72 Flinders Ln Melbourne, VIC 3000
"To review or not to review." It's the spicy question that Australian food media have largely been spared from answering, while peers in America and the UK have navigated the choppy waters of restaurants involved in #metoo.
If wage scandals are our cross to bear, fine. Bring it on. I think we should all ask more questions about what it takes for food to come to our tables and who, really, is responsible for the culture of not paying enough. Restaurateurs, or diners? My thoughts are it's both, and that both sides will be righting that balance. There's much food for thought on this subject, like where are the worst discrepancies found? And who should be punished? By whom? And for how long?
Which brings us to Elektra, George Calombaris' Press Club reborn as a more casual resto-bar, tellingly, with the figurehead stepping out of frame. And whatever you think of the Great Wage Debate, in which the Made Establishment has been made an extreme example, I wonder who would want to lay a charge on the head of chef Reuben Davis.
After more than a decade in the trenches and four years in the restaurant group, he had just been handed creative control of this restaurant when the fateful Fair Work Ombudsman ruling dropped.
Through the turmoil, and with Calombaris' support, Davis has turned it into an elegant and engaging proposition where tarama-piped salt and vinegar potato batons and syrup-dripping treacle tarts are available until 1am. I think Melbourne deserves to know this exists. I think Davis and his team, led by the impeccable Vanessa Crichton, deserve their shot.
Take it or leave it, but if you do opt-in, make a booking. Elektra is a new proposition in purpose, but the ex-fine diner's first-class-lounge-on-a-spaceship fitout remains almost fully intact. This means only eight of those camel-toned horseshoe booths are available, with a few bar tables added to the room's end.
It seems strange, not changing the room, logistically at least. Booths face into other booths, and with barriers between them removed, the music must be amped up to create a sense of privacy. But it's excellent, too, having this intensely glamorous room, with its ceiling covered in brassy gold pipes, suddenly yours as a playground, where instead of having to pay a $180 entry fee, you can simply order a $26 dressed crab from a new block letter menu.
You should do that, if it's on. For $26 you are presented with a sweet mountain of mayo-bound crab meat loaded into the upturned carapace, tucked under a duvet of chopped egg and chervil. Served with brioche, it sets the theme for drink-friendly dishes built around carbs, big flavours and luxurious fats.
It's heavy-going, but fun eating here. Malty chewy-crusted bread with cultured butter leads to those sparkly, vinegar-dusted planks of potato roesti squiggled with roe, both whipped into tarama and mounted with bright orange orbs.
Aged beef tartare is dutifully in attendance without being a standout, but plump mussels and spring-sweet broad beans, laminated onto spicy harissa-tomato-soaked toast by a glistening film of cured lardo, demands to be heard.
This, chased by the deep bowl lined with fine slivers of just-seared chicken livers with witlof and fresh tangelo and a boozy hint of brandy and madeira like a deconstructed parfait tells you Davis' years working his way up the totem pole won't go to waste in this format.
What is that format? A restaurant, or a really upscale bar? You're driving. It's up to you. Former Press regulars are still muscling in expecting the kind of service where they can throw a command of "a bottle of red" to the sommelier and have the correct bottle of blaufränkisch appear. It does. Possibly alongside the heft of a crumbed veal schnitzel napped in a sparkling sugo with a thicket of parsley and anchovies draped over the top.
You can do plenty of damage over big business steaks, or elegantly crafted things like barbecued leeks, the sweet hearts removed and bathed in an earthy truffle paste with a frothy creamy white wine sauce, subbing local Quealy wine for the usual vin jaune.
But you could just go straight for the rich butter chicken loaded into a leafy Lune vol au vent. Served with a few quick pickles it's the ultimate catnip for food fans and barflies alike, the flaky pastry acting like a roti of a million leaves. Is it bait? Luring punters over the threshold so Elektra can sell itself. Would that be so bad?
Worse would be if you never knew the union of warm treacly breadcrumbs and an icy sharp whip of licorice sorbet. Worse might be judging from afar.
How you use Elektra is up to you, and so is how you view it. Make that choice first-hand.
Vegetarian Good options: try barbecued leeks with truffle paste and sauce vin jaune.
Drinks A tight one-page old and new world list, with premium bottles for the old guard.
Cost Snacks and small plates $18-$22; large dishes $28-$38.
Pro Tip: Most early bookings will require your table back after one-and-a-half hours.
Go-to Dish: Treacle tart with licorice sorbet ($16).