24 Russell Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9207 7424
If you’re as old and as loserish as me, you would have no doubt spent nights on yahoo! chat or mIRC instead of studying. You’d be chilling in one of the channels, talking in to everyone who was in there with you (the channels I frequented were #asianmelb, #melbourne and #donnyre (shut up)) and every now and then, some random would go to you, “Hey, MiSs^sensASIAN, can I PM you?” (I suspect that my suggestive-but-now-lame username contributed to the barrage of such requests, heh). These days, no one asks me if they could PM me. For one thing, no one cool does the whole chat thing anymore. But I have had requests from friends who wanted to PM24 me. And well, I don’t have a problem with that.
PM24. That’s the name of French cuisine extraordinaire, Philippe Mouchel’s new restaurant – the PM is his initials and no, the 24 doesn’t refer to the fact that he’s open 24 hours a day (ooh-er, dirty!) but to the location of this simple, but stylish French restaurant (24 Russell Street). Lovers of his former home The Brasserie by Philippe Mouchel, including yours truly, may have sobbed with TBBPM simply became known as The Brasserie with Mr PM left the building – but as soon as news got out that he was collaborating with Mr Everywhere, George Calombaris, on a brand new restaurant, we were weeping with joy. Shirley and Dave also happened to be fans of TBBPM so a visit to PM’s new dig was inevitable. Although Chinese New Year stuffed our timetables up, we managed to squeeze in lunch one fine Sunday at PM24 where a four-course $65 lunch banquet was the flavour of the day.
We liked the look of PM24. I didn’t take any photos of the restaurant (except for a single shot of one of the chefs preparing food in the open kitchen, above), but please believe me when I say that it looks good. It’s stylish without being too toffy. It’s not a big room, but its massive ceilings create a room that’s got depth. Timber floors and banquettes replace the almost sterile surroundings of PM’s former Crown restaurant. What to make of the absence of tablecloths? Perhaps a nod to its Russell Street location, a street that doesn’t abide by the rules. Oh, and it reduces the cleaning costs considerably too.
We were seated right in the middle of the restaurant and told that the ONLY thing we could order was the $65 lunch banquet. Four courses, no substitutions. Shirley and I were cool with that, but Dave really wanted to try the corn-fed duck and was subsequently disappointed for being denied the chance. Thankfully, he’s not one to kick up a fuss about such things so once we gave the menu a once-over and a nod, the show began.
First up, deliciously warm bread. Ah, gluten, the sht that makes everything taste good. The day we had the lunch was the last day I could indulge in simple pleasures such as freshly baked bread before I went grain-free for two weeks (not as bad as it sounds, but I’m someone who loves her noodles, dumplings and pasta so you can imagine the amount of whimpering I did every time I went out for dinner and couldn’t order pappardelle). It was freakin’ fantastic bread and it took a lot to stop at just one piece.
I do, however, suspect that the PM24 folk stole the whole bread-in-canvas-holder idea from the guys at maze Grill…
A glass of riesling is usually my go-to drink whenever I dine out and in this instance, I was given a glass of Max Ferdinand Richter Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett’ 08 from Mosel, Germany ($17). While I thought the mark-up was more than a little bit steep, I was too focused on enjoying my last drop of alcohol before I went on this no-grain eating plan (it goes without saying that no alcohol was to be consumed). It was, by far, the sweetest riesling I’ve ever tried (I almost thought it was a moscato) with its strong apricot notes and an intense acidic aftertaste that lingered like a stalker outside her victim’s house.
The first dish that was presented was a tomato gazpacho. Okay, so this looks NOTHING like that chilled tomato soup dish that Spaniards (and I) love. Such a massive bowl with microscopic cubes of heirloom tomatoes and chopped chives made Shirley and I snigger. I mean, we were all for avant garde fare but seriously, this?
‘But wait!’ exclaimed the waiter, rushing back to our table. He produced a jug of
love, sex and magic cold tomato puree and filled our bowls up with the stuff. It had the right combination of sweetness and tartness and was welcomed on a day when the sun was actually shining down on Melbourne. I love gazpacho so I eagerly lapped mine up, whereas the other two weren’t as keen on theirs.
