117 Collins Street (entry via George Parade) Melbourne, Victoria 3000
Brooks of Melbourne opened in 2012 as a subterranean restaurant uniting the very particular hospitality stylings of Gerald's Bar's Gerald Diffey and Mario Di Ienno (lords of Motown, good wine and piss-taking banter) with the tweezer-driven food of French chef Nic Poelaert.
Descend those stairs now, however, and you'll find yourself eating foie gras instead of flowers. Things have changed. All part of management's master plan to better leverage the restaurant's incredible Gothic bones and off-Collins Street location by going for the jugular of the moneyed crowd with bank account-assaulting classic French.
Gone is Poelaert's meli melo veg party and the bistro-y bar menu featuring roasted chicken with cheesy mash. Gone too is Poelaert. He toed the line for a while – and spectacularly – but the vegetable-championing chef handed the reins to his sous, David Hall, in February.
Fattened goose liver gets major play here. As does lobster, nine-score wagyu and a selection of spectacular wines by the glass that go for what you'd pay for a bottle.
Brooks is a restaurant you frock up for and put on someone else's card.
It's a massive play. Smart? Maybe. The food definitely has more synergy with this basement room of smoky mirrors, coats of arms and that sweeping marble bar where Shae Silvestro (Brooks' original bartender) still makes an excellent Picon Punch – a ballsy mix of Amer Picon, cognac, ginger and lemon.
And as far as creamy veloutes and sticky jus goes, Hall is on form.
The foie, if you can swallow the guilt and $40 price tag, is a pretty spectacular pan-fried slab, paired to a mild macadamia puree, a fine dice of pickled quince and a sauce d'epice that's basically spice-driven meat caramel.
There's more sharp execution in a more contemporary plate of squid ribbons and chorizo. It's now an old trick, shaving squid into fishy fettucine, but still a good one, especially when tossed with a grassy salsa verde, pops of finger lime and that fine strip of sizzled chorizo for meaty heat.
The fat, delicately poached marron tail is a subtler, more traditional party of flavours, adding a soft, juicy tranche of brawn (a jellied terrine of meat from the pig's head) and fine strips of apple for crunch.
Potato fans might consider coming in purely for a serve of the waxy King Edwards, lightly crisped at the edges and covered in butter and herbs. Ditto bitter and buttery lettuce leaves dressed in punchy vinaigrette.
It's a shame our salad comes out as vegetables. Service here aspires to the old-world, napkin-flourishing variety and general manager Bryan Lloyd (ex-The Point) and industry veteran Jane Semple do it really well.
Not everyone is bringing the A game. One bad night sees us left at the bar for 45 minutes, two wrong orders put through, and awkward pressure put on to get the premium tasting menu over our a la carte choices for better value (it's not, by a long shot, even with a better steak). Small mistakes, all. But there needs to be fewer of them when tasting menus are now $165 to start, $225 for the premium version, with an "unwritten" option featuring all the luxe gear and presumably an apprentice chef to spoon feed it to you for $350. Yikes.
See the upcycled Devonshire tea – crumbled buttery scones with clotted cream and hands down the silkiest cassis ice-cream you'll find in town. Also the amuse that seem to be discs of pure crumbed, fried cheese, and the likes of the bitter-sweet La Rugiada di San Giovanni green walnut liquor that gives the gooey, gutsy chocolate fondant with stout ice-cream one big high-five.
Is playing Empire State of Mind by Jay Z working in their favour? Sure ain't. But almost everything else that's new here is. That's reason enough to do a double take at Brooks 2.0.
Pro tip Check out the $39 lunch option
Go-to dish Hey there, upcycled cream tea – scones, cassis ice-cream and clotted cream ($19)
Like this? Dutchess above the Duke of Wellington has gone luxe steak and foie gras crazy, 2/146 Flinders Street, Melbourne.