1121 High Street Armadale, Victoria 3143
|Opening hours||Fri-Sat 12.30pm-3.30pm; Tue-Sat 6pm-late|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Degustation, Gluten-free options, Events, Licensed, Lunch specials, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9822 0144|
Eating a multi-course tasting menu can feel like being bludgeoned by well-meaning butterflies. Each morsel is delicate and dancingly pretty, tickling the senses with glancing blows, and so modest in size it seems unlikely any pain could ensue. Then, all of a sudden, around course six, one notices deep bruising to the appetite, desensitised taste buds and general torpor. How can butterflies be so brutal?
Amaru's butterflies are more restrained, its dishes nicely judged, individually, as a progression and as a cumulative experience. You will not leave hungry but you won't feel battered either.
Owner and chef Clinton McIver has had plenty of opportunity to think about this style of dining; he worked as sous chef at Vue de Monde and his own 30-seat degustation-only restaurant has just clocked up a year of business. It feels confident, ambitious and hospitable; manager Hee-Won Chai (ex-Attica) is the droll and attentive foil to McIver's nimble food.
The dining room is earthy and intimate with well-spaced tables, most with a view of the corner kitchen. A keen eye for detail extends to the accoutrements: the plates are bespoke and there are plans to commission cutlery too.
Appetite-awakening snacks kick off the meal with acidity, crunch and freshness. A seed cracker is served with whipped roe – it's like a fancy taramasalata. Sleek, silky duck ham is rolled into squat cylinders for picking up with the fingers. Pureed onion is turned into a wafer and topped with a lightly smoky mix of yoghurt, cured garfish and a scattering of petals. Flowers can be twee but these work as food as well as garnish.
Amaru's dishes are rich in ideas but it's food for eating not a showcase of the chef's cleverness and the menu is as produce-driven as a country kitchen.
Shiitake mushrooms – some marinated, some slowly cooked in garlic butter – are served with chawanmushi, a wobbly Japanese custard, and sparkling broth poured at the table.
A glistening prawn is brined, lightly grilled to a just-cooked gleam and seasoned with indigenous Davidson plum powder and finger lime; the fried legs are boosted by a dusting of prawn head salt. It's subtle and powerful all at once.
Venison is often a watery chore to eat but not here. Aged for two months on the bone until it's dry, dense and almost jellified, the meat is briefly grilled over charcoal to achieve a caramelised crust and absolutely rare interior. Blackberry is a good if unsurprising accompaniment but there's also hazelnut praline, an early indication of McIver's propensity for blurring savoury and sweet.
How do you feel about eating dirty potato? That's what McIver calls his crisp potato skin bowl filled with potato ice-cream, dusted with roasted wattleseed, potato chip powder and dehydrated chocolate mousse rubble. It's an unusual but successful segue to the desserts.
Amaru opened last year with a strawberry and mozzarella dessert; a new iteration rounds out the current menu. Barbecued strawberry puree, buffalo mozzarella ice-cream, fragrant pepper and toasty, nutty buckwheat make for a summery and sophisticated sweet salad.
Complex contemporary food can distance the diner from their dinner but at Amaru you feel like someone is cooking you a tasty meal, not engaging in esoteric scientific wrangling. Combine that with the likelihood that you'll leave with a spring in your step, not butterfly bruises, and you've got a sensitive and noteworthy restaurant.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)