Cinder review

Cinder steakhouse is a grand dining room at the rear of the Terminus Hotel in Fitzroy North.
Cinder steakhouse is a grand dining room at the rear of the Terminus Hotel in Fitzroy North. Photo: Jason South

492 Queens Parade Fitzroy North, VIC 3068

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Opening hours Dinner Tue-Sat, lunch Fri-Sat
Features Accepts bookings, Licensed, Pub dining
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9481 3182

Many years ago, when I was living in North Carolina and my father was living in Brisbane, I took a flight to meet my dad and stepmother in Europe. It was a memorable trip for many reasons, but one constant throughout the holiday was my stepmother ordering steak at a few very good restaurants in Paris and after each meal declaring, "The meat is just better in Australia."

I could not argue with her then, and I would not do so today; indeed, the overall quality of beef in Australia has only improved. Yet the steak-focused restaurant has not taken hold here in the way it has in other places – the United States, in particular.

The classic steakhouse has had its moments historically in Australia, but it hasn't dominated fine dining the way you might expect for such a meat-appreciative country.

Westholme wagyu 1kg t-bone, dry-aged for 45 days.
Westholme wagyu 1kg t-bone, dry-aged for 45 days. Photo: Jason South

I blame the pub. Or, more accurately, I give thanks to the pub. A good pub steak is almost as easy to find as a bad pub burger, and has been since before burgers were regularly served on pub menus. In fact, the closest we've ever come to a proper steakhouse culture (beyond Hog's Breath) is when pubs used to have grand dining rooms that felt truly fancy, where steak was always the specialty of the house.

Let us all rejoice in the return of the grand pub dining room and the focus on fantastic steaks that return ought to bring. This is at least part of the story of Cinder at the Terminus Hotel in Fitzroy North, the historic pub that was taken over about a year ago by Kickon restaurant group, where the food is overseen by Kickon executive chef Jake Furst.

Cinder is a swanky steakhouse hidden behind a honey-coloured wooden door around the back of the pub. Inside it's all walnut finishes and burnt-orangeaccents, with a view from the front room into the kitchen where a Josper grill – a combined charcoal grill and oven with cult-like status in the world of meatheads – does much of the work, turning out charred vegie appetisers and hefty chunks of meat.

The steak-focused restaurant has not taken hold here in the way it has in other places.

 While there are seafood and pasta options – a lovely but simple piece of grilled trout ($29); pumpkin gnocchi with goat's cheese ($29) – the meat is the focus of the menu, with a selection of dry-aged steaks of the day that are as impressive as they are expensive, as well as grass-fed, grain-fed and wagyu steaks from some of the country's best producers.

Cooked beautifully and with accompaniments like classic bearnaise or thyme and bone-marrow butter, these steaks are a testament to the wonders of the Josper grill – which allows all the char and flavour of a traditional grill, but the temperature control of an oven – and the skill of the cooks manning it.

There are lovely seasonal sides to be ordered, like a jumble of heirloom tomatoes dotted with Greek pesto – a pesto made with oregano – or broccolini with stracciatella (all $12).

Kingfish tartare with red pepper puree and puffed pork skin.
Kingfish tartare with red pepper puree and puffed pork skin. Photo: Jason South

Some of the non-steak dishes can be slightly overwrought, not in any way that's garish or unpleasant, but just enough to overpower the attributes of the ingredients. A Spencer Gulf Hiramasa kingfish tartare ($25) came smothered in a brilliant red pepper puree that was tart and bright and sweet and completely obscured the flavour of the fish. 

And I wish the wine list were as thoughtfully sourced as the meat. With a few exceptions, the selection tends toward industrial-scale producers, and there's very little on the list that might live up to a special-occasion dinner or a pairing with one of the $200-plus steaks. If nothing else, the lovely stemware Cinder uses deserves better plonk.

There's nothing about Cinder that's particularly ambitious, other than the audacity of hiding an expensive restaurant in the back of a neighbourhood pub and expecting that people will show up and order a meal that might easily cost as much as that neighbourhood's median weekly rent. But its crowd-pleasing capabilities make it worthy of destination status: there is surely something for everyone on this menu, from the meat-and-potatoes set to the folks who want their lamb in rib form, smothered in sticky plum and gochujang.

For intergenerational celebrations that encompass a wide variety of tastes, I can think of no better setting. Certainly, the next time my Aussie-meat-loving stepmother comes to town, I know where I'll be taking her.

Vibe: Upscale pub meets modern steakhouse.

Go-to dish: Dry-aged steak (market price).

Cost: Depends on your appetite for very expensive steaks, which easily run to the hundreds. But it's possible to eat here for about $100 a person.

Drinks: Short list of well-made cocktails, mostly spins on the classics. Medium-sized wine list with well-known labels.

This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine

https://terminus.com.au/cinder/