Suite 11 45 Collins St Melbourne, VIC 3000
Maybe you've already got the gist of the Mayfair. Melbourne has been waiting for this late-night supper club and restaurant from serious industry players David Mackintosh (the golden-fingered backer behind SPQR, Ides and Lee Ho Fook) and Romeo Lane bartender Joe Jones.
You've probably heard whisper of the caviar service, the live jazz and omelettes served 'til 1am. The question is, have they captured the great historical dream?
It seemed an unlikely site for a 1930s New York supper club pitch. This was formerly Mark Best's spartan Pei Modern at the Sofitel Melbourne on Collins. You now walk into a venetian-shuttered room. A brushed concrete bar with etched glass decanters awaits on your left. A field of linen-clad tables and deep leather booths strikes out to the right. Carpets, ornate light fixtures (including the many-armed gold-and-chain chandelier), and Belinda Aucott's illustrations of champagne bottles bolster the theme.
Does it fully transport you to dining rooms of yesteryear? The still-visible industrial spackled ceiling is a bit of a buzz kill, and adding more ephemera would improve the lived-in bent. But with Sinatra and Holiday crooning over the speakers, and jazz duos playing at weekends, there's still a feeling you could, and should, remember how to get dressed up for dinner.
That's if you come for dinner at all. Jones' bartenders know their specs and you'd settle just for a priming tuxedo. A syrupy-cold, vermouth-wet absinthe-rinsed martini is one of the great old hotel classics he's reviving here. You'd equally swing back for a nightcap Campari, rum and pineapple jungle bird at 1am, when off-duty hospitality workers are claiming the close-set tables facing the bar.
If you are strapping in, chef Ron O'Bryan, who you might have encountered at the Vine or Church Street Enoteca, returns serve with a French-tilting menu that plays between old school (the specials list includes confit duck on Wednesdays, bouillabaisse Fridays) and new. It pays to dance between both worlds.
From the new-school ranks, crab crumpets see a toasty raft loaded with cool spanner crab bound by a lemon aioli and just a hint of Keen's curry mix. It's like an after-school snack for royal sprats. Marron tails from the grill, drenched in a lemon-bright kombu butter, piled with sea succulents and mushrooms, is a salty-fresh dance of umami and seafood.
Steak tartare is a divider. Dry-aged, rough cut, chopped in with a smoke-infused egg yolk, worcestershire and caperberries, it's a beefstravaganza without much of the sweet or mustardy foil you usually expect.
Of the vegetarian options, fried quadrants of artichoke hearts with a mild gruyere custard are fairly one-note versus the greater glory of white asparagus, charred and mighty when dragged through a self-made sauce of smoky egg yolk and brown butter mayonnaise. Woof.
If you can't afford the luxury of the three grades of imported caviar served in Russian porcelain, or the Milking Yard roasted chicken, a day in the prepping and clocking in at $96, playing a straight game isn't stupid. The humble bavette steak at $33, pink, charred, sliced and paired with a pomme puree that threatens to run from the plate, all braced by a radicchio-embittered salad, is all the luxury life demands.
It's an equally diplomatic wine list, interesting at the high end and low, with plenty in the $55-$80 bracket. Perrier-Jouet ($22 by the glass) can be subbed for a biscuity '15 local Domaine Pichot vouvray at $14. Premier crus, burgundies and good vintages are here. But Jamsheed's roussanne by the glass is a structured answer to most questions, and if you've already tried Will Downie's elegant pinots, meet the energetic Charteris pinot from Central Otago.
Little things need work. Shell shards in our sweet Merimbula rock oysters feelsloppy at $4.50 a pop, though it's nice they arrive with dark mignonette and cloth-bound lemon. Small tables in the centre of the room are cramped for more than one share plate and the spell is broken as we have to help tetris our plates. Service is overall good, and excellent from the sommelier, but less experienced staff seem to be play-acting old-school formality in way that feels unnatural.
A textbook creme brulee, crust shattering as delicately as dragonfly wings, accounts for a lot. As does supper, a new menu at 10.30pm and serious eating for the witching hour. Mac and cheese, if mild, has good al dente shells and comes pimped with decent lobes of lobster. The omelette, doused at table with a truffled chicken gravy, is a little salty and strangely tanned but it's been whipped to a set custard yielding silky-souffle consistency.
The Mayfair is a vision of 1930s glamour at a time when nostalgic exuberance makes sense. With the world teetering on nuclear annihilation, why not go big on caviar and hundred dollar hens while you have the chance? Live music, good cocktails, cuff links and etiquette feel like anchors in a storm of uncertainty.
The yesteryear illusion isn't quite there yet. But given the grace of time, I think it will give us the glory of things long lost.
Vibe: Remember how to get dressed up for dinner.
Pro Tip: The supper menu is what adult bedtimes were made for.
Go-to Dish: Crab mayonnaise crumpets ($24).