Our expectations were sky high when we heard that our favourite booze dons Gerald Diffey and Mario di Ienno were teaming up with and ex-Embrasse chef and vegetable whisperer Nic Poelaert. And damned if those expectations weren’t met, smashed and raised. If you’re here for the Motown, a glass of whatever gun sommelier Matt Brooke has on pour and some of the genial hospitality you’ve come to know and love from Diffey’s legendary wine bar Gerald’s, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, it wouldn’t be a night misspent if you ventured no further than the gleaming marble bar. Shae Silvestro is shaking serious cocktails, and the likes of crunchy creamy rye puffs filled with chicken liver parfait are bar snacks worth a visit for alone. But for maximum effect, go the five-course degustation for $80. Poelaert is an envelope pusher who favours samphire over salt and who is making a stand for serious cooking in a town besieged by burgers. The meli melo – a party of no less than 35 vegetables – is the most arresting homage to roughage we’ve ever seen. Blanched cauliflower florets, radishes and batons of choko are laid out over a paint palette of pureés from pickled cucumber to beetroot and pumpkin, all coated with a sprinkling of dehydrated olive soil, bee pollen and edible flowers. Or then there’s a perfectly pink, scorch-edged cube of beef rump sheltered by a teepee of ‘burnt vegetables’ – a thin spread of potato baked till jet black. It has the texture of meringue with an intense roast-potato edge, but none of the acrid, burnt taste you’d expect. With an expert crew lead by the unshakeable Paul Guiney working a room that embraces the ageless style of white linens, and sturdy silverware, this is a restaurant that makes us want to frock up for dinner again. And cheers to that.
Want to attend the Melbourne Food Awards?