Comma review

Comma's green velvet booths are popular.
Comma's green velvet booths are popular. Photo: Joe Armao

2 Station St Moorabbin, VIC 3189

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Opening hours Wed-Sun 3pm-late
Features Licensed, Accepts bookings, Outdoor seating
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9503 4238

If the five-kilometre lockdown did one good thing, it made everyone appreciate their 'hood. It also made hospitality operators take a good look at the opportunities in their neck of the woods.

Linen counts don't lie. According to one major restaurant launderer (the legitimate kind), 60 per cent of their business used to be in the CBD, topped up by the suburbs. That count was inverted last year, and there's plenty more evidence that the suburbs are getting more sparkly.

In the bayside hamlet of Moorabbin, an industrial area that houses a lot of young professionals who have been priced out of Hampton, Bentleigh and certainly Brighton, the savvy locals proudly planting a flag in their own patch of dirt are owners Adam Cruickshank and Megan Kwee.

Deep-fried chicken ribs with chimichurri and guindilla peppers.
Deep-fried chicken ribs with chimichurri and guindilla peppers. Photo: Joe Armao

They've had previous success with cafes such as Crooked Letters in Prahran, but this mark is a resto-bar hybrid with a few lush velvet green booths for couples like them who want a night out without Ubering to Prahran. But it also has its laidback side with high tables and an Astroturfed front deck where you can drink and dine with your dog, kids, anyone.

The former aquarium, TAB and now restaurant might not be situated in the most idyllic spot, opposite the bus terminal, but there's a long view. The council envisages this suburb becoming the Northcote of the southeast, and momentum is building.

Brewers have been fermenting away in this industrial area for a while. Le Feu, a gluten-free and low-FODMAP Vietnamese restaurant founded in Mornington, has just downed roots.

Octopus with eggplant puree, tomatoes and chickpeas.
Octopus with eggplant puree, tomatoes and chickpeas. Photo: Joe Armao

But in the field of polished, playful food (which you can take as a chefs' menu for $65) and dynamic wines, Cruickshank and Kwee saw a wide opening and went for it.

Here's why that's good news for you: when rent is cheap, plates are richer, and in the hands of chef Matt Woodhouse, that's true.

It's little things that make a big difference. Crudites – neatly turned raw purple carrots, radishes and sugar snap peas – come with a very silky, buttery cloud of hummus and dukkah and a rye sourdough, which hits the table pillow-warm and crunchy-edged.

Comma's city wine bar vibe flows through to the food.
Comma's city wine bar vibe flows through to the food. Photo: Joe Armao

Chicken ribs (from the top of the breast) deep-fried in a golden batter give you all the satisfaction of a beer snack, but with the finesse that comes from adding a swipe of bright herb blitz chimichurri and vinegary guindilla peppers.

Woodhouse is plating dishes that would easily be homed in any city wine bar, but touches are his own.

Citrus-slashed chargrilled broccolini comes with an airy nest of whipped ricotta holding golden salmon roe like a larger, richer and saltier version of a regular egg.

Raspberry souffle.
Raspberry souffle. Photo: Joe Armao

Calamari in a Sichuan pepper-infused batter has less numbing hum than you might expect, but it's so buttery tender you could cut it with a fork.

Octopus is the other textural triumph. Cooked sous vide overnight in good olive oil, with juniper berries and peppercorns, then finished to a crimson curl on the grill, it comes with a steadying base of eggplant puree, and a herb-sparkled jumble of sweet tomatoes and chickpeas.

There's an undercooking slip on our roasted kingfish, but overall it's a fun and finessed menu at a competitive price point.

But it's never just about the food. Some cafe hospitality smarts have been injected to really hook local support. Wednesday's steak night features hanger steaks with hand-cut, triple-cooked chips, romesco and salad for two people for $40. Little by little, live acoustic music and DJs are being trialled on Sunday afternoons. A big private dining room with a stunning redwood table is ready for parties where everyone can hopefully either walk or catch a convenience bus home.

Perhaps your neighbourhood has its own version of Comma. If it doesn't, here's hoping it soon will, not merely so everyone can have access to a textbook fluffy raspberry souffle (Woodhouse's version is the main dessert and you need no alternatives), and a place to get a spritz or an Adelaide Hills gruner veltliner and a nice cheese board. (Though I'm sure some Melburnians consider this to be a human right.)

No, here's hoping that operators keep spreading their wings because when they do, it takes some of the rent pressure off over-saturated suburbs. It means professional hospitality jobs for those who live further out, minus lengthy late-night commutes. For you, it means really loving your local, wherever that is.

Drinks: Mostly Australian wines from Vic to WA, with the odd Rioja and Sicilian red.

Go-to Dish: Steak night on Wednesday is a great deal at $40 for two.

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