Young’s Auctions was a place where bargain hunters, collectors and the curious would come together and bid on anything from antique lamps and model train sets to old Georgian furniture, Cartier watches and Qing dynasty bowls. When the hammer fell for the last time at the Camberwell Road institution in 2015, regulars were understandably upset. It had been there since 1930.

Now, James Klapanis (owner of buzzing Vietnamese spot St. Cloud Eating House) has converted the space into a Mediterranean-inspired eatery called Young’s Wine Rooms – but the restaurant’s former life is still front of mind.

“When people come here, they’ve got some sort of story, some attachment,” Klapanis says. “They’ve sold something [or] they’ve bought something.”

As I interview Klapanis in the closed diner, two passers-by knock on the front window, keen to see what’s become of old Young’s. He’s happy to show them around.

The fit-out is by interior designer Elle Critchley (St Cloud, Feast of Merit), who has transformed the old building into a terracotta and navy-hued hideaway with lofty ceilings, lime-washed brick walls, and large, curved windows that open onto a separate area for pre or post-dinner drinks. The mezzanine dining room, with white-and-blue olive print brocade and wicker chairs, is more Santorini than Sotheby’s.

The centrepiece of Young’s is a glass-walled internal courtyard that can be opened up to the main room or turned into a private dining space. Fairy lights hang from the roof, an olive tree grows in the centre, and braided-rope swings are suspended from the rafters. It’s a little oasis in the bustle of the restaurant.

The most fascinating design elements are the ones that nod to the building’s past. The distressed brick was formerly hidden beneath plastering, and now it plays off the gleaming copper of the new dedicated cocktail bar. Immense barn doors – unrestored, displayed in their original glory – separate the dining room from the restaurant’s offices. High above the tables, exposed rafters still bear inscriptions from the original build: no paint, Young, top. Klapanis jokes that he might add his own initials, to watch over the next century of guests.

The kitchen team members hail from Turkey, Spain, Greece and Italy. Head chef Nicola Akritidis has spent time at Park Street Pasta & Wine, Vue de Monde and Longrain, and sous chef Sina Sucuka was on the pans at Turkish restaurant Tulum until earlier this year. Restaurant manager Cale Marangon is a familiar face from MoVida and also spent time at Park Street.

On the menu, there’s house-made potato chips with a frothy oyster emulsion (you use them to scoop up the mixture, which fizzles and dissipates both on the crisp and on your tongue). Anchovies are served straight from the tin, reminiscent of Sol e Pesca, the Anthony Bourdain-approved canned fish café in Lisbon. With the Rivoli cinema directly across the road, they’re the perfect speedy pre-movie snacks.

“I really wanted to make food that excites people more than impresses,” Akritidis says. “If people come in and have approachable food, [they] can have a laugh and conversations and not spend too much time thinking about how to eat a dish.”

Charred tomatoes, small and large, arrive in a cool tomato essence topped with delicate fried purple basil leaves, celery oil and a dusting of smoked paprika. Brussels sprouts – something Akritidis hated growing up (“grandma-style, boiled”) – are pan-fried until deeply caramelised, then piled onto a creamy whole-egg emulsion, drizzled with paprika butter and obscured by a mound of finely shaved manchego. It’s enough to turn even the most determined brassica dodger into a fan.

If they can avoid it, the team won’t throw anything out. Hidden amongst those sprouts are bites of sucuk, a spicy, salty Turkish sausage, made from scraps of beef and pork brisket. “Everything gets used,” Akritidis says. “We find a new, creative way of using it.”

Crumbed croquettes are stuffed with house-cured jamon and more manchego, topped with mojo rojo (a Spanish red pepper-based sauce) and a lone chive. Smoked duck breast comes with turmeric-braised leeks, a rich leek and onion puree, and a dark, glossy bone marrow reduction. It feels somehow abject, the duck bathing in its own liquefied tissue, but it’s so good.

A Basque burnt cheesecake is inspired by one Sucuka tried at La Viña, one of San Sebastián’s most well-known pintxos bars. It’s served with caramelised white chocolate mousse with a leaf of lemon balm on top.

There are interesting drops from Greece, Spain, Italy and France on the wine list, and a couple from Croatia and Morocco too. A few local wines also make an appearance.

Cocktails are by New York export Nori Schmidt. The Thomas Collins (a riff on the traditional Tom Collins) swaps out lemon juice for a house-made limoncello. Other drinks mirror ingredients from the food menu, incorporating cucumber and dill, fig, and fennel.

Young’s Wine Rooms
227–229 Camberwell Road, Hawthorn East
(03) 9882 6699

Hours:
Tue to Sat 12pm–10pm
Sun 11am–3.30pm

https://youngswinerooms.com.au