132 Keys Rd Cheltenham, VIC 3192
|Features||Accepts bookings, Outdoor seating, Licensed, Bar|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 7038 0018|
We thought that we couldn't possibly be in the right place. The street we'd turned down in Cheltenham was decidedly industrial – not commercial, not even residential. But then, there it was, tucked between a self-storage facility and nondescript office building: Bar Savarin, looking more like it belonged on a European boardwalk than here amid this boxy cityscape.
Under striped umbrellas on the wooden deck, women sat in the afternoon sun sipping wine. Inside, disco funk blared across the classic marble cafe tables and wooden chairs. The place has all the charisma of a casual modern Parisian eatery – the curved bar, the mirror-accented walls. One side of the space is lined with wine bottles and serves as a wine shop.
And there are outlandish touches (entering the bathroom is quite like taking a trip to a trendy nightclub, pink lighting and disco ball included) that help the personalities of the owners shine through in a way that's incredibly endearing.
Until recently, this was Bambam Deli, a cafe owned by Evan Georgopoulos. Last year, Georgopoulos was looking to sell the business, but a series of conversations between him, chef Hugh Sanderson, and hospo veterans Denis Arbatov, Liz Garginian and Christopher Keating led the group of friends to instead rebrand and go into business together.
Sanderson serves as the chef, and most days you can find Georgopoulos manning the floor. Because of council restrictions, the restaurant has only been serving meals one night a week – Fridays – since opening, plus lunch Wednesday-Saturday. But starting in the next week or so, the group finally has permission to open for dinner four nights a week, Wednesday to Saturday, with all-day service on Sunday ending at 6pm.
Which is fantastic, because while Bar Savarin is a smashing place to stop in for a late lunch, the menu and vibe of the place are really built for evening. That starts with the wine selection, which is mainly local and heavy on the natural wines, and extends to the list of classic cocktails. A properly made pisco sour ($20) is hard enough to come by in the inner suburbs; a little further out, it seems revelatory.
I tend to steer away from overly complicated toppings on raw oysters – usually they detract from the natural sexiness of the bivalve more than they add. But the gin and tonic gazpacho topping offered here ($5.50 each) was intriguing enough that I ordered it, and I'm so glad I did. Light and acidic and refreshing, the cool green liquid allowed the oyster's creamy metallic taste to shine through, while adding a layer of zippy flavour.
Sanderson's style is basically French, but with a clean, modern sensibility. Chicken and hazelnut terrine ($17) was moist and perfectly seasoned, served with cornichon, seeded mustard, apple jam spiked with yuzu, and good crusty bread.
Smoked trout rillettes ($9.50) come piled atop a pleasingly sour buckwheat crumpet, topped with a whisper of horseradish and a tiny smear of caviar.
I'd head back to Bar Savarin for the burrata dish alone, which is saying something because beetroot and burrata is perhaps one of the most common and overplayed combinations of the past 15 years. But the whole roasted beets, the sweetness of a golden raisin dressing, and the nutty edge of macadamia make this a thing of beauty.
Most of the menu is dedicated to snacks and share plates, but the more substantial dishes star, too. A chicken spatchcock ($39), served over melting roasted fennel and a Jerusalem artichoke puree, is given verve with a sauce of pink peppercorn and verjuice.
The style of service here is decidedly casual, perhaps even a little too casual for those among us who prefer fresh plates and cutlery when going through multiple courses. But it is exceedingly friendly above all else.
If anything, the charm of the place is only heightened because it's so unexpected in this location. There's a sense that Bar Savarin is building its own little community here among the office parks and storage facilities.
It's tempting to say that this feels like the inner north, but it doesn't, really, though I'm sure it would be a huge success in Fitzroy or Brunswick.
It feels like Europe, like some of the fresher concepts in northern New South Wales, like the East Village in New York City.
Perhaps it feels like the future of Cheltenham.
Vibe Bright and airy and Frenchy
Go-to dish Burrata and beetroot
Drinks Fun, natural-leaning wine list, well-made cocktails, local beers on tap
Cost About $120 for two for a full meal, plus drinks