Category Archives: Melbourne CBD

Crown’s hot new couple – Mr and Mrs Hive

The launch of Mr Hive Kitchen and Bar’s new Spring menu has aptly coincided with Melbourne’s gradual acceptance that summer, and the holiday season, is finally approaching. Located inside the beautiful Crown Metropol Hotel, Mr Hive is abuzz with activity as Melbourne’s foodie elite all arrive to taste the exciting new dishes on offer.

A bar is conveniently located at the entrance to the restaurant, providing guests with a liquid kick-starter to tonight’s celebrations. Already looking like spring has sprung, the sun-drenched dining room features a faux-grass floor and blonde wood tables, creating the perfect backdrop to sample the works of Head Chef Tom Lawson. Lawson, who has trained under Raymond Blanc and been awarded The Age’s Best Young Chef of the Year 2011, has established a star-power in his short career.

Mr Hive is Crown Metropol’s signature restaurant

Highlights of the evening’s menu included Mr Hive’s signature corn bread, which is bursting with fresh kernels and slathered in homemade honey butter. A jicama ravioli, where pasta sheets are ingeniously replaced with a thin sliver of this Spanish root vegetable, are stuffed with avocado, vegetables and micro-herbs. Another standout is a very British-inspired ocean trout, served on a bed of potato and celery salad. Each plate is perfectly paired with bio-organic white wines from around Spain and France for a lovely summery touch.

Berry eton mess

Savoury may be good, but sweet is definitely better. Especially when the whimsically named Mrs Hive’s Dessert Bar is involved. Located in one corner of the dining room, rather than showcasing bottles of hard-liquor, Mrs Hive’s shelves are stacked extravagantly with an assortment of hard candies and homemade chocolates – enough to give diners a toothache from just looking at it. A signature deconstructed bread and butter pudding is made from crumbled cardamom-spiced bread and served with blueberry compote, and a luxurious white chocolate and cauliflower ice cream.

 Aphrodite Vlahos

Read more about Mr and Mrs Hive here

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The essence of the Melbourne Marriott

With stunning floor-to-ceiling windows, Essence Restaurant at the Melbourne Marriott Hotel capitalises on its central corner location offering sensational street-views to diners. In keeping with its aim to impress, the restaurant’s design boasts a contemporary flair – decorated in hues of chocolate and finished with comfy suede-back chairs and banquettes.

Essence boasts a prime CBD location

Chef Clinton Jackson, formally of the Surfers Paradise Marriott, heads the kitchen at Essence, offering a succinct menu studded with the restaurant’s signature dishes. A roasted beetroot salad, plated with walnuts, caramelised shallots, fetta cheese and a honey-thyme vinaigrette is tangy and flavourful, while a seafood stack for two comes highly recommended, displaying both hot and cold servings of Western Australian prawns, steamed New Zealand mussels, freshly shucked oysters, blue swimmer crab, Tasmanian salmon and salt and pepper calamari. Steaks are sourced from local Victorian farms and are served in a delicate pepper rub with perfectly cut chips on the side. The crispy-skin salmon, said to be Essence’s star dish, impresses with its sweet manuka honey soy dressing, crunchy asparagus and kipfler potatoes. The wine list features a good selection of wines by the glass, with a focus on Victorian and Western Australian varieties, while a range of premium champagnes and Australian sparkling are available for celebrating.

Steaks are sourced from local Victorian farms

Desserts are a highlight at Essence and its hot chocolate fondant served with an orange salad and sorbet certainly makes a mark in any foodie’s culinary conscience. This dish has been a firm favourite at Essence since and after just one mouthful, it is easy to understand why. If diners are rushing to get to a show, a theatre menu is also available in two- or three-course express options, while sharp service ensures that your opening curtain will not be missed.

Aphrodite Vlahos

Read more about Essence Restaurant here

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The perfect neighbourhood restaurant, The Mess Hall

The Mess Hall is an unpretentious diner, in the heart of Melbourne’s theatre district.

