Thursday, January 01, 2015

Moon Under Water - Best Meals of 2014

Moon Under Water, at Builders Arms Hotel
I get really excited every time I go back to Melbourne. Don't get me wrong, I love Hong Kong, but Melbourne is home too, and after all, it's where I learned to love food after a childhood/adolescence of indifference.

And pretty much as I was getting ready to leave Melbourne, the name Andrew McConnell started popping up everywhere, initially in relation to Cumulus Inc, which I didn't visit until I returned to the city on a work trip. I was blown away - to me, McConnell's restaurants - Cumulus Inc, Cumulus Up, Moon Under Water, in particular* - are the very definition of the hard-to-define (some say problematic) genre called Modern Australian.

Hand-cut pasta, parsley, bottarga and zucchini flower
Australia is often called the "Lucky Country" and has attracted, and continues to attract numerous immigrants (including my own family). The dining culture, range of flavours and ingredients and their general knowledge and acceptance by the population all reflect that. During immigration 1.0, or perhaps 1.5, restaurants, from neighbourhood to fine dining, often served strictly one cuisine, but come second, third, fourth generation immigrants, and you have Irish kids who grew up playing in their Greek friend's backyard, swapping lunches with their Vietnamese classmates, and Chinese mothers experimenting with tiramisu and apple pies for the school bake sale.

So, first you have more cultures than yoghurt**, and then you have ridiculously good, generally temperate climates and arable land. Hello, beautiful produce! It would almost be criminal if this country didn't produce good dining establishments.

Amuse bouches - Sugar snap peas, radishes, seaweed cream
Back to Moon Under Water then. The newest McConnell establishment to date (I think, or was it Supernormal? Anyway, new to me). The epitome of Modern Australian, as defined by dishes like this plate of sugar snaps (lightly blanched, I guess), baby radishes, and a seaweed cream. Eating one of the sugar snaps, the first thing that came to mind was, "where have you [sugar snap] been all my life?!" followed by deep breaths, widened eyes and dilated pupils. They were the sweetest, crisp-est, most satisfying sugar snaps I'd ever eaten. They were... revelatory (okay, I'm fully aware that I sound like a crazy person now, but ---)

Cheese biscuits
Another amuse/bread service dish were the cheese biscuits, which were kind of between a flaky coil of pastry and a soft cookie, topped liberally with parmesan. Cheese and carbs - the concept is already a winner plus this sort of execution - unbeatable. I could eat a bucket of these.

Asparagus, burrata, spring vegetable vinaigrette
The full degustation is 6 courses, but you can also have 3 or 4 courses, with two choices per course. I skipped the first course because I'd eaten way too much earlier in the day, but got bites of others'. I took amazingly fresh and flavourful ingredients for granted by this point, and still the squid blew me away. Australia has plenty of seafood but for some reason it often seems less fresh by the time it reaches cities (ie. only good if you're right by the sea) but this squid was tender and buttery.

Grilled squid, anchoiade, lemon thym, smoked mussel
I mentioned that I was full, and I was - so much that I felt sick that night, but I saw bottarga on the menu and I just had to have it.

Hand-cut pasta, parsley, bottarga and zucchini flower
The pasta was thick, bouncy, very rustic - kind of reminded me of Shaanxi knife-cut noodles, only with thicker edges, but seriously whatever - just like cheese and carbs, bottarga (or anything fishy and umami packed) plus noodles was not going to fail. The zucchini flower and parsley did help lighten things up a little though.

Golden chicken broth, wood-grilled tuna, lovage and clams
The chicken broth was not mine, but I took a few sips. A broth/consomme is always comforting (especially for Cantonese people, brought up on slow cooked broths!) and this was great, although if I had any more than a few sips I would have felt it was overly salty.

John Dory, Warrigal greens, young garlic and oyster
I was told never to miss a lamb roast at any of McConnell's restaurants, and that night they indeed had a lamb option for the main course, but I just couldn't***. Plus, I had a hankering for fish anyway and this went down well. Now that I look at the plate again, I've been asking myself if it was too simple for "restaurant" food, and maybe, just maybe, it's straddling that line, but it was cooked perfectly and the fish itself was of excellent quality, so...

Elderflower cream, boysenberries, lemon curd and cucumber
I promise it tasted better than how my photo makes it look. I gotta say, the cucumber granita on top and the general lightness of it all made it an excellent conclusion to a stellar meal.

Restaurants like these - with excellent food, professional but relaxed service, interesting wine lists and in character-packed old buildings (Moon Under Water is in the back room of a pub - the rest of the pub has been revamped too) - make me immensely happy and so, so grateful to be a Melburnian.

*whereas Golden Fields and Supernormal are modern Asian.
**sorry, I just had to do that, it's so corny I would never dare write it for work, hence here!
***even thinking about how full I was that night makes me feel sick.

Moon Under Water [map]
Builders Arms Hotel
211 Gertrude Street,
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9417 7700


  1. Anonymous4:42 am

    That looks good! What would you consider must try restaurants in Melbourne?
    I'm quite keen on trying places like Vue De Monde and Brae

  2. Anonymous5:16 am

    Where else would you recommend eating at in Melbourne?