Dessert ... The "Forest Floor" at Brooks.
Dessert ... The "Forest Floor" at Brooks. Photo: Paul Jeffers

115 Collins Street Melbourne, VIC 3000

View map

03 9001 8755
Opening hours Mon-Fri, 11.30am-late;Sat, 4pm-late
Features Licensed, Gluten-free options
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Nicolas Poelaert
Payments AMEX, Mastercard, Visa

When people ask me where they should eat, I tell them Brooks, Brooks, Brooks, because the food is interesting and delicious, and the experience fun and flexible. Basement restaurants can feel cut off and claustrophobic, but Brooks emanates a tingling feeling of potential.

The chef is Nicolas Poelaert, previously at Carlton's Embrasse. Some dishes have made the journey from the old restaurant, but there's an ease and liveliness at Brooks that contrasts with the earnestness that characterised Embrasse. Put it down to experience, a buzzier location with a separate bar, genial and expert service, a nimble wine list, and certainly the approach of old-hand business owners Gerald Diffey and Mario di Ienno (Gerald's Bar), who have allowed the cook to cook. There's a spine to Brooks, a sense of history, a feeling of reading the mood and writing the future.

Poelaert is a French chef with a modern outlook and his food is expressive, thoughtful and delightfully pretty. The menu is a contemporary pick-and-mix affair without the entree and main distinctions that some find helpful and others dismiss as strangling.

Brooks' atmospheric basement dining room.
Brooks' atmospheric basement dining room. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Smaller tastes might be as simple as oysters or beef charcuterie, or as clever (and filling) as a "cheese and crackers" dish that turns out to be rye puffs piped full of blue cheese. There are substantial roast dishes for sharing and a burger that speaks to the all-day-dining nature of the business.

A "seasonal" heading tops a list of adventurous dishes of hidden delights. Unusual combinations tend to work, or are at least restrained enough not to jar. Trumpeter fish is touched by curry powder, wasabi and green strawberries, yet the most striking thing about the dish is how perfectly the fillet is cooked. Even an unlikely three-way of pork, seaweed and squid does a merry jig.

The "forest floor" dessert is an Embrasse favourite, featuring a mushroom made from hazelnut parfait, scatterings of sparky mint-and-sorrel granita and popcorn-crunchy pork crackling.

Brooks leans on French tradition to produce unusual combinations, such as pork, seaweed and squid.
Brooks leans on French tradition to produce unusual combinations, such as pork, seaweed and squid. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Other dishes lean on tradition. There's aligot, a silken cheesy potato mash, and the meli symphony of vegetables, flowers and leaves that has long been Poelaert's homage to French master Michel Bras. Poelaert's current approach to the meli rejoices in nature instead of tiptoeing through it with reverence, tapping into an easy joy that's emblematic of the Brooks experience.

Rating: 4 stars (out of five)