Walking into Omnia, South Yarra’s temporary new bistro, it’s immediately clear that while technically this is a pop-up, these guys mean business.

The project is a year-long test kitchen for a handful of upcoming restaurants (the details of which are still mostly under wraps) at the Capitol Grand, a residential and retail complex currently under construction around the corner. And like at the glitzy, undulating development down the road, the team behind Omnia has pulled out all the stops. Even though it’s planning to shut up shop in mid-2020.

The operation is split in two. The first half is the bistro; a warm, muted dining room with tan leather booths, grey velvet armchairs and an impressive collection of artworks. Most arresting is a large bronze David Bromley sculpture of a dog wearing a frilly Elizabethan ruff collar.

LK Hospitality, which owns Omnia and the Capitol Grand, has brought in a cadre of star recruits, starting with Scottish-born head chef Stephen Nairn, who’s worked several high-profile postings (Matilda, Vue de Monde, New York’s illustrious Eleven Madison Park). Nairn’s elegant produce-driven menu is all about European flavours and techniques, but it’s also a testing ground for dishes that’ll potentially hit the Capitol Grand’s permanent restaurants next year. “We’re always trying to source whatever is tasting great; whatever is bang in season,” he says.

Starters include steak tartare, a brave pitch considering France Soir, arguably Melbourne’s consummate steak tartare spot, is only four doors down the road. But Nairn pulls it off with finesse. “You’ve got to have tartare at a bistro,” he says. His version uses beef tenderloin, dried capsicum and smoked egg yolk, and is served with pomme gaufrettes (fancy ruffled chips). Parmesan and Gruyere gougères are tanned on the outside and have a light, pillowy inner, best torn in half and dipped into bright-green chive cream that arrives on the side.

Other standouts include Victorian quail, deboned and filled with chicken mousse, then roasted, chopped and reassembled in the shape of the bird. It comes with sauerkraut, pine mushrooms and a dark, rich quail jus. Rockling is from Lakes Entrance. Nairn gives it a light cure with pink Murray River salt and citrus, grills it over charcoal and serves it with a warm tartare sauce and leek nest.

If you have room for dessert, go for Nairn’s modern take on a classic apple pie, with crisp shards of pastry and a textbook vanilla ice-cream.

Sommelier Tom Hunter (former manager at now-closed Ôter, and Adam D’Sylva's Euro-Vietnamese diner Coda) is in charge of the 150-strong wine list, which leans more toward selections that are clean and fresh rather than big and bold. Hunter says he “nods to the big rockstars of Europe” with by-the-glass Coravin options, such as a 2009 Chateau Pape Clement cabernet franc blend that goes for $130 a glass. There are more affordable options too.

The second half of Omnia is the bar out the back. Here, chateau-style hanging lamps, round wooden tables, a small, almost hidden outdoor garden and lots (and lots) of indoor plants set the scene for a savvy botanical-themed cocktail list designed by award-winning bartender Orlando Marzo (beverage director at the hospitality co-working venture Worksmith) and 2018’s World Class Bartender of the Year. It’s executed by bartender Lewis Cooke (ex-Black Pearl), who says the list works “from floral to root via spice, using the whole plant from head to toe”. This might mean a gimlet that balances a tart lemon cordial (made from lemon myrtle procured by local forager Liam Spurrell) and top-shelf Tanqueray Rangpur gin, or a Manhattan spiked with mint.

The bar is accessed through a low-lit passageway, which, if you’ve seen the film The Favourite, feels a little like the eerie hidden corridor that leads to Queen Anne’s room. Odds are if Bromley’s dog hasn’t set the mood, this will.

Omnia
23–25 Toorak Road, South Yarra
(03) 8080 8080

Hours:
Tue to Sat, 5.30pm–11pm

omniabistro.com.au

This article was first published on June 13, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.