There was a time in the not too distant past, when restaurant dining at motels were the order of the day. As a young girl, I remember driving past all the motel restaurants along a particular stretch of the Hume Highway, trying to get a glimpse of all the activity inside and longing to enter through the canopied entrance into the captivating world beyond.
Some may say that that style of dining is of a bygone era. Big named hotels with celebrated chefs have now become the preferred platform for showcasing culinary creations. Yet beneath the glitter and contrived opulence, the art and enjoyment of fine dining can often play second fiddle to the ambivalent mood of wait staff and time-bound sitting arrangements.
However in the suburb of Highett, Busbys offers a dining experience that could easily rival that of the famous hotel chain bearing the same name, but won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Go beyond the retro façade and you will find a modern refurbished interior and an inspired interpretation of French bistro dining, but without the high-end price tag.
Executive Chef Jack Chan, who has had considerable experience working in luxury hotels across Asia, is behind this transformation. With an acute awareness of the local dining scene, Jack saw an opportunity to offer a style of dining and cuisine not readily available in the Moorabbin area.
Relaxing into the club-style chairs in the bar area for a pre-dinner drink, Wilson who is our maître d’ for the evening, takes meticulous care to ensure that the wine selected is fresh and up to a particular standard. The wine list is current and reflects a small but excellent selection from both local and international producers. And believe it or not, Busbys is one of those rare establishments where you could actually order a bottle of wine and still have enough change from a $50 note to still buy one more glass.
Old-fashioned name. Old-fashioned service. Old-fashioned prices.
Seated in the dining room, Wilson presented us with the dinner menu which is presented in a style similar to that of a French bistro. Not only is the menu both eclectic and enticing, with each dish in the just the entrée section alone sounded delectable in its own right. I must admit that it’s incredibly hard to choose just one. Just as well my dining companion was in a sharing mood!
It’s not too hard to imagine my expression when the food arrived at our table … Like. OMG. Wow. Each dish resembled a work of art in its own right and certainly worthy of a barrage of photos before even attempting to try and eat each dish.
One of Jack’s signature dishes is undoubtedly the Japanese Scallops, braised pork belly, pistachio, carrot puree and caviar. Jack prides himself on sourcing only the best and freshest produce available and Japanese scallops (which I must admit doesn’t sound particularly French) are noted for their quality and taste. Everything about this dish is a class act. You could also call this meal ‘luxury on a plate’. The texture, the taste and the presentation alone is worth every cent and you would be almost crazy not to order it.
Similarly, the Vodka and Beetroot Cured Kingfish with cucumber, fennel, citrus junos is also stunning in its simplicity and design. Beneath the funnel of thickly-cut kingfish slices, is a hidden treasure of thinly shaved fennel remoulade on a bed of fresh cucumber. The light smattering of dill across the top also adds subtle fresh flavour to a classic dish.
The Goat cheese soufflé, champagne salad, Grana Padano, raspberry vinaigrette was served in a elegant ceramic bowl and artfully arranged across the plate. After dissecting through the exotic flavours and layers of the salad, the one thing that stood out for me was the extremely light, fluffy and fresh (and tasty) texture of the soufflé, which is everything it should be.
Good hospitality can be really hard to find but when you encounter great service, the kind that is attentive and client-driven, your whole evening is transformed into a magical and memorable experience.
We had a lot of fun chatting with Wilson throughout our evening about the food and potential wine matches. Somehow during the course of our conversation, our smooth-talking maître d’ talked us into ordering main dishes as well. What could possibly be more classique French than bouillabaisse and duck?
I have a particular fondness for duck at the best of times and the presentation of the Duo of duck, breast and confit of leg, orange glaze, julienne vegetables reaffirmed my love for this type of dish. The vibrancy of colour was stunning to behold, let alone its elegant presentation. The duck is deliciously moist, not overwhelmed by its accompaniments, and the fresh segmented orange wedges are a perfect foil for the rich flavour of the jus.
I’m not usually a victim of food envy yet when the Bouillabaisse, prawns, calamari, fresh fish pieces, mussel, tomato confit dish was placed in front of my friend, it took a lot of restraint for me not to immediately reach across the table and start helping myself to her meal. It was spectacular in every aspect – the seafood is fresh, tender and full of flavour.
Although I was lucky enough to have a taste of the Bouillabaisse, I’ve quietly resolved to go back to Busbys soon and order it on my return visit, which I envisage will happen very soon. The restaurant hosts weekend high-tea events for $39 per head (almost half the price of its contemporary hotel equivalents) and there are also live music and degustation dining events planned within the next few months.
So when you next think of the Hyatt, think Highett instead. Same style of dining experience yet considerably cheaper and infinitely more enjoyable.
Everything old is definitely new again.