The theory is that fine dining in Melbourne is on its way out.  Sure with young kids we tend to go for more dress-down alternatives but that doesn’t mean that we no longer appreciate the food that nourished us when we were but a party of two.

Brooks, in the basement of historical Austral House on Collins Street, is casual, chic, unpretentious, and – if you can navigate your pram down the steps to the basement – amenable to families.

As you enter, there’s a grand, marble-topped bar with an enormous array of alcoholic beverages lining the walls.  There’s a 10-seat private dining room, and then a 70-seat main dining room with Chef Nic Poelaert’s open kitchen being the primary feature where you have the opportunity to watch the master at work.

When we dined at Brooks, Poelaert plated up every single dish bar our dessert.  His concentration and attention to detail were second to none.  Poelaert’s background may explain a thing or two as he has trained with a number of world-renowned chefs: Michel Bras in Laguiole, France, Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, England, and Shannon Bennett in Melbourne, Australia.  He was the successful owner and chef of Carlton’s famed Embrasse before closing after 4 years and bringing his award-winning food to Melbourne’s CBD when Brooks was opened in October 2012.

Enthralled with their menu and the ambience, we decided to stay for a while and ordered the Brooks seasonal tasting menu – 5 courses – $95 per person.

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Bread & butter
Rye bread paired with a deliciously creamy, salted butter.  Cut with precision.

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Chicken liver parfait, rye bread, rhubarb jam
Apparently these little squares of rye bread are puffed up in the oven, injected with chicken liver parfait, and adorned with the jam over the insertion site.  But technicalities aside these were incredible.  We were advised to eat them like sushi: in one mouthful.  The rye bread shattered in my mouth, the creamy chicken liver parfait oozed out, the rhubarb jam rounded it all off.  That’s all I needed.  For $95 for 5 courses, I already felt like I had gotten my money’s worth.  Despite being hungry.  I didn’t need more than one.  And I certainly didn’t crave anything afterwards.  It was a complete meal.  A complete package.  Absolutely brilliant.

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Black rice cracker, Vegemite jam

Yes this came out on some turf.  This was also faultless.  I grew up on Vegemite; my husband didn’t.  But even my husband loved this amazing rice cracker with two beautiful dollops of creamy Vegemite jam and some matcha sprinkled over the top.  How did Poelaert know that it would only take us two delectable bites to polish off this sizeable cracker?  We sat there wondering how on earth the chef could possibly top the first course.

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Hand caught squid, lemon flower pesto, gin botanicals marmalade

If we hadn’t listened to our waiter, it would have been possible to mistake the squid for fettuccine.  The squid had been lightly steamed and shredded so perfectly.  It was exquisitely tender and paired with the pesto and marmalade, incredibly fresh.

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Nic’s souvenir of Laguiole Village; Meli Melo of vegetables

This is another of Nic’s signature dishes.  It’s a salute to Michel & Sebastian Bras and was brought over from Embrasse.  According to our waiter, our spring time vegetable selection contained over 25 different elements and cooking techniques.  It was hard to get my head around such a beautiful vegetarian dish.  And it was even more challenging deciding where to start.  But once we started picking, we couldn’t stop.  There were so many vegetables, cooked in so many different ways, with an unparallelled number of emulsions, purees, and jams artistically dotted intentionally throughout our plate.  I was completely and utterly full after this masterful creation – but that didn’t stop me from finishing off the rest of my meal.

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White Rock veal breast, celeriac, vanilla, radicchio

We marvelled over this beautiful dish.  The celeriac concealed the incredibly smooth veal which was served on a bed of cauliflower & vanilla bean puree with the most perfect jus and well matched date puree.  The veal was so light and so tender, that despite being hidden beneath the rippling embrace of the celeriac, the veal really did stand its ground and shine in its own right.

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Flinders Island lamb neck, mushrooms, nettles, kale, bark, fermented garlic

An intriguing dish and so beautifully presented.  The lamb neck was very tender, the mushroom puree added to the organic look of the dish, and the dollops of garlic puree brought the dish to a whole different level.

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Artichoke, chocolate, pork crackling, hazelnut 

Artichoke ice cream?  It was really weird, though in a nice way.  It was lusciously creamy, a bit savoury, a bit sweet.  It was served on some chocolate sponge which was not particularly moist, not particularly dry, but incredibly springy like those natural sea sponges that you find by the shore.  There were pork & milk curd skins on top which seemed a bit oriental but added a delightful crunch to the mix and a hazelnut dust which was surprisingly one of the sweeter elements on the dish.  I was amused & a little confused that we were ending such a perfect meal with such a thought-provoking dish.  An effort to make our meal even more memorable, perhaps?

We had a fantastic time and an absolutely brilliant meal at Brooks.  The decor is cosy, and the food aesthetically enchanting & incredibly nourishing – I can’t remember the last time I’ve eaten so many vegetables!  And it’s such a special experience – knowing & having seen that your entire meal has been personally orchestrated by an absolute genius.    We did not feel worthy.

Basement, 115-117 Collins Street
Melbourne  VIC  3000
03 9001 8755
Lunch Tuesday – Friday 12 – 3 pm
Dinner Tuesday – Saturday 5:30 pm – late.

Brooks on Urbanspoon

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