Next came our plate of entrees to share (clockwise from 6pm): a confit of duck salad with frisee, olives, green bean, duck prosciutto and crispy quail egg; pan-seared scallops with piperade and radish and salami with wasabi butter. The three of us oohed and aahed over the presentation and over the duck salad which was the highlight of the plate. The ooh-ing and aah-ing stopped though, after the delicious duck salad was devoured. The piperade that came with the salad was a little bland (and for me, a tad too sweet) and didn’t really do much to the scallops. Meanwhile, the radish and salami didn’t inspire us and in fact, sat next to each other on the plate awkwardly – like two people who got set up on a blind date and realised that they had nothing in common. The wasabi butter was delicious and not unlike the seaweed butter Dave and I enjoyed with Linda at maze (seriously? copying Mr Ramsay AGAIN?) but definitely went better with the second round of bread than the radish and salami. But seriously, the duck salad tasted fresh and lovely, with the various textures and colours contributing to a dish that I wouldn’t mind having a bowl of for lunch. The only downer was the fact that we were given one measly slice of quail egg and hellooooo, there are like, three of us on the table?!
Our mains took a while to come (something like half an hour). In between our entree plates and cutlery being cleared away, we indulged in harmless gossip and witnessed an adjacent table being given a la carte menus instead of the list of food that was to be served in the $65 banquet. This annoyed us, especially Dave who was really keen to go a la carte, because we were specifically told that it was banquet only for lunch on Sundays so why the eff were other people given a la carte menus?
Before we got really narky, our mains finally arrived. Three pieces of poached rockling fillets arrived, coated with a lovely duglere sauce. This is a dish that would featured in my kitchen during the cooler months so I was glad to see it being served here, just before the mercury dropped for autumn. The fish was plump, and succulent and super-fresh while the slightly sweet yet acidic sauce was delicate enough to bring out the fish’s natural flavours. A solid performance.
The others were looking for something with a bit more substance and their prayers were answered by the arrival of the rotisserie rump cap served with roasted vegetables. Oh, and crowned with a roasted garlic clove and a sprig of rosemary.
It was textbook stuff – perfectly cooked beef that still had a bit of pinkness and the vegetables were fine. For some reason though, it failed to inspire me and I don’t know why *sad face*
Not even trusty old Bearnaise could save it *even sadder face*
And we couldn’t really make friends with this oak leaf salad with a stodgy French vinaigrette.
Dessert was a fig clafoutis tart. I would have preferred the traditional cherry filling instead of figs though (not that there is anything wrong with figs but I love cherries more and they WERE in season so why not use them?). While Shirley loved the dessert, I thought that it was too sweet and too rich for my liking. The sugar from the riesling had almost knocked me out for dead so imagine what one spoonful of tart did for me so when Shirley asked if I would like to give her the remainder of my tart to her, I gladly said ‘yes.’ Not to the creamy vanilla ice-cream though. That, I ate, heh.
The three of us really wanted to like PM24 but we all left feeling a bit jibbed. Some dishes were good, but others were just okay. Like PM’s old Crown restaurant, the food here was modern French bistro fare but we all agreed that the food was much better at TBBPM. Another thing that crossed my mind was ‘Where was George Calombaris’ involvement in all of this?’ We expected that he would play a role in shaping up the dishes but there was nothing that suggested that George was ever here. Perhaps Mr Calombaris was involved from a financial perspective? I doubt it though, because I can hardly imagine that Mr Mouchel would be needing money after many successful decades cooking for Melburnians. Overall, we thought it was an alright – but not fantastic – restaurant. We agreed that we would visit to try some of the a la carte options that Dave sadly missed out on – but only after we’ve exhausted all the other French bistro restaurants in Melbourne. For now though, PM24 (well, PM24’s Sunday banquet lunch) ain’t getting any ‘cyber’ from my end.