Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000
|Opening hours||Thu-Sun noon-3pm; daily 6pm-9pm|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9691 3888|
Sometimes you just really need a drink. And when the restaurant you've booked that night comes with a bar attached, it seems a top idea to arrive early and wait for your dining compadre with a glass of something cold and wet at hand.
That was the plan, but at Vue de Monde's Lui Bar, the execution went all awry when I took a seat and disappeared for a full 30 minutes. It happens sometimes - entirely my fault - but when I rematerialised to ask politely for a drink (gosh, I must have given the bartender a fright), the waitress didn't say ''Sure thing'' or ''I'll get someone to help you'' or even ''Be with you in a sec'', all of which would have been fine. Instead I got ''We're really under the pump right now'', delivered with barely muffled annoyance.
It was a fantastic way to put a cloud over an otherwise excellent night, and I mention it only because as the Vue de Monde empire expands - they're opening Jardin Tan at the Botanic Gardens soon, and the first stage of the Burnham Beeches project in the Dandenongs - they might want to keep an eye on the fundamentals.
For such a great restaurant they can sometimes go out of their way to be unlikeable. I've written about that whole two-hour sitting thing before - in at 6pm, out by 8pm is just a little hard to take when you're coughing up to $250 a head for food. It makes Vue de Monde a bit like a high-altitude time-share where diners can buy a few precious hours to soak up the lights of Melbourne twinkling 55 stories below.
I normally save the negatives for last, but in the spirit of the Vue de Monde's new approach - in the words of head chef and chief instigator Cory Campbell, they've ''flipped'' the menu, putting heavier dishes first - I thought I'd get them out of the way first. From here on in it's one big praise-fest so sickening you might need a paper bag.
Take a gander at the menu. Salt-cured wallaby. Truffle marshmallow. Smoked eel and white chocolate. Vue has always excelled at soft-bombing diners to prime them for what's to come. The latter is particularly good, the mouth-coating, toffeed crunch of the chocolate making peculiar sense with the eel.
But they're just the opening act, their entertainment values overwhelmed by the wow factor of the first real course of wild barramundi glazed in apple cider. A potato slice with just enough give is wrapped around chicken mousse with a considerate dab of caviar on top. It's a stunner, just slightly eclipsing the follow-up of a fat little puck of kangaroo that arrives sizzling on a piece of binchotan charcoal, matched with beetroot and blueberries.
It's not just the order but the style of food that's evolved. They've rid the menu of the more hand-wringing moments of Vue's past. The wagyu liquorice allsorts and foie gras cigar with charcoal ash are just dated memories in this confident parade of real food. The marron tail, for example. Years ago, when Shannon Bennett first unveiled this tribute to a rising-star chef named Rene Redzepi, diners were left scraping awkwardly at a lump of warmed rock with their cutlery. The unease in the room was palpable. Now the perfectly jellied meat of the WA marron comes without any cutlery, all the better to swipe it through a pine mushroom cream that's like an umami bolt to the brain.
The cuisine d'fingers doesn't stop there. There's a tableaux of fried soft-shell mud crab, a high-low dish with posh marron sandwich perched theatrically on a rocky outcrop. Fried parson's nose anointed with more caviar, alongside truffle-dusted wagyu.
The last savoury course isn't wagyu but fish - finely diced cobia in a sluice of buttermilk and rocket oil with wilted and crunchy kale.
The last wine match isn't cabernet but gruner veltliner. Sommelier Jackson Watson has taken the flipped-menu challenge and come up with some pearlers. Barolo and syrah before chardonnay and fiano. Go with it. He deserves your trust.
Funny that the drinks could provide the highlight and lowlight of my visit. But that's life, I guess.
The best bit The wine matching rocks
The worst bit The service at Lui Bar
Go-to dish Cobia, kale, buttermilk