1160 High St Armadale, VIC 3143
|Opening hours||Wed-Fri 3pm-late; Sat noon-late; Sun noon-6pm|
|Features||Bar, Licensed, Romance-first date, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 8529 2660|
There's nothing quite like those post-lockdown feels – slipping into a nicer seat than you'd buy for your home alongside someone, anyone really, who is not your prison inmate.
Melbourne is bristling with wine bars these days. The format has been the It trend of the past five years. We have internationally recognised bistros such as Embla, and local lovers like Westwood, where pasta parties and steak nights have almost usurped the role of the pub for casual gatherings.
Amaru's captain, chef Clinton McIver, wanted Auterra to make more of a splash, with bites you could best describe as "don't try this at home". And he's nailed the brief.
From the beautifully spindly Gabriel-Glas stemware, to the poppy but extremely elegant design by IF architecture – bricks and burgundy tones up the front leading to a big brass bar framed in rose pink – you know you're not in your living room anymore. Add a couple of notable faces to the clientele and a prawn and kimchi sandwich that has gained celebrity status, and you, my friend, are back in society.
There has been some confusion about whether Auterra is dinner material given the entire menu is made up of bites. I can report that with about 15 listed, graduating from light and lively to carb-loader's dream, it's entirely possible to have yourself a snackustation.
A story in a dozen bites might start with a silky raw scallop that gets whiplash freshness from yuzu-soaked strips of apple and a bitter zesty tingle of desert lime.
A fat blue mussel is just warmed, licked with a little aioli, a house-made XO with dried scallop and chilli lending meatiness and heat, and a duvet of radicchio with its bitterness neutered through fermentation.
If you have experienced Amaru, this is just as you would expect.
You'll know McIver has an abiding love of Victoria's produce (in the restaurant's early days, there was a plan to show videos about producers on an iPad during dinner) and he likes to use myriad techniques to present those ingredients in surprising and unexpected ways.
Consider the excellent confluence of caraway and kangaroo. A crisp soldier of rye bread gets a double hit of roo as a rich raw tartare licked with anchovy mayo, but also an intensified blizzard of the meat, cured, dried and shaved over the top. Or a sneaky star, easy to overlook, of a hollowed out, sweetly pickled radish, its cup running over with intense silky creamed walnut.
These likely aren't the dishes you might have seen on Instagram. Not when there is the far more cult-worthy boudin blanc hotdog – a white sausage squiggled with Japanese mustard, and dancing flakes of bonito. It deserves the hype, but don't miss those menu wallflowers that possibly convey McIver's philosophy and cooking chops even more.
Let's not forget, either, that this is a wine bar. Boy howdy, they haven't. A hard-hitting list is going to deliver some excellent and opulent times.
Venue manager Jenna Phillpott is behind a wine list built for those willing to pay for quality fizz. But you won't find Krug and Dom Perignon here. Her 40-strong selection introduces top-tier grower champagnes such as Emmanuel Brochet's Le Mont Benoit, grown on 2.5 hectares using organic practices. Or the Grand Cru La Grace d'Alphael from Philippe Glavier, known for getting distinct terroir into his wines from Cramant, and locally, Holly's Garden Uberbrut.
By the glass, it's hit after hit: a stunning Alsace pinot gris from Domaine Josmeyer or a Marc Rougeot-Dupin Burgundy without investing in the bottle. Very good times.
Need advice? Probably. There's not a big-name brand on the list. And advice is there for you. Staff wear blush-coloured tees, but there's no hiding their prowess.
It's so easy to see nights escalating. Maybe you'll get a glass of something from the Coravin, the gadget that lets you pour wine from a bottle without removing the cork.
Perhaps you'll plan to just secure a couple of those doughnuts dressed in spanner crab, then see the eclair go past. Filled with a chilled custard featuring comte slicked with a robust pear chutney and enveloped in a halo of that sweet, tangy cheese, it's hard to put the brakes on. So don't.
Say yes to the shiitake sundae, long-time star from Amaru for good reason. The mushroom-infused soft-serve twirl has the gentlest earthy undertow contrasted by bitter-sweet caramel and cacao nibs.
Say yes to everything. Who knows how fleeting this next breath of freedom will be?
Drinks: What a list, bringing together the world's most esteemed, thoughtful winemakers.
Pro Tip: A courtyard and private upstairs dining room with a bigger menu are coming – stay tuned.