Re-brands, venues within venues and completely new dining experiences are becoming more common among Melbourne restaurants as they emerge from lockdown.
With many owners reporting that reopening takes as much effort as getting a new restaurant off the ground, it makes sense that some are using the opportunity to launch new concepts or rethink what their venue offers.
At Garden State Hotel (101 Flinders Lane, Melbourne) it's a choose-your-own adventure situation from November 11 when Italian trattoria Tippy Tay welcomes guests in what was the mega-pub's Garden Grill dining room. If you're skipping parmas and heading straight to pasta, make a beeline for the new eatery's coloured tiles, flower garlands and rattan chairs, complemented by a menu that channels Florence, the Amalfi Coast, Calabria and Naples.
"We thought of things people might be craving out of lockdown: escapism and feeling like you're out of Melbourne while travel to Europe is off the cards," says executive chef Ash Hicks, who helped create the menu with the venue's head chef Dylan Evans.
Ready for TikToks, Boomerangs and Instagram moments, Tippy Tay offers "last night's lasagne", enormous Florentine-style steaks and lobster risotto, plus the must-order negroni fountain, which delivers cocktails for the table in vessels the team sourced from France. Fountains holding between 500ml and 1.5 litres of the ruby liquid are placed on the table for you to dispense drinks at your leisure. Oh, and you press a buzzer to order one.
Coupled with a DJ booth at the front of the 110-seater and room to push tables aside for dancing, 'That's Amore' singalongs are undoubtedly on the cards.
There's also a dessert trolley, perhaps one of the most Instagrammed things at Attica's Summer Camp pop-up last year, brought to life at Tippy Tay as an airline-style cart that's stocked with cannoli, tiramisu and various amari.
Garden State continues to offer its usual menu of pub favourites, lighter salads and snacks, with the added bonus of pizza now that an Italian restaurant is under the same roof. tippytay.com.au
Turkish eatery Yagiz (22 Toorak Road, South Yarra) is also leaning into a more casual style of dining, reopening with a menu inspired by the country's meyhanes, where meze, music and raki are found.
"Generally, there's no menu," explains chef Murat Ovaz. "There are 10 meze, a few entrees, a few things from the grill. The waiter will show you a tray and you select what you have."
"I realised how much I missed that concept, that food."
Ovaz changes the new menu every week but you might find small plates of split fava beans with raki, confit duck cigars or fried eggplant with tomato, followed by charcoal-grilled calamari with sujuk butter or adana kebabs featuring lamb minced by hand. The wine list now features more Georgian, Lebanese and Armenian wines, and on Wednesday nights there's a live Turkish band. yagiz.com.au
In the same neighbourhood, Matilda (159 Domain Road, South Yarra) has refurbished the front of its restaurant and added a coffee window and more daytime-friendly seats, as well as introducing a breakfast menu on Thursday through Sunday for the locals spending less time at the office and more time at their abodes. The wood fire is still in play across dishes like house-smoked salmon with scrambled eggs on an English muffin or the s'more-like creation featuring waffle, chocolate and lemon myrtle marshmallow. matilda159.com
Lee Ho Fook in Melbourne has opened its bookings and unveiled a weekend lunch service of yum cha dishes. Photo: Parker Blain
Since it reopened, contemporary Chinese restaurant Lee Ho Fook (11-15 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne) is offering diners the option of yum cha at lunch on weekends. Char siu-roasted pork belly with steamed buns, pan-fried pork and chive dumplings and crisp spring rolls can be had with matched wines or a pot of silver jasmine tea. leehofook.com.au