953 High St Armadale, VIC 3143
|Opening hours||Lunch daily|
|Features||Bar, Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9978 1968|
It's 2.30 in the afternoon at Victor Churchill in Armadale, midweek, and the marble horseshoe bar at the back of the gleaming butcher shop is full.
Next to me, a woman dining alone orders a glass of wine, the steak frites ($46) and a crisp side salad ($11). Two older gentlemen across from me are getting stuck into a serving of oscietra caviar (10g for $85). I'm sipping a Manhattan ($24) and waiting on a procession of dishes no one in their right mind would eat for lunch.
Right now, lunch is my only option. The bar at the back of the famously lavish and beautiful butcher shop, which opened in Melbourne last November (Victor Churchill has been operating in Sydney since 2009), was originally slated to open for dinner service early this year, but the hospitality staffing crisis made that impossible.
That's the bad news: the good news is that dinner will likely be commencing in the coming weeks. Which is excellent, because this is food made for night-time.
While you could certainly stop by for a quick drink and a charcuterie plate ($42), the real temptations on head chef Carl Walden's menu are the steaks, cooked over a charcoal-fired Josper grill and served with classic accompaniments.
But first, a prawn cocktail ($25), as simple as can be: chilled fat prawns, lemon, a side of cocktail sauce. Or better yet, a dozen oysters ($64), served with a red wine and eschalot mignonette.
Despite the fact that I have steak in my future, I can't resist the steak tartare ($28), served with waffle-like gaufrette crisps and topped with a deep-orange, raw egg yolk. Although the caper/parsley/mustard preparation is utterly traditional, I wish it were a little more restrained to allow the flavour of the raw O'Connor pasture-fed eye fillet to shine through.
I feel similarly about a chicken liver and foie gras parfait ($29), which is gorgeously silky in texture. But the addition of truffle to the mix somewhat overpowers the taste of buttery liver.
For a restaurant inside a store that has based its entire reputation on the quality of its ingredients, there are times when I wish the kitchen would pull back just a little and allow that quality to shine through.
This isn't a problem with the steaks themselves, which range from $46 for that steak frites – a generous serving of flank steak – to $235 for a one-kilogram Rangers Valley Black Market 270-day, grain-fed bistecca. I take the middle ground, going for the dry-aged O'Connor pasture-fed cote de boeuf for two ($165).
To say this steak was a thing of glory is underselling it – it was gorgeously crusted on the outside, fantastically bloody within, the dry-ageing making even the fat tangy with beefy flavour.
A wedge salad ($13) was the perfect accompaniment: the fresh snap of lettuce drizzled with blue cheese and crumbled smoky bacon a wonderful foil to the meat.
Desserts tend towards French classics. A chocolate fondant with pears ($17) took me back to a barely sweet, warm chocolate cake from the room-service menu in a tiny hotel I stayed at in Paris decades ago. I was obsessed with that cake, and I'm now a bit obsessed with this dessert. There's some serious talent in the pastry department here.
Another nice thing about lunch service: it's far easier to nab a spot at this time. There are only 12 seats at the bar, and my money is on them being fully booked in the evenings. And while there is a plan to add a few more fish and vegetarian dishes to the menu once dinner commences, the bulk of the offering will remain the same as it is now.
I look forward to eating this classic steakhouse fare for dinner, but there's something extremely luxurious about swanning in and dining on food this decadent in the middle of the day.
The people sitting nearby agree. The woman next to me swoons over her steak; the caviar guys slap one another on the back and order another bottle of wine. I sip a glass of armagnac ($20) and bask in the afterglow of a seriously opulent meal. We're all going to need a nap.
Vibe: All copper and black marble; Paris bistro meets Bond villain's exquisite lair
Go-to dish: Cote de boeuf for two ($165)
Drinks: Classic cocktails using local spirits and a fantastic wine list, curated by beverage manager Krish Chakrabarty, that features blowout bottles alongside real bargains
Cost: $250 for two, excluding drinks
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine