Essa is the opposite of James’ street’s summery and ostentatious venues. This 60-seat restaurant occupies what looks from the outside like an unassuming tenancy near the intersection of James and Robertson streets. Where other eateries in the precinct tend to be full of light, Essa is dark and charismatic.
Architect Craig Channon’s (Channon Architects) fit-out comprises black timber and banquettes, green marble tables, and hidden lighting. He’s also turned its covered windows into waiter’s stations. Concessions to natural light come in the form of a curtained window at the front of the venue and a fabulous garden out back.
The centrepiece of the venue is a long green marble bar. Behind it, co-owner and former Gauge head chef Phil Marchant prepares a local produce-focused menu anchored by a woodfired grill custom-built in Melbourne by The Brick Chef.
He switches up the menu regularly, but past dishes include burnt kohlrabi that’s pickled and served with fresh curds, bay leaf, pistachio and nasturtium; wild venison tartare with bergamot, buckwheat, hibiscus and grilled sourdough; and fried chickpea beignets served with a caramelised scallop cream.
Larger plates might include house-rolled gnocchetti sardi served with Fraser Isle spanner crab, nduja and carrot; spatchcock quail with brown butter, caper leaves and salt bush; and Black Angus short rib with Wagyu fat jus gras and green peppercorns. Before and after dinner service, a short raw menu that includes oysters and charcuterie is served at the bar.
For wine, the list, compiled by Cuttings Wine sommelier Marin van der Klooster, is overseen by Phil Poussart, formerly sommelier at Fico in Hobart.