The top end of Toorak Road is fast becoming a culinary around-the-world ticket. There's Yagiz for modern Turkish, Italian at Bar Carolina and France-Soir for French fare. Vesper, a restaurant inspired by long lunches in the Mediterranean, opened on February 2, just two doors down from the latter.
Occupying the former Omnia Bistro pop-up space, Vesper has kept the brown leather banquettes and added Christian Lacroix canopy wallpaper. Beyond is the "Green Room", with Aegean-blue cushions, floral wall hangings and a courtyard with a flowing fountain.
Customers are already popping in to snack on raw bar dishes, such as house-cured swordfish with baby fennel and pickled grapes, the entry point to the seafood-focused menu by chef Francesco Castellana (ex Vue de Monde and Per Se in New York).
Sardinian fregola with saffron-braised abalone and pecorino presents more like pasta than an entree, while "open spanakopita" (seasoned leek and rainbow chard cupped in a filo basket) is an early contender for a signature dish.
Bigger dishes might be the catch of the day, baked whole and served with seven-olive ragout, or a lamb cutlet in a pistachio and grain mustard crust.
The wine list is 50-50 home and away game, juxtaposing Yarra Valley chardonnay and Premier Cru chablis. Start with vermouth, finish with ouzo or order a signature Vesper martini.
With 45 years combined hospitality experience, owners Duncan and Marlane Fraser-Smith returned home after a decade developing restaurants in Dubai. They're dubbing Vesper "polished dining" – refined but relaxed. Manager Valeria Uboldi, who spent the past five years at now-closed Press Club, is in charge of delivering that vibe.
"It's bright and colourful and has all the right elements: fresh food, comfort and people looking after you," says Marlane Fraser-Smith. "There's that feeling of not being rushed; we want people to feel welcome."
Open lunch Thu-Sat noon-3pm, dinner Tue-Sat 5.30pm-11.30pm, at 25 Toorak Road, South Yarra, 03 9038 8088, vesperbistroandbar.com.au