Saturday, June 14, 2008

June 13, 2008: Cafe Vue - Friday Cocktail Night

Update 27/1/2019: Cafe Vue has closed down.

I'm not the superstitious type at all, but my Friday the 13th was looking pretty unlucky. I was sent to Canberra for the day by my boss, to present a project I knew nothing about to a group of suits I'd never met. My flight home should have been just early enough for me to take a taxi straight from the airport to a much-anticipated reservation for Cafe Vue's Friday cocktail night.

I first read about Cafe Vue's cocktail nights on Melbourne Gastronome. Five cocktails and five small plates for $75, and at one of Melbourne's most prestigious eating empires! It was mystifyingly good value for (admittedly a lot of) money and as I perused their website, I was a little disappointed that "vegetarian option available" wasn't discreetly printed anywhere. A couple of days after mentioning it on Claire's blog, she sent me a private message assuring me that they did indeed offer a vegetarian option - hooray! We eagerly set a date with Jo-Lyn and Mike for cocktail craziness, long before my boss even mentioned our nation's capital.

And so on Friday afternoon I arrived at Canberra airport, ready for my homeward journey, more than an hour early. My notes were written up quickly enough and I had plenty of time to watch the light change outside as planes to and from Sydney were delayed and cancelled. Eventually these delays flowed on to other flights, with mine shifting back 20 minutes. By the time it boarded, 20 minutes had stretched to 40 minutes. The unhappy inner monologue began: I'd gotten up at 5am, taken on a job no-one wanted, even while under unusually high pressure to complete my own work, and my reward was missing out on this special dinner I'd been so looking forward to. By the time my plane navigated its way through Melbourne's fog I was 80 minutes late and resolving to go home instead. I would surely have missed two or three dishes by the time I made it to the city and what was the point? I was tired and cranky. I called Michael and he insisted that I should come for whatever dishes were left - we would have to foot the bill regardless of whether or not I showed.

Thank goodness I did. The staff had shifted our service to the end of their rounds to accommodate me. My three dining companions had ordered some extra early drinks and were lingering over their first cocktail when I arrived. Before I'd finished my second potty-mouthed sentence about my day, a DIY martini was set before me. In the glass - chilled rye vodka. On the side - pipettes of cold water and French dry vermouth for the experimental development of one's own ideal ratio. A green olive or lemon rind to finish. "You have no idea how much I need this," I said gratefully to the waiter. He looked me up and down and replied, "I think I do".

And vegos, you wanna know something really cool? At Friday cocktail night, we get our food direct from the Vue de Monde kitchen. Omnivores don't.

The first such plate was this King Brown risotto, with cep air and tarragon emulsion. This double-barrelled mushroom hit - so intense and earthy, with the strength to match the potent martini. Tasted separately, the tarragon emulsion had a complementary flavour but I otherwise lost it in the mix.

Boy, that martini hit the spot! By the time my second plate arrived, my tension had melted and my grudges vanished. Vue de Monde was clearly making the most of mushroom season, serving us cep mushroom broth with horseradish air and a cep tuille. The broth was incredibly viscous and rich, surely containing some kind of thickening agent. In comparison the tuille was crisp and paper thin, like a sliver of golden filo pastry, though it was composed primarily of mushroom! The perfect counterbalance of textures. The horseradish didn't make much of an impression.

Providing an acidity to cut through the rich broth was the "About Thyme" cocktail. Terrible name, incredible cocktail! Cytrus vodka, honey, thyme sugar syrup, orange and lemon juice, soda and ice. The thyme wasn't apparent to start, but bruising the sprigs a little added a whole new dimension to this drink.

Our next plate contained dehydrated tomato, parmesan mousse, bean sprouts, black olive oil and and crisp brioche crumbs. Always a fan of pairing tomato with cheese, I was delighted by this take on some of my favourite flavours. I also heretically compared the parmesan mousse to my guiltiest pleasure of last week.

The accompanying cocktail was the Rye Flip, or "Sultana Bran in a glass", as the bartender joked. Rye vodka, whiskey, sherry, muscat and a whole egg whipped to a froth, with an ornamental coffee bean floating in the centre. It was a sweet and creamy concoction that I enjoyed more on its own rather than in combination with the tomato-and-cheese plate.

Our final savoury course was a plate of smoked vegetables, presented with a covering dish to contain the smoke rising from a piece of coconut charcoal. Amazing! Also appearing were meltingly soft baby beetroots, cauliflower cous cous and some super-smoky babaganoush. While it reminded me of dishes we've previously eaten at Interlude and Attica, Vue de Monde had something new to offer, with the charcoal being completely edible.

With our smoky veges we slurped Belebu-Rharb Sours. I could taste the bitter orange and orange blossom water separately and distinctly, and there was also lemon and lime juice and a frothed egg white in the mix. Though they're not scrawled in my notes, I'm sure that rhubarb and pomegranate were also somehow involved.

Dessert arrived without a beverage, and nor did it need one. This warm honey macaroon with white chocolate parfait, exclaimed Jo-Lyn, will "change your life". The textures were just dreamy - the macaroon was soft and tender and chewy and just a little crisp in all the right places, while the parfait was silky smooth. It was shockingly sweet.

Like a second dessert, the final cocktail was a Caraway Shrub - port steeped in berries and then refortified with vodka. It was to be sipped in turns with a meringue-like caraway foam. Lovely.

It became fairly clear as the night went on that a particular brand of vodka was sponsoring proceedings in some way. The deal was sealed with a take-home miniature bottle of said vodka and glossy flip-book of vodka-based cocktail recipes for each of us. This arrangement might go some way to explaining why we're requested to pay so little for so much.

