The Melbourne suburb lost some of its lustre in recent years, but is now bouncing back.
Paul Wilson is about to open here, the Sarti crew is moving in by Easter and Scott Pickett is going for his first bite of postcode 3141 later this year. Even more significantly, some up-and-coming young guns are also planting their flags in the 'hood.
Melbourne's South Yarra hasn't been this popular since the 1980s when Kylie Minogue and her squeeze Jason Donovan had a favourite table at Caffé e Cucina.
The tail end of 2016 saw a number of openings, including Nick Stanton's mod-Euro Ramblr, at what has commonly been held to be the wrong end of Chapel Street, Charlie Carrington's menu-shifting Atlas Dining on unloved Commercial Road, Gilson, from the café brains who opened Touchwood, Mammoth and Barry, on Domain Road, and Shadowboxer Bar & Kitchen, whose pedigree includes Naked for Satan and Borsch, Vodka & Tears, on Toorak Road.
The winds of change are blowing south of the river. For too long a culinary punchline, South Yarra is going through a renaissance. Listen hard enough and you might hear the locals mutter hopefully about the golden era of the late 1990s and early 2000s when the triple act of Chris Lucas, Erez Gordon and Paul Wilson at the Botanical made Domain Road the place to be.
Tim Martin reckons he has the lowdown on the suburb. The 30-year-old, who was gonged as one to watch after his stint as head chef at The European, is opening Harvest, his first solo venture, on Claremont Street at the end of March.
Harvest, which consists of a 40-seat, all-day restaurant and two private dining spaces called Privi, occupies the ground floor of a new apartment tower. Martin lives in the area and predicts that an influx of up to 20,000 new residents in the next couple of years will have a big impact on the dining demographic. Harvest is therefore aimed at the younger set, while Privi will offer a tailored set menu and an august wine cellar for more traditional South Yarra residents.
Atlas Dining's octopus with sweet potato and pink pomelo.
"It was [all about] Windsor, now it's picking up down this end [of Chapel Street]," says Martin. "With all the property development popping up in the area there are a lot of 25- to 35-year-olds moving in, and they're changing the area - but there's still a lot of the old guard here as well."
For Paul Wilson, whose Mr Wilson's Tuckshop is opening at the Prahran market (yes, it's in South Yarra) in March, followed by a restaurant called Wilson & Market in May, the story of South Yarra is less about demographics, more about a certain blandness that killed the suburb's culinary scene.
"The whole bayside scene dropped off five years ago when the Melbourne Pub Group started to struggle," he says. "Everyone left, and what remained went back to basics. It was all very homogenised pub food and the trade went to cafés, sparking the whole café boom."
Ramblr's calamari noodles with smoked bone marrow and kimchi.
But Wilson only sees sunshine ahead. "Everyone's sick of fried chicken and burritos," he says. "There's a lot of good real estate available now, and good operators can jump in and get a great deal. The whole landscape is changing."
Wilson points out that Starwood Hotels and Resorts is opening its younger-pitched Aloft Hotel on Chapel Street in 2019. "People are coming to Melbourne not just to shop but to eat," he says. "Where we are on Commercial Road is a bit of a sleeping giant."
Since Joe Mammone took hold of the keys to what is due to become Toorak Road's Bar Carolina by Easter, the proprietor of Sarti and Il Bacaro has been beseeched by locals to go a few notches up from the original casual Italian brief. "They drop by and go 'please can you do something that's a bit special,'" he says. "They don't want anything too casual."
Shadowboxer Bar & Kitchen's Southside.
Mammone has listened to the audience. Bar Carolina is going to be the home of meats from the Josper oven and house-made pasta, backed by hard-to-source Italian ingredients, while designer Chris Connell is going to work his magic with brass mirrors, terrazzo, chevron floors and blackened steel.
"We've been in this industry for 25 years and we decided, 'let's just go for it.' We want to bring a bit of sophistication to South Yarra," he says. "There's been a really good energy about the place over the last six months. I think Bar Carolina and South Yarra are really going to complement each other."