40 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda, 9534 8221
Licensed AE DC MC V eftpos
Daily noon-4pm, 6pm-late
Entrees $22-$39; Mains $34-$64; Desserts $18-$45
It was the chargrill that did it. Last August, it sputtered and sparked and started a fire that saw this 20-year-old beachfront restaurant close for six long months. But after a $3 million refurbishment it was the smoky charms of a new (safety-enhanced) charcoal grill that wrapped Donovans' many winning qualities in a culinary bow for me. One mouthful of succulent, smoke-swaddled baby barramundi and I was swooning. A fish on a plate – and that's all it was – can say a lot about ingredient sourcing, cooking skill and a restaurant's overall confidence. This barra was pretty shouty.
Other things clutched at my heart, too: the waiter who said "It's good to be home" when asked about the March re-opening; the sunset over the bay and even the selfie-stick-equipped tourists getting their faces into it; the note-imperfect renditions of Happy Birthday sweeping through the dining room like groyne-challenged waves; the magazine-ready bric-a-brac that makes a trip to Donovans feel like a weekend at the beachhouse you never had – and just a little less expensive than buying one.
Donovans has been refreshed but it hasn't really changed, and thank goodness for that. Key dishes have been retained: grilled chilli prawns, a chicken pot pie, glam fish and chips, perfect steak, the crazy big bombe Alaska with its singed meringue crust. Others tread familiar Mediterranean luxe lines, like the casareccia pasta with rich hare ragu and a jiggly two-cheese souffle surrounded by butter-drenched snails. In the world according to Donovans, excellent food and wine is part of an ongoing celebration of the good life. You can stop to notice it if you like, or it can all be part of a happy blur that starts with champagne and ends with a tumble into a taxi. Donovans is a Melbourne fixture and it's great to have her back.