211 Brunswick Street,
+61 3 9415 7300
For descriptions & photos of each dish, click here
Buckle up kids, this is going to be one long drive as I take you through every tiny detail of my experience at Melbourne’s Interlude – the fantastic prize I won from the Menu for Hope raffle.
If you don’t have time to read this ridiculously long report, here’s one word: WOW!
Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the ride.
In November 2005, I was browsing through Gourmet Traveller when I saw a feature article on a young British chef by the name of Robin Wickens. He seems to have investigated forms of molecular gastronomy and brought to Australia the playful inventiveness of this culinary genre, with influences from French cuisine. I read over the recipes and found them to be so simple in their origins and yet ingenious in the way he had deconstructed and then re-presented the food. For instance Cold Milk & Cereal was milk ice cream rolled in a crust of dehydrated fruits and crushed cereal.
I became very interested in Wickens' food and planned to visit his restaurant, Interlude, as soon as I could get myself to Melbourne.
When Neil from At My Table asked Interlude to get involved in the global foodblogging charity "Menu for Hope", they offered their degustation with matching wines to raffle and I bought two tickets. Then I won. Yippee!
So on Friday 23 March I flew to Melbourne and took my bridesmaid, Shelley – who incidentally lives a block from Interlude (sadly, Jonas couldn't get time off work).
Melbourne is in severe drought (they have to use their dish and bath water to feed their plants!) so I was not-so-pleasantly surprised when the skies opened up and poured with rain on our walk to Interlude. We were drenched and dishevelled upon arrival but restaurant manager, Gavin van Staden, still offered us the prime position at the window – and that was before he realised I was the famous, jetsetting, international food critic, foodblogging prize winner (I wish)!
The service at Interlude was very friendly and professional and they were genuinely pleased to be involved with the Menu for Hope. As Gavin explained, there are many ways Interlude could generate publicity and they felt that this particular method had a really positive outcome for everyone involved (especially me!). It was also wonderful to see that they value the opinions of foodbloggers and that my experience at Interlude was important to them.
Gavin van Staden (Restaurant Manager); Stuart McQueen-Thomson (Sommelier); Chris Kloss (Maître d')
The sommelier, Stuart McQueen-Thomson, did an excellent job at explaining, in perfect detail, how dishes were created and how each wine had been produced. He was an absolute wealth of knowledge and this did so much to hook Shelley, who works in the art industry, into the artform of the food. I learnt so much from him, such as the intriguing alginate added to sauces before giving them a calcium chloride bath thus creating all the “bubbles”. Or how Linie aquavit makes it way across the equator and back again to Norway before being considered mature.
Interlude’s dining room was decked out in dark woods and chocolate banquettes, tables lined with white linen and lit with gorgeous oil lamps. The chandeliers hanging from the roof reminded me of twisted coat hangers and sported cocoon-like bulbs of light. A vase of bamboo stalks had shoots of chilli sprouting from the top and autumnal, warm pomegranate and apple paintings by Nona Burden finished the room perfectly. It was a restaurant that felt comfortable, elegant and even cosy.
The plates and ceramics we ate from throughout the night were bizarre, organic shapes of ovals, ripples and ponds. They were sleek, stark white, smooth and curved. They were – I have it confirmed by the floor staff – a range by Ferran Adrià (el Bulli).
Shelley is a vegaquarian, so she had some different courses, but we were each served 14 dishes plus bread.
The choice of bread was interesting: Shelley opting for the wholemeal sourdough while I sank my teeth into the fennel seed and raisin. I normally don’t eat bread, even in upmarket restaurants where they make their own, but this bread was wonderful with an intensely soft centre and edges so crisp and crumbly they reminded me of biscuits rather than chewy, jaw-dislocating crusts.
Even the butter was presented beautifully in perfectly formed quenelles upon a wave-formed dish. The pure, white butter was from the Italian Alps and was made from cow’s milk with 5% goat’s milk. The creamy, yellow butter was a salted spread from Normandy.
If you want to know about each and every dish in detail, click here to see my Flickr set where I have included detailed descriptions. Otherwise, below, I have included a photo and label for each dish and explanations for the favourites and the unique.
Let the tour begin!
