Ella is an intersection of cuisines, cultures and flavours, modelled after the food courts of Asia’s high-end train stations. And it opens today, right around the corner from Melbourne Central.
Michael Bascetta and Roscoe Power of hospitality industry co-working space Worksmith, which will be opening at Ella in mid-June, were tasked by developers GPT Group with choosing 12 tenants for the new hub.
These include cocktail bar Byrdi, by celebrated Australian bartender Luke Whearty; chef Charlie Carrington’s Colours Bowls, a casual offshoot of his globetrotting Prahran eatery Atlas Dining; Korean fried chicken specialists Sam Sam; and Pick a Stick Chinese Skewers from the Dainty Sichuan crew.
Here’s a quick rundown of the best five dishes we found, from fried chicken to vegan bowls to Nepalese delights.
Soy garlic fried chicken from Sam Sam – $18
If there’s a trend that doesn’t look to be leaving Melbourne any time soon, it’s Korean fried chicken, and Sam Sam has been serving it to hungry Melburnians since the restaurant’s first shop opened on Swanston Street in 2015.
Boneless or bone-in chicken pieces here are marinated for 24 hours, deep-fried to order, then coated in a sticky glaze of your choosing. The bestseller is soy garlic, a balanced sweet and salty hit with a generous garlic kick. The chicken beyond the crunchy exterior is juicy and tender, and it comes with potato wedges and slaw on the side.
Cauliflower shawarma street food bowl from Colours Bowls – $13.90
This is the second outpost for chef Charlie Carrington’s Colours Bowls. What started as a fast-casual spot serving takes on Atlas’s best dishes found a life of its own as a vegan eatery serving nourishing Mediterranean fare.
Hummus is the lifeblood of the Colours menu. Build your own or choose from five pre-selected combinations. The shawarma bowl is roasted cauliflower with shawarma seasoning, za’atar potatoes, tabouli, pita, pickles and hummus.
The space is inspired by modern-day Tel Aviv, with light wood, white tiles, distressed walls and seating by MCM House.
Soft-shell crab ramen from Ajisen – $15.80
Now that winter’s setting in steaming bowls of ramen are a welcome option for workday lunches. And while deep-fried soft-shell crab isn’t a traditional ramen protein, here it offers crunch and a seafood-y hit to a classic tonkotsu, or pork bone broth. It’s saltier than the other ramen on the menu (which includes spicy beef, spare ribs and chicken katsu versions) and comes with a deep-fried egg and vegetables.
Ajisen has called its little corner outside Melbourne Central home for years, but reopening for Ella also meant debuting a new look. Gone are the window’s white flowers and the geometric shapes on the light fixtures. Instead, there are light wooden slats, blue scaled tiles on the bar, and noren, traditional curtains like you’ll find all over Japan.
Gua bao from Son-in-Law, The Pad – $17 for three
This Thai diner is the sister spot to new-school eatery Son-in-Law, in Collingwood.
The menu is a stripped-back version of its sibling’s. There’s pad thai, fried chicken ribs, spring rolls, fish cakes and three types of bao.
Each bao bun is light and soft, enveloping the toppings like a little pillow. Mix and match your choice of glazed pork belly with carrot slaw, black sesame tofu with crushed peanuts and tamarind sauce, and roast duck with cucumber, coriander and hoisin.
Order yours as regular bao or as cartoon characters, with buns shaped and decorated to look like Pikachu, Rilakkuma, Baymax and Winnie the Pooh.
Vegetarian momo jhol from Chilli Everest – $11.90
Chilli Everest is another eatery that’s reopening at Ella with a new look, but it’s staying true to the Nepalese flavours that make this a hotspot for out-of-the-box South Asian cuisine.
The menu is varied and spans a range of regions, but it’s the momo jhol, Nepalese dumplings served with a tangy stew, that really shine.
Choose from chicken or vegetable dumplings – the latter filled with chopped onion, capsicum, cabbage and potato – that pair well with the jhol, a bright soup made from tomato, peanut, sesame and chilli sauce.
The remaining eateries will open in late June, and Byrdi is due to launch in August.
This article was updated on May 30, 2019.