As regular diners in Melbourne’s large eating scene, (yes, we eat out a lot), both of us have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Pei Modern into our culinary scene.
Mark Best of Sydney (Marque) together with Peter Bartholomew and David Mackintosh (both from MoVida) opened the doors of their new venture, designed to tease their audiences with Bistronomy-esque food.
We have been checking their Facebook page constantly for regular updates since the announcement on the Australian in July 2011, and have eagerly waited with bated breath. The only other update we have had, that this was truly happening was via their aforementioned Facebook page and an article on The Age’s Espresso in October 2011.
And so, before their proposed start date, the Pei Modern crew announced that they would be hosting a soft launch for the fans, family and friends via Facebook, the weekend before their Monday 5th March 2012 official opening.
The obvious happened, we booked and rubbed our hands in glee and excitement.
With Matt Germanchis (formerly of Pandora’s Box, MoVida, Fat Duck) heading up the kitchen and sommelier Ainslie Lubbock (formerly of Royal Mail Hotel and Attica) as restaurant manager, we knew we would be in safe hands.
The name Pei Modern is Mark’s tribute to the architect I.M. Pei, responsible for the famous inverted glass pyramids at the Louvre (love it or hate it, it’s a moot point), whose firm Pei Cobb Freed and Partners designed the award winning Collins Place building (of which Pei Modern now stands in).
We would be having a glimpse of a mystical menu, experiments from the kitchen and Mark on which items to appear in their “real” menu from the Monday.
We were excited and couldn’t wait to taste each and every bit of the 6 courses (Please note that this was the soft launch menu and only a few items from here have made it onto the main menu).
Alas, as we got the camera ready for action, Ainslie very kindly and apologetically told us that Mark would prefer to not have photos taken from the dinner that night, as it was all experimental and may never make it to the real menu once launched. But she advised that we could take as many photos of the restaurant itself.
We nodded our heads in agreement and said things like, “It wouldn’t be fair on the regular diners” and “Yes, I can see your point.”
With bright smiles on our faces (and my heart torn), Ainslie continues on, “However, because we know you are true fans, Mark and the team would love to invite you back for a meal on Pei, once we officially open next week!”
BOOYAH! When one door closes, another one opens.
However, I will let you in with a sneak peek (description only, of course) of what we ate that night that hasn’t made it to the “real” menu 🙂
My favourite dish on the soft launch night, revolved around pasta and gizzard, with the Casarecci with Reggiano, Chicken Gizzard Dumplings. I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of gizzard, as I prefer the tougher texture of giblets, but the taste and texture of this dish has won me over.
The Boudin Blanc we had that night had different pairings from the current menu, which I think reflects on Pei Modern’s produce-driven orientation.
Most of what we had that night has made it to the menu, with slight tweakings in the ingredients used based on the previous mentioned philosophy.
So let’s delve into our return journey to Pei Modern. After having had the best seats in the house on our first visit (front facing to the kitchen), we were relegated to the seats right in the middle of the room facing the big glass windows overlooking Sofitel’s in-house greenhouse.
It was nice to know that we were seated at the very same table they placed Mr Calombaris at when we dined there the first time.
The casual atmosphere to the restaurant meant that we would be eating bread with no bread plates, and scattered crumbs on the table were welcomed.
The bread served was a beautiful sourdough, Mark’s original recipe which incorporates the starter from 14 years ago.
The knives were another talking point. Made and imported from France, diners were encouraged to keep the knife throughout their entire meal.
Now on to the good stuff. This was the Boy’s favourite dish of all in Pei, the Almond Gazpacho with Blue Swimmer Crab ($16.00).
We had the pleasure of eating it during the soft launch and he insisted that he wanted it again when we returned as it was “bloody good” as he puts it.
The pieces of crab came in soft sweet chunks, the almond gazpacho had a smooth-creamy-nutty taste (as opposed to the taste of almond paste), and the grapes provided a nice contrasting crunch and acidity to it all.
