131-135 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9039 8888
We were going to duck into new Jap-French fusion restaurant, Heirloom, for a snack. Just a few plates to share between Adam and I before leaving to run wild in the city on Saturday night. ‘That’s all we’re here for,” we told the maitre’d as he led us to a a table for two against the banquette-lined walls, “Just two or three little dishes to share.” Little did we know that we were going to be in here for the long haul (foreshadowing, much?)
Located on the ground floor of the Citadines Hotel on Bourke Street, Heirloom is an ambitious project by two men with impressive credentials – Shigeo Nonaka of Shoya and Kyle Doody formerly of Jacques Reymond and Gills Diner. In a classy space that’s adorned with blacks, silvers and red, it’s a place where Citadine guests duck down for meals and where women who look vaguely like Barb Henrickson bring their partners for a glass or two. Apparently, there is also a sake/sushi bar at the back of the restaurant but we weren’t told about it during our visit and I only found out about it 5 minutes ago while googling this place up.
I, myself, settled for a Thelema Chardonnay from Stellenbosch, South Africa ($13). I mean, why not? Something different. Plus, the name ‘Stellenbosch’ sounds pretty sexy. The drop was a very deep, lovely golden colour and big on the oak. Can’t say I was a huge fan though.
The waitress who looked after us, a Malaysian engineering student recited the specials before explaining how things worked at Heirloom. Basically, all the plates are designed to share, rather than categorised into entrees, mains and desserts. Not that we couldn’t work it out – I mean, this IS Melbourne for f*ck’s sake. But anyway, by then we had already made up our minds. We told her that we wanted (word for word, and pointing to each item that was requested), “a plate of that tofu dish that you mentioned while reciting the specials – yeah, that one – and ummm, a plate of duck gyoza (point), one serving of whipped chevre (point) and one black Angus sirloin, rare please (point) – and we’re sharing all of these.” She asked us if we would like any salad to go with the steak to which Adam replied, “Oh that heirloom carrot thing that you mentioned as a special sounds good, one of those please.” She recited our order back perfectly and off she went.
She returned not long after with our amuse bouches: a bouillabaisse, presented in a shot glass. The waitress described it as “very tasty” and that “you will like it.” It was indeed a potent liquid with ingredients such as pernod and lobster (both meat and crushed shells) being responsible for a mixture that would knock you dead. I thought it was okay, but the table of interstate tourists sitting next to us (who exchanged numbers and email address with the waitress – WTF?) left theirs mostly untouched.
Warm bread and unsalted French butter. Lovely.
Our first dish was Heirloom’s take on the traditional Japanese dish, the agedashi tofu ($8). We were sold as soon as the waitress said that this dish was the hottest dish in the restaurant as evident by how many plates they sold on the day. Silky tofu cubes were battered in a soda batter and then fried before being presented with your standard dashi, mirin and soy broth and garnished with spring onions and bonito. While I liked the batter, which was thicker and crunchier than a normal agedashi tofu batter, I thought that the broth was too delicate to match the heavy batter.
Next, we have the slow roast duck gyoza with sauce a l’orange (5 pieces for $12), clearly a marriage between Japan and France. It was an interesting concept but our opinion on the gyoza were divided like an online forum discussion on Roitfield and Alt. I liked the crispy and thick skins and thought that while the filing of shredded duck was too bland, the tangy and sweet sauce did make up for it. Adam just thought the whole thing was ‘weird,’ hah.
Our next dish came from the ‘larger plates’ section, a plate of whipped chevre, beetroot tuilles with black olive caramel, buttery walnuts and rye crostini ($18). Meat-lover Adam protested my choice of ordering a dish that was vegetarian but I did not regret this choice at all. It was a beautifully presented dish (this crappy photo really does it no justice), full of vibrant colours and flavours. The heirloom carrots, beetroot and asparagus were as fresh as only just-picked vegetables could be and went beautifully with the creamy blobs of goat’s cheese. Buttered walnuts provided some texture, ditto the slices of dehydrated beetroot which tasted very much like candy (no joke). To scoop up the cheese, rye crostini were provided but not pictured. It was amazing.
Unfortunately, everything went downhill from here. The lights dimmed considerably to the point that we couldn’t see what we were eating and although more patrons did walk in, the restaurant was never more than half-full so we weren’t too happy with the 40-minute wait for the steak to come.
Finally, our steak and salad came. Two plates of rare-cooked sirloin steaks were presented to us on a table. “What? Two steaks?” Adam asked, frowning. “Didn’t we just order one?” “Oh, I think they’re doing a Papa Goose and being awesome by dividing the one dish between the two of us to make things easier,” I said dismissively. Big mistake. At that point, I should have called the waitress up to make sure that we were being given ONE serving of steak and not TWO. Unfortunately, my hunger overwhelmed me so I simply dug into my steak and went all ‘nom nom nom.’
