Vue De Monde : Restaurant Review

3 & ½ stars out of 5 (halfway between good and excellent)

Melbourne, Australia

Visited in November 2014. 

In terms of pure quiddity of experience, Vue De Monde is a superb example of the modern Australian restaurant. You check in at the plush lobby on the ground floor and the lady guides you towards a dedicated lift-  futuristic and gleaming black with white lighted lines - that ascends 55 floors up into the Rialto Tower. The lift doors open directly to staff who welcome and guide you to the airy vantage location of your table. The view makes Melbourne city slowly melt into the great Australian outdoors on a wide horizon. The room’s air-borne corporate slickness atones for it not being a Palace of Versailles-like Louis XV. Half a dozen snacks arrive in quick succession  and perch on sculpted polished rocks, all sitting on a leather-skin tabletop. Australian specialty produce, like marron, barramundi and even wallaby (you don’t count your karmic meter here) form part of the menu that lines up 12 legitimate courses served to you by black-suit-clad gracious ladies and gents, with a serious cheese cart thrown in ,or more correctly rolled in by a French-accented young man with a blond twirled moustache. Chef and businessman Shannon Bennett makes Noma & the New Nordic wave splash into the Australian high-life. Liquid nitrogen canoodles with the caveman practice of holding up meat and bone with your bare hands and taking it apart with excited mouth. You can’t blame them for not trying.

But once the novelty value and pyrotechnics wear off, more important concerns reveal themselves. Consider the undeniably pretty and sophisticated presentation of lamb here. The surface belongs to any top-class restaurant of France or new-age America, but when you taste it, core and all, the meat is gamy and the apple topped with mustard foam, while pleasant, has no special flavor. On the whole, you know you’re eating something nice, but you can get this taste in a thousand bistros all over the world and that’s not what I came here to eat. But such disappointments are contrasted in Vue De Monde‘s savoury journey against the effect of courses like the Wagyu beef - the stand-out protein of the meal (proving that it is not only the Chinese but also the Japanese who can flourish in Australia). The marinated beef is then briefly barbecued tableside in a show of petite theatre, and what you get is the softest meat in the entire land. A two year old could safely chomp on, savour and swallow this.

The ambience is something I’d like to return to. It’s not a massive room, but the altitude is allowed to percolate into the interior - the result is a airy classy space.

A zoom shot through the window

The following images are those of the "Snacks". You can absent-mindedly polish them off, but none of them were show-stealers.

Wallaby - very soft! ( its flavour did not stand out).

Before being rolled up tableside.

Lamb Heart - 'smelt' of the hearth particularly - the texture did not suggest offal at all.

Duck tongue - 'caramel slips of meat'.

 The opener of Barramundi , however, is a brilliant inspiration. A fried hunk of the said fish is placed in front of you without cutlery, and use of hands and directly applied mouth is suggested. French upper-class sophistry drowns in the Australian mines and beaches as you lift the torched meat and bite past the crisp crust into soft flesh. You can gnaw to the bone - the culinary equivalent of making love in a elegant public park. Matters get further down and dirty when the hostess draws up, takes the cheek (of the fish) - and carves it out tableside - not a pretty sight but viscerally important matters are often not. The excised meat is anointed with chilly and garlic burnt butter, tucked into lettuce and presented as a roll. Peking duck, first-class, it was not : the flavour of those buttery silken cheeks was so delicate that they got shrouded by the chosen treatment.

Picked clean!

This was the best service I received amongst the four Australian fine-dining hot-spots I covered in this 2014 trip (Quay, Marque, Flower Drum being the others) but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was easily world-class. Amazing vigilance and faultless charm is perhaps a mirage I seek -  requiring higher tariffs than that charged here, and even taller service standards than that sought by S. Bennett. But I liked the welcome, follow-through, and send-off conveyed by the entire team and one of the service staff was a pleasant lady previously from NY’s decidedly rarefied Eleven Madison.

