Get a first taste of these hot new Melbourne restaurants before doors reopen

The Public Wine Shop team: Ali Currey-Voumard, Sarah Fitzsimmons, Campbell Burton, Sam Rogers, Simon Ball-Smith and ...
The Public Wine Shop team: Ali Currey-Voumard, Sarah Fitzsimmons, Campbell Burton, Sam Rogers, Simon Ball-Smith and Claudelle Savannah. Photo: Justin McManus

Watching last week's Met Gala in New York, I couldn't help but feel for the many restaurants that had their red carpet moments completely eclipsed by lockdown.

Delta has proved the ultimate upstaging diva, hogging the spotlight and throwing us all into such chaos that some extremely exciting restaurants have landed and you wouldn't know.

Here are three to try now, so you can give them the welcome they really deserve when we are free again.

Public Wine Shop

This Fitzroy North drink-in bottle shop has united the dream team for anyone who values a light touch in their cooking and wine.

The owner is Campbell Burton, former wine buff for the Builders Arms and City Wine Shop and a founder of minimal intervention winemaking festival Handmade.

He opened Public earlier this year, selling his favourite Australian, French and Spanish sulphur-light organic wines for parties heading to the park. Then, one week before lockdown, chef Ali Currey-Voumard, who earned Tasmania's Agrarian Kitchen Eatery two hats in its inaugural year, added her seasonally focused star power to the mix. This union is a recipe for good weekends.

Crab tart from Public Wine Shop.
Crab tart from Public Wine Shop. Photo: Gemima Cody

Try it now

If the shop is within 10 kilometres, you can reliably pick up charcuterie and cheeses to go with your wine any day.

At weekends, this escalates to grab-and-go dishes like rich, cheesy tart thick with crab meat and showered in greens, or the order-ahead-and-finish-at-home menu, rotating around one main celebratory dish with a couple of beautiful sides.

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There has been an all-in bouillabaisse and a lamb leg stuffed with sorrel served with a composed salad. I pick up a light chicken, ricotta and silverbeet crepinette, wrapped in lacy caul fat and poached in chicken stock.

The team is itching for dine-in to resume, but for now Voumard gets her message across with in-the-moment dishes like fresh broad bean pod and leaf salads with garlic flowers, and instructions bidding you to drink deep and try their favourite board games.

What's to come?

Once dine-in resumes, the shop will seat 20, mostly around a custom West Wood communal table built to put everyone, seated or standing, at eye level.

The wine list? Browse the wall and temperature-controlled fridge and pay the drink-in or takeaway price.

The kitchen? Simply a corner of the cool brick room where Voumard transforms seasonal vegetables, smallgoods from artisan producers and modest meat options into impromptu daily menus that have roots in both her French training and time at the make-it-from-scratch Agrarian Kitchen.

Pre-lockdown, Sunday lunches featured oeufs mayonnaise (creamy egg perfection), a soup of small fish and whiting with toast, finished with chocolate ice-cream. Bring it on.

Public Wine Shop, 179 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North, publicwineshop.com.au. Delivery 10km, Sat-Sun.

Nornie Bero is bringing Torres Strait Island flair to Fed Square with Big Esso by Mabu Mabu.
For Good Food, June 1, 2021.

Nornie Bero is bringing an an island-style party to Fed Square. Photo: Supplied

Big Esso

Nornie Bero's Footscray cafe Mabu Mabu, where native Australian ingredients get the spotlight, has a bright new sibling in Federation Square. Big Esso, a riot of lilly pilly pink, is a fully fledged restaurant, with sustainability and First Nations-owned producers at the forefront.

When lockdown lifts, that will mean dinner of ginger-poached periwinkles, zurra blue-eye (fish broth) served with green ant caviar, and wild boar with pig's blood jus.

Try it now

Heat-and-eat kits are available fortnightly and might feature yam empanadas, tamarind chilli pipis, and scones with golden syrup butter.

From Thursday to Sunday you can pick up grazing boxes. Mine comes stuffed with taro crisps, tzatziki crunched up with samphire for salty vim, bush tomato chutney and emu salami.

See also killer taco kits (pictured right). Fresh tortillas, quickly grilled then loaded with a slaw that is packed with sea succulents, pineapple salsa and the sweet, rich braise of pulled boar with native thyme (sub for yam if vegan) wins the best and messiest award for handheld heaven. Consume outside.

And do not pass go without adding cocktails starring Indigenous-owned spirits (see the Green Ant-ini using Seven Seasons green ant gin).

What's to come?

Expect a big summer at Big Esso. Bero says they will use their generous outdoor area to bring an island-style party to Fed Square. Bring on the desert lime margaritas and seafood feasts.

Big Esso, Federation Square, corner Swanston and Flinders streets, Melbourne, mabumabu.com.au. Delivery 15km, Thu-Sun.

Jaen Jumah's nasi campur daging. This Balinese restaurant opened in Melbourne in 2020.

Jaen Jumah's nasi campur daging. Photo: Supplied

Jaen Jumah

Technically, this isn't a new restaurant. It has been just shy of one year since I last wrote about Jaen Jumah, a takeaway-only business started by a trio of international students trying to stay afloat.

Chef Ida Bagus Palguna, marketing master Raphael Dreki and Devina Wijaya came out of the gate strongly with meticulously executed Balinese favourites, with a strong vegan offering.

Try it now

Easing back into the waters with their greatest hits of last year, this means a nasi campur platter featuring the meats and salads customers loved most in 2020.

Centred around my generous heap of nasi (rice) are sweet, salty caramelised tempeh chips, a spicy, coconutty salad featuring snake beans and strips of jackfruit, and babi merah, soft braised pork with torch ginger sambal. The whole thing, including crunchy pork crackles, deeply caramelised shallots and smoky, sweet, nutty jackfruit skewers, pressed round lemongrass stalks, is to mix and share between two for a silly $35.

Vegan? No problem, the pickings are just as rich, including sambals, all made without shrimp paste. Starting this week, they will also add a special like Balinese pork ribs with a broth on the side.

What's to come?

The trio had hoped to open a bricks-and-mortar venue this year, and while lockdowns put that idea on ice, they are planning pop-ups.

Jaen Jumah, Worksmith, 450 Smith Street, Collingwood. Instagram.com/jaenjumah.melb. Delivery 10km. Orders open Wed for pick-up and delivery Sun.