Chef Peter Gunn plays a risky game. In a dining world where restaurant menus are developed over several months he walks a precarious tightrope, sometimes creating dishes with his team just hours before guests arrive. Peter comes from a fine-dining culture where nightly restaurant service is like the curtain going up on a popular theatre show. In both cases there are weeks of rehearsal before opening night and the same show is put on every night of the week plus matinees. At Ides it is more like improv theatre with a constantly changing menu set to challenge both diners and staff.
It’s one in the afternoon when Essentials arrives for the interview and photo shoot at the 40-seat Smith Street, Collingwood, restaurant. The compact and comfortably spartan room is fully booked that night; the kitchen team are cleaning beef cheeks to go on the menu. ‘We talked about the dish at the end of service last night,’ says Peter. He’s a Kiwi, from around Wellington, and started cooking in the fast food joint near where he lived. He came to Melbourne, cooked with Teague Ezard. Went to the Western District and cooked with Dan Hunter at the Royal Mail Hotel and then Attica. ‘The dish is about 30 percent there. We just need to work on it,’ he says casually.
The ‘we’ is an essential part of the deal. Peter is not an auteur. He instigates collaboration in the kitchen with his small team of chefs, offering them guiding ideas, technique, experience and direction to land the dish, on the table, ready for service. Service here is six set courses, four savoury and two sweet. One hundred and ten dollars, thank you very much.
First course on that night’s menu was a cold and acidic dish of poached prawn with chilli pickle. Cold temperature yet hot chili tang. It is sweet, salty with crunchy textures alongside soft. You are given chopsticks to eat it. It all seems so discordant. It is discordant, until you sip on the sake. Ide’s sommelier Raffaele Mastrovincenzo, Italian-born and formerly of Melbourne Japanese restaurant Kappo, is the yin to Peter Gunn’s yang. Raffaele’s clever yet subtle, slightly left-field but never dogmatic or quirky, beverage choices complete the meal. For this dish he has deftly chosen the 2012 Bentenmusume Junmai Goriki from a sake brewery in the isolated prefecture of Tottori about 100 kilometres from Kyoto. The dish is big and bold, the sake understated and clean. The gift the sake brings to the prawns is umami binding and uniting the savoury elements in both food and drink. It leaves the palate clean with an underlying sense of savouriness. These two are working together brilliantly.
‘The little trick of the chopsticks is to focus people’s mind on the dish in front of them,’ says Peter. ‘It takes guests from the day-to-day,’ he says. Next dish to follow is a bowl of small segments of onion in a clear brown stock. The onions are the crisp side of soft, the stock quite sweet with the darkest notes of a classic French onion soup with touches of mustard and black sesame. It’s teamed with the most unusual drink – nebbiolo in the style of first solera sherry, a small batch made by Tom Shobbrook from the Barossa Valley. Raffaele masterfully places this dark, oxidized, slightly nutty wine alongside the onions. Brilliant. There is a beautiful little sweet barramundi dish accompanied by a Domaine Dupasquier Roussette de Savoie Altesse 2012: a French alpine white, all crisp and bright with hints of grapefruit yet a dark undertone of forest floor. Pork served with a blend of apple cider and ale. The food and beverage Essentials tried was fun, sometimes challenging, very entertaining, provocative yet delicious and honest enough to avoid the label of culinary onanism.
Peter opened Ides in March this year to a fist to the face, drawing a mocking 10/20 review from the Herald Sun with lines like, ‘Ides needs less peacocking, more cooking. Those boys should get back in the kitchen.‘ It was hard on the team,’ says a humbled Peter. Just three days later he was bestowed a perfect five stars by Time Out’s well-respected critic Larissa Dubecki. ‘One of the hardest things is when the guest comes through the door expecting a version of Attica,’ he says referring to the Ripponlea restaurant where he worked for five years as sous chef under fellow Kiwi Ben Shewry. Since then Peter has exerted himself to escape his former boss’s shadow. He opened pop up restaurants on the Melbourne’s Tramcar Restaurant and had a sold-out stint doing monthly at Persillade Restaurant in East Melbourne. Yet Peter is ambitious to be seen in the same light as Shewry (presently ranked 33rd best chef in the world in The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards). ‘I am aware I have a lot to work on before I get there,’ he says. ‘But I have full confidence in my abilities that I will get there.’ We reckon he has a good chance too.
92 Smith Street, Collingwood, Victoria
Tel 03 9939 9542
(Last Sunday of the month there’s a special
themed lunch called One Day Sunday)