Chef Clinton Jackson heads the kitchen at The Essence with renewed gusto. The former chef from Surfers Paradise Marriott has been dishing up signature dishes to excite the Melbourne dining scene including a must-try hot chocolate fondant. Steaks sourced from local Victorian farms are served in a delicate pepper rub.
Qualified in both cookery and patisserie with experienced earned around Australia and Malaysia, he is also shaking up the competition with affordable and tasty meals that allow diners to savour the local regions' produce. The daily Lunch Special comprises of a main meal and beverage including choice of salads, pasta, pizza, steak or fish. A two or three course express menu is available for diners looking for a quick meal before a show at the nearby Comedy Theatre or Her Majesty's Theatre. There's also the popular seafood stack for two which comes with hot and cold servings of seafood, the sole reason for my visit with a dining partner.
Having had good-to-bad seafood platters in venues like Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast and Nick's in Sydney's Darling Harbour, I was eager to measure the quality and value of the offer at The Essence.
Like any typical Australia, Chef Clinton loves seafood. I understand the inspiration behind his seafood stack for two is the best of everything he loves on two tiers. He believes in simple, fresh flavours of local market produce and keeping the portions plentiful. I like how this chef thinks. With a Leo Buring Eden Valley Riesling in hand, I eagerly awaited the arrival of his highly recommended seafood special.
The bountiful stack did not disappoint my dining partner and I. The top tier featured generous portions of cold items including a whole South Australian blue swimmer crab, New Zealand green mussels, fresh oysters, marinated octopuses and slices of smoked salmon. The bottom tier was laden with 2 sticks of chunky grilled Tasmanian salmon, lengthy slices of salt and pepper calamari and battered pieces of fish. A bowl of Western Australian prawns on buttered rice dominated the centre.
You could taste the freshness of the ingredients in the cold and hot servings. The crab meat was firm and the oysters retained the briny sweetness. I also enjoyed the lightly salted batter and flakiness of the fish, the moistness of the salmon and the tender crunch to the calamari. A personal recommendation to the Chef was to introduce grilled octopus and replace the NZ mussels with the blue mussels, both of which are available from Queen Victoria Market.
Overall, the seafood stack for two was an affordable and tasty meal. It was value for money based on the quality and portion compared to many other seafood platters minus the mud crab, bay bugs or half lobsters. I left The Essence satiated, saving Chef Clinton's signature crispy-seared Tasmanian salmon with Manuka honey soy dressing for my next visit.