“That” place that the young and the fabulous of every city cries for…but for desserts afflicted with severe dwarfism or parsimony, or both.
South Yarra and its Chapel Street precinct is Melbourne’s Rodeo Drive – home to frenetic shopping, orange tanned bodies, boozy nights, big brands, big hair, bigger cars and cash. Hidden in a laneway nook, Claremont Tonic is two parts watering hole, one part restaurant, a refuge from the humdrum of nearby Chapel St. It’s dark and moody, and an undeniably trendy place. You see it in its decor — a spartan aesthetic of raw wood and harsh metal frames given a more luxe touch with a shelving screen upon which are scattered knick-knacks. Collected from exotic, eccentric overseas sojourns, spot antique globes, drooping bromeliads, stapled butterflies, avian taxidermy, metal skulls, sun-dried skeletons. Its mod-style is also there in the fashionable, twenty-something crowd that frequents it — dressed up, made up, out there for a great time. And of course, it’s there in the food that the bright kitchen workshop sends out — continue reading.
MoMo & Coco visited for a weekend dinner. Claremont Tonic’s a la carte menu spoke in a mod-Asian vernacular, accented with a touch of American influence and Latino spirit. Styled sharing, it was divided into “to start, land and sea, charcoal grill, vegetables and salad, and happy ending,” all to be eaten with cutlery from DIY table tin cans. Complimentary bread was substituted for the curiosity of curls of nori seaweed prawn crackers. Spotted green, they had a rather curious, odd flavour. Definitely an acquired taste. Our first appetizer was the showstopping King of Chimichangas ($19) — shallow blond wood boxes lined with neat garden rows of sushi rice, avocado dots, diced condiments and shiny raw salmon cubes. You carefully snapped in half the mottled black, fried nori tacos (better than the earlier green nori crackers) and cradle two spoonfuls of the mix onto it. Or you could try to eat whole without cracking the taco. Big bite. Wow. The other savoury dishes that followed struggled to surpass this debut. Our dining companions gobbled the Fried Crap Cups ($9.50), being betel leafs topped with a compacted tower zinging with green mango, coconut puree, chili jam and crunching with shattered peanuts. We followed with a plate of forgettable, I-think-I-have-had-this-sweet-sour-thing-before ribs. It was a chef’s special that night of our visit. Next were Double Duck Blinis (3 for $20) that followed the adage, “good things comes in small packages.” True, but sometimes, big things are more satisfying. We moved on to the porcine Belly of the Beast ($34) sauced in red curry, green mango and more peanuts, and then the Red Spring Chicken ($50) which must have been a foetal rather than full size bird. The accompanying cold slaw salad and dark vinegar sauce did nothing to uplift this dish. Pity. Drinks were more consistent in “happy factor” — narrated in a highly cheeky, a touch vulgar Drink Survival Guide that teased with suggestive, post-Vietnam War-esque sketches of commandoes gallivanting with nude women. Cocktails ($19-$22) were presented in recycled pots, big beakers, bigger jugs, the odd delicate stemware and hollowed-out watermelons. One, despite being a full grown adult, had to let out the obligatory giggle and blush when telling the waiter that one would very much like to C Bomb or Chrome with Keith Richards, or even Fuck you Eddie, but may I also please please have [the] Sex in the jungle? Claremont Tonic is clearly not a PG rated or an over-35 friendly establishment, but who cares? We don’t.
Desserts at Claremont Tonic numbered four, of which we sampled three. We bypassed the green tea cake. The first irresistible was the “Vanilla and Mango Jelly” ($12), a forlorn golden rectangle gleaming on narrow black slate. Think doll-house-sized Weiss ice cream bar. Its microscopic size left us craving for more. If you can overlook the size issue though, you are in for a treat. Hard frozen mango ice cream projected a strong, true flavour. It was torched to a deep Mediterranean tan, and covered in a debris of toasted nuts and a pretty sunset mango wedge.
The second sweet irresistible was the “Mint Tea Ice Cream” ($14). Again, the execution of this tiny ice cream orb was faultless, blessed with a minty tone that developed slowly but boldly. And again, a green leprechaun of a dessert. Perhaps as an apology for taking your $14 for one mere tablespoon, it was scattered with a few droplets of chocolate pop rocks and two shards of dark chocolate.
The third irresistible was the “Banana Terrine” ($16). Although probably a favourite of the night, it again seemed to be made for a someone wearing three whalebone corsets, or made by some chef who was wearing the wrong prescription glasses. Braised bananas were squished and set into a small square, its innate sweetness flattered by a complex timeline of trace flavours from the other alluvial-toned components — cardamon spices, chocolate mousse ice-cream, chocolate peanut brownie log, toasted coconut, passion fruit puree brushstrokes. Quite memorable…but tiny!
Service at Claremont Tonic was welcoming and well-versed in the menu. Food delivery was very prompt. But as the night wore on, the service staff grew less attentive and were difficult to find to order more food or drinks. They seem to congregate a bit among themselves.
Claremont Tonic is Melbourne’s answer to the roaring success of the most excellent Ms G in Sydney. Off the beaten track, a little gritty, a little dressy, uber trendy design, heaving crowd, rocking soundtrack, bouncing big flavours, feverish drinks. It has the potential to be that place that the young and the fabulous of every city cries for and flocks to. But, it isn’t that just yet. One could excuse the savoury food as contending more persuasively for the bar snack/nibbling repertoire than a full restaurant meal. However, for the current asking price, it is very difficult to overlook the tragedy of desserts afflicted with severe dwarfism or parsimony, or both. It’s been while a since we have dug into a dessert smaller than the span of our dessert spoons. Claremont Tonic, your portion sizes ought to cater for your twenty-something crowd, rather than a twenty-month old infant. Until it sizes up, we recommend you tell its talented bar staff that you would like a strong shot to forget that not so very happy ending which was promised in the dessert menu.
- Dessert adventure checklist
- Dessert destination: Claremont Tonic, Corner of Claremont Street and Yarra Lane, South Yarra, Vic 3141.
- Budget: $$-$$$.
- Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Modern Asian with an American-Latino accent.
- Must-eat: The “Banana Terrine.”
- The short and sweet story: “That” place that the young and the fabulous of every city cries for…but for desserts afflicted with severe dwarfism or parsimony, or both.