625 Chapel St South Yarra, VIC 3141
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat 5.30pm-late|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Bar|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 8080 8080|
You can't miss the duck. Spend an evening at Omnia, a grand neighbourhood bistro worth crossing town for, and it will be ferried past, skin gleaming, aroma wafting. Roasted breasts on the bone are presented intact to the table, then whisked away for carving.
When they return, the meat is fanned on the plate, while the slow-braised leg meat is pressed into bricks and topped with herb powder. The presentation is breathtaking, the texture melting, the flavour intense and true, the sauce silky and sticky yet perky.
On the one hand, this is a simple bird to share between two. On the other, it's the quintessence of planning, skill and execution, plus intuitive and intelligent service, that creates a sublime dining experience.
Part of the magic of eating out is the invisibility of the hard work that gets the food in front of you. Sure, the duck sauce was built on three different stocks, but diners don't necessarily want to know about the graft nor the epic logistical gymnastics that underpin restaurants.
That's fine, it's what we pay for, but if we don't value the complexity of restaurants we're at greater risk of a bland dining landscape. We're part way there already: dishes are repeated on menus all over town, kitchens buy in portioned meat and pre-made desserts, and skills are eroding, especially in a pressured, understaffed pandemic context.
Given that, let's love those restaurants doing everything from scratch, not because we hanker for an artisan fantasy land but because they're training the next generation of cooks and waiters in bedrock skills they can build on with creativity and purpose. Those like Omnia, headed by chef Stephen Nairn.
Dishes here are designed to be delicious above all but they also work as training modules. A corn tart is a collaboration between the pastry team who make the tart shell and the kitchen crew, who learn how to thicken corn juice, make savoury custard and evenly slice baby corn to decorate the top. The finished dish is as luxurious as a creme brulee, as bright as sunshine.
Desserts are built on classic ideas with gleeful splashes of surprise. Rocket-shaped petit fours take three days to make in subterranean prep and training kitchens.
Lemon bavarois conceals delicious choc-mint "pebbles", a whisper of spiced caramel and gentle lemon-scented rhubarb syrup.
Omnia is an upmarket let's-grab-dinner bistro that you can also use as a special occasion restaurant.
The offering is straightforward – tasty European food presented with class and flair – but the philosophy is profound: honour the craft of cooking and the art of restaurant dining.
Rating: Four and a half stars (out of five)