The City Lane was recently invited to help celebrate the first birthday of one of our favourite restaurants, Supernormal, and I’ll admit the invite caused a lot of discussion. How do you write about a popular restaurant that you’ve been to several times with fresh eyes? But the debate between our offices was short lived. The answer, of course, was to send someone who had never been there before.
The answer was to send me, the same me who foolishly brought to the event a poorly functioning camera, so big apologies for the less-than-great photography. Anyway, on with the show.
Supernormal is known for a lot of things: its design; its chef; its atmosphere; but the main thing that continued to catch my attention was its lobster roll. My occasional failed exploits in finding these can be heard in episode six of the Brunswick Beer Collective podcast, so it should come as no surprise that I was more than a little excited to try them here.
But a dinner can’t consist only of these glorious delicacies, and sooner or later a more balanced meal is required. For Supernormal’s first birthday, that balanced meal was what chef Andrew McConnell described to me as a ‘greatest hits’ of sorts. It would be a celebration of everything the restaurant had become over the past year, and a little of what we could expect in the future.
So, with fresh eyes (and a dodgy camera), let me show you Supernormal.
Pickled Cucumber, Wakame & Shiitake, Fried Cauliflower
This start to the meal unexpectedly started arguments among my tablemates. It’s not that we didn’t like it, quite the opposite actually, but it was more that it felt almost beyond comprehension that cauliflower could taste like something that wasn’t white sauce. Of course, we soon realised, the reason the cauliflower tasted so good was because it didn’t taste anything like cauliflower. Instead, this deep fried starter, which in my opinion could have easily held it’s own as an unconventional main, caused a breakdown of dinner table chivalry as we each vied for who would take the last one on the plate.
There were more starters of course, each with their own charms, but the cauliflower was most certainly the unexpected standout.
Sea Urchin, Seaweed Cracker
With the first bite of these, it would be easy to think of them as a little subdued, but as you go further on they finish with a hit of salt that packs a pretty intense punch. However, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone complaining about this. Instead, the combination of the sea urchin and the cracker results in an elegant, if brash flavour, with one complimenting the other brilliantly.
Duckfish, White Soy & Ginger
The raw section of the menu began with the Duck fish, although I’ll admit, when this dish was announced, I initially only heard the duck part. But I was very happy to discover there was no poultry involved. The dish offers a combination that is both satisfying and complex, and it’s something I would highly recommend if you choose from the raw menu.
Cobia, Pickled Fennel, Yuzukosho
This second part of the raw section had a flavour I really didn’t expect, which I assume was caused by the spicy Yuzukosho. The taste had a slight bitterness to it too which meant it wasn’t quite as big a hit with my tablemates as the Duck fish, but I found it quite enjoyable all the same, although perhaps only in small doses.
Clams & Seaweed Butter
With chopsticks, these required a certain level of dexterity to eat right, but once you’re able to negotiate it out of the shell, the butter acts as a neat balance to the clam. However, if you’re going to attempt to eat these with chopsticks, make sure you’re confident with the utensils first otherwise separating the shell could prove more than entertaining for your table mates.
Spicy Cold Cuts
If you want to start a fight, I highly recommend doing so with this. They look unassuming of course, and with a subtle name like ‘Spicy cold cuts’ there is a slight anonymity to the meat being served. But if you’re wondering, that would Ox tongue on your plate. From the outset it was utterly delicious and incredibly moreish, but I did get the feeling that many on the table would have been happy to not know the animal they were eating. But as with the cauliflower, this was one dish that caused dinner table chivalry to be deftly thrown out the window.
New England Lobster Roll
When these appeared, the silence was noticeable in the room. It came first when the lobster rolls appeared and people’s eyes followed them as they made their way to the table; the second was when we ate them and found that any further conversation could wait for another time; and the final silence was of contentment when they were done and we lamented that it was over so soon…
Okay, maybe I’ve over-dramatised this one, but it is difficult not to be impressed by these rolls. Prior to starting the dinner, chef Andrew McConnell had joked with me that the entire meal would consist of 5 different variations on the roll, which would have been a commendable effort if he had been serious. Maybe one day there will be a need to evolve this recipe into something new, but I hope that day doesn’t come anytime soon.
White Cut Chicken, House Noodles, Sesame Peanuts & Chilli Oil
It was always going to be tough to follow the lobster roll and thankfully this salad chooses to offer something quite different instead. It was in no way simple of course, but within the open complexity of some of the other dishes offered, this chicken salad showed that there were times when simple was completely and utterly appropriate. It was definitely underrated within this menu, and could even be described as ‘safe’, but I don’t think it should be discounted.
Short Rib Of Beef, Pepper Sauce & Tripe Lettuces & Ginger Vinegar
This was one of the new things we had heard about, and I can assure you, it does not disappoint. The beef is incredibly tender and the photo here (see my earlier apology) really doesn’t do justice to how good this meal is. At one point I did wonder if it might supplant the lobster roll as being my new favourite.
Meringue, Jasmine, Lychee & Raspberry
And after all this, there was still the dessert. It’s quite simple of course, and there is nothing groundbreaking about a meringue, but unlike most, this one does manage to perform a rare feat in delivering a sweet that doesn’t taste like it is just pure sugar on a nice plate. It’s elegant and simple, but it works.
Sesame Cookies And Tea
At their essense, these are really just peanut butter in a biscuit. But once you let that idea settle in your mind, this and a cup of tea really make a for a nice way to finish an evening.
In the end, there’s really nothing I can tell you about Supernormal that you probably don’t already know. Supernormal’s courses remain some of the finest and most interesting Melbourne has to offer and its desire to reframe the way we see food, such as cauliflower, aims to both challenge and inspire.
At one year in, Supernormal’s unquenchable thirst for quality and originality ensures Melbournians will continue to return to this charming Flinders Lane attraction. Hats off to Andrew McConnell and his team.
180 Flinders Lane
Telephone: (03) 9650 8688
Email: [email protected]
Sun – Thu: 11:00am to 11:00pm
Fri – Sat: 11:00am to 12:00am