25 Toorak Rd South Yarra, VIC 3141
|Opening hours||Wednesday-Saturday 5.30pm-late, Friday-Sunday noon-3pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 9038 8088|
THEME: A LITTLE LUXURY
Luxury is relative. In Japan, prestige dining might mean eating slivers of potentially poisonous fugu. In Indonesia, it could be a healing stew of black chicken. In Iran, fragrant saffron signals riches.
And in Italy, treasures include prized white truffles. At Vesper, a restaurant that pays homage to the islands of the Mediterranean, luxury is expressed in poised, sunny hospitality and pretty, produce-driven food.
Oh, and also caviar. The "Pearls and Caviar" entree is signature and signal: Vesper is here to cosset and coddle, not just feed and fuel. The row of roe is a triple-play of dainty appetisers starring three different types of fish eggs.
Golden trout pearls sit over furls of ocean trout. Black sturgeon caviar from Siberia crowns translucent prawn tartare.
Smoked salmon roe is mounded over a creamy disc of mozzarella. It's a delicious series of fancies, popping with briny promise.
Italian chef Francesco Castellana uses classic technique to pleasing effect throughout the menu. Scialatielli (a thick pasta made with parmesan dough) is tossed with clams and broad beans in saffron bisque.
Handsome John Dory fillet is served with bottarga-dusted gnocchi. Glossy roasted beetroot lolls on peanut hummus. Zuccotto – the rich cousin of tartufo – paddles in berry coulis.
It's all delightful but just as disarming is the whole lemon, placed on every table with a knife, for diners to do with as they wish. Cut a wedge for your mineral water. Squeeze it with abandon over your fish. It's a charming pointer to Vesper's balance of approachable and elevated.
Owners Duncan and Marlane Fraser-Smith are back in Melbourne after 13 years in Dubai. Marlane worked in five-star hotels, Duncan opened 180 restaurants in the region. They opened Vesper in February, roller-coasted through lockdowns and are now finding rhythm.
The professionalism and polish is evident, whether you're in for a meal or having a catch-up party in the garden room at rear. Vesper distils hospitality smarts and Mediterranean elan in a sparkling, upscale package.
Just opened in the Chinatown premises that previously housed Annam, this oyster and cocktail bar is shucking its way towards summer. If you're not all about shellfish, the appealing snack menu leans towards the retro and Euro; think salt cod beignet with sorrel cream and Toulouse sausage with pickled onion.
56 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, 03 8393 9367, pearldiver.com.au
Gimlet at Cavendish House
I love the balance of majesty and detail at Andrew McConnell's city dining room, a grand stage for your version of Paris via New York on Flinders Lane. My picks of the spring menu are the asparagus with sauce gribiche and the simple, sublime strawberries Romanoff.
33 Russell Street (corner Flinders Lane), Melbourne, 03 9277 9777, gimlet.melbourne
Yugen Tea Bar
There have been numerous attempts to turn coffee-obsessed Melbourne towards tea. Could this brand new tea salon at Capitol Grand be the place that turns a brief brew into sustained steeping? Tea sommelier Thibaut Chuzeville hopes so: book a 45-minute tasting experience to turn cuppa into rapture.
605 Chapel Street (corner Toorak Road), South Yarra, yugenteabar.com.au