The second coming of George Calombaris's The Press Club may be scaled down in terms of size but it doesn't hold back on the ambition. An expensive, brilliantly glitzy room and dégustation-only menus full of fanciful, witty, interesting Greek-inspired food sees Calombaris throwing down the gauntlet to those who proclaim fine dining dead. Our Melbourne restaurant critic Michael Harden went in to check for signs of life.
So is fine dining dead, Michael?
Not if it's as much fun as this. There's a gigglingly enjoyable retro aspect to the whole experience, from the compact room, which seems to channel cocktail bars of the 1970s - horseshoe booths upholstered in soft tan leather, copper and brass fittings polished to a mirrored sheen - to the menu, which references both the original Press Club and the craziness of Calombaris's one-time Fed Square experiment, Reserve. It's not cheap, sure ($145 for five courses, $190 for eight), but all the "you get what you pay for" boxes get ticked.
Quite a few, starting with a mini Hills Hoist (complete with fake grass) that comes pegged with "chips and dips" - a sliver of dehydrated salsify, a rice cracker dusted with fennel powder, and a carrot wrapped in a truffle sliver and studded with chive flowers among them - and the Saganaki Martini (an old Press Club favourite), then moving on to a quite brilliant avgolemono, the classic egg and lemon soup, served with grilled abalone and hilopites made with chicken. The Kangaroo Island marron cooked in tarama butter and served with pickled cucumbers and sprouted lentils is no slouch either.
More fun here, too. The pre-dessert is called Half-Time Orange and consists of orange segments filled with excellent orange sorbet. That's followed by Smashing Plates. The "plates" are made from meringue and have to be smashed so you can get to the pavlova-type goodies - berries, mousse and granita - underneath.
And the drinks?
Barcelona native Marc Esteve Mateu is the sommelier here and is one of the most personable examples of his kind in town. His list is hefty and contains both benchmark big-hitters and more obscure boutique stuff, but chat with him and you'll quickly end up with something delicious you haven't tried before (like a 2009 Hatzidakis "Nikteri" Assirtiko from Santorini). There's a wine-matching option too - $90 for the five-course and $125 for the eight.
With only 10 booths in the house, The Press Club feels both intimate and exclusive and, with the present but not invasive soundtrack of upbeat club music, there's a definite party element as well. Calombaris's theatrical and amusing dishes tap into the mood, as does the excellent service. You'll probably drop at least $200 a head but, boy, will you have some fun doing it.
The Press Club, 72 Flinders St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9677 9677.
Read more: George Calombaris recipes.
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