I was more than just a little excited about trying The Deanery. Since Robin Wickens' Interlude restaurant closed its doors over a year ago, I've been yearning to hear of his return. It was a little embarrassing then when I found out he'd been at Deanery for almost six months.
Better late than never, we booked for that Friday night the instant I found out he was there. The Deanery is half bar, half restaurant, thankfully very definitely separated so that the (quite busy, on a Friday) bar noise doesn't ruin your intimate evening. A little off putting was the security/bouncer escort from the front door through the bar to the restaurant. (They later explained that he was new, but actually it makes sense to be shown through to the restaurant, as you could easily get lost in the crowd if you didn't know where you're going.)
I should mention that the Deanery also allows patrons to store their own wine in a climate controlled environment for consumption on the premises - something I'll have to look into in the future. The space (a converted car park!) works really well. Low lighting between tables makes it feel roomy while spots over the tables removes any seedy-bar feel. A floor-to-ceiling glass wall allows you to perv on other people's wine in the storage facility, although there's no need to be jealous since the restaurant wine list is exceptional. (It's won several awards, but I can't remember the specifics).
I was curious about a couple of American Pinots I'd seen on the list, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the sommelier was very helpful and not at all condescending (as is common when you look under 30!). After discussing the options (he seemed somewhat relieved to be actually being a sommelier instead of just a waiter!) I settled on a 2002 single vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon, and was very happy with the quite savoury result. I guess the yanks can make wine, after all!
Robin's food at Interlude was decidedly along the molecular gastronomy lines, and although there are definitely a few techniques involved, it's not as hardcore, leaning now more towards modern Australian. The refreshing thing that really worked for me was the balance between new and exciting ideas and just plain awesome flavours. Others in the M-G scene sometimes focus too much on techniques and textures, to the detriment of the flavours. Although Robin's food might still seem quite "out there" to some, there's no denying that it's downright delicious.
Take the amuse bouche: a warming, rich and flavourful veloute of Jerusalem artichoke, served with a pastry finger topped with tiny balls of slightly browned butter. Or the amazing venison with bitter chocolate - a wonderful combination of flavours that somehow "just works," not as separate entities but as an integrated flavour bomb.
Of course, a visit to the Deanery would not be complete without trying a dessert degustation. We opted for the 3-course version (although for those more hardcore, there is a 6-course one, too). Pastry chef Pierre Roelofs has a very distinctive style, also along the M-G lines. The highlight for me was undoubtedly the blackberry, eucalyptus (yes, you read that right!) and yoghurt. So wonderfully refreshing at the end of a serious evening.
The only thing that really surprised me was the bill: $240 for the two of us, excluding wine. For food of this quality, I expected to pay more, particularly when I think that it came so close to number one on the top five. I acknowledge that this kind of food isn't what everyone is after, but it really floats my boat. I just hope the rest of Melbourne doesn't find out about it too soon so I can still get in!
- Scallops, herb risotto, violets
- Warm rabbit terrine, Hay icecream
- Pork fillet, pork pie, carrot, pickled apple
- Venison, bitter chocolate, beetroot
- Dessert degustation of three courses
2002 Jessie's Vineyard Christom Pinot Noir, Oregon, USA ($130)