Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May Baby, Maybe maze

maze Melbourne
Level 1, Crown Metropol
Corner of Whiteman and Clarendon Streets,
Southbank, Victoria 3006
Telephone: 03 9292 8300

Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 6:30am-10:30am; 12pm-2:30pm; 6pm-11pm

It’s finally my birthday (feels like I’ve been waiting a year), and finally, finally time for me to visit maze. And that it’s Gordon Ramsay’s clearly has nothing to do with my delight.

As a child, one of the most memorable birthday gifts I ever received was a Choose-Your-Own-Ending book. You know the type – read a page, reach the bottom, pick a path. Your choice leads on to more choices, then ever more until you reach an ‘ending’. In a powerful perversion of reality, you can then return to your original decision, take the alternate route and so on until you have exhausted all possible endings, and all possible pages.

How I hated that book. I like my stories wrapped up in a bow; straight and narrow, planned and pretty. Any twists are the author’s; I’m a voracious voyeur.

Until now.

Maybe I’m a-maze-d (yes I said it). But don’t let the menu fool you, nor it's apparently low prices. Starters, mains; po-tay-to, po-tah-to - all the dishes are tiny. It’s Design-Your-Own-Degustation, and you’re in the driver’s seat.

Eat the bread. Slather it with the seaweed butter. Repeat. This is not optional.

Between the two of us, we ordered three starters, three mains, and a dessert. Clearly, I'm a growing child. And while I’d never say size doesn’t matter, this is definitely a case of good things in small packages.

Seared yellow fin tuna, white radish, yuzu, enoki mushrooms, black garlic ($16)

Stereotypically, my first and favourite love of the night. Combination of the sides was somehow reminiscent of mooncake (not unpleasantly so) and the tuna was fresh and lusciously fatty.

Pan seared scallops, caramelised kelp, samphire, mussels, Champagne ($18)

It's impossible to watch a Gordon Ramsay show and not wonder about his scallops. To say the man has an aggressive fixation with them is an understatement. Happily, he's right on the money. And the kelp is as refreshing an idea as it is in taste.

Applewood smoked kingfish, fennel purée, pickled celery, globe artichoke, finger limes ($17)

Generally, smoking doesn't excite me. Obviously, I haven't been hooked on the right stuff - it's difficult to be the final starter but this one bravely held its own. Very distinctive, almost meat-like texture. Everyone knows seafood and citrus marry well but this union was finger-licking sexy.

I thought our first 'main' was very pretty. As a heroine, she was unfortunately a bit of a ditz.

Coral trout, chicken skin, trompette royal, fennel, lemon thyme consommé ($23)

This is a dish I think even I could recreate, in its basic elements. The coral trout was poached perfectly, wore a coat of crisp chicken skin and luxuriated in a bath of broth. Well-executed, but perhaps not very exciting.

Our second main - apologies for the bad photograph:

Ox “tongue and cheek”, caper and raisin, carrots, horseradish pomme purée ($23)

Unctuous, gelatinous and quite fabulous. Like a stew or braise in a mouthful, and absolutely the Aragorn of our plot; dirty-looking, but a hero with a heart. The cheek falls apart as you caress it with your fork, and the grilled tongue below provides an excellent textural distraction; it's crumbly, crispy, and works much like a little round of pastry. Yet it's tongue. Awesome.

And once I'd had a sampler of meat, I couldn't stay away from this particular pick:

Lamb cannon and shoulder, cauliflower purée, anchovy, stinging nettles ($24)

The lamb shoulder was divine, but the cannon quite sinfully fatty. I love lamb, I won't lie, and pulled out the birthday card to appropriate the shoulder in its entirety. Table manners be damned, it was mighty fine. And on a different day, or perhaps when I'm not quite as sated, I wouldn't mind the cannon to curl up to either, corpulent as she is.

And no dinner yarn is complete, of course, until tied off with a dessert.

Hot chocolate and violet fondant, salted almond ice cream ($16)

While I pride myself on being an adventurer in all things savoury, I'm a predictable old lady with my desserts. I make my fondants to Gordon Ramsay's recipe, so this was a perfect specimen. In all honesty though, I felt the violet added 'something' only to the extent that one can now say "I've had violet. Have you?". Also, salted ice cream is a very acquired taste. Salty, so salty. And sadly, I never did get the hang of it.

Complimentary tidbits:

Tiny little takeaway bag presumably for the kiddies at home. My inner child goes everywhere with me, and she immediately devoured the pineapple jellies, chocolate with candy sprinkles and coconut marshmallows. I would've stopped her, but it was her birthday too.

Tiny spheres of strawberry ice cream in a crisp white chocolate coating.
Beautiful outside, more so in my inside.

And as with the most epic of tales, there's a tiny epilogue to this one. Not quite ready to call it a night, we retired to the lounge.

With a second dessert off the maze Grill menu. Yes. This feels right.

Chocolate and pecan brownie, salted caramel ice cream ($12)

This is the pudgy younger sibling to our elegant first dessert. The brownie was fantastically fudgy, and I quite liked the salted caramel ice cream; it was much less salty than the salted almond, and by this time I'd become more accustomed to the onslaught of sodium.

Perfect ending? Storybook. But the best part is: I can flip the pages, go back to the beginning and go another way. Same book; brand new adventure. I’m in love.

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