7th January 2016
211 Gertrude Street
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
Summer has come to Melbourne with a vengeance, so it is a relief to be spending my Friday night at Moon Under Water, a restaurant that brings to mind endless expanses of cool, clear lake.
Without knowing what to look for, Moon Under Water is easy to miss. This Andrew McConnell venture is nestled – like a pearl – within the exuberant walls of the ever-popular Builders Arms Hotel. Once you push open the double doors however, the difference becomes immediately apparent.
Moon Under Water is a classy thing, but the white-on-white of starched tablecloths and plush banquettes was tempered with some swinging tunes, and the warm, candle-like glow of the lamps. The menu is seasonal and concise, with the choice of 3, 4, or 6 courses, matching wines optional. Although 6 courses would seem like the logical choice, there are only actually 8 dishes on the menu, meaning that with just 4 Courses ($75pp), we could try everything without doubling up.
With that decision made, we were treated to a snack of Cheese Biscuits. Crumbly and infused with cheese, these buttery morsels were the pinnacle of deliciousness. I could eat a whole plate and call it a meal.
Next there was a plate of crunchy Baby Carrots from the Dandenongs, the fresh bitterness lifted by the cool yet fiery harissa yoghurt.
And there’s more! Two pieces of Prawn on Rice Cracker went into our mouths, the sweet, gelatinous prawns contrasting magnificently with the feathery crackers.
Then lo and behold! After we finished our prawns, the wooden board was lifted to reveal Bread and Butter with Pickled Cucumber inside an old-fashioned metal tin. The bread was dense and soft, but the butter was a little too melted for my liking, and left a slight greasiness on the tongue. The cucumbers were light and crisp.
The first course was a light yet flavoursome dish of Pickled Mackerel, Spanner Crab, Tomato & Lovage to whet the appetite. Although mackerel is something I don’t usually like to have raw on account of its strong flavour, the sweet smokiness of the macerated tomatoes really served to mellow out the fishiness into something much more pleasant.
The Golden Beetroot, Hazelnut, Honey & Lemon Thyme was polite, good-natured, and much less divisive compared to the mackerel. The wedges of beetroot were soft and sugary, pairing well with the nutty crunch of roasted hazelnuts.
The Calamari, Parsley, ‘Nduja & Tuna is a mess of all my favourite things. The chewy bands of calamari were seasoned with spicy crumbled nduja and a bed of grassy parsley paste.
And hidden beneath it all was a brick of ruby-red tuna, seared to melt-in-the-mouth tenderness.
The Aged Duck, Grapefruit & Wild Leaves on the other hand was less exciting, but much more cohesive. The duck was pink and succulent, pairing flawlessly with the ripe fruitiness of the grapefruit puree and crisp slices of pickled radish.
The Glazed Veal, Celtuce & Parmesan was probably my favourite dish of the night.
The glossy cut of meat was perfectly cooked, resulting in each bite melting in the mouth. The jus was light and flavoursome, and the flurry of parmesan added just the barest hint of nuttiness. I was especially fond of the stalks of celtuce – a crisp, distinctly flavoured vegetable from my childhood that I have always been very partial to, but don’t get to eat nearly as often as I would like.
Unfortunately, the Cobia, Red Sorrel & Bagna Cauda was much less exciting, even without comparing it to the veal. The fillet of white fish was just nudging into the realm of dryness, and although I understand that any strong flavours would’ve overwhelmed the delicate white fish, I’m inclined to call this dish bland rather than subtle.
Our mains came with a couple of sides – a crisp Leaf Salad dressed with balsamic and olive oil, and some waxy Roast Baby Potatoes.
The Rhubarb Granita, Poached Meringue, Elderflower & Green Apple may have sounded good on paper and looked extremely pretty, but the overall flavour was a disappointment. Within seconds the granita had started melting, and what was left was a rather watery, texture-less mess. I found the combination of granita and green apple to be much too tangy, without any answering richness from the meringue.
The Soft Chocolate, Blueberries & Sour Cream fared better. Even though it wasn’t exactly outstanding, it’s hard to complain about the combination of gooey chocolate cream and fresh blueberries, and we happily scooped it all up.
The final treat from the kitchen was a couple of Rosewater Marshmallows. These floral little clouds of sugar put a delectable lid on our meal, and would’ve been lovely with a cup of tea had we not been running over our 2-hour seating.
I walked away from Moon Under Water with some very mixed feelings. Undoubtedly, the meal boasted some fantastic produce and was good value too, but I just found it hard to get excited over the food. It just wasn’t up to scratch compared to McConnell’s usual level of inventiveness. Although the service was spot-on, and I’m sure the wine list was stellar, I just didn’t feel like it deserves the two chef’s hats that it has been awarded.
Rating: 13.5/20 – first time for everything.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.