Valentine’s day. Some women love it and relish receiving flowers, chocolates and more. Some hate it, dismissing it as a load of commercial tosh. I would consider myself to be more in the second camp, generally eschewing the trend in favour of, you know, showing my partner I care about him on days other than the commemorative day of death of a Saint who may not have even existed. Also from a practical point of view, as a frequent fine-diner it makes no sense to choose to go out on the one day that everyone else fine-dines too.
My anti-Valentine’s resolve was tested, however, when a colleague’s planned date fell through, leaving open a booking for two at Punch Lane. Of course, I couldn’t help but take up the offer.
It was a set menu for $89 per person, which included a choice of three courses each, two sides and a glass of bubbly on arrival. Bob doesn’t like bubbly, so I found myself rather tipsy before I knew it.
Although we paid a set price I have included standard menu pricing next to each dish for comparison.
Slow cooked salmon ($21)
The salmon’s texture was peculiar: it was closer to raw than cooked, albeit softer and less chewy. Caramelised yoghurt had been reduced to a cream cheese-like consistency. The interplay between its smokey-sweet tartness, the peppery sorrel and the bois boudran’s oniony punch was wonderful.
Wagyu +9 carpaccio ($22.5)
This invoked memories of the famous ‘cecina’ dish at Movida, however delicate carpaccio took the place of the cured meat. The familiar combination of parmesan and truffle was a winner, with a little twist added in the form of sweet black garlic and sharp horseradish.
Roast Aylesbury duck breast ($39)
Believe it or not, on this occasion I resisted the duck tempting me from the menu. Bob fell for it so I still got to sample some in the end.
It was perfectly cooked: tender, juicy, slightly pink in the middle and not excessively fatty. Pickled cumquats were an excellent match.
Barramundi, clams in “Aqua Pazza” (crazy water) ($38)
‘Crazy water’ is a classic Italian dish of fish poached in a light broth with tomatoes. The sweet tomato and onion mixture let the seafood shine through beautifully and the barramundi’s crisp, salted skin was a nice finishing touch. While simple, this dish was not short on flavour.
Honey roasted apricots, nougat parfait, amaretti granola ($15.5)
Syrupy apricots were offset by creamy nougat parfait and completed with a crunchy ‘granola’ of amaretti biscuits. Bob felt that the apricots were a bit too dominating; he thought there could have been fewer.
Chocolate fondant ($16)
When cut the fondant released its gooey molten chocolate centre, which pooled around the Momofuku-influenced ‘milk crumbs’. I could taste the slightest hint of orange in the accompanying coffee ice cream, which really lifted the dish.
It was hard to find fault with Punch Lane. In fact, the only part I didn’t like was the homeless man who persistently begged us for a dollar, which to be fair was not the fault of the restaurant (who frequently shooed him away), and possibly an expected consequence of sitting outside.
To be honest, I wanted to find something to complain about in order to reinforce my defiant stance against Valentine’s day; unfortunately, Punch Lane left me empty-handed in that regard. What a shame 😉
Overall: restrained, well thought-out cooking with friendly, unpretentious service. You can see why this place has been going for nearly 20 years.Punch Lane 43 Little Bourke Street Melbourne