Through ample windows, the airy front bar of Cardigan Place Cellars overlooks the village-like streets outside. A large wooden bar dominates the room, with barstools lined up to welcome diners for a natural wine and a snack. Further back, a cosy dining room – with jars of pickled vegetables lining old wooden shelves – looks into a busy open kitchen. Upstairs is a private dining room, and there’s more seating out front.
This lived-in space was once a toy shop, then refined all-day bistro Mon Amour XO. Heading the kitchen is 24-year-old chef Kirra Parsons, who spent her formative years at Dunkeld’s Royal Mail and Lûmé under executive chef Shaun Quade. When the call came to run the show here, Parsons jumped at the chance.
“I wanted to work where I had the freedom to do things my way,” Parsons says. “To create simple, relaxed and not overly complicated food.” The young chef champions local producers, working closely with organic farm Somerset Heritage Produce, in Seymour.
On the menu, refined, small plates shine, and salt and acidity intertwine gracefully. Start with cheese and charcuterie, which might include jamon, aged 14 months; sopressa veneta (salami with a coarser mince for a fuller, meatier flavour, infused with fennel and garlic); Wagyu bresaola; a soft blue Stilton; or a sharper 12-month-old Manchego, from La Mancha in Spain.
More unexpected on the snacking side of things is the bite-sized chestnut briq-pastry crisp. It comes topped with slivers of kombu-braised asparagus, with white pepper and tiny chive cylinders.
A playful pate dish is a creamy swirl of chicken liver cream with gigantic lacy artichoke chips, dusted with green coriander. What first appears to be an egg yolk turns out to be citrus jelly. It goes well with a bright Ministry of Clouds tempranillo grenache.
Barbequed octopus comes with XO sauce, made in-house from charcuterie offcuts. Its umami flavour complements the tentacle curl, which is dressed with dashi and served with foraged wood sorrel, snow-pea slivers, pickled daikon and Chinese-broccoli dust. A 2018 chardonnay aligote from Blind Corner in WA is a very agreeable sipping mate.
A dedicated vegan menu includes smoked cashews; beetroot pastrami with pickled vegetables; barbequed cauliflower with foraged fennel powder; and a fig, red mustard leaf and hazelnut salad.
Affable manager Hamish Killalea comfortably walks diners through a quirky list of mostly Australian wines with a focus on small and low-intervention producers. Take-home bottles are available too, at a 20 per cent discount.
Cardigan Place Cellars
67 Cardigan Place, Albert Park
(03) 9686 2999
Tue to Thu 4pm–10pm
Fri to Sun 12pm–10pm
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on January 10, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.