A small, unmarked and unremarkable shopfront with a single “3” above the door is all the outside world gets to see of Underbar.
But inside, past the blacked-out windows, you’re greeted by mid-tone grey walls, abstract canvases, a mid-century sideboard well-stocked with spirits, and an ash table surrounded by 12 chairs upholstered in charcoal-coloured wool. Up the back, there’s a small white-tiled, open-plan kitchen with four bar seats.
Behind this tiny operation is Lucy Boath and her husband Derek Boath, a chef with two decades’ experience, including two years at Per Se, the three-Michelin-star restaurant in New York. Like Brisbane’s Joy (10 seats), Brunswick Heads’s Fleet (14 seats) and Sydney’s Raita Noda (8 seats), Underbar was kept small to allow Derek and his team to do almost everything themselves. This keeps costs down, alleviates the stress of having to fill seats every day and adds a certain intimacy that would be impossible in a larger restaurant.
Underbar’s menus also change weekly, as opposed to seasonally. In early spring, you might be welcomed by a “goodbye to winter” Japanese pumpkin soup with maple and five-spice, or heirloom carrots, puffed potato crisp and fresh asparagus served with a number of dips. Once each season, the restaurant runs a wholly vegetarian weekend.
The one, year-round constant is local produce. Before the first service of the week (there are just two, on Friday and Saturday nights), Boath forages for wild ingredients to supplement those sourced from nearby farmers, growers and suppliers. Pork comes from Western Plains Pork; wines from Atwood and Mitchell Harris; and gin from Kilderkin Distillery, a six-minute drive north. Even the Hiramasa kingfish (perhaps served with savoury granola and a medley of onions) comes from Ballarat Seafoods, rather than a bigger supplier in Melbourne.
Dishes are often underpinned by painstaking technique. A duck roulade, for example, is three days in the making. The meat is broken down and mixed with spices, cooked slowly for 24 hours, combined with chicken mousse and cooked again in a sous-vide machine, before being piped into discs. During service it’s sautéed in the kitchen, before being served with Jerusalem artichoke and a grating of walnut.
Unusual presentation is also on the cards. A miniature ice-cream sandwich of burnt cocoa, coffee, chai and wattleseed might be served atop bright yellow wattle flowers and paperbark, sourced from trees close the Boaths’ home.
Expect to spend about four leisurely hours working your way through the $160 degustation menu. Reservations open at 9am on the first day of each month for the month following, and generally go quickly.