6 February 2010
Vue de Monde @ Normanby Chambers, 430 Little Collins St, Melbourne
Several months ago, we visited Vue de monde; a restaurant regarded by many as Melbourne's finest. Our experience was succinctly distilled in a feedback email I sent to them and which is reproduced below.
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Thank you for providing a copy of the menu from our evening at Vue de monde.
Unfortunately, neither I nor my girlfriend, on the whole, enjoyed the dining experience. In short, neither of us identified value in the overall experience. As you may appreciate, we came to Vue de monde expecting a superb meal and a memorable dining experience; a reasonable expectation given Vue de monde's considerable reputation and the enormous cost of the Gastronomes Menu. However, while we arrived at Vue de monde last Saturday evening expecting to be captivated by the food and amazed by the service, we left neither captivated nor amazed.
The legendary Vue de monde service, of which I had been given countless positive testimonials from friends and colleagues, was notably absent from our evening. Although the waiting staff were certainly plentiful and efficient, the manner in which they carried out their duties ranged from warm and affable to distant and impersonal. This is, however, a minor quibble.
The menu was highlighted by the legendary truffle risotto. I understand it to be a Vue de monde signature, and having now sampled it, I can understand why. My girlfriend and I found it to be superb and certainly worthy of the acclaim it has garnered. Unfortunately, the truffle risotto was the sole highlight in a menu consisting of serviceable but ultimately pedestrian offerings.
Each of the other dishes, although good in their own right, never sufficiently elevated themselves from dishes that may be served at other establishments. While some of the dishes were visually innovative, they were of surprisingly mundane taste. It was difficult to see how the dishes, although numerous, justified the cost premium relative to the degustation menus at other fine establishments around Melbourne.
Further, I wonder if you would mind clarifying whether the "Truite Fumee", the dish of smoked ocean trout, was supposed to contain caviar given that ours did not. Numerous times over the course of the evening, my girlfriend and I saw a visually identical dish being plated up with generous spoonfuls of caviar. Indeed, a friend who had visited Vue de monde several nights earlier and whose menu had included the smoked ocean trout confirmed that his dish did contain caviar and noted further that the dish would be exceedingly bland without it. The latter comment matched our thoughts of the dish precisely.
Similarly, our expectation of a lavish and exceedingly filling meal was also unfulfilled. Although unfortunate, we left Vue de monde on the hungry side of contentment.
I certainly do not intend to cause offense with my comments. To the extent that this is not the case, I apologise. I merely intend to provide constructive feedback from my personal experience with a view to potentially improving one of Melbourne's most renowned gastronomic establishments.
Thank you again for providing a copy of the menu.
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As could be anticipated, my email drew a response from a manager within the Vue de monde hierarchy. In a relatively cordial telephone conversation, the manager addressed each of my concerns as follows:
1. the menu we had was a good reflection of what Vue de monde has to offer. Our actual enjoyment of the food is highly subjective and Vue de monde could not reasonably aspire to cater for all tastes;
2. the cost of the meal was part and parcel of the Vue de monde offering which is both difficult and expensive to produce; and
3. the ocean trout dish was not intended, for our menu, to contain caviar. The dish we had observed that included caviar was for the Gourmand Menu ($150 per person instead of the $250 per person that we paid). Shannon Bennett felt that to ensure balance in the Gastronomes Menu, it would be more appropriate for the caviar to be omitted. Caviar was included in the Gourmand Menu so that the diners who selected that option would not "feel left out". As the Gastronomes Menu included a generous serve of truffle with the risotto, the further inclusion of caviar would be over-indulgent.
I have no real issues with the first two points. Enjoyment of a dining experience is certainly subjective and given the acclaim which Vue de monde has garnered, its food clearly has its fans. Vue de monde's prices will be dictated by, among other things, the cost of production and market forces. Given the difficulty of obtaining a reservation, Vue de monde undoubtedly has no shortage of patrons. From my own experience however, there are a number of restaurants which provide both better service and, for my tastes, better food at materially lower expense.
I do take issue with the third point which seems a little ill-conceived for the following reasons:
1. presumably the ocean trout dish was designed by Shannon Bennett to be the best dish it could possibly be. Its various ingredients were specifically selected to ensure harmony within the dish and for each ingredient to add one or more elements to the dish. While I have no doubt regarding Shannon Bennett's mastery in constructing dishes, the fact that the caviar could be readily omitted suggests that it is, from the outset, a superfluous ingredient; an ingredient that is included for no other reason than its expensive price so as to impart a sense of extravagance (perhaps to justify the exorbitant price). On that basis, it contributes neither taste nor texture to the dish. If this is indeed the case, it is a somewhat pretentious approach. I consider fine dining to be about food that is visually stunning, innovative and, above all, delicious. It should not comprise of food that is simply a miscellaneous assortment of premium ingredients that serves no purpose other than to justify a price tag. On the other hand, if caviar was an important element to the dish and nevertheless Shannon Bennett saw fit to omit it from the Gastronomes Menu in order to provide appropriate balance, it would seem more sensible to omit the ocean trout dish altogether rather than to simply cripple it;
2. the reasoning provided contradicts various representations as to the positioning of the Gastronomes Menu. For instance, the Vue de monde website describes the Gastronomes Menu as the "top level menu incorporating several premium ingredients" that provides "the ultimate experience". That description suggests to me that the Gastronomes Menu is a no expense spared dining experience. The omission of caviar and the reason given suggests the contrary; and
3. as stated in my email, a friend had visited Vue de monde several nights earlier and had the ocean trout dish topped with caviar. He also ordered the Gastronomes Menu. Assuming Shannon Bennett's philosophy on food had not revolutionised in those several days, then either the inclusion of caviar in my friend's dish or the omission of caviar from mine was an oversight.
For me, the two alternative factual constructions are that (1) Vue de monde mistakenly omitted caviar from our dishes and are steadfastly refusing to provide an admission; or (2) Vue de monde sets out to create dishes for particular price tags rather than simply creating the best possible dishes and then pricing them accordingly. Neither alternative is particularly palatable.
The manager kindly offered to provide a complimentary glass of champagne and to indulge us with some caviar on our next visit. Notwithstanding this gesture of goodwill, which in my opinion is somewhat token, my main grievance in Vue de monde’s lack of value for money remains. I understand Vue de monde to offer the most expensive degustation menu in the country but, for my tastes, it does not offer anything resembling the best food, or for that matter the best dining experience, in the country. Perhaps it was never intended for my particular tastes.