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|
This month marks five years since Vue de Monde moved to the 55th floor of the Rialto. It has never been better. The room buzzes with energy and freshness, even as the kangaroo-skin table coverings are becoming butter-soft and worn.
The food has "wow" factor yet it is flavour and texture that impress most. Kitchen trickery has been reined in and most food is cooked in pots and pans.
The view over Melbourne never gets boring: how easy it is to pity cars crawling over the Bolte Bridge when one is nibbling on duck breast with fermented truffle.
There's a warmth to the dining experience, driven largely by head chef Justin James and his crew, who bring many dishes to the table from the open kitchen, and also, in a funny way, by the international team of floor staff, some of whom can seem starstruck to simply be there.
That's not necessarily the best mindset when shepherding diners through the uncertainty and wonder of a menu-free experience, but there's something about being on the ride together that appeals.
Vue de Monde is expensive – $200 plus per multi-course meal – so most people would never consider dining here. However, if you can spend a lot of money on a meal, there's value.
Chef James (ex-Eleven Madison Park in New York) runs the kitchen; he eats each menu with owner Shannon Bennett, who still has ultimate oversight. Bennett should be happy. His man on the ground (well, 400 metres above it) is doing him proud, using technique in service of diner enjoyment, not just because it's fun to play with food. That can result in dishes that layer inspiration and process in remarkably complex ways but end up eating very easily.
"That's so delicious," I say, about a veal and cabbage dish. Juniper-infused milk gel and cabbage braised in veal jus sit underneath grilled veal. The meat is rolled in reduced cabbage juice, then a mix of charred cabbage powder and caramelised milk powder. It's topped by discs cut from cabbage leaves – how clever, how simple – that have been variously pickled, compressed, confited and charred. I found most of that out later. In the moment, I was dazed by milk and earth, blood and fire, by the modest alchemy of food that stops time.
Vue de Monde has a farm at Burnham Beeches and the chefs head out there fortnightly to pick and prod and plan. One day, Justin James pulled a Jerusalem artichoke plant from the earth and noticed that its root ball looked like an upturned tree, artichokes clinging to it like apples.
That lightning bolt of inspiration has become a fabulous dessert: the roots and vegetables are painstakingly cleaned, poached in sugar syrup, then fried and the artichokes piped full of apple jam. What appears at the table is a magical doughnut tree. You pluck sweet, caramelised artichokes from the "branches" and swipe them through salted chocolate. It's an ace amusement and tastes great.
A restaurant like Vue de Monde is not part of normal life (though apparently one couple has been 41 times). The trick is to make the rarefied also feel warm, to let diners celebrate their own occasions while being carried along by a premium experience. It takes confidence to do that and experience to judge it and I think Vue de Monde right now has the balance bang-on.
Rating: Four and a half stars (out of five)