Friday, 24 October 2014

Bittersweet Beckonings at Brooks in Melbourne

Ok ... isn't it funny how people are there for you in words and intentions only, but very rarely in action?? There's nothing like a personal setback to show how much of an obligation you can be to others. And how perfunctory the response in come cases. This is the reason why I have only a small coterie of friends, because I value honesty and true compassion, traits that are very rarely found in the human race these days. Also, I am at a lost to understand how friendships can be broken over an isolated but honest emotional response that in itself is adjunct to the fundamental issue concerned. Did all the many many years past mean absolutely nothing? All the trials and tribulations, and the good and the bad times? All of that so easily come to naught without even an opportunity to apologise and obtain some closure!! People never cease to amaze me. I now appreciate the draw of a hermitic life. And I stand on that cliff edge right now staring into uncertainty but knowing very well that I have a stronger core than this, and that one day I will sit back and reflect with easy notalgia and without punity.

Right deep breaths everyone! Why this maudlin dose of literary reflection? Well its because a recent work lunch at Brooks Restaurant in Melbourne was the very last company hurrah! And I am still missing the camaraderie and the congeniality that took so very long to build and so very little to dismantle.

When we scraped the barrel that was petty cash to see how much we could spend on our mid-year function (i.e. an excuse to drink good wine and eat great food), what we came up with was certainly not on par with halcyon days gone by. Still those were our parameters so we started working our way through restaurant wishlists, concentrating on lunch specials that would leave us a little over for another 2 drinks each at least.

Settling on Brooks (from my personal wishlist) we opted for a latish lunch which meant that we ended up being the only table for that afternoon. A bit of a buzz kill but we soldiered on.

Proceedings started very well indeed with a bottle of Eminence's The Assembly Sparkling from Whitlands, Victoria ($88). This is not an easy bottle to track down as the Vineyard does not have a cellar door, and they mainly supply restaurants and a select number of wine outlets. However if you are in the vicinity of Seddon, head to Seddon Wine Store and hopefully Clare (from the Assembly family) is on shift and she can possibly assist. But grab the opportunity to taste this if you can. As it is with other artisanal champagne (terroir be damned) offerings, this tastes like a combination of cider/whisky/sparkling white! Heaven!!

We opted for the 3 course lunch special at $48 a pop. Your other choices being a 2 course for $33pp or a degustation 5 course number for $95pp. The menu consists of a triumvirate of choices - so 3 entrees, 3 mains, 3 desserts.

For whatever reason I ended up surfing the waves with my choices, starting with the Cured snapper, yoghurt, oyster cream, dill. Dramatically presented with a ring of dill jus round the plate, the snapper was cured to perfection, but the Oyster cream did overpower slightly. If you were an afficianado of the taste of the sea with all its briny metalicness on the palate, then this would have delighted. I, on the other hand, could be unguardedly critical and say that it did tend to taste a little too fishy (oh yes the irony!).

Some of my companions ordered the Nic’s souvenir of Laguiole; Meli Melo of vegetables, herbs and flowers. So many unpronounceable words; so many needing translation; so many colours on the plate; so many taste sensations ... have a look at the photo - even with my nonexisting shutter skills this looks so inviting and exciting and other sundry feels!

A dish like this is an event. All those gel blobs and purees and unguents and half of Nanna's garden border on a plate. It was fun trying to decipher the different flavours and picking combinations to savour. My final word on this though is that Daisies are simply not edible!!

For mains, I chose another seafood number - Fish, ink and verbena, cos lettuce, romanesco. Again high drama with that intense blob of ink on the plate. As with my entree the fish was cooked to perfection; lovingly browned on the outside and meaty flesh with just the right amount of give within. The romanesco looking like something from the little shop of horrors was surprisingly gentle in flavour and the cauliflower and garlic puree set everything else off nicely. I'll skip the wilted cos lettuce as its one culinary method I fail to understand.

Oh and definitely have the Aligot - cheesy mash ($16) as a side. You won't regret it! Its served rather theatrically at the table by your friendly waitstaff. Two forks go in and a portion is twirled in mid-air before being plonked on your plate. Drama!

And now we come to dessert!! Sadly the "forest floor" Brooks is famous for was not on the lunchtime menu, but something equally as intriguing and bombastic was the Artichoke ice cream, chocolate, hazelnut, candied milk skin, pork crackling.

When it comes to blending savoury with sweet I'm not the most adventorous, but curiosity got the better of me, and I was more inclined to take the risk especially since I wasn't paying. The trick with dishes like these is not to have a scientific approach and sample each component separately. You need to combine the lot to fully appreciate its synchronicity.

Still there was alot of tentative chewing going on at the table. And I'm not sure everyone was entirely sold. I think more pleasure was derived from the sense of achievement of having actually eaten the damn thing in the first place. The milk skin in itself could have gone horribly wrong. As it was, the artichoke ice cream was slightly anaemic in flavour, so it needed the chocolate sponge and the hazelnut and yes! the pork crackling to bump it up. Now that I've tried it, does it bear repeating? That is indeed the question.

Just like our little lunch group was soon to implode, rumour has it that Brooks now has new owners. What direction this underground space will take next remains to be seen. I suspect that the quality of the food may suffer a little during this transition period, but I think the lunch specials are reasonably priced and the food is exciting and different. Try and check it out soon.

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  1. I quit my job a few months ago and still miss the camaraderie sometimes, even though my new adventures are great! This lunch looks wonderful, and I hope you are having some lovely new beginnings.

    1. Hey Leaf, thank you for your well wishes! Keep having those great adventures!


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