Restaurant Reviews

Review: Melbourne's Chancery Lane is bringing aspic back

At Scott Pickett’s smooth new clubhouse expect old-school French flavours, reworked for the modern day.

By Michael Harden
Inside Melbourne's Chancery Lane. Photo: Tania Bahr-Vollrath
Aspic. It's not often spotted on modern menus in Australia which, after a close encounter with the amber-hued smoked eel jelly at Chancery Lane, is a crying shame.
The aspic in question is thrillingly clean-edged, dome-shaped, and encases a soft, gooey quail egg and hot-smoked Skipton eel. It's served with matchstick fries seasoned with flecks of dried capers and black olives. The blend of textures, flavours and temperatures
is masterly. I felt like applauding.
The dish also provides a good hint that Scott Pickett's (Estelle, Longrain, Matilda etc, with more on the way) newest restaurant leans French, not just in terms of particular dishes but in technique and ingredients. It's not classic – foie gras is served in a toastie, a Red Oak salad is dressed (not entirely successfully) in a mouth-coating pancetta-infused vinaigrette, sensational Mooloolaba prawns are teamed with a cracking version of Marie Rose sauce made sharper and more alert with the use of gin rather than cognac – but it displays a conscious bias towards old-school French skills and sensibility.
The seafood platter. Photo: Alex Squadrito
The fit-out avoids French cliché. As with many a Pickett joint, the dining room (by design studio Bergman & Co) leans large, dark and masculine. There are leather banquettes and a green marble bar, lamplight reflected on brass, a flash of red from the curtained door and more flash and dazzle from the open kitchen pass where chef de cuisine Rob Kabboord (Merricote, Quay) directs the flow. There's top-quality seafood in enormous, expensive mixed platters or by the piece (storm clams, served on the shell, dressed with sweet-and-sour aigre-doux and teamed with compressed cucumber and blue scampi roe), excellent house-made charcuterie (duck ham is a must), meat and fish from the grill and smaller dishes that include milk-soaked lamb brains coated in breadcrumbs and flaked almond and a pretty beetroot and goat's curd tart.

Goat's curd, beetroot tart.
Not everything sticks the landing, something made more noticeable by some of the prices. A duck broth is overloaded with ideas. The wine list of French and Aussie labels is more serviceable than thrilling. But mostly Pickett has gifted the city a sexy new clubhouse with an attractively clandestine edge, meticulously sourced ingredients and hearteningly smart, accurate, well-judged service.
You could use Chancery Lane as a place for a blow-out celebration, some oysters or caviar over a bottle of Dom Pérignon or to finish a night with a charming Pedro Ximénez chocolate tart. Me? I'm going back for the aspic.