175 Domain Road South Yarra, Victoria 3141
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri noon-3pm, Mon-Sat 6pm-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Business lunch, Licensed, Long lunch, Outdoor seating, Private dining, Romance-first date, Views, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access, Events|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9866 3566|
In many ways, Bacash is as old-school as restaurants come. Doors are held open. Banquettes are plush. Linen-laid tables are lit by pools of dappled light. There's seating at the bar but the station is mainly used for pre-casual-dining-boom purposes – a limbo for early arrivals, and a bench to hold the bookings list.
Many of the diners at the South Yarra seafood stalwart are old-school themselves. The only braces being worn in this room are doing their intended job: holding up pants where belts have long given up the fight. Some are well-moneyed locals and business execs, closing deals with the aid of the nostalgia this decade-old restaurant elicits. Others are loyal diners who have followed owners-operators Michael Bacash and his wife Fiona Perkins from Toofey's in Carlton (their first seafood-focused venue, which they ran from 1989 to 2001), to these more elegant park-facing digs.
But Bacash is not a relic. Sure, sharing dishes is not the norm and pulling out a smartphone feels gauche, but where it counts – on the plate, and in service, Bacash manages to straddle the Old-meets-New-World line.
Michael Bacash is a chef as fiercely passionate (and sometimes just flat-out fierce) as you'd expect of a man who's dedicated three decades to one of the hardest professions there is, and upped the ante by working with the quickest-to-spoil, hardest-to-source and expensive-to-buy products. He's on the warpath when we arrive one night. An order has come through for sardines – proof that someone, somewhere, forgot to update the menu. That menu changes daily, being planned at night then adjusted and printed in the morning according to what Bacash's several suppliers bring in. Every day everything is scrutinised. Today, both the sardines and someone on staff have failed to make the cut.
It's a little shocking to hear a waiter rebuked – we've grown accustomed to TV-friendly images of lantern-jawed chefs who seemingly live to sprinkle your world with philosophy and edible flowers. In reality, it's exactly this unflinching attention to detail that has seen this restaurant keep its hatted status since 2005. Restaurants don't get tired; people do. Here, they still sweat the small stuff. It's kept them well in the game.
Michael Bacash has been known for simple-yet-mindblowing seafood for more than 30 years, but I wouldn't go so far as to call him anti-interventionist. You can, for example, take your oysters grilled. We get a couple, and there's something to be said for uniting hot bubbling parmesan, spinach and garlic with the cool, plump, creamy Pacific bivalves. They're not just oysters for people who hate oysters.
There's also the intricately constructed garfish nori roll. It's a dish that started life with a Lebanese flavour years ago, with vine leaves being used to wrap the deboned armed-and-delicious fish. Now, it comes lined with a layer of ocean trout, stuffed with a coriander and ginger prawn farce, wrapped in nori, deep-fried and presented as fish-on-fish sushi rounds, with the full head and tail protruding in crisp fried glory. It's playful and clever yet manages not to murder any of the delicate flavours within. Smart.
There's also plenty to keep happy those who'd rather ravage the land – steaks and pastas and the likes of little pink quail breasts served with the rest of the bird in a flaky golden pithiviers, all cooked with the same eye for detail. But really, you're here for fish, and the simpler the better.
The whole grilled cross-hatched flounder is such a trademark that it features in the huge Jeff Martin oil painting of the kitchen that hangs by the pass. There's no guarantee it will be on. Flounder, like many of our most delicious marine life, is hard to come by, but there's always some version of expertly grilled fillet (blue cod today) that comes out buttery soft and lightly oiled, with parsley and lemon on a blank plate, its complimentary sidekicks arriving separately: crisp, mustardy green leaf salad and salty golden straw fries.
This is a restaurant, like France-Soir, that does what it does well. Its intent is not to push buttons or boundaries. There are nods to the past and future in Fiona Perkins' wine list, and likewise in the dessert menu that pits the signature quick-vanish milk chocolate mousse with its crunchy, salty peanut butter base against a forward-looking plate of syrup-soaked pumpkin cubes, torn rags of chestnut and coconut sponge, sugared oats and citrussy cream.
To those who frequent Bacash, it's home. For the uninitiated and next-gen diners? It could be. The bodies filling the room now are testament to Bacash's longstanding give-a-damnitude. Join the club.
The best bit Fish get the respect they deserve
The worst bit Waiters sometimes don't
Go to dish Citrus cheese mousse, sweet pumpkin, chestnut coconut and feuilletine crunch, nasturtium, $19.50