Have you ever dated a “foodie” or dare I say it a dreaded “food blogger” and agonised over where to take them out to dinner? Look no further my friends I have the answer, Brooks. I would go as far as to say this is my current favourite Melbourne restaurant (next to Cumulus Inc. but that is a different dining experience altogether, which makes it difficult to compare the two).
Brooks is located in the Basement of the heritage listed Austral House at 115-117 Collins Street, Melbourne. I recommend you use a trusted google map to find it as my darling D and I wandered around in circles for a good 15 minutes before we located it. I do admit I claimed to know how to get there but D claims to be a navigator by trade so try and figure that one out. The site most recently housed Tobie Puttock’s Kitchen Cat and prior to that Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Restaurant. The fit out is stunning with exposed brick, eclectic art work and spectacular lighting. A very romantic spot indeed.
The owners are Gerald Diffey and Mario Di lenno and the Chef behind the establishment is Nic Poelaert. Nic hails from France and has an impressive resume but most recently he was the chef and owner of Embrasse (a renowned restaurant that I never had the experience of attending).
The menu uses seasonal ingredients and while it sounds quite simple it is nothing short of mind blowing. The ingredients are fresh and the flavours complex and tantalising to the taste buds. The service we received was faultless. A special mention must go to the sommelier who was perhaps one of the most helpful and knowledgeable people I have come across in that space in recent times. Perhaps it was because he sat down next to me when he assisted with the divine French pinot noir we ordered or perhaps it was because he agreed with me that I would opt for French wine any day of the week over any other (sorry to be controversial). All that aside the wine stood out as one of the best bottles I have had the pleasure of indulging in.
We chose Chef’s 5 course tasting menu and added the foie gras (once again sorry to be controversial) and of course a selection of cheeses. All of the dishes were spectacular but the stand out dishes were the “potato and cream, potato broth”, which was a divine little concoction of potato soup. The stock had been made out of potato skins and it tasted like you were eating a hot salty baked potato fresh out of the oven. The “foie gras, gingerbread, carrot and buttermilk” was sublime. The foie gras melted in the mouth. The “beef, burnt carrot, mimolette, ginger wine and charred potato” was to die for. The beef was succulent and well seasoned and one of the most memorable beef dishes I have had. My absolute favourite of the night, which is pictured above and below, is the “Forest floor” a dessert consisting of hazelnut parfait, pork crackling, sorrell and mint granita. Pork crackling on a dessert you say how is that possible? While it sounds outrageous it really does work. I felt terrible eating the dish because it really was a piece of art work on a plate and just as beautiful as the eclectic art work hanging on the walls. So my friends please hurry along and get your good selves down to Brooks as it truly is a stand out.
I am going to share two dishes that are very simple and inspired by seasonal produce. The produce was sourced from the Flemington Farmer’s Market. The first is a deconstructed apple crumble and the second is baked carrots with honey, thyme and goats cheese.
Deconstructed apple crumble
For the apples
8 apples(use whatever apples are in season but at the time I made this dish Royal Gala was the go);
1 tablespoon caster sugar;
1 tablespoon honey;
1 cinnamon stick;
Water (enough to cover the apples).
For the cinnamon crumb
Half a cup of rolled oats;
50 grams of plain flour;
50 grams of butter;
50 grams of brown sugar;
1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon.
For the lime ice-cream;
1 and a half cups of full cream milk;
1 and a half cups of heavy cream;
1 whole vanilla bean;
2 large eggs;
3 large egg yolks;
Three quarters of a cup of sugar;
Zest of three limes (make sure the zest is very fine).
For the apples
Peel the apples and cut each apple into eights. Remove the core from the apples.
Pour the water into a heavy based pan and turn on the gas to a medium heat. Add the apples, caster sugar, honey, cinnamon stick and cloves.
Cook the apples until they are soft but not too mushy (the apples should keep their form). You need to continuously check the apples to ensure they don’t burn. You can add more water if needed.
For the cinnamon crumb
Set your conventional oven to 180 degrees.
Place the rolled oats, plain flour, butter, brown sugar and ground cinnamon in a bowl and mix with your hands. You want to ensure that the ingredients are combined well and the butter is mixed through well (you should use your fingertips to get the right consistency).
Scatter the ingredients on a non-stick baking tray and bake for 15 minutes. Please check the ingredients regularly to ensure you do not burn it. When ready remove from the oven and set aside to cool. If you don’t use all of the mixture you can place it in a jar with a seal and keep for next time.
For the lime ice-cream
Combine the milk and cream in a medium sized saucepan. Use a sharp knife to split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Use the blunt edge of the knife to scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds and the bean pod into the milk and cream mixture. Add the zest of the limes to that mixture and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a slow boil over a medium head, reduce the heat to low as soon as it starts to boil and simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.
While you are cooking the milk and cream mixture combine the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl. Use a hand mixer on medium speed to beat the mixture until it is thick, smooth and pale yellow in colour (this should take around 2 minutes).
When the milk and cream mixture is ready remove the vanilla pod from the mixture. Pour out 1 cup of the hot liquid into a jug. With the hand mixer on low speed add the 1 cup of hot milk and cream mixture to the egg mixture in a slow steady stream. When that is thoroughly combined pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan (that contains the remainder of the milk and cream mixture) and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, over a medium to low heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. When ready transfer to a bowl and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap placed directly on the custard, and chill completely in the fridge.
Pour the chilled custard into the chilled freezer bowl of an ice-cream maker. Turn the machine on and let it mix until thickened (this will take around 25 to 30 minutes). When the mix is thickened you need to transfer it to your freezer and let it chill. I usually make the ice-cream first to give it maximum time in the freezer but you really need only 2 hours for it to freeze.
Put it all together
Place a portion of the apples on each serving place. Add a generous scoop of ice-cream. Scatter the cinnamon crumb over the plate. Be as creative or as un-creative with the presentation as you like. The finished product is delicious.
Baked carrots with honey, thyme and goats cheese
1 bunch of baby carrots;
2 tablespoons of olive oil;
1 tablespoon of pine nuts;
5 sprigs of thyme;
3 cloves of garlic with the skin on (simply bruise it with the back of a knife);
1 tablespoon of honey;
60 grams of goats cheese (the marinated Meredith Goats cheese is my preference);
1 avocado chopped into pieces (optional).
Set your conventional oven to 180 degrees.
Bring water to the boil in a large pot. Once the water boils add the carrots and cook them for 5 minutes. When preparing the carrots for par-boiling you don’t need to peel them and you can trim the tops of the carrots but it is nice to leave some of the leaves on for the presentation.
Get an oven tray (preferably non-stick) and pour in one tablespoon of the olive oil.
Separate the carrots and scatter them on the oven tray.
Add the thyme and garlic and give the ingredients a mix around to ensure they are all coated in the olive oil.
Bake the ingredients in the oven until the carrots are tanned but not burnt.
Scatter the pine nuts over the carrots during the last 5 minutes of cooking. This is so as to avoid burning the pine nuts as they don’t take long to cook.
Place the ingredients on a large serving platter and drizzle the honey and additional tablespoon of oil over. Finally, break the goats cheese up and scatter it over the carrots. It is nice to add some additional fresh thyme (remove it from the sprigs) over the finished product. If I am going to eat this on its own rather than an accompaniment I like to add the avocado but I will leave that decision to you.
You can enjoy this as an accompaniment to any meat dish or simply eat it on its own.