Nine months after opening his second restaurant (the first was Seddon’s Copper Pot), Messer chef-owner Ashley Davis is ditching the European dining concept that was so well received in April last year.
“When we opened, we went with a market vibe, with a lot of food borrowed from village markets in Spain and Germany,” Davis says. “It was a hard thing to realise that we hadn’t got it right, but I thought I’d change it and make it more fun and approachable.”
The interior of the Gertrude Street space remains mostly the same – there’s new signage, a lick of paint and some updates to the art on the walls – but in keeping with the name (Messer means “knife” in German), Davis’s menu now channels modern Berlin. He’s keen to steer people away from visions of lederhosen and sauerkraut.
“Berlin is a little more chic and modern,” he says. “It doesn’t have the kitsch attached. We still wanted to tell the story of Germanic food and have the dishes people might have come to expect, but it’s a little more grown up. We’re not a beer hall.”
At Messer 2.0, Davis and new head chef Nick Stevens (Copper Pot, Pure South) still draw on a few German classics, injecting them with wider Euro and Australian influences.
“We’re not trying to be omas (grandmothers) cooking in the south of Germany, or reinvent the wheel,” Davis says. “We’re reinterpreting modern German food and having a bit of fun.”
Käsespätzle, a dish of pasta-like wheat dumplings covered in cheese, here comes with kale, shallot and Gruyere. Currywurst (traditionally pork sausage served with curry-spiked tomato sauce) is made with duck, and veal schnitzel has a pretzel crumb, served perfectly rose pink. Apple strudel is reimagined by pastry chef Gemma Calleja (Quay, Lune) with filo shards and burnt-butter ice-cream.
The pizza-esque flammkuchen of old remains. It comes with soft potatoes, caramelised leek and crème fraiche, or smoky speck. A smoked trout and roe “sandwich” uses crispy trout skin in place of bread. Pork chops are slow-cooked on a rotisserie grill.
Former Rockpool and Smalls Bar sommelier Wiremu Andrews has wrangled a predictably German wine list, and in a very small, very quiet nod to the beer hall, you can order your German bier in a stein on request.
Shop 1, 166 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9419 0035
Wed to Sat 12pm–3pm
Tue to Sat 5.30pm–9.30pm
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on January 7, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.