Prix Fixe

Larissa Dubecki
Seasonal: Prix Fixe's current theme is an 'ode to autumn'.
Seasonal: Prix Fixe's current theme is an 'ode to autumn'. Photo: Joe Armao

Alfred Place Melbourne, Victoria 3000

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Permanently Closed

No modern restaurant can simply cook food and serve it. Now it must arrive trumpeting a narrative - ''chop-socky Thai street food'' or ''British workingman's cafeteria''.

And the explanations. The interminable explanations, reliably prefaced with the dread words, ''Have you dined with us before?'', after which the restaurant's ''concept'', its menu, the chef and producers are verbally upended on to the table.

Prix Fixe is the rare exception. Being our - that is, Australia's - first ticketed restaurant, it needs explanation, although for all our sakes let's try to keep it brief. Walk-ins are encouraged, but the main deal involves going online to buy a table for a specific time at a specific lunch or dinner. The themed set menu - so far they've had A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Whole Hog - changes monthly. It's posted on the website.

Pheasant pithiviers padded with pine mushroom and chestnuts.
Pheasant pithiviers padded with pine mushroom and chestnuts. Photo: Joe Armao

Temperamentally closer to a sporting event or music gig, it eliminates no-shows and last-minute cancellations, which can drag down a restaurant's bottom line. Under the ticketed model, it's the diner left holding the baby if illness, work deadline or the season return of Mad Men intercedes. No refunds; all you can do is register your tickets for sale on Prix Fixe's Facebook page. Clearly it's a case of caveat emptor.

On the other side of the ledger, there's no directive to clear out after two hours, the encroaching industry practice that's not unlike renting a hotel room by the hour, only much less satisfying. That table, once booked, is yours for the night.

Without too crippling a cost, either. The $79 that Prix Fixe charges for four courses at dinner is a bargain considering everything else they provide, from excellent bread rolls at the start to the coffee at the end, not to mention the unforced elegance of the two-tiered dining space with mirrored panels and the flattering light of ceramic shades dangling conspiratorially over each table.

Go-to dish: Poached quince, gingerbread, macadamia crumble.
Go-to dish: Poached quince, gingerbread, macadamia crumble. Photo: Joe Armao

And the food? Well, the slim-line concept wouldn't work if any of the four courses were less than fantastic. But they're not. So it does. And, blessedly, there are no explanations.

Last seen at Albert Street Food & Wine, which boasted quite a similar culinary aesthetic to Prix Fixe, Philippa Sibley's past life as a pastry chef has the welcome effect that all her food arrives looking like the dribble-worthy photographs in glossy food magazines. Her April menu, an ode to autumn, kicks off with something spiritually aligned to the amuse bouche, although more substantial - a little cup of vichyssoise, fancied up with sweet gorgonzola ice-cream, chive oil and purple congo potato crisps.

Then a tasting plate (snore … no, read on) that nails the balance you need to make a bunch of vaguely related things make sense. Venison carpaccio, dusted with dehydrated juniper; a juicy hare terrine with a chicken-livery heart; parsnip and jerusalem artichoke remoulade; a powerhouse pear and ginger chutney; a rugged wafer of rye and buckwheat.

A pheasant pithiviers, padded beautifully with pine mushroom, chestnuts and chicken mousse, proves that while food fashions constantly evolve, good dishes never date. The pie's epidermis is a beautifully patterned shine of egg wash, toasted to exactly the same shade as the Home and Away cast; the gravy could easily dispatch several bread rolls on mopping up duties. There's a side of brussels sprouts doing that good-veg-gone-bad thing, obscenely caramelised and hanging out in the ne'er-do-well company of smoked lardons.

I'm also a bit giddy about dessert, a properly sticky ooze of quince poached in sauternes and cinnamon, clove and orange peel until it blushes the fantastical maroon of autumn leaves. Gingerbread ice-cream; toasted macadamia crumble. It's a pretty fine argument for seasonal tasting.

Not to mention being indebted to the sommelier, who made the perfect oddball suggestion (a Greek assyrtiko) that made sense with all four courses, and at $20 under budget.

Seriously. If this is the future of dining, I'm more than OK with it. No explanations needed.

THE LOWDOWN
The best bit
You know what you're up for fiscally
The worst bit
Need to change your booking? Bad luck
Go-to dish
Poached quince, gingerbread, macadamia crumble

Twitter: @LarissaDubecki or email: ldubecki@fairfaxmedia.com.au

http://prixfixe.com.au/