Heirloom @ 131 Bourke Street, Melbourne
3 February 2011
Fusion cuisine is a high risk undertaking which can yield both high returns and equally damaging losses - pair flavours correctly and dishes can be sublime, mismatch them and dishes can be utter disasters. Fortunately, for Heirloom Restaurant and Sake Bar, a new French-Japanese fusion restaurant on the hugely competitive Melbourne dining scene, its dishes are more hit than miss.
Heirloom is regarded as a restaurant that serves fusion cuisine but it is only the main restaurant at the front that falls squarely into this category; the concealed sake bar at the rear serves traditional Japanese fare - sushi, sashimi and yakitori – free of any European, or other, influences. Apart from ability to order both fusion and traditional Japanese dishes while seated in either section, perplexingly, there appears to be little discernible connection between the seemingly independent dining rooms.
On our visit, we dined at the sake bar but our meal was ironically comprised largely of fusion dishes from the main restaurant menu. For those considering following suit, I would advise that you reserve a table in the main dining room instead as the limited table space at the sake bar is insufficient to cater for large sharing plates.
While our entrée sashimi selection did not match the benchmark freshness and quality of Shoya sashimi, somewhat surprising given that Heirloom and Shoya share the same fish purveyor, it was of a reasonable standard. The prized toro was, however, an unfortunate exception – it was a regrettable display of lifelessly textured and insipidly flavoured tuna belly.
The generously portioned smoked eel croquettes exemplified the concept of “quantity over quality”. While the perfectly golden brown exterior of each croquette looked promising, the potato mash within was flavourless, clumpy and desperately in need of some buttery goodness. The accompanying wasabi leaf creme fraiche did little to help its cause. Well prepared croquettes should be decidedly creamy and addictively tasty – unlike Heirloom’s varieties, the potato morsels at Match Bar and Grill are fantastic examples.
Five pieces of roast duck gyoza were subsequently served with sauce a l’Orange. The duck meat nestled within the soft pastry skins was tender but lacked both duck flavour and seasoning. Given the jaded flavour of the dumplings, the sweet orange sauce needed to be sufficiently punchy to salvage the dish – it failed dismally in this regard. In all, the gyozas were satisfactory but unspectacular.
The jumbo quails were char-grilled with miso and served with quail eggs and a salad of gem lettuce, radish, puffed rice and corn kernels. The quail meat was cooked to a tender pink but lacked the obligatory gaminess and promised miso flavour. The salad did however function as a refreshing side.
An assortment of Bass Strait and Japanese scallops were then accompanied with rectangular prisms of shichimi watermelon, apple cubes with fennel and novel pieces of capsicum film which were sweet in taste and chewy in texture – not dissimilar to the childhood snack, roll ups. While the scallops were passable – nicely seared but lacking the requisite sweetness – the unusual syrupy flavours from the remaining ingredients were not only at odds with each other but also with the scallops themselves. This dish appears to be a somewhat botched attempt at fusion cuisine.
For dessert, our taste buds were enticed by the dish of burnt butter ice cream, caramel popcorn, honey and pine nut nougat and corn shoots. The presentation of scattered ingredients was visually busy but, simultaneously, orderly and artistic. Ignoring the peculiar inclusion of corn shoots and the slightly burnt caramel coating the popcorn, the remaining assembly of flavours was well matched and pleasantly enjoyable.
Overall, the dishes at Heirloom Restaurant and Sake Bar are inconsistent. Heirloom’s sake bar can definitely be praised as a reasonable, cheaper alternative to Shoya for sashimi. However, the fusion dishes served at the main restaurant, on the whole, require better flavour pairings and better execution if Heirloom is to successfully compete in the cut-throat world of Melbourne fine dining.