If you are reading this, chances are you probably stumbled upon Peter Gunn’s celebrity appearance in the Masterchef 2020 series or caught wind of the illusive Black Box. A dear colleague of mine has further bumped this expectation with a thumbs up of its takeaway during Victoria’s tough lockdown.
All said and done, it was the perfect excuse to celebrate a birthday dinner out. To top it up, would be the first fine dining of the year 2021. Mind you, I have not been out for fancy fare since 2019 since COVID19 leaves little appetite for venturing out – in essence, there were high hopes for the whole experience. Yes, the Black Box looks enticing on social media, but it was the creativity behind it that I am wagering on.
Mystery shrouds IDES the moment you seek it. Not easily noticeable when driving through Smith Street, one has to be at the doorstep to step into this realm. Experienced and very efficient staff are ready to draw you in. Once seated, drinks ordered, the dinner begins. At the time of writing, there is no ala carte menu and every patron joins in on the degust menu.
Generally, people would have an idea or an expectation when going through the list of dishes but nope, IDES remains a mysterious surprise. In my opinion, a fun way to dine and away from the “simple food done right” mantra. Absolutely love the incorporation to local ingredients, and some which I have never tasted before.
My only “allergy” is small serves of food. Nonetheless, IDES serves up a series of dinner snacks and do not assume, these are very filling and I was contented even before the main began. We opted for the add-on rock oysters and salt baked abalone i.e. if I am out, why not go all out?
Snack #1: Cool baby cucumber with a Sichuan pepper – a refreshing start. You may notice the snacks progress from lighter to much denser molasses.
Snack #2: One of my favourites, the peas, mint and tomato soup. Beautifully pristine, and gentle flavours. The dish is completely translucent, except the well behaved peas, which never seem to get out of place. This cooking sorcery has combined hot and cold elements together for a fun performance.
Snack #3: Black mussel with parsley and nigella seeds, but obviously not the way you think. Encased in a dark (fried?) matter, the sweetness of the mussel was brought forth with a concoction of herbs. A unique taste, and leaves you wanting more.
Snack #4: Avocado wrap, prawn and finger lime. A nod to the Asian inspired use of nori seaweed, this dish encourages you to get comfortable using your fingers, and skip the formalities of stiff, fine dining. Sweet and zesty.
Snack #5: Sweetbreads and broadbeans skewers. So crunchy, so delicious and leaves you wanting more. Out of all the dishes, this is probably the one which did not take me by surprise. Probably a good thing to have a pause in between all the system shocks 😉
Snack #6: Sesame sourdough with peanut butter. The absolute best idea ever! House made peanut butter means its a savoury spread, and highlights the deliciousness of natural peanuts. Generously dress this on the the fluffiest, warm sourdough bread – and it is love at first bite. It gets even better, you are offered more bread too! But try to hold back, because we still have to work through this menu.
Extra snack #7: Most people would assume rock oysters on the menu is usually served fresh / raw. Thus, I was surprised it appeared later down the list but did not think much of it since it was an extra, which patrons can choose to accept or decline. True to IDES style, it was instead served with more than a bite. Laced with a dressing that pays homage to a sweet, cured meat; these oysters takes on a different spin. Without giving too much away and keeping the element of surprise – it was delicious and unique.
Extra snack #8: Salt baked abalone with miso. I have never had a generous serve of abalone all in one sitting. Comforting and naturally sweet, one can taste the ocean breeze with each bite. Note: if you are a small eater, this can be shared with a dining partner because it is quite rich. If that is the case, I hope it would be enough;)
Doubt Peter is sharing recipes anytime soon – the snacks were truly sensational! It was a wonderful start to the meal and very satisfying. In between, the attentive staff is set to your every need and making sure you get clean cutlery, warm towels for cleaning and creating a light, fun atmosphere. I know the kitchen staff was working tirelessly at the back and Gary’s concentration was evident as he plates and presents some of the dishes.
The main segment started with a glorious maple tart. Prettily assembled with edible flowers, the light, crisp tart based layered with a cheese filling and topped with pumpkin cubes and cashew nuts. It was so dreamy and light. There was meant to blue cheese involved, but it was so subtle, one would not have guessed it.
Next, came the seafood part with Kangaroo Island’s marron. Sweet bites melded with a creamy seaweed sauce. I am glad IDES made it easy to consume, but also, have the option to pick deeper with it – which I did (what else was a girl meant to do in between waiting for serves?).
The ultimate main was a barbecue pork with shiitake mushroom and pumpkin seeds. Sublime smoky flavours with each bite and the umami was boosted with the side of mushroom and soup. It is a beautiful piece of meat, unlike any other.
Soon followed was dessert time. And out came, literally Australia on a plate. A dark chocolate, wattleseed and tropical fruit interpretation of the country itself. The pineapple and mango filling was a nice cleanse of the palate after a hearty meal.
We ordered one Black Box dessert to share ( a wise choice because we were quite full by this stage). Ladies and gentleman, it was worth the hype. The refined combination of natural sweetness and tanginess from the orange/mandarins, passionfruit and cherries; re-invented as distinctive elements to bring everything together with the chocolate outer casing. It certainly tasted like an Australian summer.
A final note concluded with a toffee dusted with quandong powder. Definitely not overly sweet, and a Wizz Fizz sherbet moment to finish.
A showcase of Australia’s finest, local ingredients according to the season, IDES has also delved into diverse cultures and weaving together heritage cooking techniques. Certainly a bold adventure of flavour pairings and representation, but a strong reminder of what makes this country great.
Peter – if you are reading this, there is only one cutlery that I would change 😉 Thank you for the wonderful night out.