Melbourne is Australia’s fastest growing city in terms of annual net migration into its state of Victoria. I believe it is the most elegant city in Australia with its cosmopolitan lifestyle, food and wine culture, theatre and performing arts.
Pei Modern is acclaimed Sydney chef Mark Best’s first foray into the Melbourne food scene. He has won some of the most coveted awards in The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide and it looks like his Melbourne outpost is following the same footsteps.
Named after famous American-Chinese architect I. M. Pei, who designed Collins Place, where the restaurant is located, Pei Modern showcases Mark Best’s experimental touches in a more casual setting. Already a winner of Best New Restaurant in The Age Good Food Guide, the food is driven by fresh local produce and sustainability.
We are here on a Saturday night with our Melbourne friends Towkay Tilam and his wife Datin Tilam.
It was a challenge finding the restaurant, as it was hidden in the labyrinth of an office building, just next to the driveway of Sofitel Melbourne.
When we are finally seated, warm sourdough bread arrives in an origami napkin and the waitress describes the specials of the day.
And the one thing I notice about cafes and restaurants in Melbourne that is different from Sydney is they tell us the price of each special – a nice gesture so prices can be compared with the ala carte menu items.
We start with a refreshing almond gazpacho with blue swimmer crab.
Instead of its usual soup-like consistency, this entrée is more like a smooth and creamy sauce, draped over delicate crabmeat, with sprigs of parsley – sweet, salty and nutty all at the same time.
The peppers with octopus and garlic puree appears less exciting, where sweet caramelised peppers are paired with crunchy octopus slices with the flavours rather predictable.
Datin Tilam prefers fish and orders the bass grouper with samphire peas, spinach and anchovy. Flavours are mild, perhaps too mild and lacking in punchy flavours.
I don’t normally order beef fillet in restaurants as I find it too lean without any decadence of animal fat. But for tonight, the porterhouse steak and gnocchi seems to appeal to me most among the other mains.
It arrives medium rare with three tender pieces of gnocchi. Not my favourite combination for a piece of steak but it will do as I catch up on chatter with Towkay Tilam, who orders the same thing.
Mysaucepan orders the duck breast, apple, cider and Boudin Noir.
The duck is seared pink with green apple ribbons and a piquant apple cider sauce, a good sweet and sour contrast, grounded by the deep, dark and decadent Boudin noir black pudding.
A cold smoked tuna is interesting with the slightest hint of smokiness, paired with tart goats curd and the pop of hot mustard seeds – a morsel full of textures and flavours.
Caramelised tomato $16
Luckily, dessert brings the highlight of the meal back into play. We share the unique caramelised tomato, not an entrée but a dessert dish, transformed cleverly by its stuffing – an intricate balance of 12 different fruits, nuts and spices, reminiscent of the Christmas fruit cake.
This is Mark Best at his best – a small morsel packed with big flavours.
So dear readers, which is your favourite cafe / bistro in Melbourne and what dish would you recommend from there?
45 Collins street
Tel: + 61 3 9654 8545
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