Friday, 18 July 2014

sweet as

Pierre Roelofs is a chef.

Originally from New Zealand, although his name and accent do not give that away, Pierre’s name has become synonymous with deconstructed dessert fantasies.

In a career which has seen him work through a three year apprenticeship in the Swiss Alps, work in Michelin starred restaurants in England and Spain and pretty much everything in between, it seems incongruous to find an international class chef producing sophisticated innovation in the humble context of a little 25 seater cafe off Fitzroy street every Thursday night.

Friendly and open, Pierre eschews the molecular gastronomy label, but having spent time at the Fat Duck in England with Heston Blumenthal, there’s more than a nod to some of the science-meets-magic flair that Blumenthal has become known for. 

But this is no circus. Elegant and ethereal are the words which come to mind as the dessert tube and then three ‘courses’ are presented to me.

I do not have a sweet tooth. I see the Life is short, just eat dessert t-shirts, I watch the American tv depression cure of huge tubs of ice cream, I read that Graham Kerr, whoever he is, said, “I prefer to regard a dessert as I would imagine the perfect woman: subtle, a little bittersweet, not blowsy and extrovert. Delicately made up, not highly rouged. Holding back, not exposing everything and, of course, with a flavour that lasts.” I get it. People love dessert.

I don’t.

So. A dessert dégustation. It felt as though I was entering a marathon. I really did have a feeling of dread at the sugary path that lay ahead of me. Clearly Pierre Roelof is a genius. Obviously what he does with sugar and various other specially chosen ingredients is high gastronomic art. But I knew it would be too much for me.

So. Last night I went to Cafe Rosamond at 191 Smith Street, but really on Charles Street, just off Smith Street. As I entered the small, woody restaurant, sugary, vanilla-scented warmth enveloped me. It was cosy, given the icy climes outside.

The wait staff were also warm. I felt welcomed and looked after.

First up, the signature dessert tube. This month the glass tube was filled with a deconstructed oreo cookie. The idea is that you loosen the tube in warm water for 3 seconds then suck. Suck until your mouth is filled with vanilla gel, chocolate cookie and chocolate mousse. Rich, chocolaty and also light. One inhalation and it’s gone.

Next, is a lemon gel, crème and crumble with carrot and coconut gel, carrot squares, roasted peanuts and peanut cake. Salty, sweet, tart and smooth. All at once. A tiny sculptured piece with dollops of gel and squares of substance.

The second course, or as Pierre calls it, the one in the middle, arrives. While the first course tends to be more adventurous with savoury and often vegetable components, the second is lighter and more refreshing and the third tends to be more traditional and comforting.

I am not sure this was the case last night. The second offering was substantial and contained a lot which I would have called traditional. Incredible flavours and textures, but there was a lot there. I enjoyed the contrast of the salty toasted oats against the vanilla foam and vanilla ice cream with marmalade jelly and spice orange and brown sugar crumble but it did overwhelm me.

To finish, a tiny architectural feat on a large white plate. Salted chocolate parfait, chocolate sponge crumbs, chocolate and ginger crème, ginger meringue, candied ginger, freeze dried raspberries and raspberry wafer. So much in such a small space. The raspberry wafer offered a flavour explosion of tart crispness, the ginger meringue melted immediately on the tongue. Velvety chocolate mousse was offset by spicy ginger pieces and the chocolate sponge earthed the whole dish. 

Having achieved a sugar coma, I floated back down Smith Street and somehow got home.

Pierre Roelof is a very clever chef. And I am still full of sugar.

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