The blow from the demise of much-loved Japanese basement joint Yu-u has been softened with the arrival of its successor, Ôter. Former Pei Modern head chef Florent Gerardin is in the open kitchen pumping out an exhilarating blend of regional French dishes with a modern twist. Some, like superb fish broth served with little toasts topped with rouille and grated Gruyère or the wonderful selection of sweet tarts displayed on a large breadboard on the bar top, play a traditional bat. Others, like cobia wing sitting under sculptural sheets of kohlrabi, or crabmeat mixed with apple and a super-rich macadamia cream, less so. A smart French-leaning wine list with plenty of good stuff by the glass helps bring flexibility to Ôter so it's as easy to come in for a drink and a snack as it is to hunker down to the full hog.
137 Flinders La, Melbourne, (03) 9639 7073, oter.com.au
Peter Gunn used to be Ben Shewry's sous-chef at Attica and appears to have been fond of Attica's former Tuesday nights when customers would be used as willing guinea pigs for new dishes. The menu at Ides never stays the same - Gunn takes a freewheeling approach based on what's in the market from day to day. A salty carrot broth might contain octopus and chickpeas one day, pork belly and radishes the next. There could be a ridiculous (and ridiculously good) toasted Gruyère sandwich or a beautifully cooked lamb rump served with a Brussels sprout slaw. Not every dish on the six-course menu flies, but the strike rate's good and it's exhilarating to witness a talented young chef in his first standalone venture pushing boundaries. A good one for those after a food adventure.
92 Smith St, Collingwood, (03) 9939 9542, idesmelbourne.com.au
Crabapple Kitchen has already made Greg Feck one of the most popular chefs in Hawthorn. Now with Vaporetto, a bustling double-storied bar-restaurant love letter to Venice, his stocks will soar even higher. There's plenty of attractive Venetian bling on show (including Murano glass chandeliers and an entire tobacconist's shopfront shipped in from Italy), backed up by a solid menu of well-cooked, crowd-pleasing, regionally correct favourites, such as a version of risotto Buranello using rockling and star anise, and a clever take on vitello tonnato using porchetta and clam mayonnaise. The bar has a range of cocktails that include a Bellini and a version of the Aperol Spritz, plus a cicchetti menu that might include a Harry's Bar-inspired toasted cheese sandwich or spanner crab arancini. It's an ideal hangout after a movie at next-door's (aptly named) Lido cinema.
Rear 681 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn (enter via Grace St), (03) 9078 5492, vaporetto.com.au
The roast chicken is worth the trip alone: a boned (aside from the leg), meticulously sourced half-bird popped into the wood-fired oven with rosemary and cloves of garlic, then served with sauce made from the chicken bones and a lively gremolata. It's a reminder of how very, very good a respected chook can be. Most of the rest of the cooking is done with wood, too, though there's a lot of great pickling action in the mix as well (if the pickled mussels with the rouille are on, order them). It's food tailored to a wine list that's all about minimal-intervention wines from the Old and New Worlds alike, a list carefully constructed and charmingly explained so that even the most adamant natural-wine sceptics might be soothed, if not converted.
122 Russell St, Melbourne, (03) 9654 5923, embla.com.au
Thi Le's unassuming Richmond shopfront is home to some of the most interesting and vibrant flavours in town right now. Skilfully blending traditional Vietnamese and South East Asian cuisine with modern-classic technique, Le weaves great texture and powerful (but never overwhelming) flavour into every dish. Her blood pudding flavoured with star anise and Shaoxing wine and served in a crunchy lettuce leaf has become an instant classic but there's plenty more joy on the menu, from her take on a banh mi that includes stracciatella, plums and white anchovies to juicy jungle-spiced spatchcock served with sticky rice.
338 Bridge Rd, Richmond, (03) 9428 3526 anchovy.net.au