Executive Chef Shannon Bennett is a household name in Melbourne in the same way as Peter Gilmore is in Sydney. Enter Bennett’s Vue De Monde – quite possibly the ultimate antithesis to Quay’s subdued presentation, but giving up none of the flavour sensations that Quay is famed for.
VDM is one of Melbourne’s premier fine dining establishments. Situated at a sky-shattering level 55 of the Rialto Tower, this three-toqued restaurant rewards the discerning diner’s eyes, as well as the palate.
This post has 60 pictures in it – the most of any single restaurant post I’ve ever done. You will soon see why – click in for one of the most splendiferous meals you’ll ever get to feast on.
Date Last Visited: 8/6/14
Address: Level 55/Rialto 525 Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Recommended Dish(es): let the staff guide you
Being a three-hatted restaurant, one expects something akin to perfection. Such an experience has to start from the very moment one walks in: the moment they are being ushered up the elevator.
It all starts when you walk into the lobby. As VDM is high up in a high-rise, you encounter ground-level reception before the restaurant premises itself. Here, reception will guide you through a special elevator that’s solely reserved for VDM.
There are no buttons in the elevator, exuding an exclusive vibe. When you’re paying $240 per head (and this is for lunch, no less), the royal treatment is appreciated.
The restaurant employs a noir colour schem with dark facades, dark tables and dark chairs. The tables themselves are covered with refined kangaroo pelts (I’m not kidding), which are comfortable to rest your arms on. It’s hard to appreciate touches like these until you have experienced them.
I’ll spare you no longer – here is the view that’s directly outside our (panoramic) window. Yeah, it’s amazing. I’ve never eaten at a restaurant so high up, so VDM is able to even serve its European contemporaries in the views department. Sure, it’s no Sydney Harbour (imagine the potential there), but nothing is quite like VDM and its unobstructed views of the Melbourne skyline.
Imagine the place at night. Magical, right?
As the occasion was for The Lady’s birthday, it was somewhat appropriate to get some bubbly, even though neither of us are drinkers. Sometimes, a show is needed!
Given the scope of that wine cellar though, I’m sure that wine connoisseurs will not find VDM’s selection lacking.
Vue De Monde’s menu works in a unique way: to an extent, you actually get to decide the menu. This is why if you browse their site, you’ll only see “sample” menus. Indeed, if you decide to communicate what you like and what you don’t to your server, a customised menu will materialise on your table.
Naturally, there will be common elements for every table, but that they are able and willing to do this for diners is a logistical nightmare that I can only commend on them for managing. I personally saw at least 4 dishes plated for other tables that were not part of our menu.
Uh oh, I might need to go back.
The way I am, I only made one request to the server: go nuts! I let him take control, with the only specification to turn down an optional, $60 truffle course.
First course: compressed apple crisps w/macadamia pureé. The crisps reminded me of Kettle chips, and that’s a great thing. A whole lot of crunch, with a nutty and sugary taste that still managed to remain savoury. The compressed macadamia puree being the rich accompaniment, this was mopped up in short order.
As far as amuse goes, we started out well.
And then, the menu escalates fast.
Not content with serving one or two amuse bouches (two is rare), Vue De Monde decides to go YOLO and decks out four “snacks” (their wording) to consume. It makes for a pretty picture – and it’s at this point you begin to realise that each of those rocks at the beginning had an oh so sly purpose.
I have no clue where the oysters came from, but I didn’t care at that point – I was more concerned with trying to figure out how to eat it, given that it was all shell.
Well, I should have seen that one coming!
As far as oysters go, I had no complaints – zippy citrus notes with oysters is classic, never going out of fashion.
A sweet outer candy coats savoury smoked eel with a bit of caviar splashed on top. I didn’t totally agree with the flavours of this dish. Texturally, the dish is more interesting with the candy crunch, fighting against the soft, buttery eel.
I didn’t expect the duck tongues w/black pepper to be my favourite snack, however it won my heart with that insanely chewy texture and saucy marination. Each bite doesn’t fail to be full of juicy goodness.
Given a choice, lamb hearts wouldn’t usually be on the menu for me. If Vue De Monde is preparing them however, then I’ll be well taken care of. The hearts have a bit of a gritty texture, but this is well-managed due to the portion size and suppressed by caramelisation.
When I thought the snacks were done, I was left wanting more. But then, lo and behold, we get salt-cured Flinders Island wallaby rolled up at our table.
