Ridiculous, Extravagant and Over the Top
Address: 15A Corner Claremont Street and Yarra Lane, South Yarra
Phone: (03) 9827 0399
Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 5.30pm until midnight
Claremont Tonic in South Yarra is the kid at school that was a bad influence. If it were a person, you wouldn’t bring it home to meet your parents. It’s ridiculous, extravagant and completely over the top. And that’s why I like it. All flaws are balanced out by the fact that this joint is unique. If you haven’t tried it, you should. Ordering the small but creative dishes and original cocktails adds up, but it’s worth it at least once for the experience. Go to impress a date or for a birthday celebration.
At Claremont, it’s all about sex, drinks and rock ‘n’ roll thanks to the creative mind of Davis Yu (The Millswyn, Touché Hombre). He’s got Head Chef Dylan Roberts (ex Ezard, Cutler & Co. and St Jude's Cellars) pumping out Pan Asian from the kitchen and Hecker Guthrie have decked out the interior with customized steel, wooden finishes and a generous splash of neon.
Expect tits. Boobs, breasts, knockers, jugs. They feature prominently on the menu, which makes it difficult to concentrate on ordering and may result in a slap across the face if you spend too long tossing off – oops! I meant tossing up – between dishes.
Our appetites were whet with tasty nori prawn crackers, which for some reason were so much more addictive than their boring faded pink counterpart. With the cheeky reputation Claremont Tonic strives for, they were probably spiked with something illegal.
From the 'small dishes', we tried the crumbed scallops with smoked eel, pumpkin and picada. Despite its simple name, it was a complicated dish with seared (not crumbed) scallops, smoked eel in glutinous rice cases and diced pumpkin, flavoured with picada.
In the ‘Land and Sea’ corner, we ate incredibly tasty soft shell crab served in lettuce cups. Fleshy pomelo made the dish and complemented the crunch of the thin batter, while sliced jalapeno, avocado, fiery mint and pine nut took it to the next level.
Also ordered was the ‘King of the Chimichichangas’, which has quickly become Claremont’s signature dish. Raw king salmon, fish roe and other condiments come served in a wooden box with deep-fried nori on the side, so you can assemble your own Jap-Mex ‘tacos’.
The infinite spiral fries, while delicious, were falsely advertised. They were not infinite, and in fact ended rather quickly. The simple curry salted kewpie and sticky soy served on the side was awfully naughty, and I find myself craving this side dish on drunken nights months later.
Less naughty was the beautifully presented and highly textural ‘Samurai Vegetables’ of beetroot, radish, smoked yoghurt, puffed grains and Thai basil; as well as the Chinese cabbage with jicama, chilli, lime and glutinous rice, which was seriously spicy.
But our favourite part of the menu was the ‘Happy Ending’, and we went all out with our desserts. The best was the soft, warm rectangle of spiced carrot cake in a pool of salted caramel with sesame ice cream and pistachio on the side. It wasn’t nearly as good looking as the other desserts, but the flavour was divine.
More aesthetically pleasing was the Yakuza Yuzu Sorbet, served in a glass with cold sake poured over the top and yuzu. The lemon jelly cubes that came on the side were super zesty to the point where their sourness – although not enjoyable – was impressive and a bit of fun.
Next came the refreshing plum wine sorbet served with CT Jelly, tonka bean custard, rhubarb and candied lime. The combination of sweet and sour and the multiple textures was a party in our mouths. This may be concerning for some, seeing as one particular ingredient looked as if it was fresh from an alien’s reproductive system.
Finally, the ‘Elianza Truffle’ arrived. It stole the show with thin wheels of dried pineapple, a creamy milk chocolate mousse, moresome malt ice cream and sugared perilla.
At Claremont, they’ll happily drop a C-Bomb at your table (a whole cleaved watermelon filled with organic vodka, rhubarb juice and mint leaves) and tell you where to go, with their “F*ck You Eddie” cocktail. Instead, we opted for the “Norwegian Wood” with barrel-aged infused shochu, bubble gum liqueurs and Crème Yvette violet, served with a trail of coloured popcorn. It was sickly sweet and I couldn’t finish it… but it came with COLOURED POPCORN, so all was forgiven. On the other hand, the extravagantly named “wake from death and return to life” juice made with celery, honeydew, cucumber and green apple was delicious.
Before you leave Claremont Tonic, make sure you visit the bathroom and have a giggle at the Andy Warhol-style ‘cream of sum yung guy soup’ print in the bathroom. Let loose a little and sing along to the rocking soundtrack, or finish your night by chroming white peach hakuto, gin, orange blossom, jasmine jelly and bubbles from a plastic bag with Claremont’s ‘Chroming with Keith Richards’ cocktail. Wok ‘n’ woll, indeed.