Thursday, August 25, 2016

East, Mt Martha by Bilby Blue

It had all started so well. On a gorgeous sunny winter’s day three of us – Benny, Broadhands and I – had motored down to the Mornington Peninsula in search of a special lunch. Beautiful location with bay views, tick. A table available in a stylish contemporary setting, tick. An innovative menu that celebrated fresh local produce, tick.

So we had very high hopes for East. But then, one by one, the wheels started falling off.

Yes, we totally get that an extraordinary level of creativity and skill is needed to produce high calibre dishes. And that delivering the dining experience is incredibly hard work. But there are other aspects that are essential for the diners’ enjoyment and in this respect East just kept missing the mark.

sweet potato;  small plates;  east;  mt martha
Sweet potato

Lunch offered a tasting menu that consisted of a range of small plates – marked as $59 per person but our friendly waitress claimed that this was a typo and that it was really $75. We thought that even $59 was a bit steep for lunch, so we moved onto the a la carte. Some of the large plates (not on the tasting menu) looked very tempting, our objective being to share a selection of small and large plates between the three of us. We attempted to extract from the waitress details on the quantities on each dish but she confessed that she was quite new and so co-opted someone more experienced to enlighten us. The second waitress confirmed that the tasting menu was indeed $59 as marked.

We decided on three small plates and three large plates, plus bread. Would this be enough for us? Of course, assured our (second) friendly waitress, who also recommended an extra serve of the fennel loaf. Two of our original choices were all gone – odd, given that it was the start of the lunchtime service – but we selected alternatives. All good.

Then we waited… It took a good long while before our food started to come. Slowly.

charred corn with parmesan on top;  tapas, mt martha; east
We ordered two serves of the charred corn with ranch mayonnaise, capsicum juice and parmesan, ending up with a total of four small pieces of corn – we had asked for a plate of three (one each), but were told that this was not possible. They arrived on two thick slabs of pink rock salt. A very attractive presentation, but it was a challenge for the waitress to set it down on the table without the corn toppling over. The corn was warm, but clearly had not been warm enough to melt the finely grated parmesan piled on top. So when the corn rolled around the slab, the cheese fell off. It was tasty, but we would have preferred it to be hot, and more generously sized (ah, fond memories of the superb corn we had at billies and The Black Toro).

The sweet potato was the best of our small plates (pic above). Two thin slices, salt baked, with dots of hummus, kale, red chilli and micro herbs. Beautiful flavour, stunning presentation, it left us wanting more.

nitrogen popcorn with maple syrup and bacon and saltbrush;  east;  mt martha
We were looking forward to the nitro caramel popcorn with maple bacon and saltbush. Our waitress had enthusiastically assured us that there would be theatre with the liquid nitrogen spilling out of the dish. However by the time it arrived at our table, there was nothing, nada. All we saw was a bit of frosty condensation on the outside of the popcorn cup. So without any theatre, it was just popcorn – sweet from the caramel and salt from the saltbush, with a few small shards of maple bacon.

Then we noticed that the next table – which had arrived well after we had ordered – were being served one of the small dishes we had been told was no longer available, and with a non-standard number of items in the serving. Clearly bespoke numbers of items in your serves are possible, somehow. Had they possibly pre-ordered? No – we had heard them ordering.

fennel bread;  east;  mt martha; served on a rock
Our fennel loaf was four small rolls (two of which were accompaniments for Broadhand’s wagyu bresoalo) served on a rock with a tiny quenelle of smoked butter dusted with capsicum ash. The bread was excellent, however scraping the very soft butter off the rough surface of the rock proved a bit of a challenge.

wagyu bresoala with goats curd and fennel bread;  east;  mt martha
The wagyu bresoalo with goats curd, bull horn peppers and fennel loaf was another attractive dish. Fine slices of bresaola came entwined on a plate, dotted with goats curd and piled on top of the peppers. The flavours and textures were well matched, but this was not a main course. It was more like an antipasto.

pork belly with kimchi and sliced apples char sui style;  east, mt marthas
Benny’s choice of “char sui” pork belly was undoubtedly the star dish of the day. The pork belly was perfectly cooked, sliced apple provided freshness and sweetness, and kimchi provided an extra dimension for the dish. A huge crispy rice cracker added a little crunch. Three disappointments: there was no pork crackle, the accompanying kimchi was so salty that it upset the balance of the dish, and the serve was a bit small for a main.

buffalo mozzarella salad;  east;  mt marthas
The buffalo mozzarella salad – my choice – was probably the prettiest dish of the meal. A round mozzarella was surrounded by red, yellow and green heirloom cherry tomatoes, all sitting on a tangy basil pesto. A dish that made a hero of beautiful fresh produce. After delivering the plate to the table, the waitress sprinkled some frozen whey over the top, providing some additional texture.

Despite having eaten four small and three large plates, the three of us were still hungry. Every dish, even the large plates, was modest in size. There were desserts on offer, but we weren’t inclined to sit through yet another long wait when we could be outside on the beach enjoying the August afternoon sunshine. The beach won out over dessert.

Our total bill came to $119 (not including drinks). Was this value for money? We had seen flashes of brilliance and some truly beautiful looking (and Instagram-friendly) dishes but the meal was let down by slow service and small servings.

the exterior of east;  mt martha


We liked it
We liked it in parts - but we found that it was exceedingly tough to score East as some aspects were exceptional and others underwhelming. Would we return? We would be more inclined to try some of the other Mt Martha dining establishments first.


East displays great creativity in its food and plating, and the best dishes showed superb culinary skills. It has the potential to be one of the best restaurants on the Mornington Peninsula. However just like our Olympic team, on the day of our visit it was performing well below expectations.

Find it at

464 Esplanade
Mt Martha Vic 3934
Telephone: (03) 5974 4443

East Bar and Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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