While we’re talking about theatre, Vue De Monde is absolutely chock-full of it. While stiff-tied diners used to European fine dining customs (I’m stereotyping here) may not appreciate, this is something very Australian. Wholeheartedly welcome!
The wallaby tastes somewhat like tuna sashimi, with a bit of extra toughness and chewiness from the lean meat. It’s good, and I wish I had a bigger (but still thin) portion.
Now I can take a photo with the entire Brady Bunch 😀
Phew, the snacks are out of the way – how about we start on the first course?
As if VDM wasn’t flipping the tables enough, the entire menu is flipped as well. Sure, the desserts are still last, but in terms of savoury dishes, the heavy, rich stuff actually comes first. You never know what to expect. Case in point – a giant barramundi collar to start.
My goodness, this is a huge portion, with each bite guaranteed to please. The seasoning is a fair bit heavy-handed, and I found it too salty at times. While more balance needs to be exercised there, I could find worse things to complain about. Fortunately, there are none 🙂
Oh, by the way – in true Aussie style, you eat this with your bare hands. Warning – it’s hot! Don’t worry, you’re provided with a hot towel for after. Still, an oddity in a world of silverware and too many knives and forks to count.
In our next entry in the “VDM needs to expand their kitchen, jokes” series, we have barramundi round 2 – barramundi cheek w/Gascony butter.
Our server explains to us that there are parts of barramundi that are traditionally underrated, and one such part is the cheek. The cheek is a delicious, fatty area that’s often discarded in lieu of the main meat of the body.
After seeing the man at work, skillfully prying out a roughly circular portion of cheek, and plating it up san choy bao style, my eyes have become convinced.
Shortly after, my palate was convinced as well – I’m surprised the cheek isn’t used much, given how good it tastes. It’s literally buttery-soft, given its ultra-high fat content. When you’re lunching at VDM, you forget the meaning of the word “calorie”. There are no rules here.
Chef De Cuisine Cory Campbell heads down to our table for the next course of rustic-seared kangaroo w/beetroot reduction. There’s just something so Australian about doing a BBQ right at your table at at a world-class restaurant.
It’s just oh so right.
The kangaroo is done rare, the only way it can be. Anything more and you may as well eat car tyres.
Art could be used to describe how the dish looks. Understated elegance is at work here, and I did marvel at it for a bit before I actually tucked into it.
The dish is very simple in taste – it’s just an example of great produce, really. While I’m not a chef, I know that quality produce gets you 80% of the way – just dress it up a little, cook it well, and you’re done.
I particularly liked the sweetness of the Munthari berries paired with the dish, as it added additional dimensions to the meat itself. It would otherwise have been far more boring.
Speaking of art, check out the cutlery! All stops, pulled. An appreciation for detail is not lost on the eye.
VDM’s kitchen is unique as well, in that they hide nothing in the preparation of your food. Only Momofuku Seiobo has given me this experience (in a fine dining restaurant) You can book a chef’s table lunch to see them work close-up, I believe. That said, no matter where you sit, you’ll be hearing many cries of “YES CHEF!” throughout your meal. It’s true – they do that!
The great VDM BBQ now continues…
A second red meat comes in the form of Blackmore wagyu w/beef cheek. This is one of my favourite dishes – it’s just friggin delicious. I love beef cheek, and when we’re talking about some of the finest wagyu Australia can produce, you know you’re getting some insane quality.
It’s the sweetness of the meat, rendezvousing with the classic BBQ char that tips me over the edge. Sensational.
The charred onions and greens were also exceptional – this dish is pretty much perfect. Enough said.
No matter what form of theatre you had before, you can always crank it up another notch with liquid nitrogen. I’ve had a similar experience before at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (review pending), and I’m chuffed that it’s here again.
Liquid nitrogen is poured into a bed of wood sorrell and other bits of plantae, snap-freezing them. Then use the provided pestle and crush it all up, upon which a quenelle of cucumber sorbet is spooned in. The result is quite the sight.
The cucumber sorbet & freeze-dried wood sorrel is a delightful palate cleanser that goes above-the-fold. It’s super refreshing, which is exactly what a palate cleanser should be.
As usual with palate cleansers, I wish I could have a far larger portion. Easily dessert-worthy.
The clock is now wound back to breakfast time, when we were greeted with a seemingly confusing “good morning” at first, but realising that our next course is eggs on toast! In the continuation of this whacky menu, breakfast is served!
