Since opening in 1999, Teage Ezard’s flagship Melbourne restaurant has achieved every industry accolade worthy of the benchmarks it has set, and the significant contribution it has made. One could almost forgive a hint of complacency, but impressively none is evident, rather a stellar example of a very committed and focussed team, striving for and extending the boundaries of excellence. The sub basement location, which in Sydney would be deemed a drawback, is conversely played out as more of a strength here. The natural light bathing the room during lunch through long laneway windows, whilst at dinner being screened off with stylish blinds for a warmer and more discreet ambience. It is a salient reminder you do not need harbour views if the overall experience is confidently shaped, expressed and tailored to the diners needs, and your team is collectively driven to that end.
The eight course degustation ($150-$185 with optional supplements) is prefaced with quality olive oil infused with garlic, parmesan and rosemary and a trio of contrasting spices in which to enhance your bread. The Szechuan and spiced salt works best for me, but the nori flakes with bonito and sesame is an intriguing combination with the EVOO. This is closely followed by the Japanese inspired amuse bouche, a playful and elegant swordfish shooter with mirin sake and soy in a shot glass, with a soba noodle nori roll on the side. The dish has beautiful balance and is clean across the palate, but with just enough residual finish to stimulate both the taste buds and appetite for what is yet to come.
An eye-catching and astutely cured vodka and citrus salmon follows, surrounded by a spectacular trio of sweetish, yet earthy, jagged beetroot crisps that rise majestically, with finger lime, wasabi aioli and shiso cress; adding the right background notes and grounding. The dish has lovely texture, with all the elements working on multiple levels, but absolutely sings with the matched sake. Then a master class of balance and harmony with the steamed blue swimmer crab dumpling, served with an exquisite and incredibly aromatic and silky tom kha, that hits just the right heat note. It is sophisticated, served with Yarra Valley salmon roe, yet overall remains true to its cultural roots, and is clear demonstration of the high level of innovation and technique at play throughout the entire menu.
You get a real sense of the respect here, when the witlof salad is treated and plated with as much sophistication as many of the signature showstoppers to follow. Deep flavoured asparagus, lovely Persian feta, poached quail egg, hazelnuts and soft herbs as garnish provide a layering of textures that add some gravitas to the dish. A balancing act, the coconut grilled ocean trout sits on heirloom tomatoes set in an Asian gazpacho. Perched on top is a hot and sour salad that adds a lovely background heat note, with crème fraiche and puffed crisp for contrast and texture. The key to the Bangalow pork belly, apart from faultless execution, is the overall harmony that the apple pudding, fennel, white peach and calvados provide without ever becoming ‘twee’.
The impeccably bred Sher wagyu (marble score 8/$20 pp supplement) has sublime texture, and is complimented perfectly with an intense bordelaise sauce, punchy king brown mushrooms, silky truffled mash and some foie gras to guarantee total decadent fulfilment. Slightly over the top perhaps, but it is ‘shoot and send one to heaven’ stuff; and since I am not ready to cash in my chips yet, a succession of sighs has to suffice. Stellar slow cooked Chinese style roast duck, which totally seduces with its aromatics and smoky flavour, is seasoned right to the edge. The dish is served with green chilli, oyster sauce dressing, coconut rice and Asian greens. It provides a lovely optional directional point of difference to the previous dish, with textbook balance and comparable wow factor.
The shared dessert platter ($15 pp supplement) includes the signature honeycrunch ice cream with sugar swirl as one of the six elements of a ‘Stonehenge-like’ homage to sweet indulgence. The centrepiece, a chocolate and passionfruit torte is pure decadence, with a rich ganache coating enriching the dual mousse components within. Totally professional, the entire floor team respectfully remains, despite only two tables still lingering close to 1am. As noteworthy, is being promptly and warmly greeted with a full room mid service despite my very early arrival for the second sitting, setting the right tone for the evening without making a fuss.
Exceptional restaurant experiences are based on identifying and servicing the smallest details efficiently, and absolutely nothing is left to chance at Ezard, which ultimately makes for a totally memorable experience. A thoughtful, but not intrusive two-way dialogue encouraged around the food and wine matching wins me over. To espouse an overall philosophy is one thing, but to empower and then practise it with such an undeniable sense of grace and purpose thirteen years on, is entirely praiseworthy. The very essence of hospitality is without peer at this fine institution, which represents both its city and industry with utmost pride.
187 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Mon-Fri 12 to 2.30pm, Mon-Sat 6pm to 10.30pm