How could I resist? Only a great chef or a fool would have the confidence to pull that off.
We sat up at the bar, awkwardly, because the cutting edge café designer hadn't designed an actual space for legs under the bar. You either ride side-saddle on your stool – try eating in that position – or you splay your legs to each side which, if you’re 6’2”, is awkward, and more so for the people either side of you.
Other customers were sitting on those little box things that are increasingly popular in cafes – you prop yourself on a box and either balance your meal on your lap or on the bench that runs around the perimeter. Some of the customers Totally Didn’t Understand The Design and sat on the bench and put their meals on the little box things instead. The designer would DIE if he knew what these people were doing. In short, cutting edge café design stinks. Enough said. Now we can talk about the food.
The guy behind the bar came over and we ordered. I chose the duck confit and baked bean jaffle and my friend chose the babaganouge. The latter was accompanied by toast soldiers. I haven’t had toast soldiers since I was a kid. These were toast soldiers for grown-ups, kind of French-toasty with a cheesy, crunchy texture and flavour. The babaganouge was intensely smoky and delicious. My friend finished her toast soldiers before her babaganouge, leaving her with the dilemma of how to salvage out every last scrape of the eggplant-based yumminess without resorting to licking the bowl; but the guy behind the bar came to the rescue, bringing soldier reinforcements at no charge (pardon the pun, if it is one, which I doubt). The jaffle tasted exactly like what you would come up with if you combined the taste of preserved duck with smoky baked beans and condensed it and placed it in a sandwich and toasted it - delicious.
For dessert, my friend had a lamington and I had a game pie, which is not dessert but I was still in a savoury mood after the jaffle.
Lamingtons are a staple of traditional Australian picnic fare and my friend’s version came with its own little plastic test tube of syrup that you squirt into the lamington just before you eat it, so the cake part doesn’t go soggy. Instead, it is like biting into a chocolate with syrup inside. You get a sharp burst of sweet syrup followed by the blander taste and texture of the cake and finally an intense chocolate coating finish. Or vice versa - I’m not sure which - but you get the genaral idea.
The game pie – hare - was a small masterpiece, like a Faberge egg (in that it was a masterpiece and small, not that it was an egg). In between the size of a ‘party’ pie and a regular one, the pie also came with its own tube of hot fluid – a fragrant gravy which you insert, just like the lamington syrup test tube, into the pie. The effect is that the pie is bubblingly moist and delicious, but the pastry never gets overly wet. The only drawback about mine was the tiny, rounded bone the size of an olive pit on which I bit – probably a small foot joint from the hare, opined the waiter mildly, as if it were an everyday occurence. At least it demonstrated the genuineness of the cooking, although if I’d broken a tooth I might not be so kind.
And that was lunch at the Vue de Monde Café: Shannon Bennett’s new venture, next door to his restaurant, Vue de Monde, in which he pays homage to the great French chefs. According to his website, Reviews and word of mouth have resulted in notoriety achieved largely through Shannon's obsession for classical cuisine which has seen him reinterpret the cuisine of creators such as Carême, Dugléré and Escoffier into Modern French. Notoriety? I think he means fame, although perhaps his culinary experiments have had consequences I don’t know about. Whatever - it's brilliant, completely self-assured cooking which reinvents traditions instead of slavishly following trends.
So if you can’t afford to eat at the restaurant, you can sample Bennett's ideas and inspirations via these cute little tastes and treats in the café. Prices are all under $10, except for the ‘lunchbox’ at $15, which is a selection of different items, like a bento box. The pie was a mere $4. You could almost regard this as paying a nominal table rental and getting the food for free.
At Vue de Monde Café you can dine like a king at the table of one of the country’s very best chefs, enjoying food that is highly inventive while being strongly influenced by centuries of cooking. (Except a king would demand a comfortable chair and shout ‘Off with his head’ at the designer. They could use a piece of his cutting edge furniture as the guillotine.)
Vue de Monde Café.
430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne.