Has there ever been a better time to be a hungry Melbourne night owl? Things were good before, but recent additions Arlechin, the Grossi family's handsome laneway bar, and Butchers Diner, Con Christopoulos's 24-hour burger and breakfast joint, have made late-night dining a more appealing option than ever. Now serial restaurateur David Mackintosh and cocktail maestro Joe Jones have opened The Mayfair, bringing a wonky Stork Club impersonation and a carte of don't-make-me-choose bistro classics to the mix.
Joe Jones (left) and David Mackintosh
The Mayfair has taken over the Sofitel driveway space formerly occupied by Pei Modern, turning it into a squeaky-clean 1950s stage-set version of a 1930s jazz club, replete with enthusiastic, formally attired waitstaff. The carpeted dining room has semicircular leather booths down one wall, linen-dressed tables, potted palms and assorted brass and etched-glass light fittings that keep the décor on theme. The soundtrack, at least in the early evening, also matches the mood.
Mackintosh, whose recent credits include SPQR, Lee Ho Fook and Rosa's Canteen, pays attention to atmosphere. There's a hint of Lynchian theatricality here that's at its most noticeable in the bar area, amid the round marble tables and gorgeously lit display of good booze in cut-glass decanters. The lack of labels adds to The Mayfair's dream-like, timeless air as much as the Venetian blinds on the windows that let in only slivers of the outside world.
Pineapple tarte Tatin with rum caramel and vanilla ice-cream
The menu matches the mood, too, both in its form and function. Good oysters, terrine, caviar and fine charcuterie set the tone, while a classic silky chocolate tart, crème brûlée and a superbly simple pineapple tarte Tatin (sticky with a not-too-sweet rum caramel) send guests off happy into the night.
The Mayfair does its best work when it remains near the retro ballpark. Take the superb house-made crumpet, for instance. It's topped with spanner crab mixed with mayonnaise, lemon zest and chives, then scattered with salmon roe, bottarga and an essential sprinkling of earthy curry powder. Or spears of white and green asparagus, finished on the char-grill and served with a brown-butter mayonnaise and a creamy egg yolk that's been cooked in smoked oil.
Crab mayonnaise crumpet with curry and petites herbes.
There are four steaks - plus the steak frites from the late-night menu - sourced from reputable producers like Rangers Valley, Cape Grim and O'Connor. Competently cooked and accompanied by well-executed sauces and butters, including exemplary béarnaise and Café de Paris, they're exactly what you'd expect from a menu themed to these surrounds.
It's interesting that when The Mayfair menu veers offscript, like with a dish of tataki-style yellowfin tuna served with an avocado and lime purée and pickled black radish, things can get out of whack. It's not only that it feels like it's arrived at the wrong party but also that the execution is unbalanced, with salt trumping every flavour. The script is worth sticking to.
Asparagus with brown butter mayonnaise and smoked egg yolk.
Things get a bit loucher when The Mayfair's late-night menu kicks in at 10.30pm; it's also when some of the most appealing dishes come into play. You'll fall for fabulous sausage rolls stuffed with confit suckling pig leg and Italian sausage mince accompanied by a dark, beautiful house HP sauce. And the super-fluffy Mayfair omelette served with dark unabashedly, necessarily, deliciously salty truffle gravy may inspire return visits.
Joe Jones' cocktail menu should do the same. As at Romeo Lane, his Crossley Street bar, the drinks are superbly balanced and hefty. The Chicago, for example, adds Champagne to a classic (rye and vermouth) Manhattan, while the Midnight Stinger, a mix of bourbon, Fernet Branca and lemon juice served over ice, delivers a satisfyingly refreshing jolt.
The wine list veers towards classics - Perrier-Jouët by the glass, Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon - while also chucking in some politely off-piste labels, such as Hochkirk's always reliable biodynamic riesling or pinot noir from winemaker Will Downie.
Inside The Mayfair
The Mayfair does a good job of impersonating the kind of place it wants to impersonate, but it'll be even better when it loosens up a bit and the edges soften more, relaxing the slightly-too-careful stage-set drag. The good news is that all the right elements - most importantly the pedigree of the owners - are in place. It will age well, and that's something worth staying up for.