As the Arbory Afloat crew put the finishing touches on Melbourne’s favourite floating all-day-bar-slash-restaurant ahead of its re-opening on Thursday, Broadsheet talked to Executive Chef Nick Bennett about its now annual reinvention. Last year’s Italian riviera aesthetic is out – this year, the venue has been reimagined through the lens of 1970s Miami. That means bright-white furniture and pastel-hued umbrellas set against a backdrop of glossy green banana trees and palms.

“We hopped on the plane with no menu, and when we came back after five days we basically had a full concept,” says Bennett of the team’s research trip to Miami and Cuba earlier this year.

Miami has a reputation as a party town, but it also has a diverse culinary landscape. Cuba has had the biggest impact on the city’s cuisine, but ingredients and techniques from across Latin America, South America and the Caribbean appear too, reflecting the influence of Miami’s varied migrant communities.

“We took inspiration mostly from Miami, a little bit from Cuba, so what we’ve ended up with is a Latin-American take … with a bit of a modern Australian twist,” says Bennett.

Some of the most distinctive features of Miami cuisine – such as the emphasis on fresh flavours, and pairing seafood with Florida’s abundant tropical and citrus fruits – make it an obvious fit for the Australian summer. For example, tiradito – a Peruvian take on sashimi. It’s served with cucumber and tart pomelo segments, and punched up with a herby green sauce. Salsa borracha (a sweet and boozy Mexican sauce) accompanies calamari.

But it’s not all clean eating, says Bennett. “We wanted a good balance on the menu, so there’s fresh lighter stuff that works throughout the day – and then there’s some good drinking food as well.”

The latter includes the papa rellena, best described as a giant, football-shaped croqueta filled with mashed potato and deep-fried until bright yellow. Here, it’s stuffed with shredded beef, chilli and cheese, and served with aji verde (Peruvian green sauce) and pebre (a finely chopped, sour Chilean salsa). It’s rich, tart, complex and perfect drinking food. Another late-night winner is the Cuban midnight sandwich, which doubles down with both pulled pork and sliced ham, and is topped with Swiss cheese and served with waffle fries. And the rich, fluffy Yuca cheese puffs were inspired by the team’s visit to award-winning chef Michael Schwartz’s restaurant Amara at Paraiso.

Larger dishes include four shareable, DIY taco options, each served with a generous amount of quality animal protein ready for stuffing into pillowy tortillas at your poolside cabana. A whole southern rock lobster is served in its entire bright-orange spiny-legged glory, it comes with avocado chimichurri, a stack of warm tortillas, house-made pineapple hot sauce and truffle aioli. “We pull it apart, we fry it, and then we put it back together in a big copper dish,” says Bennett.

Devoted fans of last summer’s incarnation of Arbory Afloat will find some familiar items. You can still get an Aperol Spritz, and the floating pizza oven is still in operation. Pizzas now have “an Italian-American twist to suit the Miami theme,” says Bennett. The Californiana comes with a generous heap of fresh seafood (clams, mussels, prawns) and a tangle of fresh rocket.

When it comes to booze, there’s now a rotating rum-plus-mixer menu, showcasing interesting local and international rums such as Plantation Pineapple and Beach House (a spiced rum from Mauritius). There are an impressive 26 cocktails on offer, with nine on tap, including Mojitos and a Vodka Collins. The custom-made Four Pillars Miami pink gin with fresh grapefruit and lemonade is a vibrant, smashable summer beverage. And for those wanting the full Miami experience, there’s a separate list of six magnums.

Arbory Afloat menu

Raw
Oysters
White fish ceviche, sweet potato, aji amarillo, avocado, leche de tigre
Kingfish tiradito, green sauce, pomelo, mint and cucumber

Smaller
Miami mix – warm olives, Marcona almonds, crispy hominy corn
Cauliflower mac and cheese croquetas
Eggplant tostada, pomegranate molasses, apple, shallot
Chilled prawn tostada, togarashi, lime mayonnaise
Corn empanada, leek, Mexican cheese, smoked-paprika aioli
Short-rib empanada, tamarind barbeque sauce
Herb guacamole, aji amarillo, blue-corn tostadas
Yuca cheese puffs, parmesan, aioli
Fried calamari, salsa borracha, lime
Papa rellena, chilli beef, cheese, aji verde, pebre
Fried pork-belly ribs, tamarind barbeque sauce

Salads
Pickled beetroot salad, fried pretzels, jalapeno, cashew cream
Mixed salad, cucumber, olive, salami, avocado, provolone, chilli vinaigrette
Tuna salad, basil, ajo blanco, baby gem lettuce, tomato, green beans, Marcona almonds
Rocket salad, shiraz-gin dressing, pecorino pepato

Sandwiches, Miami-style
Cuban midnight sandwich – pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, sweet pickle
Croqueta sandwich – potato croqueta, eggplant, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, Cuban bread
Miami club sandwich – smoked chicken, Swiss cheese, egg, bacon, avocado, tomato, lettuce, aioli, rye bread

Shared platters
Cold seafood platter
Arbory Afloat antipasto platter

Pizzas
Margherita – San Marzano tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil, Parmigiano Reggiano
Isabella – buffalo mozzarella, mushroom, pecorino romano, truffle oil
Soprano – San Marzano tomato, mozzarella, beef brisket, mushroom, squacquerone Cheese
Boss – San Marzano tomato, provolone, pork sausage, olives, chilli, hickory barbeque sauce
Chicago – buffalo mozzarella, provolone, romano cheese, streaky American bacon
Californiana – San Marzano tomato, garlic confit, cherry tomatoes, clams, prawns, mussels, fresh rocket
Americana – San Marzano tomato, mozzarella, German sausage, hickory barbeque sauce
New Jersey – San Marzano tomato, provolone, pepperoni, romano cheese
Nutella – strawberries, nutella, marshmallow, icing sugar

Tacos
Whole fried market fish, tortillas, pickled corn, pineapple hot sauce
Grilled short-rib, tortillas, lettuce, avocado chimichurri
Southern rock lobster (half or whole), blue corn tortillas, truffle aioli, avocado chimichurri
1.4 kilogram tomahawk steak, tortillas, pickled onion, chilli sauce

Larger
Arroz verde, coriander, fried eggplant, mushroom escabeche and salsa
Tortellini, zucchini, pine nuts, smoked tomato, Van der Heiden cheverano
Battered fish, chips, condiments
Portuguese marinated grilled chicken (half or whole), endive, grape and walnut salad
Grilled fillet steak, chimichurri, Yuca pannise

Sauces
Avocado chimichurri
Chilli sauce
Pebre salsa
Cascabel chilli paste
Pineapple hot sauce

Sides
Fries
Waffle fries
Roasted sweet potato, olives, chilli, sour cream, smoked paprika
Broccoli, labneh, zhoug
Tortillas

Desserts
Paleta – Mexican ice pop
Dulce de leche flan
Ice-cream and sorbet

Arbory Afloat opens on Thursday, September 19 at 2 Flinders Walk, Melbourne. An extended second storey with private cabanas and a swimming pool (with capacity for 250) will open later this month.

arboryafloat.com.au