Exceptional meals are inspirational occasions where your imagination stays transported long after you’ve put your knife and fork in the position of your choosing. That blissful feeling of complete satisfaction is not achieved at many restaurants and usually there is an X factor that is responsible for the elation.
Travel, and celebration, are two extraneous circumstances that add to many dining experiences to make them memorable. Closer to home, on a chilly evening with no particular celebration (except for the Queen’s Birthday!), in the outskirts of this great city, is a shining epicurean example of how the ordinary can become extraordinary.
O.MY was not my idea. In fact, for some reason I thought it was out near the airport? Catherine had been keeping an eye on the growing enthusiasm for the offerings of three brothers out in the sticks. Having travelled home from Brisbane this morning on less than four hours of sleep, I still maintained a good level of excitement knowing that this place was at the top of her list.
By the time we were in the foothills it could have only been five or six degrees, making the walk across the road from the car seem like going from a heated spa to a cold swimming pool. The saving grace of this small restaurant was that it holds few tables, meaning the door would be permanently closed for a few hours, allowing the room to grow warm quickly. Tables are quite close together meaning our initial conversation was hushed, but this changed quickly as one of the brothers, and Sommelier extraordinaire, Chayse, liquored up several enthusiastic guests.
There is no menu so you choose between four, six and eight courses. The prices for this type of restaurant are very reasonable, so we felt compelled to try the eight courses ($110), and on reflection we would not liked to have missed the two extra dishes. Though on our next visit we would consider having four, given you have a complimentary starter, and dessert (counted as one course) is more like three smaller courses.
We found the menu gathers momentum as time passes by. The starter is playful with a contrast of the current season (fresh leaves from the farm) and earlier seasons (pickled vegetables). You grab a pickle with your leaf and dip in the emulsion, taste, and then refresh with a delicious and deep flavoured pork broth. Next comes the first official course of pumpkin gnocchi with a rich barbecue style sauce. When you hear the other aspects of the pumpkin (including the “drippings”) are themes in other dishes, you realise the care, effort, and interest that the other brothers, Blayne and Tyson (both chefs), put in their produce. All three of them working much of their “free” hours in the farm.
At this stage Catherine and I are still on our first glass of chardonnay, which has a great mouthfeel and elegance, made by Payten & Jones in the Yarra Valley. Our first glass because Catherine is driving and I am still recovering. The next dish is the weakest of the evening, with lettuce leaves covering sauerkraut, with a chicken sauce bringing the dish together. I could see some of the idea behind it, but the combination didn’t work for me with the three components not mingling. The next dish left the prior in its wake, with a beautifully presented ode to Jerusalem artichokes.
We hadn’t finished our chardonnay, but our Sommelier insisted on a splash of another wine (on the house) to better match the potentially clashing chemicals in the artichoke. Such an intricate dish is difficult to describe, but there were several cooking methods employed to combine different tastes and textures of the artichoke including roasting, pureeing, and simply slicing raw. At this stage some of the themes, plating, crockery, and later on some of the seemingly stripped back (but extremely detailed) desserts, had me thinking back to an amazing meal at Momofuku Seiobo. The intricacy and complexity continued throughout the night, this time with a thick wedge of perfectly cooked mackerel, sitting in a squid sauce full of flavour.
The two extra dishes we received as part of the eight courses came next, and both were unforgettable. First, kangaroo loin with beetroot, and honey, was stunning. Using a well known combination, but putting their mark on the dish, the chefs show their ability. Next was my favourite dish of the night, with a centrepiece of smoked lamb. Every taste was incredible; perfect lamb in a divine sauce, with simple accompaniments. The Farr Rising Gamay, from the son of one of my favourite winemakers of all time, is a terrific expression of this variety made famous by Beaujolais, and a tremendous match for both dishes.
We finish our savoury dishes on a high with beef that has been dry aged for 40 days, which comes with a restrained amount of fermented potato scattered with young carrots, and a powerful beef ragu that is best to have in small doses. This dish acts as a filler, without lacking any of the presentation or flavour of the previous dishes. Again I had our sommelier come to my aid with a thoughtful half glass to match.
We had realised by now on adjacent tables that dessert held more than the usual excitement as several courses were being served instead of the promised single course. To start we tried a petit four style collection of lemon tarts, orange cakes, and beignets. They were all good ways to begin, but the lemon tart with its terrifically balanced acidity from a natural yoghurt, won the day.
Next was a revelation in the form of smoked pumpkin ice cream, chestnut purée, and toasted buckwheat. While the attractiveness of the colour could be questioned, this was one of the most memorable, full flavoured, sweet but savoury, desserts that I’ve encountered. The thought needed to get all of the elements perfect, both separate and combined, is an art. But really, as impossible as it seems, the next dessert was just as brilliant. Enter a combination of chocolate (of brownie texture, and sauce), kaffir lime sorbet, and a determined chilli gel, and you have another dessert that broke some of the rules without being found out. The chilli gel in particular was knock your head back hot if you just have a touch at the end of your spoon, but combined into each bite it softened in itself, and extended the taste profile.
As we shared a peppermint tea, and our final taste of salted caramel, we spoke in awe of some of the dishes, struggling to rank some of them against each other. All the way through all the waitstaff had been fantastic. No doubt they are aided by a smaller room and a close to one for five floor to customer ratio, but there was never a time we needed anything. So much so that I hadn’t turned my head to look at the room until it had started clearing out as other tables finished. My Negro vermouth during dessert, and the mocktail made for Catherine of plum, ginger and pepper, were again expressions of the attention to detail, and careful experimentation that is part and parcel of the experience.
It’s an unusual name, in an unusual area, but O.MY exudes a tremendously bright light that is enough to get the attention of the big city and beyond. A visit out here and there’s no doubt you’ll be sold on the execution of some cutting edge ideas, and the enthusiasm with which they are presented.