The Meeting Pool
I've been mildly troubled that this arts and design blog keeps wandering into the territory of food. Then I'm reminded that food and it's exquisite preparation is an art form... and I'm not troubled any more.
Take a look at these photos of Montsalvat's restaurant, don't they transport you to a place where you really really want to be? That's my experience at The Meeting Pool. I just love being there. Whether it's outside in the courtyard on a magnificent 22 degree day, or inside on a cool autumn evening enjoying some very good French provincial cooking.
The Meeting Pool takes it's name from a children's story book of the same name written by Mervyn Skipper, one of the original founders of Montsalvat. Mervyn spent time in Borneo where he learnt of the Meeting Pool and it's folk legends. Legend has it that,
...the meeting pool was a small pond in a jungle clearing where, birds, beasts and insects would meet in harmony to discuss the world around them. Many of the stories relate to these jungle creatures' concerns over the inroads of the white man- the clearing of 'their' jungle to make way for rubber plantations. (Notes from the menu.)
No doubt, similar themes are discussed around the tables at the restaurant today.
These illustrations are from the original book. They line the walls of the restaurant.
The courtyard seats around fifty to sixty people and is perfect for long Sunday lunches. The peacocks often wonder through. The gorgeous Montsalvat buildings make the perimeter of the space.
I spent over an hour in the courtyard this week chatting with Sigmund Jorgensen, son of Justus. He took me on a journey of food at Montsalvat, with a few detours. At one point he admitted not having a great memory for a lot of things but when it comes to food, he's sharp as a tack. From describing a lunch in a tucked away place in the French countryside, to a less than satisfying meal in New York in the seventies, I felt like I'd been right there at the table with him.
Sue Vanderkelen's 'very elegant cooking' in those early days of Montsalvat no doubt prepared his palate well for what was to become a successful career in the food industry. In the late sixties and early seventies he was instrumental in developing catering and events management at Montsalvat. Menus were designed with the help of people like Tony Bilson from the Berrara Waters restaurant. At that time Montsalvat was hosting society weddings and notably a press reception for the Rolling Stones. Later on in the seventies, Melburnians will remember his three hat restaurant 'Clichy' which he opened in Collingwood with chef Ian Hewitson.
So fast forward to 2010 and Sigmund has at last begun to realise his dream to see a great restaurant at Montsalvat. He is a key advisor for The Meeting Pool and with head chef Stephen Shing, designs the menus. For this he has gone back to his roots and back to French provincial food, peasant food, but supremely elegant food. It's food that sits beautifully within the walls of Montsalvat. The menu is seasonal so changes four times a year. Even though I'm not a wine drinker, I appreciated that each dish on the menu comes with a wine selection...provided by sommelier Andrew Proctor. The restaurant also creates specials in keeping with other events taking place at Montsalvat. Stephen Shing was telling me that for a recent East Timorese book launch they added some Timorese cuisine to the specials menu. They also offer special nights like the upcoming Seafood Night on the 25th March.
You can just see some of the activity in the kitchen through this window in the courtyard. Stephen Shing oversees the work there as well as being executive chef for all of the catering at Montsalvat. He's a busy man. I was warned not to try to speak to him during the lunch rush as he is quite rightly completely focussed on what's happening in his kitchen.
Stephen arrived at Montsalvat with very good credentials. He previously worked at 'Taxi' and 'Upper House Lower House' at Fed Square. He is committed to using great produce, grown at Montsalvat where ever possible. In addition, he wants to encourage a broader circle of customers who keep coming back because the food he serves is reliably good. Having eaten there three times now (all research you understand) I can vouch for his success. From Lily Jorgensen's Rabbit Chasseur, to the lunch time fish of the day, I wasn't disappointed. His asparagus with avocado mousse Is a triumph. Perfectly grilled asparagus with a dollop of smooth, light avocado mousse all soaked up with the 'wild crust wood fired cassalinga bread'.
If you're looking for a complete experience of Montsalvat, don't miss the opportunity for a lovely lunch or dinner at The Meeting Pool. Bookings can be made by calling 9431 2681, or go to their website for more information about the Seafood Dinner on 25th March.