"One of the city’s finest fine diners"

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Thank you to Dan Stock and the Herald Sun for this amazing review. Image credit Rebecca Michael.

They are, simply, the stuff of dreams.

Three silken pillowslips made of the most tantalisingly ethereal pastry come plumped to bursting with sweet scallop meat. Steamed soft, they are anointed with a broth of soy and mirin with dancing depth, a drizzle of oil with the double act of Sichuan pepper and chilli adding tingling, lingering heat. In a city obsessed with dumplings, Ezard could rightfully claim the crown of the best in town ($32).

In a city obsessed with dumplings, Ezard could rightfully claim the crown of the best in town

Eighteen years on, one of the CBD’s trailblazing fine diners is still forging a new path. This old dog has a few new tricks, thanks to young gun head chef Jarrod di Blasi, who over the past three years has been quietly adding a refined Japanese focus to the bold South East Asian flavours that saw Teage Ezard’s eponymous basement restaurant hailed as one of the city’s best through the “aughties” and beyond.

Given its longevity many will have dined here before, but, in keeping with 2017 being the Year of the Restaurant Makeover, the now discretely refreshed, sleek and sparsely lit dining room is perhaps reason enough to return. I might come back simply to stroke the wine list that’s covered in leather so Bambi soft it had to be almost pried from my hands. It’s such little luxuries that telegraph decades’ experience that starts at the top and follows through to the floor staffed by professionals that aren’t of the dashed dreams variety.

That attention to detail extends to such things as reviving the lost art of taking jackets and coats on arrival — and having them waiting at the door — or turning the music down as the room filled up, keeping the hum buzzy but conversational. It’s friendly but sir/madam formal, in keeping with, and welcomed by, a clientele for whom “fast casual” isn’t a type of restaurant but their weekend Alfa runabout. That’s not to say it’s all old-school — there’s a welcome cross section of Melbourne and ages here celebrating this midweek night.

If the dumplings get you through door — now handsomely adorned in living greenery — it might just be the quail that brings you back. It’s an artful plate that’s at once terrifically technical and decadently delicious. Boned, rolled, wrapped in pancetta and roasted until blushing pink, the quail sits upon a peanut sauce of refined balance that’s countered with the crunch of bean shoots and the textural bite of wood ear mushroom, the lot atop a supple savoury pancake ($30).

Before these dishes, only the foolish would miss the famous oyster shooter that has also had an update, now coming with yuzu and apple sweetness that plays off wasabi heat ($6 each). It’s a powerhouse of flavour that continues with good bread that’s attended to by a selection of condiments: a bonito, sesame and sea salt mix; sugar with Sichuan pepper and chilli; and garlic-and-parmesan steeped oil. Nothing shy about that lot.

A superb piece of king salmon is poached until silken soft and velvety. Its skin, puffed to a crunch, crowns the vibrant orange fillet, and though I thought the broth it swam in slightly flabby for the rich fish, a handful of tiny cavatelli pasta shells added bulk with class ($49).

It’s trumped, however, by the two fat cubes of glossy-lacquered, magenta-fleshed duck. Served with a panko-covered eggplant nugget fried soft and crisp, a powerful black garlic paste and fermented chilli sauce add subtle sweet and heat respectively ($52).

With those mains hitting $50, Ezard remains unabashedly occasion (or corporate card) dining, and though a Four Pillars martini will set you back $26, wines come with modest mark ups, especially if you buy a bottle. It’s a well-considered tome, healthily celebrating local stars while driving through the Old World picking up a boot-load of four-figured heroes along with loads of interest at more accessible levels. And while a tasting platter is a throwback to a time when we were all worried about the Y2K bug, it’s nonetheless a perfect way to get the best of desserts which, in welcome news to the many for whom this bit of the meal is the whole point of going out, are exceptional.

The dark chocolate sphere that cracks open to reveal a dark rum jelly and a rum-vanilla ice cream is the picture-perfect showstopper, simpler dishes such as squashy-soft poached strawberries with sheep’s yoghurt, are no less impressive.

The dark chocolate sphere that cracks open to reveal a dark rum jelly and a rum-vanilla ice cream is the picture-perfect showstopper

Cinnamon oil elevates excellent honey-crunch ice cream that sits on a square of toasted gingerbread with proper spicy heat, with more ginger in biscuit form forming the base for a passionfruit cheesecake.

It’s evolution, rather than revolution. Marching — rather than sleepwalking — into it's third decade, Ezard’s renewed energy means it remains one of the city’s finest fine diners.