have been appreciated but Kylie soldiered on with her chewy little baton that she had saved.
Desserts and cheese followed all of this food and we were well into our second bottle of wine by then (the 2006 Torbreck The Struie Shiraz from the Barossa was delicious!). Kylie and Julie plumped for the Crème Brulee’ ($14) as Julie continued her quest for the best Brulee’ in the world. (‘Good but not in the top 3’) They had the required ‘crack’ when you hit the burnt sugar with the back of the spoon and the crème what deliciously sweet and creamy. Kylie’s had spent a little more time under the salamander or in front of the blow torch so the sugar was bordering on being truly burnt rather than bronzed. It would appear that this was a meal where the browning of menu items was either too light or too dark but never quite right. Anton and I faired better with our Tarte Tatin aux Poires ($14), served at the table by being flipped out of the pan on a plate in one deft movement and then topped with pouring cream. It was heavenly with perfectly cook pastry (hooray), caramel (hooray) and pears. It really didn’t touch the sides. The cheese plate included a selection of four cheeses as well as the usual wafers, crackers and apple slices. It was adequate but Isis Brasserie in Brisbane need not worry about losing the mantle I bestowed upon it of ‘Best Cheese Plate Ever’.
No photos for this blog as I thought it would be bad form to whip out the camera and photograph each plate (who knows, I may want to come back here one day). If I was going to Vue De Monde, I wouldn’t have hesitated as the plating is amazing and all part of the experience. Overall, it was an enjoyable evening with lot’s of good food, wine and companionship. The service was relatively good but should have been better. I shouldn’t need to ask for water refills (at least twice) or what the cheeses are – these types of things should be automatic in a venue with such a highly regarded pedigree.
Bistro Vue – 430 Little Collins St, Melbourne (03) 9691 3838
Visited: Monday 27 July 2009 – Dinner Service