This dish makes the second of my favourites at VDM – the textures are incredible. The depth of the duck yolk and truffle sauce, the crunch of the saltbush and “toast”. It’s so rich, but you’ve finished it just before it gets too overwhelming. I’ll have another three, thanks.
Bread, which usually comes much earlier in the course, arrives now. We were a bit apprehensive, given how extensive the menu has been so far, and wondering how much more there is to go…but once we saw the steam coming out of it, we tucked in immediately. Warm bread with butter? No regrets.
Our next course is an amuse-like marron w/pine mushroom cream. Because we’re Australian, this is also eaten with the hands. Soak up that cream, because you’ll have plenty left over.
Sure, you can use the provided towel to clean your fingers, but why not just lick them clean? That works too and it’s delicious to boot!
Affectionately referred to as the “ducktopus” dish, this duck breast w/octopus pretty much rounds out the mains.
At this point, I’m in a bit of a food coma, but I was still able to appreciate this dish, given the many textures that are present on the plate. Corn chips and duck? Sure, why not! The duck is as sweet as the chip is crunchy.
That said, the duck itself is a bit too lean – I had to provide a real jaw workout.
We approach the last of our savoury courses, taking the form of kingfish, kale & buttermilk. I’m glad the savouries ends on a lighter note, but don’t let that fool you. This is one of the best dishes in the entire menu.
While it looks somewhat plain, the flavours are some of the best VDM has been able to come up with – crunchy kale says hi to kingfish that’s burst after burst of umami, buttery flavour. What a great way to bow out to the sweets to come!
For pre-dessert, we receive two “lollipops” of coconut & lemon ice cream wrapped in celery. These are almost certainly frozen with liquid nitrogen, as there’s almost this creamy “crunch” as one bites into them, and it isn’t just the celery.
The sweetness of the ice cream is balanced out by its inherent citrus notes, while the celery gives a fresh, vegetation-like crispness. Again, just what I need for a pre-dessert.
Though it’s too late, I should probably drink the rest of that….
Aside from the fact that this could be a painting on the wall, the buttermilk & malt cream is an amazing dessert. There are three creams, with different textures and flavours. Some sweet, some almost savoury. Some rich, some light. Topped with a sugary barley crunch, this dessert is all sorts of win.
Probably one of the best things I’ve eaten. This is the one sweet dish from VDM I would choose, if I could only choose one.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had soufflé, with the last one at Est. When this cup of dark chocolate soufflé heaven got plated up I died a little – I was so full, yet I must soldier on. No soufflé like this should be uneaten.
Love at first bite. Admittedly, I’ve only had a handful of soufflés in my life, but this one ties with Est., and that was a damn good soufflé.
A good example should be light, airy, not overly sweet, and when finished, should not leave a heavy feeling of fullness. Despite the decadent chocolate, VDM nailed it. They are proud of their soufflé and I can see why.
With that, the meal nears its glorious end.
It doesn’t go out without a bang though – petit fours takes the form of a veritable garden of treats. Of course, VDM will not leave you without making its impression. Did you expect less?
The birthday cherry lamington is less like a lamington, and more like a mousse cake. As a result, it’s richer and denser. More bang for your calorie.
These caramel chocolate seashells were helped along, surprisingly, by the specks of salt sprinkled into them. I wished the rest of those shells were chocolate too 🙁
As agar is fairly neutral in flavour, these jelly pennies are more for the novelty than the taste. There’s a slight alcoholic flavour to them, with a subtle sweetness.
In the background we have menthol lollipops. They’re not quite like actual menthol (thank goodness), but more like a snap-frozen cherry candy. My favourite out of these four.
With that, our meal is finally done for good. We were given a short tour of the rest of the restaurant on the way out.
At VDM’s Lui Bar, you can take a drink with the same incredible views of Melbourne’s skyline. Check out the shaped glass on the ceiling!
The restaurant has another side (pictured earlier in the post), and this was reserved for a wedding that night. Balling.
On our way out, we were given a nice little surprise in the form of a “next day” package. It’s a nice gesture, and ensures you’re not going to forget about VDM.
Oh I won’t forget VDM – not for a long, long time. While there are a few faults in that the nature of its eclectic menu means not everything can be perfect, VDM pushes ground like few other restaurants in Australia. For me, this is Melbourne’s best, a standard for all to aspire to.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- Food combined with high theatre
- But the food amazing also
- Exceptional service
Not so Awesome:
- Some dishes are a bit of an experiment that miss slightly
- Some dishes are more theatre than attempting to be exceptional