2 Duke Street Windsor, Victoria 3181
Most new restaurants eagerly flap themselves into a pigeonhole. "I'm doing that warehousey coffee-freak thing!" "I'm timbered and Italian and I've got a blackboard!" Or, the very Melbourne, "You can't find me! I'm cool and individual and I hate signs!" Pandora's Box, a bar with serious food, flies another route. Even though it's an off-Broadway venue (in this case off-Chapel Street) in a boxy ex-factory (concrete alert!) it avoids hidey-hole industrial-chic cliches.
Instead, the room is dominated by bespoke tiles that represent the Pandora team in whimsical tableaux. The tiles cover the huge central bar and pave the dining bench that rims the room. But instead of making Pandora's Box look like an enormous bathroom the tiles lend a sleek but moody air. They also nod to that time in history when the Moors made their mark on Melbourne, that is, round about now. Design studio Projects of Imagination did the fitout. You might have eaten their atmosphere at Coda, Trunk or city cafe Small World.
Pandora's Box is the new sibling to local stalwart Orange, which opened in 1997 as a cafe and gradually expanded in area and ambition. Now its bistro dinners rank alongside eggs and coffee. Pandora's Box takes it up a notch. There's a serious wine list with lots of lesser-known wines and there's chef Matthew Germanchis, who's come straight from MoVida and, before that, a stint with UK chef/lab rat Heston Blumenthal. The food is broadly European and easy to share. It's technically adept and wholly enjoyable. Oysters come with riesling jelly and horseradish, giving them a rockpool seaweed tinge and the lingering sting of the surf. Brined, roasted duck "jamon" is pink but meltingly tender, falling off the bone into jammy quince pickle. A crisp, clever green salad includes good walnuts, blue cheese and verjuice-poached pear. Rabbit stew is sweet and succulent. A chocolate cornet is speared into honeycomb and biscuit gravel: order a few.
Service is warm and engaged. But there's a slight disjunction between the fine, grown-up food and wine and the cruisy cafe service. Waiting time between some dishes was confusingly long, drink orders evaporated into the ether and I suspect many customers would appreciate more guidance with the wine list than some staff are able to offer. Despite these misgivings, this new box of cheeky tricks is a welcome addition to Windsor.
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