112 Munro St South Melbourne, VIC 3205
|Opening hours||Tue, Wed 4pm-late; Thu, Fri noon-late; Sat, Sun 11am-late|
|Features||Bar, Private dining, Events|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9999 1191|
The beauty of imperfection (enshrined in the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi) is the belief that even though we think we crave perfection, it's irregularities, and little faults that jump out and really get us going. It's the carefully scrunched napkin placed behind a plate in food photos; meticulously styled woke-up-like-this hair; models in couture posed in crumbling ruins. Instagram can't get enough of it and neither can interior designers – juxtaposing slick pieces with weathered backdrops and the odd rustic barrel for a totes casual look that is really anything but.
Enter Half Acre, a renovated mill in South Melbourne doing double time as a restaurant and events space over a huge half acre block that is a perfectly engineered embodiment of this.
You can already picture the boho-chic weddings to come. In fact, if you get dropped off on Governor Road instead of Munro Street, you might end up in one by mistake.
The restaurant, which you'll find after you've also crashed a party in the courtyard (the silent stares will let you know it's the next door down) is stunning. Soft beige banquettes fill a reception room. To one side a brushed concrete bar. To the other, the kitchen stage adorned with mounds of seasonal veg.
Onwards to the glass-ceilinged dining room looking out on that courtyard – an open-roofed section of the warehouse ringed with fern trees whose tops explode like floral firecrackers. Inside, cane chairs, graceful bentwoods, tan leather slingbacks and sleek banquettes line stone tables or bigger wooden ones. There are barrels and native flower sprays, and vintage-y water decanters.
It's beautiful. So beautiful it's almost a little creepy, like you have actually stepped Alice in Wonderland-like right inside Instagram. The pitch of the menu is also very familiar. Informed by a wood-fired oven, there are pizzas, flame toasted vegetable dishes, and your larger meaty options. Pizza aside, it's almost entirely gluten-free. Tick.
But the formula gets a little extra spark thanks to Israeli-born chef Eitan Doran. You might remember his short-lived but excellent Mediterranean/Middle Eastern Deli Counter on Queen Street. More recently, if less excitingly, he was championing the Yarra Valley at Cellar Door at Eastland shopping centre. He is versed at jazzing up an accessible menu.
The strongest cases in point are the vegetable dishes, which set us off at a cracking pace next to a pile of fluffy griddled flatbreads and smoke-infused butter.
The first is a chilled and totally electric plate of corn off the cob, rumbled with fresh green chillies, preserved lemon, toasted almonds, thatches of herbs and ras el hanout, Morocco's best-spices-in-the-cupboard mix. An unusual play of slow-roasted green cabbage, all sweet and soft is brilliant with crumbled toasted goat's cheese and herb-chilli-blitz up chimichurri.
Next comes our pizza, a two-day fermented beast, thin at centre and dressed nicely with tangy tomato, pancetta and a soft-yolked egg to break and finish the pie. Unlike the blistered Melbourne norm, it's chewier, baked rather than blasted so it can share oven space with the veg.
It takes a while for that pizza to show. Longer still for it to leave. As the room fills up, the picture-perfect image tends to crack, and not in the satisfying wabi-sabi way.
Our flathead fillets have lost all juice on the grill and their bedfellow of sweetly pickled carrot delivers a jarring acid jolt. Our grilled prawns have that singed shell acridity and I'm not sure dukkah is a natural friend, although the vibrant zucchini tzatziki beneath them, slicked in its chilli oil, would be a winner with more of those flatbreads.
A chicken dish is back on track – half a braised and sectioned bird drenched in a multi-mushroom gravy. The headliner though is morels, fragrant spongy fungi kings, which are nowhere to be seen among oyster and flat mushrooms, and our waitress takes the question away never to return. (They are from Tasmania, and blitzed through the sauce, I'm later told).
There are strong leaders in management who I think could pull things together. It's early days, but running all the staff through the menu would lift the game significantly. As would cracking some of the more interesting bottles from the mostly Australian, Kiwi wine list for by-the-glass options, which are currently all from the low range, and steering quite acidic.
As 9pm creeps past, seeking a dessert menu when we haven't seen waters filled for 20 minutes becomes a lost cause. I'm still keen to return and see what that roast pineapple with pecan crumble is like, given the strength of the rest of the veg and salads. There's promise here. Half Acre, I would suggest, is halfway to where it's going. But where it's going looks good.
Pro Tip: Weddings, parties and anything are possible here
Go-to Dish: Corn off the cob, with chilli lime dressing