The Wandering Palate Best New Restaurant of the Year – Brooks, Melbourne

In all my travels throughout 2012 and that includes both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, there is one new restaurant that stood out, a restaurant that would be as much at home in New York or London as it is in Melbourne’s Collins Street, and it is my ‘Best New Restaurant of the Year’, Brooks

Man, this is one slick restaurant and pushing the boundaries of dining in Australia to new limits. It’s quirky, old-fashioned, cutting-edge contemporary, old-clubby, new groovy, moody, bright white-linen, cosy, edgy all rolled into one!

Forest Floor - all edible!

The juxtaposition of the menu sets the pace, on the one hand a science lab of cooking technique and visual presentation, and on the other something our grandmothers would be delighted to see.

The chef, Nicolas Poelaert, closed his own cutting-edge restaurant, Embrasse, to team up with Gerald Diffey and Mario Di lenno of Gerald’s Bar in Rathdowne Street, Carlton North; one can only assume that the (chef) sensed the cutting-edge was going to get even sharper by being a part of Brooks.

It will not surprise Melbournian’s that Gerald Diffey is the protagonist here; he’s been pushing the boundaries around this town for decades although he’s more known for putting the mojo in pubs, late night bars and wine bars and has his own Tardis outside Gerald’s Bar with the dials permanently set on the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Vinyl records, long sideburns and stovepipe pants are the norm here.

It certainly came as no surprise to me that Diffey was having another crack at a full-blown restaurant, his last effort with Chef Tansy Good opening a place called Locarno in Greville Street, Prahran was the cutting-edge at that time and pushed the boundaries way beyond what anyone had done in Melbourne. Personally, I thought it was brilliant, with its fabulous decor and revolutionary menu, but perhaps too far ahead of its time or more brutally, a victim of time, ‘The recession’.

The wide-brimmed grin on Diffey’s face promulgates “I told you I’d be back’.

I don’t know Di lenno that well, other than his excellent good taste in beer and cider and conversation up at Gerald’s Bar, but I do know the restaurant manager at Brooks, Paul Guiney. He’s one of the best maître d‘s in the country and in my three visits thus far, he and is team work at a highly-consistent level that is the professional edge of friendly, intellectual, knowledgeable, hyper-efficient personalised service.

From left, Mario Di lenno, Chef Nicolas Poelaert, Paul Guiney, Gerald Diffey

Although Brooks has only been open a few months, we have enjoyed three outstanding meals here; actually extraordinary meals of unparalleled inventiveness and wholesomeness. Our first meal was the on their second day open, but you would not have any inclination that restaurant had just opened its doors it was humming along so smoothly.

One the most fascinating and simply divine dishes here, indeed my entree ‘Dish of the Year’ is their chicken parfait in a crusty rye bread casing with a dob of blackberry jam on top, served on a bed of lawn, yes lawn; it’s both visually exciting-challenging and texturally superb – a master piece of simplicity yet innovative and titillating flavour.

Chicken parfait - Wandering Palate entree dish of the year

In complete contrast, a charcuterie platter of Warialda beef, a rare breed of beef, grass fed and dry aged, raised in Clonbinane, Victoria The selection of air-dried and cured meats and fermented sausage (salami) served with sourdough bread and creamy butter is about as classic Basque cuisine as it comes and drags the culinary senses and dateline full circle.

Another marvellously visual and innovative dish, Yarra Valley salmon roe, pearl-sized glistening orange and explosive in fish oils, on top of their own paper-thin, crispy potato crackers with flecks of dill, and a spoon full of crème fraîche – simplicity again, but really out there and had my daughter going back for seconds, thirds.

We had a small gathering at Brooks for my 50th birthday in their private room, the ‘Rhum Room”, a wonderfully intimate nautical Captains table for 8 to 10, with a specially designed 12 course menu of strictly Pig parts, that nose to tail but none of the bits you can pronounce or care to think of eating. You see I have this obsession with pigs at the present, and the chef did his utmost to indulge me. I won’t go into detail, as it’s all a bit of a blur, but it was the most fascinating meal I have possibly had in my entire life.

I was so impressed with my birthday meal in its entirety, and that includes the wine and food service, where our staff went beyond the call of duty (and you can imagine serving the likes of me is a one way mission in itself), I suggested to my good friend who was going to be in Australia around Christmas and celebrating her 50th birthday to invite a few friends for a banquet dinner here.

Again, the evening was a supreme success, indeed one of the best nights I have had in memory. We grazed through piping-fresh oysters, charcuterie, the divine chicken parfait and the Yarra Valley salmon roe.

Main course was Glenloth chicken with hay, and confit legs; I can’t quite remember the hay bit, but I certainly remember it was the most tender and flavoursome chicken I have ever eaten.

It was another thoroughly convincing effort. And we gave the wine list a serious workout, the sommelier doing an outstanding job to keep up. And a brilliantly eclectic wine list I might add moreover the prices here are excellent, and I mean really outstanding value for such a high-calibre establishment and I am sure the selection will evolve and titillate the olfactory’s as much as the food.

From the moment you walk into this basement restaurant, with its enormous grey-white oval, curvy bar, and then as you turn around see the open kitchen in full view, least behind a huge pane of glass, the emotions of thirst and hunger are heightened. It oozes intimacy and moody warmth and the immediacy of the staff and seamless service augments a level of comfort and enjoyment resonating throughout the room.

As for the food, I can only imagine that Nicolas Poelaert is just getting warmed up and will be pushing the extreme limits of his culinary journey; the man already has incredible form but on a diet of Gerald Diffey adrenaline, this is place is going set the bar even higher in Melbourne.

And if it does not get the Melbourne Age ‘Best New Restaurant’, I will eat Gerald Diffey’s hat.

Brooks, Basement 115-117 Collins Street, Melbourne, Australia Ph: +61 (03) 9001 8755


By Curtis Marsh | Restaurants | Related to: , , |

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