49 Rathdowne St Carlton, VIC 3053
|Opening hours||L Tues-Sun; D Tues-Sat|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Events, Family friendly, Groups, Licensed, Long lunch, Outdoor seating, Private dining, Romance-first date, Views, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9036 4949|
DINNER-PARTY anxiety is rife and should be listed as a phobia alongside decidophobia (fear of making decisions, as in ''Should I make coq au vin or curry?'') and gelotophobia (fear of being laughed at, such as when you say ''de poo lentils instead of de pwee'').
We could call this dread of dinner parties ''theydidn'ttellmetheywereglutenfreeophobia'' and undertake restorative hypnotherapy while eating stinky cheese. But until we are all cured and invited around to one another's homes again, we will continue to socialise in restaurants, which is why it's sometimes nice to dine in a stately old spread such as Epocha.
Open since late September, Epocha inhabits a double-storey Victorian terrace overlooking the (toilet block in the) Carlton Gardens. It's owned by Press Club alumnus Angie Giannakodakis and Guy Holder, who are both vibrant, accomplished presences on the floor. Their chef is Michael Bolam, who has arrived from a Hunter Valley resort but also put in a year at London's three-star The Ledbury.
Epocha is tactile and resonant with tiles, timber, cut glass, wicker, silverware, candles and a big clock suggesting country-house banqueting, garden-party tippling and railway-station romance, all at once. An upstairs bar offers retro cocktails and backgammon.
The food is earnest and generous, notionally rustic and Euro-provincial but, in reality, refined and correct, with proper saucing and artfully relaxed presentation. Deboned chicken is cooked in fat and crisped: this succulent roast is served with a glossy jus. There are odd bits aplenty: duck tongues and pig's ears are shredded for crisp nibbles, and pork offal stars in the faggots (a British take on meatballs). Venison carpaccio is glam in comparison: a halo of meat slivers is prettily piled with jellied sherry droplets, pickled mushrooms and hazelnuts, in the clearest signal of Bolam's high-end background.
European wines, including plenty from Greece, are poured with passion. The Hellenic theme is picked up in dishes such as lamb kalamaki skewers, which are served with roquefort and caramelised pear. It's a great combination that hauls the dish back towards France.
Cheese and desserts - including smashing lemon-cream crostoli - are served from gorgeous creaky trolleys. Banquets are good value at $68 (there's a $45 Sunday roast version) and, unlike a dinner party, you needn't have guilty pangs about rolling home while others are washing up.
Jacques Reymond, 78 Williams Road, Prahran, 9525 2178. Thurs to Fri, lunch; Tues to Sat, dinner.
A gracious Victorian mansion is the immaculate setting for Reymond's lavish parades of delicate morsels.
Queenscliff Hotel, 16 Gellibrand Street, Queenscliff, 5258 1066. Daily, lunch and dinner.
Originally a 19th-century seaside resort, this ornate building still has glamour and presence. The formal dining room is only open on Friday and Saturday nights but the bar and courtyard are open daily.
Trunk Bar and Restaurant, 275 Exhibition Street, city, 9663 7994. Mon to Fri, lunch; daily, dinner.
An 1859 synagogue houses the main dining room, with its soaring ceilings and tall windows. The fare today is modern Italian with a good range of pizzas and house-made pastas.