Persimmon’s culinary offerings deserve a museum exhibition in their own right.
No matter how many times and how long MoMo & Coco go overseas, Australia still calls us back. It’s the way the air smells after the rain, that minty eucalyptus scent mingling with that earthy wet soil. It’s the way the golden light falls on the white bark of native trees, the wind swishing through leaves like castanets. It’s the way the grass is green, but also yellow, red and brown. It’s the way the warbling of native birds can be heard whether you are in the country, the suburbs or the city. We remember art lessons where we were taught that Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts of the Heidelberg School were the first and foremost at capturing such beauty of Australian landscape and life. A recent exhibition of works by Eugene von Guerard (1811-1901) at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) hosted from 16 April to 7 August 2011, has informed us otherwise. By contrast to the Heidelberg School’s more romanticised Australiana perspectives, Von Guerard captured the geographic contours of the land with a distinguishable spatial depth and an almost-scientific precision.
Southbank has long been dominated by bleary-eyed clubbers and light-fingered gamblers, spotted with a handful of extrovertedly over-priced glitzy restaurants catering for those who had the requisite bling-bling and deep pockets to frequent Crown Casino’s Mahogany Room. That shadow still lingers, but a wave of more refined sophistication increasingly laps at the Yarra River’s southern banks. Cocooned within the high stone walls of the NGV and rather as an outcast located towards the back of the NGV, Persimmon is waiting to bear fruit, and what a luscious one it proved to be. Overlooking the minimalistic Grollo Equiset Gardens, it has adopted a slickly modern colour scheme of black and red, incorporating a textural interplay of clear perspex, garnet leathers and noir hessian fabrics.
MoMo & Coco visited for a leisurely weekend lunch, following a stroll through the von Guerard exhibition. From the Modern Australian 2-course prix fixe lunch menu ($40pp), our party selected some of the most beautifully, artistically presented dishes in Melbourne — a sunset of yellow, orange and brown made by the rainbow trout sitting on a bed of mashed potato, brown butter and mouth-pinching salted white grapes ; an island atoll evoked by the juicy segments of roast duck breast and a small, almost superfluous confit duck leg pie, surrounded by stylistic strokes and dots of beetroot rounds, spinach puree droplets and beetroot jus; and the more clasically, conservatively presented, braised beef cheek accompanied by a greenery of herb spatzle, brussels sprouts, smoked bell peppers and juniper jus. Although MoMo & Coco are most definitely not wine connoiseurs, we bestow a very special mention to the attention to detail given in matching the wine with the prix fixe lunch menu. The Salomon Estate 2009 Norwood Shiraz Cabernet (South Australia) was medium-bodied, with a desirably luscious bouquet of berries, ending with a smooth, rather than stringent, lingering note. Our (more knowledgeable) dining companions similarly commended the crisp clarity of the Salomon Undof 2009 Gruner Veltiner (Austria).
Notwithstanding stunning mains and wine, Persimmon really distinguished itself by its irresistible menu. Of four irresistibles available, the three sampled (excluding therefore a chocolate fondant which was not selected) paid tribute in elemental composition to the botanicals of the Grollo Equiset gardens, and in presentation to the underlying artistic sentiments of Persimmon’s NGV surroundings. Deconstructed, each irresistible also showcased a spectrum of textures and flavours that were unexpectedly, mostly harmonious. The first irresistible was the “White Chocolate and Lime Mousse, Basil and Mint.” A spangled snap of lightly-flavoured mint crested a UFO-shaped white chocolate mousse. Adjacent to this was a jade dollop of vividly-tasting, sinus-unblocking, basil sorbet. A crumbly soil of white chocolate and small wedges of lime were scattered over. With both sweet and sour elements, creamy and light components, it was a refreshing dash in winter and undoubtedly, a light sweet choice for summer, simply hmmmmm…irresistible…
The second irresistible was the “Coconut Bounty, Chocolate Bavarois, Cinnamon Crumble, Spiced Cherries.” Resembling an autumunal forest floor, this irresistible was a magical fairy trail of disparate elements – brandied cherries sitting on piped circles of a milky chocolate bavarois, a mushroom-like vacherin meringue of coconut, spheres of an intense cherry sorbet, luminiscent honey cinnamon jelly butterflies, and a dollop of coconut sorbet, interspersed with foraged watercress leaves and flirty petals. Again, simply hmmmmm… irresistible…
The third irresistible was the Monet-eqsue, impressionistic “Creme Fraiche Parfait, Apples & Blueberries, Brown Butter Crumble, Elderflower.” The gentle essence of elderflower was captured in a pale peridot green, puree-like syrup. On top of this, two fallen ramparts of creme fraiche parfait reclined over a moat of semi-baked apple slices, midnight black blueberries, scarlet cranberries, caramelly brown crumble and sunset petunia petals artistically strewn over. Another sweet yet light Persimmon creation, simply hmmmmm…irresistible…
Service was professionally cool and exacting, with dishes arriving with commendable timeliness especially given that it was full-house when MoMo & Coco visted. It was however, somewhat difficult to catch their eye, to have glasses refilled and to summon the bill. Considering that Persimmon was brimming with patrons, a higher staff-to-patron ratio would have taken the dining experience to a higher level.
Like “British” cuisine, “Modern Australian” cuisine is a label usually met with smirks of derision. However, a short list of dining venues have redefined “Modern Australian” to mean something alluring, inspirational and as unique as the country itself (we choose as our favourite examples, Cumulus, Cutler & Co, and No 35). To this list, MoMo & Coco now adds Persimmon. Persimmon’s culinary offerings, particularly its irresistibles, deserve a museum exhibition in their own right, or at the very least, an exhibition book dedicated to waxing their sweet lyrics. It seamlessly combines both casual yet refined dining, something that many Melbourne restaurants seek but especially fail in the latter character. Overall, for the high quality of food, the ambience of the venue and the professionalism of the service, it far surpasses CBD counterparts who charge far more for far less. Bearing luscious fruits somewhere in the depths of the NGV, Persimmon is one of those un-hyped true hidden secrets, and long may it stay as such.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Persimmon Restaurant, Ground Level, NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Southbank, Vic 3004.
- ☑ Budget: $$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Modern Australian/European.
- ☑ Must-eat: Every dessert that you can fit in (seasonally changing).
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Persimmon’s culinary offerings deserve a museum exhibition in their own right.