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Thursday, 15 January 2015

Voila at Three Bags Full (no longer running)

As I was moving out of the area, I made a few nostalgic brunch visits to one of my favourite cafes, Three Bags Full (60 Nicholson Street, Abbotsford). It was on one of these visits that I picked up a postcard advertising French dinners at the very same venue.

Two of the cafe's chefs, Nicolas Tollé and Fabien Laville (better known as Nico and Fab), are French expats who came up with the clever idea to use the cafe's space by night to stage dinners showcasing their talents as chefs with French-inspired dishes. Two handsome young French men cooking me food with the novelty of a setting I only knew by day? Sold!

It turned out to be a girls' dinner on Thursday 11 December 2014. Four of us met at 8pm (sadly the only booking time left - we were quite starving on arrival! luckily there was bread) among the quiet hum of chatter and clinking glassware.

There were no great changes in the cafe's layout, however the tables were laid with floral fabric placemats, small vases of cheerful flowers, and centrepiece candles - definitely giving the place more of an evening dining vibe.

We were given a surprise appetiser (not listed on the menu) of a banana prawn wrapped in raw carrot, served with ginger puree. You ate the whole thing off the end of a kebab stick. Fun and enticing!

Professional food model ;)

Next was the official appetiser: salmon with shiso and mango. Effectively it looked like salmon sushi, but it tasted nothing like sushi. It was partially cooked, apparently, but served cold, and surprisingly pleasing.

Another cold dish that was surprising was a cantaloupe (rockmelon, for the Sydneysiders, or uninitiated) "soup". This entree was essentially a cantaloupe puree with lemon myrtle and a soft white cheese. I'd never had rockmelon in a savoury sense before, only ever as fruit on its own or as part of a dessert. It reminded me of pumpkin being used in sweet dishes: unexpected, but quite successful.

Then, a second entree of honeydew (again, the melon!) with pancetta and schechuan sauce. The pancetta was crispy and salty, which went perfectly with the sweet honeydew.

Fortunately, all these appetisers and mains were quite small portions, so we still had room for the main when it came around. It was pan-fried snapper, served with a burnt eggplant sauce, grated carrot, pomegranate and ginger. I tend to find large servings of fish a bit samey tasting, so I was glad this wasn't a massive portion either, but still enough to fill me up, and the sauce had enough kick to break up the fish flavour. It was tasty but I was starting to get full, so couldn't quite finish mine.

Dessert was more visually interesting. It was sort of an "Eton mess" comprising baked apricot, salted caramel ice cream and candied macadamias, served in a glass tumbler, covered with a brightly spotted, thin chocolate disc.



Everyone was served their dessert and then one of the chefs themselves (Nico, I believe) came around to pour a slug of molten chocolate on top of the disc, making it melt from the centre outwards, and disintegrate over the other ingredients. I'm not a massive fan of apricots, and I found the whole thing a bit rich, but I really enjoyed the presentation. Here is a short video of it, for your viewing pleasure:


Reading up on the Voila dinners, it seems Nico and Fab have the philosophy that chefs should not be confined to the kitchen, but share interaction with those eating, as well. On our visit, they served some dishes personally, and took the time to say goodbye and thank you at the end of the meal. This personal touch is sorely lacking in many of Melbourne's establishments today. Food and eating out has become somewhat clinical - while still an enjoyable process, there is no sense of community between those doing the creating and those enjoying the creations. I was impressed by this element of their dinner.

For $59 a head, plus drinks, the amount and quality of food we consumed was very reasonably priced. I enjoyed trying French influenced dishes without the heavy hand of cream, butter or meat. There were some very French touches (melon, fish, sauces galore) but overall, the dishes were quite light and refreshing. Events like this go some way towards breaking down cultural stereotypes.

Voila dinners at Three Bags Full have been running for just over a year. They are held once a month, with a changing set menu. Bookings can be made through the Voila website. Patrons tend to attend regularly, and they are popular evenings, so it's best to book well in advance. I'm looking forward to the February one already!

Three Bags Full Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato