This is Pip Lincolne. She’s an author, blogger, artist, Aussie, and my new pal.
I have a 30 minute interval between the Melbourne Cup and my first meeting with Pip (who blogs at Meet Me at Mikes ). I rush upstairs to my hotel room, reapply my lipstick and splash water under my arms like a lady, and then stumble back down to meet Pip in the lobby. Five-hour dinners with strangers aren’t an everyday occurrence for me, so I am somewhat concerned about whether we’ll hit it off.
But Pip is waiting for me in the lobby with a package of touching vintage children’s books, one of which has a tiny record of Australian animal sounds. She has tied the gift with a beaded necklace she made for me. I refrain from tearing up and kissing her face, and instead just say, “Thank you! I love these very, very much.” Because I am a cool customer like that.
Then we walk to dinner at Vue de Monde – where the view of Melbourne is without parallel, and they set the table with rocks.
This is charming, childlike, and perfectly suited to our mood. Throughout the night, they use each of the stones as serving pieces for a gorgeous meal that is the nicest possible way to get to know a new friend.
Pillowy with crispy savory bits.
Smoked Eel, White Chocolate, Caviar
The eel is candied, so it’s crispy on the outside.
Well, deconstructed oysters in transparent papery noodles.
Salt Cured Wallaby
I’ve never had Wallaby before, nor had I planned to have Wallaby. It tastes nothing like chicken.
Beef Tongue, Beetroot, and Bone Marrow; Paired with Wild Ancient Black, Black Tea, China
That powdery substance to the right tastes like cream transformed into snow. The frozen granules soften against your tongue, like you’re remembering cream while you eat it.
What’s the Aussie etiquette around plate licking?
Melbourne Onion Soup; Paired with Persimmon Herbal Tea, Korea
Bet you think this is the tea, huh? Sucker.
They’re using a coffee setup to bubble the house onion broth. It moves up into the herbs waiting in the chamber above.
The herbs perfume the broth, then they serve our bowls table side.
Ah, here’s the tea.
Marron, Sweetbreads, and Lamb Floss; Paired with Dancing Bamboo, Herbal Tea, China
This gives you a good idea of how each tea presentation goes. First the leaves.
Then warming the accoutrements, this time over steam from a bamboo tray.
Then Charlie adds heated water to the tea leaves so they can steep.
And voila. The process is most soothing and steamy.
A Marron is a type of crayfish, and the sweetbreads come in paste form. I pretend they are not glandular, because I am a less adventurous eater than I would like you to believe. They’re good, so self-deception works to my advantage yet again. Tantara.
I like the leather bread basket. Everything is so earthy up here in the sky.
Duck Yolk, Pear, Truffle; Paired with a Mar-tea-ni
This is the apparatus for my tea martini, which is refreshing. Pip isn’t drinking, and I just barely refrain from requesting her serving as well.
Cucumber, Wood Sorrel
This bit is such fun. They bring us small bowls of sorrel and pansies, then flash freeze them.
Then they give us pestles to crush them. I am crushing you. Crunch, crunch, crunch.
And they put a scoop of cucumber sorbet on top. Delight! One of our favorite parts of the meal.
Barramundi, Nettle, Young Garlic; Paired with Darak Green, Green Tea, Korea
Pigeon, Wattleseed, Apple, Truffle; Paired with Yinzhen Hong, Black Tea, China
This is the backyard tableau of a disturbed child. It challenges.
But what the hell. I make my six year old try at least one bite of everything, and it’s so rare that I get to eat poultry with claws still attached, you know?
Blackmore Wagyu, Smoked Bone Marrow, Saltbush; Paired with Lapsang Suchong, Black Tea, China
Pip and I do not giggle like 14-year-old boys at this presentation. Afterward, I do not ask, “Was it good for you?” As I am a grownup.
Asparagus, Wasabi, Blueberry; Paired with Mist and Cloud, Green Tea, China
More snow cream, hooray! The asparagus is so delicate and fresh — all of us clearly need jars of snow in the fridge. I’m sure they would keep.
So very much tea. Time for a bathroom break.
This? Is the bathroom sink. It’s the size of a small coffee table, and though I am not the least bit tipsy, I splash around in it for longer than is necessary for hygienic purposes. I’m pretty sure that if you climb atop, it can beam you up.
On my way back to the table, I am so confused by the modernist doors, I accidentally wander into the mens’ room instead of the dining room, while sober. It’s possible I need a nap.
I return to the table red faced, and there is cheese.
Cheese, you are always there for me. It is approaching 2 a.m., and I think I am having a stroke.
Palate cleanser time.
Kale, Celery, Coconut Juice
I could have a vat of this. Kale has no right to be so good in juice.
Buttermilk, Malt Cream, Hay; Paired with Golden Tips, White Tea, Sri Lanka
Again. Where are we on the plate licking issue? Can I get a ruling on this?
Tonka Bean Soufflé, Smoked Chocolate; Paired with Rooibos, Herbal Tea, South Africa
All right. I’m just going to go ahead and lick the plate. International incidents notwithstanding.
Perfect bronzed jellies in the shapes of pennies.
Eucalyptus ice cream pops on tiny sticks! Incredible, and clarifying. I am slightly more alert afterward.
We consider falling face first into the table and asking to spend the night up there, but decide the staff are too accommodating and would probably allow it.
Hie thee to your smoke breaks, Vue de Monde. Thank you for an unforgettable night, and the best first date I’ve ever had.