Then I stopped, inspected my plate and went, “Wait a minute… this steak weighs more than 150g. Therefore, if we combine the two steaks, it is NOT POSSIBLE that they would weigh 150g altogether.” I shared my suspicions with Adam but he was, too, was ‘nom nom nom’ing and shrugged, saying “Nah, a latte weighs (whatever figure he pulled out of his arse, I can’t remember) and this is waay lighter than a latte.” His explanation didn’t really put my mind at ease but whatever, I continued.
Our Gippsland Aged black Angus sirloin steaks (150gm) was served with parsnip, oyster mushrooms, dengaku glazed shallots and a smear of blood parfait ($26). On paper, it sounded like MY kind of dish. Well, except for the blood parfait. I’ve never been into eating straight blood – those blocks of pig’s blood always scared me (and suffice to say that I never got into Twilight) – so I eyed my smear of blood like a random who had just walked past a murder scene. In actual fact, the blood simply tasted like vegemite but I can’t say that it went well with the rest of the dish. The beef was beautifully cooked, exactly the way I liked it and the mushrooms and shallots gave the dish a sweet and earthy flavour that heightened the natural taste of the meat. I can understand why they wanted to add the blood in – they wanted to add more earthiness and ‘rawness’ to the dish while perhaps giving it a bit of an x-factor but unfortunately, it just didn’t do it for me.
Our heirloom carrot salad ($12) was lovely but unnecessary given how full we were after the steaks. It was a bunch of carrots, salad leaves and radishes, sliced, and carelessly chucked onto a rectangular serving dish, really. Adam said that it was “exactly like that beetroot thing we had before” while I said that it was NOTHING like it. Typical carnivore, he thinks that all vegetarian dishes are the same. It’s obvious that he doesn’t make friends with salad.
At this point, we had been sitting at Heirloom for a few hours and Adam had had enough. He wanted to leave … but not until I ordered dessert. The tourists sitting next to us had ordered three desserts to share and by Darren Jolly, they were magnificent works of art. From what I can hear, a chocolate and soy bean blancmange was one of the dishes they enjoyed, the second item on the dessert menu. There was an awesome-sounding burnt butter icecream on the dessert menu, the third of a list of four ‘big’ desserts which was then followed by three sundry desserts, the smaller ones such as “sorbets, cheese and petit fours” if you get what I mean. I didn’t really read the description of the burnt butter icecream as all I saw was “burnt butter” and “caramel popcorn” which translated to SOLD SOLD SOLD and “I would like one of these, please” while POINTING to the burnt butter icecream, the THIRD item on the dessert list to the waitress. She said, “Certainly.” And off she went. And she returned with this:
“We paid $15 for THIS?” exclaimed Adam. Exactly what I was thinking.
It was burnt butter ice cream, alright. But not what I was expecting. Where was the magnificent work of art? Where was that popcorn? Why was it so small? I was kicking myself for not paying attention to the rest of the dessert’s description (later on, I found out that it contained honey and pinenut nougat and corn shoots) whereas Adam just wanted to get the eff out. I resigned, and dug into the ice cream, prodding around to see if all the nougats and popcorn pieces were hidden underneath the smooth. I did taste some praline down the bottom but nothing else. Before long, everything on that meager plate was gone.
We asked for the bill. And we saw that we were charged for TWO steaks. And $4 for the ice cream. Wha wha WHAT?
I was annoyed to say the least. The steak thing was a bit of a hard one. It was the waitress’ fault for not getting our order right because after all, we DID say that we wanted ONE steak but on the other hand, I was wrong to just accept the two plates and stupidly assume that the kitchen divided them into two plates. I mean, just because Papa Goose does it, it doesn’t mean that all other restaurants would. Secondly, complaining would have been no good because after all, I DID eat the steak and Adam pointed out that the waitress will simply go back to the kitchen and bitch about me to the kitchen. Not that I gave a flying eff about that, but he was right, it would be douche-y behaviour from my part.
As for the ice cream. Okay, so maybe I SHOULD have been more specific and said “Can I please order the (deep breath) burnt butter ice cream with caramel popcorn, honey and pine nut nougat and corn shoots?” rather than simply said “burnt butter ice cream.” I have a feeling that the waitress assumed that I wanted JUST the burnt butter ice cream and charged $4 accordingly. After all, they were advertising sorbets and ice creams for $4 on the menu. They didn’t, however, list any of the flavours down and how we were to know that burnt butter ice cream was a flavour that was available on its own? Furthermore, I DID point to the burnt butter ice cream yada yada yada yada when I gave my order and I have tiny fingers, so any person with a clue would see that I wanted the $15 dessert. And it wouldn’t have hurt clarifying either, simply by asking, “Oh, did you mean the $15 dessert or the ice cream on its own?” Sigh. At least the ice cream was lovely though.
We left the restaurant in bad spirits. What could have been a memorable experience turned out to be stinker towards the end. And what really frustrated me was that part of it was my fault. Yes, the waitress should have clarified and whatever, but if I had been more specific with the ice cream and questioned her as soon as we received our two plates of steaks, then we would have walked out feeling happier knowing that we’ve done what we could to make this dining experience a good one. I’m not sure where Heirloom stands, really. While I thought the food was generally good, such a crappy experience has made me not want to go there at least for a while.