The storied stretch of Domain Road opposite the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne has had more ups and downs than the stock market. Now, the founders of some of Melbourne's busiest cafés are hoping to be part of its latest rise, with the opening on 6 December of their first restaurant, Gilson.
"Everyone tells me that since the '60s the street goes boom and bust - totally hot then not - and I can see it's going through a new upswing," says Jamie McBride. He and his wife Loren McBride are behind cafés such as Barry and Touchwood, and operate Armadale's Mammoth and new Northcote pizza joint Primo. "Entrecôte is buzzing, Scott Pickett is opening here in the new year. Hopefully it can become a destination street again, like Flinders Lane or Gertrude Street."
Oysters Kilpatrick, beef tartare with oyster cream, grilled cucumber and smoked cultured cream.
They're backing their proven track record for picking fertile hospitality real estate with the 125-seat restaurant, housed in what was until the early '90s the Botanical Hotel's public bar. More recently it has been a no-frills café, but the underlying beauty of the place made the McBrides jump in feet-first when the property came on the market. "We leapt at it wholeheartedly and then decided what to do with it," says Jamie.
Their plan for an all-day eatery has antecedents in Melbourne - McBride concedes the Cumulus Inc comparisons, albeit with the addendum "at a lower price point" - but above all he defines it as a restaurant that does breakfast. "We've considered doing something across all three services for a while now," says Jamie. "We wanted to do a place that would stack up in the city or in Fitzroy; a little more relaxed than South Yarra is used to. The City Wine Shop is a good comparison. It's a big undertaking in a big position, so we've gone for a classic bistro model."
The fit-out by Projects of Imagination takes its cues from 1950s French modernism, which led to the venture's muse Jef Gilson, a French jazz musician whose heyday was in the 1950s. The palette includes unfinished zinc, rouge concrete and Carrara marble throughout.
Grilled cucumber and smoked cultured cream.
Emma Jeffrey, who was recruited for Mammoth from Fitzroy's Hammer & Tong, will be executive chef across all three McBride venues, while Pippa McLeod (previously of Fatto) will be in charge of the day-to-day cooking of a menu that includes char-grilled cucumber with smoked cream, barramundi with fennel and salsa verde, wood-roasted peaches with house-made ricotta and amaretto, and wood-fired pizza topped with asparagus, stracciatella, sunny side eggs and sea salt. The wine list is a "short and sharp" collection of 50 bottles, and in pursuit of a policy to be a place people can drop into at any time of day; Gilson will open 6am to 11pm seven days.
Gilson's wood-fire oven.
"We want to be a place that's really approachable and that pleases a wide range of people," says McBride. "Domain Road has a lot going on from the morning commuters to the school traffic, lunch crowd and later, so we've orientated ourselves to them."
Gilson opens 6 December at 171 Domain Rd, South Yarra, Vic, open 6am-11pm daily, (03) 9866 3120, gilsonrestaurant.com.au