Mark Best, famous for Marque restaurant in Sydney, has opened a less formal bistro-style place right at the foot of Sofitel on Collins St. My experience at Marque in Sydney was one of disappointment. I found they were being a bit too clever, the service stiff, and overall, the restaurant lacked ‘soul’.
All that said, I’ve been gathering positive reviews about Marque’s little brother in Melbourne. And food photos in blog posts on Pei Modern looked a lot more appealing and less overly fussed with. Hence this visit.
Fakegf and I dined here with Alan and Manuel. We found Pei Modern’s location quite unusual, along the hotel’s driveway, off Collins St.
The restaurant is named after I.M. Pei, the architect who’d designed the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris. We assume he’s had a hand at designing the aesthetic of this restaurant too.
The interior is modern-stark with pockets of grey, fabric and wood. I wouldn’t say it’s the cosiest of places to dine at, the chairs in particular just weren’t that comfortable to sit on.
Homemade Whole Wheat Sourdough, House Churned Butter
We started off very nicely with some of the finest sourdough bread I’ve eaten in Melbourne. Soft, warm, moist and flavoursome. It was accompanied with delicious butter, which Alan really loved.
Almond Gazpacho with Blue Swimmer Crab -18-
Cold Smoked Tuna, Goat’s Curd & Mustard Seeds -22-
Here’s Alan and Manuel’s entrées. They really enjoyed them.
Bullhorn Pepper, Ox Heart, Harissa -17-
Fakegf on the other hand felt a bit let-down with hers, and it isn’t the restaurant’s fault. She’d read the menu and thought it was a vegetarian dish with ox heart tomatoes. Instead, she received a whole plate of offal. Yup, cubes of gamy ox heart. Ha ha ha! She really struggled with this dish. It was offally hard to finish! Quite a few pieces ended on my plate.
Burrata, Blood Orange & White Anchovy -19-
But I agree with Fakegf, the menu here is hard to interpret. I asked the waiter about this dish, and decided to get it only after he’d described how the anchovy has been pressed into a crisp bread (I had fears it’d come as soggy pieces of pickled anchovy).
It turned out to be a beautiful entrée. Perfect… both in its texture and flavour marriage.
Milky burrata, juicy fragrant blood oranges, crisp and gently pungent anchovy bread. Such a surprising combination!
Our Pork & Fennel Sausages, Dutch Creams -25-
Alan went with bangers and potatoes for his main. He loves sausages, and these absolutely hit the mark for him, pun unintended. They were very flavoursome.
Wagyu 9+ Nettle Puree & Tuscan Red Onions -41-
Manuel chose the best dish amongst the four of us, pun unintended, lol.
OMG… that wagyu… was just amazing. Gloriously smoky-charred on the outside, yet soft, unctuous and buttery sweet on the inside. They were generous with the amount of wagyu too. The bitter-herbaceous nettle puree also gave the dish a nice twist. I had food envy.
Casarecce Chicken Dumplings & Reggiano -29-
Once again, Fakegf puzzled me by ordering pasta. The people you think you know well can still surprise you, ha ha!
All that said, she enjoyed it mostly. The chicken dumplings were more like meatballs, and she liked the creamy-rich sauce. But the dish also had pieces of chicken hearts in it… LOL! Poor poor Fakegf… offal kept appearing in her dishes that evening.
Pork Jowl, Vadouvan, Peas & Buddha’s Hand -30-
But in the end, the joke was on me. I had high hopes that the pork jowl dish here would be similar to the “Duchess of Pork” dish served at The Duchess, where the pork jowl’s fat is rendered off, turning it into a crispy chunk of flavoursome cheek.
But oh no, I received just about 500g of pure jowl. Peering at it, I could hardly see any meat on it… it was all faaaat! Alan and Fakegf refused to sample it, but Manuel braved a nibble and declared it’s the best tasting fat he’s ever had! The dish actually tasted pretty good, but it was just so soo sooo much fat! I managed to finish it. But while eating, I had images of myself walking home, then suddenly clutching my chest and collapsing. Ha ha ha!
The Buddha’s hand puree (blotch of yellow cream on the left) had a volatile and oddly citrus-bitter note to it. I wasn’t too sure if the jowl went that well with that puree. Midway though my dish, Alan asked me cheekily, “so… how are you enjoying your pork fat?”.
Asparagus & Bottarga -9-
Broccolini, Sesame Salt -9-
We had these as sides. They were pretty alright, although Fakegf and I preferred the broccolini that was served at Union Dining.
