13 Smith St Fitzroy, VIC 3065
|Opening hours||Mon-Wed 8am-3pm, Thu-Sat 8am-11pm, Sun 8am-9pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||0450 669 851|
Sometimes the name really does say it all. Arra stands for "Armin Ruby Ruby Armin", the first names of the two owners who bravely, optimistically opened their cafe-bar-restaurant last October at the quiet city end of Smith Street.
In a dining landscape where so many restaurants have hands-off proprietors, it's pleasing to walk into a place where the owners greet you, get to know you and care fervently if you come back.
Ruby Lai and Armin Nasr met at Toorak Tracktor, an Armadale cafe where she was head barista and he was a waiter. They realised they had a similar vision for their own place and a plan started bubbling.
Lai detoured into wine. They both ploughed into a pandemic. But now Arra has been brought to life to express their passion, heritage (she's from Hong Kong, he's Iranian) and fire for hospitality.
The room is dark-toned and sleek, yet tactile and inviting. Video art merges into a wine wall. Suspended lighting creates a modern salon mood. Seating is a mix of lounge chairs, communal bar and high tables.
A central servery has the coffee machine facing outwards in a simple but radical shift that dismantles the us-and-them dynamic between coffee maker and drinker.
The wine list is similarly democratic: natural if you dare, safe if that's your pleasure.
Cocktails include a cold drip martini and the Persian Night, a fragrant autumnal mix of gin, pear and saffron.
Chef Hannah McDermott runs a smart, surprisingly varied menu out of a tiny kitchen. Breakfast might be a pineapple bun, the Hong Kong sweet roll with cracked cookie topping and a slab of salted butter.
Toasties are big at lunch but there's also a grilled slab of sweet potato "toast" piled prettily with sopressa, broccolini and a jiggly ball of burrata.
Wine-friendly shareable bites include roasted cauliflower "steak" with rough-chopped chimichurri; satay steak gratin with instant noodle crumble (a cheesy nod to Hong Kong satay beef noodles); and a tasty okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) roll-up with always-fun waving bonito flakes. It's snacky, satisfying stuff.
Arra is personal and passionate, balancing restraint and ambition in winning fashion. Come early for coffee, come later for wine, and know that Armin or Ruby will be there to welcome you.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)