“There was nothing happening here for ages and then, over six months, we got Heartattack & Vine and Milk the Cow – and there’s Town Mouse nearby, too. Carlton’s become a dining destination,” says Darran Smith, owner of the new and improved Astor restaurant alongside wife, Ilona Phyland.
Smith moved from Sydney after managing Icebergs for four years. Before that, he’d been in fine dining since he was 18, decked out in a white jacket serving Cindy Crawford at the Sheraton Mirage in Port Douglas. The Astor came up by chance about a year after the move.
He hadn’t planned on changing the space or Percy’s Bar and Bistro next door too much, but after a few meetings with architect Thomas Jacobsen, he back flipped. The space is divided into The Astor (a casual, 40-seat front bar with orange banquettes, brown tiles and a snack menu featuring three fancied-up hotdogs) and The Roving Marrow (a slick, 50-seater dining room in dark timber and contemporary lighting). The latter is where the yum cha happens.
New Zealand chef Hayden McMillan sends out two custom-designed trolleys. The first displays his take on a raw bar, with garnished oysters, pickled clams and ferments that have been months in the making. The second is loaded with rotating snacks and might include anything from spanner crab and smoked dashi soup to duck ham with hazelnuts. A la carte, there’s a sample of traditional yum cha, a handful of seasonal mains and fruit-driven desserts.
“Instead of going out for dinner and spending $60 a head on an entrée, main and dessert, people can come in and have more of an experience for the same price,” says McMillan.
Former Icebergs sommelier Rudolph Bertin is responsible for the extensive wine list and Mike Enright (The Barber Shop, Sydney) for the cocktails, while Heirs + Grace kombucha takes on the cleansing role often associated with tea during yum cha.
A Bloody Mary trolley is also in the works, as is a second level and rooftop bar – although Smith tells us they’re a later stage of the evolution. “Carlton will always have Italian,” he adds, “but there’s room for something different, too.”
The Astor & The Roving Marrow
418 Lygon Street, Carlton
(03) 9347 7419
The Astor Bar
Mon & Tue & Sun 11am–10pm
Thu to Sat 11am–1am
The Roving Marrow
Wed & Thu 6pm–11pm
Fri & Sat 12pm-3pm, 6pm–11pm