Moments become experiences become timeless when edible food art and old-school silver service meet at this subterranean escape.
It’s raining in Melbourne. The rain drops from the streetside birch trees with dull moaning thuds. It roars as cars mercilessly rips through, discarding its halves to the gutters. It murmurs as it joins a subterranean river labyrinth somewhere down below. A multi-pathway journey captured in a single moment. Moments. Who doesn’t wish for more of these? On days when it takes only mere moments for a nonchalant trickle to become a gush squeezed out from dark clouds, desperately attempting to locate restaurants with hidden entrances is the absolute last thing on one’s list of favourite things to do. Not quite hidden, yet also not quite conspicuous, hurry down the stairs to reach the underground world that is Brooks. The venue is split into three areas — a dark, moodily-lit bar conjuring an illicit speakeasy style, sliding into an area bathed in the harsh glare of an open kitchen, and then a more secluded section screened with fronds of leaves and washed in shades of buttery yellow, milky white and molten honey. By God, there’s linen on the tables! Not just napkins weighted down by heavy cutlery, but also dressing the wood tables. And I dare say, it’s a pretty sort of place. There’s a lot of flowers here and there, softly expressionistic paintings paired with glinting wall mirrors, and on tendrils of exposed wiring, pendulous terrarium-like orbs hang from the ceiling like crystal balls into another world.
Note that this review is a little dated — although updated after each successive visit, those visits occurred at the end of 2012 and in the first few months of 2013. MoMo & Coco have visited a few times, each time for after-work dinners. Brooks’ modern European, a la carte menu was as succinct as a judge’s sentence — three pages titled “in the beginning, here to stay, seasonally visiting” evoked the curious combination of a near biblical air and the sentiment of relatives over-extending one’s hospitality. In the beginning, we started with the Alice in Wonderland-esque Chicken Parfait ($15). Presented on a dish of fake grass, square rye crackers were filled with the devastatingly acute, pungent taste of parfait that lingered for a rather long time. Parfait, it seems, is the “in” food of this year. Trendy or not, it is something that we personally will take a while getting used to. We prefer more subtle versions, such as that at Trocadero.
If you seek a great accompaniment to a cheeky tipple, look no further than the Cheeky Bun ($18), a burger by any other name. The chunky slab of beef was deliciously squirty. The Broad Bean Soup ($15) deserved a medal in food presentation — a pale citrine pool delicately cratered with oil droplets, star flowers and black olives dots — as does the copycat version of a Le Bras signature, the Vegetable Meli ($18). The latter was however nicer to look at rather than to eat. $18 for a pretty assortment of colourful leaves and petals. Oh dear me, once but not again. More memorable were several of the seasonal dishes. The small cut of Fish ($18) was partnered with steamed broccoli bouquets, inky shards of an unknown porous substance and set off with silky tangles of honey. Similar in style, the Lamb Ribs ($25) were small in portion, but involved a complex flavour interplay of miso, leeks, pollen, lime and seaweed. Aside from the food, allow us to give special mention to the dining ware used at Brooks — not a single, boring, hospital-white plate was used. Dishes were presented on an array of stoneware and ceramics with mottling, glazing or kitschy designs — it made the dining experience several degrees more interesting.
Brooks’ dessert menu was limited to only two options, but they were no afterthought. Just splendid. We won’t show pictures of the seasonal desserts because they are unlikely to be on the menu anymore, but we will describe them so that dedicated dessert-loving readers may keep an ear/eye out for them. The first of the seasonal desserts sampled was the “Lemon Curd, Berries and White Chocolate” ($15) — a bright tumble of halved strawberries, plops of lemon curd, shards of beetroot meringue and crunchy cloud shapes of honeycomb, draped with a clear-as-glass, hardened sugar bird’s nest. The other seasonal dessert was the “Elderflower and Chokos” ($15) — with laser-cut, softly-stewed green apple slices and a linseed or sesame tuile angled on an orb of elderflower sorbet. The tingly sorbet was perched on a medallion of yogurt, which in turn, embedded with pastel teardrops of citrus fruits. It is always wonderful to discover desserts that look so simple on first glance, but actually incorporate many complex components. Both seasonal desserts, being deconstructed, were modern curiosities — just light sweetness for the end of the meal. The Brooks’ dessert that doesn’t shift with the seasons is the dessert that deserves your full attention. The “Forest Floor” ($18). Do not e-v-e-r forget that name. A literal forest floor of dark green mint granita, crumbled chocolate cake and piles of powdery chalk of some sort. Bracken-like twigs of vanilla crisp. A mushroom anchored by a stem of rock-hard meringue and an umbrella-head of icy, soft hazelnut-chocolate parfait. It was merely awaiting for a fairy to flutter upon it. Have you seen a more fantastical dessert anywhere?
Over far too many visits, our experience of the service at Brooks was generally excellent and difficult to fault. On one visit though, our designated waiter was a little pushy and exclaimed that we ought to order more… each time he delivered a plate. No thank you, dear sir, we know our own stomach sizes better than you.
Brooks offers what many restaurants fail — a dining experience, not a dining routine. It’s what Hare & Grace ought to have been. In an underground hide-away right in the heart and depth of the CBD, it’s the perfect venue for drinks, meetings and dates. Yes, it’s unquestionably modern, but unlike other such restaurants, accessibility (and edibility) has not come at a price to creativity and whimsical nature. Indeed, one could very well invite one’s parents here without fearing a fiasco of raised eyebrows and pinched mouths. The menu is minutely curated to showcase only the best of the best of what the chefs can offer, no misstep at all. Distilled from this are very clean, clear-cut flavours in combinations that nudge rather than strain culinary understanding. And it’s all delivered with poise and polish, though the staff could ensure consistency in respecting the different stomach sizes of diners. In short, neither unnervingly modern Swatch nor a stolid Rolex traditionalist, but more timeless Le Coultre, Brooks rewards you well for stopping your time-pressured life for it.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Brooks, Basement at 115-117 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000.
- ☑ Budget: $$$-$$$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Modern European.
- ☑ Must-eat: The “Forest Floor.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Moments become experiences become timeless when edible food art and old-school silver service meet at this subterranean escape.