157 Fitzroy St St Kilda, VIC 3182
|Opening hours||Mon-Thu 5pm-midnight, Fri-Sat noon-12:30am, Sun noon-11pm|
|Features||Licensed, Outdoor seating, Bar|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||0421 611 406|
Finally, the sun has come out of hibernation and you can feel the collective swish of tails at the thought of warm Sunday afternoons spent alfresco on tree-lined streets, dappled shadows glancing off the ice in cocktails.
The top end of St Kilda's Fitzroy Street does this kind of leisurely scene particularly well – and even better now Mrs Hopper's in town.
Not an entirely new addition, it's the casual bar operation under the same roof as Araliya – that renowned Sri Lankan fine diner. Sam and Dee Wedande, owners of Araliya, decided they wanted to offer the locals the option of a quick bite as well as a full dining experience.
So, like a reverse mullet of business at the front, party at the back, they've kept a fine dining haven at the back and made way for Mrs Hopper, a snappy, good time gal of a cocktail bar and diner at the front.
It is owned and helmed by Ryan Agar, who has a long history in hospitality and wine wholesaling. He approached Asher Spitz (ex-Cookie) to shape the cocktail side of things. Spitz is a trained chef but more of an alchemist with a passion for cocktails – he makes his own tinctures, syrups, vermouth, he's working on his own absinthe using a waste-minimisation approach (leftover citrus is made into citrus powder), while Araliya's food has always been almost naturopathic in its thoughtful choice of ingredients, making Mrs Hopper all sass with plenty of delicious smarts.
It's a spacious set-up, with a long, L-shaped marble bar, attended to by the warmest staff, with high communal tables and floor-to-ceiling windows that can concertina back to open onto the street and outdoor seating. Plenty of plants and cute graphic illustrations in shades of chilli red and saffron yellow add a stylishly knock-about feel to the place.
Cocktails are divided into "seasonal" – try the refreshing Lynchberg Lemonade with American whiskey, triple sec, lemon, soda and sugar in a tall, cut-crystal glass – and "house mixtures". The El Campo del Cielo, with rum, triple sec, egg white, sugar and mango chutney is at once dry, spiced and tingling. The Death Row blends armagnac with roasted pumpkin bitters.
The food comes from Araliya's kitchen, designed to be shared and eaten with your hands. Go for creamy crab and coconut on betel leaf, maybe a rice flour crepe rolled up and filled with zingy pickled veg or a plate of sweet, sticky chicken ribs.
You can get "short hoppers", which are mini numbers pre-filled with things like confit duck and fried pineapple – they're the bar snack hit of the summer – or the full-blown versions, including doily-like rice noodle string hoppers, perfect for catching some rich beef curry or barramundi with tamarind.
Zesty sides include brussels sprouts with coconut, mustard and cumin or green beans with turmeric and cashews.
Melbourne, spring has sprung and it's time to stake your leisure claim. Head to Mrs Hopper and let the good times roll.
Pro Tip: Happy hour never ends with rotating wines and a cocktail special.
Go-to Dish: String hopper with Sri Lankan beef curry ($18).