A poetic but incisive meditation of old and new Melbourne, Trocadero’s operatic desserts compel encore visits.
Picture Melbourne in the jazz age. 1920s. Jewellery glistening from their geometric settings. Sashaying gowns iced with lace and sequins. Shiny cars tooting their way through the wide grid streets. People humming the tunes of Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and George Gershwin, feet tapping in anticipation of the Black Bottom and the Charleston. Located on the same site of its 1920s dance hall namesake, the Trocadero has been reincarnated in 2012. Affording a surprisingly stunning outlook on Melbourne’s possible equivalent to Westminster (albeit the more gritty Flinders Street Station), the 21st century Trocadero is one part bar and one part fishbowl-like restaurant. On the left of its entrance, there’s the concaved drinking area, radiantly dressed in mirrored steel, polished glass and a monochrome floor that begs some tap dance right there, right now. Turn right of the entrance though, and the main dining area has all but surrendered to a world of shadows. Its stormy carpet blends into austere black chairs, and also into the hues of brown-grey and green-grey of the tightly-spaced banquettes lining the grey sides. There’s a primal feel in its dark furnishings and concrete emphasis. But there’s also a curious, ethereal air in the almost shy way in which spots of halogen illuminate the veined white marble of table tops and the soaring swoosh of black ink on the walls.
MoMo & Coco have visited thrice, one of us twice, the other separately. Divided into “appetisers, entrees, pasta/rice/grains, mains, cheese, desserts,” Trocadero delineated a traditional European 3-course-style menu. It borrowed from the French and Italian tradition, but also flickered with an Oriental and modern edge. Rarely ever have we read a menu where we wanted to try almost everything…savouries and sweets included. Akin to an opera, you commence your sampling of Trocadero’s menu with a dolce soft opening. The squiggly tentacles of Crispy Squid ($15) had a good slightly-crumbed outing, but was more chewy than crispy. Strangely, the cauliflower particles were the highlight of this dish. Do not however bypass the Triple Cooked Potatoes ($12) with truffle aioli and pecorino. A dish is a guaranteed winner with pecorino, and with truffle, it’s the literal (black) cherry on the top. You then move with a crescendo to the entrees. Say goodbye to ubiquitous croquettes with a savoury play on a traditional dessert evident in the Duck Beignets ($14), and likewise, the Chicken Liver Parfait ($21) deceptively presented like a quenelle of chocolate icecream. Surprising in its light taste but creamy texture, a slight end-note of liver is the way we like parfait, not a suffocating, nauseating essence throughout. Perfect parfait here. It came stylised with thin slices of apple, dots of apple puree and the cutest onion-flavoured madeleine that really required a clone. Note again the very clever savoury rendition of a dessert. Between this entree and the Confit Salmon ($22), it was difficult to discern a clear favourite. They were both excellent for different reasons. The parfait was undeniable rich luxury, and the salmon of a crystalline lightness. Presented borderline Japon-esque, it was a large coral slab sitting on a bed of laser-thin pear slices and embellished with carefully-set hedge of pear, jasmine tea jelly and little pansies. For usual salmon-haters, the tight, clean flavours made this dish very likeable indeed. Trocadero’s entrees, by the way, were splendidly generous in portion size…you might not need a main after snacky stuff and an entree.
Indeed, after the success of the entrees, the mains were almost like an intermission. Although it is likely to become a signature dish, the Baked Garfish Pie ($35) offered more visual interest than taste fanfare. With beady fish eyes looking up at you, a silvery-grey needle of garfish was pierced through a pie of potato and fish pieces. Nothing wrong with it (it is in fact very tasty), but a pie, regardless, at $35 is probably the reason we won’t be ordering again. The Lamb Cutlet ($39) was accompanied with a copper pot of potato aligot (think a very very viscous, cream concoction rather than its more traditional melted cheese appearance) which epitomised wintry indulgence. But it didn’t compensate for the low meat-to-bone ratio. We haven’t yet sampled the other mains but are keen to and so will say no more for now.
