What is it?
Shannon Bennett’s fine dining restaurant, Vue De Monde, that reopened last month in its new location: the 55th floor of the Rialto tower.
Visiting for dinner on Friday night, the experience began at ground level, where we were greeted by hosts who took our name and guided us to the dedicated elevator, decked out in dark mirrored surfaces sliced by the glow of bright LEDs dripping from the ceiling. Our ears popped slightly during the ascent, a gentle reminder of how high our destination was. Our reservation was for 7.30pm and, ordering the menu gastronome, we didn’t leave until well after midnight. The experience continued however into the next morning, when we awoke and prepared the gourmet breakfast items handed to the ladies in our group upon departure the night before.
What did we think?
To say Bennett has simply relocated his fine dining restaurant would be to undersell the accomplishment of the third iteration of Vue De Monde. This was no ordinary meal, it was a fully immersive experience of 15 courses, 5 bottles of wine and 1 spectacular view that transported us away from the everyday into a world refashioned in Bennett’s own image.
From the moment we entered the restaurant, it was clear to us that in rethinking his restaurant, Bennett has deconstructed each and every moment of the dining experience and rebuilt it from scratch. He greeted us himself as we walked past the open kitchen, his quietly-spoken, “Welcome to Vue De Monde,” somehow both thrilling and delightfully modest at the same time. There were no tablecloths on the darkly-glistening timber tables, just a collection of pebbles and twigs that were progressively utilised during the meal – some turned out to be hiding salt and pepper while others were used to support various items of cutlery. Our favourites were the rocks into which our Laguiole steak knives were housed – sliding them out at the start of a meat course made us all feel like the culinary equivalents of King Arthur. Though the bathrooms were equipped with the obligatory bottles of Aesop soap, we were encouraged not to use them. The water itself, collected in rainwater tanks on the rooftop, heavily salted and electrolysed to become mildly alkaline, did the soaps job for us.
Then there was the food… Oh, the food.
The Breakfast of Champions was an egg yolk stripped of its whites and cooked at 62 degrees for 34 minutes until perfectly molten. Placed on a bed of turnip mash, the yolk was reunited with its “whites” again. Ranged around the plate were tiny onion rings cooked in various ways – deep fried and crispy, crumbled and crunchy, roasted and sweet. Finally, Bennett arrived with a dark truffle that he shaved generously onto our plates. Eccentric yet somehow still homely.
The palette cleanser between entree and fish courses arrived as a small mortar filled with fresh herbs and leaves. A quick splash of liquid nitrogen was poured over the leaves, after which we each attacked them with a wooden pestle – the now brittle leaves crumbled quickly into dust. Finally, a dollop of cucumber sorbet was scooped into the mortar. Fresh, enlivening, playful.
The king of the meat courses comprised chunks of David Blackmore 9-score Wagyu beef accompanied by slivers of brilliant chestnut, radish and small piles of green garlic foam. The meat was impeccably cooked, seared around the edges and almost raw at the centre. But even those who were squeamish about such things sighed in pleasure – such high quality meat was not chewed, it melted of its own accord. Of note was the 2006 Vietti Castiglione Barolo that we ordered with it. A knockout wine to support a knockout dish.
Of the four dessert courses, the toffee apple was the most fun. Apple sorbet covered in soft toffee was a surprise to bite into, expecting as were a sickly sweet, crunchy outer shell and room-temparature apple heart. Accompanying it was a tall shot glass of homemade lemonade bubbling away with a cube of dry ice in the bottom and dustings of popping candy. Cue immediate transportation back to our collective childhoods.
What did we learn?
We have now had the pleasure of dining 3 times at Vue De Monde, once at each of its incarnations: at the unassuming, dramatic and theatrical Faraday Street address; at the Little Collins Street location that swapped bistro for lounge, timber chairs for leather couches and theatre for efficiency; and now here, at the very top of the Rialto Building. What was most enjoyable about this third experience was the bevy of contrasts that, despite their inherent contradictions, were balanced expertly at every turn.
The venue for the restaurant speaks of both Melbourne’s history and Bennett’s visionary approach to cuisine. The grandness of the view and the occasion are offset however by his modesty – quietly spoken, surprisingly humble, keenly interested in the impact he has on the environment. His maturity as a chef and restaurateur sit easily with a playful approach to eating that reveals itself in both process and flavours. The food itself combines remarkable complexity and delightful simplicity, so despite the obvious effort dedicated to each dish, their presentation appears loose, even casual.
The experience was impressive, indulgent, exquisite and immeasurably memorable. Such a masterful restaurant is without doubt possible only because of Bennett’s courage and vision. Perched at 236.1m above sea level, atop one of Melbourne’s tallest and most famous skyscrapers, the restaurant is aptly named. That said, it is hard to choose between such an extraordinary view of the world and an equally magnificent one inwards – towards the kitchen of Vue De Monde, take 3, and a culinary genius at work. This is Bennett’s best effort yet, five stars.