Lobster Crackers Thermidor
Warm Mackerel, Frozen Parfait
The arrival of the mackerel dish was potentially challenging since Shelley is not a fan of mackerel (she’s not big on fishy fish). This dish certainly won Shelley to the cause and confirmed my previous declarations that mackerel is my favourite sashimi. The presentation of this course did challenge me: a mid section arrived with bones removed: shiny, silvery skin and flesh sporting a blush of sanguine discolouration, hinting at the rawness. Luckily the wonderfully oily properties of the fish reassured me. The mackerel parfait was extremely fishy and yet Shelley enjoyed this even more than the milder flavoured fish. I also welcomed the presence of its smooth coldness and the refreshing salsa of tomato and cucumber that it rested upon. It was garnished with gorgeous candied chilli and black salt that I assume was from Cyprus. The plate was decorated with tiny dots of yuzu jelly which was much sweeter and more orange-citrus than I had imagined yuzu to be.
2005 Crawford River ‘Young Vines’ Riesling (Henty, VIC, Australia)
Squab, Blackberry, Quinoa, Treacle
It was a very tough choice, but this was probably my favourite dish of the night. The flavour combination was exquisite, the presentation was gorgeously autumnal and the uniqueness of delivery really impressed. This dish scored 10/10 for me. The treacle foam, decadently sticky and toffee-burnt, paired excellently with plump, fresh blackberries. The rich, perfectly cooked squab was pink and luscious and tasted as luxurious as suckling pig or a roasted duck. A sheet of sweet blackberry jelly was rolled elegantly into a scroll and rested on the puffed quinoa encrusted pigeon. Sticky quinoa cooked in chicken stock was hidden underneath and coriander and shiso micro herbs provided a break to the rich flavour combinations. Liquorice root dust, sprinkled lightly around the plate, tasted very faint and had more of a sweet cinnamon edge than I was expecting.
2005 Waipara Hills Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand)
Whiting, Carrot Consommé, Curry Marshmallow
Firstly, I’m a big fan of the flavoured marshmallow and this did not disappoint. The mild flavour and firm texture of the fish balanced wonderfully with the sticky, spicy sweetness of the marshmallows. If you’re having trouble imagining them, then think of a regular marshmallow only softer, stickier and curry flavoured. Weird, huh? This dish was very well balanced: the light, sweet carrot consommé ended with a resounding salty afterglow that equalised the sweet candy mallow. I loved the texture of the orange poached baby witlof, but I don't really enjoy bitter-orange in savoury food.
2004 Vinoptima Gewürztraminer (Ormond, New Zealand)
Cucumber Salad, Ajo Blanco, Frozen Grapes, Aquavit
Extremely salty roasted almonds had been chopped then wrapped in a thin shawl of fresh cucumber and topped with micro tarragon. Quenelles of cucumber and aquavit sorbet were sprinkled with black salt and dispersed between grapes and a verdant cucumber jelly round. A thinned version of ajo blanco was poured at the table for effect, completing Shelley’s favourite dish.
Delgado Zuleta ‘La Goya’ Manzanilla (Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain)
White Anchovy Soufflé w Sauce Verge
2005 Salomon 'Weiden' Grüner Veltliner (Kremstal, Austria)
Rabbit, Broad Beans, Gnocchi, Chablis
2005 Langhe Pio Cesare ‘Il Nebbio’ Nebbiolo (Piemonte, Italy)
Our next course was an exhilarating little sucker: a tube of clear glass was delivered to our table, filled with four flavours: parsley jelly, apple purée, herring roe and cauliflower purée. The challenge was to suck out the contents in one breath and enjoy the flavours as they intermingled in your mouth. The process was amusing and certainly brought an element of playfulness to the meal. Mine made a loud noise which caused me to pause and laugh, but Shelley did it in one pull. The flavours were very interesting together: the herring roe was incredibly salty but was balanced out by the sweetness of the apple and the creaminess of the cauliflower. The parsley jelly added a nice herbal endnote and made sure the fruity sweetness wasn’t overpowering.