Though my day could have finished with bad luck and a mighty bad mood on my part, Cafe Vue compensated several times over - I've not felt quite so jubilant and grateful (and yes, quite so under the influence) in some time. I made a point to thank the staff for accommodating my shameful lateness and left a sizable tip. Maybe they've a good motivation for offering all that vodka after all!

Address: 430 Little Collins St, Melbourne CBD
Ph: 9691 3899
Fully licensed
Price: Friday night cocktails $75 per person


  1. Oh, RING-A-DING-DING. Having just been to the May Cafe Vue Cocktail Night on the 30th, I was thinking I'd leave it for another few months before going back. But... that looks... brilliant. DIY martini! Cocktail with thyme! More Shrub! I am ALL about the Shrub. And for us omnivores, the June regular menu looks tantalising.
    Cindy you're a damn temptress and you know it... :)

  2. all sounds amazing and intriguing! sounds like a well-deserved end to a frustrating day

    Why dont you suggest a rename for them though - any suggestions?
    Thyme Out

    Thyme Traveller

    Last Thyme

    Actually - thiose are just as bad!

  4. Great write up, Cindy! Sorry to hear about your shocking day but glad to hear that it ended well.

    After reading Claire's post and yours, I am determined to make it to one of these cocktail nights soon!

  5. I too am tempted to go to one of these cocktail nights after reading Claire's post and now your post Cindy.

    It is good value in a sense, considering a cocktail would normally cost upwards of $15. But then, I wouldn't normally drink 5 of them in a night either :-). Because according to the new Government study, 3 glasses of wine or 4 mid-strength beers and you're binge drinking. Therefore, I, professor Thanh, declare that you and Michael had clearly binge drunk that night.

  6. was it enough food for 'dinner' or was it just enough to let you drink 5 cocktails and not fall over? I really want to do this but am scared I wont be able to handle 5 cocktails!

  7. I'm the temptress, Claire?! Surely that moniker should go to the lady who first unleashed this enticement on the blogosphere. :-P I can confirm from Mike and Jo-Lyn that the omni menu is indeed rather RING-A-DING-DING.

    It was, Johanna! :-)

    Welcome Charlotte! So you like a pun or two? Maybe you should meet Thanh, two comments down. :-) Actually, Thyme Out fits my experience with this cocktail perfectly.

    Thanks, Agnes! I'm sure you won't regret making a booking of your own.

    Thanh - considering how little I drink, anything over two drinks in a night would count as a binge! So on Friday I was guilty as charged. It may not happen again until another Friday the 13th rolls around...

    Ran, I had the same concern as I am not much of a drinker. I interspersed my cocktails with plenty of water and drank another half litre when I got home - that helped. :-) I did not feel the need for any more food, though on a previous cocktail night Claire did push on and buy a toasted sandwich elsewhere.

  8. I love a pun indeed. Nice to meet you Charlotte. You should read Cindy's post about her soy bombs, I came up with many good soy bomb song titles.

    For this drink, what about

    Thyme To Chill
    Thymed To Pefection
    A Drink In Thyme

  9. This sounds so much fun I'd even declare myself a vegetarian to taste those dishes!

    But I see what you mean about the macaron (your comment on Syrup & Tang). I'm glad it tasted good cos it looks horrendous!

  10. Duncan, I was intrigued when the word 'macaroon' appeared on the menu and almost none-the-wiser when the dessert itself arrived. (Did they mean the second 'o', or were they going for something entirely different?) It is an indelicate monstrosity, but a tasty one. :-)

  11. Wow, all this looks and sounds AMAZING! And a thyme-infused cocktail, genius! (I'm trying very hard not to add to the puns, oh, it's a struggle).


    Oh no!

  12. "I've... had... the thyme of my life, and I've never felt this way before..."

    Oh Hayley, I'm never going to get that one out of my head! (I'm determined not to think about the Greenday song of that name...) It's a pun-tastic name for this cocktail, regardless.

  13. Hi guys. I'm a vegetarian living in Melbourne =) glad to read some of your reviews.

    Please visit my site as well =)

  14. Hi J! Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  15. An article in the Epicure (The Age) answers your macaro(o)n question :)

    Whilst I know everyone is a foodie, if you're a cocktail person too there's quite a few places that will do cocktail "degustations".

    Der Raum (Richmond) does one regularly-ish as well as more specialised "educational" events (coming up soon is Piper Heidsieck champagne).

    The Rum Club meets the first Monday of the month at Golden Monkey and a little bird tells me the next one is being presented by Havana Club.

    Murmur has tasting plates of premium specialised tequila, rum and other spirits where they match the spirit with flavour enhancer "bits" eg. banana chips, apricots etc to accentuate the spirit profile.

    A few Food&Wine festivals ago Vernon Chalker of The Gin Palace put on a evening drinking through the ENTIRE Gin Palace martini list (9 martinis - my liver survived only because the first one is a biggie - the rest are 1/3 "tasting" sized). Apparently available by special arrangement with Vernon.

    And finally for those who like to fill the mind along with the stomach, cocktail lessons (usually with hands on fun and nibbles so you don't fall over) can be had at Platform3, Murmur, 1806.

    Hope you enjoyed the martini Cindy! Just remember - always stirred never shaken.

  16. Thanks for that link, Simon! Of course, a newspaper article is never the last word on the internet. :-D You may like to read this post on Duncan's blog.

    An even bigger thanks for listing some other cocktail events around town - I've just spent a while browsing the bars' websites (shame the Murmur one doesn't seem to be working).