There are people who dedicate their lives to stockpiling water, learning bushcraft and the ins and outs of spam cuisine making ready for the apocalypse. They're called preppers. Right now, chef Steven Nairn, last seen sizzling steak and making crab flatbreads at Scott Pickett's Matilda 159, is engaged in a sort of luxury brand of prepping, trialling duck parfaits and pumpkin creations on the South Yarrans he hopes to be feeding when he takes over not one restaurant, but a whole new world of them as part of the Capitol Grand development, opening later this year.
Plenty of local businesses have an apocalyptic view of these developments, which are rapidly popping up all over Melbourne. Sure, they're bringing in extra residents, but they also come ready-packaged with shops, day spas and their own eateries with hungry seats to fill. And while it used to be easy to say that businesses built on people-pleasing algorithms will never trump local restaurants, developers are getting smarter – and they have coin. They're hiring the right people, the good designers. Their menus say the correct things about real issues like seasonality and provenance.
Capitol Grand is backed by rich-lister Larry Kestelman, the man who founded Dodo internet company and owns the National Basketball League. He's boldly taking the reins of all Capitol Grand's three dining venues and bars, and while he's never run hospitality venues before, he means business. And he knows business.
Omnia may just be a pop-up, testing dishes and drinks for the French-Italian all-day diner but it looks, sounds and feels like a very real restaurant. This used to be steak and champagne salon 25 Toorak Road, and it has been outfitted for the residency with thick leather pillows, enveloping green chairs and strong pieces of timber and marble – a set-up plenty couldn't afford for the real thing. The artworks are Bromleys, and the key personnel behind the cocktail program are Orlando Marzo, one of Melbourne's top bartenders, with ex-Oter and Coda manager Tom Hunter commanding the floor.
Nairn was also a calculated choice for the gig. His years at Eleven Madison Park, Vue de Monde and Matilda mean these are casual bistro dishes with jazz hands.
Lacy pastry cigars crackle open to reveal gently smoked salmon bound with creme fraiche, the tubes sealed with chopped chives – blinis flavours with a cannoli execution. A French classic combo of mussels with creamy-spicy saffron and cayenne emulsion, rouille, sees both loaded onto a prawn cracker-like chip made with scallops for a single bite of sea. Duck parfait, a slab of silk, is heavily garlic powered, but a dainty row of tangy cherry crescents, a cubist spill of neatly diced sherry jelly and proud Parker rolls (a soft milk bun with a crackling glaze) make it worth the order.
But it's not just Nairn's skills on the pans. His connections bring that essential legitimacy to the whole operation. Waiters here can tell you about Mark Foletta: the guy from Benalla grows those cherries and brings the organic pumpkins decorating the front of the room. He also hunts their pine mushrooms which become the rich tart of silken cream topped with toasted slices of the buttery, fruity fungi, all captured in the crispest pastry shell.
The pastry section, manned by chef John Demetrios (also ex-Vue de Monde) is also kicking some goals. Once you've progressed through a whole flounder, its tender marshmallowy flesh sluiced in simple brown butter with lemon and capers, tackled a round of rich potatoes dauphinoise-turned-croquettes, and maybe the expertly deboned, chicken mousse stuffed quail, with a nutty jumble of cauliflower and grains, you'll find a high-tech banana split with fruit-made-fudge knocking around with rich chocolate sauce, rum-raisin ice cream and a crown of fruity bark.
It's a pretty smooth restaurant all round. Marzo's cocktail programme is typically marked by smart infusions that make for a lighter negroni topped with a round of orange-flavoured white chocolate, and a bone dry cucumber spritz that takes boozeless drinking seriously. Everything is available in full or three-sip fun size. Tom Hunter's 150 bottle list can excite in the drinking, and in the bill-paying if you slip and fall into the coravin selection, flush with bordeaux beauties.
So Omnia works. Omnia is delicious. Are you surprised, when the crew has been picked like a fantasy football team? I'm not, and I'm glad for South Yarra that another winner is on the cards. I just hope a future full of luxury developments and Omnias is one that leaves room for the France Soirs.
Address: 25 Toorak Road, South Yarra, omniabistro.com.au
Open: Tue-Sat 5.30pm-late.
Vegetarian: Two snacks, two entrees one main, sides.
Drinks: Sharp cocktails of low-no booze options, French and Australian wine stars.
Cost: Snacks $6-$14; starters $16-$21; mains $32-$38.
Go-to dish: Flounder with burnt butter and capers $36.
Pro tip: Check which wines you're saying yes to lest you fall into a $38 glass.