Flathead, Soy Skin, Mussel Chowder
Kangaroo 'Sous-Vide', Baby Beets
2003 Hollick Shiraz (Wranttonbull, SA, Australia)
Celery Sorbet & Roquefort Crumbs
The unexpected cheese course that arrived at our table was the best I’ve ever eaten. Glistening dollops of golden cider jelly sat beside cubes of pickled apple, while a quenelle of crisp green celery sorbet floated on feathery soft Roquefort crumbs and roasted walnut pieces. The blue cheese pungency balanced wonderfully with the refreshing celery sorbet and the saltiness of the nuts added crunch and sharpness. I was totally blown away by this dish, which is only a very recent addition to the menu.
Porridge, Milk, Brown Sugar
The next dish was one I had dreamt about for some time. The Cold Milk and Cereal, a variation of this dish, was what sparked my interest in Interlude to begin with and I wasn’t disappointed. Delicious milk ice cream matched wonderfully with a ‘porridge’ of salty-sweet toasted oats reminiscent of crumbled ANZAC biscuits. Crystals of brown sugar glinted atop a milky foam, providing additional texture and caramel sweetness. It was a simple, delicious dish.
Apple, Parsnip, Date, Rosemary
This dish looked enticing and once the waiter explained the contents we were even more intrigued. Rosemary ice cream was topped with shreds of crispy parsnip which had been flavoured with cumin. The tiny micro herbs were actually cumin leaves and chunks of semi-dried and pickled apples were studded through the dish alongside puffed wheat. A whole, sticky date was buried under the sweet rosemary ice cream. What is my verdict? I loved this salute to autumn. I’ve never eaten cumin in a sweet context before and the leaves hinted mildly of cumin in every mouthful. The parsnip became almost wafer like and the apples added a reminder that we were having dessert. The ice cream was lovely and clearly a dessert – sweet and moreish – and hinting of Grecian summers. This is definitely a dish to recommend.
Primitivo Quiles Moscatel-Fortified (Alicante, Spain)
Gavin van Staden (Restaurant Manager); Michael Hazelwood (Sous-Chef); Marcus Allen (Head Chef); Victoria Blamey (Chef de Partie – Larder); Pierre Roelofs (Pastry Chef)
2002 Château Pavillon Saint-Croix du Mont Botrytis Semillon (Bordeaux, France)
Overall an exquisite meal.
Before dining there I had been warned off by people who knew people who had gone and not liked it. I simply didn’t believe them. When I delved into the core of their dislike, it seemed they were people who wanted simple food.
Interlude is not simple food. Interlude is exploratory, inventive and reconstructive. It pushes the imagination while staying within familiar concepts. It excites and it challenges but it never offends. That is a delicate line to walk and the staff should be applauded.
What would I change at Interlude? Probably only the wording on the menus. These kinds of restaurants produce culinary art and can easily become esoteric. If the menu could dispel some of the confusion for the ordinary punter, it might make the forum less intimidating. A more explanatory menu gives people a chance to get acquainted before all the fun begins.
Another aspect to note is the repeating theme of jelly sheets. This is not jelly/jello in the usual sense, but a flat sheet of almost chewy flavouring (like an Australian roll-up). There’s nothing wrong with this, but in most dishes the jelly sheet merely added colour rather than flavour or texture and, given the highly inventive edge Interlude exudes, repetition using such an eye-catching ingredient might be considered lazy or even dull.
At the end of the night I was taken into the kitchen to meet the people who had slaved away behind the scenes to make such a great night for us. Wickens was away on annual leave (he called in to check that everything was going fine – thank you Robin, yes it was superb), but he had left the kitchen in very capable hands of Head Chef Marcus Allen. It was midnight and the team was worn out, but they were genuinely interested in our feedback. I guess they don’t have much contact with the diners so they don’t get to see whether people are pleased or not.
We were pleased. Very pleased.
As I told the kitchen team at Interlude, I only allocated my raffle tickets to degustation prizes at Tetsuya’s and Interlude. I’ve eaten at Tetsuya’s before and while I adored the experience, I have to say the food at Interlude was much more exciting. Perhaps Interlude’s presentation wasn’t as meticulous as Tetsuya’s but the dishes were more daring and Interlude’s stronger flavours suited my palate much more.
I couldn’t fault one dish, and that’s very rare in a menu this extensive.
Thank you for your donation to the Menu for Hope, thank you for a wonderful night and thank you for an extraordinary contribution to Australia’s food scene.
Tags: morsels and musings food blog food and drink australia melbourne interlude restaurant reviews restaurants reviews menu for hope