You know how you look forward to something so much that you worry you might be setting yourself up for disappointment? This dreadful fear had played devilishly in the back of my mind for weeks leading up to our Wednesday-night booking at Virginia Plain. Praise be to the gods and goddesses of decadence and delight – I had nothing to fear.
Up a wee set of stairs off Flinders Lane, Virginia Plain occupies an intimidatingly cool ex-warehouse space that has been given a careful and loving makeover. It’s one of those restaurants that you can tell somebody really cares about; fresh Australian native flowers, a biblically-long bar and a dining room that disappears into infinity with a multitude of warm, cosy corners and expansive tables. Did I mention the open kitchen? Because I’m a sucker for an open kitchen. It’s really got it all.
In a restaurant that looks like it could be set in a certain Bret Easton Ellis novel, it’s the personal touches that make this place truly memorable. From the relaxed quips from the staff, to the comprehensive wine list segmented by theme (joy!) and the rustic chunks of sourdough served in a quaint little bag with salt, pepper and a rich olive oil.
We had so much trouble deciding what to eat. The a la carte menu isn’t an exhaustive list but every single item on it sounded enticing – we were even close to flipping a coin at one stage. In the end, the pigs trotters stuffed with black pudding served with scallops and parsnip remoulade sounded too good to pass up. It’s a dish full of unctuous textures: the full-bodied farmyard melt of the blood sausage with the pork linking flavour through the bed of parsnip to the distant ocean sweetness of the scallop. It’s a real treat.
Sometime after I managed to mangle the pronunciation of ‘ceviche’, our second entree arrived: the ceviche of kingfish with ink, sesame, campari and a flowing curl of finely sliced cucumber. I wanted to be blown away by this dish but perhaps the subtlety of it was lost on me. It might have been a mistake to try this seconds after downing the bold flavours of the pig’s trotters and a massive glass of Pinot. That being said, it looks absolutely beautiful – so much so that I almost felt bad dismantling the plate. It’s not a bad set of flavours in any way, just drowned out a little bit by the more outgoing personalities.
Every dish we saw was an absolute feast for the eyes and our lamb main was no exception: a gorgeous array of crispy fried sweetbreads, tender pieces of shoulder, a cutlet robed in thick basil mousse, smoked baba ganoush – all dotted with fresh baby peas, sprouts and eggplant. The lamb (sourced from Flinders Island, home of sinfully good triple brie) was plated with such respect and care by every set of hands in the kitchen that it truly allows you to rediscover each element of the dish, savouring each piece with slow-dawning wonderment.
That past twelve months of my life have been filled with ‘best ofs’ and Virginia Plain’s wagyu has sauntered into my consciousness with what I have to say must be the best steak I’ve ever eaten. Served with a green salad of radish and celery and crispy shoestring fries, this is 300 grams of pure bloodthirsty haemoglobic ecstasy. Brushed with garlic, the Maillard-caramel of the crust melts away in your mouth with each bite. If I were inclined to believe in a creator, this would be proof and I think it speaks volumes about the skill on show in the kitchen.
As soon as I heard the staff quietly mention the pear tart with salted caramel ice cream to the table next to us, I knew that we had to be together. Like eyes meeting for the first time across a crowded room, it was a magical experience. There’s a powerful hit of salt from the rapidly melting ice cream spreading like rapture across the burnished golden brown of the tart that I could see myself loving for the rest of my life. I want to take it home, make it feel special and marry it.
I don’t mean to gush but we were both completely charmed by Virginia Plain. The service, atmosphere and menu was nearly faultless when it could easily have been arrogant and pretentious (and probably gotten away with it, too). I can’t wait to go back.