Gilson restaurant review

Crunchy potato focaccia.
Crunchy potato focaccia. Photo: Stefan Postles

171 Domain Rd South Yarra, VIC 3141

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Opening hours Daily 6am-11pm (closed Sun-Mon nights in winter)
Features Bar, Accepts bookings, Breakfast-brunch
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9866 3120

Well isn't Gilson just the picture of 2017. On the menu are cocktails and brunch. It serves stracciatella, roasted half chickens, grain salads and steak frites. If I need to tell you it's marble-tabled, sleek of tile and flush with greens, you haven't ventured out in the past six months. The theme and look of it all is so universal your only geolocation clue is the two dudes braying at each other about their recent gym session and forthcoming trip to Dubai.

You are, in fact, on Domain Road at the pretty all-day cafe and restaurant from Jamie and Loren McBride, a duo not strangers to trends. Their cafe Mammoth gifted Melbourne the lobster doughnut burger. Barry in Northcote pays much lip service to kale and activated nuts. When they opened this full service restaurant in December it was with a wildly broad menu of French classics, pizzas, tartares and chia bowls. At the six-month mark, they've brought in long-time McConnell group chef John Paul Twomey as executive to tighten the screws.

Twomey is a good shout for the task. The task being playing to the old-school punters of this 'hood with steak frites and oysters, while building the lower base with cocktails and the virtues of being hot and young.

Gilson in South Yarra is 2017 in a nutshell.
Gilson in South Yarra is 2017 in a nutshell. Photo: Stefan Postles

And it seems to be succeeding. Walking the strip past stayers such as Bacash and the Botanical, even the more youth-focused Entrecote further down, it's Gilson that has the most smokers on the deck and drinkers in the tiled bar.

The dish that speaks most clearly of Twomey, and the McConnell group by proxy, takes the form of a garfish tart. A fillet of the needle-nosed fish, richer and darker than tuna, but far less funky than sardines, is showered with pickled onion, green chives and aioli over a finger of herby lavosh. See also a Cumulus Up-ish plate of pickles for swiping through goat's curd.

From the snack gallery comes an excellent starter of potato focaccia, crisp shelled and soft-bellied to crunch hotly against the cream and green of spring onion oil and smashed burrata. It's not unlike Victor Liong's Chinese pizza at Lee Ho Fook.

Garfish tart is your rich, meaty and fresh snack go-to.
Garfish tart is your rich, meaty and fresh snack go-to. Photo: Stefan Postles

Is a riff on vitello tonnato placing tuna cream over ham-like smoked pork instead of veal better than the original or an easier sell than calf? There's a not-bruschetta too where grilled cuttlefish threads crown eggplant cooked to meltdown with a Sichuan tingle of chilli oil. Were you to separate the delicate squid from the delicious but dominant eggplant on its hefty crouton, you'd have two great dishes for the price of a conflicting one.

There are a lot of perks to carefully curated businesses like this. Systems yield steady service. It's a background ripe for pics. Dishes even come on paper sheets emblazoned with logos for the perfectly branded shot. In the morning the counters are laden with pastries. There are places to position your designer dog outside. Their half roast chicken has skin with the fully rendered shatterabilty of a Peking duck and a green goddess sauce – the herb, mayo and anchovy blitz-up that's an edible way to describe the colour green.

It has everything you need for successful dining from manhattans to mocktails, buttered pumpkin ravioli to grain salads for the skinny crowd. There's actually such box-ticking uniformity it might cause a small Fight Club rebellion in your heart.

Cone Bay barramundi on a tomato curry.
Cone Bay barramundi on a tomato curry.  Photo: Stefan Postles

Calm the beast. Eat a rum baba. It's never not a good idea and a soothing oblong of firm cake, hot liquor and chilled vanilla diplomat cream. Not every restaurant has to break the mould. 

Pro Tip: They host a florist on the deck at weekends.

Go-to Dish: Garfish tart ($4 each).