In the middle of a long article in Epicure last Tuesday about what's cutting-edge in haute cuisine, was this intriguing quote:
"Blumenthal has a PHD student at Nottingham university researching taste perception.
'She's found that when we are excited we taste far more acutely - this is good for the dining experience. Conversely if stressed chefs taste salt and sweet up to 50% less clearly they could easily over season.' '"
Perhaps this could explain the rather salty experience that we had at Money Order Office (MOO) recently?
Alastair's mother, Annette, and her husband, Terry, came for a visit a few weeks ago. Not only did we get the pleasure of their company, but they also insisted on taking us out to dinner before they left. Annette's only requests were for a place with a view – perhaps by the river or the ocean. We took that into account... and ended up going to a restaurant that could not have any less of a view if it tried. Whoops!
MOO, is located in a laneway off Little Bourke Street, and occupies a basement area of the Old Money Order Office. The dining area is separated from the bar by wrought-iron gates, and despite the fact that the restaurant is down in a basement, it doesn't feel small or claustrophobic. The decorator obviously knew the tricks of preventing the room from being a dim, enclosed space. There is a large mirror on the far wall of the restaurant, and rather clever rectangles in the booths against the walls are painted alternating stripes of a dark and gold/yellow colour, which creates an illusion of blinds covering a window.
For my entree, I ordered the scallops, which were seared and presented with Chinese whitebait and onion bhaji, hummus and shaved fennel ($20). There was rather a lot going on with this dish! The scallops were cooked nicely, but I wasn't sure about them with the onion bhaji and hummus AND fennel. It was also a touch too salty.
Alastair had one of the specials that evening - fresh oysters. There were two different types - Sydney rock oysters and the other was Pacific oysters from Tasmania. I can't remember which one was which now (Sydney large, Tassie small or was it the other way around?), but Alastair said that the smaller ones were tastier.
Everyone else had either the scallops or the pork belly. The pork belly was braised and seasoned with cumin, and served with a pea pannacotta, crackling and pork jelly ($18). The long, thin stick in the picture was the crackling - rather novel, I thought! I'm not a big fan of peas, but I tasted some of the pannacotta and it was smooth and silky. The others mentioned that the pork belly was also a bit salty but otherwise good.
For my main, I ordered the rabbit – a braised leg and loin of rabbit, brioche, leek and field mushroom puree ($36). Like the scallops, there was a lot going on with the meal and again, it was just a bit too salty. But the rabbit was cooked well, and although the mushroom puree looked a bit... um... gross... it had a strong, pleasant flavour.
Alastair had the roast lamb cutlet with lamb hotpot and curly kale ($38).
Annette had the gnocchi – and received rather large pan fried potato gnocchi with parmesan roast root vegetables ($32). This looked really interesting, although someone was rather generous with the salad garnish! You can just see a piece of gnocchi peeking out from under the greens in the left of the picture.
My Bro had the quail – a boneless quail wrapped in proscuitto with grilled cotechino sausage, quail egg and pedro ximenz jus ($35).
And last, Terry had one of the specials of the evening – a confit of rabbit leg. Again, someone was rather generous with the salad leaves. I can't even see any rabbit in this picture!
Across the board, everyone found that their food was a bit too salty. Alastair and I have eaten at MOO before (about a year ago now) and didn't have a problem with over seasoning at our previous meal, so I'm not sure if the saltiness was just a problem on this night. And let me clarify - it wasn't salty to the point where the food was inedible, it was just enough for everyone to say, "This is a bit salty!" We still had a good meal, but it could've been a really good meal if the seasoning had been toned down.
For dessert, I had a fig tart tartin with red wine ice cream and muscat reduction ($14). When the dessert came out, the waiter advised me that they didn't have any red wine ice cream and substituted it with coconut. That was fine by me, and I rather enjoyed the coconut ice cream. The fig tart tartin was slightly too caramelised, and damn hard to eat with a spoon!
Alastair and Pat both went for chocolate - a rich chocolate and expresso marquise with fresh raspberries and raspberry sauce ($14). It looked very decadent. I don't know why I didn't try any since I normally steal a bite from what Alastair's eating. Perhaps I was kept busy by trying to cut my fig tart tartin with a spoon!
Annette and Terry skipped the sweet stuff and shared some cheese instead. With the selection of cheeses, came fresh grapes, quince paste and apricot and walnut bread ($22).
Apart from the glitches mentioned, we did have a wonderful time. The ambiance there is great - not too dark, not too bright, not too loud, and not too quiet. Service was friendly without being overbearing or too casual. Oh, and I almost can't believe that I've gone the whole post without mentioning the wine list. The menu is 4 pages long but the wine list stretches to something like 18 pages. It would help to go to MOO with someone who knows something about wine!
Money Order Office (MOO)
Basement 318, Lt. Bourke Street, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9639 3020