Friday 1 January 2010

Gluttonous Travels: Fancy Birthday Dinner at Jacques Reymond (Melbourne, Australia)

"Only a bad meal is an expensive meal",
Shannon Bennett (chef and owner of Vue de Monde, Melbourne)

(Dish of the night: Wagyu beef rump, oyster sauce, ravioli of
daikon and spicy celery, mustard ice cream.)

You gotta love a birthday. Especially your own. The early morning champers quickly dispels any niggles about the unrelenting years piling up, the ever deepening crows feet and the fact that (a) you now delight in receiving soap and hand creams as gifts and (b) technology is moving faster than you can replace destroyed brain cells (Twitter? TiVo? Wii? What the...?). Plus, there's presents.

So the day was already off to a flying start, even before my lovely Peanut Gallery whisked me off into the sunset for a seriously fancy dinner at my favourite lah-di-dah Melbourne restaurant, Jacques Reymond.

Good old JR was originally from Burgundy, but has long been a stalwart of the Melbourne dining scene. His eponymous restaurant occupies an august Victorian mansion tucked away in the leafy parts of Prahran. Its 3 formal dining rooms are graceful and elegant, the food is modern and innovative while the value on service is classicly and classily traditional.

JR remains hands on in the kitchen - diners can sneak a peek of him at work on route to the loos. Me and my celebrity-sighting-loving-head-on-a-swivel only slinked past 4 or 5 times, I promise. (The dark glasses and "Mission Impossible" style manouvres were probably unnecessary.) And he pays a visit towards the end of the evening to discuss the meal with his customers - always a nice touch. (Note to self: Must think of something intelligent to say next time a big time chef visits my table - a flushed "that was so delicious" does not cut it.)

His restaurant has consistently been awarded 3 chef's hats by The Age Good Food Guide (JR and the fabulous Vue de Monde are currently the only Melbourne restaurants with this highest of local culinary credentials) and it received "Best Fine Dining in Victoria 2009" award from the Restaurant and Catering Association. JR's contemporary Australian cuisine is based on the classics, but draws on Asian flavours to create modern and innovative dishes which consistently have the likes of me swooning (although perhaps not for those who are sceptical of the odd saucy flourish on a plate). The TPG (totally selflessly) declared that nothing less would be in order for his greedy gourmand on her self-proclaimed big day.

JR was one of the first Melbourne chefs to offer a degustation menu. It aims to reflect the flavours of the season using Australian produce, and we were happy to settle in for the 8 courses + petit fours and coffee.


After his traditional amuse bouche (cheesy puffs ("gougeres") which look comfortingly like Beard Papa cream puffs), our culinary marathon started with the rock lobster chakin resting in a broth of parsnip and Jerusalem artichoke, with a subtle hit of Stilton blue cheese. The broth was gorgeous, and the flavours here were subtle but intensely satisfying. This was matched by a deliciously super sweet La Grima Ramos Pinto White Port, from Porto Portugal.

(Rock lobster)

The hiramasa kingfish with ponzu, Hervey Bay scallop, spiced nougatine with peanuts, warm leek and a streak of chilli gherkin dressing followed (matched by the same glass of wine continued over 2 courses - more on that later). A lovely dish.


Next came the snapper with four peppers, fennel and white balsamic, sencha and lime emulsion matched by the 2008 Toolangi Estate "Jacques Reymond Selection" Yarra Valley, Victoria. Now, I don't mind the odd artistic skid mark on my plate, so long as the flavour adds something - and I don't mind a bit of flourish to remind me that I did not cook the meal. However, foams leave me cold. I can't chew them, I can barely taste them, and they're just too much about artistic frou frou when, in the end, a girl just wants some good tucker. This dish was lovely, but nothing special - perhaps partly because the foam is always a back stiffener that leaves me wanting to find fault in a dish that might be trying too hard.


I was much happier with the crispy quail breast, tajine flavours, black rice & whipped Persian fetta. The quail package was packed with juicy, meaty goodness, and anything with Persian fetta or Meredith goats cheese is winning me over of late. The matching wine was the 2008 Galli Estate Nebbiolo, Heathcote, Victoria. The Heathcote wines we have tried on this trip have all been delicious, and being a lover of an easy Nebbiolo, I was happy to swill away at this one.

