Named for children's author Paul Jennings, this baby in Richmond's on-again off-again hospitality wasteland of Bridge Road is one for the real foodies. It is the solo venture of Head Chef Ryan Flaherty, who has stinted at world-renowned restaurants El Bulli and The Fat Duck, then jointly brought Northcote's The Estelle to foodie fame along with then-business partner, Scott Pickett. Flaherty's passion, creativity and refined skill is evident in his food, and indeed the whole of Mister Jennings (142 Bridge Road, Richmond) is a pretty schmick affair.
It's an unassuming shopfront in amongst the retail section of Bridge Road, near the corner of Lennox Street. Mister Jennings had been on my restaurant hit list for so long that by the time I got there, I'd managed to avoid the 'just opened' crowds, and aside from maybe three other tables, we had the place to ourselves. Then again, it's not a massive restaurant, and it was mid-week in late March -- and to be honest, I was quite happy that it meant we had more of the charming host's attention. *blinks innocently*
Lots of people seem to mention the bareness of the 34-seater restaurant; I found it simple, but warm. Wooden floorboards, chunky Scandinavian-style chairs and tables in blonde wood, navy feature walls, a dark, modern central bar, and low lighting playing on mirrored surfaces... To me, it was all welcoming elegance, clean neutral lines and quiet confidence. Upstairs is a 16-seater function room on the way to which you pass by the kitchen with its separate chef's table (SO want that next time!).
Drinks are a classy affair, the wine list devised by ex-Stokehouse sommelier, Lincoln Riley. I drank a Kiwi Pinot Gris, probably a little too keenly.
It may sound puppy-eyed but I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single thing we ate. We did that "please feed us" thing, and I find that often results in the most exciting food I ever get to try.
To start, we had grown-up Dagwood Dogs, otherwise known as a Boudin Blanc - chicken based, and surprisingly moist. (Yes, that word. You can deal.)
Then, cured scallops with a cold pea soup poured at the table. Light, fresh and creamy, with a generous topping of fluffy herbs. Good lord, I'm getting hungry.
Next up: my favourite dish of the night (and the favourite of many other patrons here, it seems) - frozen kangaroo. ...Wha?!? Any kangaroo I've had before has been in the form of a heavy, chewy, peppery steak - frankly, not that enjoyable. This was the complete opposite: finely sliced, classically prepared carpaccio - that is, frozen to serve, designed to thaw in your mouth - jumbled with a creamy avocado wasabi, julienned nashi pear, freeze-dried raspberries for kick, richness from a sort of congealed beef and wine stock. It was a party in my mouth - cold, fresh, rich and light all at once. It sounds weird, but trust me. You'll love it.
The kangaroo awesomeness was followed by a Tasmanian trumpeter - no, not a musician; a fish! - served with fried curry leaves, squash, caviar and a saffron, onion sauce (soubise). (Sorry, no pic of that one.)
Then we shared a sirloin from the Kangaroo Valley, cooked to perfection and served with simple chunky fries and salad. Thank goodness we shared this one; by this point, I was rather full.
But! Room for dessert... always. We technically had one each, but shared them all.
One was an almond sponge thing (for want of a better description... nope, there's none) served with pear, green tea, and cream.
There was a basil tuile with mascarpone and strawberry.
And finally, a chocolate fondant (yes!) with caramelised banana (noooo... nothing personal - bananas and I are not friends).
See? All kinds of yummy goodness.
Mister Jennings is a self-proclaimed bar and eatery, open for lunch and dinner. Although I'd be more inclined to go here for a good, proper meal, I wouldn't mind trying the perch-at-the-bar thing for a bit of classy wine, banter and nibbles. It's a grown-up affair, which makes me wonder what the real Mr Jennings would make of it.