To put him in context, Bests Sydney restaurant Marque has been a three-hat sensation for as long as anyone can remember and was named Restaurant of the Year 2012 by Gourmet Traveller. The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants list gave Marque its breakthrough award in 2010 and placed it 70th in the world last year. Not bad going for a former spark.
Lately Best is proving talented as a businessman too; his foray into the Paddington (Sydney) pub Four in Hand shows the same civilised attitude to dining and versatility of ideas thats evident here at Pei Modern.
He doesnt do fads, so the Pei Modern menu is not some colour-by-numbers affair that ticks off current trends but a bespoke list of delicious ideas that showcases produce, quality and technique.
Even a simple order of oysters defies expectation. Wonderfully briny and juicy, these taste as if theyve been shucked straight from Blackman Bay in Dunalley, Tasmania, and then served on a jumble of samphire, the seaside succulent whose salty leaves are a natural fit for the molluscs (even though I suspect its intended only as decoration. Whatever. I ate it). On the side, slices of sensational wholewheat sourdough made from Bests 14-year-old culture, smeared with hand-churned butter. Bread, butter, oysters and samphire. All of it brilliant quality, beautifully presented its my new must-have Melbourne starter.
The bistro space and concept are as versatile as the food. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Pei Modern is split into a bar/café on one side with striking curvilinear carpentry that hugs the roof and flows down the wall to end in a slatted banquette. Its like sitting in an upturned boat or a modish sauna in Finland, though neither would serve bar snacks like this joint. The blackboard selection ranges from brandade croquettes (salty, crunchy cod fritters; dont miss them) to rabbit rillettes with guindilla peppers and pork puffs same idea as a prawn cracker dusted with masala powder.
All of which cries out for a worthy drop of wine, and there are plenty of those to be had on a list that takes an engaging amble through European varietals (Spanish godello, Italian pecorino, French pinot blanc) and offers 18 by the glass alongside half-bottle carafes.
The other side of Pei Modern is the restaurant proper, a corporate space well suited to this well-suited end of town, but with industrial cred from exposed ceiling girders and pipes.
A seven-course degustation offers the greatest hits of the menu for what seems a reasonable $80 and Id totally trust chef Matt Germanchis, ex-MoVida, to give me my moneys worth. But this is one of those rare menus where I want to try everything and I cant chance leaving the decisions to someone else. It takes me half an hour and a spreadsheet to whittle down the options.
Main courses dont falter in imagination or execution either. Roast rabbit with saltbush, sea parsley and wakame is one of the more fanciful surf-and-turf combos youll come across in town, the rabbit fillet squared off into tender morsels coloured in the pan and lacquered with their own juices. Theyre tumbled with glossy bulbs of Jerusalem artichoke; the various salty leaves season the dish naturally (theres no salt or pepper on the table) and bring out subtleties in the meat you wouldnt get with, say, a heavy French sauce.
Were only slightly less enthusiastic about the wagyu bavette (skirt steak), tattooed with grill marks and dished simply with a plank of roasted beetroot and some charred baby leeks. Only the leeks let us down theyre more infant than baby and needed more cooking to conquer their chewy fibres.
Were almost done but theres still so much I want to eat crisp pork jowl with radicchio, slow-cooked scotch fillet of lamb, a side of Glenora tomato with bottarga (sadly sold out by the time we get to table).
Our last hurrah is a Sauternes custard with crostoli, a wizard dessert that combines three of my favourite sweet things crème caramel, sticky wine, and sugar-dusted fried dough. Like everything we try here, its a total winner.
The Verdict 8/10