On to dessert!
Chocolate, Hazelnut & Meyer Lemon -16-
Once again, we found Pei Modern’s menu hard to interpret. The description only lists the ingredients, we had to ask the waiter how it’s prepared. Here, we got a chocolate mousse wrapped with a hazelnut praline, and a serve of Meyer lemon sorbet.
This was Alan’s chosen dessert. I had a nibble and it was beautiful. The sorbet in particular was quite exquisite in flavour.
Caramelised Tomato, Stuffed with Twelve Flavours, Star Anise Ice Cream -17-
This was the oddest sounding dessert on the menu, but Manuel decided to try it, his motto being “you only live once”…
Aha! Now it’s Manuel’s turn to have a bit of a dud dish. But, well… he asked for it! Ha ha!
It was so weird… the tomato, filled with an almost unidentifiable ‘twelve flavour’ stuffing. It reminded me of that variety of mooncake that’s filled with seeds and nuts, the one that I’d never buy during mooncake festival. The star anise ice cream was also a challenging flavour to welcome.
Vanilla Ice Cream, Strawberry, French Meringue -15-
Fakegf went, once again, on a puzzling tangent with her dessert choice.
I don’t remember her ordering something so… ermm… vanilla! And she doesn’t like meringue! The strawberries also sat on a lot of mascarpone cream, which she avoided. So Manuel ended up eating all of her meringue and mascarpone.
White Chocolate Ganache, Blueberries & Sorrel Sorbet -15-
This was the only dessert that I really wanted to try from the menu. And lucky for me, it turned out perfect! Light and not too sweet. The white chocolate ganache was actually quite tart it was almost yoghurt-like. And I really enjoyed the sorrel sorbet’s herbaceous bite.
It was a fun meal, filled with unanticipated risk-taking. I thought it was funny how almost all of us ordered an OMG-weird dish. Only Alan escaped unscathed! And you know what? Despite the odd dishes, we still enjoyed the meal. That’s because the flavours in many of the dishes were quite stunning.
My only complaint was the somewhat stilted service that evening. The courses did not flow well, it took awhile before our orders were taken, and there was a longish 40 minute wait between our entrées and mains. For a restaurant that does a (typically Melbourne) 6pm and 8.30pm seating, I think the flow of courses needs to go more smoothly.
Aside from that, I think I’m coming back!
I revisited in late November and had a less than ideal experience, again related to the service. But I’d like to document this bad experience as fairly as possible. Basically, cousin trouble and geek hubby were visiting and I recommended this place. We went with the 7-course ‘Pei’s Choice’ dinner menu. The food was good, but we ended up getting 6 courses only, an entrée (of lamb sweetbreads) was completely missed during the course of our meal.
We worked the courage to query this only after the first dessert was served. And our waitress’s response was a puzzled “that’s strange”, as if she was unconvinced they’d made a mistake. As a diner, imagine how awkward it was for us to actually have to question about a missing course? It was almost like she did not believe us and thought we might have been trying to pull a fast one on them. We were offered a dessert wine as replacement for that missing course, which we declined.
Here’s the problem. When the bill came, it was still full price. So we essentially paid $90 per person for a 7-course meal but only received 6 courses. And there wasn’t a point during that night where someone from the restaurant gave an apology. All we got were “that’s strange” and “how unfortunate” and “I’ll see what we can do”… but at the end of the day – no apology.
While we’re not the sort to kick up a fuss over the bill, as restauranteurs themselves, cousin trouble and geek hubby pointed out that Pei Modern’s approach towards hospitality is somewhat lacking. I personally thought they were being quite arrogant. Missing out on a course in a tasting menu is a pretty big mistake on a restaurant’s part. Still, that’s okay… everybody makes mistakes. What got to us was how unapologetic they were about the error, and finally, how we were still charged the full price even when three plates of lamb sweetbreads never arrived at our table. For such a high calibre restaurant, how this was handled is quite surprising.
We paid the bill in full, but left with a sour taste in our mouth despite the actual food being good. And in my books, if my visitors are unhappy, I’m unhappy. Cousin trouble said that if they had taken something off the bill, goodwill would’ve been cultivated and she’d have tipped all of it back to them. It’s because not even the smallest gesture was made that we’d left feeling sour. This is an example of poor hospitality, and I hope this feedback will encourage Pei Modern to improve in how they handle mistakes and how they relate to their customers.