The two year mark in any relationship is a pretty huge milestone, particularly for someone like me. And of course, what better way to celebrate this occasion than to wine and dine at arguably Melbourne’s best French restaurant, Jacques Reymond? I booked about a month ago which, for most fine-dining establishments, would mean that I would get a response of “sorry, no tables available” had I made the booking eighteen months ago. Thanks to the GFC, however, it has been relatively easy to snag a table at some of the high-end establishments which, for me, is a good thing indeed .
The restaurant is actually a grand Victorian mansion in Prahran. Walking up to the driveway, you feel a sense of grandiose walking past the pretty garden complete with a fountain and olive trees … until you get to the verandah and find yourself at a locked front door. “Is this the entrance?”I whispered to Adam. He shrugged, “I dunno!” And as just I was running around to the front to see if there was another (more obvious) entrance, the locked door suddenly swung open and a line of smartly-dressed waiters greeted us with open arms and warm smiles. The GFC may have attributed to a lot of Melbourne’s fine dining restaurants being empty and in financial trouble if today’s article in The Age about Flower Drum is anything to go by, but we saw nothing of that sort last night at Jacques Reymond. It was literally a full-house. GFC? What GFC?
Now the restaurant itself is pretty unique in that there is no one big dining room for all the diners. No, the restaurant-slash-former-house still has its individual rooms intact, each one being used as smaller dining rooms to create an element of intimacy. Adam and I were seated in a room with a fireplace, overlooking a small garden and a bunch of fruit trees. Given the size and location of the room, we guessed that it was probably a study room. We were given water to start off with as we studied the wine list which had a impressive list of wines by the glass, including a glass of Moet and Chandon for $25 (something unusual in itself because these things are usually only available by the bottle). I wanted a red with my meal and with the kind assistance of the smooth-talking sommelier, I ended up with a glass of Dalwhinnie Shiraz ($18).
As we were looking at the menus, we were given an amuse bouche of freshly-baked gougere which is a choux pastry with cheese. In this case, it was a lovely gruyere. Now, Jacques Reymond only offers a set menu. There is a list of items on one side of the two-page menu and you are free to choose any three of them for $98, four for $125 or five for $150. If you’re finding it hard to choose what you want, however, there is also a seven-course “Taste of Autumn” degustation menu available for $150. No prizes in guessing which one we chose. There may have been some interesting items on the “choose your own food” page but choosing between an interesting-sounding dish of “four senses of sea and earth” and coral trout with new season artichokes and a dashi broth was too difficult.
While we wait for our meals, let me take this opportunity to talk about taking photos at Jacques Reymond. According to popular belief among Melbourne’s foodie circuit, photos are forbidden at Jacques Reymond. Apparently, the chef hates it when people take photos of his food because “they make the food look bad” and that only professional photographers are welcome to take photos of the food if they arrange a set date one afternoon to do so. In my opinion, not only does that sound a bit arrogant but he is belittling those that can actually take decent photos (not me, but others). Being me, I wasn’t going to let THAT prevent me from taking photos so my Powershot went into my bag as usual. Just in case though, I also brought my old Cybershot because the Powershot isn’t exactly a subtle camera. I was a bit nervous when I was sitting in my seat. So afraid of being kicked out was I, that I left my Powershot in my bag and only brought out the small Cybershot, hiding it under my napkin and only bringing it out when the waiters left the room.
Our first course was a rock lobster dumpling topped with a dried apple and crispy “Asian” salad in a dashi broth. Although this didn’t taste very “French”, it was nevertheless amazing. Everything was very subtle yet combined with all the other elements, it made for an exciting array of sweet and clean flavours. I especially liked the delicate dashi broth so much that I drank every last drop.
The second course was a salad gourmande of baby bok choy, duck magret accompanied by foie gras and tuna sashami. When the young male waiter was introducing this dish to us, he actually said that it was a “Peking Duck” which made me almost burst out in fits of laughter. For one thing, magret tastes nothing like Peking Duck nor is it prepared in the same way (i.e. aged seven days on the bone to provide a red, meaty flesh and then seared and roasted, with the skin being crispy). But never mind. This was another interesting dish in that it was a jumble of unusual flavours that, strangely enough, worked though I wasn’t sure about the bittersweet-tasting brown sauce which tasted a lot like a bitter version of kecap manis.
At this point, I was getting a bit frustrated at the quality of my photos. While they weren’t terribly sucky, the fact that I couldn’t adjust the white balance or play around with macro settings was pissing me off. I wanted my Powershot. Bad. I thought about the possible scenario of me being clipped by the ear and being kicked out (literally) by one of the larger waiters but in the end, I thought ‘Stuff It.’ So out came my Powershot. While it remained hidden under my napkin most of the time, I thought I saw a few waitresses catch sight of it … but they must’ve turned a blind eye because they didn’t say anything to me at all. Phew.
