Ok, so I don’t usually take photos of the bread basket, but how could I resist when 4 warmed slices of sourdough were swaddled up in a white napkin? This is how we began our dinner at Pei Modern, sister restaurant of Mark Best’s Marque in Sydney’s Surry Hills where I’ve had some great meals. Just before our trip to Melbourne, Pei Modern was also named Best New Restaurant of 2013 in The Age Good Food Guide so that definitely sealed the deal and we promptly made a booking.
To start, there was a choice of selecting a few bar snacks or proper entree dishes. The brandade croquettes was one of the bar snacks – 4 perfect quenelles of salt cod brandade shaped and deep fried to a crisp and served with a creamy mayo-like dipping sauce.
Dad indulged in a huge grilled prawn that was nicely charred on the outside from the wood-fired grill. What I found most intriguing was the pork salt which kind of tasted like crushed pork crackling!
Pork nuggets were also an intriguing menu item, so we ordered it to see what it was. They turned out to be like deep fried pork meatballs with a little dollop of sauce on top and a sprinkling of chives. These nuggets were quite the addictive snack and I could imagine myself sitting in front of the TV downing a whole bowl of these babies.
The almond gazpacho with blue swimmer crab is a dish that is a signature on the menu at Marque that has made its way across the border to Pei Modern as well. Chunks of blue swimmer crab meat are blanketed by a creamy white almond gazpacho, and studded with grapes and parsley.
I love a good steak tartare and this one did not disappoint. It came pre-mixed with a small quail egg yolk perched on top of the tartare, but what I found most interesting with the crisps that accompanied the steak tartare which I think were made in-house. They were paper-thin and light as air, with just enough structural integrity to hold the steak.
I had a bit of food envy when Charm’s entree came out. It was a special that night of dutch cream potatoes with potato mousse, bone marrow, ground coffee and air dried tuna and it was truly mind-blowing. It was a bowl of comforting creamy potato goodness studded with surprise bursts of fatty bone marrow, the faint aroma of coffee and flakes of air dried tuna. It was delicious but became quite rich after a while so Charm was happy to share some more with me heh.
There were quite a few main dishes to choose from, including a section on the menu dedicated to meats cooked on the wood-fired grill. The hanger steak with charred cucumber and finger leeks was a tender and flavoursome cut of steak that was cooked to perfection on the grill. The charred cucumbers also lent a smoky flavour to the dish.
All the dishes were presented like artwork, particularly the fillet of bass grouper with the colourful octopus salad and the tender pork jowl with bright radicchio leaves and dark mulberries. The pork jowl had elements of both sweet, tart, salty and bitter to the dish which made it quite interesting on the palate.
I chose the casarecce, chicken dumplings and reggiano. The waitress warned me that the dumplings were no ordinary dumplings, but I decided that it was better for me to eat it without knowing what was in it until afterwards. The casarecce pasta was perfectly al dente and tossed in a creamy and rich sauce that was quite pungent from the reggiano. But the dumplings – these were definitely not just chicken and they had an earthy, gamey taste to it that was not unpleasant, but took some getting used to. It turned out that the dumplings were made from chicken gizzards, liver and hearts!
We were pretty full from all the food so we just got one dessert to share. This dish had a log of chocolate mousse that was coated with a hazelnut praline and I loved how the airy mousse contrasted against the crunchy nutty bits. There were also pieces of hazelnut toffee, a light and wafery chocolate biscuit, and a quenelle of tart lemon sorbet which played off the other sweeter elements really well.
I loved our dinner at Pei Modern and how there were surprise elements to some of the dishes that weren’t necessarily described on the menu. It certainly made the meal interesting when we wanted it to be, but our waitress was also happy to explain or clarify thigns for us when asked. Overall, we had some truly excellent service throughout the night and some great food. The best part was that it wasn’t overly expensive – including drinks the meal cost around $60pp and considering the amount and quality of food we had, I thought it was great value. If you’re in Melbourne, I would definitely recommend a visit!
Collins Place, 45 Collins St
Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: +61 3 9654 8545
Breakfast: Monday to Friday, 7.30am to 11.30am
Lunch: Monday to Friday, noon to 3pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday, 5.30pm to late