4 Saxon Street Brunswick, Victoria 3056
It's like a tidal wave of pretty smashed right into Host. No-one here is under an eight on the hotness scale. Nor, for that matter, is anyone over 35. This is Host, a warehouse conversion in the backstreets of Brunswick, by a couple of graphic designers turned cafe owners and now restaurateurs.
And while it breaks one of Melbourne's dining rules (you know – those curses that say the better the view, the worse the food; that you can't get good drinks and also dance, and that sexy scene restaurants aren't typically also smart) here the crowd is as nuclear hot as the craft gin martinis are perfectly syrupy cold.
Yep, millennials raised in the time of MasterChef and mainstream craft beer have grown up, got money, and are ready for the nicer things in life. And they're currently seeking them here.
When you sit at one of the sleek communal tables, you'll be in the company of at least $2000 of eyewear and more Melbourne-designed shirt dresses than you've ever seen in the wild. It's like Andy Warhol's Factory hangout for a generation whose pop culture is food.
The place is trending hard. It's the jackpot in restaurant bingo: skin-contact wines, local craft spirits, and the full glossary of ingredients you've barely heard of. For the bonus round: wall-mounted greenery (those primordial ferns that sucker onto logs fill the atrium) and veg-based dishes so committed to being a main event they'll give you a coronary as easily as half a pig.
None of which implies this first restaurant for Nedim and Majda Rahmanovic, graphic designers and founders of Twenty & Six Espresso, is generic. The pair's designer past makes this one of the nicest spaces around – booths crowned with striped arches of multi-toned woods; a glowing bar-ringed kitchen and detailed charcoal portraits.
The cocktails number just five, but are a bartender's death row picks: negroni, martini, sour, spritz (Casa Mariol vermouth, on tap) and a rotating highball. The all-local beer list is a nicely pitched rainbow of saisons, browns and porters with just one floral sucker punch in Boatrocker's Hop Bomb.
The wine list is equally tight and mostly the kind of barnyard, textured gear low-intervention nuts love. You could build a house on the structure of the La Violetta Das Sakrileg riesling from Western Australia. Many will love Tom and Sally Belford's Bobar chardonnay in the $60 range. There's Georgian and Jura action if you want international intrigue (and can pay). It's an excellent place to drink, especially before a gig at nearby Howler.
When it comes to eating Florian Ribul's food, the key is to apply a less-is-more rule. He's serving a rotating list of dishes with plenty on the veg front, and featuring an all-star line-up of exotic produce from chicken hearts with pepperberry to pheasant legs with pickled onions. And though they're fine, sometimes great individually, they're often amplified so similarly with oils, seeds that they all tend to blend.
There's brilliance in simplicity: a cob of the hot malty bread with a pot of spreadable nduja, the spicy sausage melting into the dough. And also in bolder moves, like the silky smooth morcilla-like dip that comes bristling with bay – and chive-dusted crisps (delicious, incidentally, with a cinnamon, chocolate and gentle meaty edge). Though, calling it "blood butter" on the menu as if it's daring you to take offence does give an inkling that sometimes this is a kitchen that pushes when it could pull.
Tiny brussels sprouts are sweet and roasty, peppered with crisp little anise-flavoured bursts of pork fat and a bigger injection from lardo strips and nutty sunflower seeds. It's a similar story with anchovy-salted, deeply caramelised wedges of cabbage dressed with fried pepitas and fresh mint.
By the time you hit the oil glossed plate of knobbly jerusalem artichokes with a bitter blitz of cima di rapa, a slightly firm pan-fried piece of mulloway and grainy bites of buckwheat, you're craving crisp, clean reprieve.
Ironically, this probably means switching oil rich vegetable dishes for raw kingfish assertively daubed with fermented lime, and cultured cream – odd but intriguing. Or, order less, and use your wine as a palate scythe.
It's perfectly pitched for grazing over dining. Who has dinner anymore, anyway?
Pro tip High falutin' pre-gaming for gigs at Howler down the road.
Go-to dish Blood butter with potato crisps, chive and bay is not as gross as it intentionally sounds ($10).
Like this? Sharp drinks, all the foliage, and a beautiful crowd? Rupert on Rupert, 73 Rupert Street, Collingwood.