Update, September 9, 2015: Sadly, The Age is reporting that Brooks has gone into voluntary liquidation.
December 15, 2012
To celebrate my birthday this year, Michael and I visited Brooks. It's a new collaboration between the owners of Gerald's Bar and former Embrasse chef Nicolas Poelaert. Melbourne Gastronome had tweeted favourably about their vege burger and we know that Poelart knows veg*n food.
With burgers and bar owners at Brooks, we weren't quite sure what to expect. We found a fairly typical high-end restaurant with an expansive bar at one end. The menu was scattered with veg-friendly dishes and we were inevitably drawn to the $80 five course tasting menu listed at the bottom.
They started us off with cheese and crackers 'the Brooks way' - a square of Perl Las blue cheese hidden inside a thin crisp, with a dab of apple puree on top.
From the cocktail menu, I chose a Manzana Fresca ($18), a light and tangy mix of vodka, sherry, green apple, lime and grapefruit bitters.
Sadly it was a little too sour to enjoy in combination with the (otherwise lovely) sourdough bread. Michael's G&T might have been a better choice.
Our first full plate was a stunning array of more than 25 different vegetables, herbs and flowers - barely cooked or interfered with - dotted with flavoured emulsions and a dash of crumbly olive 'soil'. No two mouthfuls were the same, with a multitude of familiar and and puzzling flavours darting in and out.
This silver platter played on my weakness for potatoes. The creamy, rich riced potato nest held even richer creme fraiche and a smoked egg yolk. While the roesti foam didn't evoke much in me, the crispy potato bits felt like flaked roti and tasted like original Pringles. Dish of the night, by my reckoning.
Slow cooked leeks and cauliflower puree are fairly standard fare for vegos visiting fancy-schmancy restaurants. The novelty here is honey! Though I can usually take it or leave it, this dish's honey-wasabi sauce and sandy sprinkling of bee pollen gave me a completely new view on cauliflower. We relished our pickled cherries, picking them up by the stalk and gobbling them whole, unsure how to make them work with their neighbouring ingredients.
Our final savoury dish featured roasted beetroots sheltering under black flakes of potato, with burnt carrot puree, red wine and ginger gel, and cows' milk cheese. The sweet carrots and swoon-worthy cheese just barely saved this from the brink of burned bitterness.
A side platter of squash, zucchini and spinach in a light vinegary broth served to fill our stomachs and refresh our palates for dessert.
Here they made another Cindy-friendly gesture: while there's only one dessert course, they gave us each a different dessert so that we could taste two! *Applause* It was easy to split the summery plum sorbet, piped cheesecake, berries and beetroot dusted meringue ... though it was also tempting to scoff the lot.
However I didn't want to jeopardise my share of Poelaert's evergreen forest floor, a beautiful dessert including buttery hazelnut parfait, powdery meringue, the darkest of ganaches and sorrel ice accents.
We finished with hot drinks and our pick of the petit fours - a passionfruit-stuffed doughnut for Michael and life-threatening wedge of salted caramel for me.
High-protein ingredients like legumes are notably absent from the Brooks vegetarian menu, but on a summer night I appreciated the emphasis on fresh produce. This is high-end dining with all the usual trimmings and the service is superlative - relaxed and friendly but never obtrusive, they noticed every time we needed another drink a good minute before we would have. Now that Melbourne's veg*n degustations have skated beyond $100 per person, I think Brooks' tasting menu offers notable value.
Brooks has received positive write-ups on PETIT MIAMx, eat.MELBOURNE, grazing panda and Gourmet Chick.
Basement of 115-117 Collins St, Melbourne
five course tasting menu $80
Accessibility: Brooks has a wide entry, then a railed staircase down to the split-level restaurant (we didn't notice any stair alternatives). We received full table service. Accessing the toilets involved a couple more stairs, and the cubicles were narrow.