• Pei Modern (Collins Place, Melbourne)

I had heard good reports about Pei Modern so was looking forward to catching up with some friends who I had worked with in a wine company some 12 years ago. We are all keen foodies and wine lovers and carefully choose restaurants for our get togethers. Pei Modern is the product of some serious contributors to Australian dining: Mark Best from Marques in Sydney and David Mackintosh and Peter Bartholomew from MoVida. The chef Matt Germanchis is also from MoVida. Pei Modern is very good and the service is excellent, but I was expecting a bit more innovation in the menu given the background of the key people who make up Pei Modern.

The ambiance had a bit of a hectic tone to it. At lunch the restaurant was full and with the “background music” a little loud diners had to speak loudly to be heard. This wouldn’t be a problem if you were there as a couple, but with 6 on a table it was a struggle to tune into the conversation at the other end of the table: things improved when the restaurant started to clear later during the lunch.  If you have  Australia flights to Melbourne, this restaurant is in the heart of the city centre.

The menu had a number of vegetarian options from the bar, entrees and mains. The best way to go is the “small journey for lunch 4 course Pei’s choice $50”, for dinner they offer a “7 course Pei’s choice $90”. The 4 courses for $50 is very good value. The “Pei’s choice” sets the alarm bells ringing but this is a vegetarian friendly restaurant and the offer from Pei was adapted to cater for a vegetarian. It is also worth mentioning that Ainslie Lubbock (previously Attica) is the manager and sommelier (it does make you feel very comfortable when someone of Ainslie’s calibre is fielding queries about vegetarian options on a set menu).

First course was an almond gazpacho with parsley and grapes. This was light creamy with a hint of garlic. The dish is common in Spain so it made sense to have a Paco & Lola Albarino 2010 ($64) is from Rias Baixas in Spain. This was a delightful balance to the gazpacho. Albarino is my white wine of choice with Spanish food and the Paco & Lola is a fine example of the variety. This is a full bodied wine with good length, quite aromatic with hints of pineapple and a good acid balance. The citrus on the palate was a delightful balance to the creamy, slightly sweet flavours of the gazpacho.

The next course was a burrata salad. This was another fresh, clean and well constructed dish. Although it was called burrata the waiter said it was mozzarella, whatever it was, it was fresh, creamy and had a curd centre. The dish was accompanied by asparagus, Spanish peppers and sugar pea sprouts. With wine we moved from Spain to Italy with a Vadiaperti Falanghina($55). This is a difficult wine to categorise: spice and herbs on the nose; a taste of apple but finishing with a hint of citrus. This is a nicely textured wine which came into its own when matched with the subtle flavours of the mozzarella (or was it really burrata?)

While my colleagues all tucked into meat dishes I settled for sides of charred beets; broccolini; and a leaf salad. These were such fresh ingredients and cooked to perfection. The Eldridge Estate Gamay ($68) is the type of wine that can accompany a range of food, but it worked very well with the charred sweet and sour beets. This Mornington grown gamay presents as different to the French use of gamay in the   Beujolaise I’ve tasted. The nose and palate both are rich and the tannins provide some added complexity. Cherries and raspberries are evident on the nose and the palate.

I often plan a meal from the dessert and move backwards. Pei Modern had 5 desserts on offer at lunch: all looked inviting. I tried the sauterne custard and crostoli. The custard had the texture of a crème caramel and came with an exquisitely intense but not over sweet sauterne. While it wasn’t a huge meal it is always good to finish with a light but flavoursome dessert. We had a bottle of Pressing Matters Riesling from the Coal River Valley in Tasmania ($50). This is a sweet wine but with a fair amount of acid. The honeyed citrus nose and the honeyed finish was an excellent match with the custard.

It was a very god meal. The food was beautifully crafted and presented. The wine list is interesting but the prices were a bit high. If the music was turned down a notch the vibe would still be retained but conversation would be easier.

About the Author
Michael is a food and wine connoisseur and has recently started writing for Nouveau Potato.  He also makes a delicious chocolate cake.

Pei Modern 
45 Collins Street
Melbourne 3000
03 9654 8545

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