Pei Modern

Lamb, sweetbreads and carrots from Pei Modern.
Lamb, sweetbreads and carrots from Pei Modern. Photo: Ken Irwin

Collins Place, 45 Collins Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000

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Just named best new restaurant in The Age Good Food Guide, Pei Modern melds the casual buzz and accessible pricing of the bistro with the clever food ideas and seriously good cooking you would expect in gastronomic temples - hence the ''bistronomy'' tag.

The owner is chef Mark Best, whose Sydney restaurant, Marque, is a witty, savvy gastronomic temple. His Melbourne incursion stars local chef Matt Germanchis (Pandora's Box), and the team of waiters is led by Ainslie Lubbock (Attica, Royal Mail), who was awarded the Good Food Guide's gong for service excellence. Crack team, cracking experience.

As befits a modern bistro, there are lots of ways to slice and dice a visit here. Grab a bacon and mustard sandwich on the way to work. Pop in at lunchtime for hanger steak. Hit the bar for an interesting glass of wine and anchovy shortbreads before a film at Kino. Or, my favourite, come for dinner and spend the whole night here, eating as much as possible.

There's plenty to love. Lovely moist sourdough is delivered in an origami napkin; the waiter announces the specials along with their prices (a too, too rare phenomenon); and I reckon you can taste the smiles in the food: the produce is excellent and there's rigor and system to the cooking.

A dish of roasted rabbit, saltbush and turned Jerusalem artichokes offers flashes of dusty plains; a light but sticky brown jus holds the dish together and adds depth. The seductive sweetness of carrots and sweetbreads is set free by a glorious acidic sauce with a peppery spike. A massive rib eye to share comes with a dark gravy of immense integrity, although the beef was unevenly cooked.

Playful versions of Marque classics are among the winning dishes.

I really like the riff on Best's crab and almond gazpacho, dressed down with grapes and casual sprigs of parsley, but I totally swoon for his potato ''cappuccino'' with sprinkles of coffee and shaved dried tuna. This dish is coming with me to the desert island, and I don't care if I ever get rescued.

There's also a spiced tomato dessert that offers a fun game of ''What's that spice?'' But the pick of the sweets, for my money, is the fresh, savoury sorrel sorbet with white chocolate and mandarin.

Pei Modern is spry, noisy and fun: if this is bistronomy, I'm a fan.


Collins Place, 45 Collins Street, Melbourne, 9654 8545
Licensed AE MC V eftpos
Mon to Fri, 7.30-11.30am, noon-2.30pm, 5.30pm-late; Sat, 9.30-11.30am, noon-late
Snacks, $3.50-$22; entrees, $12-$19; mains, $29-$36; desserts, $15