My mother remembers the Trocadero. I asked her about it the other day after I’d toured Hamer Hall and popped my head into the new restaurant there. It’s named after a dance hall that occupied the same site in the 1940s and ’50s.
“The Trocadero? Oh yes,” she said. “The Italians used to grab you like this (throws her head back theatrically, tosses one arm over her shoulder and arches her back) and make you do that dance.”
“Um, the tango?”
“Yes! The tango. Oh, they were such good dancers.”
You’ll find no such shenanigans at the new Trocadero, the concert hall’s signature restaurant run by the Stokehouse gang – Frank and Sharon van Haandel and their right-hand chef, Anthony Musarra.
It’s a curvy, glass-walled space with a bluestone terrace above the Yarra that captures sun by day and dazzling skyscraper lights at night.
The restaurant interior is less captivating – schooltrouser-grey carpet, concrete grey columns, darker grey-black banquettes, relieved by marble-topped tables and calligraphic paint sweeps on the walls by Japanese street artist Jun Inoue. But the adjoining bar is brighter, and the menu’s a treat.
Writing menus is an art and Musarra is quite the menu artist. His appealing plates have kept Stokehouse at the top of its game for the past six years and he uses the same evocative approach at the Troc.
Tastebuds twitch at the very thought of Ortiz anchovies with rye and beetroot remoulade, and onion risotto with toasted grains and pecorino pepato (easily our entrée of the night, even though it’s not strictly an entrée).
And when did you last come across nettle velouté with potato, egg and brioche, or buckwheat polenta with beef shin, stout and parsley? We’re a little excited.
The wine list is comprehensive and looks to be well-chosen but the prices have a sobering effect. We get by with a serviceable and not too costly Mornington Peninsula chardonnay.
Service oscillates between (a) assured and winning in the form of the elegant maître d’, and (b) mildly chaotic in the hands of some of her colleagues, such as the one who presented a plate of tuna and told us it was garfish.
She should have known better. Trocadero’s garfish is unmistakable. It’s the hero dish, a great-looking pie of golden crust speared at either end by two silvery rapiers – the head and the tail of a boned and cooked garfish. Inside, a salt cod and potato filling has a texture somewhere between terrine and mousse. It’s good eating.
Our feasting kicks off with a winning streak of fresh Italian buffalo-milk mozzarella with fennel and olive oil – each ingredient sings its own praises – and Ortiz anchovies with rye and beetroot “remoulade”.
Caramel cooked cream
The fish and rye are made for each other but the beetroot appears to be a small pile of shaved crimson with hardly a hint of mayonnaise-y remoulade. Eye-catching but mouth-wanting.
You can’t go wrong with a plate of premium Spanish ham, and we don’t. It is the prime bellota variety made from Iberian black pigs left to gorge on acorns before slaughter, and then hung for two years to cure and mature into lovely joints laced with oleic acids that melt on the tongue and tickle the brain’s pleasure zones.
Confit king salmon proves the dishiest-looking dish, an orange-pink slab resting on shapely slices of Beurre Bosc pear and crowned with an almost-clear jelly and pretty viola petals. The jelly is infused with jasmine tea and, together with the pear, it lifts the ordinary-tasting salmon into interesting territory. We all enjoy it.
Crispy squid with coriander yoghurt is (a) a fairly paltry serving for $16 and (b) a bit meh. Calamari is on nearly every menu in town, so the Troc’s version needs to be more compelling and competitive.
Linguine laced with chilli, garlic and seafood is another Melbourne staple and the Trocadero’s passes the test, even if it’s a bit shy on the chilli and salt.
Oxtail bourguignon with Paris mash arrives as a gelatinous, meaty Martello tower on a lusty pool of puréed potato, so there’s plenty to enjoy there.
Likewise with the lamb cutlet and matching rib rubbed with an Indian vadouvan spice mix. It’s served with a copper pot of aligot, a cheesey potato concoction that, at its best, is an elastic fondue but here the texture is denser (though still very edible).
For afters, the cheese selection is tempting but you should skip it and go straight to their doozie dessert, the caramel cooked cream. This stunning pudding is a sweet, set cream bisected with a layer of caramel toffee that delivers instant happiness.
There’s blitzed popcorn on top and some chocolate in there, too, but, rather than being a colour-by-numbers affair that ticks off Melbourne’s current sweet sensations (caramel, popcorn, sweet-and-salt), this creation is racy and fun. Not unlike the old Trocadero.
Hamer Hall, 100 St Kilda Road, city
Cuisine \ European
Chef \ Nick Bennett
Hip pocket \ About $75 a head for three courses
Open \ Daily 11am-11pm (brasserie menu during
lunch and dinner hours only)
Highlights \ The view, the menu
Lowlights \ The greyness
Phone \ 8698 8888