Pei Modern

March 25, 2012 at 7:23 pm (Australian, Melbourne CBD, Victoria)

Mum’s in Melbourne to visit and, as I was disappointed to have not made it to Marque on my last Sydney trip, the first indulgence of this girls’ weekend out was dinner at Mark Best’s first venture into Melbourne’s culinary scene, Pei Modern.  Established in conjunction with Peter Bartholomew and David Mackintosh of Movida, with Matt Germanchis (ex Pandora’s Box, Movida Aqui, Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck test kitchen) and Ainslie Lubbock (ex Royal Mail Hotel, Attica) in charge of food and wine, the governing concept of this modern bistro is that of bistronomy; affordable, produce-driven cuisine in a casual, stylish setting.

They’ve definitely got the ‘style’ part down-pat.  Pei Modern is named after RIBA Gold Medalist, I. M. Pei, known for his work on Hong Kong’s Bank of China building, the Grand Louvre expansion and the Collins Place development in which the restaurant now stands.  There is a smaller, casual dining area with a wall clad in beautiful timber panels, extending up to the ceiling.  The bar separates this area from the main dining room, with a grey tiled floor and white chairs and tables contrasting a dark ceiling and walls, creating a very crisp and simple but sophisticated look.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any photos that do the design justice because the lighting was quite dim during the dinner service (an excuse to go back for lunch!).

I did get a photo of the gorgeous French knives that were kept for the first two courses though.

Pei Modern’s menu is constantly evolving and can even vary between lunch and dinner services, in order to take advantage  of the best quality, seasonal ingredients.  There were a couple of specials on offer – fresh oysters and yearling beef shin, marinated overnight and slow-cooked in the juices, that was very tempting.  A tasting menu, comprising 7 courses (4 starters, 1 main, 2 desserts) at $90 a head, was available, however there were particular items that had already caught my eye, so we decided to select from the menu.

To start with, we were treated to some fantastic sourdough, made with a starter produced by Mark 14 years ago by fermenting apples.  Sourdough starters improve with age, and the bread was soft, chewy and tangy with a crispy crust (note to self – improve bread-describing vocabulary).  Even better slathered in house-made, organic butter.  I think the bread was meant as an accompaniment for the following courses but it was almost finished before the entrees arrived!

First entree was an almond gazpacho with blue swimmer crab; a light, refreshing starter with bright flavours and interesting textures, combining salty morsels of crab with a slightly sweet, velvety-smooth gazpacho blanco and flame-grapes for additional sweetness and crunch.

The second entree, an incredibly rich dish of carrots and mussels with coriander seeds, could not have been more different.  I’m sure the Biggest Loser Black Team would not have been complaining about their ‘orange food’ punishment if they had this, although their calorie quota would have been blown for sure.  A very generous serving of mussels, carrots slow-cooked in olive oil for 5-6 hours to intensify their sweetness, with a carrot juice that was probably made by blending cooked carrots with oil, judging from the creamy, emulsified consistency.

For the main course, Mum had steamed snapper with sea urchin butter and sweet corn.  Comments were that the fish was beautifully cooked and there was just the right amount of saltiness from the butter sauce, but having both the grilled corn and corn puree made the dish a bit too sweet.

I ordered the roast rabbit with saltbush, sea parsley and wakame; quite a meaty dish with very robust flavours.  The rabbit was tender, sticky and caramelised around the edges from roasting, and the greens had a pleasant, almost crunchy texture.  The flavour of the saltbush was very interesting; quite herbal and more savoury/umami than straight salty I’d say.  Would love to see this ingredient appearing on more menus.

On the side, we had a dish of Musque de Provence pumpkin, recommended by our waiter.  The orange flesh was mildly sweet and nutty, cooked until just tender.  Served with butter of course because fat is flavour!

We were quite full by this stage but, as a waiter from Chin Chin had previously pointed out, women seem to have a second stomach when it comes to dessert.  The caramelised tomato (Pei Modern’s signature dessert, from Marque) was a must-try.  The inside of the tomato had been scooped out and the shell stuffed with 12 flavours; our waiter demonstrated his impressive memory by listing all these but I can only remember 8 (pear, apple, currants, almonds, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, mint).  The flavour of the spices was very strong but was well balanced and complemented by a quenelle of not-too-sweet, lightly scented star anise ice cream.

I had black fig with chocolate puffs and sherry ice cream.  This was a beautiful, refreshing dessert, which I appreciated after two decadent courses.  The lightly sweetened ice cream did not overpower the delicate honey sweetness of the fig and  crispy, bitter chocolate puffs and ganache drops provided interesting contrast.

Tea and coffee to finish and we were two very happy (and full) customers.  Thanks also to the wonderful staff who had a very thorough knowledge of the menu items, were extremely patient in answering questions (the table next to us required three rounds of explanations before they could decide) and whose sense of humour made the evening all the more enjoyable.  I’m looking forward to seeing what future menus have to offer and will have to do a breakfast run sometime for pastries from the Movida bakery.

 
Pei Modern on Urbanspoon
 

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2 Comments

  1. MoMo & Coco said,

    That “savoury” dessert was interesting wasn’t it? The one highlight for us was that fish…Pei Modern just didn’t seem to connect with us. Don’t know why we couldn’t get a nice fine dining Mark Best restaurant like Sydney has…great pity. We review soon too. 🙂

    • jok3r133 said,

      The tomato was definitely very interesting; looked so delicate but was so intense. What I liked about the food was the focus on enhancing the flavours of each ingredient in a way that didn’t destroy the ‘wholeness’ of the produce. Agree that It would be nice if Melbourne could be home to Mark’s next fine-dining project though 😛 Looking forward to reading your review!

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