To put this weeks meal in context, a three-course set lunch at The Ledbury in London will set you back £33.50. Thats about $50 to eat at the restaurant recently anointed Londons best by Zagat and ranked 34th on the S. Pellegrino Worlds 50?Best Restaurants list. At Le Chateaubriand in Paris, rated ninth in the world, supercool Basque chef Inaki Aizpitarte will charge you only 55 euros (less than $75) for his five-course prix fixe feast.
But here in humble Melbourne, at a new place headed by ex-Royal Mail and Attica chefs, a weeknight dinner for two cost us $194.50 (with wine, naturally).
Thats probably about average for an inner-city diner these days except, at The Brix, the serving sizes are dainty. The tastes and technique are impressive, theres just not a lot of the edible stuff. Which makes it difficult to justify spending more than $30 on an artful but anorexic arrangement of lamb.
But value for money aside, theres quite a bit to like about The Brix.
Diners sit down to a set menu on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday lunch (five courses for $80) but at other times dining is a la carte from a concise menu listing a handful each of entrées, mains and desserts. Dish descriptions simply involve a few key ingredients separated by commas.
Its hard to know quite what to expect from veal breast, carrot, almond, onion, chardonnay but on the plate it is a handsome still-life of glistening, fall-apart brisket with a crisp lid of fat or skin, roasted root vegetables and crushed almonds, served with the most delicious chardonnay beurre blanc, cut with carrot juice.
Cured ocean trout, pickled beetroot, cucumber, horseradish materialises as chunks of fleshy pink fish served on a black slate tile, a la Bourgogne. A dusting of horseradish snow looks good against the slate but lacks kick in the mouth. Arguably, my favourite thing about the entrées is the ruby-handled Laguiole knife Im given to eat them with. Highly covetable.
Mains are bigger than entrées but the proteins can still be measured in tens rather than hundreds of grams. (Were not the only ones put off by petite serving sizes disappointed diners at the next table complain to their waitress about the meagre plates.)
The lamb arrives in three parts a crisped wedge of belly, a mini-fillet and a golden sweetbread. The belly seems slightly overdone and is intensely salty. The sweetbread, not mentioned on the menu, is a lovely creamy surprise that helps atone for the salty belly. A jumble of tempura globe artichokes and roasted nuggets of Jerusalem artichoke accompanies.
The beef main is a modest piece of flavourful, very slow-cooked hanger steak served with a length of tendon. This has been slowly baked into caramelised, gelatinous submission, and it is a treat. What the dishes lack in size, they often make up for in execution.
We tried something called chocolate, mandarin, coffee to finish, and I seem to remember it was nice but it paled against the unexpected success of the walnut thyme tart. This is served as shards of thyme-infused sweet shortcrust tumbled with candied walnuts, blue cheese and red-wine purée. It is like having cheese and dessert together, an excellent idea.
But like almost everything else on a plate at The Brix, I just wish thered been more of it.
Rear 412 Brunswick Street (corner Westgarth Street), Fitzroy
Cuisine Modern French
Chefs Joel Alderson
Hip pocket About $65 a head for three courses a la carte; five-course set menu $80
Open Tuesday to Friday 6pm-late; Friday lunch noon-3pm; Saturday 8am-late; Sunday 8am-3pm
Highlights The fit-out (love the willow-patterned toilet wallpaper), the cooking, the vibe
Lowlights Service bloopers, serving sizes
Bookings Recommended, especially for set-menu sittings
Phone 9417 6114