A few weeks ago, back in the midst of blurred days and uncertain nights, my brother came to town for a friend’s buck’s night and my mother cleverly used the excuse of her birthday to ensure we saw him at least once during his trip.
And because my mother is not just clever but, you know, really really clever, she chose Monster Kitchen and Bar for her birthday dinner.
Mum and I started off with two intriguing cocktails from Monster’s changing seasonal cocktails menu, and good golly Miss Molly, were they ever a treat for the eyes and senses. I went for the Autumn Fling: West Winds The Sabre gin, violet, elderflower, lemon ($16), which tasted at first like a lolly I can’t quite remember but soon segued into a complex layered delight that I downed way too quickly.
Mum chose the Piná Borracho: cachaça, pineapple, burnt toffee, lime ($18) – seen behind-right of my blue drink in the photo – and the burnt toffee note against the tangy-sweet pineapple was marvellous.
Monster’s menu takes the share plates approach that so many mid-to-fine-dining restaurants are adopting these days, and it’s a testament to the kitchen’s skills that every single dish we ordered was a winner.
We started with the above Gin-cured ocean trout, pickled plum, jalapeño ($18), which delighted with meltingly soft trout, tangy-sweet plums, and decidedly spicy jalapeños.
I’m a terrible daughter and pleaded for the Boxgum Grazing beef tartare, miso cured egg yolk, avocado, horseradish, crisp black rice ($23) to appear on our table, knowing the whole while that the birthday girl is allergic to beef.
Sorry Mum. But this tumble of zesty dressed beef with cured egg yolk and avocado puree, combined with the magically salty and ethereally crispy rice cracker, was worth the betrayal.
Oh bollocks. Mum’s allergic to ketchup too.
Thankfully, the chips were perfectly crispy yet fluffy inside, retaining heat throughout and dusted with a lively seasoning. I’m sure Mum didn’t miss the tomato accompaniment at all.
Our first dish from the “larger plates” section of the menu was this Daintree barramundi, lap cheong, funghi, coriander and Sichuan pepper vinaigrette ($31), which tasted like the soy-ginger baked fish dishes we make often at home… but a lot better.
Note to self: add Lap Cheong to all my Asian-influenced dinners from now on.
Praise be to Monster for stepping away from the ubiquitous pairing of beetroot with feta or goats cheese! This Roast beetroot, shankleesh, onion, almond, dill ($19) introduced my family and me to a brand new cheese (shankleesh) and I still can’t decide whether it, or the smoked roasted almonds, were my favourite component.
Have I mentioned before that I really don’t like duck? Well, shame on me, because this Dutton Park duck breast, fresh figs, amaranth, radicchio ($28) made me a (momentary) believer. (I’m guessing the amaranth was the purple leaves?)
Dessert time! Dessert time! Dessert time! Thankfully my family agreed to extend the share plate mentality to dessert, at which point I wheedled my way into ordering us the three desserts I wanted most.
My heart beats wildly for chestnut desserts, so as soon as I saw the Chestnut cream, walnut brittle, Earl Grey ice cream, grapes, meringue ($18), I knew it had to happen. Unfortunately, this was my least favourite dessert as the chestnut flavour was barely discernible. The meringue shards were glorious, however, and my Dad loved the Earl Grey ice cream.
Mum voted for the Figs and oloroso, fig leaf ice cream, toffee ($18), and happily scooped up most of this while the rest of us went to town on the banana dessert she had no interest in. The figs were soft and sweet, the sherry flavour apparent but not overpowering. Quite lovely.
That said, the absolute champion dessert was the Caramelised banana, dulce de leche, peanut ice cream, burnt marshmallow ($16), which, just, you know, GAH, words, so good. I mean, look, give me a toasted marshmallow and I’m yours for life (or for eternity if it’s a campfire-toasted marshmallow with the outside black and the inside goo), but I promise that the caramelised-but-fresh bananas, the super toffee-salty-roasted peanuts, and crumble and ice cream and dulce de leche were objectively GAH so good.
Happy birthday, Mum. I’m so glad I was finally in the right country to celebrate with you.