Noir @ 175 Swan Street, Richmond
28 May 2011
PiCi’s persistent social media habits often result in us visiting cafes and restaurants about which I know very little. While that fact can partly be attributed to my own tardiness, it is also illustrative of the dynamic nature of the Melbourne restaurant scene. These days, restaurants are opening with dizzying regularity. Some open to tremendous fanfare – George Calombaris’ St Katherine’s being a prime example – while others have a decidedly more low key arrival. Noir falls squarely into the latter category.
Situated near the corner of Swan and Church Streets in Richmond, Noir is a sleek and informal restaurant that seats approximately 40. Its owner and head chef is Peter Roddy, a man who has worked with Gordon Ramsay at the now defunct Amaryllis in Glasgow and Michel Roux Jr at the legendary La Gavroche and was more recently at the helm of Pier 19 in Queenstown. That vocational history is evident in Noir’s menu, with Roddy’s innovative flair being showcased through dishes strongly grounded in English and French gastronomy.
Noir’s dining room is at once traditional and relaxed, shunning the grungy look that is today’s Melbourne norm in favour of a more conventional bistro atmosphere. Befitting its name, by night, Noir is dimly lit with scattered pockets of luminescence emitting from tabletop candles. It is a comfortable setting.
We commenced our meal with a trio of entrees. The first, a carpaccio of beef accompanied by a quizzically described “sort of Caesar salad” arrived as a plate of thinly sliced raw beef pieces topped with dressed Romaine lettuce, fried anchovy fritters and quail eggs. It was a triumph of a dish both in terms of texture, with the tender beef contrasting nicely with the crisp lettuce leaves and the creamy quail egg yolk, and in terms of flavour, with the anchovy fritters seasoning the salad and enhancing the earthiness of the beef. Similarly well executed was a dish of caramelised Atlantic scallops which were expertly seared and superbly complemented by the gamey confit duck leg and the sweet beetroot and walnuts. The final entree of crisp pork belly with peas, apples and bitter leaves rounded out the delightful trio – the skilfully prepared pork paired classically with fresh apple to great effect.
Our main courses consisted of a dish of roast squab and a rabbit pot pie, served with roasted “winter” vegetables. The squab was roasted with precision – medium pink, juicy and tender. The accompaniments, a silky celeriac puree, wilted silverbeet, hazelnuts and lavender jus, provided a range of harmonising flavours and textures – the end result was a thoroughly enjoyable dish that departed from the norm. Meanwhile the rabbit pot pie, served at the table, was rich and hearty with substantial pieces of rabbit well flavoured by the thyme and black peppercorn sauce. It was a simple dish of an older age but one which was perhaps the highlight of an excellent meal.
A duo of desserts concluded our evening. The first was a chocolate marquise with a salad of basil and oranges. The marquise was rich, smooth and well balanced by the acidity of the orange wedges. The inclusion of basil, seemingly an odd decision, was a masterstroke as the aromatic herb perfumed the dish and provided a deft counterpoint to the enjoyable, but heavy, marquise. The second dessert was a baked white chocolate cheesecake which was served with a rhubarb compote and rosemary pannacotta. Continuing the trend for the evening, the rich cheesecake was perfectly counterbalanced by the tart rhubarb components and further enhanced by the delicate pannacotta.
As a value proposition, Noir absolutely shines. Each entree, main course and dessert is $17.50, $35 and $15 respectively – bargain prices in current times. The quality of Noir’s dishes compares favourably to that of those offered by many highly regarded fine dining establishments around Melbourne. With that in mind, its $70 tasting menu option, a menu comprised of 9 courses, is outstanding value. As an added bonus, at the time of writing, Noir had not yet received its liquor license and was operating a BYO policy with a mere $5 corkage charge per bottle. Logic suggests that the policy will be short-lived.
While the vast majority of new cafes and restaurants disappoint, every now and again, one like Noir emerges to positively surprise. On the quality of its food alone, Noir has proved itself sufficiently during my three visits – the one recounted here being the first – to earn my unequivocal recommendation. Its dishes are consistently well executed and highlight innovative, yet familiar, flavour combinations. When one then considers its low prices and its BYO policy, it becomes a truly compelling fine dining option. Noir has secured my repeated custom for some time to come.