Florent Gerardin is excited about veal heads. After an extensive search the former Pei Modern head chef has tracked down a reliable supplier and he's going to put veal-head terrine on the menu at Ôter very soon. Given the quality of the terrine he's serving in the meantime (a beautifully balanced pig's head number accompanied by classic celeriac rémoulade and crisp, dehydrated, almost black shiso leaves), Gerardin's enthusiasm for the veal version is catching. You really feel you don't want to miss out. The same could also be said for Ôter.
Ôter (pronounced, we're told, "o-tay") is the latest member of a club of modern wine bars in Melbourne that includes the likes of Embla, Marion and Bar Liberty. Gerardin has teamed up with Tom Hunter and Kate and Mykal Bartholomew in the former Yu-u space across the lane from Coda, which is also owned by the Bartholomews. The stripped-back, potentially noisy fit-out has retained Yu-u's super-comfortable low, wide kitchen bar while losing the small private rooms. The footpath-level windows that were blacked-out are now clear. There's a new bar and the concrete walls are decorated with artist Bridget Bodenham's whimsical birds, but Ôter's focus, as with its Japanese predecessor, is the open kitchen.
As it should be. Gerardin is cooking with great energy and passion here, bringing influences from his native La Rochelle on the west coast of France (a brilliant soup made from fish heads and bones, flavoured with tomato and served with a piece of toast slathered in rouille and topped with grated Gruyère that you soften in the broth) to Japan (hapuku served in a soy-flavoured prawn broth dotted with slivers of radish). On the kitchen bar top is one giant breadboard for cheese and another holding five precise, superbly flavoured tarts - yoghurt and blueberry, a glistening triple-chocolate, orange, cinnamon and a toe-curlingly good quince.
Ôter's wine list leans to both France and Victoria and is thoughtful, interesting, catholic and well priced with a generous selection by the glass. Glassware and wine knowledge are top-hole, as is the service generally: friendly, casual, efficient.
It was sad to see Yu-u go but Ôter is a fine addition to Melbourne's CBD. And, perhaps soon, also one of the best veal-head places around.
Ôter, 137 Flinders La, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9639 7073, oter.com.au
Open Tue-Sat 5.30pm-late; lunches to start in about a fortnight.