There’s a polished, cinematic glamour that feels immediately familiar at Gimlet, the latest endeavour from prolific restaurateur Andrew McConnell (Marion, Cumulus Inc, Cutler & Co, the Builder's Arms, Supernormal).
Stepping into the elegant new dining room on the ground floor of Cavendish House, a Chicago-style 1920s building in the CBD, you could swear this is an institution that’s married grandeur and comfort effortlessly for decades – rather than a recently reimagined hi-fi showroom.
“It kind of feels like it's found its right purpose now – almost as though it’s always been this way,” McConnell says. “What [Sydney design firm] Acme & Co have done with the space is really incredible.”
It’s the kind of place that calls to you to blow off work early and settle into one of the plush burgundy booths with a mid-afternoon martini and a plate of rock oysters (opened to order, served with thinly sliced rye and seaweed butter).
Its classicism recalls the grand hotels of London and New York with soaring ceilings, art deco columns and sentinel rows of champagne bottles. The square central black-and-gold marble bar speaks to the team’s determination that this is a bar first, eatery second.
“When I came in here, I just knew straight away exactly what it should be, how it should feel,” says McConnell. “And where the bar should sit – in the middle of the room.”
That doesn’t mean food plays a supporting role, and it never will, so long as the chef who gave us The Lobster Roll and that lamb shoulder is steering the ship (along with head chef Allan Doert Eccles (ex-Cutler & Co)). McConnell’s signature restrained complexity is evident on every Eurocentric plate.
Start with a golden disc of pillowy, buttery, rustic flatbread topped with fresh clams, fermented chilli, parsley and lemon. Or a seafood salad of mussels, shaved calamari and poached prawns with briny sea succulents and pale treviso leaves, finished with a house-made summer tomato vinegar.
There’s also sweet WA marron with saffron rice; duck poached with salt and spices, with bitter radicchio leaves served alongside; fries with garlic butter; and a savoury anchovy Danish.
The kitchen sports a woodfired oven, so meats and vegetables roasted over coals feature heavily. Think potatoes roasted with taleggio and sage.
Head bartender Cameron Parish (ex-The Everleigh) is behind a bright and citrusy take on the bar’s namesake, the Gimlet. He’s making it with gin, three different types of citrus, a little Moscato and Geraldton wax.
Elsewhere there’s an Old Fashioned made with caramelised white chocolate and bittersweet amaro; a sour cherry and eucalyptus Manhattan; and a house Martini made with orange-bergamot bitters.
There are some theatrical, retro touches that add to the old-world charm. When it comes time for dessert – if you’re passing up the woodfired cheesecake with poached rhubarb, that is – a roaming cheese trolley will present local and international options. There’s a caviar menu in the works, too.
Gimlet is running a limited menu until restrictions lift. You can select from a $70 or $85 set menu, but spots at the bar are available to book for snackier undertakings.
“Our team is really enjoying getting into the restaurant after the delay,” McConnell says. “Just the hospitality, and being able to look after people – there comes a time when people really need it."
It’s an unusual start for a bar from the man who pioneered all-day, no-bookings, snacks-for-dinner dining in this city, but McConnell is rolling with it.
“I want people to feel comfortable, and to feel spontaneous with how they want to eat," he says. “Because Melburnians do know how to eat.”
Gimlet at Cavendish House
33 Russell Street, Melbourne
(03) 9277 9777
Tue to Thu 6pm–late
Fri to Sun 12pm–late