Loud rock; boat drinks; swears and tigers. Claremont Tonic sounds like the vision of a 22-year-old karate kicking hooch swiller and that’s exactly what it is. This is the latest project by Davis Yu, the precocious restaurateur also responsible for the Millswyn, and Touche Hombre: where video games meet tequila slushies, tacos and two-hour queues.
Just as Touche is Mexican-ish, at Claremont, chef Dylan Roberts (ex-Ezard) is bashing out a mixed grab bag of Asian-cum-Mexican snacks with wild abandon, so along with your Fuck you Eddie cocktail (raspberry ice cubes, rum, lime), you’ll be snacking on battered’n’fried soft shell crab in lettuce wraps with nahm jim – that hot and fresh coriander, chilli and lime condiment, and hurricane potatoes, the ultimate carnie snack where a whole potato comes twirled round a stick, fried and dusted in curry salt with a whole lotta kecap manis and mayo love.
Heaving crowds are falling all over themselves to LOL and OMG at the kitsch-glam room with its golden horned steer, titty-toting menu and neon tiger light. Chortles aplenty follow the ordering of ‘flied prawns’ and C-bombs – a watermelon filled with vodka and rhubarb juice. See? Super fun! And the food is tasty, no question. But what you’re paying through the nostrils for here is a happening scene rather than a solid dining experience. In fact, we see this as more of a sit-down bar situation with elaborate snacks. Battered chicken, those crabs, and spicy little pork patties topped with fried onion all come with mountains of mayo and get the wrap and roll treatment, which is fine, although we reckon you want to come to the table with some fresher lettuce and herbs at $14-$19 a hit.
Sushi tacos (aka King of Chimichangas) are a great idea. You get two deep-fried half pipes of nori with a little wooden box containing a rainbow of minced king salmon, salty roe, whipped sour cream, shallots, chives, avocado and rice. Build hand-held snacks or break your nori down and use as nacho-style dippers.
The pork bun’s interesting. Sweet brioche sandwiches a fairly bold combination of fatty pork belly, quail egg, pineapple in grilled and curried relish form (atchar), with a slap of that ever present mayo and coriander thrown in. It’s part-Indian, part-Mexican and part-Aussie burger with the lot and just as brow arching as that sounds. Go for the plump chicken dumplings instead. They’re topped with a shard of crisp chicken crackling and spiced vinegar turned into rich, sticky dipper with a whole raw egg yolk.
Claremont isn't the best rendition of a mod-Asian restaurant we've seen, but it is the sharp injection of cool South Yarra needs – a suburb where we actually see someone dry-cleaning a tracksuit. Put the prices out of mind, and you’ll have a high old time at this high-octane restaurant.