Dolly Gray was a brothel owner, “gun moll” and the first wife of an infamous 1920s Melbourne gangster. Her name – in gold letters – has resurfaced in Melbourne at this new bar and bistro from a team of Melbourne hospo veterans that includes Captain Baxter alumni and an ex-Circa head chef.
Cocktails are a focus; the standout is a Spiced Bourbon Sour, which uses fig-and-cinnamon bitters and bergamot syrup. Mare’s Neck is based on a 1920s drink called Horse's Neck – the bar’s contemporary version is made with cognac, yuzu liqueur, smoked ginger and raisin syrup. The rest of the drinks list emphasises Australian producers. The booze may get you in, but the aromas from the kitchen will keep you here. Think whole barbequed Milawa chickens, steaks, or slow-cooked lamb shoulder cooked over a red-gum and fruit-wood fuelled grill.
The team took a jackhammer to large sections of the space’s concrete walls, exposing brick and bluestone beneath. The original floors remain, and dark polished wood and leather-cushioned seats give Dolly Gray a warm, comfortable feel. A painting of the restaurant’s namesake hangs on the back wall, watching over the dining room.
Queen of Spades
Queen of Spades isn’t your run-of-the-mill cafe that just happens to have a Jenga or Connect Four set – it’s a dedicated board-game bar. The stash includes staples such as Guess Who as well as more complicated and elaborate options such as Mysterium and Betrayal at House on the Hill, which can take hours to play.
If the included manuals aren’t cutting it, trained hosts are on hand to explain the rules of the more involved games. Coffee from Bean Cartel, and a selection of wines, beers and cocktails, provide sustenance for marathon sessions. On the food menu you’ll find burgers, meatballs and plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free offerings.
And for the traditionalists, there’s always chess.
“CHE” is the Spanish slang term for “buddy” or “mate”, something that underpins this casual Fitzroy diner – the latest venture from Pastuso owner-chef Alejandro Saravia. The name is also an acronym for chicken, helados and empanadas – the three main items on the menu. Indoor plants and light bulbs hang from the ceiling in the small but vibrant restaurant. There is also an enormous Fileteado-inspired street-scene mural by Open Season on one wall.
CHE’s main attraction is chicken and chips. The style is based on a mainstay Peruvian variety called pollo a la brasa – a Saturday takeaway tradition that Saravia grew up with in Lima. He marinates his birds in a Peruvian spice mix and dark beer for two days before cooking up to 35 at a time in a large a rotisserie-style charcoal oven. The dessert pillar of Saravia’s trinity is helado: dulce de leche-flavoured soft serve. You can get it in a cone or sundae with roasted macadamias and malbec and blueberry jam as add-ons.
When you walk into the modern quasi-industrial 120-seater, you’ll see chefs diligently preparing pizzas along a neat assembly line, starting with the white-marble kneading station and ending at the glowing white-tiled Valoriani wood-fire pizza oven, imported from Italy. Forty-eight-hour-old thin-crust Neapolitan bases get blasted for around 90 seconds in 450-degree heat.
Options range from benchmarks such as margherita, neapolitana or capricciosa, to regional adaptations such as the Fratellino (with bocconcini, salami and olives) or The Fitzroy (mozzarella, ham, salami, mushrooms, capsicum, onion and pineapple) to the most native of all, The Aussie, with mozzarella, ham, bacon and an egg. All can be prepared on a gluten-free base and with vegan cheese.
Non-pizza options include pasta, rich homemade gnocchi ai quattro formaggi, and chargrilled swordfish and calamari fritti. For dolce, go for the brown or white chocolate calzone, or Nan’s homemade cassata, based on a decades-old Liston family recipe, with almond, chocolate and cherry ripe.
Blink and you might miss Taiyo Sun, a tiny new Japanese cafe with only 12 seats in a space about the size of a large utility room. It’s filled with small wooden chairs and tables, cotton-clad light shades and indoor plants. Plenty of natural light flows in from the large north-facing windows facing the Merri Creek parklands.
Fluffy white bread from Brioche by Philip is sliced Japan-style (that is, about three times thicker than your wildest Wonder White dreams), with toppings such as homemade azuki (sweetened red-bean paste) and matcha powder, or hard-boiled eggs beneath a blanket of Japanese mayonnaise and melted cheese. Japanese vegetable curry is served with a cheesy toasted croissant.
Coffee comes from Wide Open Road and the beverage list includes a large and interesting tea menu, with noteworthy inclusions such as lapsang souchong, grapefruit green and cherry-flavoured sakuranbo.
His new restaurant is Ryne, housed in a big pitched-roof warehouse with timber rafters on St Georges Road. Tables are built from 100-year-old recycled hardwood, custom-made crockery comes from Robert Gordon and the industrial-style lights from England. The bar was constructed from five-metre, 150-kilogram beams reclaimed from old railway bridges in New South Wales.
The compact, no-share-plate menu includes dishes such as a confit king ora salmon with blood orange, asparagus and artichoke essence, and chicken-liver parfait, which Cooke served as a solid slab back in the day at Est, but gets aerated with a cream gun here.
A savarin dessert takes a ring of brioche-enriched dough left to stale for a day or so. Just before service, it’s soaked in whisky syrup, grapefruit juice and spices, then injected with grapefruit curd. It’s finished with a side of basil, white-chocolate ice-cream and confit grapefruit. It takes a couple of days to make and embodies what Ryne is all about.
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