Linda got promoted. I got promoted. And Dave, I’m sure, will get his moment of glory in the not-too-distant future. And while the three of us normally think nothing of spending a decent amount of money on a night filled with good food and drinks for no apparent reason, we decided that spending $75 for a three-hour, five-stage sit-down cocktail and nibbles night at Café Vue (whew, all those hyphens!) BECAUSE of our promotions made us feel just that little bit better (as opposed to having no excuse to splurge). The theme of the night (and for all of March) was “Friday Night At the Movies” and each of the food and drinks were to draw inspiration from various movies, with a focus on classics from the 1920s to the 1940s.
Café Vue is a bustling café serving office workers during the day, but at night it is transformed into a cozy, dim-lit den that could easily be mistaken for any of Melbourne’s drinking holes featured in Deck of Secrets: Melbourne. We were seated on one of the outside tables in the walkway and because we were about 15 minutes early for the 7pm start, we sat there sipping water as the sun dipped below the horizon while the smooth sounds of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra crooning from the speakers set the mood for the night.
Our first cocktail was named ‘Roundhay Garden’, a tribute to the earliest-surviving motion picture shot in 1888, Roundhay Garden Scene. This two second-long film was basically of people walking around in a garden, something that I’d probably find more interesting than anything Wong Kar-Wai has ever made (sorry Adam, it had to be said). The mixture of cognac and champagne was a nod to the director’s French roots while the blackcurrant puree that was mixed in with the drink gave it a lovely, rough texture.
The accompanying dish was a carpaccio of ‘Bambi’ with pink peppercorns and apple, the name of which sent me into fits of giggles. Now, I’ve had venison carpaccio before so I sort of knew what to expect. What I DIDN’T expect, however, was the overly gamey taste that this carpaccio had which didn’t really go down too well with the way-too-sour-to-be-served-raw pieces of Granny Smith apple. I also thought that the carpaccio was a little too chewy and tough, it was almost like eating a piece of jerky. I did like the presentation of the dish though, so props to that.
For the next course, we were presented with Café Vue’s take on ‘hot dog and chips’ which arrived in neat little wooden box. All three of us agreed that the hot dog looked a LOT like a miniature banh mi thit roll. The bread roll was a sweet brioche that cuddled what looked like a chicken and onion ‘sausage’ which was topped with sliced red onions and a sweet coriander relish. Unusual, yes, and not that bad but probably not something I’d order if it was on offer at Café Vue during lunch. Mad props for the well-cooked and slightly salted shoe-string fries though which were amazing.
The accompanying cocktail was supposed to be something called ‘The Jazz Singer’ but the café decided to serve ‘The Charlie Chaplin’ (which was supposed to come with the next course, the flathead) with the hot dog and chips. The drink, created in honour of the great man by the same name, was invented by some dude at the Waldorf-Astoria and has been popular for 80-odd years. In addition to the sloe gin, apricot brandy and lime juice, Café Vue also added a hint of pomegranate molasses to give the drink a dimension of extra sweetness. Both Linda and Dave thought it tasted odd, like Dr Pepper, but I reckon this cocktail is a bit of an acquired taste so once I got going, I decided that I couldn’t stop even at one glass so I also got stuck into Linda’s cocktail, haha.
The next course was a confit flathead with ratatouille, which I suspect was a tribute to the more recent Pixar animated flick about a French rat. We all agreed that this was the best dish of the night, so far. In addition to the cute and sweet dehydrated cherry tomato perched on the fish, we all loved the delicately-cooked flathead fillet itself which fell apart easily with a gentle prod of the balsa wood cutlery and the way it tasted with the surprisingly-better-than-ordinary ratatouille, something that Linda and I aren’t fans of but we did like this one.
The fish was accompanied by ‘The Jazz Singer’ cocktail, Café Vue’s take on the Bloody Mary. The café’s decision to switch the second and third cocktails around was a great one as despite the fact that this particular cocktail tasted odd, the smoky tomato flavours of the drink actually went really well with the fish and ratatouille. Instead of using the traditional vodka, gin was used in conjunction with chilli to make the drink taste more “smoky.” I did, however, feel that the effect was too sharp and so much of our drinks remained half-full.
I guess the coolest part about this drink was the reason why it was served in a teacup. The waiter explained to us that it was a tribute to the alcohol prohibitions in 1920s America where people tried to sneak past authorities by disguising their drinks, hence the serving of the cocktail in a discreet teacup – cute (and judging by Dave’s snicker, funny too). And the reason why they called this ‘The Jazz Singer’ was that the 1920s was also a period where jazz music really flourished in the States.
After the mess that was the Effing Bloody Mary cocktail, the next drink we received was a much-needed welcome. It played tribute to Citizen Kane, so fans of this movie will know why the drink is called ‘Rosebud.’ We received glasses filled with pink raspberry-flavoured Persian fairy floss and basil leaves in it. The waiter then poured some Mr Riggs Riesling and instructed us to mix everything up with the stirrer provided. The result was a sweet, playful yet bold drink with a gritty texture.
I apologise for the degrading quality of photos. At this stage, the room was almost pitch dark and the fact that our levels of sobriety was diminishing at the rate of Telstra’s share price didn’t help either. Our ‘transition-from-savouries-to-dessert’ course was a bit of a weird one. Two pieces of fluffy Caprifeuille goat’s cheese were scattered on a rectangular glass plate with lychees poached in rosewater. While I’m normally a friend of goat’s cheese, I didn’t really like the Caprifeuille, an aged cheese that is mild in taste but effing musky in smell – something that put Linda off. If it weren’t for the toasted piece of bread and the lychees to diffuse the acidic after-taste of the cheese, I probably would have left it alone.
The final course was, on all accounts, the best one. Both the cocktail and the dessert played homage to the humble popcorn kernel. The drink, called ‘The Buttered Popcorn’, was simply a popcorn-infused bourbon with a hint of lemon, poured over ice. The glass was cleverly popped in a brown paper bag as a nod to a popcorn bag. Probably my favourite drink of the night, apart from the first one.
The dessert was a ‘Popcorn’ madeleine was salt and butter. The waiter explained to us that the dish was salty (the creamy butter sauce), sweet (the madeleine) and bitter (the burnt-on-purpose caramel popcorn pieces) and told us to eat it while taking intermittent sips of the cocktail for maximum sensory pleasure. Well, he certainly wasn’t wrong. Both the cocktail and dessert tasted great on its own, but together they formed a partnership unmatched by Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara.
There may have been a few questionable items on tonight’s show but I think we could all agree that it was much more comfortable than sitting on your arse for three hours, watching Avatar. While there were some stand-out performances, I think that most of the night’s success could be owed to the well-designed and extremely creative menu as well as listening to the background behind the dishes and cocktail (I love history lessons, and they are even more fun when alcohol is involved!). The $75 price-tag might turn a few people off (even more so when I say that the food alone does NOT equal a proper dinner – I had to eat a bowl of wedges at The Lion prior to coming here) but I would say that it’s a very good price to pay for five cocktails and food from Shannon Bennett’s kitchen. This was my very first Café Vue cocktail night but I know that it definitely won’t be my last.