Golden Fields @ 157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
19 May 2011
After a long wait, Andrew McConnell’s latest culinary enterprise, Golden Fields, has finally arrived. Shying away from the distinctively Australian cuisine that forms the foundations of Cutler & Co and Cumulus, Golden Fields showcases McConnell’s take on modern Asian cuisine, drawing inspiration from his stints in Hong Kong and Shanghai and from his travels across Asia. Given McConnell's esteemed reputation and experience that precedes his currently flourishing one and two hatted restaurants and traces back to his days at Circa the Prince and Three One Two, we stepped foot into Golden Fields with justifiably elevated expectations.
Finding a home on St Kilda’s Fitzroy Street, Golden Fields exudes the same feel as Cumulus, with a spacious, urban-themed environment set against an open kitchen and bar setting. The menu is largely dominated by small eats such as “rustic” pork dumplings and fried school prawns, however, a selection of larger dishes – for example, slow roasted lamb shoulder with cumin seeds and salted lemon, or steamed snapper with pickled wasabi leaf and steamed clams – is also available for those seeking something more substantial.
Our meal began with an addictive appetiser of “pickles”. The medley of pickled carrots, daikon and kimchi possessed a refreshing, yet subtly different, balance of sweet and sour elements.
The crisp flat bread filled with sea urchin, crisp lardo and escabeche was a display of exquisite flavour balance. The construction of the dish was such that the delicate flavours of the creamy, fresh sea urchin were still discernable amidst the presence of salty lardo and acidic escabeche. It was splendid.
Next to arrive was a plate of smoked tuna cubes served on an oyster cream base, drizzled with apple vinaigrette and finished with a dusting of fennel pollen. The dish was one of delicacy in terms of flavour, with the earthy smokiness of the tuna pairing wonderfully with the subtle oyster cream. Our only gripe was with the texture of the tuna which was noticeably mushy and occasionally sinewy.
Our final cold appetiser was effectively an Asian inspired beef tartare. Minced Black Angus beef was decadently spiked with a tart and mildly spicy kimchi puree, mixed with the obligatory egg yolk, and served with refreshingly crisp cabbage, carrot and cucumber. While Golden Fields was successful in crafting a pleasant and innovative variant of the classic French dish, Adam D’Sylva’s steak tartare at Coda remains our benchmark in Melbourne.
Next to arrive was a white onion and conpoy soup with shredded pearl meat. The soup paid homage to the classic Cantonese union of spring onion and ginger, with its flavours further enhanced by the occasional waft of saltiness from the umami-packed conpoy. Afloat in the liquid concoction were thin slices of shredded pearl meat which exhibited texture not dissimilar to that of well-prepared abalone. In all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable dish.
The bowl of fried school prawns, pig tail scratchings and garlic mayonnaise was one of the most appetising dishes of the night, despite being one of the simpler creations. The prawns were crisp, the pork scratchings were crunchy, and both were intensely flavoursome in their own right. The dish as a whole was simple bar food at its finest.
For our more substantial course, we enjoyed a twice-cooked duck with steamed buns. Arriving as a whole fried Maryland, the duck was shredded and placed in steamed bun pockets – similar to those used in Cantonese barbeque pork buns - and doused with liberal amounts of vinegar and plum sauce. It was, as expected, a rich combination of flavours and one which provided the requisite balance of sweet, salty and savoury notes to please the palate.
We also shared a salad of shredded chicken with sesame paste, house-made cold rice noodles and chilli oil. The noodles were more gelatinous than expected and, on account of the virtually imperceptible chilli oil, were noticeably milder and more restrained in taste than the purist varieties found in Chinese restaurants. Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings, it was a likeable dish.
For dessert, we ordered an unusual sounding dish of black sesame, lime and yoghurt, and a more classic, but less Asian, peanut butter parfait with salted caramel and soft chocolate. While the black sesame dish was pleasant, it was the parfait that really hit the spot. The flawless combination of rich caramel, dark chocolate mousse and crushed peanuts ate like – without meaning to sound sacrilegious – a lavish, deconstructed Cadbury’s Picnic bar, less the wafer. It was the ultimate indulgence and one of most memorable desserts that we have sampled this year.
Golden Fields is, in the best possible sense, a Cumulus with an Asian accent. The Cumulus, Cutler & Co and indeed McConnell trademarks of high quality produce, balanced flavours and superb execution were all on display during our meal at Golden Fields. Success naturally gives rise to high expectations. While McConnell had certainly set a high bar for himself, he has demonstrated once again that he is a chef who can amply deliver and who will not disappoint.