Mister Jennings Richmond is the first solo venture from chef Ryan Flaherty, whose pedigree includes almost 3 years as part chef/owner at Northcote’s Estelle and stints abroad at El Bulli and The Fat Duck. Located towards the somewhat neglected (from a dining point of view) Punt Road end of Bridge Road, Mister Jennings is a small restaurant that seats 36 downstairs, with a further 16 in the private dining room upstairs.
The food is modern and inventive, with the majority of dishes small and designed to share. Flaherty’s creativity drives the menu with no real rules or trend apparent apart from a focus on great ingredients and technique.
Restaurant manager Malcolm Singh, formerly of Pei Modern, was on the top of his game when my wife and I had dinner at Mister Jennings. There was a definite passion that was apparent throughout the night as Singh described several of the dishes on the menu to us and he was very knowledgeable about the wine list, describing one of the wines on the list that we hadn’t heard about before in layperson terms that we could understand. We ended up getting half a bottle of the 2011 “Flor De Brezo” Mencia from Spain which went beautifully with our meal.
Salmorejo Crab Gazpacho ($17.00)
The crab gaspacho was very tasty. The sweet, subtle flavours of the crab were complimented by the creaminess of the salmojero (a Spanish tomato & bread puree) which were in turn offset by the crunch and, for lack of a better word, leafiness of the mustard leaf and the subtle heat of the thinly sliced chilli.
Eel, Beet & Fried Bread ($17.00)
The eel was another brilliant dish and, as was to be a recurring theme throughout the night, the contrasting textures and flavours of the components of each dish worked well in unison. In this case it was the softness of the eel, the sweetness of the beetroot and the crunch of the bread.
Tasmanian Oysters ($3.00 each)
There was nothing fancy going on here, simply excellent, fresh Tasmanian oysters with a red wine vinaigrette.
Frozen Kangaroo, Wasabi Avocado Cream, Jellied Veal Jus, Raspberry & Nashi Pear ($17.00)
We asked Singh what the “must have” dish was when we were ordering and he didn’t have too much hesitation in pointing us in the direction of the frozen kangaroo. When it came out onto our table there was so much going on visually and the plating was beautiful. When we started eating it, it became very apparent why this dish was, as Singh said “what everyone was talking about” – it was easily the highlight of the night.
The kangaroo was very thinly sliced, almost like capaccio, and served partially frozen. This dish is designed to be eaten as soon as it arrives – when the kangaroo hits your tongue it quite literally “melts in your mouth”. There are a lot of flavours involved in this dish and they all provide something important. It’s one of those dishes that you really think about while eating – trying to figure out what exactly is going on in your mouth. The heat of the wasabi avocado cream, the crunch of the pear and the gelatinous jus all provide subtle elements to the dish, without anything overpowering anything else. Just when the dish seems perfect, a hit of raspberry comes through and elevates the dish to another level yet again with its sweet dessert-like notes.
Cavatelli Pasta, Mustard Fruits, Ricotta ($17.00)
Back to more traditional fare, this pasta was brilliant. The pasta was cooked al dente and the sauce was very creamy and tasty. The ricotta didn’t really add much to the dish, and was the only time all night where something seemed necessary. It didn’t subtract from the dish, but wasn’t really needed.
Bugs, Fermented Cabbage, Caraway ($17.00)
This was the closest thing to an “on trend” dish with the use of fermented cabbage providing a great counterbalance to the light flavours of the Morton bay bugs. The caraway added another element to the dish yet again.
Kale, Nettle, Pork Cheek & Lime Pickle ($19.00)
I was expecting this dish to be quite traditional but I was surprised by its complexity. Normally it’s served with a relish on the top however because of my wife’s severe nut allergy I got the relish on the side. The pork cheek was delicious. Moist, fatty, tender and full of flavour. The crunch of the kale took place of the usual crackle, and the tartness of the lime pickle added an unexpected zing to each mouthful.
Jaggery Cake, Apricot & Cream ($15.00)
I had not heard of jaggery before – it’s a sugar like substance that’s made from sugar cane and the sap of the date palm tree. The molasses and crystals are not separated and it comes in the form of a block. Jaggery cake is a traditional Indian/Sri Lankan cake and this is Flaherty’s modern take on the dish. A light jaggery sponge with apricots and cream. Simple and very tasty, but a definite second to the other dessert we had.
Chocolate, Cardamom, Crunch ($16.00)
For a dish that’s primarily chocolate based, there was a lot going on here. A chocolate biscuit was topped with chocolate sorbet and partially dried orange slices, which was then covered in a chocolate ganache and chocolate dust. The cardamom added a brilliant twist to the dish and the whole thing worked brilliantly. Saying that chocolate complimented chocolate sounds odd, but that’s exactly what was going on.
Mister Jennings is a brilliant addition to this part of Bridge Road, which has become somewhat of a dead spot after dark in recent years. The food is tasty, modern and inventive and the staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, showing a genuine passion that is refreshing to see. I also have to make mention of the brilliant selection of music that was playing in the restaurant – which included Guru, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Lauryn Hill and the Jackson 5 to mention just a few of the artists – right up my alley and I had to try had to stop myself from bopping up and down at my seat all night
Mister Jennings is unpretentious, fun and I have no hesitation in saying that this meal was one of my 2014 highlights so far. To be operating at the level that the team is at such an early stage of the restaurant’s life, and with chef’s table events planned for the future Mister Jennings is well on its way to becoming a Melbourne dining hotspot.
142 Bridge Road
Tue – Thu: 5:00pm to 11:00pm
Fri – Sat: 12:00pm to 11:00pm
Sun: 12:00pm to 6:00pm