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Thursday, 4 February 2016

Supernormal

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Is it, though? So normal it's super normal? I think maybe not.

There are a lot of 'normal' things at Supernormal (180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne) - you go in, get a table (if you're lucky), order food, eat it at said table. But there are a few things that set this restaurant apart.

Kitchen behind the bar


One is size. Supernormal is quite big for a Melbourne CBD restaurant. There are different sections: a looooong bar (behind which sits the kitchen, and which pretty much runs the length of the restaurant), a line of booth-style tables, a couple of walls hosting tables with bench seating, and stand-alone tables in the middle.

Bench seating tables and random display flowers and bottles


It also has a very high ceiling, which makes the interior feel very spacious and airy. Hard surfaces everywhere do echo the noisy chatter from so many covers, but the space above all the heads helps absorb it.

Stand-alone tables in the middle and hi


Another is style. A lot of venues go for an industrial look, but they usually overdo it. Supernormal feels like a big empty warehouse with cement floors, large-scale fluorescent ceiling light panels, exposed support beams and pipes. Maybe it doesn't sound that attractive, but when you're in among all the bodies, eating at a table of light wood, surrounded by the odd display plant or sake bottle, it actually seems quite nice. It's simple, open and clean, without feeling harsh or cold.

Cement and exposed beams everywhere

The curly staircase

The pow-wow '80s Japanese vending machine


There are a few interesting design touches, like an excellent spiral staircase that runs down to the loos (which apparently leads to a private dining room with karaoke facilities - who knew?!), a Japanese vending machine (what it is vending, I have no idea), lit up but not garishly so, sitting quietly to one side, and some neon cherries (??? -- I admit that I and my table members also identified eyes, balls or boobs. Yes, we are mature adults, promise) on the front window. But overall, minimalist industrial Asian is the aim here, and it has definitely been achieved.

The cherries/eyes/balls/boobs


When it opened in mid-2014, Supernormal's initial buzz was all due to the food - or rather, the chef. Andrew McConnell's reputation (Builder's Arms, Cutler and Co., Cumulus Inc., the former Golden Fields) meant buzz was guaranteed (i.e. small group dinner bookings aren't available; you have to put your name down early) and delivery was a slick affair (you know, he has PR releases and cook books and stuff). The food is Modern Fusion with elements of Chinese, Korean and Japanese, and of course McConnell generally nails it. I have eaten here twice now and neither time could I name a menu item I tried but didn't like. Don't get me wrong, there could be room for more wow factor, but I would happily eat Supernormal food on a regular basis, if time and money would allow it.


Instructions. Helpful for some.


On both visits, my dining companions and I opted for the banquet menu - currently $65 per head (plus drinks, of course). Starting with some delicious and moreish soy roasted pumpkin seeds both times, here is what we ate on the first visit (in September 2015):

Pickled fennel, cucumber and wagami (i.e. seaweed)

LOVED this: Soft meaty tuna with avocado, dry salty seaweed,
fresh crunchy cucumber (--my descriptions, not theirs! can you tell?)

The famed Lobster Roll - just amazing.
I didn't think I'd be a convert, but I was. Something about the textures...

A chickeny salad thing

Another 'amazing' - prawn and chicken dumplings
with chilli and vinegar sauce... nommmmm

Beef sirloin - cooked rare but beautifully tender, with a strongly
flavoured sauce that the accompanying salad help cut through

Accompanying lettuce and pear salad

I'd say this one's pretty self-explanatory :/

Dessert - Peanut Butter Parfait. Yes, this was as good as
it looks/sounds, but it was also very rich. Go cautiously!


The banquet menu we received in January 2016 featured many of the same items - thankfully including the lobster rolls, the dumplings, and the very same parfait - but here were the items that differed:

Sesame cucumbers. Weird sounding and looking, and a simple dish,
but quite inspired I thought, and pleasant to eat, particularly texturally 

Duck fish with white soy and ginger. Again, not something
I would usually have ordered, but surprisingly good

Chicken salad (different to the last one, I'm pretty sure)

Bass groper (that's fish - yes, we had to check, too) with lettuce and rice


Meanwhile, the people at the table next door during my first visit ordered this amazing looking thing:

Whole duck served with bao, cucumber, and plum sauce

They just broke off bits of the duck with a fork and then made their own little bao buns. It looked so good, I am going back JUST to try this (okay, and maybe a lobster roll to start).  *salivates*

...I will leave it to you to make your own decision on the food at Supernormal, but I quite enjoyed it.

Exemplary service. And massive sake bottles.

Sake in a wine glass, the best way


The last factor that makes Supernormal more super/less normal is its exemplary service. All the way through both my visits, the waitstaff were unerringly polite, helpful and friendly. Each dish was explained upon delivery to the table - although the explanations could not always be heard due to the white noise level. Sake and/or wines were recommended, and attendance to the table was neither too frequent, nor too lacking. Seriously exemplary service. Thumbs up.

I liked these
Necessary evil. But not too evil


I realise this is a bit of - how shall I put it? - 'overpraise', so I would just like to say that, as with all my blog posts, (a) this is not a review, but a recap of my experience(s) at this venue, (b) I always pay my own way and rarely inform the venue I am planning to write a blog post about them, (c) I did not expect to like Supernormal as much as I do. You know how when songs are overplayed on the radio or everyone's wearing the same fashion trend and you just get really sick of it? Well, I don't get that with music or fashion, but I do with buzz around chefs and restaurants. Honestly, I wasn't pitching for Andrew McConnell's food here to be that amazing... and I was pleasantly surprised. Not just at the food, but the whole package.

Sure, there are normal elements here, but the super bits are what make me happy.

Happy customers




Supernormal Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato