In this edition:
- Nahji Chu is changing the way we eat, and the way we think about refugees, one rice paper roll at a time.
- Meet Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler.
- Jane Rocca looks at what's in store for children's fashion this summer.
To listen to Urbanspoon, youd think a meal at the Bot involves dishes that dont arrive, listless service and general disappointment. Our experience is nothing like that.
Its fitting that a legendary watering hole such as the Bot now has a legendary chef in Cheong Liew, who for 14 years reigned at the now-defunct Grange restaurant in the Adelaide Hilton. During his tenure there he was crowned one of the hottest chefs alive by American Food and Wine magazine and was credited with pioneering the East-meets-West cuisine we now identify as Modern Australian. It will be fascinating to see if he can reach the same giddy heights here in big-city Melbourne.
My guest is 45 minutes late (hes not the only one the parking around here is dire), so staff chat to me about the art, namely Janenne Eatons digital-age photography blending dot-screen overlays and computer codes, and about the wine list, which is comprehensive and impressive. A glass wall between the restaurant and sleek back bar is stacked with Giacondas and burgundies.
Eatons art aside, the revamped pubs décor feels blandly corporate. A swirling Aboriginal-esque carpet in ochres and dots looks like something Qantas might have printed on its uniforms circa 1994. A patterned glass screen dividing the entry and the dining floor is absolutely the most ghastly thing I have ever seen" says my aesthetically sensitive lunch date (its really not that bad).
Scallops, $7 apiece, are served with something called air-dried sea essence that, on closer inspection and after coaching from our waiter, is revealed as another sambal-like topping made from minced calamari and sundry seafood and a zing of cumquat. Essence, schmessence. Its a winning starter.
There are positives and negatives to the chicken and Tasmanian black-lip abalone set in gelatinous chicken consommé. The aspic mold subsides into an unappealing nicotine-coloured glug at the mere hint of a knife. Morsels of roasted tomato, purple violas, two snapdragons (perfectly edible, were assured) and half a barely cooked prawn, its opaque flesh silky and moist, help lift the mood of the dish. A wedge of 1000-year-old egg on the side is in fact 100 days old, were assured, and spent most of its life slow-cooking underground in natural thermal heat. The white of the egg has clarified to a smoky, translucent crescent and the entire wedge is brownish-greenish, like something out of Dr Seuss. Despite all this, it still tastes quite like an egg.
Beware the menu. The Bot plays to its core capitalist audience with stores of exorbitant wines and dishes such as the Victorian Highland dry-aged beef tenderloin with Noosa spanner crab, foie gras and winter truffles. It costs $81. For one person. Thats surely some sort of record, even for South Yarra.
Its impossible to know whether its the occasionally eye-watering prices, the online crits or the parking that keeps the crowds away this day. While the casual Wine Store diner at the front of the hotel is jam-packed, there are only five tables occupied in the restaurant at the rear.
Lets hope the fastidious local clientele warm to Liews likeable new venture. Not being an expert on Cheongs oeuvre, its impossible for me to say whether hes brought his A-game to the Bot, but hes certainly turning out some cracker dishes. Ignore the décor, close your eyes and enjoy the indulgence.
169 Domain Road, South Yarra
Cuisine Modern Australian
Chefs Cheong Liew, Tom Milligan.
Hip Pocket About $120 a head for food and good wine
Open Mon-Sat 7am-1am; Sun 7am-11pm.
Highlights Cheong Liew cooks in Melbourne
Lowlights The service and energy need a lift
Phone 9820 7888