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Vanitas at Palazzo Versace

Vanitas, the signature restaurant at Palazzo Versace, is renowned for its degustation menus matched with wine from a list of rare and impressive vintages. It can’t be easy for the kitchen to shine given the stiff vinous competition but they are more than up to the task. Simple menu descriptions defy the artful balance of flavours so let the waitstaff strut their stuff – it’s one of the great pleasures of dining here.

Vanitas_review, Tiana Templeman
Molecular gastronomy magic at Vanitas

Our meal began with a theatrical amuse bouche involving a smoke-filled glass cloche. I’m not sure the molecular-gastronomy magic added much in the way of flavour but it did provide a hint of things to come. Vanitas offers an impressive formal dining experience with all the bells and whistles. Respected sommelier Michael Pyrgos was on hand to explain the wines. On our visit the premium selection were all (excellent) New World wines.

Pours were generous, so much so that we were unable to finish them. If you love your wine but are concerned about the cost: don’t be. You will definitely get your money’s worth. Our culinary journey continued with a crispy goat’s cheese cigar accompanied by a petite beetroot salad with orange and nasturtium. The latter gave the salad a pleasant bite and contrasted nicely with the sweet goat’s cheese. A delicate European-style riesling from South Australia was the perfect match.

Vanitas_review, Tiana Templeman
Yabbie and cuttlefish served with a delicate espuma

The second course consisted of yabbie with cuttlefish cut like tagliatelle served under a golden-yellow blanket of espuma. It was served with an impressive Granite Belt Chardonnay that was reminiscent of a classic Yattarna and almost stole the show. That’s not to say the yabbie course wasn’t exceptional – it was – but the wine had the lusty power of an opera singer. Bravo to them both!

Vanitas_review, Tiana Templeman
Partridge served with a fennel tuile

The following course, partridge served with scorched leek and a crispy fennel tuile, was surprisingly delicate for a game bird.  It was matched with a robust 2008 “Grand Merlot” by James Irvine who is regarded as one Australia’s best winemakers when it comes to merlot. The wine was like no merlot we had ever tasted before and retails at over $100 a bottle.  And that’s if you can get it. Pyrgos informed us that most of Irvine’s merlot sells out almost immediately. The merlot was by far our favourite wine but it seemed a somewhat disparate match for the partridge. However, this didn’t bother us. We gave the divine meal and the wine the attention they deserved and enjoyed them separately.

Vanitas_review, Tiana Templeman
Eye fillet served with marrow and a beef cheek daube

We moved on to an aged eye fillet served with marrow, beef cheek daube, artichoke and jus which was poured at table. This classic dish was matched with a spicy “Old Vine” shiraz from the Barossa. It’s a credit to Fiske that despite the number of courses and the richness of several of the dishes we were not feeling uncomfortably full. If anything, the air of expectation and appreciation grew with each course.

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Valrhona chocolate dessert

After a palate cleanser infused with the fresh flavours of guava, passionfruit and feijoa we moved onto a Valrhona and salted caramel chocolate dessert. Yoghurt sorbet seemed an unusual addition to this dish, both texturally and from a flavour perspective. The contrast of sweet and sour didn’t appeal to me at all but others may appreciate it. Coffee and petit fours were a sweet finish and accompanied by the remainder of the dessert course wine match, a glass of Grand Muscat from Rutherglen.

Vanitas_review, Tiana Templeman
Petite fours on a bed of gold

As Anthony Bourdain once said, “I think fine dining is dying out everywhere but there will be – and there has to always be – room for at least a small number of really fine, old-school fine-dining restaurants.” Vanitas is one of them. There are various 7 course degustation options to choose from ranging in price from $135 (food only) to $249 per person (with matching premium wines). Given the calibre of the list the latter option makes for an especially memorable evening. If your love of good food is bigger than your budget there is a 3 course option available for $98 per head. An advantage of this is you get to choose your preferred meal for each course. Many of the degustation selections mentioned above feature on the a la carte menu.

Disclosure: The writer dined as a guest of Vanitas.

Hungry for more about Palazzo Versace? Check out our review of the elegant Palazzo Versace high tea and the Aurora Spa.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.