Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Vue Review

Intro: If you have been living under a rock - or are just not that interested in food - you might not know that Vue de Monde's Shannon Bennett is definitely Melbourne's culinary heavyweight. Perhaps running with the theme of a former reputation for arrogance, Bennett moved his Carlton hideaway to a city back-alley, roped in a helluva lot of staff and lashed out on a really schmick fitout. Much to the chagrin of his critics, Bennett's top-notch and inventive grub has since resulted in a list of bookings as long as the list of accolades. It was against this background that Vue spawned Cafe Vue, in the same building. Rumor had it that Bennett's pastry chef would also be making the pastry for the cafe. When the rumor was confirmed in The Age, it was only a matter of time before this foodie and coffee nut succumbed to the cafe's irresistable pull. Heids' imminent departure proved the perfect excuse ...

The vibe: The cafe is slick, funky, fast-paced and cool. But it is also cold, emotionless and devoid of all personality. Neither the breathtaking cutlery and pristine chairs of the restaurant itself, nor the unapologetically playful artwork of the webpage or the book gets a look-in. Instead, we get glass, steel, red and photographs. If it were any other place, the seemingly standard illy fitout would be kind of cool, even though its uniformity in the cafes that I have seen from adelaide to barcelona make it seem very "high-end starbucks." Here, however, the look makes the cafe feel like the restaurant's abandoned bastard stepchild.

P1000216 (Large)

The staff, however, are great. At 11am, they seem happy, proudly announcing that we can't have a brioche because it hasn't been baked yet. They are only too eager to enthuse about pastry or ingredients and convoluted repeat orders are met with a welcoming - "don't worry about it, pay at the end." I even overheard some disdain and offence at the impending visit of an illy trainer.

The food: The food is the only area where I can make out Bennett's involvement, influence or interest. And, trust me, it's a good area to pick! I have a baked bean and duck confit jaffle. At a mere six bucks, I get the image of a chef gleefully burying it amidst the other menu items as a treasure for like-minded foodies. Heidi asks for a smoked salmon brioche. Unfortunately, she can't have one - the brioche is still being baked. I smile and she orders a different salmon concoction. At eight bucks, her sandwich doesn't terriffically phase me one way or the other, but she certainly enjoys it. I savour rich, almost cloying mouthfulls and wonder how Matt Preston could baulk at the bill. Maybe he went for the $15 lunchbox.

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Of course, the pastry cabinet is the star attraction. And it does not dissappoint. Heidi and I share a chocolate tart and a pistachio cupcake. The cupcake reminds me of the pistachio macaroons at Laduree in Paris. As green as the incredible hulk, and with flavour to match. The chocolate tart is rich and tastes like it has a substantial cocoa content.

I leave feeling as I did when I left lunch in Paris. The food was spot on and stayed true to Bennett's French roots, with carefully selected ingredients delivering a powerful punch. My particular choices were quite rich and left me with something of a cloying sensation in the mouth, as I knew they would.

The coffee: Heidi was the one brave enough to order the espresso. I say nothing. She sips it and is revulsed, then asks me if I'd like to try it. I take her up on the offer, even though the sales pitch isn't exactly compelling. It's not too bad. Both ashy and sour, but fairly good for coffee that is clearly stale. I say as much and start talking about something else ... but my thoughts are cut short as a horrible and overwhelming ashy flavour develops a few minutes later. It's like there's a party in my mouth and everybody's smoking. Perhaps these words are what Matt Preston was searching for when he described his espresso as "potent." Fortunately, food arrives in short order. The ashy flavour was also the only hint of coffee that I tasted in the two mouthfuls of my latte that I could bring myself to down. Interesting, because the shots were extracted to the right volume and the milk was quite well textured. Another reviewer picked up on the milk texture, but how he can call this stuff "smooth" and lacking in "bite" is beyond me.

P1000213 (Large)

Not many things could bring me to try coffee that I know is likely to be stale, but Bennett's implicit thumbs up is one of them. I struggle to comprehend how a person who so obviously has an excellent palate can allow their name to be associated with coffee so terrible. Fortunately, Cafenatics is only a minute or so's walk away. I had been meaning to drop by and try their stuff since tagging along with the guys when they set up the machine at the newer Cafenatics. The owner was there and he treated Heids and I to some excellent shots. Sometimes the best things in life are literally free ;P

Conclusion: An awesome cafe. I will return for the food, but I think that I'll check out their tea.



At 12:09 AM, Blogger rice said...

Was there last week, the chocolate tarts were frigging brilliant. I had doubled up, but had another to tally up 3! The winning factor to me was that the centre was gooey and not too firm, so matched nicely with the dry , bitter choc pastry. Just couldnt cram those brown fudge thingys with what looked like gold leaf on top.

