A mature union of contemporary chic and traditional elegance, beautiful food and gracious service.
Richmond is the traditional home of the cheap and cheerful – little sardine-tins of Vietnamese spots for pho slurping and little concealed warehouses converted into vibrant brunch spots. In the first half of 2011, it would seem that Richmond’s dining landscape has become increasingly gentrifed. Located on a corner block, Union Dining is an expansive venue, deftly combining touches of the casual elegance found in a provincial European brasserie, as well as the more convivial ambience of a local watering hole. An understated stylishness is invoked by a dark wooded decor, well-spaced tables prevent cacophonous noise levels, and the promise of warm hospitality emanates from the soft blaze of two heritage fireplaces.
Eager to flee the grind of the CBD after a long week of work, the inner-city comfort of Union Dining was MoMo & Coco’s choice for an early dinner. The Provincial European a la carte menu was injected with a small dose of contemporary spirit, and structured in a traditional 3-course dining experience. Our party selected a suprisingly warm salad of smoked ham hock and cornichons, swirled with soft egg, sitting on a bed of fregola, which is a type of pasta resembling couscous ($17/$24); an abbacchio of melt-in-the-mouth goat with a somewhat reduced meat ratio, accompanied by a colourful array of braised peppers, manzanilla olives and wreathed by radiccio leaves ($34); and the star of the night, a succulent grilled quail in a creamy pool of white polenta ($19/$29). Very generous, sizeable offerings.
Irresistibles, of course, were next. Of four irresistibles available, we selected two (excluding therefore, a oft-seen panna cotta and a zabaglione trifle). The first irresistible on the dessert menu to catch our eye was something classically Italian to finish off, the “Citrus Semifreddo” ($15). Two generously large scoops of vanilla semifreddo had a softer, almost ice-cream-like texture, than most semifreddos we have tasted before. Embroidered over a backdrop of sweet caramel sauce, the semifreddo was surrounded by a carpaccio tapestry of thinly-sliced lemon, tangelo, blood orange and grapefruit. Evoking memories of the long-gone Melbourne summer, MoMo & Coco will be back again for this wondrously restorative dose of Vitamin C.
Moving from Italian dolcezza to some French sucré, the second irresistible sampled was the modern version of Snow White’s sweet apple pie, the “Croustade of Apple and Armagnac Prunes” ($16). Here, prunes were poignantly saturated in Armagnac, a provincial French brandy resonating with Union Dining’s provincial European agenda. Baked with apple cubes snuggling within a birdnest of flaky, crunchy pastry. A dash of cinnamon. A dusting of icing sugar. Served piping warm, with a dollop of subtly-flavourred pistachio icecream for a fresh, icy tingle. The ultimate, soothing winter comfort dessert, simply…hmmmmm…irresistible…
Having had some exemplary dining experiences outside the CBD in the last few months or so, (including nearby Noir which we have recently documented), it would seem that the cream of the wait staff sector have shifted to the city’s outskirts. Similar to Noir’s staff, Union Dining’s service staff also deserve accolades. Food streamed out in a very timely manner, presented by wait staff with evident knowledge and passion.
Overall, in a formerly dowdy pocket of inner-city Melbourne once percolated by rowdy union types, although perhaps one could bypass the mostly ordinary desserts, Union Dining offers classy comfort food served with comforting service, in comfortable surroundings, at comfortable prices. It possesses that soulful character often lacking in an increasingly contemporary, gimmicky and experimentalist dining scene.
With Union Dining now on our list of inner-city dining gems, MoMo & Coco subsequently embraced the wintry night with irresistibles of sweet alcoholism at nearby Der Raum. (For a chilly night, MoMo & Coco highly recommends Der Raum’s spicy version of Dior’s Poison or Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium, the New York Minute, and the decadence of the seasonal Chicago 2300 cocktail with a floating dark chocolate boat. We also bring your attention to the Fuck the Suprime, to lubricate the tongue and reconcile it with a mind full of thoughts of exactly what you want to shout at work at this particular time of the year, and/or during the completion of tax returns when you notice all those capital losses incurred by external mismanagement).
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Union Dining Restaurant, 272 Swan Street, Richmond, Vic 3121.
- ☑ Budget: $$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Neo-classical European
- ☑ Must-eat: The “Apple Armagnac Crostade,” though desserts are generally not a forte.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: A mature union of contemporary chic and traditional elegance, beautiful food and gracious service.