Let's start with Elektra's potato and tarama snack. A contender for a place on any best bar-snack listicle, this two-bite number sees Royal Blue potatoes cooked in butter, pressed and then sectioned into batons that are deep-fried, sprinkled with salt-and-vinegar powder and topped with taramasalata, ouzo-washed trout roe and fresh dill. It's ridiculously good, hitting all the right salty, fishy, deep-fried pleasure spots. It's also a snapshot of Elektra's DNA.
The potato snack is based on a dish from the dégustation-only menu at Elektra's predecessor The Press Club, George Calombaris's modern Greek flagship that closed in June after 12 years, one of the less-fraught reasons to have kept Calombaris in the spotlight recently.
At The Press Club, the carb part of the dish was savoury loukoumades, rather than the fancy hash brown being dished up by executive chef Reuben Davis. The Elektra version not only points to a shift in direction from Greek to a wider pan-European approach but also to two other significant differences: Calombaris ceding direction of the menu to Davis and a transformation from slightly over-thought fine-diner to a more relaxed and affordable eatery with an urbane restaurant-bar vibe.
The shift starts with the room. The Press Club was one of Melbourne's most eccentric and glamorous dining rooms and Elektra has retained its best features. Most of the curved leather booths, mirrored surfaces and trippy brass light fittings remain but the space has been opened up, losing the dividers between the booths and adding some high tables and a bar down one end. The changes have given Elektra the air of a retro American hotel lobby bar and it's a better room for it.
The room's looser feel gels with the menu's attitude. Davis's list is a compact single page that works well whether you're here for cocktails and snacks or signed on for a lengthier, more comprehensive stay.
Soft tacos from La Tortillería in Kensington are filled with diced and pickled shiitake, macadamia cream and a mix of herbs that includes the delightful citrusy contribution of sorrel. It's rounded out by a shaving of Manchego that adds satisfying salty weight to the herbal and acid notes.
A stew-like combination of mussels, harissa, fresh broad beans and chorizo is served on a square of grilled house-made sourdough and held in place by a wrapping of lardo.
The "hot oyster", a Pacific from Tasmania that's been poached in bacon stock and topped with bacon butter, oversteps the mark in terms of fattiness but all is forgiven with the arrival of an ovation-worthy dish of Milking Yard chicken livers. The livers are superb, with a foie gras-like depth of flavour. They're lightly grilled, tossed in a dressing that includes brandy, Madeira, ketchup, mustard and smoked paprika, and served on a green-peppercorn mayo accompanied by radicchio, witlof and slices of tangelo.
Another star turn is the butter chicken vol-au-vent. The casing is from Kate Reid's renowned Lune Croissanterie and lives up to the hype, retaining its flaky integrity admirably. The butter chicken has a hint of cashew cream, tandoori-like smokiness and a good whack of cardamom, and is served with pickled cucumbers.
Also not to be missed are the cocktails. As with the food menu, the drinks list keeps it brief but deep. There are five cocktails, all based on familiar drinks. The Elektra is a super-clean life-affirming elixir of mandarin-infused gin stirred with vermouth and lemon, while the version of the often-maligned Piña Colada, the Piña Collins, makes it great again with a refreshing mix of chilli-infused rum, falernum, coconut and pineapple.
The wine offering is solid. There are 30 wines by the glass that run from South African chenin and skin-contact pinot gris from the Mornington Peninsula to Italian primitivo and McLaren Vale touriga. And there's a primo list that's clearing out the old cellar with fair prices. There's also excellent service and a kitchen that opens late. Some may mourn the passing of The Press Club but with all that's on offer at Elektra, they'll get over it.