When I think of eating Asian food, I think of Asian restaurants that are decorated in various shades of red or gold, food that is served by chefs who don’t bother with the concept of “plating” and the soft notes of Kenny G or pan pipes playing the greatest hits of the 80s in the background.
So you can imagine my thoughts when I walked into the new Asian inspired restaurant,Claremont Tonic, to be greeted with the sounds of Nirvana’s Come as You Are playing on the speakers and greeted by the front of house, an amazing looking rock chick with a blond Mohawk (her name is Sophia btw). Definitely not something I’ve seen before!
The restaurant is definitely not decorated in shades of red but shades of grey with exposed black beams crossing the ceilings. It has the feel and look of a hip New York city bar, crossed with a hip Asian influenced bar, crossed with a bit of rock and roll. It wasn’t what I had expected given I had visited the Claremont Tonic’s website earlier in the day to discover a life like drawing of a young Asian girl with long hair cracking a whip (sound effects are on so perhaps don’t look at this website at work unless you want people to think you’re secretly visiting 50 Shades of Grey fan websites……). Definitely no young half dressed Asian girls with whips in sight at Claremont Tonic, which is a good thing in my books, although some of you readers may disagree! It is definitely very hip and very cool, and really has the ambiance of a place that doesn’t quite exist in this city.
The restaurant is the brainchild of Davis Yu, who currently has two other restaurants in Melbourne – Touche Hombre and The Millswyn. He has entered this venture in Claremont Street, South Yarra, with the help of chef Dylan Roberts, who was head chef at Ezard. You can kind of tell that some of the items on the menu do have that Ezard feel to it as the menu leans towards the Asian inspired/fusion type of dishes as opposed to Asian dishes on the menu at places like Chin Chin or Coda. The inspiration for the dishes stem from Davis and Dylan’s trip around Asia, and the menu is a true testament for their exploration across the continent. Some menu items are inspired by Japanese flavours, others by Chinese, Thai and even Vietnamese influences. Definitely some interesting combinations of food on the menu that are complemented by an array of teas from across the region (if cocktails or juices are not your thing!).
We started the night with a cocktail called Nakatomi Towers. We were told that this cocktail was Davis’ favourite, and after the first sip, I understood why. The Shochu, Japanese apricots, lemonade and Yuzu juice was the perfect combination of sweet and sour with a touch of tartness that is served in a bulbous glass. If you’re going to have any cocktail, you have to try this one!
The menu has an eclectic mix of Asian flavours, divided into small dishes, land and sea dishes, larger dishes, sides of salads and vegetables, and desserts. We were lucky enough to sample a couple of dishes from each section of the menu, and by the end of the night, I literally rolled out the door into my car out front!
First course from the Small dishes section were fresh oysters topped with rice nectar jelly, tobiko and wakame. It was a nice combination of flavours as the toppings complemented the flavour of the oyster rather than overpower it given the jelly flavour was quite subtle. Accompanying the oysters was a lime and oyster cracker. Reminiscent of a prawn cracker in texture, it was black and way better tasting than a prawn cracker. If they had that as something on the menu to order by itself, I would so order a whole basket full. Definitely worth trying.
My favourite dish of the evening was the “King of the Chimichangas”, which was essentially a Japanese inspired taco! Nori seaweed lightly fried in what I assume was Tempura batter and folded in the shape of a taco. A small wooden box accompanies the nori tacos that is filled with raw salmon, rice, Kewpie mayonnaise, avocado, onion and small leaves. The idea is to build your own taco using the nori and items in the box. The result is a delicious sea inspired taco! It was simply gold. Definitely the best item on the menu and if I had been more greedy, I would have had another one!
Other golden dishes of the evening included:
“CTs Pork Chipolatas” which was another DIY dish of slices of pork sausage, which you topped with XO sauce and soused cabbage.
“Double Duck Blinis” were a patriotic nod to the Chef’s Welsh heritage. Instead of Peking duck sitting on a traditional thin pancake, it sits upon a blini that works really well with the richness of the duck. The duck is roasted on the premise daily as emphasised by Davis. It was very good and definitely one dish to try if you go.
“Slow-cooked pork jowl” was also another standout dish. I’m not sure whether it’s because I have a huge fascination (read: greedy tendency) with slow cooked pork, but this dish at Claremont Tonic was mighty tasty and really was quite distinct in its flavour of spices. The accompanying pear worked well the pork as it kind of made it feel less fattening….sliced fresh fruit always makes me feel that way!
“Infinite Spiral Fries” were totes awesome. Yes I did just write that, but looking at them, they look like something you’d get at a theme park when you were young (that applies if you’re as old as me!). The texture wasn’t as crispy as I thought it would be, but the flavour of the curry salt was delish!
To help me make way for my “Happy Ending”, I ordered the “Fck you Eddie” cocktail. Yes I just wrote “Happy Ending”….and yes, I thought it was hilarious too! The term refers to the dessert section of the menu which I’ll get to next. But before I do, I have to mention this second cocktail I had. Given it’s name, you’d kind of think it would be a cocktail to top them all, and to be honest, it probably is. It’s served in what looks like a giant jar and is made up for 5 different types of rum, raspberry ice cubes, Thai lime sour and ginger beer. It was both refreshing and toxic at the same time. A genuine delight!
Anyway back to my happy ending….
I really did get more than one Happy Ending…I got four of them! But out of all of them, my favourites were the Eliana Truffle which I basically hoovered off the plate, and the Yakusa Yuzu Sorbet which brought me full circle to the start of the evening when I was enjoying the tart taste of my first cocktail.
The Eliana Truffle is a milk chocolate mousse creation, accompanied by crystallised shards of pineapple and small blocks of pineapple. It was divine. I swear if my skirt would have allowed, I would have asked for another!
And finally, the Yakusa Yuzu Sorbet was a delightful combination of sorbet, cold sake, yuzu and lemon jelly cubes. It was a refreshing dessert, and if you like sorbets this is the one to order!
Now most people at this stage of the meal would like a coffee, however the establishment doesn’t serve coffee. Instead, it encourages diners to opt for one of the 10 teas on the menu, which are inspired by various regions in Asia, or a juice made from different combinations of fruits and vegetables, depending on your mood at the time! Or, if you were like me, you’d be going with a different cocktail on the menu….
All in all, I had a fantastic time at Claremont Tonic and can’t wait to go back and try the other cocktails (many of them with names in honour of rock and roll legends), and try the rest of the menu!
I really liked the fit out and the ambiance of the place. And despite, half way through eating a dish, noticing that they were playing Prodigy, it really suited the atmosphere of the restaurant.
I did ask what inspired the name of the restaurant. I was told that obviously it was on Claremont Street, however, the concept of Tonic could be interpreted as a type of juice for life. I think it’s the perfect explanation given the types of tonics on offer in a place where Asian food meets rock.
You can visit Claremont Tonic at the corner of Claremont Street and Yarra Lane, South Yarra
Images by Katherine Ng