When Mr Mason’s marketing team got in touch offering a taste of their new restaurant, I had a good feeling. Reading their menu and the review from Ms I-Hua, I tried not to build my expectations too high.
It was hot on Monday and a number of groups were enjoying a cold drink on the attractive terrace that was later described to me as a sauna. The new wood stools and tables gave a modern, relaxed bar appearance, and I wondered how the side-ways plants on the back wall grew in such heat and at such an angle. Waiting for my dinner partner, my dad, I took in the atmosphere and decided that the venue would be an appropriate one for after work drinks (even on a Monday).
We were seated in the more formal inside area.
There is also a side room set up like a lounge with comfy-looking couches and a fireplace, perhaps good for a few beverages in winter. The exposed red bricks give a French bistro feel, whilst the re-used traffic beams give a modern, trendy mood.
The waiter introduced himself to us as Jason, the Venue Manager. Throughout the evening he was extremely knowledgeable and looked after us exceptionally well.
Mr Mason has a French-style menu and there are several vegetarian dishes. The medium dishes included a tart flambé and asparagus with qual egg and hollandaise. There was only one large vegetarian dish on the menu; a braised artichoke and zucchini gratin. The food was simple but had a certain rustic elegance.
Upon explaining that I was vegetarian, I was presented with the grazing plate menu, the Le Jardin option contained a tasting of five different vegetarian dishes, and we were recommended to try this with half vegetarian offerings, and the other half meat to keep us both happy.
For first course, my dad was struggling to choose between two wines: a Toa 2010 Pinot Noir, and a Kilikanoon 2007 GSM. Before we knew it we were side-by-side tasting. The pinot was naturally lighter in colour with the scent of strawberries and fresh mushrooms. It was similar on the palate with fruit and wood tannins, a hint of red berries and a lingering finish. It became oakier with a soft vanilla on the end as it opened. I chose this one. It was a chameleon of tastes with the food.
The GSM, which dad chose as his favourite of the two, had a savoury bouquet with hints of rosemary and oak. There were very strong tannins on this one. The finish was of cigar and French oak. It needed to open a bit as the tannins were overpowering at first.
The tart flambé was described as a French-style pizza. If it were a true French-style pizza it would have been done with buttery puff pastry instead of thin pizza base. Still, it was tasty. The onions had been caramelised with balsamic vinegar. The goats’ cheese was beautifully soft in texture but piquant in taste. Red capsicum also featured. I love pizza and this was a good way to start.
Also on the grazing plate was a traditional French-style dish with artichokes, broad beans and baby carrots. It seemed that the vegetables had been boiled and then dressed in garlic infused olive oil with chives.
The final vegetarian offering on the grazing plate was asparagus with a quail egg and a thyme flavoured hollandaise. The salty asparagus went very nicely with the buttery sauce. The quail egg was soft so that it was slightly oozing but still held together for presentation.
The plate was served with thinly sliced and toasted buttery, salty bread. Even this was appealing.
I had been expecting the gratin but for some reason the chef decided to give me pan-fried gnocchi instead. The chef had trained under Shannon Bennett then worked with Michelin Star restaurants in England and France. Perhaps it was her intuition that then told her I love pan-fried gnocchi. The texture was slightly dense but smooth. The flavours were beautiful with a creamy sauce with parmesan and Italian parsley. Thinly sliced onions added an extra burst.
At this point, dad would like me to say that he suggested the GSM would go better with his main of rabbit, to which the waiter suggested the Argentinian Malbec would go the best, apparently the waiter was correct.
Asking me what type of wine I like, and responding with “I like rich chocolate, oak and tannins,” he returned with the 2007 Guigal Cotes Du Rhone. This wine had intense tannins. It smelt of blue cheese. The wine was mostly Grenache. This one became fruitier as it opened with oak on the finish.
The chocolate soufflé was beautiful with a crusty edge and molten chocolate inside. The accompanying ice-cream was garnished with a delectable burnt honeycomb.
Dessert showed a Forest Hill Botrytis Riesling. I love sweet wines that don’t taste like lemon. This showed flavours of peach and raisin. It smelt of fresh grapes and honey. It was delightful.
The whole experience was memorable. I understand that I may have been extremely well looked after because of my blog, but there are some things you can’t fake: wine knowledge, food intuition and genuine service. Every recommendation was spot-on.
530 Collins St
(enter via Little Collins Street)
03 9614 4500