218 Chapel St Prahran, VIC 3181
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat 11am-1am, Sun 11am-11pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||03 9525 0980|
If we can learn anything from the recent Melbourne Man fiasco, where a street fashion victim was printed on the front page of The Age only to be exposed as a hoax, it's that the hipster is dead and buried. The term is now totally reductive: often lazy shorthand for anything fashionably left-of-centre. So it would be a mistake to label Montereys a "hipster" seafood bar because it brings northside swagger to cool-again Chapel Street. Its crowd of tattooed ingenues would roll their eyes at you for missing the point.
It's certainly a blessing to see life roaring into the venue again, after the loved noughties classic Globe moved on five years ago to be replaced by a string of uninspiring ventures, most recently Osti. The daring San Franciscan revamp feels fresh, not fraught, with a renovation that somehow blends Ralph Lauren beach house with Californian dive bar.
Washed-out pale blue walls reveal shards of rugged brick beneath, the old marble bar buffed to a high gloss, with various cargo such as weathered ship wheels, life rafts and mounted plastic fish artfully and ironically scattered. A dining room out the back is particularly cosy, heavy ropes dangling warm lanterns over linen banquettes, and there's room in a concealed rear bar that is yet to to be developed. Watch this space.
There's plenty of confidence on display, as co-owner Mark Catsburg already runs another of the south side's better venues, the similarly retro Leonard's House of Love, and this venture with partner Kelly Dunn is inspired by the engaged couple's travels along the west coast of America.
The short list of cocktails features some of the best in town right now – the Monterey Spray tastes like a verdant salad in a glass, minty cucumber balanced with apple, elderflower and vodka in a crystal coupe glass. The Smugglers Run is even better, a sunny burst of raspberry and basil with a kick of spiced rum finished with a liberal shower of cracked pepper.
Food from ex-Rockpool/Harley House alumni Daniel Salcedo is faithful to the nautical theme and pulls it off. A pile of school prawns are sharp and crunchy with a light creamy tartare and a sprinkle of paprika, and a dreamy lobster roll comes on a long, flat-bottomed brioche, crisp and buttery, the soft white flesh a balancing act of sweetness and salt, lifted with tangy mayo.
A house seafood chowder is also memorable – a deep, steaming enamel bowl with a nourishing bounty of snapper, mussels, clams, scallops and chorizo chunks in a light, winey broth with a basket of sourdough for dunking. It's a winning winter warmer. There are also options for the sea-free, such as 72-hour braised beef short ribs available in 100-gram chunks, with a side of hefty onion rings, please.
So much about this shouldn't work, but somehow it comes together, a daring thematic experiment in the bones of a once-great venue. Hipster? If you say so.
Vibe: "It feels like Fitzroy in here."
Pro Tip: The owners plan to open a "pirate bar" in a hidden back room.
Go-to Dish: Connecticut lobster roll, $18; Smugglers Run, $18.