One question, did you spy any mini toffee apples? Let em eat cake...

I didnt bother with the coffee, not because of commone sense, but had already shot myself in the ass by having a spro at the Illy store a bit earlier. It was extracted with care, but meh... not very pleasant. Made me wish for Andrew at Malt.

I'm dubious as to whether Bennetts touch can be felt in Cafe V. Not dined at bling Vue (Normanby Chamb), but bistro Vue in Carlton had all the hallmarks off a well oiled machine (from kitchen to fron of house). Efficiency and tasty!

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Luca said...

I think that one of these days we'll have to go along and just buy their whole damned pastry case. Best $60 we'll ever spend!

I'm still salivating over the duck and bean jaffle. Simple cafe food, perfectly executed and with an undeniable French influence. I reckon that the prices will go up, though, but the fierce cafe competition around there might keep them honest. I reckon there must be ten different cafes within five minutes' walk from there, all of them using stale coffee with the possible exception of the one using Genovese. When you have a cafe proudly announcing that they use "only giancarlo coffee" ... aka Coca Cola ... you know that it would be the easiest thing in the world to switch one of them over to fresh coffee, train up the staff, stick a few photos of rosettas in the window and suck 25% of every other cafes coffee sales away. Particularly if you were on the corner. But I digress.



At 10:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

went to the restaurant on tuesday night. Got a tour of the new bistro. Bistro just needs people and it will be great. Dinner.... no one in Melbourne can touch it. Only restaurant that changes everything from menu, plates, cups, coffee machine, pots and so much more. It different every time you go in.
I buy a synesso and people think wow!! They have more money on plates than i have in coffee equipment.Vue just put so much effort in. Service is outstanding. The cafe service i received was pretty bad. Had my family there, no one else was in there. Just got a look from the baristi, not a word, smile, greeting, nothing. Just a F.U face. Would i go there again? Of course. I have F.U face at least 5 hours a day. Food at the cafe is so cool. Im going this week!!! LUCA YOU IN?

At 6:52 PM, Blogger rice said...

"I think that one of these days we'll have to go along and just buy their whole damned pastry case. Best $60 we'll ever spend!"
Nah, better way is like a pub crawl but a cake crawl. With the death of the fine dining room, and the more casual style seen at the fusion places, eating at the bar means its the shizzle for amusing oneself with a night of dining. Just rock up, grab a glass of brandy, and wait for dessert...

Pearl (choc taro dumpling), 312 (choc ganache + milk ice), ezard (icecream with honey caramel), Attica (choc mousse, chestnut cream, raisins macerated in muscatel & a savoury one, watermelon, prawn, caramel, chilli), Circa ('snickers bar' but shes not there any more, so pffft... I had a crush on P.Sibley's cooking)...

"Dinner.... no one in Melbourne can touch it"
Who 's the anon Synesso sister ? Mark D was away in the US of A, and theres the ex-beer homey in the winery... so... its ass face :p

Its like having the A-team serving dinner. The menu is always brilliant and I'm sure the execution is the same. Noticing a greater usage of sous vide techniques, aspics, gels and foams.
Did you have the chocolate & cheese toast? Was it originally a T-dog dish from Sydney?

I HAVE to get my ass in to gear, save my pennies, and go gourmand... Lunch menu used to be a steal, but its gone up, rightfully so. Even if the A team arent all there.

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just went to the cafe again. I have to agree with buy the whole pastries cabinet. Just magic. I havent tasted sweets like that in a while.
I am addicted.

At 3:14 AM, Anonymous Tzu-yen said...

Hay, just checked our your blog. NIce one. I am in Taiwan now. I am missing the taste of espresso so much. And that cafe sounds like a must. Keep up the good work

At 11:24 PM, Blogger rice said...

I'm in Colombo Tzu-yen and I hear you loud and clear.
I'm still having espresso withdrawals. I gots a plunger plus an aeropress; hand ground with a Zass. But they aint no espresso substitute. Not even close.
'Drink tea' people say when they hear me complain... 'pfffft' I reply.

At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what can i say.. was in San Fran and Seattle.... Coffee was amazing. Nim you would love the food in the two cities. San Fran Market was soooooooooooooo good.

At 12:22 AM, Blogger rice said...

Andy... awesome that you had a great time. Hope your wife and kiddie enjoyed the trip too.

Forget the food and the coffee, how was the NBA? Who'd you get tickets for? ShaqDwayne or da Kobe show?

p.s. if you dined at Planet Hollywood or Hard Rock, I'll come over and kick you in the shins. :p


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