Level 1, Crown Metropol Hotel
Corner Whiteman and Clarendon Streets
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9292 8300
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay opened his first Australian restaurant, maze, at Crown’s new Metropol Hotel with much fanfare recently. Despite not being a fan of the muppet and his TV shows and despite the overwhelmingly bad reviews that maze had been getting, I, along with Dave and Linda, were still super-keen on navigating maze’s menu where simplistic Ramsay-esque fare with an Aussie spin was on the agenda. All that was required from our side to embark on this adventure was to simply visit Maze’s website and make an online booking. I have to admit that I was scared that my booking might not have come through but a confirmation email on Thursday night sent from maze HQ assuaged those fears.
The Metropol Hotel is not a bad-looking hotel, the only downside of it being that it faced drab Clarendon Street. While it did not look so bad at night, it would surely be a nightmare to look at from your hotel window first thing in the morning. maze, along with its sister restaurant maze Grill, occupies the first floor of this hotel with a bar area the first thing one sees when they walk in. I joined my companions at the bar and ordered a glass of Riesling ($12) as we were early. Once we were settled, we were led to a table in the middle of the surprisingly small dining room facing Clarendon Street. The nightclub-dark dining room would have been perfect for a couple on a date but not for us food bloggers who wanted light, dammit! Coats were hung, menus were given and long, drawn-out speeches about a wine that Dave ordered were listened to. While I give props for the sommelier’s knowledge, I did feel that the schpeel he gave was a bit of an overkill, especially when it was blatantly obvious that my friends didn’t really give a flying eff about the wine’s history and production methods.
Moving onto more pressing matters, the menu is divided into the a la carte section and the chef’s degustation menu. We were told that the dishes on the former section were designed to share and that four dishes per person was the way to go. Although there were some drool-worthy options in the a la carte menu such as the Queensland mud crab, pressed watermelon, pickled ginger, rock melon sorbet ($16), we decided that we could not go past the seven-course chef’s menu at $95 per head where we were actually given two choices between the second, third and fifth courses. Once we gave our orders, we were given warm slices of white bread which was accompanied by a bowl of seaweed butter and Murray River pink salt (above).
#1: Marinated beetroot with goats curd, cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette, toasted pine nuts. Okay, beetroot isn’t my favourite thing in the world to eat so I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed this dish. The mellow and slightly nutty goats curd proved to be a suitable catalyst for the sweet beetroot and cab sauv vinaigrette, cutting through the saccharine flavours effortlessly with the pine nuts adding an exciting textural element to the dish.
#2: We all chose the seared yellow fin tuna, white radish, yuzu, enoki mushrooms, black garlic. This was probably one of the better dishes for the night – the two perfect rectangles of yuzu-marinated tuna did not spend too long on the heat before they were whisked away, centres still raw and all, to be joined in holy matrimony with mini mounds of white radish, black garlic and baby enoki mushrooms. The tuna might not have been the freshest I’ve ever had but damn, this dish’s simplicity and purity made it phenomenal.
My #3: Seared leg of rabbit, jicama, green olive, almond and brown butter vinaigrette. In between two mounds of rabbit leg was a football-shaped mould of what looked like the cooked bunny equivalent of steak tartare. Each bit of rabbit was topped with a thinly-sliced piece of jicama, a root that looked like a turnip (but blander), and the whole thing was drawn together by a lovely almond and brown butter vinaigrette. I’ve been disappointed with rabbit cooked too dry in the past but I was relived to find that this was not the case here.
Linda and Dave’s #3: Pan seared Canadian scallop, caramelised kelp, samphire, mussels, Champagne. One bite of Dave’s dish made me glad that I chose the rabbit for my #3. Although the scallop was deliciously sweet, I felt that the supporting cast didn’t really do much to elevate this dish.
#4: Pan roasted barramundi, butternut squash, compressed cucumber, pumpkin seeds. Although this dish was technically excellent, I could not get excited about it. Sure, the fish was beautifully cooked, the skin perfectly crispy and sure, there was nothing wrong with the butternut puree. Yet for some reason, this dish rubbed me off the wrong way. It could have been the cube which consisted solely of pumpkin flesh. It could have been the awkward mismatch between the cucumber and the red chilli skin slivers. It could even have been the fact that the fish emancipated a really nasty stench when it was presented to us. I wanted to like it – and indeed I tried – but I just couldn’t.
