To announce retirement when your justifiably acclaimed world class restaurant Jacques Reymond is still at the top of its game, not only exudes class, but sound judgment in choosing to step aside on your own terms. With eighty Good Food Guide hats since 1989, including “three hats” on seventeen occasions, it is an extraordinary achievement that places Jacques Reymond at the elite level. The legacy of not only the restaurant, but the man is immeasurable, and it has substantially enhanced the culinary landscape in Australia.
Since 1992, the stunning (circa 1880) Victorian mansion in Prahran has set the tone for the level of excellence that made it not only a Melbourne icon, but one recognised by the distinguished Relais Châteaux Association, affording it a worldwide profile. The privacy of a lovely front garden featuring an elegant water fountain, is enhanced by the high courtyard walls which also provide sound buffering from the surprisingly busy street. From the moment you enter, the delicate balance between modern and traditional decor inside hits the mark, providing ideal ambience and context.
Starting with immaculately baked gougeres (sublime choux pastry mixed with cheese), that have playfully offered so much joy over the years, seems rather fitting. Then more serious; a pristine shiitake broth, with fragrant crushed lemon balm. Served with a moist yet subtle ginger cake, sliced zucchini, and salsify adding some necessary texture and contrast to the dish. It is finished with the lightest honey vinaigrette; a very nice touch. Yellow fin tuna with smoked salmon mousse, or alternatively Zucchini with brebis fromage, are both showcased with spiced nougatine, togarashi and lemon caviar. Both offer a sublime play of flavour and textures through the use of exquisite produce.
Superb, exquisitely cooked, King George whiting, is intelligently counterpointed by yuzu and Japanese style pickles, far lower in acidity, ultimately elevating and making for a very harmonious dish. The vegetarian alternative, a textbook leek terrine showcases both exceptional produce and technique, and once again strikes the right balance with the same background elements, looked at from a slightly different perspective. The sweet orange reduction is noteworthy on both variations. Only a crispy garnish of pancetta or tomato varies the deceptively simple yet sophisticated parmesan custard, green peas, macerated grapes and wasabi with apple granita. Next a crispy garnish of chicken skin carries an intense concentrated flavour, with the silky sweet and sour broth, working a treat with the cuttlefish and pork. A slightly underdone turnip is the only miss, with the bean shoots, swede and crispy zucchini flower in the vegetarian option.
To say the overall level of service is impeccable is an understatement. From the reservation to farewell, it is a polished dance that intuitively anticipates your every need, without ever being aloof or excessively formal. Likewise, the wine service is both expansive and informed, but entirely considerate of the potential cost to the overall experience. This keeps the diner onside, and importantly focussed on the journey that unfolds around them like a theatrical masterpiece. Impressively for this service, Chef Jacques Reymond is not present, but absolutely no critical aspects are diminished. This is a promising sign for its evolution in early 2014 as Woodlands House.
Listed as a salad, the flavoursome Flinders Island lamb backstrap, delicately smoked eucalyptus scallop and scampi, with a perfectly balanced master stock jelly, is more ‘surf and turf’ elevated to a sublime level. The more appropriately named salad, underpinned by stunning root vegetables, intriguing smoked eucalyptus potato, stinging nettle and lemongrass jelly; is not only a collage of nature’s colour, but a joy to both explore and devour. Impeccably seasoned 9+ Sher wagyu is prepared a la plancha style, and served with salsify, black pudding and burnt onion purees, coffee gel, pickled onions and saltbush. The vegetarian option, a tempura king brown mushroom tart, with candied tomato, onion fondue and horseradish cream to finish, is a surprisingly plausible savoury compromise.
More substantial than just a cleanser, Camargue organic red rice pudding, Yarra Valley berries, apricot green tea sorbet with champagne foam, is both fascinating and a fresh play of textures. Perhaps the smouldering paperbark bon bon striving to simulate the sensory effect of the spiced plums, candied beetroot, mont blanc Chantilly soaked chocolate cake, and cassis sorbet with bay leaf fell short the mark, but not so any of the flawless components on the plate. Finishing like we started, a flawless churros sets a new benchmark for such humble pleasures , with the more technical petits fours that follow an equally playful journey through a few pastry classics, including a simply perfect macaron.
From a distance, it is easy to perceive Jacques Reymond as the more institutional of the three hat options in Melbourne given its longevity. Conversely, the truly exceptional nature of the experience offered only confirms its place in that elite company. A tour de force of sixteen courses, which included an inspired alternate vegetarian menu, left me entirely impressed, and even more respectful of the craft and skill showcased by a legendary Chef, who at sixty years of age is still arguably at the peak of his powers. Jacques Reymond, a culmination of his career from a Michelin star in France, to this charming Victorian Mansion in Prahan is even more relevant today, than throughout the last two decades.
Jacques Reymond will close on December 21 and re-open on January 15 as Woodland House.
78 Williams Road, Prahran
Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday from 6.30pm to 9pm, Lunch: Thursday to Friday 12pm to 1.30pm
(03) 9525 2178