25 Anderson St Yarraville, VIC 3013
|Opening hours||Thu-Mon noon-11pm|
|Features||Licensed, Outdoor seating, Romance-first date, Bar|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9687 8451|
It must be the worst hand you can be dealt. Opening a restaurant in the time of the spicy cough. Then again, maybe not. As we click into a new season of 2021, chef Anna Quayle and business partner Jim Gridas are looking back at their tumultuous first year of running French-sauced wine-bistro Bar Romanee with a glass-half-full outlook.
It turns out lockdown made the heart grow fonder for what was good in our 'hoods. Business owners and diners also had the unusual chance to meet in person as meals were collected and delivered, likely in the most humbling of outfits. Guards were dropped. Bonds were formed. So even though Quayle initially didn't want Yarraville's first experience of dishes to be in recycled packaging, she doesn't regret that they did. Now that she can offer those same locals the real deal in a plush room of minty banquettes and mood lighting, or out on an Astro-turf parklet, the only way forward is up.
Quayle has worked around these here parts of Yarraville before. Her first kitchen job, and also most recent, was for chef Sean Donovan – back when he ran the Station Hotel to acclaim, and more recently at the Town Hall Hotel in Fitzroy.
Sandwiched between those gigs was a two-year stint learning the fine line between a perfect sauce and death, working for chef Pierre Koffmann in London. Those hard-won skills attracted the attention of Gridas back in 2012 when they worked together on a dinner. After much planning, they broke ground on a site last January. The rest is rocky but successful history.
It's wall-to-wall locals on a Monday night, lured by the honeytrap of an early week $30 hanger steak and coleslaw, proof that Quayle has learned the dark pub arts of giving the people what they want. But the greater menu is no generic copy/paste. It paints a clear picture of the person cooking here.
Romanee seems to obey three main commandments: love thy neighbours; use nice products; and cook what you want to eat.
In practice, that looks like the blue swimmer crab croquette. All sweet meat, no mush, the crab is lifted with tarragon, captured in a shattery crumb and girt by a buttery wine sauce (beurre blanc) that has the kind of tension reality TV producers can only dream of.
The house bread is a collaborative baguette with Cobb Lane bakery, where Quayle provides caramelised onions and rosemary, and serves it with cultured butter.
Get one. It's a flavoursome good time on its own, but an essential back-up dancer should you summon a bowl of Goolwa pipis cooked in a buttered stock that is alive with salty-fresh warrigal greens (sourced from neighbour cafe Mabu Mabu), whole slips of fresh lemon, and fine, fragrant ribbons of zest that have been blanched five times to take out the bitterness.
There's technique here in spades. Another snack curls one glossy, premium anchovy over a potato crisp so fine it's almost cellophane, with a counter swipe of lemon emulsion and a fennel microfrond. It's a fiddly, delicate-looking thing that belies its impact.
You could also file under sneak assassin the chicken ballotine with Puy lentils. Bone-in roasted chicken haunches have had a lot of play in restaurants lately, but there's a lot to be said for celebrating the bird's delicate side by filling the thigh with an ethereal mushroom mousse and gently cooking the roll until it cuts like butter. Quayle also mounts a strong argument for cooking Puy lentils in anise-fragrant masterstock, then bringing back those French moves with a whole lot of butter to make a poor man's caviar to be reckoned with.
Euro-style wine bars have been such a thing in the past couple of years that it became hard to pick the good from the fad. This is the real deal. An expression of people, and very much of place.
The mainly Australian wine list, with a few French breakouts (including a Bandol rosé) was a joint effort between Gridas and a long-term customer.
There are a few more Asian-leaning dishes, such as eggplant captured in a tapioca and rice flour batter with a fish sauce and soy caramel that's just something Quayle would like to eat.
And if you want to really feel the local love, finish with the poached pear. The soft, winey fruit rests upon a warm, chewy-crusted slab of spice-cake pain d'epice from Cobb Lane, with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream from a shop down the street.
According to Quayle, local love was a goal, but so was becoming a lure for those across the bridge. They've got there. Your turn.
Pro Tip: Monday is $30 steak night, and what a steak it is.