320 Ascot Vale Road Moonee Ponds, Victoria 3039
|Opening hours||Wed-Fri 10.30am-3pm, 5.30pm-10pm; Sat 9am-4pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm; Sun 9am-4pm|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9370 2649|
After eight years and a dozen tweaks, chef Dave Stewart finally has his neighbourhood diner where he wants it: a professional, welcoming bistro with food that satisfies and surprises.
There have been a few roadblocks along the way. First, his breakfast menu was too good and locals queued down the street for it. I get it: I still remember the gorgeous smoked salmon with whipped cod roe, pickles, caviar and a poached egg that I had here about four years ago. Secondly, it took a crazy five years to secure a liquor licence. Thirdly, there was a pandemic.
Despite – and even thanks to – the challenges, Stewart has persisted, alongside new-ish business partners ex-footballer Shaun Hampson (he's on the floor) and model Megan Gale.
There's still brunch on weekends (including that smoked salmon) but the focus is proper lunches and dinners.
After eating here on a recent Saturday night, it's clear that Ascot Food and Wine is all grown up.
Way back when, this was a corner milk bar with a residence at the rear. Now the shopfront is a broad dining room and bar with two huge horseshoe booths, great for cosy catch ups.
Two more dining rooms spill to the rear, with spot-lit paper-over-linen tables. At the moment, there are 60 seats. Come spring, the verandah will double the capacity.
The menu is modern Melbourne, anchored by Euro classics. Kingfish is dry-aged in Japanese cedar boxes so it's firm and succulent with concentrated flavours. Cut thick, it's robust enough to punch back at a burnt butter and caper sauce.
There's retro whimsy in the vol au vent, made with puff pastry from Cobb Lane Bakery's Matt Forbes, and filled with chicken and porcini mushroom veloute. It's hilariously delicious.
Everyone is doing something with cauliflower these days but the new vegan go-to is rarely as sophisticated as this. Layered with herbed macadamia "cheese", Sichuan-style chilli oil and pickled onion, it's brash yet balanced.
Veal cotoletta is crumbed, fried and topped with raggedy bits of stracciatella cheese and lightly grilled mortadella: it's like a parma in a tux.
A tight dessert list includes sweet-salty caramelised pumpkin and goat cheese parfait with an almond base.
This restaurant feels like a vote for Melbourne: grown up, open-minded and passionate about hospitality.
It took eight years for Ascot Food and Wine to get here but that's eight years of local love. I reckon there's plenty more to come.
Rating: Four and a half stars (out of five)