22 October 2010
Verge @ 1 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
The most exciting and memorable dining experiences tend to revolve around bold and innovative flavour combinations that seize the attention of diners from start to finish. Restaurants that strive to provide such experiences by diverging from the straight and narrow samey offerings of most fine dining establishments are to be applauded. After all, it is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.
Verge clearly departs from the mainstream by being one of the few restaurants in Melbourne to embrace Japanese influenced contemporary cuisine, albeit to seemingly mixed success. While The Age Good Food Guide has given it two chefs hats in the last two years, a raft of consumer reviews have suggested that these accolades are entirely unjustified. Common criticisms range from minute serving sizes to outlandish flavour combinations to inefficient service. These accusations are hardly encouraging.
Verge offers a flexible five course tasting menu for $95 that allows diners to choose all of the courses and add additional courses for $20 per course. We opted for a six course menu which comprised the following:
Amuse bouche containing pickled vegetables, peas, soy milk custard and cocoa nibs
Zensai moriawase (assortment of four small tastings) containing sardines with burnt butter emulsion, terrine with raisin jam, ocean trout with lemon cream and a pancake roll filled with soy milk cream
Kingfish sashimi with almond emulsion and watermelon
Quail with white chocolate, foie gras cigar and herb cracker
Poached dory and seared scallop with coffee cream
Lamb with pistachio cream and light Japanese mayonnaise
Caramelised pineapple, meringue, hisbiscus jelly, yoghurt and eucalyptus
Dark chocolate fudge, aerated chocolate, chocolate jelly, ginger sorbet and candied ginger.
Unfortunately, the experience of selecting the menu and imagining the novel and exciting flavours that might follow proved to be the most enjoyable part of a dismal Verge experience.
In two of the eight dishes, the chef appeared to have selected seemingly superfluous components without regard to the coherence of the dishes themselves. For example, the daintily sweet almond emulsion matched the delicate flavour of the kingfish relatively well but was ultimately desecrated by large pieces of dehydrated rye bread. With an intense rye flavour that could, at best, be described as stale, the bread overpowered the subtleties of an otherwise pleasant dish.
An alien herb cracker in the quail and white chocolate dish was similarly confounding. When the cracker was left to the side, the peculiar combination of quail and white chocolate nibs was allowed to shine. The juicy and tender quail meat worked well with the rich sweetness of the white chocolate and provided the only instance during the night of a truly novel flavour combination that actually succeeded.
The poached dory and seared scallop was utterly disappointing. A healthy dollop of coffee cream was presumably intended to champion the dish but was offensively bitter. The dory and scallop, neither of which was particularly inspiring, were therefore consumed without the accompanying coffee cream.
The first of the desserts was pleasant. It contained a caramelised pineapple prism with meringue pieces, translucent eucalyptus gel and a thick strip of hibiscus jelly rolled into a snail-shaped swirl. The jelly was insipid but did provide balance to the syrupiness from the pineapple; a matching mineral water may have performed that task with greater distinction. However, the eucalyptus gel, an unpalatable viscous substance of undissolved granulated icing sugar, had no such redeeming features and was yet another contribution to the waste bucket.
To its credit, Verge presented a respectable final dish. The chocolate textured dessert contained velvety smooth dark chocolate fudge with crunchy aerated chocolate and a mild ginger sorbet that combined well with the chocolate components. While not commonplace, the combination of chocolate and ginger is perhaps Verge’s most mainstream offering, and in our collective opinion, its best.
A few times during our meal, Verge provided glimpses of its potential to be an excellent fine dining establishment, a potential which appears sadly unfulfilled. The dishes at Verge lack prudence in creation and finesse in delivery. The flavour combinations were always novel but were seldom successful. Perhaps the chef should have invested more time carefully evaluating his creations before unleashing them, like a gastronomic plague, on unsuspecting diners. While I remain a staunch advocate of innovative and exciting flavours, Verge has reminded me that mainstream thought on fine dining cuisine exists for one good reason: it generally works.
-BC & PiCi-