Address: 157 Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda, Melbourne, 3182
Phone: (03) 9525 4488
Tuesday to Sunday, midday until 11pm
Tuesday to Sunday, midday until 11pm
(Breakfast available Friday to Sunday, 8am until 11.30am)
Another birthday, another excuse to go out for a nice dinner. This time the restaurant of choice was Golden Fields, the new 'it' place on Fitzroy Street owned by chef Andrew McConnell of Cumulus Inc. and Cutler & Co.
If you keep up with Melbourne dining, the name probably sounds familiar. The Age Good Food Guide just dubbed it 'Best New Restaurant,' and there have been entire articles dedicated to its signature lobster roll.
This undeniably impressive list of achievements is exactly why it is so hard to nab a table at Golden Fields. Well, that and the trendy Melbourne no-booking policy (can a restaurant even be hip without it these days?) Regardless, it was my birthday and I wasn't going to take any chances. We arrived mid week at 5.40pm on to a near empty room, but by 6.15pm, Golden Fields was full.
As we entered the restaurant, the glass door swung open and we were instantly welcomed. This luxury may not have been afforded to us had we arrived when it was elbow-to-elbow, just an hour later. That being said, our waitress was faultless, balancing opinions and information with just the right amount of friendliness. She had a charming manner and wasn't the slightest bit intrusive. The staff worked around each other seamlessly; they are definitely the backbone to this busy place.
Despite being so full, a large mirror on the far wall gives the illusion of extra space, while a long marble bar elongates the room and frames the open kitchen. Chefs were happily chatting to patrons, who can pop in for a drink and a snack, or stay for the whole shebang. Raised bar stools of pale wood match the tables, which are paired with black chairs. The seating matches the multiple black lights, which branch from a single stem and are placed strategically in the corners of the room. After sunset, the lights are dimmed to create a more intimate atmosphere.
But while the minimalist design and black and white decor attract gushing reviews, it's the little touches that impress the most: behind the bar on a black shelf sits a golden roller-skate; salt is found in a little Japanese inspired tin bucket; flowers are placed around the room in mismatched jars and coats are hung on quirky upside-down chicken feet hooks protruding from the wall.
When it comes to the food, simply being presented with the menu results in conflicting desires - you want to order everything. We decided to start with sake, more specifically Yamahai Tamanechikari Junmai Ginjo. It came served in a beaker, which I hadn't seen since Science in high school. It was served chilled, allowing greater appreciation of the delicate and floral flavours.
Like its sister restaurants, the food at Golden Fields is designed for sharing and we sampled a little bit of everything. We ordered 17 dishes from the menu but received a complimentary side salad after our waitress misheard our ‘grains’ as ‘greens’. This was redressed before we could blink.
I have separated the dishes into approximate courses to make them easier to follow. The smaller dishes came out in succession, with a longer break before the 'main' and again before dessert. In order of appearance, we enjoyed:
Soy baked pumpkin seeds
I didn't include these in the main body of dishes. These crunchy little morsels were nutty, salty and a whetted our appetite for what was to follow.
Fresh sea urchin, flat bread, crisp lardo, escabeche
The mixture of textures in this bite size dish rivalled the concoction of flavours. Crispy, crunchy, mushy, chewy - you name it, it was there. Fresh onion balanced the salty escabeche, as did the brittle flat bread for the soft sea urchin. I also realised I had accidentally eaten a tiny bit of pork when I unknowingly consumed the lardo... Oops! Now I can go back to Chin Chin and try the pork dish I was craving!
Kingfish, avocado, fresh horseradish and dried sea lettuce
Tender and mild, the pale kingfish came served with little spheres of avocado infused with bitey horseradish and sprinkled with sea lettuce. The colour combination was startlingly fresh and reminded me of a symmetric rock pool.
Crispy soft shell mud crab, fried egg aioli, scuds, holy basil
The soft shell crab was superior to the one at Chin Chin. When it arrived, our waitress suggested we pour the sweet aioli over the crab before eating it, so we did. The fleshiness of the crab was still detectable beneath the crunchy light batter and the plate was cleaned in an instant.
New England lobster roll, cold poached crayfish, watercress & Kewpie
Ah… the famous lobster roll. This is the only item you can order to take away. While it was incredibly delicious, it wasn't my absolute favourite dish of the night. The top of the soft roll has a shiny glaze and it's more like a brioche than a dinner roll. It comes buttered with Japanese mayonnaise, fresh watercress, and cold, sweet crayfish. It is faultlessly prepared and unlike a burger, the filling doesn't squelch into your lap. If only it were a little bigger!
Chicken broth, enoki, shimeji mushrooms and lime
The presentation of this mini soup was adorable. Two trays arrived, one with stainless steel teapots filled with the warming chicken broth, and another with small china cups. The mushrooms were inside the cups, and as the broth was poured a delightful aroma was released. The soup was full of intense flavour and tasted as though it would cure any cold.
King Salmon, Chinese mustard, pickled shallots, ginger and cucumber
I preferred the salmon to the kingfish. It was served in small tender cubes and had a more distinct flavour than the other sashimi dish. The shallots and ginger added a Japanese touch and was faintly sweet. Tiny squares of diced cucumber were scattered around the fish and revealed juicy bursts of freshness with every bite.
Rustic pork dumplings, Shanghai chilli vinegar
We only ordered one of these to keep my little brother happy, but it was quickly tasted by everyone else in the family as well (except me!).
