Radisson Plaza Hotel
27 O'Connell Street
Tuesday - Saturday
6pm til late
Our experience with Bilson's had started 5 weeks earlier. I noticed that their website stated "that dietary requirements are catered for with sufficient notice"; as someone who doesn't eat seafood (unless it is a ceviche or carpaccio), lamb or pork, I decided to email Bilson's to see if they could cater for my dietary requirements.
In my email I mentioned the foods that I am happy to eat...all poultry, beef, veal, venison, sweetbreads and many others...a substantial & varied amount. I also indicated the following.. "I have found in the past when this request has been made, dishes tend to be substituted with vegetarian options, which while I don't mind vegetarian, I don't want it to be the focus of the meal".
I was assured that Bilson's "would be delighted to create a menu for you and accommodate your requirements".
The next five weeks couldn't go by soon enough. I, in particular, was very excited to see what delights Chef de Cuisine Diego Muñoz had created for me.
A few days before our reservation I emailed again to remind them of my requirements and was told "The kitchen are aware of your dietary requirements and will happily accommodate on the night".
So, the night of our dinner has arrived.
We excitedly enter the restaurant & are seated at a large table for two right by the window (one of the benefits of booking 5 weeks in advance we guess).
We have decided on "L'Ominivore Grande" menu which is 9 courses for $195.
The head waiter enquires as to who is having the "special" menu, and proceeds to inform me of what the changes will be.
The prawn dish will be substituted with the watermelon dish, the calamari with the tomato, the dory with the autumn vegetables and the lamb with the beef. All the vegetarian dishes reside on their current "Le Jardin" menu & the Beef on their "Petite" menu. My heart sinks as I realise that yet again, another restaurant has taken the easy way out and is about to provide me with what is in essence another vegetarian menu. I am very disappointed to say the least.
The first Amuse Bouche to arrive is the Fish Chips in Buggles' case and the Potato Chips in mine. To be honest neither one of us can taste much difference between the two, there may be a slightly fishy flavour to the chips I am given, but I couldn't be sure. The chips are very crispy, tasty & quite moreish.
This is followed by another Amuse Bouche of Dehydrated garlic sponge with black fermented garlic, garlic marinated in white wine, chives, coriander and a coconut cream. This is an exceptional & wonderfully flavoured dish. The garlic is pronounced but not overpowering, being gently tempered by the lush coconut cream.
Semi Cooked and Raw Crystal Bay Prawn, Consommé, Baby Sorrel is next up for Buggles. The marinated raw prawn has just a hint of heat while the highlight of the dish is the 'zing' provided by the finger lime.
Watermelon, Brassicas, Sheep Yoghurt is next for me. The watermelon is apparently "compressed"; this to me just translates to very thinly sliced watermelon, it adds nothing in terms of intensity of flavour. The mustard seeds do seem to help bring out the other flavours of the dish & work very well with the rich, tangy sheep yoghurt.
Baby Carrot, Calamari, Ink, Macadamia, Cocoa is perfectly seasoned. The calamari is incredibly tender & all the individual flavours complement each other beautifully, in particular the delicious ink with the crunch provided by the macadamia. Buggles is pretty impressed.
Buffalo Milk, Basil, Ox Heart Tomato, Green Olive is very light & refreshing. The ox heart tomato is rich in sweet tomato flavour after being poached in tomato tea. The tomato flavour is quite intense. The buffalo milk 'skin' is gloriously stringy & stretchy as well as very creamy in the mouth, its slightly sour taste is just what the dish needs to combat all that tomato sweetness. It is very good.
Egg Yolk, Cauliflower, Rye, Sprouts, Fresh Herbs, Marmite proves to be, once again, another well seasoned dish. The yolk is perfectly set and luxuriously oozy. The rye crumbs and mung beans add some wonderful texture to the dish & the micro herbs are more than just garnish, they add some real depth of flavour. The Marmite broth is delicious with just the right amount salt.
John Dory, Citrus, Chicken, Wild Rice. This dish is all about the citrus. Lemon, lime, grapefruit & finger lime are all represented on the plate and each adds its own glorious element to the spectacularly cooked, mildly flavoured John Dory. This fish element is about the texture really, not so much the flavour. The chicken finishing sauce is wonderfully sticky. This is Buggles favourite dish of the night.
Wagyu Shank, Kipflers, Watercress. This is a very small, thin slice of beef served with two favourites of mine, tendon & bone marrow. The shank is sous vide for 40 hours at a low heat and even after all this time it manages to hold its shape. However, there is a line of sinew through it that hasn't broken down, which is chewy & unpleasant. The tendon is soft, sticky & divine. The kipfler puree is very good & the 'pencil sharpener' sharpened shards of potato are very crispy & add great crunch.
The 'cheese' course is next.
Black Savourine Goats Cheese, Brioche, Quince, Vanilla Tea. The quince with its sharp flavour, is served 'bruleed', the sugar adding slight sweetness. The semi matured, ashed Yarra Valley goat cheese is wedged between to slices of toasted brioche and complemented by a strip of quince puree & topped with a single fennel seed. Lovely.
We have now reached the dessert portion of the menu.
First up we have Raspberry, Rose, White Chocolate. This dish is beautiful to behold. The dish is a celebration of raspberry and rose in a variety of forms. There are incredibly plump fresh raspberries, an intense raspberry coulis along with a smooth, clear rose jelly encasing another fresh raspberry whose colour rises up through the jelly to be crowned by delicate gold leaf. There is raspberry sorbet and a delicous white chocolate, rose and raspberry cylinder accompanied with dehydrated strawberry flakes. This is truly a symphony in our mouths.
Can a meal of such epic proportions truly be complete without chocolate? So next comes Chocolate, Mandarin and Violet. This is a beautifully bittersweet chocolate bavarois with strips of chocolate jelly and a cube of clarified butter jelly (strange, but adds an extra dimension to the richness of the chocolate), paired beautifully with a mandarin puree and fresh mandarin segments and a trio of violet textures: fresh flower, meringue and crystallised. It is a lovely dessert, but perhaps eclipsed by the magnificence of the raspberry dessert prior.
And finally, after hearing the joyful murmurings from a fellow diner at the table adjacent, we are presented with our Chocolate Box along with coffee. This is quite an elaborate presentation of a timber box encasing a number of petit fours. There are chocolates that enclose lemon, raspberry and orange as well as almond/nougatine and hazelnut cream miniature macarons and finally the most intense passionfruit cocoa jellies. After seeing images of the chocolate box prior to visiting we do feel slightly ripped off at receiving smaller portion sizes than others have and at having to share (we all know how much I hate to share sweets!!) whilst the lone diner next to us got the same number and then took the remaining ones home. But... we are just being a bit greedy probably. It is however a lovely end to a complex, flavourful and refined meal.
Part of the ambivalence we are left with however is perhaps attributed to the high expectations associated with the promise of customising the menu to cater for my dietary idiosynchrosies. These expectations were let down, so as a result so was our experience.
We don't in any way expect a restaurant to change dishes if they do not wish to. That is why we enquire in advance. We do expect them to be customised if that is what is promised - and in this case, it was. Degustation menus have long been out of bounds for us due to my dietary restrictions, but we have started asking restaurants if I can be accommodated and in recent times this has not been a problem (thank you Bentley!).
So what is the verdict of our Bilson's experience - a resturant that has long been on our wishlist? It was a lovely meal.
Did it blow us away? We cannot say it did.
We enjoyed it undoubtedly, but would we return?
Buggles & Squeak