312 Drummond Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 3312
Jan and I have started to do monthly lunches where we’d catch up on goss over fine-dining food. This month we decided that Embrasse in Carlton, the site of Andrew O’Connell’s now-defunct Three One Two restaurant, was the way to go. Despite its one-hat status, however, I have seen a lot of bloggers bitch about the $38 two course lunch menu being dull and lacking in panache that one would expect from a restaurant that has won this year’s Good Food Guide Young Chef Award courtesy of Nicolas Poelart’s approach to avant-garde French cuisine. Still, none of the underwhelming reviews prevented us from rocking up to our 1pm booking yesterday afternoon on a cloudy day.
For some reason I expected Embrasse to be a LOT bigger than the former terrace house-cum eatery we walked into. The furnishings may have been simple (think casual bistro-style cafes) but we knew that we were in for a treat as restaurant manager Camm Whiteoak poured me a glass of Mayer Vineyard Pinot Noir. Meanwhile Jan, who was not an experienced wine drinker, wanted something sweet and because none of the wines on offer were sweet Camm was lovely enough to go back and fetch a bottle of French muscat for her.
Bread and wine. Freshly-baked baby sourdough roll with creamy butter and salt. I love the little wooden paddle that the butter came in – too cute!
My entree: Smoked tomato, papillion roquefort, sable biscuit, oat gateau, tomato jam. I loved the tomatoes which were as sweet as Reese Witherspoon and although I can understand the roquefort being there to add a sharp contrast, I couldn’t help but wince every time I took a bite of the cheese. It was just too waxy and sharp which overpowered what I felt was a subtle dish. Having said that, I did get used to the roquefort being there and even enjoyed it with my tomatoes and sable biscuit crumbs in little doses. I don’t think this dish was for everyone though and Jan certainly did not think much of it.
My main: Poached john dory in carrot juice, lettuce, slow cooked potato, carrot. When I saw how tiny my fish was and then how large Jan’s chicken was (see below), I was immediately disappointed. Then I cut away a small piece of flesh, popped it in my mouth and disappointment was replaced with awe. It was perfectly cooked – zing! I liked the smudge of carrot puree that the fish was sitting on top of and cannot really say much about the other vegies – I mean lettuce is just lettuce, what else can I say about it?!?!
Jan’s main: Bendigo chicken, mushrooms cooked and raw, jus gras, parsley veloute. I’m not something who would order chicken at restaurants. For one thing, they’re dry by the time they reach my table. Secondly, someone once said that people who always ordered chicken were boring as a game of golf. These people, however, also have not tried this dish for it was surprisingly good. The chicken was amazingly moist, the result of it being slow-cooked in goose fat. It was served with a jus made from its own cooked juices and decorated with a variety of succulent mushrooms, porcini and morel to name a few that were there.
We also decided to fork out an extra $12 for a serving of aligot, a pot of velvety mashed potatoes mixed with melted Tomme cheese. It was spun around (like a record) by Camm himself before dishing it to each of us. The texture of the dish was nothing like your ordinary mashed potato – it was as elastic as Gumby – and it tasted sinfully delicious.
Jan’s dessert: Chocolate parfait, meringue, chocolate gateau, mint. Looking like something from Alice in Wonderland, this dessert would get my vote just on presentation alone. However, the fact that it tasted just as amazing as it looked didn’t hurt either, heh. The ‘mushroom’ was actually a meringue stalk (which was a little too hard and too sweet for me) and the top, a semi-frozen chocolate parfait which was the right amount of richness and sweetness for me. The chocolate gateau crumbs added some crunchiness to the dish and the mint granita, while it tasted herby and tangy rather than minty (which I suspect was sorrel), prevented the dessert from being too overwhelming sweet. Amazing.
We finished off with a couple of complimentary petit fours – mango marshmallows. Nothing to sing about to be honest and quite frankly, they were too sweet for my liking. Points for the cuteness factor though.
I was expecting to rock up to Embrasse and tell them to kiss my arse for serving me boring food. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at the warm hospitality we encountered combined with honest, French fare which struck a harmonious balance between the traditional and the new. All of this was enough to entice me back here again for a second visit, perhaps for dinner in the future.