1 Ocean Beach Rd Sorrento, VIC 3943
|Opening hours||Lunch Wed-Sun; dinner Thu-Sat|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Degustation, Licensed|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
One of my most cherished childhood dining memories is of a meal eaten at the Ozone Hotel in Queenscliff. It was during a rare family holiday, and my mother insisted we splurge on dinner in the majestic dining room. I had a porterhouse steak – likely my first – with peppercorn sauce. When the dish arrived, which I ate under the soaring ceilings of the grand old building, it seemed to me to be an extravagance beyond compare. It was one of those moments that changes you, that makes you see the world and its food in a different light.
The Ozone is now private apartments. Many of Australia's most beautiful seaside hotels, once the height of Gilded Age luxury, have gone the same way – converted into housing or else sitting empty. At best, they've fallen into an easy rhythm as community pubs: a little bit daggy, maybe some pokies, but far less opulent than their lavish past.
The recent revival of some of that opulence has been thrilling. Projects like The Espy in St Kilda, or Merivale's redo of The Newport Arms on Sydney's northern beaches have restored a few of these hulking old buildings to their former grandeur. This is certainly the aim behind the redevelopment of The Continental Sorrento, a 147-year-old pub that has been out of commission since 2017.
The hotel reopened in March with multiple dining options and bars, plus luxury accommodation. All the food is overseen by chef Scott Pickett, the man behind Smith St Bistrot, Chancery Lane and Matilda 159 Domain.
Up a staircase from the main bar is Audrey's, the most ambitious and expensive of the hotel's various venues. The room is decked out in lots of mint-coloured velvet, which is very pretty, although I wish the designers had leaned in a little more to its Gilded Age history.
The degustation menu ($150 per person) is seafood-focused and comprises about seven courses with a couple of optional extras. One of those extras is caviar service, with the fantastic option of ordering only a "bump" of glistening sturgeon roe (from $16 for the Oscietra), a far less expensive way to experience the luxury (up to a 25-gram tin of Beluga for $240).
If you skip the caviar, you'll start with bread and an assortment of butters (cultured, miso and seaweed), and then in quick succession be served seafood snacks: a mini personal seafood tower holding an oyster with finger lime, impressively tender barbecued abalone and a fat mussel escabeche. Also, a tiny (and slightly tough) crumpet topped with spanner crab and malt-glazed eel on Melba toast.
Next up comes a bowl of cubed yellowfin tuna with white radish and shiso, tasting vaguely Japanese and decidedly pleasant. Indeed, all of the food at Audrey's could be described as pleasant.
The most mind-bending thing was a small bowl of "noodles" crafted from locally caught squid, served with a deeply savoury XO sauce made from shiitake mushrooms. It's a dish that showcases great inventiveness and skill – most of the rest of the meal consists of really good ingredients prepared very well: flathead with pine mushrooms and gnocchi; a supplemental duck breast ($40) perfectly cooked and lightly sweetened with golden plum.
Possibly the most impressive thing about Audrey's is its wine list, overseen by sommelier Andrew Murch. It's a tricky thing to get this much ambition on a list, while also catering to folks who might just want an easy-drinking chardy or shiraz.
Want to spend $1500 on a grand cru burgundy? Murch has you covered. In the middle is the sweet spot with some fantastically nerdy picks, many of which sit in the sub-$150 range – not cheap, exactly, but there are bargains to be found, and this isn't the place to eat if thriftiness is your priority.
For those of us visiting Sorrento, Audrey's might just be the cherry on top of a beach-holiday weekend; for residents, it likely means much more. Outside the hotels Sorrento and Portsea, dinner options are strangely sparse for a town with this much wealth. There are a couple of mid-range restaurants on Sorrento's main strip, but nothing comes close to the ambition of Audrey's.
Given that, this restaurant is probably exactly what it needs to be: a special-occasion-worthy room with a killer wine list and a menu that will please most people while not challenging anyone too much. It's a nice example of modern Australian fine dining, if not the most electrifying version.
Go-to dish: Squid noodles with shiitake XO
Drinks: Cocktails by Speakeasy Group and a fantastic, wide-ranging wine list
Cost: $150 degustation menu
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine