78 Williams Road Prahran, VIC 3181
It's hard to open a restaurant, but it's much harder to keep it open, let alone keep it relevant, enticing and hospitable for 21 years. That's the achievement of Jacques Reymond at his grand 19th-century villa: his food is elegant, creative and beautiful, and a meal in these sumptuous high-ceilinged chambers is a special occasion, even if it doesn't coincide with a birthday, proposal or anniversary.
Fine dining can be clubby, and infrequent diners may feel at sea. That shouldn't be the case here because the energetic Jacques Reymond team exudes hospitality and respect. You'll feel welcome even if you don't fling around words such as ''togarashi'' and ''yuzu'' or relish the opportunity of spending $200 (or even $2010) on a bottle of wine. Eating here is expensive, but this isn't a normal night out: it's like dining in a happy bubble of luxury and plenty.
There are two menu choices: a nine-course degustation (including a vegetarian tour de force) or choosing four to six entree-size courses (plus dessert). I find the degustation a more relaxing experience.
The current parade includes a soothing shiitake mushroom broth of conversation-stopping clarity, scented with lemon balm and dotted with clams. A dish that counterpoints cuttlefish and chicken skin is a dance of salty texture. Rich, rare beef is teased by burnt onion and coffee. A fancy rice and plum pudding is augmented by a pot pourri of native leaves: it's witty sensory play.
The restaurant's longevity is impressive, but perhaps an even bigger wonder is that its 60-year-old namesake is still evolving.
The French chef isn't a trend-spotter. Rather, he obsesses about flavour and is inspired by produce, drawing on French traditions and the energy of his young team to create food that's contemporary but immune to fashion. I suspect he's the only chef in Australia to have owned a jaguar - that was when he was cooking in Brazil, and only until kitty took a few chunks out of a colleague. The big cat is long gone but Reymond's sense of adventure remains.
Occasionally I have felt overwhelmed by meals here, by the myriad ingredients and the ever-unfurling number of courses in each meal. But dishes on the current menu are relatively concise and the whole experience is warm, winning and delightfully digestible. Here's to the next 21 years.
4 out of 5 stars