When I asked the Boy to describe the dish, he couldn’t, saying simply that it was “indescribable!”
I on the other hand, decided to go down a different track and try something new and thus ordered the Ike Jime Squid, Spinach & Anchovy with Fat Hen ($18.00).
The squid was again very fresh, and I loved the slight taste of anchovy with the squid ink. It was a very light dish, which allowed the freshness of the ingredients to speak for itself rather than be clouded by too many flavours.
With my main, I ordered the Steamed Hapuka, Sea Urchin Butter & Sweet Corn ($35.00).
I love fish, I love corn and I love butter, so this dish was a match made in heaven for me!
The Hapuka was clearly the winner of the night for me. It was buttery, smooth and incredibly soft. The pieces of grilled corn added delicious bursts of sweetness and the sea urchin butter was decadent and rich.
What I didn’t like much about the dish was the sweet corn puree, which I hardly touched as it was quite strong and over-powering to what I felt to be a beautiful delicate dish.
Again, the Boy decided to go with no surprises and trust that the Dry Aged Rump, Dried Carrots & Beetroot ($35.00) which he had before to be just as good.
He wasn’t disappointed and was rewarded by three thick slices of beef, cooked to his liking (medium) and tasting better than he remembered! Now that’s a winner.
According to him, the beef was incredibly tender, encased in a lovely crispy shell. But what really made the difference was the dried carrots (its flavours intensified after drying it out) and the juicy beetroot which in his opinion, completed the dish.
On my first visit, I was lucky enough (after confusing the whole FOH and kitchen team with my “no beef/veal” request) to have the Crisp Pork Jowl, which was accompanied by the same sides as the Dry Aged Rump (the new menu now has it with Raddichio), and I can assure you that the dehydrated carrots are amaze-balls!
The pork jowl was rich and flavourful and every bit as delectable as the beef (so I didn’t miss out IMHO).
Finishing off with some refreshing Peppermint Tea, we ploughed on with our desserts!
Whilst I had the delicious Coffee Sorbet, Sour Cream, Dehydrated Chocolate Sponge, Roast Vanilla ($15.00) which I felt worked so much better that the Vanilla Ice-Cream and Poached Peach version we originally had (only because I love coffee and not so much vanilla or peaches).
The dehydrated chocolate sponge worked similarly to the carrots. Full of bitter chocolate goodness which packed a punch, and as it softens and absorbs the moisture from the coffee sorbet and sour cream, added a whole new dimension to “WOW”.
The Boy finished his meal off with the sweet Sauternes Custard & Crostoli ($15.00), which was rich, creamy and indulgent.
I loved the crispy crostoli and the sinfulness of dipping it into the Sauternes custard. Just heavenly.
All in all, Pei Modern has certainly lived up to the mark and expectation we had from Mark Best and his team.
I liked the fact that the pricing of their food and wine weren’t ridiculously extravagant either.
Service was immaculate, the “wine guy” was friendly and helpful, and the kitchen staff worked in an orderly manner.
One interesting aspect of the kitchen which you may like is that they don’t use bells or shout for “Service!”, but they clap their hands. Each and every single time (well, on both occasions when we were there). It made me feel that I should stand up and applaud at the end of the night.
*Disclaimer: All food ratings & review are purely based on my own experiences and how I feel about the service, food and quality at the time of visit
Food/ Cuisine: Modern Australian
Dining Style: Brasserie (Casual Dining)
Overall Food Rating (Based on the Dining style): 8/10
Restaurant ambiance: 8/10
Service/ Attitude: 8/10
Value for money: 7.5/10 (We paid for our first meal at Pei, and as mentioned was subsequently invited back again and just paid for drinks on our second visit. However, this doesn’t mar the fact that the pricing was, and is truly compatible with other establishments of the same calibre)
Monday to Sunday, 8:00am – 11:00pm
(*Please check with the restaurant or website on opening times as they are still in their early stages)
(Located near the main entrance of Sofitel)
45 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9654 8545
How to get there: