16 Sep The Roving Marrow, Carlton
A humble, almost typical pub look on outside belies the smart and spiffy interior of The Astor, home to The Roving Marrow and The Astor Bar. Previously Percy’s Bar and Bistro, the 50 seat dining room of The Roving Marrow features a warm and moody, yet inviting environment with its dark, timber veneer panels and mirrors, whilst the Astor Bar at the front has been fitted out with orange banquettes and dark tiling.
Chef Hayden McMillan is in charge of the kitchen, pumping out a produce-driven menu of contemporary European cuisine. There were so many things I wanted to try, but of course stomachs have limits. The a la carte menu is ordered from lighter to richer dishes, and using this as a guide, we chose a few from both sides of the spectrum. There were a few small bites for $4.50 each, but most of the dishes ranged from about $11 to $17 and were sized such that you could almost create your own tasting menu. Though it was originally a standard feature of their daily offering, their yum cha-style service will be moving to a Sunday-exclusive, with the regular a la carte menu being served during other times.
For our first dish, we went with one the waitress had recommended, and apparently one of the more underappreciated dishes of the menu – the sea bounty mussel tart with almonds and tomato. Flat, thin crispy pastry was topped with a quite number of juicy mussels, and the tomatoes added a perfect amount of fresh tanginess. The almonds added interest and extra crunch, but being skinned and blanched, their nuttiness didn’t detract from the beautiful mussel flavours. Yum.
The braised pumpkin, bone marrow and master stock dumplings had an understandably rich and smooth filling, though I wasn’t too much a fan of the spiced nuts. The dumpling skin had the smoothness of a wonton, but a degree of chewiness somewhere between a wonton and ravioli. We must have ordered the last lot of pumpkin ravioli because I overheard other tables being told the new alternative was the beef shortrib dumplings.
Next up was the slow cooked hen’s egg with smoked potato, fried shallots and “lots of mushrooms”. There were indeed lots of mushrooms of all varieties. I loved the unusual smokiness of the potato and the beautiful, decadent texture the egg lent to the dish once it was mixed through. The salty crunch from fried shallots also came in to make it a well balanced dish.
Little cigars of chicken liver parfait, date and salted peanut soon followed. It was one of the best liver parfait dishes I’ve had so far. There was the cool, richness of the parfait, with the flavours of fig coming in just afterwards, sweetening and freshening the palate.
We then moved on to the larger, meatier dishes. First was the perfectly cooked King Reef barramundi with organic green lentils, celeriac and umami butter. There was definitely lots of umami here, but still a slight tanginess to counter it, and there was an excellent interplay of textures from the juicy fish, crispy skin, just-tender lentils and creamy celeriac puree.
Cape Grim beef arrived medium rare and accompanied by sweet onion, turnip and radish. This dish was surprisingly light, with a nice refreshing flavour from the turnips and radishes.
Our last savoury dish was the Flinders Island lamb rump with charcoal eggplant and ricotta, all topped with a shard of bric pastry. The pink and tender lamb featured a charred crust and was not gamey at all. It was an amazing combination of punchy flavours that made it my favourite dish.
After much deliberation, I finally decided I just had to try the short rib version of the dumplings and they did not disappoint. It used the same masterstock, but no spiced nuts. The dumplings were plump, packed with lightly pulled short rib. They had a lighter, cleaner flavour than the pumpkin dumplings, which I thoroughly enjoyed. They were just so good. I had no regrets.
We were too full to try any of the normal-sized dessert dishes, but I had just enough space for the dark chocolate truffle with black salt and Pedro Ximenez. Boy was I glad I had that little bit of space left. It was a moist, rich decadent treat, with the salt adding just enough excitment to the tastebuds and enhancing the flavours of the beautiful chocolate.
We left thoroughly satisfied with our meal at The Roving Marrow. It was a little pricey, but for those willing to take the plunge, there’s plenty of fun and excitement to be had.
The Roving Marrow
418 Lygon St
Carlton, VIC, 3053
(03) 9347 7419