Under the helm of Frank Stella (who also owns Stellini Bar on Little Collins Street), The Mess Hall is the ideal neighbourhood restaurant. Residing in what seems to be a former split-level terrace, the restaurant space is flooded with natural light and detailed with Victorian architecture. Bright and airy, guests are welcomed by efficient, friendly staff and a wave of appetising aromas from the kitchen. Scents of butter, bread and olive oil provide the perfect appetite stimulator and create a homely atmosphere in the restaurant.

Split over two levels, the atmosphere at The Mess Hall is homely and relaxed

Despite its no bookings policy, the turnover of tables is quick and we are quickly ushered to an intimate table near the kitchen. A far cry from an army mess hall, this restaurant has established a reputation as a reliable provider of terrific pizza and pasta dishes of a northern Italian bent. In true Italian spirit, the starters are designed for sharing with dishes such as calamari fritti and harissa croquettes. The pizza, pasta and main plate menus are generously-sized – with the standout choice being the sausage, provolone and chilli pizza. The beetroot salad with Bulgarian fetta, Japanese mushrooms, yoghurt and herbs works well as a side dish, offering a fresh reprieve from some of the heavier Italian dishes.

The Mess Hall embodies all the makings of the perfect neighbourhood restaurant – it is consistent, casual and full of charm.

Anna Lisle

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One of Melbourne’s most iconic restaurants: Cookie

You can’t call yourself a foodie in Melbourne if you haven’t been to Cookie. Lauded as one of Melbourne’s most iconic dining experiences, Cookie is a quirky little place, in the heart of the city.

It may not have received a Hat from The Age Good Food Guide but booking a table at Cookie is harder than getting into Harvard. It was so difficult, in fact, that I booked a table for 5.30pm. On a Sunday. Feeling like I had gone into early retirement, I arrived at the Swanston Street destination as the sun was just beginning to set. Cookie is located on the first floor of a renovated 1920s building known as Curtin House, with sister venues’ The Toff and Choo Choos’ just upstairs.

Cookie’s eating house

Rather than walking into an empty restaurant, I was surprised to see large groups of tables excitedly flicking through menus, tossing around options and giggling to one another. Clearly, there are a few small prices you pay to experience one of Melbourne’s most sought-after locations. Partitioned off into sections, Cookie somehow manages to combine a disco, eating house and beer hall in the one space. Unlike the beer hall, the eating house is open and spacious. The walls are lined with old photographs of Swanston Street and inner city Melbourne and the tables are set with white lace doilies and floral crockery. Large Victorian windows open out onto Swanston Street, while an open bar runs along the opposite wall, stocking over 350 wines, many of which can be ordered by the glass.

Chef Karen Batson (who also heads the kitchen at Choo Choo’s and Prahran’s Colonel Tan’s) has created a modern Thai menu that matches well to a long dinner with family or friends. While it is nice for two, a night at Cookie is far more fun with a big group –when you can share a range of dishes.  Standout dishes include rice noodle rolls with bamboo shoots, prawns and pickled chilli soy, drunken noodles with minced pork and green chillies and and deep fried snapper with bok choi tamarind and crispy shallots. In keeping with the kitsch theme, at the end of our meal the bill is delivered in a vintage children’s book, a great touch.

Childhood nostalgia, machismo, plus a dash of Melbourne eccentricism: this sums up the atmosphere at Melbourne sweetheart, Cookie.

Anna Lisle

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An inner city French oasis: Melbourne’s Mr Mason

“I drink to make other people more interesting”. Scribbled by hand on the restaurant’s walls, this Ernest Hemmingway quote is one of the first things that I notice, and love, about Mr Mason.

