Restaurant Reviews

Victoria's best new restaurants

With laneway entrances, millions of dollars worth of sculpture and a good dose of European and Asian-influence, is there anything more Victorian?

By Pat Nourse
Restaurant Shik's laneway entrance (photography: Greg Elms)
From Melbourne to Frankston, we've found the best newly-opened places to dine in Victoria.

Lesa

Downstairs: Embla, the no-bookings, à la carte wine bar you know and love. Upstairs: the new restaurant from the same crew, which takes bookings, offers a prix fixe menu and will soon have you seduced. The flounder is raw, with hazelnut and green almonds, the leek is grilled and plated with wild herbs, horseradish and goat's milk, while the chicken course is served in the form of a porridge made with almond milk and black chestnut.
What to order: building on Embla's already impressive cellar, co-owner and wine guy Christian McCabe has invested heavily in even more great wine. It'd be churlish not to help take it off his hands.
Level 1, 122 Russell St, Melbourne, (03) 9935 9838, lesarestaurant.com.au
Slow-grilled pumpkin, wattle seed, pine nut and mandarin at Lesa (photography: Greg Elms)

Laura

Millions of dollars' worth of sculpture. Crisp architecture. A setting which combines a vineyard with views of the ocean. It could have all gone so horribly wrong, but the people behind Pt Leo Estate on the Mornington Peninsula remembered the secret to getting a big project like this right. And that's investing in the software as well as the hardware. To that end they teamed Phil Wood, Rockpool's last head chef, with restaurant-manager extraordinaire Ainslie Lubbock, empowering a pair of the best talents in the trade to take things to the next level. Wood, in turn, is all about celebrating the region; his menu headings aren't broken down under entrées and main courses or meat and seafood, but localities: "Port Phillip" equals scallop risotto with Mushroom Forestry shiitakes, for instance, while "Boneo" is potato and potato (yes, you read that right) with flathead and Yarra Valley salmon roe.
What to order: start with Merricks, then consider a main course of Moorooduc, and finally, close with a Main Ridge dessert.
3649 Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, (03) 5989 9011, ptleoestate.com.au/laura
Flinders mussels in seaweed butter at Laura (photography: Jason Loucas)

Restaurant Shik

It's not quite a secret that the laneway between Lonsdale and Little Bourke streets is home to Australia's most exciting Korean eatery, but nonetheless the quality of the food and drink at Shik does not yet seem to have been matched by Melbourne's fervour for actually going to the restaurant. Which is a pity, given that no one else in the city is doing anything like these flavours. Chef and co-owner Peter Jo (best known for his work on the floor at Momofuku Seiobo and the original Belles Hot Chicken combines the tradition and deep funk of Korea with his own eye for freshness and quality ingredients – that's Blackmore and Rangers Valley beef on the grills, and a scattering of sea succulents in the raw snapper with cabbage. Make the detour.
What to order: as meaty as the menu is, the kimchi plate might just be its crowning glory.
30 Niagara Ln, Melbourne, (03) 9670 5195, restaurantshik.com
Wagyu intercostal with kimchi and pickled vegetable sides (photography: Greg Elms)

Matilda

Switch one of Melbourne's favourite culinary sons from a classical, very European-influenced kitchen and put him instead in front of a hearth, with a mission to capture the best of Australia with the help of a wood fire. It's not quite Dylan-goes-electric, but Scott Pickett turning his hand to the grill at Matilda is pretty electrifying. As are the likes of Lakes Entrance octopus teamed with lemonade fruit, and Robbins Island bavette steak with wattleseed and burnt carrot.
What to order: just when you thought the Tatin sisters' tarte couldn't be improved upon, Scott Pickett goes and sticks one in a wood-fired oven and pairs it with smoked vanilla ice-cream.
159 Domain Rd, South Yarra, (03) 9089 6668, matilda159.com
Spanner crab with finger lime and baby karkalla (photography: Gareth Sobey)

Sunda

Take a talented chef who worked at Bentley, Cirrus and Noma Australia, brief him to do his contemporary-Australian restaurant thing with the foodways of Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, throw some native ingredients in the mix andstand back and watch the fireworks. Or at least that's how the brief for Sunda, an industrial Punch Lane space, might have read. From Southeast Asian spice to the resinous punch of indigenous plants, Khanh Nguyen has some big flavours to juggle, but whether it's rock oysters under a coconut-curry vinaigrette flecked with Tasmanian pepperleaf, or a cured kangaroo dish with toasted rice and smoked egg yolk that lands somewhere between a larb and a tartare, he keeps the balls in the air.
What to order: Nguyen's otak-otak, reimagined as a crab-curry parfait set on banana leaf, is an instant classic.
18 Punch La, Melbourne, (03) 9654 8190, sunda.com.au
Sunda's take on otak-otak (photography: Emily Weaving)