A tip when eating at Gimlet: don't neglect dessert. Even if you're "not really a dessert person" (whatever that means) the sweet stuff here – achingly pretty pastel-coloured gelato, house-made, topped with sugared rose petals, in flavours like white peach or Champagne or maybe wood-grilled apricots basted in caramel and served with a rich, silky almond cake and marzipan-y apricot kernel gelato – is worth the battle for a reservation alone.
Gimlet's the kind of place you want to linger so dessert's a good excuse, though having a crack at the inventive, detail-obsessed cocktail list (there's an olive flight accompanying their Martini) is another worthy option.
It's a gorgeous room, a clever conversion of a cavernous 1920s space that pays tribute to the lovely bones without descending into period drag. Sure, there are tiles, rippled glass and upholstered stools at the central bar, but there are also light fittings that are more '60s than '20s, horseshoe booths and a wall of modern-day dark grey tiles that frames the open kitchen. It's a room with a been-here-forever vibe, the sort where you'd have a favourite table, perhaps on the raised tier that runs around the outside of the room and has superb sightlines.
The room's design might channel a classic big-city American version of a Parisian bistro but the menu is quintessentially Melburnian and vintage Andrew McConnell. McConnell and head chef Allan Doert Eccles keep European bistro as spiritual guide but rearrange that story with non-classic ingredients (the seaweed butter that accompanies oysters, for example) and sometimes complex technique.
Good gnocco fritto are topped with dark crimson, deep-flavoured bresaola. Slices of excellent saucisson come scattered with Sicilian olives. A superb confit duck salad (the duck boned, panko-crumbed and fried) comes with fresh and pickled figs, pickled elderberries and pieces of rye toast slathered with duck liver parfait.
A pack-leading roast chicken is flavoured with vadouvan sauce and fried curry leaves while vegetable dishes, like a charred gem lettuce given Caesar treatment with anchovy, egg, garlic and guanciale dressing, take centre stage rather than supporting roles.
Not surprisingly, given Gimlet's an Andrew McConnell joint, the wine list, from the talented Leanne Altmann, embraces mostly small producers across the natural-traditional spectrum. There are few bargains but many surprises. Ask questions because the wine service – the service generally – is spot on.
It's a good way to describe Gimlet. Order dessert and linger.