New Quarter Vietnamese - Richmond. Vic
You know those cool kids at school who were popular for no reason, and seemed to get away with doing not much but were still popular? I reckon New Quarter probably has two or three of those on the floor of their restaurant, and hospitality is possibly not the ideal vocation for them. Oh and there is a thing called an iron which might be helpful for the clothes on three of the staff looking like they've just rolled out of bed and fell into them.
The venue is owned by the Commune Group - they have nearby Tokyo Tina and Firebird among others. Whether we simply caught them on a bad night or not, it wasn't up to what we have become used to from this team of Creative Director, Simon Blacher and Executive Chef Anthony Choi, who is known for his work at Cumulus, with their partners.
Shabby and immature service aside, for $80pp we have some high expectations for a 'premium' menu of five courses. But to the wine first. This is a good list, no questions about the quality and diversity of the choices. Bigger issue are the prices. Where your cheapest wine white wine is an Eden Valley riesling at $70, which I can buy up the road by the way in a retail environment, you are not catering to a mid range market. While its good, its over priced and a review is needed to find something interesting that lands a bit cheaper. Several people we have spoken to have ordered one beer in place of wine for this very reason.
The food - its good. Is not amazing, and given I can have a tasting menu on a Monday night in any one of Melbourne's best for the same price... it needed to be. Starting with some oysters with a suggestion of a kumquat vinaigrette and spring onion oil. Not much going on with flavour, and clearly pre shucked, the dressing was a bit bland and the oil didn't add anything but colour. The shales of oyster shell were a bit much and not nice to crunch on.
Next up was a quirky little thing - a 'banh mi finger' promising whipped parfait, chicken skin and cuques. It was tasty, but there were some issues again with execution. The ideas on the menu are great, they just couldn't get it together on this visit. Bread was too crunchy making it hard to eat this without pate all over the blouse.
Standout dish was a beef tartare tossed through nuoc mam then topped with egg yolk, dried-anchovy tapioca crisps and “beef pho broth jelly.” It had a nice mix of various Vietnamese style herbs and condiments but was super delish and banging with flavour. My only fault.. the jelly needed a tad more oomf. I questioned its place on the dish at all as I am not sure it brought what is was supposed to but, it was fun.
Next up, a smoked lamb curry with lamb fat potatoes, cucumber and coconut. Finally we are starting to see a bit of skill. Lamb was melt in the mouth, could have been smoked a little longer but was delicious. Who would know if the spuds were in lamb far or not but the flavour, spice profile and texture were all great. A small bowl of white rice gave us a little something for the sauce but was whisked away with only half of it eaten, purposely set aside for later.
Of the three choices of mains to share, we opted for a lemongrass pork cutlet with pickled green mango and daikon. A side of wok tossed gai lan was listed with kingfish tonnato and fried anchovy. It wasn't what arrived, or if it was there was merely a blessing of the tonnato or anchovy and an overly generous serve of fried shallots. Also on the side was a rice batter dish, bhan uot with finger lime, puffed rice, coriander and nuoc mam. It was a little bland and needed something to lift it, and we were really looking for the rest of the rice we had left aside for later. Another small bowl showed up for a fiver on the bill which was a bit cheeky.
Dessert came - we were looking for a coconut parfait as promised but we had a choc finger ice cream sandwich which was a bit meh, but this writer doesn't get too excited for dessert so didn't make much difference.
A $245 bill for a Monday night Vietnamese meal on Swan Street seemed a bit steep, given the very ordinary service. One particular member I watched with great interest - remember the cool girl from school? She walked around a lot, stood near the till and seemed to be flat out killing time, The key issue was that it seemed to be all clowns and no ringmaster, so service across the venue for everyone was a bit shambolic, without leadership.
Would I go back? At this price its a no, not when there are a myriad of options on the street, nearby Bridge Road and Church Street around the corner along with options on Lennox. The lack of effort seems to be reflected on the website and while the issues with service and wine list are able to be fixed, there needs to be someone to lead that change.
New Quarter is at Swan Street in Richmond (corner Lennox)
Open noon-late Monday to Saturday
Master image on this post is from Good Food.