430 Little Collins St, Melbourne (map)
Last Friday, I went back to Cafe Vue for the Cocktail night (on Friday nights, Cafe Vue stays open and hosts evenings which match five themed cocktails with five small dishes, costing $75 per head, bookings advisable).
T had organised a group of us to go along in December (when the theme was "Christmas") and we'd had heaps of fun and loved the food and cocktails - you can read about what we had here. When I'd heard that the theme for February was "Chinese New Year", I'd organised a table (including CJ and best-friend-K) in a state of great excitement and anticipation! Here's what we had:
Sweet corn tofu with pigeon consommé, served in a martini glass. The sweet corn tofu had been set in jelly and had an unusual squishy texture, slightly gritty but nicely so. We felt the consommé could have done with a bit more salt. One of our party loathes pigeons and wasn't thrilled at the idea of consuming anything which listed pigeon as an ingredient... I suggested it was perhaps a subtle Chinese New Year tribute to "rats with wings"... :)
The cocktail that came with the consommé was the Umeshu Mojito. I really liked this one and the way it "Asianised" the traditional mojito recipe: palm sugar, lime and soda but Umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur) substituted for rum, and Vietnamese mint rather than normal mint. The cocktail was light and tasty and as you can expect, the Vietnamese mint gave off a lovely aroma once we'd mooshed the leaves with our straws.
Second course was confit duck pancakes, which included cucumber and bamboo shoots and, because this is VDM, a drizzle of hoisin "jus". The rice paper roll pancakes were a little too stiff for my liking and the confit duck didn't leave a strong impression - give me Peking duck from somewhere like Pacific Seafood BBQ House any day.
The Oolong Island Rice Tea had been the cocktail whose name had intrigued and interested L and me most when we'd perused the upcoming cocktail menu on the Cafe Vue website. I'm sorry to report back that this cocktail received universal thumbs down from our table. Palm sugar and lemon had been mixed in with sake, a drink I normally love, but not here. It was topped with a sliver of lemongrass and a layer of Ardbeg air (the air having been made using soy lecithin as an emulsifier). I'd loved the cherry air which was on the Brandy Blazer we'd tried at Cafe Vue in December, but in this cocktail it tasted plain wrong - I dunno whether it was the whisky (another drink I normally love) or what, but the drink left a nasty chemical, synthetic taste in our mouths which took several glasses of water to wash out.
The third course was a martini glass of green curry sauce sprinkled with goose liver pâté powder (!!) and a few grains of puffed rice for texture... it looked completely crazy, hey? Plus, these photos really don't capture the lurid green of the curry sauce accurately. The goose liver pâté had been blast frozen (subjected to temperatures that drop so rapidly the water molecules don't have time to form big crystals... thus preserving more flavour in the pâté), then powdered.
It was (academically) interesting in terms of texture and flavours (I loved the complex flavours in the curry sauce) but... we couldn't help hankering after some good old-fashioned CARBS (like we'd had in December), given that two out of three dishes so far had been composed almost entirely of liquids!
The accompanying cocktail, the Lo-Phat, was also rather "meh", but I'll confess to you upfront that I almost never like creamy cocktails. The Lo-Phat, as the name suggests, contained light coconut cream, light rum and amber rum. I liked the effect of the slivers of azuki (red bean) jelly looking like red worms writhing about in the ice at the top of the glass.
The fourth course was fried crispy skate with spicy salt. The good: we liked the spicy salt coating the pieces of fish, and we loved the mojo (pronounced "moho" - Caribbean rather than Asian) sauce served on the side and made of mustard seeds, spring onion, coriander and chives. The bad: the sad-looking little pieces of skate were horribly tough and chewy. I understand that we can't expect huge fillets of fish given the (in my opinion) very reasonable $75 overall price tag for these five course Cocktail Nights, but it shouldn't have been so damn rubbery!
It's a funny thing - I'd been all excited in advance about the Oolong Island Rice Tea, but didn't like it. The reverse was true for the fourth cocktail: I'd read its name, Year of the Rat, and thought "gross". But despite its verminous name and unassuming appearance, it turned out to be my DREAM cocktail: vodka, Pimms, ginger ale, coriander, slice of cucumber and a dash of Tabasco sauce for warmth. Yowza!
I'd wager that a squeeze of fresh lime added at the last minute would go down a treat too (but it's perfectly understandable that the Cafe Vue cocktail lads refrained, given we'd already had two citrusy cocktails). I loved the Year of the Rat so much that the next morning I went out and bought the necessary ingredients for me to be able to recreate it at home... outrageous that Chez Gwynneth had been without Pimms for so long... :)
The final course was ginger crème brûlée, and it was excellent. It had a ginger / crème anglaise emulsion, and at the bottom of the dish was a layer of candied ginger and lots of tiny flecks of vanilla. Very moreish!
Okay, I admit it: after a glass of champagne and four cocktails we were getting pretty loose by this stage of the night, and I may only have remembered to photograph the final cocktail once it was half finished. The other excuse I'll give is that we got distracted during the arrival of the final cocktail by Shannon Bennett's photographer, Tim James, who was taking shots of the Cocktail Night and took a few pics of us downing our drinks (I felt too embarrassed to bring out my lame little digicam in front of him!)...
Anyhoo, the final cocktail was the Imperial Slipper, and it was also delicious. It contained Pedro Ximénez, cognac, apple juice and 5 spice, with a couple of currants lurking at the bottom of the glass. The sweet PX and cognac married beautifully, and the spices were a great match with the gingery crème brûlée. Thumbs up!
So there you have it - I've tried to be very honest about the experience. Whilst there were some real highlights, there were a few misses that may have dampened our enthusiasm for the Cocktail Nights. I felt that sometimes the kitchen and bar were showing off with fancy-pants molecular gastronomy hijinks at the expense of the taste of the finished product. Simon, one of my blog readers, informs me that the Cocktail Night theme for March is "Savoury Chocolate"... I'm still making up my mind as to whether I'll attend. If anyone else goes (or went/is going in February), please let me know!