3rd September 2015
180 Flinders Lane
Melbourne, VIC 3000
So why has it taken me so long to try Supernormal? It’s a bit of a story. I have never made secret my love of Andrew McConnell, but dinner at the now-closed Golden Fields left me a little deflated. Hence when I saw that Supernormal is basically a tweaked version of Golden Fields, you can understand why I was keener to go to Cumulus Up instead. But the chemistry is undeniable, and I knew that I would end up here eventually.
Most of you probably know this by now, but Supernormal provides an Asian bend to the Modern Australian food that McConnell does so well. He is very loosey-goosey with it though, cherry picking his influences from all around Asia, with the main stars being Japan and Southern China, with a little bit of Korea thrown in.
Supernormal is enormous. Way more enormous than its street-corner glass front makes it seem. The decor is on-point as usual, if not slightly unconventionally-McConnell. Whereas he usually seems to prefer a very intimate and European approach to his restaurants, Supernormal felt spontaneous and fun. The copious amounts of pale wood and fresh flowers gives it an outdoorsy feel, and the little Asian touches (a Pocky vending machine, 3 sake bottles on a high shelf, a lone wooden carving) were just enough to embroider the restaurant with a sense of the orient.
We shared a glass of Primitivo Quiles Vermouth Rojo ($7) – I had to drive home that night – which was served fancily with the ice and liquor separate, and the cutest pair of mini tongs.
This was a delicious drop, its rich bouquet of fruit and herbs made it ideal for sipping throughout the meal.
Instead of bread and butter, we were given a dish of addictive spiced sunflower seeds to nibble on.
Mr McConnell is a mean hand with sashimi dishes, and Supernormal gave us not one, not two, but THREE options to choose from. After humming and hawing for a while, I settled on the Sea Bream, White Soy, and Ginger ($16). Pale and translucent with just a hint of blush, my eyes were savouring this dish before I even put it into my mouth.
This was simple, but oh-so-good. The plump slices of bream were garnished with a trio of umami – roasted seaweed, pickled ginger, and a dash of white soy. The silkiness of the fish was a gentle counterpoint to the crisp nori, but in the end it all dissolved on the tongue, the savoury flavours teased out by the tiniest hint of sushi vinegar.
The David Blackmore Pepper Brisket, Ox Tongue & Crispy Pigs Ears ($15) was another revelation. The ribbons of fatty ox tongue were warm and velvety, melting in the mouth with a hint of smoke. Layered underneath were ruby shavings of pepper-rubbed brisket, the flavour augmented this time with a drizzle of chilli oil just spicy enough to tingle. And just for some extra fun – pieces of crispy fried pigs ears on top.
Slow Cooked Szechuan Lamb to Share ($39) was a no-brainer given the cold weather. Even taking into consideration the price tag, I was surprised by how colossal the portion was. Served in a heavy cast-iron pot, the lamb was a dark, dense island in an ocean of fiery red.
Cutting through the charred exterior however, we found a blushingly pink centre. Well, I say cut. What I really mean is that the sticky, unctuous lamb shredded away from the knife, and into the thick Szechuan-styled sauce seasoned generously with chilli and peppercorns.
To go with the lamb was a plate of sweet, crispy spring onion pancakes, perfect for dipping into the thick sauce, or wrapping around the lamb. The accompanying coriander chutney was blissfully cool. And for the people complaining that the pancakes aren’t as fluffy as the roti at say, Mamak, that’s because it isn’t roti!
Chris grumbled about the obligatory greens in the form of the Salad of Broccolini, Tofu, Walnut & Toasted Seaweed ($15), but soon became grudgingly grateful as the lamb got richer and richer. The vibrant fronds of crunchy broccolini were garnished daintily with silky tofu pieces and candied walnuts. Though simple, it was just perfect.
To finish, we had the much earthier Spiced Pear & Ginger Beer Pudding, Vanilla Cream ($15), baked into a pan with a glass of vanilla cream on the side.
The pudding was hot and gooey, studded with chunks of braised pear and warmed with the zest of ginger. The cool vanilla cream provided a smooth, creamy foil to the sweet and spicy dessert. Never have I enjoyed winter so much.
So once again, Andrew McConnell was right, and I was wrong. It seems that this time around, he wasn’t so fussed with replicating traditional dishes, but focused on creating new dishes of his own that are only loosely based on the core Asian flavours. I felt everything was a lot more ‘modern Australian’ than Golden Fields, which if you ask me, is the secret to its success. And although the staff at his restaurants have always been courteous, the ones at Supernormal were sweeter than cake. I could not have been more satisfied.
Rating: 16/20 – above and beyond.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.