“Two men walked into a bar…”
Normally this would descend into a terrible punchline but in this instance the result is a quirky space atop the Flinders Hotel serving a young experimental menu. Billed as “British colonial style joins an all star food crew”, the all stars here are head chefs Thomas Lim (ex-Tetsuya’s) and Mitch Orr (ex-Sepia and 2010 Young Chef Of The Year) who’ve set up a moody and compact dining room peppered with low hanging lanterns, floral upholstery and dark lacquered tables.
This is my second time here for the Duke Tuesday Tasting menu and I’ve managed to sucker in more soon-to-be converts. The boys have been offering a 6 course degustation for only $60, with dishes often changing weekly, providing the kitchen with an opportunity to experiment with new flavours and techniques.
We start off with a plethora of snacks. First up are the Gougère; the delicious little puffs of warm cheese and buttery choux pastry disappearing so quickly it takes me a moment to register that they’re all gone.
Snacks: Oyster Mushroom Karage
Next, a long slate of fanned out crispy oyster mushroom karage line up next to a speckled pebble of sauce. We debate what the sauce is, however I believe it has black beans blended into it, to give it a salty albiet nutty aftertaste.
Bread and butter
Snacks: Home made maple cured ham and smoked pastrami + Pimms Carafe: Pimms Cointreau, Plymouth, Sprite, Dry Ginger $35 + Rickey Tickey: Absolut, Peach Liquer, Peach, Watermelon, Lime, Soda $17
Hold up! The snacks still haven’t ended; a bowl of home made bread rolls soon arrive with a hard round of hand churned butter and although carbs is probably one of my favourite food groups it’s exponentially improved with a generous serving of shaved home-cured meats.
The Earl: Silver Tequila, Cointreau, Earl Grey Tea, Guava, Lemon $19
It’s at this moment, table about to topple over from the burgeoning weight of Parisian slates that we receive our cocktails. Cathy’s Rickey Tickey turned out to be a light-hearted tumble of flavours whilst my ‘The Earl’ was a more singular affair with tequila and Earl Grey proving natural companions.
The waitress reappeared to surprise us with an extra snack from the kitchen (this is sadly not due to my awesomeness and more so to do with one of our party being a professional chef) in the form of a crispy pork jowel bun.
With compliments from the kitchen: Butter bread, pork jowl, grilled pineapple, curry mayo, snow pea sprouts
These bite sized little sandwiches were a sunny mouthful of mayo, pineapple, butter and the unmistakable firmness of the marinated pork jowel. I was sincerely glad to discover these have made it onto the permanent menu in the form of a DIY ‘pancake party’.
1st Course – Corn: Corn husk salt, chickweed, grilled baby corn, corn stock, corn puree, corn kernels
Corn. Yes that’s what it said on the menu, the one word description gave nothing away and it was quite delightful to spoon through the bowl, musing over the different textures and forms.
2nd Course – Pearl Onion, Leek and Chicken Skin with jalepenos oil and onion pickle liquor
3rd Course – Mushroom Risotto with rice starch, pine ash, powdered black fungi, toasted rice
The onion and chicken skin proved an interesting play on texture albeit overly salty whilst the mushroom risotto was a hit. A risotto made without rice might seem quite existential but the boys have used rice starch to thicken up the sauce and hold the dish together, letting the beautiful fresh flavours of mushroom take the spotlight.
4th Course – Egg, Lapchong, Red Rice: pickled pea sprouts, crispy lap chong, slow-cooked egg
Michelle’s done her research and lights up when we’re finally served the slow-cooked egg. It’s so soft it seems to exist in a permanent state of near-splitting over the bed of lap chong and red rice.
5th Course – Smoked Beef, Gherkin, Mushroom: hickory-smoked beef blade, button mushroom puree, gherkin, sourdough crumble + With compliments from the kitchen: green beans with garlic and butter
Lastly was the crowd pleaser, a trio of beautifully smoked slices of beef served with a dousing of crunchy sourdough crumble which provided a comforting end.
Pre-dessert – Watermelon, White Chocolate, Pink Peppercorn: watermelon granita, watermelon molasses, shaved white chocolate, pink peppercorn praline
To clean our palettes a refreshing bowl of granita, the layer of molasses tastes quite woody and not heeding Fiona’s advice I ambitiously mix all the elements together before realising that the three elements don’t go together quite so well.
With compliments from the kitchen – Milk milk milk: Milk panna cotta, dulce de leche caramel, meringue, burnt milk crumble
We’re sprung another surprise, an extra dessert exploring the different textural incarnations of milk as the seven of us murmured and scraped the last smears of dulce de leche off the plate.
6th Course – Pinenut, Burnt Choc, Blueberry: liquid lemon yoghurt cake, lemon yoghurt cake, burnt chocolate, pine nut praline, blueberry, chocolate puree
The last course is an elegant little garden, with the burnt chocolate created in reminiscence of the scrapings from the edge of a cake tin. One of our party leaned back and with a wide grin declared this dish a perfect ending to his meal.
With compliments from the kitchen: Doughnuts and banana cream puree with strawberry & liquorice salt
But wait there’s more, urging ourselves to digest with greater haste, we make room for this final mouthful of the softest-doughnut-ever. It turns out that these golden orbs were pipped choux pastry, fried and filled with the fragrant banana cream. This was my perfect end to a playful meal full of surprises, youthful exuberance and yes, quirk. Our group waves goodbye to Thomas Lim and Michael Eggert as we happily stomp down the creaky stairs, sure of ourselves that we had a shared a great gastronomical laugh.
The Duke Tuesday Tasting menu $60 for 6 courses is available Tuesdays (duh) only, please book ahead.
In an intense, high pressure industry it’s great to see two young lads leading the way in developing an inventive, witty and evolving menu. Nothing is taken with too much stern seriousness and it’s always a game to delve through the abstractly plated dishes and discover what’s buried beneath. The flip-side to this sense of unburdened creativity is that not all of the dishes are crowd pleasers with some combinations pushing the creative envelope. However if you’re up for something new and want to save a bit of coin, Tuesdays at the Duke is where you’ll score a bit of fun.