There are five sweet irresistibles offered at Trocadero. Bypassing the more conservative options of tarte tartin and madeleines, and a dessert special which wasn’t much to write about, the first irresistible sampled was the “Caramel Cooked Cream” ($16) — a tumbler of something somewhere between panna cotta, creme caramel and custard. This was the opera of desserts – rambunctious, flamboyant, it did not waste time with subtlety. A hint of pear in the custard was quickly overwhelmed by an explosion of freshly-popped white popcorn, a fat layer of cream and hidden thick swirls of chocolate and teeth-sticking salted caramel. Recommended only for the most serious and insatiable of sweet-tooths, this was very sweet even for these Dessert Correspondents penning this dessert-only blog.
The second irresistible was the “Vialoni Nano Rice Icecream” ($17). Forgive us but it looked like the thorax of an albino bumble-bee on a bed of nettles. Encircled by caramel stripes, the centre-piece of rice icecream was embedded with soft rice grains and possessed a slight raw, milky flavour. It was wreathed by a dry nest of black sesame sponge (not the first time we have seen this strange unearthly creation, see here), and twigs of freeze-dried and fresh rhubarb. Incorporating therefore both Eastern and Western ingredients, emphatic textures and vague flavours, it was a dessert made for contemplation. A contemporary dance work.
The third irresistible sampled was the “Chocolate Pudding” ($17). This was not just any other chocolate pudding/fondant lump of a dessert seen elsewhere. Comprising two components, each component could stand alone for a great dessert. Together however, a dramatic ending was had. The chocolate fondant itself was served warm, moist cake flowing with a tongue of molten chocolate that kissed a second tongue of salted caramel. But, like the waiter who recommended it, the reason why MoMo & Coco will be re-ordering this black/white beauty again will be for that accompanying scoop of coconut sorbet with shards of “ash meringue.” That coconut sorbet was as a luminescent in flavour as in appearance against the chocolate pudding. Overall, this dessert had the intergenerational, universal appeal of a musical.
Over three occasions, service at Trocadero was close-to-perfect. Welcoming, intuitive, and enthusiastic, but warmly so, rather than superficially. The only thing to note perhaps is that if you dine pre-theatre when the venue is at its fullest, the kitchen seems to struggle a little. That said, the attention of the wait staff more than compensates. They are diligent here, not an entourage of condescending incompetents or shoe-gazers/coiffure-combers as at other new Melbourne restaurants (eg here and here).
When in Paris, one could brave the breathless crowds waiting to ascend the Eiffel. Alternatively, one could venture through the Jardins du Trocadero to the old Trocadero site for an uninterrupted view of the Eiffel. With rose-tinted glasses, parallels can be drawn between the Arts Centre’s spire and Paris’ Eiffel Tower, between the round girth of Hamer Hall and the former Trocadero Palace. But it is not through rose-tinted glasses that MoMo & Coco opine that Melbourne’s Trocadero has far less in common with its frivolous predecessor of a dance hall, and more with the Parisian Trocadero. At its core, there’s certainly the clear French influence in cooking and bistro decor. But this isn’t all. The Trocadero dining experience can be summed up by the calligraphy brushed across its very walls. Underlying such soft grey elegance is a strength hidden from plain sight. The confident execution of a most captivating menu that straddles the greyness of old and new Melbourne means that the food at Trocadero is a poetic, but incisive meditation of how the moderne style can reinvigorate tradition. It exemplifies accessible culinary sophistication at its best. But the routine of eating is not made memorable by food alone. So unlike another new mod-European braisserie, Trocadero’s food offerings are complemented by some of the most attentive and diligent service staff in Melbourne, and by night, views that should also silence even the most demanding dining companion. Overall, Trocadero compels more than one encore visit.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Trocadero Bar and Braisserie, Hamer Hall at the Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, Vic 3000.
- ☑ Budget: $$$-$$$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Modern European.
- ☑ Must-eat: Every dessert that you can fit it, but especially the “Caramel Cooked Cream.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: A poetic but incisive meditation of old and new Melbourne, Trocadero’s operatic desserts compel encore visits.