732 Main Rd
Eltham VIC 3095
+61 3 9431 1015
Adam and I had originally made a booking to try Mercer’s Restaurant in Eltham for Sunday lunch but circumstances meant that we had to push it forward to Saturday evening (last night). Having driven past it countless times on the way to Aaron’s house, Mercer’s is a local favourite for celebration meals because of Stephen Mercer’s contemporary approach to fine dining and his wife, Ute’s sunny disposition which made her a perfect choice for the hostess role. Given that it’s been around for quite a long time and given its recent one-hat award in this year’s Good Food Guide, we decided that this weekend would be a great time to eat there.
Driving up Main Road from Doncaster, it’s very easy to miss the small weatherboard house that forms Mercer’s, especially since there are about half a dozen buildings on the same strip that look identical. When you do find it, however, you would be hard-pressed not to be charmed by the quaint establishment that makes you feel like you’re not in Melbourne anymore (but to be fair, I think of Eltham as “the sticks”, something that Aaron would not be happy with but mehhh, he’s used to it). The interior of the restaurant itself may seem a bit dated, having not changed since it opened more than 20 years ago, but it still retains its homely feel.
Mercer’s menu is pretty straightforward, two courses for $55, three courses for $69 or you can do the degustation for $85. Adam chose the two-course option (entree and main) while I decided that I couldn’t really leave without trying the Leawood honey souffle with lemon tart ice cream so I paid the extra $14 for the dessert. We relaxed while we waited for our food and watched as the dining room filled up with locals who had been coming here for years and couples wanting to find a discreet location for a dinner date.
An amuse bouche of cucumber and celery gazpacho, which rendered a lot of ‘wtf’ looks from the nearby diners and Adam. While he thought it tasted ‘weird’, I actually didn’t mind it at all. It was a refreshing concoction of fresh cucumbers and celery with a hint of garlic and onion to give it a nice warming flavour.
Freshly-baked sesame white bread which easily pulled apart. Probably one of the better breads I’ve had in a very long time. One piece was enough to render me half-full. Heh.
Adam’s entree: Boned quail filled with trumpet mushrooms and fried in a potato crust with a pea emulsion and salted grapes. This was probably the first time either of us has actually eaten quail that wasn’t roasted whole. Quail breast fillets were pressed into a cylinder shape before being cut into pieces to show off their lovely pink flesh alongside a mixture of crushed trumpet mushrooms. The pea emulsion added a nice cooling counterbalance to the relatively rich quail. The salted grapes, however, did not add anything to the dish.
My entree: Three hour poached egg with smoked salmon on brioche with a salmon-Pinot jus and crispy pancetta. There were better things on the entree menu such as the Hirasama Kingfish sashimi with minced prawn and green papaya salad with wasabi bubbles but I ordered this bloody dish because I was seduced by the “three hour poached egg” – yeah, I love my eggs. Big mistake. It wasn’t a terrible dish – indeed the poached egg was so effing lovely and gooey and eating the toasted brioche drenched in that egg goo was a pleasure – but I think the overly sweet salmon-Pinot jus spoilt what could have been a successful dish. The smoked salmon was a bit too fishy my liking as well.
Adam’s main: A roasted eye fillet (med-rare) accompanied by braised ox cheek, crushed chat potatoes, mushroom broth and poached asparagus
. This was last’s night special and because it sounded good to Ads, he ordered that instead of the Glenloth free range chicken breast. Upon receiving his main, however, Adam was literally like “
” when he saw it. “What the heck is THAT
?” he whispered to me, “This doesn’t look like fine-dining food!” I had to agree with him as it looked like something that could be found in Aaron’s mum kitchen 5 minutes up the road from Mercer’s (she could take that as a compliment, I guess). It was also as bland as it looked – the beef had NO taste whatsoever, and the potato mash was dry. The beef cheek was also more stringy than gelatinous. What amused me was the fact that they did not give Adam a steak knife to cut through the beef and despite the fact that Adam asked for it med-rare, it was as tough as wood to cut.
My main: Roasted double cutlet of lamb with slow cooked lamb rump filled with a rosemary and roasted garlic farce, fine ratatouille and fried polenta. Thankfully my main was slightly better than Adam’s. The slow-cooked lamb was so tender – and actually had some sort of flavour unlike Adam’s eye fillet. The only problem was that it was a little bit cold, like it had been sitting on the kitchen bench for some time. If I ignored the meat’s temperature though, I could then say that it went down nicely with my glass of Nillumbik Estate Shiraz which, apart from it being a little too warm for my liking, was a lovely spicy blend ($7.50). As for the other things on the plate, the fried polenta strip absorbed the juices well while the ratatouille didn’t really do much.
There was a bit of a wait for the dessert which was expected as we were told that it would take the kitchen 20 minutes to make my souffle (though somehow it felt like more than 20 minutes since our plates were cleared and when the souffle actually arrived).
The Leawood honey souffle with lemon tart ice cream. The waitress pierced the souffle with a spoon and instructed us to tip the honey into it to make itsweet. The souffle was beautiful – surprisingly not too sweet – and the lemon tart ice cream was refreshingly tangy with a hint of a “doughy” taste. Overall, a competent dessert…
… except for the fact that the biscuit (which the ice cream was placed on top of) was glued stuck onto the plate. We spent ages trying to pry it out with our cutlery. Booo.
The total bill was $131.50, but we got it down to $99 thanks to my Entertainment Book discount. In hindsight, I guess Mercer’s offers better value for dining compared to most city restaurants. Plus, their degustations are only about two-thirds the price of what you’d pay at say, Ezard and Flower Drum. That said, we both felt that the food could not really be described as ‘fine-dining.’ Adam’s main, for example, is something that one could easily find at a local pub or at someone’s house (i.e. Aaron’s). While it could be simply a case of ordering the wrong things, we would find it very hard to come up with another reason why Mercer’s warrants another visit.
Overhead: Bogan-trying-to-be-informative, sitting at the next table upon receiving his KINGFISH SASHIMI as part of his degustation meal: “Hmmm, I reckon this is raw pork.”
Oh eff me dead. Raw pork!!?!?!