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.
Ground Level, NGV International
180 St Kilda Road, Southbank
Ph: 8620 2434