Pei Modern Melbourne is a restaurant that offers very good food in a relaxed, casual space. It was voted best new restaurant in Melbourne in The Age’s 2013 Good Food Guide and had been on my radar for a while. Pei Modern is owned by Mark Best, who is best known for his Sydney restaurant Marque, and is Best’s first foray into the Melbourne market.
The restaurant’s name is a nod to the one of the designers of the building which Pei Modern is housed in, the famous architect I.M. Pei.
The space is very simple, with the small dining room looking into the kitchen, and a bar area with both bar seating and booths to the side. You can pop in for a drink and some bar snacks, or spend some time having a full meal. My friends and I were here for dinner.
The menu at Pei Modern is constantly changing – lunch and dinner options are tailored to be “time of day” appropriate, and the use of fresh, seasonal ingredients is taken more seriously than is the case in many other restaurants who share a similar philosophy. Go to Pei Modern on one day, and the menu could be completely different the following day. It really does depend on what’s available and looking good at the local markets on a daily basis.
My friends and I chose some of the bar options for our starters. It was nice to be able to mix the bar options with the more “fine dining” options on the rest of the menu.
School prawns with aioli and lemon ($16.50)
The school prawns were one of the night’s specials. They were deep fried and served with aioli and lemon, on a “fish and chip” shop style paper – not just for presentation. Just like at the fish and chip shop, the paper helped to absorb and residual grease from the prawns. Simple and tasty.
As a good example of the casual vibe at Pei Modern, we were all eating these whole and with our hands – it was completely appropriate and we never felt like we should have been picking up the forks for these.
Brandade Croquettes ($8.00 for 4)
I love a good croquette and these really hit the spot. Crispy, not to greasy, with a filling that was light and fluffy.
Wood grilled prawn & pork sale ($7.50 each)
The wood grilled added a nice charred flavour to the very tasty prawns. The pork salt was an interesting twist. It was somewhat of a cross between the pork floss that you find in Asia and regular salt. It was interesting to eat but I don’t think it really added anything to the dish.
Bullhorn peppers, octopus & Greek flavours ($20.50)
This was the dish where the flavours of the ingredients really stood out the most. The octopus was perfectly cooked, the pepper was sweet and the Greek flavours were a blend of Greek spices that weren’t too overpowering.
Free range pork, radicchio & quince ($36.00)
Another very simple dish that my friend really enjoyed. While very tasty, it was probably the least impressive of the mains, simply because there was nothing that really elevated it.
Killara rise lamb, finger leek and caramelised yoghurt ($37.00)
I was tossing up a few dishes as potential mains to order for a while, however the intrigue surrounding the words “caramelised yoghurt” were what pushed me to order the lamb.
Beautifully wood fired and tender, the caramelised yoghurt really took things to the next level, adding a nice level of sweetness and point of difference to a very simple dish.
Hanger steak with bone marrow and charred beets ($39.00)
My fiancée ordered this dish and we all agreed that it was the highlight of the mains. I’ve heard about other dishes at Pei Modern using bone marrow to great effect and this dish proved the point. The slight sweetness of the beets and the fatty (in a good way) texture of the bone marrow provided the perfect balance to the lean, wood grilled steak.
Baby cos, egg & chives ($9.00)
A very simple side, and a winner with fresh ingredients. You can always judge the quality of ingredients used at a restaurant by its eggs.
Vanilla ice-cream, strawberries & white chocolate ($15.00)
The desserts were hard to get a grip on by looking at the menu descriptions alone. Thankfully the staff were able to explain what was going with each one in a very detailed manner. All of the desserts were tasty, however one of the desserts stood out as being better than the other – rather each one had a stand-out aspect.
My friend enjoyed her dessert, with the stand-out here being the vanilla ice cream, which we all agreed was very good.
White chocolate ganache, raspberries and sorrel sorbet ($15.00)
My fiancee ordered this, being instantly attracted to any mention of the word “sorbet” on a dessert menu. She enjoyed it, with the stand-out here being the sorrel sorbet.
Banana ice-cream, chocolate mousse, praline brittle & chocolate wafer ($15.00)
My other friend and I both ordered this. I just couldn’t say no to such a combination of chocolatey ingredients. Alone, I wasn’t really feeling the individual components of this dessert (apart from the praline brittle, which was the undisputed stand-out of this dish), however together it made a lot more sense and I really did enjoy it.
The banana ice-cream tasted of real bananas and was not overly sweet. The chocolate mousse was very rich, and also not sweet at all. The softness and intensity of these components were balanced out by the biscuit texture of the wafer and the sweetness and crispiness of the brittle.
Much has been said by reviewers about the service at Pei Modern – some things good, some not so good. All I can go on is my personal experience. Apart from quite a bit of time passing at the start of the night before I was asked if I’d like to order a drink (while I was waiting for my fiancée and friends to arrive) everything else was top notch in the service department.
The staff were always smiling and friendly, without an air of pretension or sense that anything was too much of an effort. The menu was explained with genuine excitement, water was constantly topped up, and the meals were served at appropriate intervals.
When we mentioned that all 4 of us wanted to share certain dishes (the menu is not really designed for sharing as such), the additional cutlery, plates and even the effort to space things on the table was made to make this possible without fuss.
It all came together rather nicely at Pei Modern, and my friends and I all left very satisfied.
45 Collins Street
Mon – Fri: 12:00pm to 2:30pm; 5:30 to late
Sat: 5:00pm to late