Okay, the next one! A Hiramasa kingfish was cooked so that it had a layer of crispy skin on the outside, but the insides were still rare which is exactly how I like my fish. It was glazed with a sweet miso paste which tasted not too dissimilar to Nobu’s miso paste. The green mash you see underneath the fish was a green pea and mint puree which contrasted nicely with the yellow sauce which I couldn’t remember the name of but it tasted rich and buttery. The little strip on top of the fish is apparently a “spicy tomato jelly” but I rendered it tasteless… Oh, we were also given a real fish knife to eat this dish with, which was a bit of a novelty for us but I didn’t see the point of it as I find that using a regular knife was much easier…
Sancho coated highland Venison. It was cooked very rare, having spent only the briefest of moments on the grill. It was accompanied by a single cauliflower floret in a creamy horseradish dressing and topped with a stickily sweet beetroot and red wine glaze. There was also that bloody stupid bittersweet kecap manis sauce all around the plate but it didn’t taste as weird this time around. Now, I’ve had far too many experiences eating poorly-cooked venison at those stupid Chinese-Vietnamese places where they would serve venison in XO sauce or blackbean sauce or something cliched like that. I don’t order it myself but for some reason, Adam does and so I have no choice but to eat it. In all cases, the venison is overcooked and the sauce bogs it down, so that we can’t help but wonder if they actually used real venison or whether they used beef. In contrast, Jacques Reymond cooked it so that the meat was so tender, that the natural juices shone through amongst all the other elements. Delicious.
The fifth course was the final savoury dish for the night. We were given a choice betwen lamb or veal and because Adam and I love to try as many things as possible, he went for the veal and I went for the lamb. The photo above is my double lamb cutlet cooked on rock salt. Once again, it was cooked rare which made it as soft as Nick Riewoldt in that game against Brisbane in 2005. The grey matter you see on the right of a borlotti bean and truffle juice mash and the green dots you see on the left is a home-made mint oil which surprisingly tasted tangy. The lamb was crowned with a carrot, coriander, mint and crispy shallot salad that tasted a lot like ‘Nam. Divine.
Adam’s milk-fed veal fillet (again, cooked rare) with “Autumn flavours.” The autumn flavours being a combination of sauteed mushrooms with lemon sour cream, sauerkraut and mustard which, to me, seem a bit more like Autumn in Germany rather than Melbourne, but whatevs. The foamy thing on top is, I think, a milk foam which didn’t really add much in terms of taste but was just there for decoration, I suppose. To be honest, I didn’t really get to try of this dish and can’t remember what it tasted like (at this stage, I was full) but suffice to say that it “didn’t suck.”
Our first dessert: It was was only the size of a small egg but boy, did it make an impression on us! The brown blob on top is a coffee foam which was very strong, like a shot of sweetened short macc. The green rectangle is a peppermint marshallow and the biscuit crumbs are made out of nougatine, all of which were pleasant enough. The star of the show, however, was the yellow mint and oregano ice cream which sang of Summer gone by. It was surprisingly mellow, and not as weird as I thought it would be.
Finally, our last course. A Cacao Barry 70% Cuba chocolate mousse (the brown blob on the far left which you can barely see) and a caramelised banana ice cream lay on a delicious bed of chocolate feuillantine which was chewy and crunchy at the same time. A thin yellow line of passionfruit jam led to another yellow blob, this time a passionfruit creme brulee. Adam declared this the best dish for the night and although I’m less inclined to agree with him (after all, I ain’t a dessert person), it was indeed pretty, pretty, pretty good.
An assortment of petit fours came with our coffees and teas (according to Adam, his short macc was the best he’s had in an establishment that wasn’t a coffee shop). From top to bottom: a chocolate truffle, a baby choux pastry topped with icing, licorice jelly, pistachio macaron and a raspberry Turkish delight.
The meal came to $318, but we got a $50 discount thanks to my Entertainment Book card so the bill went down to $268. Not a cheap meal but it was worth every cent of it. There were no bells and whistles which made us wonder why this place was consistently being awarded three hats by the Good Food Guide. Rather, it was simply beautiful food cooked well using fresh ingredients that were in season, all delivered with smiles. Not only was the service friendly, it was very efficient in that our water glasses were always filled and we were constantly asked if we would like more bread. And apart from that “Peking Duck” moronski, they seemed to know their stuff too. To sum it up, it was just like eating at someone’s house instead of a restaurant, granted a very wealthy someone. I guess it just goes to show that the best restaurants do not need to get all fancy to score votes with critics and with diners. After all, there is nothing better than good ol’ honest food.