62 Ormond Road Elwood, Victoria 3184
|Opening hours||Sun-Thu noon-11pm; Fri, Sat noon-1am|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Wheelchair access, Accepts bookings, Events, Gluten-free options, Groups, Late night, Long lunch, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9531 2562|
Welcome to the jogger-pram badlands of Elwood, where healthspiration shops and hair salons are thick on the ground but serious eating options have often been scarce.
What a blow then, just when Blue Tongue had arrived to fix that issue last year, the wine/dine bar erupted into flames just a day after opening. It took five months to rebuild but the important thing is, Blue Tongue is back and everyone seems pretty keen to make the most of it, just in case.
You could probably do the Elwood census right here. Parents, the after-work crowd and the southern hipster mass (they're still defiantly eschewing socks) fill most tables, even on a Tuesday.
From the ashes has come a purified bar of minimal fuss: a practically blank canvas of brick, tile, candlelit tables and buffed concrete with a few succulents for life and a central drink deck. Outside, caged columns of fire rise like a monument to misfortunes past.
It's Rabih Yanni, of St Kilda's Grosvenor Hotel, on the paperwork, along with floor manager Nic Gordon and chef Sebastian McQuarrie, former chief pan basher for Church Street Enoteca, and Donovans, long ago.
You see that experience writ all over his broad-yet-tight, bold-yet-traditional menu designed to please a crowd.
Meat is probably the main pitch, with a charcoal grill section offering your cuts of old: rib eyes, eye fillets, and a 600-gram chateaubriand.
Pork-skin puffs? Chicken crackling? Exciting charcuterie (finocchiona! Or fennel salami to you)? The suited and heeled are elbows deep in the trademark bar snacks of 2015.
Elsewhere the adventurous are investigating sugar-cured scallops; buffed dudes are eating seven-grain super salads while Brighton Grammar's finest inquires after the chocolate mousse dessert. (The gentleman looks pleased.)
If you're dinner-ing, best of the sea-based bites has super-plump pickled mussels paired with cucumber, dill and a clam cream that's all earth, umami and meat. Load on to fizzing black rice crackers. King of snacks. No questioning there's an excellent seafood hook-up here. Those soft scallops are fresh and sweet, though the sugary-curing and savoury-gloopy pairing with cucumber belts and a viscous celery foam, hits us wrong.
Better: fresh-picked crab loaded into chicken crackle boats with peas and rhubarb syrup for sour kicks. Sure, it tastes mostly of crisped chicken skin but that's no bad situation-by-mouth.
Taste all the ocean, however, in snapper and prawn ravioli: two-bite full moons filled with lemony seafood farce swimming in shellfish stock that's pure sucked prawn head.
They're really sweating the details here. Gordon oversees the floor like a sheepdog, nipping heels when colleagues miss a beat. There's good banter, fresh plates per course and ordering those grilled hunks of beef gets you a weighty steak knife engraved "F. Dick", which is in no way hilarious.
That steak, by the way, is temp-perfect, nicely coloured sided with lightly oiled beans that still have crunch. Vegemite-y jus seems excess to needs until you dip in tart onion rings for a crisp trip to flavour town.
Is wine bar the right term? There's certainly nice wine here: Hugel Gentil rieslings by the glass and a Burgundy pinot that tastes like it's been strained through fresh tobacco – actually perfect with your steak. Just don't expect them to pour it at your table (actually do, they should be) or offer a huge amount in the way of stories unless you dig. Glass options are all under a tenner, with the serious action (Ruinart champagne) left to bottle investors. House beats, espresso martinis (on tap!) and Melbourne Bitter tinnies are as much part of the scene as chablis and share plates.
Don't think Marion or Embla. It's the warm and easy welcome of Punch Lane or Saint Urban, right down to getting congratulations for ordering well and guessing all 10 layers in your cup-o-tiramisu. I still want my sticker.