Trial by fire was just the start. Shortly after chef Adam Sanderson, his CV bristling with names like Noma, Fat Duck and Cutler & Co, took on the kitchen at Ten Minutes by Tractor in 2018, fire chewed through half-a-million dollars' worth of wine and caused enough damage to close the restaurant.
Next came trial by council regulation and rebuilding that meant two years passed before the restaurant re-opened. A beautiful renovation by Cox Architecture expanded the original 1930s building, decked it out in stone, marble, brass, timber and discreet shades of blue and green, added a private room, new terrace and impressive, purpose-built kitchen. Then came trial number three, the pandemic.
It's shaking your fist at the sky kind of stuff.
Given the steady hum of misfortune, it's remarkable how seamlessly this fine-diner has re-opened, the only ripple on its smooth surface being the business of securing a table. There's no straining to re-establish or refocus. It's already fully there, which is good, given that it's $165 a head before you spot the wine list.
The clean-lined room, bathed in natural light, nails the elegant casual vibe, the tables well-spaced and attended by staff who know when to be attentive. The wine list is impressive, highlighting the estate's own output against a backdrop of expertly made classic and natural wines from Australia and the world. The four excellent wine-matching options from head sommelier Xavier Vigier are all worth consideration.
Sanderson's food is superb, cherry-picking the best local produce and mixing it with stuff sourced within Victorian state boundaries.
Snacks include tiny crumpets topped with glazed lamb tongue and pickled cucumber, tempura-battered brined chicken oysters teamed with a burnt leek emulsion and heavenly duck liver parfait encased in choux pastry.
Larger dishes on the six-course menu are complex but never overloaded. Everything on the plate has a purpose, as with paper-thin sliced squid teamed with crab, shiso, shellfish crackers and a toe-curlingly good fermented tomato water. Same goes with a cloud-like brined and blowtorch-finished groper served with charred broad beans, roasted kelp and tangy Main Ridge goat's whey.
Two desserts might include a Meyer lemon number that successfully melds the lemon with a white chocolate and yuzu cream, lemon myrtle ice-cream and puff pastry.
Ten Minutes by Tractor might be the epitome of strength through adversity. It's also a must-do for fine-dining fans.