Claremont Tonic

Disclosure: My meal was courtesy of Claremont Tonic.

While Claremont Tonic might sound like a beverage or a skin care product, it’s actually the latest restaurant by Davis Yu and Maison Davis (the folks behind Touche Hombre and the Millswyn). It opened very recently in South Yarra, serving modern Asian food in a funky setting. And to be honest, once I learnt the kind of food it served – I thought I might dislike it.

Last week I was invited to check it out a small group of other bloggers. Inside Claremont Tonic, the fit out is all openness, concrete, timber, steel, and black accents, plus an eclectic mixture of knick knacks – such as a stuffed duck, golden Buddha, Chinese god of war statues, and a neon tiger sign. It’s quite attractive. The staff are funky, and the soundtrack is loud rock.

The head chef at Claremont Tonic is Dylan Roberts, who has previously worked at Ezard, St Judes, and more recently at Touche Hombre. Davis Yu told us that the idea for the focus of the menu came from a trip to Asia that he and Dylan took together, where they ate their way through the region and became inspired to bring those flavours to Melbourne.

As for the food, the menu is littered with tongue in cheek references through the naming of dishes. The humour extends to the cocktail list (which by the way, are rather generously sized). Those of a more delicate deposition (ie not me!) may balk at ordering a cocktail named Fuck you Eddie, but it’s worth not being too much of a prude: it’s made with five secret rums, raspberry ice cubes, Thai lime sour and ginger beer ($21.50).

If you would prefer not to swear while ordering a drink, the other cocktail I tried was the Nakatomi Towers ($17.50) which was made with Kigo Schochu, house lemonade, Japanese apricots and yuzu juice foam. Very nice.

They also do some rather good juices and a selection of teas.

We started our meal with a plate of light and crispy nori chips.

Next were Jedd’s Jewels – named after the oyster farmer that supplies the restaurant. Jedd’s Jewels (2 for $12) are Coffin Bay oysters that come with rice nectar jelly, tobiko, wakame and a black lime and oyster cracker (the black thing hiding behind the oysters). Normally I only really like lemon juice on my oysters, but I did enjoy these – the salty brininess of the oyster matched well with the cold, sweet jelly and bursts of fish roe. I also really liked the black cracker – coloured with squid ink – like a crunchy oyster chaser.

The double duck blinis (2 for $22) was one of my favourites from the night. The blinis have peking duck (made at Claremont Tonic), pate, cucumber, hoisin and caviar aioli. The combination of the duck, sauce and slight flouriness of the blini meant it was like a super posh peking duck wrap. However, they are a bit expensive for what is quite a little bite.

Next were the King of the Chimichangas ($19). My Google-fu tells me that a chimichanga is a deep fried burrito (!!) and Claremont Tonic’s version is pretty damn clever. It comes out as two deep fried and battered nori shells, along with a wooden box holding raw King salmon, finely diced shallots, wasabi mayo, creme fraiche, sushi rice and fish roe. You’re meant to pile the components into the nori shell and do your best not to make a big mess.

This is the kind of food that I think represents Claremont Tonic well – a bit different, interesting and fun.

The soft shell crab cups (2 for $19) were another highlight – in the lettuce cup was battered soft shell crab, pomelo, jalapenos, avocado, mint, pinenuts and Nahm Jim sauce. Another good dish to represent the restaurant – lots of contrasting textures topped off with the spicy sauce.

We also tried the chicken wing dumplings (3 for $18). Inside the wrapper, the chicken wing meat had been slow cooked and topped with a mousse. The dumplings came with a spiced vinegar and egg yolk sauce plus crispy chicken skin. The egg yolk is mixed through to thicken the sauce.

It’s an unusual take on a dumpling and pretty tasty. The inserted bone also made for a very useful handle.

CT’s pork chipolatas (4 for $14) came with betel leaf wraps, soused cabbage, xo sauce, kewpie mayo and roasted onions.

From the large format part of the menu we tried three dishes.

One was the slow-cooked pork jowl ($26) with pear, maltose, almond and coriander. The top of the pork was coated with maltose caramel, giving a crunchy sweet layer, and the meat was tender and shredded easily.

The Red Rooster ($26) is Claremont Tonic’s version of the fast food chicken dish – except jazzed up (natch). This was a half red roasted Milawa chicken served with slaw, plus lemon and chicken gravy and a big wodge of kewpie mayo. The chicken had been cooked with Sichuan pepper and we all agreed that it was much tastier eaten without the sauces to let the flavours of the chicken shine.

The last main was the Cone Bay barramundi with coconut dashi, squid ink and truffled edamame mash ($32). The fish skin had been blitzed with squid ink to create the black looking layer on top. I enjoyed the fish, and you’ve got to love a dish that comes garnished with deep fried pork skin.

Mains came out with the Samurai vegetables ($14) – a beautifully presented plate of beetroot, radish, smoked yoghurt, puffed grains, soy jelly, and Thai basil.

We thought that was the end of the savoury food – but wait! There’s more!

A bowl of crab meat som tum ($20) – pounded papaya, chilli, garlic, green beans, shrimp and crab meat, was all cutely presented in a stone bowl. It was nice, however, the crab meat did get lost in the rest of the flavours – it seemed unnecessary.

And finally – epic potato! The infinite spiral fries ($9) was a large potato cut into a spiral, battered, fried and sprinkled with curry salt. It came with a kewpie mayo and kecap manis dipping sauce. Whoaz. I expected the potato to be completely crispy, but the inside of the spiral was fluffy. I really liked it, though I don’t think everyone on the table shared my love. Mhmmmm potato.

We were totally ready for dessert after eating our way through all those savoury dishes. Claremont Tonic has five individual desserts, along with a tasting plate of all desserts for $35.

My favourite dessert was the Plum wine sorbet with CT jelly, tonka bean custard, rhubarb and candied lime ($15). Decorated with basil seeds, it had a great range of textures and was tart, sweet and creamy.

I also liked the Gingerbreads ($15), which was warm spiced carrot cake, served with salted caramel, sesame ice cream and pistachio.

We also had an egg tart each ($4.50). The tarts had a short crust pastry, which I generally prefer for egg tarts, but we all found them underwhelming. It could’ve been because the ratio of egg custard to pastry was off – they were quite small so there was too much pastry to custard. They weren’t bad, and I’m sure most people would think they were fine, but I *really* like egg tarts, so my standards might be higher.

I liked the Elianza Truffle ($16) more. Decorated with thin crispy slices of pineapple, also on the plate was milk chocolate mousse, sugared perilla and malt ice cream. The malt ice cream was fantastic and so was the chocolate mousse.

I don’t think Claremont Tonic will be for everyone. Some of the humour heads on to pretty shaky territory (flied plawn? wok and woll? Um… danger danger Will Robinson…), the music is loud (if you hate rock, you’re in trouble), and some of the dishes are a bit expensive. But in general, I enjoyed the food and I liked the place. So well played, Claremont Tonic. Rock on.

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Claremont Tonic
Cnr Claremont Street and Yarra Lane
South Yarra
Phone: 03 9827 0399

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