Located in South Yarra, Spoonbill is the restaurant that's attached to the boutique hotel, The Olsen.
We were invited to review Spoonbill's six course sharing menu w a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne. I was looking forward to it because, well, this bureaucrat feels a bit of dag to go dining or shopping along Chapel Street.
As I'm not au fait with restaurants along Chapel Street, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Arriving for an early dinner on the weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to find a not-too-expensive parking space near the restaurant (I had thought I would have had to be driving around cursing for an expensive parking spot).
Inside, the space is divided into a bar and a dining area. The bar area was quite popular with the bright young things and not-so-young things. The dining area had a warm ambiance and decorated with contemporary furniture. It had gauzy curtains so that it provided some privacy from the un-scenic traffic intersection that it overlooked, yet at the same time, it provided you with the opportunity to people watch the stream of revelers who were ready for a night out.
More importantly, and more enjoyably, I much rather peruse the sharing menu. Unlike other fixe prix menus where you choose dishes for yourself to eat, here, the sharing menu means that you choose dishes that you share with another person - ergo, you both get the same starters, mains and desserts.
Laurent Perrier champagne.
There's a reasonable number of dishes for each course to choose from. Propz for the range of dishes on offer - the dishes are definitely more gourmet than your average fixe prix restaurant. I loathe the places where they only give you two or three options per course. Extra propz because of the flexibility of the sharing menu at Spoonbill. We did two entrees, two mains and two desserts, but you can do any permutations so long as it added up to six dishes.
Bread w olive oil
Without further ado, here are the entrees. Cloudy Bay oysters w pickled ginger and spring onion. Medium-sized oysters which were served with the shells on (I took them off for the photo). Clean, simple, fresh.
Our next entree was seared scallop w chimi churi and cauliflower puree. Reasonably plump scallops. I liked the fresh, crispness and colour from the chimi churi. However, the Lawyer and I both felt that this dish needed some extra salt to bring out the flavours.
For mains, we chose the Aylesbury duck breast w wild mushrooms, duck confit w pureed beans, zatar spiced livers w spinach and shallots. This was the hands-down favourite for the night. The duck breast was flavoursome, tender and not overcooked (nor was it too pink in the middle). A nice thin layer of crisp duck fat and skin made it all the more morish. I loved the pairing of wild enoki mushrooms - it some how brought out the flavour of the duck even more. Yum, yum, yum!
The duck confit had an even crispier skin, and the meat was falling off the bone, as it should be. It was served with this punchy puree of white beans, tomatoes and spices. Despite the colour, it there wasn't any chillies (thankfully!). I'm not a fan of lentils, however, I am a fan if they all tasted like this!
The duck livers were plump and creamy (and hidden underneath the spinach and shallots) and the shallots helped cut through the richness. Although, I couldn't really taste the zatar.
The duck was served with two sides. The first was the witlof, grilled pear, walnuts and blue cheese salad. Hurrah - proper salad! No icebergs here. Young, crunchy red and white witlof, with sweet pear. I loved the textures and the flavours from the walnuts and the blue cheese.
The second was steamed brocolli w smoked almonds. More propz for the generous vegetable side dishes. I find that too many places focus on the meat and forget the need for vegetables to balance out a meal. The smokiness from the almonds turns an otherwise plain veg into something nice.
While we were wowed by the duck, the next main dish didn't make quite the same impression. Given how delicious the duck was we were expecting a really nice seafood paella. The good points were the presentation and the amount of seafood. The mussels were huge - the meat within the shell was about 2/3 the length of the side plate. Despite its size, there were very tender - they were sourced from NZ. In addition to the mussels were clams, large prawns, squid and fish. The not-so-good points was the rice itself... it was watery, bland mushiness. I'm not sure if the paella was cooked with stock or was simply not seasoned enough. Also, there was still quite a bit of liquid (be it stock or water) at the bottom of the pan... definitely no socarrat (crust) there.
For desserts, we went for the fruit-based ones. First was the passionfruit creme w poppyseed tuille, vanilla bean ice cream, crunchy matcha cake w macerated strawberries. The creme was smooth and wobbly with lots of tart passionfruit which helped cut through the richness. The ice cream was lovely and vanilla-y. I didn't mind the crunchy matcha cake (it was quite crunchy!), I guess that was added for texture.
The last dessert was our favourite. A cacophony of flavours and textures that all melded into each other, creating lots of different tastes. The nicely poached pear (not too soft or too hard) was the centrepoint for you to eat it with the many tid bits on the side - the crunchy honey brittle, the caramelised citrus peel, ginger crumble, pureed pear (I think) and the ice cream. Although the menu said it was ginger and pear ice cream, we distinctly tasted minty and it even had green streaks through it.
Food – 8
Service – 9*
Ambience – 7.5
Price – 8*
*Scores are notional as we were guests of Spoonbill.
The food was a bit mixed in terms of what we were expecting. The definite stand out dishes of the night were the duck, the two side dishes and the poached pear dessert. The two entress and the passionfruit dessert were of the quality that you'd expect a restaurant of this ilk. While the paella wasn't up to our expectations.
Having said that, I do like the sharing menu and think it's quite value for money. Regular readers would know that I like fixe prix menus, so now that I know (and tried) Spoonbill, it's definitely made it onto my little foodie black book. Also, given its location, Spoonbill gets me out of my usual stomping grounds, which is a good thing.
We had an incredibly professional, friendly and knowledgeable waiter. He was so enthusiastic about the food and drink on offer - taking the time to explain the menu, ingredients and what wines on offer to match the dishes. While we only went for just a tasting of the matched wines on offer (neither of us are big wine drinkers), it was fun listening to him explain what we were drinking. I reckon any one who considers them a wine expert would really enjoy his advice on what wines are on offer. I do know that the wines are special and are not available from retail wine shops.
The other staff were also very friendly - and not just to us. They all check in with the tables, even ones that they're not assigned to, to see how things are going. This was a nice touch.
637 Chapel Street
Telephone 9040 1333