My first encounter with Libertine was at the 2010 Taste of Melbourne, but I found it so impressive that when I realized it was just a quick jaunt from my workplace, plans were made by a few colleagues and myself to visit this lovely little venue for a proper taste of just what they could do.
Located on Victoria St (near the corner of Victoria and Errol) in North Melbourne, it’s a little removed from the usual city-bound crowds, however don’t let that fool you – it’s definitely one of the most pleasurable dining experiences that I’ve had in our fair city, and it’s location means that there’s less noise and distraction from the lack of sidewalk madness.
From the moment that you step inside, you can appreciate the cozy setting and warm energy that has been put into this restaurant, and the combination of white linens with the wooden panelling on the walls and antique silverware gives it a real charm and personality all of it’s own. You can tell that the owners have put thought into even the smallest details, and it makes quite a difference from those stark and almost sterile eateries that can be found around town.
Another impressive point was the service – with only two servers on and a full house downstairs, we found both staff members to be incredibly polite and helpful. Plates were cleared only when the entire table was finished, and we found our glasses being topped up so quietly that our conversation throughout the night was barely interrupted by their attentiveness.
Having dined on a Wednesday night, I’m guessing that there was less pressure on the staff than compared to a Friday or Saturday night, but the service was so stunning that all of us commented that this (next to the food) was the true highlight of the evening. Standard service is, well, standard. Good service is not uncommon. But perfect service? How often do you experience this? It may be that I’m not one to dine out every single week, but this was without a doubt the best service I’ve experienced all year while at a restaurant.
So, having covered those two points, let’s get to the food…
Since the third member of our party was arriving late, my friend and I decided to start with some entrees to whet our appetites and quieten the gnawing pits in our stomach. Even though we’d been looking at the menu since lunchtime, when presented with the difficulty of actually having to make a choice, our poor waitress was left standing with a polite smile as we hummed and hawwed through the various options. Paolo finally selected the Cured quail breast, boudin blanc & game consommé (above), while I couldn’t resist the call of the Hervey Bay scallops, boudin noir & eggplant relish (below). The quail and boudin blanc were perfectly cooked, and the consommé was beautiful with some sweetness from the onion and fragrant from the sage…however I felt that my dish was the superior, with the delightful pairing of scallops with boudin noir (blood sausage), and the tangy eggplant relish cutting through the richness and fattiness of the sausage to provide balance to the dish overall.
When it came to the main, I’m afraid that there was even more hesitation as we worked through all the dishes listed on the menu (as well as bearing the recommendations of a friend in mind, who had dined there the week before), but when our waitress mentioned that the special for the evening was a cassoulet (a French white bean casserole) and that it was the last time it would be served for the season, all hesitation left our minds and we settled on three serves of it for the table.
I’m generally not a fan of ordering the same dish as others when eating out, purely because it means I can’t sample other offerings (and I think one of the joys of dining out with friends is that you can order a variety of dishes and try them all out!), however there were no regrets on this evening. The cassoulet arrived from the table, bearing a beautiful home-made sausage, a leg of duck confit and a piece of beautifully cooked pork belly. All this surrounded by tender white beans (which looked like Cannellini but may have been haricourt?) and topped with a generous heap of herbed breadcrumbs.
Looking back now, I do have one regret…that we didn’t order one less dish of this since the generous (and rather filling) serves meant that there was quite a bit left over!
At this point, I was about ready to fall over sideways and just roll all the way home, but my two compadres decided that it was not right to leave without sampling some desserts, so we decided on the Whisky caramel crème, frozen banana toffee & sablé as well as the Mandarin parfait, honey brittle & almond chiboust (the online menu says cumquat, but on the night we were told mandarin…which is fine by me!)
The whisky caramel creme with frozen banana toffee is the choice of preference for those with a proper sweet tooth. The caramel creme is boozy and soft, and the banana is incredibly sweet – you’d call it candy except the flavour is that of fresh (though incredibly ripe) banana. Personally, I prefer my bananas a touch underripe so I found it a tad cloying for my tastes, however Paolo devoured every part of this dish with much gusto and joy!
As I’m a big fan of citrus-flavoured desserts, for me the winner was the mandarin parfait. The parfait was incredible – fluffy and creamy without any graininess or stickiness to it, and the mandarin flavour leapt off my spoon with such freshness and liveliness that it took me by surprise. So much so, that I asked the waitress to ask the chef how he had captured the mandarin flavour so perfectly in the dish.
She came back to reveal that there had been some lime juice in there which may have accentuated the mandarin flavour, but I had not been able to taste the lime component at all so that speaks volumes about how carefully this dish has been constructed.
At this point, all three of us were full to bursting, so we requested the cheque while slowly making moves and groaning from the effort of getting up to leave…
When they brought out these three adorable little friands.
Like the little cakes in Alice in Wonderland, all they were missing were little tags saying “eat me”
I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. But then Amy ate hers and made little pleasure noises, and the Paolo inhaled his with a little sigh…and then the one little friand that was left looked so lonely and cold that I couldn’t help but succumb to it’s siren call.
Looking back, it really wasn’t the wisest decision that I’ve ever made…but I can’t say that I regret it
At the end of the day, all I can say is a big hearty THANK YOU to Libertine for such a wonderful dining experience – and I can’t wait to come back and try what else you have to offer