Restaurant Reviews

O My, Melbourne restaurant review

Yes, it’s outside the CBD and, yes, it’s dégustation-only, but, writes Michael Harden, O My’s originality makes it well worth the trip.

By Michael Harden
Tyson, Chayse and Blayne Bertoncello
It's difficult not to get swept up in their back story. Three brothers - Tyson, Blayne and Chayse Bertoncello - from Beaconsfield, all in their twenties, decide to open a restaurant in an old butcher shop in this semi-rural neck of the woods on the edge of Melbourne's suburban sprawl. They call it O My (perhaps it was obligatory to have a Y in the name).
The two older Bertoncello brothers - Tyson and Blayne - have worked as chefs, head chefs at times, in local restaurants. Blayne, who has taken on the head chef role at O My, has done a five-week stage at Attica.
They designed, renovated and decorated the restaurant themselves. They cultivated vegetable gardens and planted an orchard with 40 fruit trees. They decided to go with a dégustation menu - four, six and eight courses. They're mad for growing their own produce, for foraging, and they're enthused about wine - particularly the local stuff and smaller producers. They make bread using a laborious process where the sourdough is aged for a week and baked just before service. They dry grapes, pickle green tomatoes, dehydrate berries.
In short, this isn't your regular suburban restaurant. This is a much more far-reaching proposition. And while they are keen, the brothers are also young and relatively inexperienced.
So, while it's a lovely romantic story to embrace, it's also tempting to settle back, arms folded, and wait for the car crash. Can they actually pull this thing off?
But then this lands: a trio of starters, arranged on a flat piece of dark grey stone. First, salmon pastrami, cured with sea salt, black pepper and dried coriander for two days so it takes on an intense meaty texture and flavour - vibrant and wholly satisfying. It's sliced to order and strewn with lemon thyme leaves and flower buds that add a sweet citric element and leave you wanting more.
Then an assiette of leek follows that includes leek hearts glistening with crustacean oil and sprinkled with prawn salt, crunchy squares of dehydrated outer leek leaves and a scattering of charred and blitzed leek ash over the top - clever and balanced.
And finally, a small piece of venison, brined in a mix of salt, juniper, cloves and cinnamon, that's quickly seared to order and then coated lightly in an intense but not overpowering dried raspberry powder.
Aside from the satisfying sound of preconceptions toppling, what's best about this initial volley is that while the food here is undeniably ambitious and creative, there's also an assuring steady-handedness, an understanding of balance and of why each element is present. There are neither too many nor too few ingredients. And those that are there are not overly fiddled with. These three one-bite morsels may not be as artfully plated and finessed as some on other dégustation menus around town, but they signal that there's something really interesting happening here. It's fresh and original.
It happens again later in the meal with another well-wrought trio, this time sweet snacks that precede dessert. This lot are separately plated, though the grey stone platter does make another appearance.
The first part, on a shiny black plate, is a play on bread served with oil and vinegar. The olive oil is a smooth, pale green, slightly sweet blob of emulsion nursing a dark smaller blob of gel made from salted balsamic vinegar. Then there's a little pile of crunchy, slightly sweet breadcrumbs. They're made from the offcuts from the fig and walnut bread that's wrapped in paper and string and given to you as you leave to have for breakfast the next morning. As slightly sweet and fruity crumbs, the bread combines with the oil and vinegar combination in a way that's comforting and exciting, rich but sensibly proportioned at just one or two mouthfuls.
The second part, resting on a rosemary twig, is an orange segment that's been coated in sugar and powdered rosemary before being flamed. It comes away from the heat slightly charred and thinly coated with a sublime rosemary-flavoured "toffee". It's finished with tiny rosemary flowers that add further depth to the herbal-citrus love-in.
Sweet snack number three is the straightest of the trio, but no less enjoyable for it. It's a small, pyramid-shaped sea salt and vanilla caramel, textbook in execution and lifted by the addition of sweetleaf flowers that are less intensely sweet than the leaves and have a really attractive citrus element.
