A CATERER, a chef and a restaurant manager walk into a brothel.
Sounds like the beginning of a joke I’m certainly not going to tell. But it is what’s happened down at 4 Yarra St. Sort of.
For while this part of South Yarra is now a block of apartment towers, in a not-too-distant past it was an industrial zone of warehouses and 4 Yarra St was a house of ill repute.
The ladies have since moved on, their office long razed and now replaced by more than 350 apartments and Sth Central on ground floor.
This is the first restaurant for cool catering group Tommy Collins and their hospitality smarts shine through this sharp neighbourhood joint pitched at their equally sharp neighbours.
When was the last time you saw a dark restaurant? Within the overexposed world of exposed brick, blond wood and living greenery, those places that embrace their dark side — Scott Pickett’s ESP comes to mind — stand out. So it is here; while the windows flood the space with light, inside is monochromatically chic, wearing its uniform of black as proudly as any Melburnian. A still by video artist Shaun Gladwell adds a dramatic splash of colour. It’s a rather sexy space.
That design is by firm Molecule, which has the simple things right — a wonderfully worn leather banquette at the right height for the tables, for instance, and while we’ve seen exposed ducts and roof bits elsewhere, here it creates a soaring ceiling space that adds untold airiness to what is essentially a compact 60-odd seater with bar along one side, open kitchen the other.
Getting the simple things right extends to the service, with Leroy Smith leading a team already well-versed in the how-to’s that adds up to so much more: prices with specials, writing orders down, beautiful cutlery. It’s attentive, clever, clearly invested in getting it right, whether you’re here for a bite, or making a night.
And why wouldn’t you settle in with a bottle, for there is lots of good wine here, the list studded with alternative varietals (greco, fiano, fruiliano) and cultish producers (Alpha Box and Dice, Luke Lambert) without veering into annoyingly niche.
Sth Central opened in December with Daniel Southern in the kitchen offering a focused menu of bistronomy hits that I liked very much. But it was a false start and Daniel has since returned to The Prince where he’s previously worked, with Nick Mahlook (last seen at Stokehouse City) and Sam Hocking (Stokehouse, Ezard) taking over the coal oven and Inka grill. As well as adding pop-in-for-a-quiet-bite hits at night — gnocchi and steak, fried chicken and sticky lamb ribs — they’re offering rib-wiches at noon and avo and bircher breakfasts to more fully realise a vision of the day-through-night neighbourhood joint.
And if this is your ’hood, this is quite the joint.
It’s not mine, but I’ll happily come back for the glorious roasted chicken.
The standout dish... smoked half chicken.Source:News Limited
Half a chook, salty and tender fresh from a smoke in the oven, has a crisp-tanned skin that gives way to fall-off-the-bone flesh filled with flavour. It’s deeply delicious on its own, but when swiped through the sharp labne underneath and eaten with the forest of fresh herbs on top, it makes the case for best-in-class in a city that’s taking its fowl seriously indeed ($27).
And I’ll be back for one of the most surprisingly understated line items on a dessert menu: pear, saffron, almond tart. This individual beauty comes baked to order, its sugary pastry with a caramelised crust the crunchy mattress for the frangipane pillow on which a warmed pear rests its cheeks. Adorned with a quenelle of creme fraiche and you have the stuff of sweet dreams ($15).
Earlier on that gnocchi, pan-tossed until golden in a buttery sauce dotted with sharp goats’ curd with mint, zucchini ribbons and baby peas adding bursts of sweetness, was perfectly satisfying, though needed a hit of salt on the table ($22).
Excellent mussels, all plump with brine and then smoked, served with a velvety saffron aioli to eat on crisps to start ($12) and PX-sticky lamb ribs ($4 each) are both good friends to a crisp Cricketers Arms lager ($7), though not as bosom-buddy tight as the crunchy fried cauliflower florets ($9).
Sides are a highlight, whether the sneakily virtuous bowl of quinoa tossed through charred corn with pepitas for crunch and ricotta for creaminess ($10), or one of the best salads of the season: freshly podded peas and shoots tossed through a horseradish dressing with the genius addition of sharp blueberries for bite ($12).
Good food, good wine, good time. At 4 Yarra St they are here to please.
4 Yarra St, South Yarra
Ph: 8679 6755
Open: Breakfast through dinner, daily from 7am
Go-to dish: Smoked half chicken