Arbutus is a relatively new opening in North Melbourne’s Errol Street. The pitch is modern European cuisine, and although there are many European dining establishments around, what may catch your eye is their set menu offering. We saw other people pause as they walked by too, and it is little wonder. In this day and age of inflation and rising costs of everything, the set menu at Arbutus offers you all the entrees and all the desserts, not just a choice of. Are you intrigued? We were..
It is a compact space, with just five round tables fit into it. The decor was simple, with a beige carpet and eggshell walls. There was ambient mood lighting from lamps on the walls, and a colour-changing egg-shaped light at each table. Modern pop from the likes of Sia and Niki Minaj played in the background, but at not too loud a volume.
The menus were waiting with each table setting, but the only thing you had to choose was a main – one to select out of two options. And then the procession of dishes began.
It does seem that they change up some of the items on their menu – as per their website, they adjust it with the seasons and what is available from local producers. If you don’t want any potential surprises ruined though, perhaps skip all the way to the end..
Beetroot, pomegranate, and ginger shots. These were a sort of amuse bouche or palate cleanser to begin with. Dramatically blood-coloured in the test tubes, they definitely packed a gingery punch, and certainly woke your tastebuds up.
Appellation oysters, champagne snow. The granita did taste of champagne, but it was a little difficult to loosen the oysters from their shells without the granita falling off, so we probably ended up with less of the champagne flavour than intended by the time we could eat them.
Atlantic salmon, creme fraiche, dill, and capers. These were creatively plated up in a pseudo-zen garden setting, surrounded by mini trees. The salmon and creme fraiche mix was served in a spherical semolina shell, and a caper mousse piped on top. The semolina shell was puffy and crisp, and a good vehicle for the soft salmon.
Wild mushroom, green peas arancini, and spicy aioli. This was one of the more unexpected and amusing presentations of the meal. The arancini were plated up with a carousel that rotated, lighted up, and played music. Perhaps the arancini were spectators at the carnival.. Plating aside though, the arancini were actually good. They were piping hot, with a crunchy outside, and a cheesy mushroom and pea filling, with the contents in good proportions.
Shaved beef tenderloin, globe artichoke, pickled enoki, merlot reduction, and herbs. This was more typically prettily plated. The beef was very thinly sliced and tender. The merlot reduction had fruity flavour and a balance of sweetness and tartness. The dollop of creme fraiche helped things meld. This was a good combination that we enjoyed.
Cheese gougeres. If you haven’t had them before, gougeres are like chouquettes, but with cheese. And if you haven’t had chouquettes, they are little choux pastry puffs – think eclairs, but smaller. These were well done, airy on the inside, and with a little bit of chew. It did feel like they needed something to go with them, say, to dip them in though.
From the main options, we picked one of each, to be able to share and try them.
Aylesbury duck, balsamic glaze, and orange confiture. The duck was perfectly cooked, with still pink meat, and a little salt to the skin. There was a round of compacted shredded meat (we presumed duck) beside it, that was a little dry by itself, but when mixed with the jus and orange confiture, worked well. The jus was rich and sticky, and a flavourful accompaniment.
Slow roasted lamb, citrus and carrot mousseline, apricot and jus. It was somewhat less photogenic in its presentation than the other dishes, but the lamb was fall apart tender. The mousseline was very smooth, and a faintly sweet contrast to the savoury lamb.
Desserts followed, and an array of desserts is a sure way to win us over.
Valrhona chocolate fondant, nougatine and chocolate wafers. This was like a rich chocolate mousse, just lightly sweet, and not too dense. The wafer it was piped into was like a thin cookie base, with good crunch, but enough body to hold together and not crumble apart as you took bites from it.
Passionfruit and mango mousse. This was another cute, and slightly theatrical presentation. A locked chest was brought to the table, and we were provided with a key. When unlocked and opened, it revealed the treasure of what looked like two clacked boiled eggs nestled in a bed of pink fairy floss. Despite their very convincing appearance, the eggs weren’t eggs, but the passionfruit and mango mousse on a soft vanilla bean panna cotta-like base. This was a pleasant combination and again, not too sweet.
Cointreau and orange granita, mango, sauternes jelly. The granita was served in a chilled marble bowl, which kept it from melting too quickly. It had a distinctly citrussy flavour, and with the little pieces of mango in it, would make the perfect tropical summer dessert.
Creme caramel, golden raisins, and spiced rum. This was also deftly done, just the right soft texture, and blanketed with rich caramel that had been taken right to the brink, so you got those deep, almost (but not quite) burnt notes.
We didn’t quite know what to expect when we visited Arbutus, but it turned out to be a rather unique experience. It had elements that took it beyond your standard meal, like the wonder and whimsy that Heston Blumenthal tries to incorporate. More than just being for show, the dishes were technically well done. The only flaw we noted was with the pacing. The dishes came out too quickly and close together, so you didn’t really have time to fully appreciate each before the next was out. It was very good value compared to meals at many other places though, and we would certainly recommend trying them out.
Price point: $60 for the set menu – which really is a degustation.
Address: 8 Errol St, North Melbourne
Phone: 0432 455 844