When describing his large, multi-concept Prahran Market eatery, chef Paul Wilson is succinct. A “food temple,” he calls it. But that’s about as brief as things get at Wilson & Market, which began rolling out back in March with the small hole-in-the-wall take away shop, Mr Wilson’s Tuckshop, and a daytime cafe and bar in May. The curtain is now fully drawn with Wilson’s nighttime Brasserie, which opened in June.
Dinner at Wilson & Market starts, as many do, with bread and butter. But Wilson being Wilson – resourceful and fastidious – there’s a little more to it than that. He churns his butter with a heavy dose of salt and dried seaweed, and serves it with 28-hour dark sourdough bread rolls. A little tastebud shock-therapy before venturing into deeper waters, which is an appropriate analogy considering that Wilson built a five-seat green-marble, scallop shell tile Crustacea & Oyster Bar at one side of the restaurant.
Wilson, who moved to Melbourne from the UK in the late 90s, might be forgiven for unearthing one of Australia’s snazziest late-century relics – the seafood bar – which lives our collective memory in Kendonian hues of prawn-pink and sky-blue. In fact, Wilson’s more than forgiven – the freshness of his seafood, coupled with the visual verification sitting inside the glass, is palpable. Wilson calls it “menu merchandising,” which “makes you excited about the seafood on the menu.” It does.
For those bold enough, Wilson offers a set-price Seafood Extravaganza option. This starts with South Coast rock oysters, continues with seaweed smoked Petuna ocean trout with devilled egg, and concludes six courses later with a wood-grilled wild fish “surprise.” On the a la carte seafood menu, try the whiting carpaccio, with a smack of fennel, horseradish and native capers, or spanner crab, served with a seaweed crêpe and celeriac and truffle garnishes.
Contrast and chaos work well at Wilson & Market. For wine, Wilson enlisted sommelier Virginia Selleck (also Magnum + Queens) to create a “disruptive list,” she tells Broadsheet. This includes over 100 “small-production wines” next to a few “benchmark wineries.” There are more wines on the Luxe Bar menu, plus 70 more sold at the little retail space (which can be had inside for added corkage).
Meat is the second pillar of Wilson’s enterprise. He’s built a warm, incandescent rotisserie bar, where you can watch chefs wood-grill or charcoal-cook your dinner (though only from a distance, unlike the seafood bar). Wilson is particularly proud of his Bresse-replacement heritage Sommerlad chook, which he procures from Bruce Burton’s East Trenton Milking Yard Farm. He serves it whole (for four people), with a winter leaf salad and pancetta with garlic croutons.
A good portion of the menu is vegan or vegetarian, with most fresh produce sourced from the biodynamic Transition Farm, on the Mornington Peninsula. In May, Wilson proclaimed to Broadsheet that “cauliflower is the new steak.” He’s rebooted his lunchtime version of marinated green cauliflower at the brasserie, which is slow roasted in a ginormous wood smoker and served with house coconut yoghurt.
“Why can’t vegetables be cooked like meat?” Wilson asked in May. Seems like he’s answered that question.
Wilson & Market
163-185 Commercial Road, Prahran
(03) 9804 7530
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