Enter South Melbourne cafe Clementine during the day, and you’ll see an abundance of natural light and brunch-goers enjoying classic cafe food. But visit after 4pm, and a velvet curtain will be drawn to cover the empty cafe, leaving the focus on a descending spiral staircase.

Venture downstairs and you’ll find Castlerose, new basement restaurant and bar inspired by 20th-century English dining. Like Clementine, the underground spot was founded by Glen Bagnara of East Melbourne wine bar Hemingway’s and Bar Bianco in Prahran.

While the cafe upstairs – with offerings like Scotch eggs, full English breakfasts and “Winston’s baked eggs” – hints at what you’ll find below, Castlerose is much more overt in its nods to sophisticated English dining.

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The venue’s dark timber finishes evoke an English smoking lounge – as do the cigar pastries, filled with confit duck and water chestnuts. They’re served in a wooden cigar box with aioli and olive dust, calling to mind a sprinkle of cigar ash.

A strawberry Eton mess is presented in a dish resembling a crystal jewellery box, and there’s a roaming vintage cheese trolley (something that’s now almost a given at Melbourne’s European-inspired restaurants).

Smaller plates and snacks include oysters, sourdough with whipped butter, and a pork-and-pistachio party pie. For something bigger, there’s a whole- or half-roasted chicken with black garlic and gravy, or classic fish and chips with crushed minted peas.

The drinks list features classic cocktails, champagne, and a combination of German and Italian reds, and French and Italian whites. Bagnara says the bar is a great place for locals to drop in for a working dinner or a glass of wine, but he emphasises that it’s equally well-suited to special occasions. “No bottle of barolo, side of lobster or bump of caviar is out of bounds.”

Castlerose
67–69 Palmerston Crescent, South Melbourne
(03) 9982 9367

Hours:
Wed to Sat 4pm–late

www.castlerose.com.au