Stray Neighbour, Preston

Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country right now: Stray Neighbour, Preston.

Preston is having a moment. Perhaps it's the Courtney Barnett factor ("Depreston", her song name-checking the suburb, has been on a roll worldwide) or just that cheaper rents and interesting spaces are in more plentiful supply. Either way, the outlier designer-burger, serious-coffee and craft-beer joints that have been popping up have now been joined by Stray Neighbour, a more culinarily ambitious bar and restaurant in a former panel-beating workshop. It's a substantial space with a sawtooth roof, black-painted concrete floor, a bar running along one wall and two separate seating areas - an airy dining room with some slightly uncomfortable wire mesh chairs and a cosy area filled with booths. The plants trained up rope and Edison globes in clear glass shades tap into established design preoccupations, but the quirkiness of the setting keeps Stray Neighbour feeling fresh. So too does the menu from Romina Gagliardi, a former Bistro Gitan chef whose menu takes Euro-bistro as a starting point (oysters, pâté, steak), but she also throws in influences from further afield, as with the chimichurri-flavoured butter that comes with the Scotch fillet or an open raviolo of prawns in an aromatic tomato broth. There are more hints of Asia happening with sticky pork ribs served with lime, but the sweet stuff, including a stout brownie with salted caramel and pretzel sauce, returns the focus to the Continent. Extensive (craft) beer and cocktail offerings, a workable wine list and switched-on service keep things in a happy place. Locals should be thrilled. Stay tuned for Courtney Barnett's thoughts on the development.

Stray Neighbour, 463-467 Plenty Rd, Preston, Vic, (03) 9471 1948. Open Tue-Thu 4pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 3pm-midnight, Sun noon-10pm.

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