You know that very special feeling you have when two of your favourite things combine? That’s the feeling that warmed my belly this Wednesday when I went to Libertine in North Melbourne. You see, July is the month of Mushroom Mania, when various cafes and restaurants around Australia participate in an event to increase mushy-wareness by featuring mushrooms on their menus. So when I was invited by the Australian Mushroom Growers Association to go try some of the shroomy dishes on offer at participating restaurants, there was just no way that I could say no!
Now, I’ve proclaimed my love for Libertine before, so when I saw them on the list I had what you could describe as a pre-taste spasm. I hadn’t been in awhile so this gave me a perfect excuse to go back! And then I called them and…well, let’s just say that somewhere along the line there had been some miscommunication and there were no mushrooms to be found on the menu.
Cue the sounds of panic and heartbreak.
Thankfully, Nick Creswick (owner) was on board that evening and volunteered to solve my dilemma with a delicious solution, though I’d have to turn up to see what that was
So when my dining companions and I turned up, we were warmly greeted and ushered to our seats. After being presented with the lovely bread rolls that I adore here, a surprise turned up in the form of little shots of (I think?? My memory fails me…) celeriac, potato and leek soup. Whatever the non-celeriac ingredients were, they had all three of us swooning from first sip – with incredibly concentrated flavour and richness, I could very well have had this as a main and have been incredibly satisfied on such a cold winter’s evening!
However, I had turned up in anticipation of the mushroom surprise which had been promised to me, and my oh my, did they deliver!
Such an unassuming plate of goodness, so understated in appearance – little did I know that when I tasted this dish that the heavens would part and that angels in the form of fluffy ducklings and winged mushrooms would appear before my eyes and frolic on my tastebuds.
This special, off-the-menu offering of Duck foie gras & chestnut mushroom pithivier with port sauce & salad of mache, radish and parsley was just divine. Chestnut mushrooms may somewhat resemble button mushrooms in shape, but their stronger, earthier flavour was perfect alongside the rich duck foie gras. The mushrooms had been diced and cooked down with the duck so that the flavours were beautifully combined, and all encased in a buttery, flakey golden pastry.
And it was aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall mine!!! *cue delirious squealing*
(P.S. Nick & Andre, if you read this, pleeeeease consider adding this to the specials menu or something. It tasted so goddamn good that it’d be a shame for nobody else to get to taste this wonder!!)
The boys ordered their entrees and seemed as enamoured with theirs as I was with mine…but I still think I got the best one
Smoked pork loin, turtle beans & crackling
See that little pile of what looks like breadcrumbs on the right hand side of this dish? This is how Libertine does their crackling, and it is their gastronomical take on crack cocaine. Pork crackling which is pulverised to a rough sort of powder – the first time I experienced this, I came very close to licking it off my plate. The pork was also quite noteworthy – so succulent and moist, but with a wonderful thin caramelized crust on it.
Moondarra wagyu rump steak, pied et paquet & sauce bordelaise
J ordered the rump steak and marveled at the texture and flavour of the beef, and was positively mystified by the small mysterious-looking parcel that it came with. The ‘pied et paquet’ (otherwise know as tripe and trotters) was unlike anything I’ve had before but is highly recommended as it is absolutely delectable!
Pink snapper, green olive & courgette
I was torn between the pink snapper, green olive & courgette or the roasted duck breast & leg, persimmon Armagnac jus but ended up going with the roasted duck breast so M took the snapper. The flesh was utterly sumptuous and melt in the mouth and much enjoyed. M also commented that while he’s not usually a fan of dill, it’s sparing use in this dish along with possibly the freshness of the herb worked wonderfully and was one of the best uses of dill that he’d ever tasted.
As for me…
Roasted duck breast & leg, persimmon Armagnac jus
I have a bit of a thing for duck, so this was almost a no-brainer for me. Both J and M commented that so many restaurants seem to find it difficult to render out the fat yet ensure that the meat is properly cooked, yet that wasn’t a problem here. The meat was rich and tender, with a crispy skin and the fat almost completely rendered out and leaving just a succulent breast. Those of you who follow my twitter will know that my last duck experience at PM24 left a lot to be desired, so it was heartening to see that places like Libertine treat it with the careful love that it needs.
However, after the entree and two of these moreish bread rolls, I was faced with an unfortunate decision – to finish my main and forego dessert, or to leave the duck to make sure that I had saved a little room for dessert.
So I finished one portion of the duck, fed the other to my friends, and then was left with this…(o_O)
It seems so sad to see that little bit of duck left on the plate, however having skipped dessert here once, I was not about to repeat that mistake as both Nick and Andre rather deftly navigate the territory around the sweet stuff!
First up we have the strawberry souffle. The best description that we could come up with was “strawberry-flavoured clouds” as this is exactly what it is. So incredibly light and soft that it’s barely there, with the summery flavour of strawberries followed by a slight boozy kick. Light and luscious, it was very much the best souffle that any of us had ever had!
Coconut liqueur mousse, hazelnut meringue & passionfruit
This was M’s dessert, yet quite possibly my favourite dessert of the evening. The balance between the fragrant coconut and sweetness and very slight acidity of the passionfruit was a perfect match, making a for a dish that tastes rich without being cloying and a wonderful after-dinner sweet bite.
Crème plombières, rhubarb jus & roll-up
I absolutely love love LOVE rhubarb and believe that it’s one of those things that works beautifully in a dessert due to it’s tartness being able to provide a foil to sweetness or richness. The rhubarb was toned down in this jus so that the tartness wasn’t really discernable, but that wonderful scent was still there and partnered so well to the crème plombières. J and M weren’t as enamoured with this dessert as much as I was, but I think this is the perfect dessert for someone who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth and is looking for something light and indulgent but with fresh flavours.
Apple tarte tatin
Our final surprise of the evening arrived when Nick whisked this gloriously golden slice of apple tarte tatin to our table, announcing that he’d just pulled it out of the oven.
J’s eyes sparkled.
Not even having been able to finish my first dessert, I could only manage two small bites of this dish but they took me straight from food-gasm to food-coma. I’ve just about run out of adjectives to describe my meal here so all I can tell you is that it does not disappoint. At all. In any way.
All in all it was an incredible meal and I’m once again reminded why I rate Libertine as being one of my absolute favourite restaurants in Melbourne.
So if you’re thinking of dining out this month, I recommend that you take a look at the Mushroom Mania website and give a few places a call. Whether it’s a place you’ve been to before or one that you’ve not yet experienced, it might lead you on a marvellous gastronomic journey like it did for me