Shredded chicken, sesame paste, house-made cold rice noodles, chilli oil
Our table had mixed reactions to this cold dish, as the house-made rice noodles were quite glutinous. I really enjoyed their density and thought there was a great homemade quality to the noodles. The chicken was tender with hints of sesame detectable beneath the mild kick of the chilli oil.
Twice-cooked duck, steamed bread, vinegar and plum sauce
The duck was a stand out winner for me, outranking the much lauded lobster roll. The crispy outer layer contrasted with the melt-in-the-mouth meat inside. The steamed bread buns had the consistency of fluffy clouds and were incredibly sweet. Without asking, we were provided with extra buns so that each person could make up their own ‘pancake’—a sensible idea for only $2 extra per bun. We spread the sticky plum sauce onto the bun, shredded the duck with ease, and placed it inside the bread pocket. Then we topped it off with a crunchy cucumber baton and dipped the creation in ginger and chilli infused vinegar. The combination of flavours and textures was simply divine.
Steamed wild barramundi, broad beans, wilted leeks and miso butter
Although not as meticulously presented as the other dishes, the barramndi was wonderfully moist and flaked away with the slightest touch. Its fine texture contrasted with the plump, crunchy broad beans and the delicate cuttlefish, which topped the fish in thin slices. The best component of this dish was the sweet and buttery miso sauce, which would have tasted delicious on anything.
Assorted grains, dashi, dried shitake, furikake
When we ordered the assorted grains, we were accidentally given the mixed greens, a minor misunderstanding, especially as 'greens' and 'grains' sound so similar. Although we insisted the greens would do nicely, the assorted grains still appeared within minutes on the table. Thank goodness they did—they were the best side dish we ordered. It was difficult to identify all the grains, although I recognised the barley and the nutty flavour of quinoa. It was expertly seasoned with a generous smattering of dried mushrooms. The mix of ingredients had an enjoyable earthy taste that popped in the mouth with each bite.
Pumpkin, tamarind, chilli, and crispy bean curd skin
The cubes of pumpkin in this side dish were almost silky, a direct contrast to the crispy bean curd skin that crackled as we crunched. The spicy salad was sprinkled with sesame seeds and freshly chopped spring onions, enriched by the intense bittersweet tamarind dressing.
Mixed greens and XO
Our complimentary dish was tasty, but not outstanding. The mixed greens consisted of bok choi and snow peas drizzled with the XO sauce. This side didn't grab me because it was something fairly easy to whip up in a stir-fry at home, but that's not to say we didn't finish it!
Slow-roasted lamb shoulder with cumin seeds and salted lemon
Along with the duck, the lamb was the highlight of the savoury dishes. It came on a square black plate with half a lemon, a large knife and some tongs. The mouth-watering meat was topped with a creamy sauce and wafer thin crisps of garlic. The meat fell off the bone effortlessly, and was perfectly roasted with a hint of pink in the middle. By the time we’d finished this heart dish, our savoury stomachs were well and truly stuffed.
Baked meringue, vanilla, rose and lychee
This dessert was simply beautiful. The baked meringue was chewy without the usual hard outer layer. It wasn't overly sweet and was plated with a sphere of icy lychee sorbet. Breaking into the meringue revealed a bed of rose coulis surrounded by cubes of fruity lychee jelly. Sprinkled with a rose and jasmine tea dust, this dessert was like something from a fairytale.
Black sesame, lime and yoghurt
The airy, black sesame cake had sesame brittle protruding from a cylinder of sesame yoghurt. Following the sesame theme, a puree swam underneath the yoghurt. A zesty globe of lime sorbet floated, slightly apart from the other components, but it was all melded together by the sugar syrup.
Green tea ice cream, pumpkin and liquorice
This was the most unique dessert of the selection, and possibly the most unusual I have tasted. The first layer was a sweet pumpkin puree topped with gingerbread crumble. On top perched an lemon shaped scoop of green tea ice cream, with an airy liquorice foam. Although not a wise choice for those who dislike liquorice (one dining companion exclaimed rather too loudly, 'that's disgusting!'), lovers of the controversial sweet will find this dessert delectable.
Peanut butter parfait, salted caramel and soft chocolate
If you have spoken to someone who has dined at Golden Fields, you will know that this dessert always seems to be the favourite. Served in a smooth black bowl, the flavour of the dainty cube of peanut butter parfait is not too overpowering. Salted caramel sauce drapes over the edges of the parfait, punctuated with roasted, crushed peanuts. The mixture collects in a decadent pool at the bottom of the bowl and a quenelle of rich chocolate mousse crowns this heavenly dessert.
We completely indulged ourselves and perhaps not surprisingly to regular readers, we polished off all that we ordered. This wasn't difficult when the fare on offer was so fresh and enticing. Dinner went for about three hours and we didn't feel rushed, despite the constant flow of people coming, going and waiting for a table. It was the perfect birthday meal and we didn't even have candles.
So if you find yourself on Fitzroy Street and Poppet's Window pops into your head, visit Golden Fields and order the following must-tastes: the assorted grains, the twice-cooked duck, a lobster roll, the lamb shoulder and the peanut butter parfait. I promise you will leave satisfied.
As a side note, Golden Fields, like Cumulus Inc., does a very reasonably priced breakfast. I'll be coming back soon for the Shanghai crepe, fried eggs, spring onions, hoisin sauce and coriander, followed by the rice pudding with blood orange... and then a stroll down the esplanade to work it all off!