The Mayfair, the new brasserie from David Mackintosh (SPQR) and Joe Jones (Romeo Lane), sits at the base of the Sofitel hotel, flanking a golden-lit roundabout with a diameter wide enough to accommodate any circling limousines.
Inside, a three-piece band moves through jazz standards, the bounce of the double bass keeping time as Mackintosh glides around the room, charming guests with the ease of a well-seasoned restaurateur.
Two of these guests, an elegant older couple, are sat in the dining room, beneath a 12-globed chandelier that makes the cutlery sparkle. The tan-suit clad gentleman sports a thick grey moustache, the bushy tips wide enough to tickle his wrinkled cheeks.
“They work in the fashion industry,” says Mackintosh.
Despite fitting right in, Fred Astaire’s tap shoes would be rendered useless by the carpeted floor. Soft furnishings continue in a fit-out by Mills Gorman Architects and designer Luisa Roth, with leather booths and white tablecloths. Even the half-lemon accompanying your Ranges Valley bavette (flank steak) comes wrapped in white cloth. A stray squirt of citrus to your date’s eye is of no concern here.
Mackintosh and Jones used New York’s famed Stork Club as a point of reference for their new bar and bistro. The club, which closed in 1965, was a symbol of wealth and power over its 30-year life. It was the kind of place where Ernest Hemingway, Marylin Monroe and Frank Sinatra stopped by for a drink, and was at one time part-owned by mobsters. The Mayfair, though, won’t be courting such underworld figures.
“I think there will be enough chefs coming in to cover those bases,” jokes Jones.
Despite its opulence, the Mayfair isn’t ostentatious. It’s intimate and private, with Venetian blinds drawn over forecourt-facing windows so that a seat beside the glass affords no opportunities to be seen by passers-by (if that’s your thing).
In the bar, all liquor is served from glass decanters. Your fellow patrons won’t have a clue if you order top shelf whisky, and on the flipside, calling for a cheaper pour looks just as classy.
Jones mans the bar below a curved grey, slightly marbled roof, which frames at one end a tiled and antiqued mirror; its silver surface broken up by shots of black like Jones’ heavily tattooed arms.
He dishes out wet Martinis (heavy on vermouth rather than the dry variation) – two parts oily, juniper-heavy Beefeater gin, to one part Dolin Blanc dry vermouth. Garnished with a lemon twist rather than olives.
Naturally, glasses of Perrier-Jouët champagne flow. The delicate enamel flowers coating the flutes echo the white bouquets on the dining room tables. The rest of Elle Fredrick’s wine list is essentially classic, with French producers alongside local drops (you won’t find Embla’s natural wine bonanza here).
“We are quite unashamedly doing something that is not particularly contemporary, except that a little bit of a trend around the world is actually embracing a different era right now,” Mackintosh says. “You see the success of what the guys at Hubert have achieved in Sydney, what Keith McNally continues to do so well in New York with Balthazar and Augustine. These are places that offer great, pretty timeless hospitality and pretty classic food – you just make sure your guests can enjoy themselves and have fun.”
In the kitchen, chef Ron O’Bryan (previously of Church Street Enoteca and the Vine) serves up clever French-leaning classics with finesse.
“Places like France Soir do traditional bistro fair really, really well,” O’Bryan says. “There are always benchmarks you’ll be compared to. I wanted to put small personal spins on it and make it playful … there’s certainly a bit of room for poetic licence.”
Taro crisps provide a delicate vehicle for four-week dry-aged steak tartare, mixed through with the tang of mustard and crowned by a smoked egg yolk. Also to start, a crisp-bottomed, house-made crumpet is capped with a nest of herbs, spanner crab, bottarga and trout roe, lightly dressed with Keens Curry-spiced mayonnaise. A must order dish.
Caviar is served with chicken skin crisps and chive crème fraiche, and although $90 for 12 grams of anything remains an indulgence for most, the menu is more forgiving elsewhere. O’Bryan’s take on duck a l’orange is no more expensive than a special at a nice pub. His version, which wisely avoids the sickly sweet adaptation of the dish, sees a bird dry-aged for 21 days, before its skin is crisped and served with savoury orange sauce, roasted carrots, charred leaves and dukkah.
Past 11pm, the reasonably priced supper menu offers an omelette bathed in chicken and truffle gravy. The eggs are whipped to sabayon consistency before hitting a pan of hot butter, creating a darkly browned shell to hold the cloud-like interior. The dish proves eggs need not be reserved for the breakfast table.
“I read all of the James Bond books that Ian Fleming wrote a while ago,” says Mackintosh. “James Bond is one of those guys who kicks back in his hotel room and orders scrambled eggs at midnight.”
Sofitel Melbourne on Collins forecourt, 45 Collins Street, Melbourne
(03) 9654 8545
Tues to Sat 5pm – 1am
Fri 12pm – 1am