Restaurant Reviews

Review: Melbourne's Hero kisses away the pain of museum restaurants

With a broad menu, an all-star cast and Karen Martini overseeing the show, the all-day restaurant at ACMI is a drawcard.

By Michael Harden
The dining space at Hero. Photo: Peter Tarasiuk
Nobody goes to a museum or gallery restaurant with raised expectations. As part of a captive audience, the best you can hope is that there's no bain-marie. This makes Hero remarkable. The new restaurant at Fed Square's recently renovated ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) is somewhere you'll actually choose to eat, with or without the culture part.
It's not hard to discern why. There's an all-star, Hall of Fame scenario at play here. Hero has Karen Martini overseeing the show, supported by Philippa Sibley in the kitchen and with a floor staff that might include Martini's husband Michael Sapountsis, restaurateur and winemaker Simon Denton and wine guy Philip Rich. Add a richly minimalist, timber and terrazzo, beautifully sound-baffled fit-out from architect Chris Connell (Il Bàcaro, Mr Wolf, Agostino) and it seems likely someone's been playing a restaurant version of fantasy football.
From left: Michael Sapountsis, Michael Gebran, John Guiffre, Philippa Sibley, Karen Martini, Philip Rich and Diego Rosales. Photo: Peter Tarasiuk
Hero is an all-day affair and that, along with being ACMI's restaurant, means that there are a lot of moving parts with the brief. Martini nails them all. Her menu embraces the necessary something-for-everybody approach – excellent freshly shucked oysters, crumbed fish and tartare sauce sandwich served on fluffy white bread, roast chicken with bread sauce, a sublime, nutmeg-forward custard tart – while always keeping it interesting and seasonal.
Clockwise from left: Cape Grim grass-fed bavette steak with frites; King Edward potato, cucumber, dill, salt baked white onion and soured cream; buffalo mozzarella, tomato, peach, pickled onion and aged balsamic. Photo: Peter Tarasiuk
Don't miss the focaccia Pugliese. Served with goat's curd, it's a superb, salty crisp-edged number, with potato in the dough that's studded with salted, fermented blueberries adding a sweet/sour note to the mix. There's excellent cured and spiced kingfish teamed with fried and pickled celery (sometimes fennel) and popping citric bush lime and Martini's version of vitello tonnato that has sliced rosy veal sitting under a traditional rich no-mayo tuna sauce (the secret is blitzed boiled eggs) and served with crisp-fried artichokes. Cavatelli with crab meat and a deep, swoony crustacean "essence" is also worth your attention.

With Philippa Sibley in the house, it would be ridiculous to forgo dessert, whether it's lush olive oil cake teamed with mandarin in various sweet and bitter forms or a superb bitter chocolate tart served with minted caramel ice-cream.
The wine list, Philip Rich's work, is well judged, deftly mixing new and old worlds with a noteworthy by-the-glass offer.
Hero would stand out in any setting. That it's this good in a gallery space is truly heroic.