While Marvel’s movie slate shrinks, Marvel Stadium is upping its dining game with a new restaurant and an upstairs bar with American menus from culinary directors Shannon Martinez and Aaron Rodrigues.
Both the restaurant, Friends of Fire, and the bar, Amphora, are on Marvel Promenade, meaning once they open in March the two venues, which have a combined capacity of 1350 people, will operate even on days when there are no concerts or games on at the 53,000-capacity stadium. The spaces were both designed by Hachem (W Melbourne, Curious) and will be contemporary in style.
Though not vegan or vegetarian herself, Martinez is a trailblazer of Melbourne’s vegan restaurant scene and is known for her vegan restaurants Smith & Daughters and Lona Misa. She’ll oversee the Friends of Fire and Amphora vegan offerings while Rodrigues, who is also executive chef at The George on Collins, will focus on the meat and fish.
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Martinez lived in Los Angeles on and off for eight years and developed a broad understanding of American food by travelling the country as bassist in a punk band. The Friends of Fire menu similarly tours America, with a focus on Southern, New England and New York City-style food. When service starts in March, Martinez says we can expect totally different flavour profiles to her other restaurants.
There are three grills (one pescatarian, one vegan and one for everything else) and Martinez has created a vegan counterpart for the majority of Rodrigues’s meat and fish offerings.
Southern American influences will be seen in dishes like an ancho-chilli-glazed smoked ham with fermented pineapple gildas (a play on a Southern baked ham with pineapple), an Oklahoma smashburger (a caramelised onion-heavy burger), buttermilk fried chicken with hot-honey pickles and ribs with a peach tea glaze. New England can be found in the Maryland crabcakes and stuffed clams, while New York comes through in both Italian-American dishes like spaghetti and a giant-stuffed meatball, as well as the steakhouse-like grill cooking and focus on sides like onion rings, creamed greens and skin-on fries and mash from the potato menu (yes, there’s a whole menu just for potatoes).
For dessert? There’ll be classic American pies including peach, pecan, and grasshopper (mint pie with a chocolate crust), as well as a roaming sundae trolley that nods to sundaes found at iconic New York restaurants like Gage & Tollner or Don Angie. Toppings will include miso caramel and a strawberry shrub syrup to go on top of ice-cream from American-style scoop shop Sundae School Ice Creamery (there’ll be a vegan option, of course).
Amphora will have a variety of towers – “that seafood tower vibe”, as Martinez says – with a seafood, vegan and meat tower available. On non-event days the bar will only open for functions, but when the stadium is buzzing on game days, there’ll be Coney Island chilli dogs and soft pretzels with mustard butter.
Friends of Fire was originally planned to be a Mediterranean-leaning restaurant, but recognising the quality and prevalence of the cuisine around Melbourne, the team have instead opted for an American-inspired venue. Martinez tells Broadsheet she interprets this as “that style of service where the proteins are exceptional and then you go wild on the sides and desserts”.
“There’s not that many people really doing American-style stuff. It had its day, probably mid-2000s, when American food was kind of popping off in Australia with buffalo wings and all that sort of shit, but it’s kind of died off a little bit and you’re left with just a few really good restaurants that specialise in it,” she says.
The restaurant and bar also represent something of a homecoming for Martinez, who made a name for herself in the mid-2000s when she was making American-style barbeque at The Gasometer (doing split vegan and non-vegan menus) before moving onto South Yarra’s Sweetwater Inn, and eventually opening Smith & Daughters.
Friends of Fire and Amphora are due to open in March 2024 at 740 Bourke Street Docklands