I spent a few days this week at a conference based in the city, so for the first time in years I was subjected to a schedule, peak hour public transport and a semi-professional dress code. There was an upside, too, of course: a change of scenery, a couple of interesting presentations and some fine lunchtime catering. In addition there was a conference dinner on Monday night at Forty One, on the 41st floor of the Rialto building. This afforded us some great views across the CBD and some time to converse with colleagues on a broader range of topics than the conference themes. We were offered a choice of three items each for three courses, and the entree and main lists included one vegetarian dish each. With the entree and main choices virtually selected for me, I was happy to spend a little more time lingering over my favourite course, dessert!
My entree (pictured above) was "pumpkin gnocchi tossed in rocket leaves with a tarragon and parmesan cheese sauce". It was served in a size that I'd be content to call dinner on any other night and in anticipation of the food still to come, I ate only half of it. The gnocchi were sweet and pillowy but drowning in creamy, cheesy sauce. Between the serving size and the richness, it had me feeling a little lethargic already, rather than appetised and excited about what was to come.
The vegetarian main was "sweet potato, English spinach and Gippsland brie lasagne with a roast tomato cream sauce and vegetable crisps". As you can see, it was very orange. The crisps were dominated by salty, crispy sweet potato with a little of something else - I don't think I worked out whether it was beetroot or sundried tomato but it sure got stuck in my teeth. These crisps were the only respite in taste and texture from thick tomato sauce. It tasted pleasant enough, but I failed to discern any spinach, brie or even distinct pasta sheets.
Finally to dessert. I bypassed the fruit plate as a cop-out then rejected the bread pudding, which has never excited me as desserts go. I relied on the age-old favourite, chocolate, to carry me through and hoped that the mention of aniseed would bring a novel element. So, a blurry photo of "rich chocolate terrine with macerated raspberries and aniseed biscotti". The biscotti reminded me more of shortbread and the raspberries weren't anything to shout about, but chocolate won the day as always. The terrine had a deep cocoa flavour and wasn't over-sweetened; the texture was smoother and fluffier than a flourless cake but denser than a mousse. My cocoa-meter was well satisfied only three-quarters of the way through. I was in no state to require the coffee, tea and dainty chocolates on offer to finish the evening.
This meal was appropriately carb-heavy and comforting on a winter night and I was certainly grateful that the sponsoring academy considered me a guest worth catering for. However Forty One's menu was less inspiring in execution than it appeared in text. Glancing at the prices online I suppose that they're charging for the view, and I'm not inclined to return with my own wallet. It was a conference dinner enjoyed but not a restaurant experience to highly recommend, particularly not to a vegetarian exploring the city.
Address: Level 41, Rialto Building - South Tower, 525 Collins St, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9614 2127
Price: veg entrees $9-20, veg main $25.50, dessert $11-17.50