The former Press Club (and later Elektra) site is again welcoming diners, although George Calombaris' high-end Greek cooking has given way to modern Indian cuisine, as interpreted by Manpreet Sekhon, owner of Eastern Spice in Geelong and Masti in Fitzroy.
Sekhon, who has cooked professionally for nearly 20 years, says Elchi will offer a contemporary style of dining seldom seen outside India.
"I want to change the world's view of Indian cuisine," she says. "This kind of ambition requires a Flinders Street address."
Determined to secure what she considers the most beautiful dining room in the city, on the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth streets, Sekhon was in talks for 18 months to lease the site after Made Establishment folded in early 2020. She has retained Press Club's distinctive curved booths and gold ceilings, and added plants and bar tables to increase capacity from 32 seats to 60.
Showcasing several regions of India, Sekhon's menu aims to advance the dining public's expectations of Indian food. "We want to create the next generation of what an Indian restaurant can be," Sekhon says.
Even the restaurant name reveals her goal. Elchi means ambassador – Sekhon feels that she is representing her own cuisine and heritage on Flinders Street.
Fewer curries means more room for the likes of bhel, a crunchy street snack of puffed rice, potato, buckwheat, corn and peanuts, and chicken musallam, an egg-stuffed chicken in a garam masala and cashew paste, given an Insta-worthy finish of gold leaf.
But despite her goals and the dramatic room, Sekhon hopes her third restaurant will still be approachable and has priced dishes to reflect this, with mains between $22 and $32.
She's part of a vanguard of chefs pushing the boundaries of Indian cuisine in Australia, among them Helly Raichura of Enter Via Laundry (due to open in Carlton in late March), Mischa Tropp (currently running pop-ups featuring lesser-seen dishes), and Harry Mangat of Biji Dining, who melds Indian and native Australian flavours.
Open Wed-Sun noon-3pm, 5pm-late, 2 Exhibition Street, Melbourne, 03 9654 6717, elchirestaurant.com.au