Walking into Omnia, South Yarra’s temporary new bistro, it’s immediately clear that while technically this is a pop-up, these guys mean business.
The project is a year-long test kitchen for a handful of upcoming restaurants (the details of which are still mostly under wraps) at the Capitol Grand, a residential and retail complex currently under construction around the corner. And like at the glitzy, undulating development down the road, the team behind Omnia has pulled out all the stops. Even though it’s planning to shut up shop in mid-2020.
Head chef Stephen Nairn has worked several high-profile postings, including Matilda, Vue de Monde and New York’s illustrious Eleven Madison Park. His elegant produce-driven menu is all about European flavours and techniques.
Starters include steak tartare. Nairn’s version uses beef tenderloin, dried capsicum and smoked egg yolk, and is served with pomme gaufrettes (fancy ruffled chips). Parmesan and Gruyere gougères are tanned on the outside and have a light, pillowy inner, best torn in half and dipped into bright-green chive cream that arrives on the side.
Other standouts include Victorian quail, deboned and filled with chicken mousse, then roasted, chopped and reassembled in the shape of the bird. It comes with sauerkraut, pine mushrooms and a dark, rich quail jus. Rockling is from Lakes Entrance. Nairn gives it a light cure with pink Murray River salt and citrus, grills it over charcoal and serves it with a warm tartare sauce and leek nest.
There’s a 150-strong wine list, which leans more toward selections that are clean and fresh rather than big and bold. The second half of Omnia is the bar out the back. Here, chateau-style hanging lamps, round wooden tables, a small, almost hidden outdoor garden and lots (and lots) of indoor plants set the scene for a savvy botanical-themed cocktail list designed by award-winning bartender Orlando Marzo (beverage director at the hospitality co-working venture Worksmith) and 2018’s World Class Bartender of the Year. Highlights include a gimlet that balances a tart lemon cordial (made from lemon myrtle procured by local forager Liam Spurrell) and top-shelf Tanqueray Rangpur gin, or a Manhattan spiked with mint.