Ever since the Greenhouse restaurant in Sydney was featured in an episode of Australian MasterChef last year, I have been waiting with anticipation for Joost Bakker, the brainchild of the pop-up sustainable restaurant concept, to bring a similar event to Melbourne. This year during the food and wine festival, I had my chance.
Last night some girlfriends and I popped in to this city’s first pop-up restaurant, which is built using only recycled or sustainable materials. The floor is made from old conveyor belting, the chairs from disused irrigation pipes, recycled bottles and jars are the drinking glasses of choice, and terracotta-potted strawberry plants line the façade of the structure, which is mostly timber and old shipping containers stacked four-high.
Bakker is a Dutch-born florist, artist, builder and environmentalist who has inspired people across Australia with his visionary concept of “no waste” dining, and everyone at our table last night had to admit it was impressive.
The dinner was a four-course French-inspired feast created by Auckland chef Simon Wright (The French Café) and Melbourne’s Nicolas Poelart (Embrasse), which celebrated fresh, local and seasonal food in some most unexpected ways.
The standout dishes were Wright’s first course of marinated kingfish, spanner crab, apple jelly, verjus, shaved fennel and crème fraiche – which awakened the palette and made us all hungry for more. This was followed by a dish of Australian marron, then another of roast pheasant and finally, the piece de resistance, was Poelart’s dessert called “forest floor”.
Served on a piece of plywood covered in chocolate “dirt” were chocolate and meringue “mushrooms” along with fresh mint and sorrel granita. It looks like something straight out of a fairytale and it disappeared in record time.
In addition to the wonderful food was a jovial atmosphere and quirkiness that made the entire experience unique. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Rod Barbey, Australia’s only certified organic chef, from Organic Matters Food & Wine Store in Hawthorn East, who like me, wanted to experience the Greenhouse above all else at the festival.
Even a trip to the loo was educational, as diners were told in a note on the bathroom wall that their “wee” was going to be used to help grow mustard plants. From the light fixtures made from vintage tins to the herb gardens planted outside in old metal barrels, the resourcefulness and attention to detail was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
There is only a week left to experience the Greenhouse in Melbourne, as Bakker’s masterpiece will be taken down from the banks of the Yarra after the festival, which closes on March 21. I hope I can get back there just to have a drink at the rooftop bar!