One French chef, New York inspired – hearty Melbourne restaurant – Brooks of Melbourne.
The Austral House on Collins Street in the Melbourne CBD was designed in the 1890s at a time where innovative British architecture was sweeping through the colony. The building features four storeys and an attic of elliptical arches dripping with bronzed finishes and pre art deco themes. For many years, the ground floor and basement space has been home to many great restaurants including Jamie Oliver’s fifteen before its closure in 2011. Since October 2012, the space has been home to Brooks of Melbourne, a carefully crafted project by veterans Gerald Diffey and Mario Di lenno to create a fine dining, art deco, New York style experience that Melbourne is apparently smitten with. Brooks is proving itself as a true leader in culinary excellence, lead by head chef, Frenchman Nic Poelaert.
Following the traditional flavours of basic French cuisine matched with the degustation modern methods of cooking – Brooks plates up concoctions of light flower petals and garden pure together with hearty and heavy squab, duck and chocolate.
Arrive early for a drink at the bar. Friendly, professional bar staff will greet you, take your coat and seat you at the bar to peruse the detailed cocktail menu and wine list. With well trained bar staff and a Sommelier on hand it is difficult to chose badly regardless of the simplicity of intricacy of your taste.
Whilst the food menu in its entirety is superior, leave it to the professionals and order the chef’s plate for $85 per person. This includes five courses – four seasonal main dishes and desert – of which you can have as much of as little control over as you wish. I was not thrilled by the prospect of Morton Bay Bugs or the squid but staff were able to work around this with ease. Despite my distaste for all things from the ocean, the sheer quality of the food at Brooks is likely to have converted even me to enjoy the strongest tasting seafood.
We started with the garden vegetable medley – rich truffles scattered throughout cubes of poached vegetables, salad greens and flower petals on a bed of dolloped garden pure of beetroot, lemon, pea, grapefruit, mushroom and coriander.
Course two – poached Rockling on a smear of grapefruit pure, kaffier lime mouse (simply the most amazing lime experience of my whole life) and topped with sweetened spinach and flowers.
Course three – minced squab (pigeon) meatball, pigeon fillet, salad greens, drizzled in pigeon jus and a gobbet of white chocolate.
Course four – fillet of duck resting on a bed of marinated blueberries, duck sauce and topped with thin film pastry so sticky you need the moist duck to absorb the sweetness of the pastry, lifting it off the roof of your mouth.
Course five – finalement, le partie de résistance – desert. We were served with a different desert each, looking around the restaurant; males were served with a bookended garden bed that I like to call the forest floor. Chocolate, chocolate and well, chocolate.
Ladies were served with a polka-dot of cream on cream – liquid nitrogen is undoubtedly used to separate the cream into scattered balls that is accompanied by an orange cake covered in vanilla ice-cream and topped with variations of preserved orange.
The staff are highly professional, supporting a keen eye for style, minimalism and motivated by the flavours they put in front of you. Their energy is high and service is commendable; something that is disappointingly hard to find in this city. Brooks of Melbourne is a mixture of various forms of inspiration that on some level could be considered quite confused. In this case, it instead works, and creates a well thought process from farm to plate and ticks all the boxes in between.