Araliya in St Kilda is Sam Wedande’s crowning achievement. He first learned to cook in his native city of Kandy in Sri Lanka’s Central Province. Then he graduated to five-star restaurants in the UK, then to Melbourne’s Hilton in the mid 1980s before opening five restaurants In Melbourne over 20 years, including the Hawthorn institution, Araliya. This is now being replicated in St Kilda, albeit on a more glamorous scale, and Wedande couldn’t be happier.
“Hawthorn is a great area,” he says, “but they’re older. They don’t go out at night and they’re a little less experimental with flavours. I came here to create new recipes and to build a restaurant around the drinks as much as the food.”
Wedande gestures towards the long, prodigiously stocked bar skirting the room, and with two fingers, clicks. Soon we’re sipping a spicy, moreish Bloody Mary from a selection of house creations including chili and grapefruit margaritas, basil martinis and a green-tea mojito. The place is modern, with white walls lining an open, rectangular floor, while low-hanging, retro bulbs cast a merry glow over the tables.
The menu includes Wagyu brisket with cardamom and kithul palm sap and duck confit in a roast-fennel curry. But the twist is in the method. Sam explains that Sri Lankan cooking traditionally uses meats to flavour the sauces, despite it overcooking the meat. “So here, says Wedande pointing at the fish, “I use a French method to cook the meat perfectly by itself, then combine it with the sauce of another fish at the end. It’s a long process, but definitely worth it.”
We finish eating and Sam looks around proudly. “This is the best thing I’ve done,” he says. “But of course, everything good takes time.”
157 Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda
Mon to Sun 12pm–late