A 21st century culinary Elysian Fields accentuated by a brushstroke of Chinoiserie exoticism.
St Kilda is an inner-city bayside township with a history, and present, of extreme contradictions. Palatial mansions with breathtaking sea views, twin-set pearls and long-established fine dining institutions with soaring prices, juxtaposed against grubby medium-density housing, bohemian hipsters and grungy seedy bars attracting the fishnets and leathers. It is in this suburb of contradictions, opposite the lushness of Albert Park, that Golden Fields is situated. As the newly-born sibling to Cutler & Co and Cumulus, Golden Fields is similarly endowed with an air of monochromatic modern minimalism. Black chairs are silhouetted against the abundant natural light flooding through the floor-to-ceiling front windows. The halogen-bright industrial lighting reflects in deco mirrors and bounces off the galley bar’s cool marble slickness and a white tiled wall that almost shimmers in the same way as Shanghai skyscrapers on a hot summer day. Perching on the galley bar’s shelves are chemistry lab features of Erlenmeyer flasks and a stuffed wild bird, and kooky touches of a gleaming rollerskate, happy waving gold cat and bonsai-ed flora pots that soften an otherwise austere decor. Haunted-house red chicken feet clawed into the side walls completes the quirky, St Kilda-esque vibe.
MoMo & Coco visited for a weekend lunch. The shared-plate a la carte menu was neither Western nor Eastern, rather, one could say, Cumulus with a sprinkle of Chinoiserie, or indeed, more Japonoiserie. It was divided into “raw, to start, salads and vegetables, meats and fish, desserts” sections. The starter of soy-roasted pumpkin seeds evoked lazy humid afternoons holidaying in South East Asia, cracking apart melon seeds. Given our aversion towards raw and porcine things, and an even more unfortunate shellfish allergy (we have heard great things about a certain lobster roll), our party selected two poultry dishes. The first seemed inspired by a regional Chinese Sichuan specialty, xianjiao koushui (mouth-watering chicken). Perched on a cold bed of thick house-made rice noodles and cucumber sticks, tossed with a dash of chilli oil with tones of lemon, soy and garlic, and a smothering of sesame paste, slippery medallions of tender chicken had slightly scary pink overtones that our post-dining research revealed was due to Western-style sous-vide cooking ($15). Our second dish was a clever intermarriage between a Beijing specialty (the eponymous Peking Duck pancakes), a Xian regional street-snack roujiamo (meat patties in a steamed bun) and the Cantonese.or Southern Chinese baozi (steamed bun) — a whole duck leg twice-cooked with Western technique resulted in an amazing crisp skin and more juicy flesh than expected, served in a fun DIY manner with pockets of soft fluffy steamed bao bread, smooth plum sauce and rice vinegar ($20). Departing from the de rigeur plain white diningware of most dining venues, Golden Fields stylistically presented its creations on the most ethereal glazed plates that took the dining experience up another level. Though both savoury dishes were executed with the same refined precision typical of Golden Fields’ older siblings, and though we were tempted to sample more from the savoury menu, as insatiable sweet-tooths, we were more captivated by irresistibles that circumnavigated the world from West to East.
There were four irresistibles available, three of which we sampled (excluding the somewhat unappealingly-presented green plop of “Green-tea Ice Cream, Pumpkin, Liquorice,” the first and third ingredient being quite unpalatable to us). Boarding the ship from the Western end of the world then, the first irresistible sampled was the “Peanut Butter Parfait, Salted Caramel and Soft Chocolate” ($10). It comprised a dual soft introducton to the East. Firstly, it was presented in a geisha-dainty black bowl that wouldn’t look out of place in the okiya of Arthur Golden’s Sayuri. Secondly, it showcased nuts as a popular element in Asian desserts, for example, as found in ais kacang (shaved ice tower with a medley of beans, nuts, jelly, condensed milk), tor tao teng (sweet peanut soup), and apom balik (peanut pancakes). Here at Golden Fields, a cube of peanut butter parfait was very lightly-flavoured and lightly-textured. Four waterfallls of salted caramel cascaded over the parfait cliffs and over peanut rocks, forming a decadent sticky toffee pool. A quenelle of rummy soft chocolate sat on top. While MoMo & Coco find the Waiting Room‘s peanut butter parfait more irresistible in terms of flavour strength, this Golden Fields irresistible combined three of our greatest loves — peanut butter, chocolate and salted caramel. For that, we can say no more than… hmmmmm…irresistible…
Golden Fields – the “Peanut Butter Parfait, Salted Caramel and Soft Chocolate”
The second irresistible sat on an equatorial line between West and East. Built on a Western foundation fusing Eastern flavours, this is the “Baked Meringue, Vanilla, Rose and Lychee” ($15). Displayed on an achingly beautiful, almost translucent, lightly-crackled glazed plate, a broad concave of “meringue” was like no meringue that we have ever had. It was hard, chewy, heavy. MoMo & Coco’s post-dining research has revealed that this particular texture was due to the meringue being made with Swiss technique, rather than the often-seen crisper/airier French or softer Italian meringue style. Underneath this meringue was an exquisitely delicate melody of rose coulis, lychee jelly cubes and shredded lime. Above it, a blanket of cream, and a crowning dollop of light, zesty lime sorbet. It was altogether whimsically symphonic.