(Quail - wtih saucy dribbles)

Since eyeing it on the menu, I had been bracing myself for the Flinders Island wallaby and kombu swede cooked in salt crust dash and apple jelly, cider vinaigrette. (Matched with a 2006 Gevrey Chabertin, Domaine Phillipe Collotte, Burgundy, France). I love kangaroo when it's cooked well, but wallaby is a rare sight on a menu. The wallaby meat tasted similar to kangaroo but more light and tender, with a delicately rich flavour and a deep burgundy colour. Thumbs up.

(Wallaby - excuse the grainy photos which were taken with
maximum speed and minimum interruption of the JR experience)

But then in sauntered the Grande Dame of our evening's fine dining experience - the wagyu beef rump, oyster sauce, ravioli of daikon and spicy celery, and mustard ice cream - all topped with Tasmanian truffles (although presumably out of season, they still tasted fresh enough to me and added a rich earthiness to the dish). Mustard ice cream? Mais oui - perhaps not one for Norgen Vaaz, but absolutely amazing here. This dish was the corker, the supreme taste of the evening, that will stay with us for many a year. Lusciously rich, each mouthful was something to be savoured, eyes closed, head nodding. Not only was the combination of flavours and textures unique and fabulously matched, but individually each element was first rate in quality.

The 2005 Dalwhinnie "Jacques Reymond Selection" Shiraz, Pyrenees, Victoria matched fairly well.


I adored the martini of bittersweet chocolate, whisky and espresso granita, bourbon vanilla chantilly (no wine pairing).


And I thoroughly enjoyed the pear and caramel, earl grey and orange tea ice cream, broken Pedro Ximenez. Anything with Pedro Ximenez will catch my attention, and I seem to have a thing for tea flavours in ice-cream. This was paired with a 2005 Chateau Roumieu Lacoste Sauternes, France.

(Ice cream)

Our tea and petits fours (lemon tart, licorice jelly, pistachio macaroon, chocolate slice) were all delightful, although fairly standard for a restaurant of this ilk.

(Petit fours)

I would love to tell you what the a la carte menu is like, but we can never go past the extravagance of the degustation. We did come this close [signals miniscule gap between thumb and pointer] to going for the a la carte this time as it sounded just so good - take for example the sweet and sour pekin duck like tucupi (a spiced nougatine of flaked salt and ginger, lemon sauce, sourness of wilted sorrel and crispy duck skin salad, four pepper squid and yoghurt) or the rocks - rouget and abalone (seared rouget and pak choi sesame, ginger and kaffir lime, abalone and turmeric kohlrabi, seaweed wakame and a clear citrus and cucumber vinaigrette).

This was a wonderful birthday dinner. Service was attentive and friendly (the maitre d' is always excellent) and the food was as formidable as ever. Our only quibble was with the wines - no real knock outs from sommelier Nathalie Reymond, and while each was lovely in its own way, none of them seemed to us a perfect complement to the food. Also, places like London's Le Gavroche are generous with wine servings, filling up glasses which empty too quickly and no dish is served without a matching wine (even if a cherry beer is the pairing of choice) - the servings were a little stingy at JR considering the cost of the wine pairing adds $90 per head, there were no re-fills and 2 courses came without matching wines.

Also, I like the degustation menu to be kept on the table so that my wine sogged brain cells do not need to keep up too accurately with the speedy explanation of the waiter as each plate is laid down.

However, JR remains one of my favourite, classic Melbourne fine dining establishments. The memory of my wagyu with truffles and mustard ice cream will send me off to sleep with a smile on my face for some time yet - even if it means a few extra smile lines.

75 Williams Road, Prahran, Melbourne, Australia
Jacques Reymond on Urbanspoon


  1. I went here when I was last in Melbs (2 years ago) and was disappointed. Some of the dishes were really good but some not at all and found it so expensive for such hit and miss. We did say we might have enjoyed it more if we hadn't been so blown away by Vue de Monde the week before.

    I'd forgotten Jacques came out at the end. I also stammered!

    I'm really glad you enjoyed it more!

  2. Hi Jennifer - Oh, Vue de Monde is fabulous too! Jacques is a sentimental favorite for me as we've had quite a few fantastic special occasion dinners there. But VdM is wonderful and definitely has more of a wow factor. I'm reading Shannon Bennet's book on Paris at the moment - so inspiring, both to get me to Paris and back to his restaurant.


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