I don’t have the advantage of multiple visits to VDM because I don’t live in Australia. Therefore, whether the following quartet of disappointments is an anomaly, is not an easily verifiable matter by repeat exploration. Salt-cured brunoised kingfish with buttermilk and kale exasperated me - this deconstructionist treatment broke to bits the potential delight of the dish - much nicer would have been an immaculately cooked whole cut of regal kingfish flanked by worthy courtiers. The cutlery was more impressive. Marron - an Australian shellfish specialty- was succulent slick meat and a looker to top it (with orange-white gloss). But once past the eye and on the palate, there was not much hint of the haunting essence of true-blue shellfish ,moreover that butter emulsion with marzipan covered whatever little taste those glistening chunks possessed. Brunoised ox tongue and beetroot with powdered crème fraiche all offered very gentle textures no doubt, but the technical exertion proved unnecessary because it showcased innocuous flavours. And then there was duck egg with black truffle underneath - neither element had memorable umami.

But Shannon Bennett’s palate cleanser is a cameo to offset a fair lot of gripes. Such recondite herbs as pineapple sage and sheep sorrel (the servers say it is “Foraged”! - I see Ben Shewry’s chest swelling with pride!) are placed in a small porcelain mortar and liquid nitrogen is poured into it - the freezing agent transforms their texture to a degree as crisp as that of crackly autumn foliage. The chef holding the liquid nitrogen playfully drops some of it onto the kangaroo-leather-topped table and little liquid pearls float about on the surface. You’re requested to pick up the pestle and grind the material in the mortar -it crumbles into veritable powder and a cool cucumber sorbet is placed atop. This refresher is almost as delightful and enchanting as Julie Delpy in ‘Before Sunrise’.

Of the three cheeses presented to me from the cart on my requesting their best rather than all the cheeses, a Fleur de Marquise nicely approximated the creamy excellence of Camembert, while a Saint Agur proved to be a full-bellied blast of a cheese - its salted lactose-fermented complex wave snowballing in my mouth until a mydriatic shock gripped me (I kid you not!) and I heard a loud internal “Mooooo!!!” (almost). To top it, even the accoutrements of assorted preserves, toasted crisps, and dried grapes went beautifully with the cheese. 

It may be likely that Vue De Monde’s pastry chefs abandoned aerial ship and left the savory contingent in a soup. There’s no other convincing explanation why a plain-Jane Chocolate souffle graces a modest three-act dessert section (unless it was one of the world’s best versions which it wasn’t) and jettisoning cocoa powder from  a high spoon onto the souffle table-side isn’t going to do the trick. Goat’s milk panna-cotta with blueberries and a covering tuile of blackberry sugar was a creamy-sharp spin on crème brulee- its sole merit was that the flavour of goat’s milk (which I don’t dig) was coaxed down to a minimum. The first sweet - a petite cool glamorous stick of coconut ice-cream draped in a swirl of celery avec lemon-salt, looked better than it tasted. Minor consolation arose in the petite fours from the creamy intensity of a “Chocolate mousse Lamington”. 

Crackling and caramel ( statutory warning : the shells are not for eating).

Whiskey jelly - will neither intoxicate nor inveigle you.

Chocolate mousse lamington - excellently concentrated and slick on the tongue.

Eucalyptus sorbet - may not move the Koala either - its flavour was rather feeble.

Alors, Vue De Monde’s opening moves offered exciting promise, but the delights then petered out. Shannon Bennett was not present in the kitchen that day ( admittedly difficult for him to be , considering that he is running multiple businesses) but it didn’t matter, because the problem was in the conception, not execution. All the Noma nods and technical trickery will come to little more than a naught unless pure gustatory sparkle is adequately harvested.

More tragedies - there were hardly any vegetables showcased. The menu was christened “Gastronomes’ menu”. ‘Twas probably a slip of tongue (of duck, ox, etc.) or more correctly a typo tumble, because it should have been named the “Carnivore’s Carnival”. Carbohydrate (bread doesn’t count) wasn’t spotlighted either. A chef who doesn’t pay heed to the exclusive and noble cuisine of about 500 million or so people in this world of ours, ultimately shows less culinary sinew- in this Quay and Marque similarly disappointed.  But ,I concede that Vue De Monde flexes its muscle in other ways, both substantial and stylish.  There’s no harm in making millions without harming others - it’s the other extreme that often deleterious - I just wish Bennett would concentrate on making as little as possible of his dishes suffer from poverty, however relative, of flavour.

After your meal, if you are interested in beautifully designed spaces, you may saunter into the nearby 333 Collins Street - I was very impressed by this cool ethereal sanctum.



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