“At least five times a week for the past six years, we’ve struggled to accommodate our reservations in one way or another,” says Peter Gunn, chef and owner of one of Melbourne’s finest fine diners, Ides. “If they arrive early and their table’s not ready, there’s nowhere for them to go. Or if they’re invested in sitting around for the evening, we have nowhere to move them on to.”
The need for liminal space was what motivated Gunn to take over the property next door to his degustation-only restaurant on Smith Street in Collingwood, acclaimed for its innovative, intriguing dishes – perhaps none more so than the famous Black Box dessert. (Gunn cut his teeth under Ben Shewry as sous-chef at Attica.)
Formerly home to indie game and craft beer joint Bar SK, the space has been completely reimagined as a moody, mostly black-walled 26-seat bar – named March – with the help of Grant Cheyne, who designed Ides.
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The pièce de résistance is the ritzy marble bar which, for both aesthetic and noise-control purposes, is lined in the same boldly printed carpet that covers the floors. Spirits serve as a best-of list featuring Barbadian rum, Mexican tequila, Osakan sake and Tasmanian whisky, just to name a few. The far more sizable, mostly Australian wine selection is stored in a custom-made cellar at the rear of the bar, with a private dining room just behind it.
Gunn took down a wall between the venues so they could share a kitchen, though the menus are markedly different. “There’s a lot of stuff that I want to be cooking that we can't actually serve in the restaurant because it doesn’t fit the format,” he says. March is a chance for Gunn to test those dishes and embrace a less buttoned-up style of cooking – and for you to try his food if Ides’s $210-a-head set menu is outside your price range.
A standout – and one of the largest dishes – is Gunn’s whole quail tossed in sweet-and-sour sauce and coriander oil. But for the sake of those visiting pre- or post-Ides, most of the offering leans light. Pippies are steamed in sake and served with yuzu-parsley butter. Pork belly is braised and licked with a spicy nori glaze. And green-chilli pickled mussels, once a feature at Ides, are served here in their simpler form, sans stuffing and deep-frying.
While the menu’s not set in stone, the changes won’t be as frequent as what diners have come to expect at Ides. “We can’t take any resources from what we do over there,” Gunn explains. “Even though this is a little prettier and nicer given the age, it’s important that Ides is always the mothership. We wouldn’t have this without that.”
Wed to Sat 6pm–late