“I cannot believe that on a weeknight here I can’t get a meal after 9.30pm,” says Armadale local, Adam Davies.
So, he came up with a solution. Davies and his partner Courtney Milne’s wine bar and late-night diner, Fortify, focuses on the French or French-influenced dishes they believe are underrepresented in Melbourne. At Fortify, Davies and Milne want to serve these lesser-known dishes at the hour they’d traditionally be eaten.
While Fortify’s their first crack at opening a restaurant, Davies’s research was a decade of travelling. At 26, after just two years as an international trade lawyer, he decided to open a hostel in Mexico. Since then he’s travelled to 56 countries and made a living owning and working in hostels.
His introduction to food hospitality was in Lyon, where he opened a hostel three years ago (it’s also where he met Milne, who was backpacking at the time). “It’s the food capital of the world,” he says. “I thought, Michelin-starred restaurants, warm weather nine months of the year, sign me up.”
In Lyon, Davies’s favourite restaurant opened at 11pm and closed at 6am. “You could get a steak and a wine whenever you wanted,” he says.
He was taught to cook by guests in his hostel. “We had chefs and chef students come and stay in the hostel. Those guys would pop a bottle of wine and we’d start chatting,” he says. “One guest came and said his grandmother’s recipe for beef bourguignon is the best, so I said, ‘Make it and you can stay for free’.”
That recipe is on Fortify’s menu.
When the couple returned to Melbourne after the hostel in Lyon was forced to close, Davies noticed many French restaurants in Australia had pretty similar menus. “They’re French bistros, they all serve French-onion soup,” he says. “It doesn’t excite me.”
So when they saw the former Lona Pintxos Bar on High Street was facing demolition, they grabbed it. The menu is a bit of a hodgepodge of all of Davies’s favourite things, from Buffalo wings to charcuterie. The signature dish is the New Orleans truffled scallop bouillabaisse gumbo – a thick rice stew with scallops and sausage, made with a duck fat roux – that takes three days to cook. But Davies’s personal pick is the French-Moroccan-inspired quarter duck, roasted with a pistachio crumble under the skin and served in a cherry jus.
Like the dishes, wines on the list are worlds apart, with Austrian gruner veltliner jostling up against Spanish verdejo and an Italian primitivo. There are even a few bottles from Davies’s parents’ winery in Tasmania. Cocktails are mostly modern classics, for example Espresso Martinis to Moscow Mules.
Other elements also remain traditional: Fortify’s foie gras and a number of its cheeses were smuggled into Australia in a suitcase from the Paul Bocuse markets in Lyon.
963 High Street, Armadale
(03) 9822 0382
Mon, Wed to Sat 11.30am–1am