34 Inkerman St St Kilda, VIC 3182
THERE'S nothing else like Cellar Bar in Melbourne. I love it. Go. The glamorous subterranean hideout, downstairs at the Newmarket Hotel, is the latest venture from Melbourne Pub Group, owners of Circa, Middle Park Hotel and Albert Park Hotel.
Cellar Bar is faux Vegas and pretend retro, a grown-up, spangly parlour that offers a big night out, not just a meal.
The business card instructs diners to leave furs and inhibitions at the door: it's suggestive and indicative. Even the pimped-up toilets command a party.
The opening menu is luxe Latin: regional Mexican but dressed up to the nines. This is knife-and-fork food, complex, ambitious, and available only as a four-, six- or eight-course degustation with inspired beverage matches. Think aerated guacamole, puffed tacos and flaming sorbet.
The menu and cuisine will change completely every few months, making this restaurant something of a high-wire act. Just when the staff have learnt how to say ''huitlacoche'' (weet-la-cotch-eh, a fungus that is fondly known as corn truffle), all will change and there will be another inevitable bedding-down period.
The upside is that executive chef Paul Wilson has fabulous pathways for staff at the group's four premises and, for customers, there are frequent excuses to revisit. Maybe it's genius. Another virtuoso stroke is the fact there's no phone coverage in this bunker - tweet it later, 'gater.
The Latin food is interesting, startlingly pretty, delicious and, I suspect, getting better and more balanced every week. Highlights include a seafood medley with smoked chilli mousse and sea-urchin puree; braised goat with red mole sauce; and exceptional grass-fed wagyu with pickled cactus and a luxurious take on tamale (corn mash).
A crazy-good layered cake of coconut milk, goat's milk and caramelised cow's milk is served with jackfruit sorbet. Some ingredients (avocado, achiote, corn truffle, coriander) cameo too often, but the cooking is bang on and the progression lively. The crockery is stunning, too.
At times, earnest dish explanations compete with racy cabaret artists sashaying across the stage and contorting in the aisles. I saw feathers in places I'd never considered, while the grand piano has its ivories tickled at times. Bar perches and booths are there for drop-ins, but I suggest that once you've descended into this otherworldly zone, you'll be happy to be swept up for hours.
Colonel Tan's, 229 Chapel Street, Prahran, 9521 5985. Fri, lunch; Tues to Sat, dinner.
Diner food, Thai style, is the concept here, and the entertainment includes Tuesday trivia, Wednesday treasure hunts and DJs. The Revolver band room is next door if you want to step it up a notch.
Wesley Anne, 250 High Street, Northcote, 9482 333. Daily, lunch and dinner.
There's always something interesting happening in this cruisy church hall, with easygoing food to boot. This afternoon, grab a spot on a couch for Songwriters in the Round.
St Katherine's, 26 Cotham Road, Kew, 9207 7477. Daily, lunch and dinner.
The Turkish grill was working overtime at the first comedy night at St Kat's. The next is scheduled for January 11 ($55, three courses, book now)