Disembarking from the Eastwards voyage, the last irresistible was the epitome of Chinoiserie style — Western imaginings of the Orient. Again presented on a translucent glazed plate, the “Black Sesame, Lime and Yoghurt” ($15) resembled a coral formation lying adjacent to a lime sorbet island in a lagoon encircled by curves of sugar syrup. A short, broad cylinder of yoghurt sat on a somewhat sweet and sour chocolate disc with a grainy consistency from grounded sesame, not unlike a rendition of Rojak (a South East Asian paste spread). Resembling hard coral, two shards of sesame brittle sprouted from the yoghurt centrepiece. This was bordered by a soft coral of airy, dry black sesame sponge cake. Mirroring the experimental nature of irresistibles found at its sibling establishment (and one of our loves), Cutler & Co, this irresistible was inventive, creative, an other-worldly interplay of a spectrum of textures and flavours.
For a restaurant of Golden Fields’ genealogy, it was a pity that on our particular visit, the service was inconsistent. MoMo & Coco loved the welcoming bat-like maître d’, the usherette who put our grooming to shame, the bubbly blond waitress who sat us at our table, but not the sourpuss who took over. Apart from being rude over a wrongly delivered plate to our table (and a neighbouring table), and offering the bill without being prompted, she answered our queries about the pink shredded chicken and chewy meringue, with “I can assure you it’s cooked,” and “it’s like that.” As MoMo & Coco are not the type of people to send back food to the kitchen, we could not overcome our squeamishness and merely left most of those two dishes on the plate. We do give her credit for timely plate delivery though. In the aftermath, the management team has confirmed our post-dining research (as noted in the above descriptions), and has promptly taken active steps to rectify and strive towards the same faultless service that distinguishes Golden Fields’ older siblings from other Melbourne dining institutions. Indeed, friends who have since visited on our recommendation have commended service as faultless and courteous. MoMo & Coco are therefore inclined to consider our experience a service blip, a pity.
Just as St Kilda is a suburb of contradictions, Australia is a country of contradictions. Deriving most of its recent history from the West, it yearns for closer connection, but is geographically situated and increasingly fascinated with the East. In the antique world, this fascination gave expression to the Chinoiserie movement a century or so ago. In the culinary world today, it is called fusion. It is in this doubly grey space of contradictions that Golden Fields sits. Yet, like its siblings, defying labels of modern Australian and also, modern Asian cuisine, Golden Fields occupies a world of its own. But, if “New China” is the “new frontier of world food” (as noted here), then with a decor that showcases an incredible attention to thematic detail down to the very plates and cutlery, and with creations that already exude calligraphic sensitivity, poise and strength, Golden Fields — with perhaps a little fine-tuning to the service — offers the opportunity to dine in a 21st century culinary Elysian Fields, accentuated by a brushstroke of Chinoiserie exoticism.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Golden Fields Restaurant, 157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, Vic 3182.
- ☑ Budget: $$-$$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Modern Australia-Chinese-Japanese fusion.
- ☑ Must-eat: The “Baked Rose Lychee Lime Meringue,” and also, the “Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Parfait.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: A 21st century culinary Elysian Fields accentuated by a brushstroke of Chinoiserie exoticism.
*Note to readers: For those unversed in Greek mythology. the Elysian Fields is paradise, or heaven.