Rob and Bronwyn Kabboord didn’t have the money to give Merricote a fancy fit-out when they opened in 2011. We’re glad. Starting with the bare minimum has given their fine-dining restaurant one of the most distinctive identities in Melbourne.
It feels a lot like a friend’s loungeroom – a vibe enhanced by the curios added over the years. There are prints hung higgledy-piggeldy on the walls; farm- animal figurines on the shelves; a stuffed buck mounted overhead; and a large Persian rug to soften the naked floor.
If it were any less restrained, it’d be twee. It must have been a tough brief for Aer Design.
Rob was once the head chef, but he’s handed over to Stuart Munro (ex-Cumulus), to return to Quay in Sydney, where Munro was his apprentice many years ago.
Despite this, the menu retains hints of Rob’s Dutch heritage with items such as veal bitterballen (meatballs). Otherwise it’s a mish-mash of European dishes, from chicken liver parfait and duck rillettes; to roasted quail and pork with radicchio. Choose the degustation if you want to experience the full (and considerable) force of the tiny two-chef kitchen.
Bronwyn – a former chef herself – leads the front-of-house team. The best elements of old-school service are still intact here. Your chair will be pulled out when you arrive, your napkin rolled when you use the toilet – but with a measure of new-school familiarity.
The waist-height fridges along the side wall – a remnant of when the site was a bar – hold a selection of offbeat beers and wines (frequently natural or low-intervention), plus a range of sake. This collection eschews pointless depth in favour of a laser focus. You can order anything and be reasonably sure it’s a winner.
Once you’ve finished your main meal, ask for the well-stocked cheese trolley, which has attained cult status.