Sample the tastes of Southern France, and get your creative juices flowing, at The Sofitel’s No.35 Restaurant with Lunch Like Van Gogh.
Inspired by the National Gallery of Victoria’s recently opened exhibition, Van Gogh & The Seasons, No.35 Restaurant – The Sofitel Melbourne’s luxe and lofty, 35th floor eatery – is giving diners a chance to unleash their artistic side with Lunch Like Van Gogh, an immersive and one-of-a-kind dining experience to tantalise the palate and palette (sorry, I’ve been dying to say that).
The Sofitel’s Executive Chef, John Savage, has crafted a menu of dishes typical of the sort of Southern French cuisine that Vincent van Gogh likely would have enjoyed during his most prolific periods living in the Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence regions of France, but with a modern twist that makes the most of local, seasonal produce.
Arguably one of the most influential figures in Western Art, the troubled Dutch artist spent the last years of his life in France, where he painted his most famous pieces. It was while a patient at the Saint-Paul Asylum that Van Gogh created what are considered some of his greatest works, such as The Starry Night, the Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy series, and many of his self portraits. Van Gogh was particularly inspired by the pastoral landscapes and the vibrant colours of the Provencal region, and this aesthetic is at the heart of Savage’s inspired menu celebrating the artist.
Diners get a very literal hands-on experience at Lunch Like Van Gogh. Kicking lunch off, is a paint palette inspired amuse-bouche – warm bread served with an actual palette of vividly coloured basil pesto, creamed corn, and roasted tomato “paint”, so you can try your hand at creating a masterpiece. As someone who is all thumbs, my work of art may have turned out a little more abstract than impressionist, but it tasted sublime and I did technically wield a paint brush, so I’ll be adding “artist” to my resume.
Next, I was served an absolutely delightful Salad Lyonnaise. Traditionally served with a heavy smokey bacon, No.35’s Lyonnaise featured more mildly flavoured crispy pancetta which really allowed the richness of the perfectly poached duck egg to shine. Crunchy croutons and the slight tartness of the frisée lettuce added a fresh touch making this a dish that was equal parts light and luxurious.
The two main menu options on offer are quintessentially French, with a ‘Palette’ of Boeuf Bourguignon – braised Beef, pomme purée, sautéed mushrooms and red wine sauce – or a seafood bouillabaisse with saffron rouille. I couldn’t go past the bouillabaisse – an absolute classic of Marseille cuisine. The freshest local prawns, mussels, and fish bathed in a richly flavoured creamy seafood broth and topped with a piquant saffron and cayenne rouille was deliciously indulgent, and truly was a work of art. I speak without hyperbole when I say that this was one of the best dishes I’ve had in a long time, and it breaks my little Francophile heart to think this dish’s time at No.35 could end when the Lunch Like Van Gogh experience comes to a close in July.
Moving on to dessert – the most important meal of the day – diners are offered the option of Crème Caramel with Cognac soaked raisins or mixed Sorbet with biscuit tuille and coulis. Fortunately, I managed to strong arm my date into ordering the alternate dish to me, so I got to sample both. What I love most about these two options is that they embody both aspects of French cuisine: the crème caramel and cognac soaked raisins are heavy, full of flavour and deeply indulgent, while the sorbet and coulis is light and refreshing and exemplifies the freshness of the Mediterranean influence that permeates Provencal cuisine. While I’m always partial to creamy dishes and anything soaked in alcohol, the sorbet was the winner for me, as it was the perfect foil for the richness of the bouillabaisse and the tartness of the delicate lemon sorbet (another Provence staple) was so refreshing. The addition of the biscuit tuille shaped like an adorable little painter’s palette, and dollops of coulis “paint” really tickled my fancy.
Lunch Like Van Gogh really is a unique experience, and would be fantastic paired with a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria’s Winter Master’s Van Gogh exhibition, just a short walk or tram ride away. The lunches run every Thursday and Friday until July 7th, and it’s definitely worth checking out whether you’re a lover or art, good food, or just want to take in the spectacular views from one of Melbourne’s highest restaurants. And, at $45 for two courses (including a glass of French wine) or $60 for the three course option, it’s a very affordable and a great opportunity to sample some amazing dishes in a stunning environment.
Lunch Like Van Gogh
No.35 Restaurant at Sofitel Melbourne
25 Collins St, Melbourne