A speakeasy it aint, but a speak-well-of it is. This French inspired cafe, restaurant and bar in one is getting tongues a wagging down South Yarra way
With Underbelly: Razor making everyone wish that they had a price on their head or a closet full of fabulous millinery, the notion of old world exclusivity has become all the rage. Slap the word ‘underground’ onto your event and the hordes will flock to get a taste of that shady glamour sure to be hiding behind those unmarked doors. But before you whip out your flapper frock and start orienteering through dodgy alleys in search of the Speakeasy Kitchen Bar, you should probably know that it’s about as clandestine as a Starbucks. Yes, they have a few old school cocktails, like your Clover club and the prepare-to-lose-your-wallet-and-memory Negroni, but as it’s located smack bang in the middle of Chapel street, and is being loudly talked about by all and sundry, it’s pretty much the opposite of a speakeasy. But it matters not, because the talk so far is all good. This multi-space, two storey venue is operating as a restaurant, bar, café and function venue to boot, which seems worryingly ambitious as a first venture for brothers Petros and Alexis Lambis. But so far, the duos aim seems true.
Being as it’s an all day affair, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? First off, they get ten silver dollars for using coffee roasted by the dudes at Dukes down the road, and with a barista pinched from Tusk, the beans are being put to good use. The breakfast menu is pretty standard- it’s ticking all the compulsory eggs benedict and bircher muesli boxes, but there’s not a whole lot of wheel re-invention going on here. But, if all you’re after is a bacon band-aid to heal your booze wounds, the sunny, street facing entrance hall, spacious back courtyard and a wooden fit-out with a Swedish lodge feel make this a calming place to convene, and recuperate.
It’s not often that you would consider returning to the bar that bit you the night before, but Eon Architects have created a great day to night feel for the place, making the transition seamless. Lunch brings the far superior French bistro share plate menu to the table, drastically raising the food stakes, as raspberry vinegar cured atlantic salmon, buttery crisp briochine and horseradish cream ($15) are added to the equation, along with confit duck and wild mushroom pie($17). As the day wears on, afternoon crowds start moseying in to begin the cycle all over again with bubbles, freshly shucked oysters with lemon and shallot vinegar ($4 ea) and (hoorah!) some genuinely flavoursome arancini ($12). With libidos and glasses thus raised, Terence Bergagna's exposed cord and bulb chandelier dims and the clatter of teaspoons turns to the clinking of ice cubes.
Given the share plate nature of the menu, we peg it as more of a bring-a-friend kind of place for evening dining. You’ll get to eat more, and that’s what dinner with friends is all about, right? The snapper fillet, crisp skinned, soft fleshed and offset by a well-balanced refresher of pickled fennel on the side ($32) is a great dish to make you feel better about getting the pork belly, melted atop a puree of carrot and ginger ($28). For the sake of getting extra value for money, order the firm banana parfait with a shock of extremely rummy, rum foam for dessert- and then go the hell home. It’s late, and you’ve been there all day.