Hungry Hinch

The Paris End

Sofitel Hotel
Collins Street, Melbourne

The 35th floor of the Sofitel Hotel at the ‘Paris end of Collins Street’ has always had a touch of This is Your Life  for me.

From way back when it was The Regent Hotel and on 35th level we had The Restaurant where my favourite table was right in the back corner, surrounded by glass, with a view out over the tennis centre and the MCG. And, until the Eureka tower came along with its almost scary Skydeck toilet on the 89th floor, it had the most dramatic views from a men’s room in Australia.

The Restaurant moved to become Café La and the old location is now the Sofitel Club, which looks smart.

Jacki Weaver and I had our wedding reception on the 35th floor overlooking one of her ‘factories’ – the Victorian Arts Centre. We spent the first night of our honeymoon in a top floor presidential suite so big that we couldn’t find each other. Maybe that was an omen and why she is now my ex-wife.

The 35th floor was also the place of a truce that could not have been engineered by Henry Kissinger. Bert Newton and I were arch-rivals on 3UZ and 3AW. He was the King of the airwaves. I was the carpetbagger from Sydney.

I had set the tone for the relationship when I arrived in Melbourne and in my first interview, with Jack Cannon from the now defunct Sunday Press, described Bert as ‘a myth invented by the Reader’s Digest’.

After the wake following the funeral of radio man Garry Meadowes, Bert and I decided to bury the hatchet and, to the surprise of others, headed off to the Atrium Bar on the 35th floor of the Regent, took  over the microphone from the Horan twins and sang duets until management politely asked us to leave because of complaints from hotel guests.

Another show business connection lured me to the new No.35 restaurant at the Sofitel.

Clive Scott, the theatre loving general manager at the Sofitel, hosted a luncheon for the stars of the show Calendar Girls.Favourites (can I risk it by saying ‘old favourites’) like Lorraine Bayly, Cornelia Frances, Jean Kittson and one of my most cherished women in the world, Rhonda Burchmore. It was also a chance to see Amanda Muggleton with her clothes on.

I couldn’t stay long because I had an afternoon radio program to host. Had to leave before the Wagyu beef!  But I was there long enough to have an entrée: Atlantic salmon with compressed cucumber, fennel and sorrel.

It was delicious. And, I discovered, all the food was off the menu of the new No.35 restaurant.

Had to go there. And did on a Saturday night. It does have a great city view sweeping up past Fed Square, the Arts Centre and St. Kilda Road. And happily it breaks the rule: View great? Food not so great.

Started with New South Wales oysters which are getting better each season. Some Clair de Lune and some Rusty Wire.
Then the salmon with cucumber, fennel and sorrel. Funny about fennel. As a kid we were warned away from it. Were told not to touch it – let alone eat it. It grew as a weed in New Zealand and we were told it came from the hemlock family.  For years into adult life I didn’t like aniseed. Now fennel is a favourite vegetable and star anise and five spice powder are favourite ingredients.

Fennel was one of the shaved ingredients in a terrific salad that also included walnuts, grapes and a touch of gorgonzola cheese. Can I call it an upmarket Waldorf?

Mrs. Nosebag, being a vegequarian, had a perfectly cooked piece of fish with the skin crispy but the inside moist although cooked through. It was adapted from the menu because of a weird theme I have never seen before.

I’ve heard of surf and turf although I could never see the appeal in a slab of steak and a lobster tail on the same plate. But at No.35 there’s some crazy stuff.

Like:  wild barramundi with pig’s trotter. Caremilised John Dory –with bacon. Mulloway with sweet corn and a chicken wing.
Creative… but not my style. Luckily, they are also creative in the sweets department. I’m not a huge dessert eater but you have to try the ‘pastry chef’s  creation in progress’.

What we got was an intricate chocolatey sensation. Out of 35 I’d rate that one 35.

I’d rate No.35 highly as well.

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