Melbourne wining and dining hotspots
Virginia Plain joins Flinders Lane dining hub (31 Flinders Lane)
Hospitality veteran Marco Santucci is set to open 120-seater restaurant Virginia Plan on Flinders Lane this month. Joining him are head chef Andy Harmer and sommelier Raul Moreno Yagüe, who boast Vue de Monde on their extensive resumes. Virginia Plain is founded on the notion of ‘glam rock on a plate’, being aptly named after Roxy Music’s first 1972 single, and aims to provide diners with a fun, performance-driven dining experience. Harmer envisions a contemporary menu playing on classic European dishes but re-interpreted in different forms or textures. Highlights include a 36-hour cooked thermo-regulated beef bourguignon, parsley crisp paper and even bacon foam.
Melbourne’s Japanese affair
With a growing number of authentic Japanese izakayas and sake bars (Kumo Izakaya, Izakaya Den, Akachochin and Ichi-Ni to name but a few), Melbourne is taking its Japanese love affair to the next level.
The latest additions are two new ventures on the Verge site (corner of Flinders Lane and Spring Street) from Izakaya Den’s Simon Denton, Takaski Omi and Miyuki Nakahara. The street-level Japanese café, Nama Nama (meaning fresh), specialises in handmade udon noodles and bento boxes (including a bento breakfast). An integrated retail store sells Japanese table wear, aprons and bottles of Sake, Shochu and Umeshu. Upstairs is Hihou (meaning secret treasure), an upmarket bar offering a more refined dining experience. A must try is the Ochazuke, commonly served at the end of a Japanese feast with hot green tea poured over steamed rice; Hihou’s special is served with Abalone.
Collingwood also welcomes new Japanese bar, Pabu (Jap-lish for ‘pub’), this month. The architecturally design space adds further sizzle to Smith Street’s burgeoning culinary strip.
Casa Ciuccio (15 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy)
Casa Ciuccio, which means ‘donkey house’ in Neapolitan dialect, is the latest addition to Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. Opened by Matt McConnell, his wife Jo Gamvros and Simon Benjamin – all of Bar Lourinha fame – the Spanish-style eatery offers shared dining with strong Mediterranean flavours. Dishes combine traditional cooking methods such as coal and smoke to bring out the best of seasonal local produce. The menu is divided into para picar (snacks), grill and coal pit. Patrons can choose between the casual picar bar, the more intimate kitchen and courtyard or the elegant dining room and adjoining ‘Bar Chooch’ and deck.
Ferdydurke (239 Lonsdale Street)
If Melbourne's original container bar Section 8, and the city's so-hot-right-now Mexican restaurant, Touche Hombré, weren't reason enough to venture to the intersection of Tattersall Lane and Lonsdale Street, the recent opening of Ferdydurke is sure to put this CBD hotspot firmly on the radar.
The latest addition to Melbourne's ever-evolving bar offering, Ferdydurke comes from the crew behind neighbouring Section 8. Where the latter is grungy and rebellious, Ferdydurke is the sassy older sister. The venue brings together all the makings of a great Melbourne laneway bar: difficult to find, rewarding when you do, good tunes, an inspired selection of drinks and a great vibe.
The stairwell from the unassuming doorway off Tattersall Lane is lined with street-art stencils leading up towards the throb of music and buzz of Melbourne's in-the-know-set. The main bar is a well-conceived balance of raw industrial elements including exposed brickwork, used-scaffolding and glass bricks creating a cool but unpretentious hang out.
The bar offers an extensive selection of drinks, strangely complemented by a small but tasty menu of Vietnamese bar snacks.
The Understudy (169 Exhibition Street)
The Understudy is the whimsical and intimate new venue downstairs from cocktail institution 1806. Hidden behind wardrobe doors, this Alice-In-Wonderland inspired bar serves up an eccentric mix of deconstructed cocktails such as the Szechuan House (Pisco, Szechuan, lemon and watermelon with a pink peppercorn and salt rim) and Mexican inspired Nieve (Tequila, avocado, cinnamon and soy milk) served in a mini clay pot. A food menu of small bites is tailored to suit. Monthly events will include degustation evenings, wine tastings and Make Your Own Cocktail classes incorporating basic molecular mixology.