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My mother remembers the Trocadero. I asked her about it the other day after Id toured Hamer Hall and popped my head into the new restaurant there. Its 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.
Youll find no such shenanigans at the new Trocadero, the concert halls signature restaurant run by the Stokehouse gang Frank and Sharon van Haandel and their right-hand chef, Anthony Musarra.
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 menus 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 its 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? Were 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. Trocaderos garfish is unmistakable. Its 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. Its 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.
You cant go wrong with a plate of premium Spanish ham, and we dont. 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 brains 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 Trocs version needs to be more compelling and competitive.
Linguine laced with chilli, garlic and seafood is another Melbourne staple and the Trocaderos passes the test, even if its 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 theres plenty to enjoy there.
Likewise with the lamb cutlet and matching rib rubbed with an Indian vadouvan spice mix. Its 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.
Theres blitzed popcorn on top and some chocolate in there, too, but, rather than being a colour-by-numbers affair that ticks off Melbournes 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, cityCuisine 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 Bookings Yes. Phone 8698 8888