It’s been an interesting year for dining. We’re seeing more of this ambiguous, is-it-a-bar, is-it-a-restaurant-type venue, and we like it. It’s loose and free – there’s often wine and sometimes breakfast, too.
There have been the big bangs, such as the The Fat Duck, Lumé and Hawker Hall, and the quiet achievers, including Marion and Minamishima.
There’s more to come in 2016, but for now – here’s what’s worth visiting for your next dining adventure.
Christian McCabe and executive chef Dave Verheul’s The Town Mouse has been one of our favourite restaurants since it opened in 2013. It has the rare flexibility of a casual snack bar and special occasion destination, with a strong wine list and clever food that doesn’t hide behind tricks. So we have high hopes for its new sister restaurant and wine bar, Embla, which opened on Russell Street only last week. The wine list focuses on the natural (although not exclusively), and many of the dishes and bar snacks are fired in the kitchen’s impressive wood oven. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one (by being there a lot).
Andrew McConnell got one step closer to monopolising Fitzroy with his latest wine bar and diner. It operates so smoothly and with such warmth, it feels like its been there 10 years already. The menu changes daily, but is reliably excellent – from some of Melbourne’s finest oysters, to the ox-tongue mortadella, or a plate of delicately fried zucchini flowers. There’s an equally top-notch breakfast on weekends, too.
We fell back in love with properly prepared Italian pasta when Tipo 00 opened in 2014, and now Emilia, which opened in place of Gill’s Diner in September, is feeding our appetite. Based on a North Italian trattoria, this is the place to come for some of the more interesting pasta dishes in the city, without compromising on quality. Try the gnocchi with crab and cuttlefish ragu, or the spaghetti with sun-dried mullet roe.
Bridge Road is on the up. Following the openings of Mister Jennings, LadyBoy Dining and St Domenico recently, the latest notable destination is Anchovy, a modern South East Asian offering by Jia-Yen Lee and chef Thi Le. Here you’ll find light, clean and intelligent food in a minimalist and elegant dining space.
This one isn’t precisely a new opening – more of a resettlement, moving from Collingwood to its permanent home in Duckboard Place in the CBD. Victor Liong is proving himself to be one of the most exciting chefs in the city. He travels across cuisines with ease, while still honouring regional Chinese flavours. You can also enjoy high-end vintages by the glass, thanks to the restaurant’s high-tech coravin, which can pour wine and return the bottle to an airtight seal.
After the media frenzy of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, which landed in February and flew off in October, the feathers settled and what we were left with was Dinner. Although the menu is led by Australian produce, it’s a restaurant based on a curiosity about English culinary history. Like its sister restaurant in London, each dish at Dinner has a date by its name, with footnotes and a partial bibliography on the back of the menu. Despite a fleet of liquid-nitrogen-fuelled ice cream carts patrolling the dining room, Dinner is less theatrical than the dearly departed Duck, but designed to last.
This was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year, for two reasons. One, the enormous space has been sitting stagnant on Chapel Street like a big question mark since mid-2014. And two, the 160-seater, South East Asian restaurant is by the owners of Melbourne’s most popular eatery, Chin Chin. Could this newcomer match the hype? Hawker Hall is certainly a relative, but a different beast. It’s fun, brash, loud – like a nightclub for people who don’t like nightclubs. The food is good without being outstanding, but with an extensive and reasonably priced menu, you can get through a lot of it. If you’re solo or with one friend, grab a seat at the open-kitchen bar to watch the steaming, flaming, hissing spectacle.
In our preliminary interview with Shaun Quade in February, he told us: “We definitely want to be a world-class restaurant.” For a group that has collectively worked at some of Australia’s best restaurants, it doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. The degustation-only section of the venue will get you 15 courses for $140, plus another $140 for Sally Humble’s matched wine. This experience is all about trust – diners are only given a menu once their meal is finished. It’s a challenging degustation (we know that sounds strange) – one laced with trickery, illusion and unfamiliar sensations. This is a team that wants to make its mark. If it pushes you outside your comfort zone, that’s kind of the idea.
From the floor to the knife handles, Scott Pickett has been involved in every aspect of the fine-dining, degustation-only restaurant that neighbours the more casual Estelle Bistro. Huge windows give High Street passers-by a view straight past the Christopher Boots light fixture, polished concrete and heavy Philippe Starck chairs to the open kitchen, where they’ll often see Pickett himself manning the pans. His obsessive level of care is of course apparent in the seven-course menu, which skews toward seafood, but may involve anything (everything?) from cured kangaroo to a delicate duck, beetroot and rhubarb dish.
One of the most-authentic sushi experiences in the city is hiding in a non-descript residential Richmond backstreet. There are only 40 seats, and your host is Japanese sushi master, Koichi Minamishima. For $150, sit at the long bar and watch Minamishima, with calm concentration, prepare 15 courses before you. Opt to pair each course with truly outstanding sake to complete the luxurious experience.