Monday, March 19, 2012

RESTAURANT: The Tippling Club

I was totally taken with my visit to Melbourne's Der Raum bar last year, so I was super hyped for this trip to The Tippling Club, a fine-diner with dishes matched to Der Raum-esque cocktails (Der Raum creator Matthew Bax is also behind this place).

Kick things off with a cocktail, obviously. Superb balance of flavours, every single one of them.

I opt for the longer "gourmand" menu, which begins with a parade of snacks. There's vichyssoise in a sort of tube/spoon you drink from, a pot plant filled with truffle mousse and truffle salt, a deconstructed curry puff, a couple more, we haven't even hit the first course yet. They're all delicious and packed with flavour.

The food is unapologetically modernist, with chef's background at Vue de Monde showing, as well as a strong influence from the likes of WD-50 and El Bulli. A lot of people saw this style of food as a bit of a passing fad and moved on to the next fad of local/natural ingredients, but that completely ignores the simple fact that this food is ridiculously fun. I can't remember the last time I grinned like an idiot when I was given a sheer plate with nothing but an edible leaf that the chef found down the road.

A piece of scampi is served with noodles made out of dashi and some sea grapes. Like a rich bowl of ramen. Nice. The matched cocktail of sake, plum wine, citrus and honey is insanely refreshing and smooth.

Everything is served in the bar/kaiseki style, with the chefs coming out to the counter present dishes, closely followed by the bartender with the drinks. The kitchen is open, so you sit at the counter and watch it all unfold.

Foie gras beer is the sort of dish I was hoping for. A cylinder of foie gras contains a beer syrup and gets served with a crumble and some meringue. A nod to their friends at Sydney's Bentley, who have a similar dish. The dish wins because of the cocktail pairing, which is to the "fake blonde", a drink that looks like a white beer, tastes a like a white beer beer, but also includes tequila, ginger and lime.

A few more dishes follow and it's getting impossible to ignore the size of the flavours in each dish. Carrot gnocchi comes with a carrot broth that is intensely carroty and vinegared. Wagyu from Kagoshima is matched with spicey, tart umeboshi. But it's the main course, pork with milk skin and truffle puree that is the big finale. The fat of the pork only helps to carry the flavour of the hugely truffley, salty flavour of the puree.

While the flavours may be huge, the dishes work. Every element on the plate comes through and plays a roll.

The first dessert, though, is a real tester of your tolerance level. Poorly pictures above, is pretty much a huge, deconstructed licorice allsort, with the flavours all turned way up. Truly mammoth anise bombards the palate, egged on by sharp citrus. The puree on the plate is no relief: more anise. A sip of the cocktail to dilute the flavour? Forget about it. The van gogh is big on flavour too, combining absinthe, honey and rosemary. Thankfully, it all tastes awesome so the upped flavours are welcomed.

Still, I was happy that the final dessert of textured milk was a more relaxing affair.

All up, a top meal full of great drinks, great food and great service. As big on the flavour as it was on the fun.

The Tippling Club
8D Dempsey Rd

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