198 Little Collins St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat 4pm-11pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
On paper, Parcs is an ode to worthiness. Billing itself as offering "sustainable dining informed by fermentation", it has chef Dennis Yong repurposing ingredients otherwise destined for the bin – overripe mangoes, yesterday's bread, outer lettuce leaves – while also keeping a watchful eye on the sustainability of everything else that comes into his tiny kitchen.
So far, so earnest.
But Yong takes that scrap (read that word backwards) and, using the alchemy of fermentation, a deft palate, serious cooking skills and a big dose of wit, turns it into something utterly delicious and original.
Even if you're not a woke moth drawn to the nearest worthy flame and wander in here open-minded but clueless to the minimal-waste philosophy, Parcs will show you a fun and often surprising time.
Clue No.1 that this is more than a well-meaning experiment is that Parcs is the latest addition to the stable of restaurants from Windsor Hotel owner Adi Halim, who's already elevated our dining lives with restaurants such as Sunda and Aru.
Dennis Yong worked at Sunda under chef Khanh Nguyen. He shares with his former head chef an excellent sense of balance, even in the face of combinations that sound incongruous.
Take the oysters ($6 each). Riffing on the traditional mignonette, the sauce accompanying this plump Pacific has a mango kombucha vinegar base made from super-ripe mangoes at the end of their saleable life. They've been fermented and aged in beeswax. There's scoby (a fermentation building block) and mango skin oil in the sauce, too.
The result? The oyster, cooked slightly in the vinegar, has a luscious, almost meaty texture and a complex flavour from its own saltiness, the sweetness of the scoby, the acid from the vinegar and the faint bitterness of the oil. It's a lot for a single mouthful, but it's a mouthful that might have you closing your eyes as the flavours rush past.
Despite the often complex and time-consuming processes and flavours at work in Parcs' dishes – the bread miso bringing yeasty umami greatness to the destined-to-be-cult umami e pepe noodle dish ($18) takes three months to mature – there's never a sense of them being forced or overloaded. A pleasingly clean line runs through almost all of the dishes on the single-page menu.
Mussels escabeche ($18) are pickled in a salty, thrillingly complex paste of Malaysian fermented pickles (acar awak) and Maggi seasoning, and topped with a julienne of fresh white radish, sprinkled with salty-savoury dried cucumber peel.
For maximum effect, order this dish with Yong's take on the famed Chinese smashed cucumber dish. He uses smashed melon ($14), tossing it with a mix of orange kosho, mustard oil, vinegar and topped with fresh mint leaves. Funky and fresh at the same time.
Kangaroo ($28), marinated in soy and vinegar before a quick charring, is teamed with fermented saltbush leaves. Golden fried rice ($22) with fermented cos leaves and dried salmon (leftovers from The Windsor) is a bright and salty crowd-pleaser. Wok-tossed greens ($17) join forces with "ramp relish" made from brined, over-ripe grapes that turn savoury in the brining process and excellent when teamed with a garam sauce made from beef salvaged from Sunda.
In keeping with the minimal-waste philosophy, Parcs' room is repurposed, too. The former Stellini Bar in Little Collins Street was always a pleasant, minimally dressed small space to spend some time – big windows, marble bar, timber furniture – and it's been kept that way. The most notable addition is the display of globular scoby in a glass tank, Yong's homage to the fish tanks of live seafood restaurants.
The drinks list is not short of either house-made kombucha or wine made with minimal intervention. Darren Leaney, drinks guy for the group, has pulled it together, offering a two-page array of interesting, mostly Australian stuff at prices in step with the reasonably priced food.
Do not leave Parcs without eating the ice-cream ($18). It's flavoured with a miso made from leftover scones from The Windsor Hotel. They add a fermented, almost blue-cheese quality that melds perfectly with the accompanying pear poached in a cacao-nib syrup. It's a conversation-stopper. You may have never tasted anything like it before. And that's worthy in a whole different way.
Vibe There's something happening here
Cost About $120 for two, plus drinks
Go-to dish Scone miso ice-cream with poached pear and cacao husk
Drinks Short, sharp minimal-intervention-leaning wine list, plus house-made kombucha
Pro tip No bookings, so the waiting-averse should arrive early or late
Michael Harden is Good Food's acting chief reviewer.