Over the past five years, stylish South Melbourne restaurant Half Acre has become a destination for locals seeking the same drop-in spirit of the surrounding pubs, but with the polish and culinary flair of a CBD restaurant. It’s best known for its woodfired grills, which cook steaks, fish and chicken alongside big hunks of cabbage and cauliflower.

And as of this week, it has a sleek and very different sibling, Cityfields, in Chadstone’s new Social Quarter. It’s big. The two-storey site encompasses a ground-floor public bar and restaurant, plus separate north and south gardens for al fresco dining. There’s also The Long Room – a private dining space, and the top floor with yet another dining room, bar and garden.

Half Acre’s rustic ex-mill brick and reclaimed decking have been swapped out for white walls, cast terrazzo stairs and glossy, reflective ceilings the colour of apple cider, but its multifaceted nature and penchant for fire have been carried over.

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Designers Pasquale Cook and Studio Manifold worked together on the look. Striking details are everywhere. A main bar clad in a chequerboard of forest green and chocolate brown tiles. A central column of mirrors, with four long-armed lamps protruding from it symmetrically, like antennae. An octagonal waiters’ station made of unpolished brass, wrapping around the column’s base.

A focus on Australian art was key to adding extra colour and quirk, with pieces from ceramicist Anne U, painter Marty Baptist, photographer Linda Wachtel, multidisciplinary artist Claudia Bagnall and a giant hand-painted vessel designed by Natalie Synnott. Even the lampshades, custom designed in collaboration with local makers and dotted around the space, mimic artworks, decorated as they are with tufty dried grass and golden leaves.

“We’ve gone in a similar overarching direction: kooky, but with more of a European personality,” says co-owner Adam Wright-Smith. If ever there was a venue to invite comparisons with Europe or New York, Cityfields is it.

Walking through Social Quarter, the eye is immediately drawn to the soaring 12-metre-high vaulted glass that forms Cityfield’s corner ceilings and wall and is all that stands between the dining room and sprawling outside terrace. “You could be anywhere,” Wright-Smith says, and he’s not exaggerating.

Many parts of Cityfields reference Wright-Smith’s most memorable overseas moments. “Have you been to Raffles in Singapore?” he asks, pointing at an elaborate cast-iron contraption on the bar with two crank handles and room for six cocktail shakers. The iconic hotel commissioned Sydney-based company Crawley’s Imperial Shakers to make a suitably regal machine to shake its signature drink, the Singapore Sling, of which it serves several hundred a night. This version, the MK2, is an upgrade that took nine months and more than 1000 hours to build. Cityfields’ City Sling and Ramos Gin Fizz can be shaken to mousse-like perfection, quickly, and in high volumes.

“What about Balthazar in New York?” asks Wright-Smith, pointing out the long bistro-style open kitchen and bringing out a copy of the menu. Head chef Tim Martin (ex-Untitled, Rockpool) is playing up to Wright-Smith’s eight halcyon years living and working in New York, where he remembers vast menus with lots of sections.

Cityfields offers lots of snacks (don’t miss the bite-sized potato cakes served with goat’s milk yoghurt and a sweet pickle relish, or buttery San Danielle prosciutto with melon escabeche); a section with salads; a pasta section with cacio e pepe and ragu, as well as a standout busiate alla trapanese with Sicilian tomato pesto and smoked bone marrow tossed through spiral macaroni. In the classics section, there’s a well-executed cheeseburger, chicken schnitzel and bangers and mash.

Mains, such as wood-roasted chicken and porchetta, are made for sharing. Then there are woodfired steaks, from a minute steak through to the full 1.2-kilogram T-bone with bordelaise sauce for when you’re settling in for the afternoon. Classic desserts such as crème caramel and Basque cheesecake vie with soft-serve fior di latte ice-cream flavoured with the likes of Anzac biscuit and olive oil, and rhubarb and elderflower pavlova. There’s also a roving timber dessert trolley with a selection of cakes.

In addition to the rapid-fire cocktails, booze is sold by the glass, including a selection of Noisy Ritual wines on tap, as well as other Antipodean wines and beers.

1341 Dandenong Road, Chadstone
(03) 8646 6060

Daily 12pm–late


Disclosure: Adam Wright-Smith’s partner is Broadsheet editorial director Katya Wachtel. This story was written and edited independently, without Wachtel’s oversight.