From then on, the photo quality deteriorates. I would like to say that it had everything to do with my level of sobriety but I had only had the one glass of Riesling so it would be pretty sad for me to admit that. I guess it was a combination of the annoyingly dark lighting, me playing with RAW settings for the first time and my cbf-ness with taking 10 billion shots until I got the money shot. Sigh.
Dave’s #5: Ox “tongue and cheek”, caper and raisin, carrots, horseradish pomme purée. Hahaha tongue in cheek, gettit?! I only managed to try a teeny bit of cheek and a sliver of tongue so my comments should be taken with a grain of Murray River pink salt. I felt that the cheek, which is supposed to be tender and gelatinous, was too dry – it was almost like eating corned beef! – but I was glad that they got it right with the ox tongue which was tender like that Elvis Presley song.
For our #5, Linda and I chose the lamb cannon and shoulder, cauliflower purée, anchovy, stinging nettles. It should be noted here that both #5s were supposed to the ‘main’ dishes so you can imagine how flabbergasted we were when we saw the eating disorder-like portion sizes that graced our plates. I did like our lamb – both cuts were juicy and tender – better than Dave’s cow as well as the succulent jus that went with it. Ditto the smooth cauliflower puree. What really irked me about this dish, however, was that little silver thingy on top of the cauliflower mound – a piece of unsalted anchovy. I did not understand what purpose it served, it was just out of place and annoyed the hell out of me.
#6: Exotic fruit vacherin, passion fruit and banana sorbet. This dessert definitely ticked all of my boxes – it was light, it was fruity and it had sorbet! The sorbet was both sweet and tangy at the same time and complemented the fruits really well (though I don’t know why they were deemed ‘exotic’ – bloody hell, it was just kiwifruit and passion fruit! What I liked most about this dessert, however were the vacherin (basically a fancy name for meringue) which were filled with a deliciously sticky passion fruit curd. Oooh yes.
#7: Our final course was Maze’s rendition of the quintessential Aussie sweet, the lamington, served with rosella jam which was probably the most interesting dish of the night. Basically, the humble lamington was deconstructed and presented in little bits – the base was a rich, dark chocolate ganache which was topped with a not-overly-sweet coconut sorbet, some sort of sponge cake and a crunchy tuille. Eat every element at the same time and you have one mind-blowing dessert.
To finish, a plate of petit fours in the form of white chocolate balls filled with strawberry ice cream. A delicious way to finish off the evening’s proceedings.
The portion sizes may have been the tiniest I’ve seen at a Melbourne restaurant but I surprised myself by declaring that I was full. I came into the restaurant not expecting much but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the food wasn’t as terrible as Stephen Downes made it out to be. While most of the dishes commanded a sense of straightforwardness, some dishes lacked such precision and cohesiveness that eating them was like watching some idiot kid walk into the maze in that game show A*Mazing and wandering around in a daze that they miss two golden keys in their haste to finish the maze in time (I’m sorry, I couldn’t do this review without some sort of bad ‘maze’ analogy. Plus, I’m sure you all watched and loved James Sherry so there).
In saying that, the successful dishes reminded me of that Peter Goldsworthy book ‘Maestro’ where the protagonist’s piano playing skills were ‘technically perfect’ but lacking in fervor and creativity. Those dishes may have been simple, yet they worked because they were held together by a team of chefs who mastered their techniques down pat. Still, I felt that a little ingenuity would not have hurt because apart from the lamington, the dishes were really nothing that Melbourne had not seen before. Given the fact that I did not once drop the f-bomb during this review, you could definitely say that the food in this place did not completely suck.
Service-wise, I thought the staff did their job okay. They were attentive and the food came out pretty quickly. What annoyed Linda, however, was the fact that they were abrupt in that they interrupted our conversations to present our dishes, something that does not normally bother me but obviously bothered her which was fair enough. They did, however, refill our bread happily throughout the course of the meal and because it was pretty good bread, that negated their abruptness a little bit, hah. In the end, we all thought it was definitely Good Food Guide good but nowhere near three-hat level. In saying that, I can definitely see myself coming back to try their a la carte menu or going next door to try the steaks at maze Grill.