It's these unexpected twists and turns, the deft, surprising touches, that make eating at O My so enjoyable. It's particularly refreshing because the flourishes and quirks come across as more chef enthusiasm than ego. The plates seem to be saying "look at this" rather than "look at me".
The same attitude informs the front of house, where Chayse, the youngest of the brothers, works the floor with equal doses of eagerness and wit. His time at the restaurant - which opened two years ago - has coincided with his conversion to full-blown wine lover. But while he's keen to tell you all about, say, the 2014 Rieslingfreak No 4 from South Australia or a 2013 Between Five Bells shiraz blend from Geelong or a 2013 Payten & Jones pinot noir from Kilmore, he has the intuition to know when to move away from the table. Add the odd amusing anecdote, like the fact that his ability to expand his palate and knowledge through tasting wines at cellar doors is severely limited because he's still on his P-plates and can't drink, and it's difficult not to be charmed.
The dining room has its charms too, mixing oft-seen Melbourne restaurant design tropes - dangling Edison globes, banquettes, timber floors, a terrarium - with original quirky touches like the stencils on the dark painted walls (done by Tyson) and little test-tube-like vases on the tables containing clippings of edible leaves and flowers from the restaurant's various kitchen gardens. It's far from slick and even a little clunky in places, but it's a cute room and flatteringly lit.
But if O My was relying on fresh-faced charm to get it over the line, the shtick would wear thin pretty quickly, especially for those who have spent a whack of time in their car to get here (you can also get the train; it takes just over an hour from Flinders Street Station plus a 10-minute stroll). That's not the case here. The food coming out of the kitchen makes the charm a bonus. Not because it's always completely successful but because it never fails to be interesting.
The menu changes regularly so you may not always get to try the excellent Jerusalem artichoke (that they grow themselves) and potato dish. It comes looking almost dumpling-like, the outer "skin" made from thinly sliced pickled artichoke. It's dusted with shallot powder and sprinkled with small crisp artichoke flakes. Under that layer there are Jerusalem artichokes that have been pot-roasted in butter and lemon, potatoes that have been steamed with onions and others that have been puréed and fermented in yoghurt for a couple of days, a slow-cooked egg and a surprising, bracing dash of Vietnamese mint oil. It's inspired.
Then there's the excellent piece of kingfish, pan-cooked on one side in lemon and butter and served with a mushroom and lemongrass broth, shaved and basted mushrooms (pines, foraged from nearby), a little sphere of gel made from Meyer lemon, a sprinkling of finger lime and some particularly good, fleshy warrigal greens on the top. Again, there's great balance here, a little richness, some acid to cut through that, a little earthiness from the leaves.
A slow-cooked lamb dish with grains, garlic and pineapple sage leaves in the mix is less successful in terms of tying elements together, but the combination of brined and slow-cooked pork neck, served with gorgeous concentrated pork stock, bits and pieces of apple (tapenade, powdered skin, flesh compressed with apple cider), nicely mustardy nasturtium leaves and flowers and some sheep sorrel is a comforting gem of a dish.
Technique gets a good workout with the chocolate-bar dessert. It's certainly a looker, its shiny dark surface topped with chunks of honeycomb and purple borage flowers. It sits next to a quenelle of cultured cream, also sporting flowers and sitting on a smooth, tan sweet potato and vanilla sauce. Break into the bar and you find a quite brilliant sweet potato fudge, a layer of chocolate cake and some caramel butter. Again, you read the ingredient list and might feel like scoffing at the overload. When you taste it, everything is in the right place, doing its fair share of the lifting.
Originality often gets neglected in the business of running a restaurant, safe options being understandable when people are trying to make a living by attracting a crowd. Being removed from the hothouse (and the expense) of the crammed urban dining scene has perhaps given the Bertoncello brothers more breathing space to test their ideas. It certainly affords them the physical space to grow and forage their own produce. But whether it's because of geographical, philosophical or financial reasons, there's something refreshing and original happening at O My. And that has attracted its own crowd. It's a good one to join.
Slow-cooked pork neck with pork stock, apple and nasturtium