Cook Street (corner Wood Street) Flinders, Victoria 3929
WHERE AND WHAT
The Flinders Hotel has packed plenty of action into its 123-year history, the past decade seeing its food credentials rise and fall on the tide of changing chefs. They're definitely on the upswing with the arrival two years ago of Pierre Khodja, a French-Algerian who found his cooking mojo splicing the food of his childhood with classical know-how. Don't be put off by the Terminus restaurant's fine-dining status: the Flinders owners are sensible enough to widen their ambit, with a buzzing, accessible bistro, a proper bar, and even playthings for the kids. But for my money, Terminus is what it's all about.
WHERE TO SIT
The bistro is noisy and bustling, and there's a broad swath of outdoor tables to catch the sun. Terminus is a world within a world - quiet and elegant, with sound-squelching carpet, properly set tables and bang-on service.
WHEN TO GO
Wednesday-Saturday 6-9pm; Saturday-Sunday noon-3pm.
Crowd-pleasing but never boring, the wine list features the best of the region with Australian heroes and a smart European selection.
The scene is set with cumin-flecked rolls (made in-house) with olive tapenade butter, followed by an amuse bouche of Jerusalem artichoke veloute with a fried cigar - borek - filled with mushroom. Lovely stuff. Roasted quail is boned and rolled around a luxe paste of chicken mousse, foie gras and gizzards, joined by a fried soft-centred quail egg and flaky pocket of crab bistilla: unification comes thanks to a flavour-laden white onion sauce with a flutter of ginger. More conventional is the pork belly, a crisp cube of porcine perfection on parsnip puree, with pistachio-dusted scallops and black pudding wrapped in a potato pancake, julienned green apple cutting the richness. Mains include a golden snapper fillet in a custard-yellow puddle of ginger sabayon, a salty green tumble of samphire and shelled mussels gracing the top, or the simple aesthetic of a full-flavoured, slow-cooked wagyu brisket with prune and apricot. And to finish, the girlie-pink Turkish delight souffle is a stunner.
The bistro is jumping, while Terminus is on the food trail but doesn't alienate T-shirt clad locals celebrating a birthday.
Khodja's food is so on-song.