294 Glen Huntly Rd Elsternwick, VIC 3185
|Opening hours||Daily 6am-late|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Licensed, Bar, Family friendly, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 8692 2680|
Finally, it's opened! For a year, Elsternwickians have been watching the long-empty Caulfield Rifle Club and adjacent plaza transform into an indoor-outdoor space for all-day eating and meeting. They could not have dared hope it would be this good.
Part of a $2 million government redevelopment, Bang Bang sprawls from the century-old red-brick rifle range to a large deck and pocket park with playground, bike parking, even an air pump. A whimsical curved gangway makes it wheelchair accessible.
The food is by ex-Longrain head chef Matt Dunbar. It's loosely Thai, dips into Vietnamese, is easy to share and big on flavour without getting crazily spicy.
Owners Dave Sharry and Richie Ludbrook are expert place makers. Their first business, Wall Two 80, opened in 1998 in Balaclava just two kilometres from here. A hole-in-the-wall converted butcher's shop, it was one of Melbourne's first hidden cafes, and did a lot to spark the scene we're drowning in now.
In the intervening years, the pair have had a hand in heritage rebuilds (Riverland and Pilgrim in the bluestone vaults below Federation Square), new developments (Boatbuilders' Yard at South Wharf) and seaside rejuvenations (Wye River General Store).
Their new place ties all the threads together in their most food-focused venue yet. An underused location is reworked into a magnetic landmark that pumps all day.
Come with a pram posse or the pup for Vietnamese iced coffee on the deck; grab a coffee on the way to the 8.06am Flinders Street; take a meeting over kingfish sashimi; hit the bar with friends for yuzu cocktails; tear apart char-grilled chicken with chilli relish.
A stripped-back breakfast menu offers fare to satisfy the poached egg brigade but if you're happy to diverge, there's a turmeric and prawn omelette and three different types of congee (rice porridge). Try the one with gingery braised pork and crisp egg.
A limited version of the dinner menu runs all day. The tofu salad is a highlight, threaded with a bright vinegar dressing and tossed with semi-smashed avocado. Chicken ribs straddle day and night too: they're hard not to order once the "crisp" and "spicy" alarm bells start ding-dinging.
At night you'll want the betel leaves. I've usually seen these one-bite wraps topped with seafood but I love the luscious confit duck version here.
Fried ocean trout is snuggled in a banana leaf and topped with chopped banana blossom: it's salty and sweet at once.
A wedge of pumpkin is roasted to deep auburn and served in a warming massaman curry sauce. It's one of surprisingly few vegetarian dishes.
The short rib is a handsome winner: beef falls off the bone into a sticky herbed broth.
A layered sago dessert is fun to eat; coconut jelly and chilli chocolate rubble are tasty rewards for digging in.
Bang Bang has been busy from day one. The energetic crew is doing their best and the clever menu means the food doesn't take too long, though it's sometimes not shown to best advantage (undercooked sausages, oversloshed sauce). The aim is true, though, and as focus sharpens and staff gain experience I reckon it will become bang-on target.
Lastly, a note on the building's history. It's hard to imagine real bang-bangs on this site but this was a rifle range, built around 1915 when the current brick building fronted a timber shooting gallery at the rear. Rifle ranges started springing up in Victoria in the 1860s and there were hundreds of them by the end of World War II.
Their role was both sporting and military – an Australian shooting team travelled to England long before a cricket team ever did. World War I was underway when this club was constructed and neophyte recruits were probably given instruction in service weapons within.
I feel lucky that we're aiming our sights at slaw and sago and sinking chilli watermelon cocktails instead of cocking a trigger.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)