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.”

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

Wed to Sat 4pm–late