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92 Smith Street, Collingwood, 9939 9542
My score: 4/5
Two years is often a sweet spot in the life of a restaurant: the mania of opening is long past, wrinkles have been ironed out once, twice, probably thrice and, best of all, there’s a settling of identity which means more attention can be focused on the diner experience. In short, it’s less “look at me” and more “how are you?”.
So it is with IDES. Chef Peter Gunn and his small team celebrated the milestone in March with a refurbishment and a few deep breaths. It’s been a journey. Gunn was sous chef at high-flying Attica, running IDES as a monthly pop-up, when his business partners offered him this permanent space. He opened in a bit of a rush and, though it was always nice to eat Gunn’s questing contemporary food, there’s a more measured mood to the place as chef grows into restaurateur.
Diners need make only two choices. Will it be the half- or full-length tasting menu? And what about drinks? Alcoholic and teetotal matches are both available. Other than that, let yourself be carried along by food, beverage and chat in a shadowy, chic dining room that makes it easy to forget the world outside.
Your meal begins with a visual joke that I won’t ruin if I call it “spot the mushroom”, then continues with a bombardment of finger-licking snacks, among them baby corn and caviar, a perfect oyster, cucumber dressed with citrus, a chicken drumette with sticky, spicy sauce.
From there, bread (excellent sourdough), a vegetable course, seafood dishes that move from bright to rich, then meat with attendant vegetables, and lastly dessert. You might see a progression like this in a Michelin-starred old stager but having a classical thread means the actual dishes can dart and dance.
Two dishes tell the story of where IDES has been and where it’s going. The first, a tricksy plate which sees banana shallots spiralled into slender cones, pointing skyward like minarets, stuffed with spiced cream cheese and surrounded by frozen coconut oil chunks and salmon roe. It’s a “what is this?” dish. Eating it is akin to decoding, and the flavours are odd until they resolve into delicious.
The next seafood course – roasted kingfish fillet in a cauliflower and chorizo sauce – is again low-key in its presentation but the flavours are amped up. Clever touches – miso brine, blow-torch to caramelise the flesh, lime oil to tie together fish and sauce – turn a fillet into a show-stopper.
Inspiration comes from the strangest places. Peter Gunn was browsing eBay for a TV when he stumbled upon some strawberry-shaped moulds. He bought them and put them in a cupboard. Then, when strawberry season came, the moulds had their time. The dessert that ensued is lovely: elderflower jellies in the form of strawberries are surrounded by strawberry balls and juice. It’s an unserious delight and so pretty that I bet no one at IDES would have let it fly a year ago.
Eating here right now is exciting and fun: the food is creative but confident, the service is witty and relaxed, the dining experience is well-paced and engaging without being demanding. In short, make a reservation.