106-112 Hardware Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000
If only we would stop throwing those shrimps on the barbie for a second, we would realise that Americans have much to teach Australians about barbecue. That is, the slow, smoky barbecue that's an obsession in the United States' deep south, using cheap cuts such as ribs (from pork, beef and lamb) and beef brisket (from the chest). You can tell Nieuw Amsterdam is a fan because there's a good chance you'll stumble into a fragrant, smoky fug when you arrive.
The handsome upstairs restaurant is the fetching gentleman to the basement's speakeasy sleazebag. Both have their allure; the restaurant is bright by day with large arched windows and semi-secluded nooks. The bar throbs all night.
On either floor the drinks list is so creative and expansive that it would seem churlish to leave sober. If you don't fall for the lamb-fat-washed mint julep then you're made of stronger stuff than I. (Fat-washing entails steeping alcohol in butter or lard then filtering it to create flavoured liquor. In this case lamb, whisky and mint are kookily logical bedfellows.)
Chef Nick Stanton (ex-Woods of Windsor) brings high-art appreciation to lowbrow food to create enjoyable dishes that are more about indulgence than authenticity. Beef brisket, cooked for two days in a water bath until it gives up all resistance, is smoke-grilled then placed on a lunch tray with oozy mash, thick gravy and peppered slaw. There's a fancier dinner version of the brisket with carrot salad.
Nieuw Amsterdam isn't just about the South, nor indeed Amsterdam (the name recalls the 17th-century Dutch settlement on Manhattan's southern tip). The menu is peppered with New York classics such as the Reuben sandwich and clam chowder. There's a Japanese inflection to the excellent shrimp salad with sesame, soy beans and miso mayo and a vaguely Vietnamese view from the vehemently victorious pork sandwich with pate and crackling.
The kitchen's outlook is freewheeling but the food is rock-solid and free of pretension. In fact, the only pretence on my visit was when I imagined I could fit in dessert, but it was a chocolate delice with molten centre, so you can see why I had to try.
Rating: Three stars (out of five)