Persimmon

I have always been traditionally a bit wary of restaurants and cafes attached to cultural museums and art galleries, but considering that this is a day and age where you can go out to Heide and have lunch at their resident Vue de Monde outpost, it’s a position that I am willing to bend at least in service of further investigation in the form of eating.

My mum and I were treating my Granma to her birthday present, a visit to the Monet’s Garden exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, and figured that having a post-exhibition lunch at the gallery’s main restaurant Persimmon would cap things off rather nicely. Well, super nicely actually, as Persimmon was quite a bit fancier than we were expecting.

It’s situated in a big square room up the back of the gallery – shuffle off to the right just before you hit the stained glass ceiling gallery and you’ll find it – where three sides are basically ceiling to floor windows looking out onto the NGV’s sculpture garden. Everything’s very neat and proper, from the waiters draping cloth napkins into your lap and the fact that the house sparkling is French.

On first glance the menu looks to be rather aggressive in reaching deep into your pockets and not letting go, but luckily there’s a $45 lunch special which means that you get a main and dessert, plus a glass of house red, white, or the aforementioned French sparkling for your trouble (of course we went with the French, do you think us barbarians?).

Granma chose the baked goats’ cheese with fig tart tatin, asparagus, olive and almond tapenade as her savoury. This was like the perfect upmarket picking plate for those who like a little nibble of everything – two little fig tarts surrounded by slivers of asparagus, regimental cubes of goats’ cheese, olives, schmears and edible flowers making for a very pretty dish. Granma, as a natural grazer, found this the perfect dish for her foodie sensibility and enjoyed it thoroughly.

I, as you know, have a distinct weakness for crumbed things, so once my eyes lit on the double crumbed egg with mushrooms, brick pastry and watercress puree I wasn’t going to be persuaded by anything else. This was a similarly open plan dish as the goats’ cheese, with the dark crumbed egg sitting among strewn mushrooms, edible flowers and puree, with two sticks of light, flaky pastry encasing yet more warm, earthy mushrooms. Popping the egg and letting it ooze all over everything put me in the very specific heaven that only a good gooey egg can. The only quibble I have is that there was A LOT of the watercress puree, which made things slightly wet, and didn’t have a particularly bold enough flavour profile to warrant having been distributed with such liberality.

Mum went with the smoked barramundi with slow cooked fennel and Avruga caviar. I didn’t quiz her on the specifics, but she seemed to be pleased with it, and like the other dishes it was presented very well.

For dessert I was very tempted to jump into line with Mum and Granma’s orders of a traditional creme brulee, but it was the lure of cassis sorbet that made me go with the giant “macaroon” with cassis sorbet and almond ice cream. Spelling mistakes aside, you do indeed get a giant purple macaron sandwiching a thick seam of cassis sorbet, accompanied by a smooth ball of almond ice cream decorated with almond slivers.

Contact with the ice cold sorbet does react in a way with the macaron halves to makes them go slightly tough and chewy, but apart from that this is a pretty faultless dessert. The cassis sorbet was this astounding burst of blackberry flavours that made me go absolutely wild, and it tasted fresh and smooth with no sneaky ice shards that indicates it had been made recently instead of stuck away in a freezer for weeks. The almond ice cream was equally smooth and noticeably nutty, and made me think that nut-based ice creams are definitely A THING that I need to investigate further.

The creme brulee enjoyed by Mum and Granma looked delish – the tops were properly toffeed-up and made satisfying ‘crack!’ noises once tapped with a spoon. The custard was nicely flecked through with vanilla bean seeds, Granma said it was nicely flavoured but not so rich that it sat heavily afterwards. The staff even put a little candle atop Granma’s for her birthday – happy 91 years indeed!

Persimmon makes a very good fist of giving your standard gallery restaurant a bit of quality polish without slipping too far into pretentious irrelevancy. Of course, being the tardy blogger that I am, in the time it’s taken me to write this post Persimmon has actually changed its menu, so no crumbed egg and cassis sorbet glory can be yours any longer. I’m sorry to be such a tease. But the spring menu looks rather intriguing, with a yellow tomato gazpacho offering as well as a poached berries dessert that features cassis in foam form. Go check it out and bring me back your findings.

Persimmon

Ground Level, NGV International

180 St Kilda Road, Southbank

Ph: 8620 2434

www.ngv.vic.gov.au/visit/places-to-eat/persimmon

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Enlightened Cuisine

Enlightened Cuisine is always an epic, decadent treat. Mountains of well crafted mock meats, get in my face. And the best way to get mountains of mock meat in your face is to go with the set banquet option, which is an experience Jen and I had been eying off for months.

Having recently benefitted from a slight renovation spruce, the space at Enlightened Cuisine is still comfortably ostentatious, and always sports an eclectic crowd comprising anyone from Chinese families, hipsters, hippies to slightly stately older couples clearly on a fancy vegie date night.

There are two banquet price point options you can opt for, and within those options you have three different menu selections to choose from. We went with one of the $35 per head banquet options, where you get eight dishes all up. We started off with the mock shark fin soup, which was highly intriguing in terms of texture and quite tasty, although like most Chinese restaurant soups it came out scorchingly hot and I of course burnt my tongue. Silly rabbit.

The vegetable spring rolls came next and these were pretty standard, but good and crunchy with a nice array in terms of filling.

The kung po prawn was a mix of vegetables and wee little mock prawns that were most intriguing (to me anyway, I don’t think Jen was too keen on them). The kung po sauce was however VERY overpowering and neither of us liked the taste of it terribly much, so I ended up just fleecing it of prawns then left it be.

The sweet & sour pork however was damn good, same deal with mock meats nestling amongst a variety of vegetables, but the texture of the mock pork protein was freakily reminiscent of actual pork (it totally got the stringy way pork pulls apart right HOW CAN SOY DO THIS IT STILL TOTALLY BOGGLES ME). The sweet and sour sauce was also agreeably well done, I think this was my favourite dish of the night all told.

We’d been looking forward to the ma po tofu, as it’s always fab to experience a vegie version. The mock mince was nutty, the tofu tender and the spice level ratcheted up to “oh my that’s getting a bit warmmmmaohmygodHOT!” Being a chilli weenie I didn’t have as much of this as I probably should have given how nice it was.

The stir-fried mixed vegetables certainly helped to cut through all the rich sauces that accompanied the mock meat dishes.

The fried rice, kind of surprisingly, ended up being the dish that was most eagerly hoovered by Jen and I. It mimics your standard suburban Chinese restaurant fried rice even down to the little cubes of mock pork, but I don’t remember any childhood fried rice tasting this good. Highly impressed when a simple dish like this really brings the goods.

We were pretty stuffed by this point and were already feeling a bit guilty that we’d left so much of some of the savoury dishes untouched that dessert was seeming like an extra challenge. We needn’t have worried though, as the small dish of lychee and longans with ice cream turned out to be an excellent, light way to finish off the meal. I actually hadn’t had longans before, and I was interested to discover how similar they are to lychees in taste but are so different in terms of texture; they almost have a tight crunch to them, and are much firmer. I now want to do a series of longan dessert experiments!

The banquet selections at Enlightened Cuisine are certainly value for money given the obscene amount of food that ends up coming your way. Given how chagrined we were at how much we couldn’t fit in with just the two of us, I would think that the ideal banqueting party number would be three or four people. Now to confirm my hypothesis by gathering together a few more mock meat appreciating people and getting stuck in for round two!

Enlightened Cuisine

113 Queensbridge Street, Southbank

Ph: 9686 9188

http://ecuisine.com.au/index.html