Eating out can be many things, whether it is a simple act to satisfy our hunger, a raucous evening with family and friends, or an exquisite evening of dining where the food and service elevate the whole experience. Shannon Bennett’s Vue de Monde has a firm place on that final tier, where this is not simply eating out, but a theatre of dining. In its latest incarnation on the 55th floor of the Rialto building, Vue de Monde delivers a polished experience from being welcomed in the lobby of the building to the final petit four or digestif.
The Rialto location brings a sense of drama and awe to the restaurant with a spectacular view, arguably better after the sun sets and the glittering blanket of Melbourne tapers into the distance. The space is sleek and understated, leading the fine dining trend in moving away from starched white tablecloths to a more comforting aesthetic. The native and colonial theme is evident in the wide kangaroo skin covered tables with leather and fur armchairs, sparsely dotted around the room, allowing a sense of personal space very rarely granted in restaurants.
The food, delivered by head chef Cory Campbell, shows an evolution from the classical French roots to a more contemporary, pared-back approach, allowing local produce to shine. This evolution is shown across the meal, where a soufflé and gascony salad share the same menu as a liquid nitrogen fuelled palate cleanser and onion soup finished table-side in a siphon coffee brewer. This combination of traditional flavours and modern techniques, along with the inclusion of native ingredients like wallaby, gives wide appeal while retaining an element of surprise. There is the decision of a four course meal, of your choosing, or the gastronomes (degustation) menu of around ten courses; both feature additional elements like appetisers and palate cleansers.
Elements of drama and theatre have never been more evident than today’s Vue de Monde, beginning with the assortment of river stones and grape vines gracing each table, which reveal their purpose throughout the meal, from cutlery holders to butter dishes. Both wait-staff and chefs partake in table-side theatrics, whether it is simply dressing the plate with sauce or carving barramundi cheeks from the head to the plate. It is this attention and interaction that lift the whole evening from merely dinner at a restaurant to a memorable dining experience.
Being a special occasion, the evening begins with a glass of 2003 Dom Pérignon and a selection of appetisers. Pristinely fresh oysters are allow to sing, with finger lime bringing a zing of acidity. Wallaby, lightly cured at the table on a salt rock, is tender and subtle, an easy way to convert any first-time marsupial eaters. Smoked eel is encased in a shell of white chocolate, offering an unusual juxtaposition of smoke and sweet, which works on every level.
The first course is marron tail, gently roasted to perfection, served with a luxuriously smooth tarragon brown-butter emulsion. On the side is a dusting of intense marron powder and a marron ‘sandwich’ to add a crispy texture. The tactile nature of dipping the juicy marron into the tarragon butter by hand made this one of my favourite dishes of the meal, and highlights the beautiful simplicity of produce treated with respect and allowed to breathe on the plate.
The Melbourne onion soup was the perfect illustration of the evolution from classical French cuisine to modern technique, where the onion soup is infused at the table using the vacuum of a siphon coffee maker. This reinvention of onion soup featured pickled and charred textures of onion floating in the intensely flavoured and delicious onion broth, served with crispy croutons and comté cheese. Following was a baby corn cob, cooked and served in its husk, with gascony butter and black truffle generously shaved over the top. Another dish where looks can be deceiving, as the simplicity paid off with the tender corn bursting with flavour and the freshness of the corn playing well off the earthy truffle.
An oozy, perfectly-seasoned duck yolk was served with crispy pork and green beans. The dusting of mint cut through the richness of the duck egg, lightening the dish and taking it to the next level. For the palate cleanser, a bowl of freshly picked herbs is placed in front of you and doused in liquid nitrogen, allowing you to crush the brittle herbs into dust amidst the flowing vapours, before a zingy grapefruit sorbet is scooped on top. On a previous visit it was a cucumber sorbet which gave a more refreshing feel, rather than the grapefruit’s cleansing appeal- I prefer the cucumber.
The next dish arrives with a beautiful prawn stretching lazily over the plate, with a tender portion of barramundi nestled against it. A nettle puree and young garlic add a richness to the dish, with a variety of lettuce providing a contrast of texture and an element of lightness. A deep-fried prawn head served alongside could easily be served as a bar snack with that immaculate crunch and saltiness. Head chef Cory arrived at the table with two steaming barramundi heads, carving out the juicy cheeks, serving them simply in a lettuce leaf and drizzled with sauce- another simple yet delicious morsel.
The final savoury course was roasted wallaby, presented whole to the table and then carved and plated in the kitchen. Wallaby is a beautifully tender meat, with a subtle game flavour, matching well with the paper-thin slices of beetroot and shaved black truffle. Their take on BBQ sauce did not overpower the dish, but lent a sweetness to balance the earthier tones of the other components.
A cheese trolley filled with oozing soft cheeses and smelling of ripeness is always an exciting occasion. There is a vast selection to pick from or, better still, to allow them to select, based on your preference- in this case, a bit of everything. Accompanied with an assortment of bread, including a bright pink beetroot infused one, and condiments on the side; a highlight for me being the honeycomb, matched with a blue cheese. A final palate cleanser of passionfruit and licorice drink with frozen coconut balls was only disappointing in that it wasn’t a bigger serve, the passionfruit drink should be served on the drinks menu.
Desserts were a modern take on strawberries and cream, with silky ice cream, crunch from meringue and a smooth berry flavour coming through. A snap-frozen strawberry grated over the dish at the table, sent a wonderful aroma of summer wafting over the table. The final dessert was a tonka bean soufflé, standing tall and proud, with a chocolate mousse and smoked chocolate icecream. A perfect soufflé should melt in the mouth and leave you feeling like you are wrapped in a duvet on a freezing night, and this one hit all the right spots. If it did not seem decadent enough, shavings of black truffle were laid on top, possibly unusual for dessert, but with the heady notes of tonka bean and cocoa it all married to make an exquisite final course.
Recently there has been a bit of controversy over the coffee price at Vue de Monde, with The Age newspaper incorrectly stating that a cup of coffee cost $10 (an article that has now been removed). The bottom line is that a coffee, or tea, at the restaurant is $10 but comes with a selection of petit fours (their standard price for just coffee/tea is $3.50). The petit fours continue the colonial theme, with jubes (continually changing; I have had gin and vodka varietals), chocolate mousse ‘lamingtons’ with raspberry coulis, and rummaging through eucalyptus leaves to find musk flavoured leaves and chocolate popping-candy bark. I would gladly pay for the lamingtons by the plateful, they’re light and the perfect level of richness, balanced by the tartness of the raspberry. After finishing the full gastronome’s menu, which is likely to be after midnight, you leave with a bag ‘for the morning after’ with brioche, muesli, tea, biscuits and honey.
The elephant in the room is that, yes, Vue de Monde is likely Melbourne’s most expensive restaurant, but it is also arguably Melbourne’s finest restaurant. The views, service, food, theatre and overall experience ensure that it will always be an occasion to remember, where you are whisked away for several hours and taken care of at each step of the way. For most people, myself included, it means that Vue de Monde will hold the place of a ‘special occasion’ restaurant, rather than an everyday eatery, but I think that is how it should be, magic can disappear if you see it everyday. This is where you go if you want to know that you will walk away with fond memories, every time.
On a final note, I would like to thank the Vue de Monde family for a wonderful, memorable evening, once again. Especially head chef Cory Campbell who gave us an informative tour of the eco-friendly kitchen setup on our way out, and went out of his way to ensure the evening was special.