This is how the conversation went:
Where are you going for dinner tonight?
A new opening on South Wharf.
Erm, really, why?
Ok, in the past this end of the city hasn’t had much going for it, but times are a changing my friend. With a flurry of new bar and restaurant openings the converted sheds and industrial spaces in this little-visited part of town are worth checking out.
What these places don’t lack is space, what they do lack however (at least on the night we visited – it was admittedly an exceptionally bleak Tuesday) are people to fill it. Paul Mathis’ Japanese joint, izakaya-style Akachochin, seems to be the only one that has managed to create a sense of intimacy (it is for starters significantly smaller than some of the others).
Shed 5 (once a timber and iron shed) maintains an industrial aesthetic – exposed metal pipes and a seven-metre-high ceiling (yep, great on a light and sunny day, not so great when you are the only people in there – way to make your diners feel small and conspicuous) are offset by a big oak-top bar, oak floorboards and blue-and-white tiled feature wall. With a big number 5 on it. See what they did there? The wood (especially the bench that runs the whole length of the restaurant) and the colour scheme kind of make you feel like you are on a massive old boat. I don’t think that is a bad thing.
Ex-Church Street Enoteca Vas Donoudis brings a distinctly Med feel to the menu – with a focus on Greek food, local ingredients, a wood-fired oven and share plates, and the menu looks so good it’s hard to know where to start, but manager Tim helped us out – we were the only people in there for the first half of our visit so it’s not like he had much else to do.
We wouldn’t have picked it ourselves, but the fava puree dotted with fried chickpeas, shallots, hazelnuts was delicious – the caramelised shallots add a touch of sweetness to this very textured and savoury dish – heaps of toasted flatbread for dipping.
Next, from the section of the menu called Tins, Jars and Cans – smoked eel, ocean trout and sherry rillettes – great smoked eel but need something extra – a crunchy, tangy, vinegary pickle wouldn’t have gone a miss.
On the specials that night – meatballs in a rich sugo – nicely spiced with a cinnamon/nutmeg warmth and unlike meatballs we are used to encased in a super-thin skin, meaning the whole thing stayed together and was very moist. The hint of truffle pecorino in the sauce really added to the high notes of this flavourful offering.
Hit of the night – slow-roasted lamb neck, dates, pine nuts, capers (only a few and fresh, so the salt content wasn’t a problem). This little-appreciated cut of meat worked fantastically well in its rich, sticky and unctuous sauce. Earthy meat with delightfully sweet baked-until-just-about-to-lose-their-form dates – an extra sticky treat. Yum.
Just when we thought we couldn’t manage any more – wood-fired king prawns with a garlicky sauce and cooked-to-bursting cherry tomatoes. Tasty and fresh and what you would expect from any southern European coastal city, but the price tag was a wee bit too hefty for our liking ($26 for 4 prawns and little else in the dish). There are plenty of things here that promise better value for money – the appetisers, bar food - served with flatbread from 3-5:30pm Wed-Sun – and sides for example).
Now then, dessert: mandarin olive oil pudding, frosted pistachios, pear gelato. Going totally against WordMonkeys aversion of mixing fruit and food this was a delightful triumph of flavours. The pudding was warm and moist, made even more-so with the slowly melting gelato seeping into any cavity available. The poached pear fell apart just the way it should.
And brioche and dark chocolate semifreddo with a salted caramel sauce – as a wise waitress at Claremont Tonic told us once, ‘You can’t go past anything with salted caramel.’ She is right, as this dessert proved. The soft semifreddo contrasted nicely with ginger biscuit coating and the little brioche doughnuts were up there with Henry and the Fox’s doughnuts. The cinnamon mixing well with the aforementioned ginger.
I literally cannot wait to head back to the South Wharf Promenade. Once the weather ticks on over to the 20 degree mark this place will be in everyone’s radar. Lets just hope these restauranteurs can ride out the inclement weather until the good times roll.
37 Dukes Walk (37 South Wharf Promenade)
South Wharf, VIC 3006
Ph. 03 9686 1122