142 Bridge Rd Richmond, VIC 3121
Restaurants keep opening with a fervour and frequency that’s both exciting and concerning. They do not all thrive. That’s why it’s a thrill to come upon a place driven by passion and piercing vision of what it might mean to dine in Melbourne today: a place like Mister Jennings, owned by chef Ryan Flaherty (ex-The Estelle, El Bulli and Fat Duck) in his first solo venture.
Mister Jennings feels like a chef’s restaurant – striving, clever food; a menu dominated by small dishes that allow the cook to shine; 35 seats - but there’s equal consideration for diner desires. If you feel like steak and chips your meal will be cooked with love, and if you want to taste a few wines without tipping from tipsy to tanked the 100-millilitre pours will appeal.
There's wit and spirit in the frozen kangaroo, an instant signature dish of spiced, icy roo shavings, wasabi and avocado puree, and shimmery veal and red wine jelly. The dish plays with a classic preparation (carpaccio, often frozen so it can be thinly sliced, then thawed to serve) and with Heston-ish notions of temperature trickery (but using a freezer instead of, say, liquid nitrogen). It highlights process by leaving the meat frozen, so its flavour is a slow reveal, and honours a native ingredient to boot. Crucially, it tastes great.
This food made me think but there’s no obligation to be reverent, no hovering waiter speechifying while you bow over each plate. Some dishes lend themselves to a simple "ooh" and "yum": a celery and mayonaissey mound of crab meat emerging from peppery tomato soup; battered white sausage on a stick; a chocolate extravaganza that works in citrus, spice, crunch, cold and hot without feeling like it's trying too hard.
Mister Jennings is new, raw and fun, and infused with hope and energy. If this is Melbourne dining, then count me hungry.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)