Bringing sexy back to fine dining.
Southbank has long been dominated by bleary-eyed clubbers and light-fingered gamblers, spotted with a handful of extrovertedly over-priced glitzy restaurants catering for those who had the requisite bling-bling and deep pockets to frequent Crown Casino’s Mahogany Room. That shadow still lingers, but a wave of more refined sophistication increasingly laps at the Yarra River’s southern banks. Part of this encroachment, is the Melbourne off-shoot of British celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay’s, burgeoning global restaurant conglomerate. By contrast to far too many of its Melbourne born and bred fine dining counterparts who have repeatedly adopted an industrial grunge or minimalist bistro decor, Maze brings sexy back to fine dining. Its curved, hotel lobby-like entrance is suited for strutting in with pomp. The dining area has a cosmopolitan plushness reminiscent of New York. It’s all poshness — upholstered noir leather chairs, stained black wood tables, long windows draped with sheer curtains. The additional drama of the most enormous cane lighting and metal wall sculptures deservedly belongs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
MoMo & Coco visited for a celebratory dinner. We do not exactly understand why past reviews say that Maze is “cheap” — sure…if you are a caterpillar and eat a leaf for a meal. The wine list, most certainly, was not “cheap.” From the modern British-Australian-Asian, small-plate-style a la carte menu, our party selected a sublime southern rock lobster ravioli ($25); barely-smoked king salmon perched on a bed of mustard, jerusalem artichoke and horseradish cream ($23). The higlight dishes included a slash of King George whiting garnished with paprika brandade and smoked olives ($22), and three each of a succulent leg of Gisborne duck, moistened further with sweet corn and sweet fig jam ($25). All beautifully presented. The seaweed butter accompanying the complimentary starter crusty bread wedges was unforgettably delicieux.
Maze again distinguished itself from its Melbourne-born fine-dining counterparts by an innovative dessert menu, numbering six desserts. However, as the small-plate attitude carried through to the desserts, the size of Maze’s irresistibles unfortunately suffered from the economic austerity measures still torturing New York (and London). Of the six desserts available, three were untried irresistibles: a fruit vacherin, chocolate fondant, and rhubarb yoghurt. The first irresistible sampled was the “Coffee Ganache, Salted Caramel and Hazelnut Icecream” ($16). This comprised a square slab of very very rich, coffee-flavoured, dark chocolate ganache, dotted with hazlenuts and crumble for crunch, topped with a small globe of subtle hazlenut icecream. The salted caramel underneath was inclined towards the salt levels of the Dead Sea.
The second irresistible was a modernistic artwork, the “Pear Chiboust, Chocolate and Liquorice Icecream” ($16). Two chocolate-coated igloos of chiboust (a light cream-based dessert) were bashfully flavoured with pear. Accompanied with dots of chocolate and caramel, tiny cubes of cherry chewies, and a small dollop of intense liquorice icecream basking on a biscuit crumble.
The third irresistible should become a signature dessert of Maze Melbourne — a sweet fusion of Australian and Asian flavours, executed in fine British style. The “White Chocolate, Yuzu Jelly and Eucalyptus Icecream” ($16)comprised a fulcrum of white chocolate parfait-like cream, balancing an opalescent citrusy ball of yuzu jelly at one end and delicately-flavoured egg of eucalyptus icecream on a meringue square, on the other. A helix twirl of white chocolate reminded us of the uniquely Australian, Asian, and British-accented DNA of Maze’s cuisine.
T’was a pity that the service was dreadfully wanting. Please do not make your patrons wait 20 minutes when your patron has made a reservation. No, we do not wish to order the chef’s menu or the winter special truffle menu, so please stop pushing us throughout the entire dinner. Please wash your hands after you scrape food from the floor from under another table, and before you take our dishes from another waiter. Please do not avert eyes and continue chatting to your fellow wait staff when the starter bread should be served some time before entrees arrive (not at the same time), when glasses need to be refilled, when there are plates to be cleared, when it is time for the dessert menu to be offered, when we are trying to summon the bill.
Celebrity anything repels MoMo & Coco. In most cases, whomsoever or whatsoever is being sensationalised by the new breed of paparazzi of professional and amateur food writers, bloggers, etc, does not live up to that frantic frenzy. Such places too often receive attention solely on who cooks, rather than by any reference to a fundamental trinity of food, service, ambience. Maze, however, destroyed most of our pre-conceptions. The food came small-sized, but were contemporary, sometimes creative, reflections of mostly conservative English and French fare. The ambience was alluringly hush-hush, perfect for a quiet celebration or romance. Only the service was wanting — as breathtakingly dim in its lack of understanding of diners’ needs and its staggering inattention to hygiene, and as spiky in its stiff-upper-lip arrogance, as the dim, spiky lighting sculptures. Some things quintessentially British mixes well with some things quintessentially Melbourne, but some things just don’t. For Maze, it mostly does.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Maze Melbourne Restaurant, Level 1, Crown Metropol, Southbank, Vic 3006.
- ☑ Budget: $$$-$$$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Modern European.
- ☑ Must-eat: The “White Chocolate Yuzu Eucalyptus.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Bringing sexy back to fine dining.