There was a little bit of tension in the air as staff prepared for the opening night of Etta in mid-March. Co-owner Hannah Green cordially smiled as she saw off an electrician – he’d just finished installing the last of the restaurant’s sleek Finnish and Italian overhead lighting.

“That’s the last of the tradies,” says Green, looking a little relieved.

Etta in Brunswick East is made up of two rooms – one a bar, one a dining room –separated by an open kitchen, which is overseen by New Zealand-born chef Hayden McMillan (formerly of The Roving Marrow). Along with Green, he runs the restaurant with wife Dominique Fourie McMillan.

Green and McMillan used to work together at Neil Perry’s Rosetta and would regularly eat together at The Roving Marrow, where the group concocted their own future operation.

Iva Foschia, whose IF Architecture is responsible for the recent refurbishment of Cutler & Co. and Attica, as well as the design of Marion, did the fit-out for the 80-seat bistro.

Each of the two polished rooms centre around large and expensive-looking Australian stone benches, crafted from marble from a quarry in Chillagoe, northern Queensland. The restaurant’s concrete walls are cut a few inches from the ground, exposing some of the building’s raw brick.

Foschia also restored some of the space’s inherited features (it’s hard to believe, but this place used to be a fish-and-chips shop), including the stone floor in the front section and hardwood floorboards in the back.

The goal was to keep things simple. Outside of the impressive rock collection and a playful forest mural by local artist Rob Bowers, the place is fairly unadorned.

McMillan’s seasonal menu draws on flavours from all over the world, similar to but a little more approachable than Roving Marrow.

More than half of the menu is vegetarian. Dishes include tamari and brown-sugar-roasted buttercup pumpkin served with a dairy-free sunflower cream, and eggplant schnitzel fried in Japanese-style Panko breadcrumbs. “Much like a veg tonkatsu,” says McMillan.

Flinders Island lamb is marinated in a cumin and fennel seed dry rub and cooked on a Japanese-style binchotan charcoal grill. For dessert, the team invested in a Pacojet ice-cream machine to make “coconut snow” (coconut-flavoured shaved ice), served with peaches, verjus and “coconut fromage” (mascarpone, crème fraîche and coconut).

The team has plans to create a unique bar menu for a more casual meal, and it’s also tidying up the courtyard, which will hopefully be open by next summer.

60 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

(03) 9448 8233

Wed to Sat from 4pm
Sun from 12pm