An adult’s playground, Mr Masonis divided into three separate spaces, including a lounge, dining and terrace area. Small injections of drama can be seen throughout the restaurant space from the large wooden beams, taken from Melbourne’s original train station, to the thick, wrought iron fencing mesh that is used to separate the formal dining area and bar. This transparent barrier allows guests to enjoy an intimate meal, while still being entertained by the bar staff.  For those not interested in people watching, original, black-leather bound, editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica Wooden line the dining area’s shelves, while hand-written quotes (in a similar vein to Ernest Hemmingway’s above) and bottles of Veuve Clicquot decorate the walls. The lounge area is equally charming in a masculine, New York style way with an open brick fireplace, black leather chairs and copper lights that hang seductively from the ceiling. As one of the only venues in Melbourne’s CBD that offers an outdoor dining area, Mr Mason’s terrace is cool and casual with green and yellow stools and a wall garden at one end.

One of Mr Mason’s elegantly presented dishes

Divided into small, medium and large dishes, the French-inspired menu is presented in rustic and honest sensibility. In keeping with this attitude, the portion sizes are more than generous; however, this is done without compromising the quality or the elegance of the dish.

Some of the culinary thrills are the hushed kind, like the way lightly fried river prawns are scattered over the crisp skin and white flesh of roasted hapuka. Others are scene-stealers, like the pretty mound of salmon tartare, luxuriously covered in crème fraiche and scattered with nasturtium flowers. A few of the features are flat-out luxurious, like the small bundles of bone marrow adorning tournedos of beef and sitting on a carpet of little potato fondants.

Owned by The Publican Group and under the relentless guidance of Manager Jason Weaffer, Mr Mason offers an elegant French-inspired dining experience that is well-worth the somewhat difficult task of actually finding the restaurant.

Anna Lisle

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The Best comes to Melbourne in the form of Pei Modern

When it comes to dining in Australia, it is the North versus the South, Sydney versus Melbourne. It is a rivalry that has existed for decades and one which has only but intensified in the past few Masterchef-obsessed years.

So when Sydney’s Best comes to Melbourne, it is hard to avoid the commotion. The “Best” comes in the form of Pei Modern, a new fine-diner in Melbourne’s inner city. A double entendre, Pei Modern is the creation of Mark Best, of Sydney’s Marque Restaurant. As one of only five restaurants in New South Wales to be awarded the highly coveted title of 3 Chef Hats, Marque is the epitome of fine dining in Australia.

While Marque devotees may be disappointed to hear that Pei Modern is quite different from its Sydney sibling, Pei Modern does draw some similarities. The restaurant space, like Marque, is simple and elegant with upholstered seats and ambient lighting.

Caramelised tomato stuffed with twelve flavours and star anise ice cream

The similarities tend to stop about here. Rather than being located in the epicentre of Melbourne dining, as Marque is on Crown Street in Surry Hills, the location of Pei Modern is slightly unusual. Tucked away at the back of Collins Place, diners walk through an empty retail centre, where only a handful of couples, box of popcorn in hand, can be glimpsed heading downstairs to a movie at Kino Cinemas.

Rather than a multi-course degustation, diners to Pei Modern can enjoy simple a la carte fare, at more than reasonable prices. A selection of eight elegant dishes comprise the main menu, with matching sides, while the bar menu offers more casual drinking fare such as chicken liver parfait and croquettes. Not interested in the dinner menu? Unlike Marque, it doesn’t cost $160 to experience the Best, at Pei Modern, you can put the Best to test with breakfast for just $8.

Anna Lisle

The name Pei Modern is Mark’s tribute to the architect I.M. Pei, responsible for the famous inverted glass pyramids at the Louvre. The team behind Pei Modern include Mark Best of Sydney, together with Peter Bartholomew and David Mackintosh, both from MoVida. The Head Chef is Matt Germanchis (formerly of Pandora’s Box, MoVida, Fat Duck) and the restaurant manager is somellier Ainslie Lubbock (formerly of Royal Mail Hotel and Attica).

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