Essence Restaurant – Marriott Hotel
Recently, much to my astonishment, an invitation was sent my way to dine at a 5 star hotel’s restaurant with free run of the menu up to $150 – WOOT! What’s more is that Essence also stated: “the blog that offers the best photos will be hired (and paid) as the official Marriott Food Photographer for two seasonal menus in 2011” – WOOT x2! Damn, if only my new lens had arrived, maybe I would’ve had a chance…
After browsing the online menu – quite extensively may I add – I decided to bring along both my parents to help me eat through the menu.
At the centre of Melbourne’s theatre district within the Marriott Hotel, Essence has ceiling high windows that take full advantage of the light streaming in from Lonsdale Street. Seated at a corner table near the windows, we watched as the last gleams of sunlight disappeared and gave way to a softer ambience. Despite the elegant décor, this is very much a relaxed space with a chatty atmosphere.
Now onto the food…
Oysters [complimentary of the kitchen] – On a bed of white, sat vibrant hues of orange, silver and lime green. Served with roe and a dash of lime the oysters were freshly crisp and creamy.
Anti-pasto [complimentary of the kitchen] – Arriving on a large chopping board full-to-the-edges with toasty slices of butter-garlic smeared bread, a multitude of smoky hams and prosciutto, a selection of juicy vegetables to match (sundried tomatoes, roasted eggplant and capsicum), adorable egg-shaped bocconcini, and some tasty home-made dips. At which point I realised we may have just ordered too much food – but what kind of foodie would I be if I cancel items in fear of having ordering too much ey?
Wine merlot – medium bodied red with soft mellow notes of fruit, particularly plum, without tannin hardness.
Seafood boullabaise – Stacked up in the centre of the thick creamy broth of (if I remember correctly) marron and pumpkin, were tender pieces of prawn, succulent scallops, and firm but moist red snapper chunks. The broth was a tad on the salty side, but delicious all the same and perfect to dip the bread in.
Potato gnocci – The gnocci – waxy on the outside, delectably chewy and smooth of the inside – was served with roasted pumpkin and capsicum for a bit of succulence, wilted baby spinach and rocket, creamy Persian fetta and pine nuts for a bit of crunch.
Lemon pepper calamari – Lightly battered with the slightest sprinkle of pepper peeking through, the curls of calamari were incredibly tender, marrying well with the garlic & lemon aioli. The green papaya salad provided a bit of crunch, and refreshing acidity. P.S. Lucky I didn’t use all the lime on the calamari, as the salad seriously needed a generous squeeze of lime to achieve that ideal point of acidity =).
Braised pork roulade – beneath the cheeky parsnip chips were two rounds of pork roulade that were immensely tender and succulent (*ahem* from the smidgen of guilty fat hidden within). Underneath lay a bed of creamy parmesan polenta (the velvety texture made me think mash at first thought), and contrasting hue of green spinach and minted peas. I thought I couldn’t detect anything obviously rolled within the pork – whether it be other meats or vegetables – but I would definitely like to know if there was; *looking at you Chef Samantha* =).
Seared salmon – though presented immaculately on a long rectangular plate, this was probably our least favourite (amongst a number of amazing ones) dish of the night. The salmon flesh was pink and firm to bite, but the all important overlying skin lacked that crackled-caramelised crunch. There was a nice balance of earthy flavours and textures from the smooth buttery celeriac mash, juicy roast tomato and crisp asparagus, however like at St Peter’s, I found that the honey dressing did not entirely marry or lift the dish to an amazing place.
We also ordered a side of lightly char-grilled asparagus with lemon butter – crunchy and slightly tangy.
Grain fed Kilcoy Scotch fillet – the humble hunk of steak with an appetizing latticework of charring, was evenly pink all the way through and marvellously tender and robust – no doubt from the marbling effect (more internal fat) of grain feeding. The contrast of the sweet-juicy-vibrancy of the tomato, earthiness of the mushroom and the stack of crispy-on-the-outside but foamy-airy-on-the-inside potato chips makes for delicious sides. This is finished off with a sweet caramelised sauce, hinted with thyme – absolutely yummilicious! (P.S. apparently this is a popular order – not surprisingly)
Vanilla brulee – I was disappointed to not find that burnt-bittersweet crack atop of the brulee. Not particularly sure if this was intentional, though the delicate cream of vanilla custard paired with an agreeably not-too-sour-or-sweet berry compote was still lovely. The hazelnut shard ironically provided a little of that crunch and sugary hit.
Hot chocolate fondant – A richly thick and gooey core of melted bittersweet chocolate encased by a brittle layer of chocolate cake – would surely corrupt anyone who isn’t already a wild fan of chocolate fondant – how could you go wrong? The salad and sorbet of orange no doubt provided a bit of sweet acidity which was wholly refreshing and perfect to balance off the decadence – only wish there was more. Again my palate seems to be playing tricks on my mind – I thought the sorbet had a somewhat flowery or berry-like fragrance to it, not sure if I’m just dreaming…
At the end of the night we were full to the brim – food coma yet again, definitely not a healthy habit…
Rating: Yummy+1 – relaxed fare with largely European influences and great freshness in produce, at a fraction of the cost (well at least relative to the exorbitant price tags at Melbourne’s popular hip-modern joints) – grain fed scotch fillet at $32 !
Service was exceptional from the moment we were ‘greeted-at-the-door’ and our waiter was warm with frequent attentive queries, but not so much as to be overly intrusive. Staggered throughout the night, we were greeted by the humbling Executive Chef – Samantha Lotter – who has “worked her way around the world from South Africa to Australia then the UK, Europe and Middle East” and after tying up the hectic life in Dubai decided Australia was where she wanted to be. With the new-ish (since 2009) head chef’s take on the restaurant, there is a strong emphasis on locally sourced fresh produce and a menu which is surprisingly value for money.
[Meal courtesy of Essence Restaurant, Marriott Hotel]