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First look: Embla, Melbourne

Stracciatella with chamomile oil and fermented fennel

Stracciatella with chamomile oil and fermented fennel

Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country right now: Embla, Melbourne.

Embla, the wine bar brought to you by Christian McCabe and Dave Verheul from The Town Mouse and French wine guy, Eric Narioo, opened late last year for a brief stint and then promptly closed down over Christmas. It's up and running properly now and, with smart, comforting food and an equally savvy wine list (most of it minimal-intervention stuff), it seems destined for CBD must-do status. It doesn't take bookings, so you can anticipate a wait, but it's an enticing space: dark-hued with a touch of chic kitsch in the form of moulded light timber joinery at both booze and kitchen bars and an assortment of light fittings, some of which are second-hand and sourced from New Zealand.

Among the best seats in the house are those at the kitchen bar, watching the chefs cook much of the menu in a custom-built wood-fired oven or over red gum and Mallee root charcoal on an open grill (though the radiant heat can be quite noticeable on warm nights).

Some of the best food on the compact menu comes from the oven and grill - a half-chicken roasted to order and served with roasted garlic cloves, rosemary and a chicken sauce, half-heads of broccoli dressed with a lemon and miso, rainbow trout served with horseradish - but there's plenty of fine raw and pickled stuff too, such as pickled mussels served with rouille and a superbly-textured dish of stracciatella combined with chamomile oil and fermented fennel.

It's food that's in lockstep with a wine list that focuses on small artisan producers who, according to Christian McCabe, make wines that express "more about where they're from rather than what someone did to them in the winery". It's an enticing collection, mixing New and Old World producers and recognisable and obscure varieties, with a whole array of outcomes from super-funky to super-smooth. Embla already feels like it's been around forever. Here's hoping it is.

Embla, 122 Russell St, Melbourne, Vic., (03) 9654 5923. Open Mon-Wed noon-midnight, Thu-Fri noon-1am, Sat 4pm-1am.

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