227 Camberwell Rd Hawthorn East, VIC 3123
|Opening hours||Tue-Sun noon-late|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9882 6699|
You wouldn't call Camberwell Junction a food desert but this eastern intersection is definitely not known as a dining destination. That's why it is such a surprise to arrive at a pumping all-day venue mere metres from the junction. In just a few months, Young's (and its pizza-pub neighbour East End Wine Bar) have transformed the neighbourhood.
Things are now happening that would have been impossible last year, and I'm not just talking about the unknown lady who spilled from the kerb into my Uber in a manner little seen in the leafy east. No, I'm also talking about sitting down for fiano and kingfish, rib eye and syrah, fun and frolics in a place that feels like a destination in its own right, not just a make-do because you can't be bothered heading into the city.
The huge building was previously Young's Auctions, for 85 years a trove of diamond necklaces and antique curios, before being taken over by James Klapanis, an experienced restaurateur with history in the area. In 2015, he opened St Cloud Eating House, a mod-Viet hangout in Nowheresville, Hawthorn; it's full every night.
Launching restaurants in the inner-city ring would be more obvious but Klapanis gets a kick out of making a difference in under-served suburbs. He's lovingly shaped a multi-zoned venue with bar, indoor courtyard and pavement seating. The distressed bricks and stone tables are handsome but it can get ear-ringingly noisy; think school mum cocktails rather than chitter-chatter with an elderly aunt.
Chef Nicola Akritidis (ex-Park Street Pasta) oversees a southern Europe snack-heavy menu that draws on his Greek background plus the skills of a collegial kitchen team with Turkish, Italian and Spanish personnel.
Tapas include the classic Basque gilda, a palate-livening assembly of green olive, green chilli and anchovy. There are patatas bravas, golden fried potatoes with aioli and spiced tomato: it's hard to go wrong there.
Mussels are served in the shell over herbed freekeh like a tiny, trendy paella. Sweet house-cured salmon is furled with lightly pickled cucumbers. Hummus is turned from dip into dish by serving it with radishes, fried parsley and pickles. It's all pleasingly easy to eat.
Larger dishes include a monumental octopus tentacle, scored, charred and played off against smoky harissa. There's a really good duck breast dish, smoked in hay, cooked to tender pink, the skin crisp and the fat rendered. It's served with silky carrot puree, blackberries and sticky jus.
"Tarte tatin" takes a non-traditional line: a whole apple is roasted, perched on a pastry disc and stabbed with a crisp wafer. It's good but would taste even better if it was called something else. Some classics don't need a rethink.
Overall, the food works well, though portioning and pacing could do with tweaks: my party of two had the tasting menu ($65) and we were full of grilled broccoli within 10 minutes.
Any Melbourne restaurateur will tell you how hard it is to find staff. Service here is willing but doesn't always shine the best light on the impressive Eurocentric wine list. Our waiter steered us towards pinot gris, then admitted it was the only wine on the list she'd tried.
Far be it for me to suggest that hospo staff should drink more but it would be nice to have value-add vino banter from a place that calls itself a wine room.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)