Brooks is the new restaurant and bar from Gerald’s Bar owners Gerald Diffey and Mario Di Ienno, in collaboration with chef Nic Poelaert. Nic has been serving Modern French dishes at his Carlton restaurant Embrasse for the past three years, but with Embrasse closing its doors last weekend, Nic and the kitchen team have moved to new adventures at Brooks.
The design brings a lightness to the subterranean dining space, while the bar area (and private dining room) goes for warm and inviting darker tones. A smaller dining room gazes into the open kitchen, with a larger space off to the side. The service is efficient without being intrusive and the first dishes arrive quickly, with the perfect pacing continuing throughout the meal. The wine list, by former Circa sommelier Matt Brooke, provides a strong range of Australian, and international, wines by the glass and bottle.
The menu is split into two sections: the first offers dishes that will likely feature on the menu all year round and takes more of a share approach with various ‘platters’ and dishes for two; the second are entrée-sized seasonal dishes served à la carte or a five-course chef’s selection. There are some nostalgic call-backs to Embrasse with the ‘meli melo’ and ‘Forest Floor’ both appearing. Nic’s food always celebrates seasonality, with a simplicity that lets the quality of the produce speak for itself, and the dishes at Brooks are no different. We decide to explore the sharing area of the menu, leaving the seasonal degustation until our next visit, although we do sample the two desserts from the seasonal offerings.
A luxurious parfait ensconced in a delicate shell of rye bread, with a glistening pearl of blackcurrant jam on top, beg to be savoured with a glass of wine (on this occasion a Pinot Noir from Central Otago). It’s not hard to see that they’re going to become a firm fixture on the menu, the perfect bar snack to accompany an after-work drink. We also choose the charcuterie selection with paper-thin ribbons of glorious Warialda bresaola, a delicately spiced chorizo, and hearty slices of saucisson.
Moving to heartier fare we decide to share the roasted Glenloth chicken for two, with another Embrasse favourite on the side, the aligot now going by the more descriptive ‘cheesy mash’. The oven-roasted chicken breasts are executed perfectly, being moist and tender, with well-seasoned crispy skin. Oddly the confit chicken legs weren’t as luscious as the breast, although the meat did still fall away from the bone. Seasonal zucchini, or should that be courgette, and green beans are served tender but still retain that al dente bite and vibrant green of spring. The cheesy mash is as much of a highlight here as it was at Embrasse, and still requires skill to coax the oozing, stretchy mash onto the plate. Served with jus gras and mustard on the side, this was an elegant take on the roast, wonderful on a chilly Melbourne spring day.
If the whole menu can be considered concise, then the dessert selection is very to-the-point, with just two options. However, between two people, two options worked perfectly as there was no indecision about ordering both. The take on lemon meringue offers a light and vibrant end to the meal, but does lack a little ‘wow’ factor. However the ‘Forest Floor’ continues to impress, a mushroom made of a crunchy meringue stalk and a decadent chocolate and hazelnut parfait cap, and the granita lending a bitter herbaceous note that offsets the rich chocolate elements.
Brooks is definitely going to be one of those CBD hotspots, offering casual fine dining with perfectly executed crowd favourites and seasonal dishes that sing with Nic Poelaert’s elegant simplicity.