Bar Margaux review

The custom backbar in New York cab yellow.
The custom backbar in New York cab yellow. Photo: Chris Hopkins

111 Lonsdale St Melbourne, VIC 3000

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Opening hours Sun-Thu 4pm-3am; Fri-Sat 4pm-5am
Features Late night, Licensed, Bar
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9650 0088

Imagine eight years of dreaming and planning. Laying 20,000 tiles to make the basement lair glitter like a classy New York subway. Having family fly in five times over three months to do the build. Going broke twice. Imagine planning hefty wines lists, cocktail shenanigans and two menus, one of French bistro classics that sing of your New York heroes and the other an abbreviated supper menu, then finding staff who are both willing and able to execute it until the heady hour of 5am. Imagine doing all of this and the only thing anyone can talk about is your goddamn burger.

To be fair, the burger at Bar Margaux, the late-night knees-up from bar heroes Michael and Zara Madrusan with chef Daniel Southern on the pans, is a glorious addition to the canon.

Two patties, sticky plastic cheese, bacon and the "coup de glaze" – a bordelaise peppered with jewels of roasted beef marrow turning the whole thing into an outlandishly unctuous beast that could calorifically power you across the Antarctic.

The MGX burger at Bar Margaux.
The MGX burger at Bar Margaux. Photo: Chris Hopkins

How to eat it? Not alone, that's for sure. Sharing between four, we adopt a tactic of interspersing bites with slugs from our three-sip martinis in the same way you might nip kirsch to neuter fondue. Too much? It sure is, and it's about time Melbourne joined that party.

For the past three years, restaurants have been countering philosophically minded or wellness-oriented cooking with opulent luxury. See: the Grill in New York, which returned the likes of rib-eyes carved tableside and flaming peach melbas to glory. Sydney's Restaurant Hubert, with its grand aiolis, and oeufs en gelee has been trolling Melbourne since 2016.

Melbourne has tried New York nostalgia. The Mayfair supper club (RIP) and Natural History Bar and Grill both arrived dolled up to the nines. But neither quite managed to set the scene.

No-nonsense duck frites.
No-nonsense duck frites. Photo: Chris Hopkins

But the Madrusans? They do theatre. Their cocktail bar the Everleigh is a direct porthole to golden era drinking, and if you've been to their rock dive Heartbreaker and not emerged shoeless, congratulations. Here at Margaux, with chef Daniel Southern in their corner, they've made the leap across the fated bar baron-restaurateur ditch with relative success.

Bar Margaux isn't as aspirational as Hubert. Southern isn't trying to say something with his steak, his duck frites, or the escargot drowning in so much butter the dish is essentially DIY (dunk it yourself) garlic bread with bonus protein. It's a menu designed to be impressive, yet bulletproof enough for a large chunk of it to be cooked by a graveyard shift.

The straight-ish carte works. You'll wield your escargot tongs and pretend you're in Pretty Woman. You'll feel sophisticated ordering salad lyonnaise, the frisee leaves dressed with a warm rubble of crisp lardons, croutons and chopped egg.

Escargot are an excuse to make dunk-it-yourself garlic bread.
Escargot are an excuse to make dunk-it-yourself garlic bread. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Worth noting, this represents the menu's freshest pick alongside (also nudge-worthy) tender artichoke hearts with aniseedy pickled carrots and goat's curd. The French onion soup is essentially a meaty onion jam beneath its thick gruyere crouton, more a knife and fork job than a spooner and so extremist, it's not sensible to tackle it alone.

But as with Di Stasio Citta, the pull is this very over-the-topness, the largesse. Give in. Descend. Enter to the glow of the backbar of Georgian wired glass laminated in taxi cab yellow. To the left: drinkers. To the right: two alleys of low-lit tables and a saucy private booth shaded arterial red.

But where to start. Fizz? Probably. It feels right if oysters are on the cards. But will it be Krug or a peachy pet nat from the South African kids of the Wine Farm? Sommelier Marty McCaig fills all bases between those prog rock and big house producer pillars.

The lardon and crouton-dressed lyonnaise salad is the menu's lightest dish.
The lardon and crouton-dressed lyonnaise salad is the menu's lightest dish. Photo: Chris Hopkins

There again, those snack-sized martinis are a siren song to drinkers and a hat tip to moderation at once frosty and fierce. Perhaps you'd like to ease yourself into a classic black velvet, a 50-50 mix of Guinness and fizz that is the La-Z-Boy of mixed drinks.

Notes from the field: Bar Margaux gets rammed. You might have to wait. The frites with your plush fanned duck (a lovely piece of meat) might be too blond. Recruiting troops to provide smooth service to a frothing crowd until dawn has proved predictably tricky and the wheels do fall off.

My tip? Get those martinis, then split a bottle of something so that the storm of early days can roll by without killing your buzz.

The mini Martini at Bar Margaux.
The mini Martini at Bar Margaux. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Vegetarian Lots of sides, fondue (if you dairy).

Drinks Classic-leaning cocktails with a good times spin, Old and New World (and style) wines.

Cost Entrees $18-$25; mains $27-$39.

Pro Tip: Golden hour gets you deals like a champagne, oyster, tartare banquet for a bargain.

Go-to Dish: The MGX burger ($26).