Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country right now: Bar Clarine, Melbourne.
The family resemblance is initially difficult to spot, particularly with them sitting right next to each other on Fitzroy's Gertrude Street. But while the neon-lit American diner-style Belle's Hot Chicken and the poised and compact Bar Clarine may seem poles apart, the lineage becomes clear once you check their wine lists (and, perhaps, the doorway that's been knocked through their adjoining wall). Natural wine - minimal interventionist, no sulphur, you know the drill - rules the day on both lists, but Bar Clarine is the more focused sibling: its list is lengthier, its geographical reach more ambitious, its by-the-glass offering more generous. The seven-item menu (which changes every 10 days or so) plays sideshow to the main event, but with the open kitchen at the back of the tiny space it's still an important and interesting part of the package. Chef Adam Shoebridge puts together the snacks in an interesting fashion, teaming his freshly shucked oysters with white pepper, cucumber and bay oil, making exemplary sauce gribiche to complement his robustly flavoured tête de porc and managing to make the pikelet-like Carolina rice cakes seem perfectly logical being served with a boiled peanut hummus (peanut butter for adults) and green tomato chow chow. There might be tinned sardines on toast and perhaps marinated kingfish served with sour radishes - all good stuff and well suited to the wine. And, for those in need of a fried-chicken fix, it's right there on the other side of the door.
Bar Clarine, 150 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Vic, (03) 9077 0788
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