Level 1, Transport Hotel, Federation Square
Ph: 03 9654 8808
DAMN tennis. If it wasn’t for Hewitt, Roddick, Federer and the like I’d have eaten at Rockpool on a recent Friday night. Or I would have enjoyed the summer view from a table at Donovans. Or I may have gotten close to DeNiro at Nobu. But no…in January the tennis is in town and with it, it seems every restaurant worth its salt is booked out with tennis stars, their entourages and their fans.
So it was with some initial reluctance I finally accepted a Grandma booking (in at 6pm, table vacated by 8pm) at Taxi at Fed Square. Not that I’m above eating at Michael Lambie’s most lauded Melbourne eatery but I had my heart set on Rockpool. Then on Donovans. Then on Nobu. And I also wouldn’t have minded a table at 8pm. But as I discovered, you clearly can’t be picky when you’re booking with only two nights’ notice during Melbourne’s tennis-mad two weeks…
I’d eaten at Taxi not long after it opened and was impressed by the view then. But in the past five years I’d clearly forgotten how spectacular the restaurant’s panorama of Melbourne’s skyline was because once we were shown our table all thoughts of the water views from Donovans scuttled from my mind.
Within minutes we were browsing Taxi’s extensive menu and my first impression was one night wouldn’t be enough. How could I possibly choose between an entrée of pressed duck, rabbit and foie gras ($25.50) or the Crystal Bay prawn gyoza ($25.50). And as for the mains, I was tempted by both the barramundi fillet with soft-fried shell crab and tomato and mint salad ($42) or the saddle of rabbit with baby vegetable and lapchong sausage salad ($42). Rockpool Schmockpool.
After much deliberation, I surprisingly snubbed all menu choices and instead went with two specials: an entrée of Moreton Bay bugs with a side of pork belly ($26.50) and a main of Black Angus eye fillet that had been dry aged for four weeks, wrapped in pancetta with foie gras fondant ($48.50).
My buddy on the other hand made the most of Taxi’s renowned Japanese chef Jo Moriawase’s sushi menu and had an entrée of three sashimi selections - prawn, salmon and crab – ($17.50, above) and a main of Wagyu porterhouse with Japanese mustard and Wagyu dipping sauce ($49, above).
For dessert, I had the lemon soufflé ($17.50) and he, the vanilla pannacotta with homemade honeycomb ($19.50, below).
Both of us swore black and blue we’d chosen the best possible dish on the menu but I reckon my selections were on the money. The freshly-caught Moreton Bay bugs were plump and juicy and were complemented nicely by a tart dressing. But the real delight was the surprise addition of two bite-sized nibbles of pork belly soaked in an Asian-style sauce. The pork was full of fat and thus full of taste and both pieces simply melted in my mouth. For mains, my eye fillet was just as luscious and tender enough to only require a butter knife.
What does set it apart is the small things: the view across the Yarra, the L’Occitane en Provence toiletries and the ability of the staff to happily secure us a reserved lounge in Transit, the upstairs cocktail bar, after our meal (even on a busy Friday evening in the middle of the apparently even busier Tennis period).
But I can’t let this review finish without telling the story of the Taxi waiter who loves his butter. When I made an off-the-cuff comment to our waiter about how amazing the butter was he was able to give us a completely unprompted and amazingly knowledgeable account of where the butter had come from (northern France), how little of that particular variety is actually imported into Australia and the level of butterfat it contains (95 per cent – must be why it was so good.).
From what I saw, Taxi’s staff are of the breed who worship quality food and love to offer spectacular service. Next time I’m looking for a fancy night out Taxi will be my first option, not my fourth.