John Dory with braised rice, calamari & broad beans.
Patrick Craig describes his menu as modern Italian, and the influence is obvious in his choice of many ingredients, the techniques he learnt at the hand of Florentino’s Guy Grossi in early 2000 and the recently expanded pasta and risotto section at Maris. But, in a way, the label is an understatement.
Craig has been influenced by the Michelin-starred Italian food he admired in Japan and a range of other cultural influences – and combined it all with his own creativity and affinity for bold flavours.
Maris is Craig’s and wife Gabby’s first restaurant. They opened it in 2005 and the then 26-year-old quickly gained recognition. Five years on, there have been changes. The shopfront space underwent a revamp at the hand of interior designer Harriet Devlin earlier this year, and Craig has installed a new young kitchen team and sommelier Liam Hutchison (ex Taxi and Circa).
He’s always cleverly pitched Maris to Malvern locals by having a short, smart wine list, which has been given added depth under Hutchison, and also allowing them to BYO wine. He admits that has reduced his margins, but it’s helped created a loyal customer base, too – although, really, they must come for the challenging, imaginative, artistically presented food.
Take the entrée quail burger: It arrives atop a shaped white “luna” plate and the house-made bun (terrific house-made bread is another obvious Italian influence at Maris) holds an intense, gamey quail patty, a delicate slice of lardo (cured Italian-style pork), a few pieces of earthy, sweet caramelised onions and crisp green salad leaves, all underneath a prettily fried quail egg. Despite its serious execution, there’s a sense of fun to this dish.
It stars alongside a starter dish of ocean-cured trout with smoky potato, apple and horseradish – which on paper sounds slightly bland. But from its arrival in a clear glass bowl, the swirls of orange flesh in the creamy, hickory-smoked potato create a sense of occasion. There’s an unsweetened crème Anglaise layer that’s enhanced by the bite of the horseradish and a scattering of apple pieces that add texture and complexity.
Mains include the expanded pasta and risotto section, with offerings such as buckwheat pasta with savoy cabbage, potato cream and taleggio cheese, or spaghettini with ragu of chicken, pork and veal sweetbreads. They sound fantastic, but we opt for the John Dory with spicy sausage, braised rice, calamari and broad beans, which is a new spring dish, and duck breast flavoured with juniper, leg meat baked with eggplant and potato, which Craig says is a house specialty.
The excellent piece of white fish was close to perfect (perhaps a little undercooked at its centre for my liking) and rested on a dark, richly braised bed of glutinous rice, flavoured with fish stock, saffron and zesty pieces of sausage. At first bite, I expected the delicate fish to be overwhelmed by the intensity of the rice element, but the flavour combinations and textural balance were excellent. Translucent pieces of calamari and the sweet, juicy broad beans finished the package elegantly.
It’s little wonder that Craig has kept the duck dish on his menu for almost 18 months. It’s a triumphant combination of classic flavours. The expertly cooked duck breast has been marinated with basil, fennel, juniper berries and star anise and rests on a fresh, bright bed of spring peas and basil. A small pot of excellent layered eggplant, duck-leg meat and parmesan, in the style of a melanzane, accompanies it.
Desserts such as the spiced quince with pear and ginger sorbet, paired with a vanilla custard, and the Valrhona chocolate and hazelnut soil topped with a cherry sorbet, served with a chocolate-encased caramel custard, sounded too good to decline. I would have liked a little more of the ginger and spice flavours in the first dish – and a better taste of my companion’s chocolate dish – but again these were beautifully presented, carefully crafted, memorable dishes.
There are many things to like about Maris. It’s in the suburbs, so parking is pretty easy, and it’s BYO so you can bring your own treasured bottle of wine. The staff is relaxed, pleasant and informative and prices are reasonable. But in the end it’s the food that does the talking. Chef Patrick Craig’s menu is individual, pleasantly theatrical and full of bold, intriguing flavours. Malvern locals are lucky to have this family-owned business in their neighbourhood.
Maris Restaurant, 15 Glenferrie Road, Malvern
Phone \ 9500 0665
Chef \ Patrick Craig
Prices \ Entrees $15-$20; mains $20-$35; desserts $16
Open \ Tuesday-Friday noon-3pm; Tuesday-Saturday 6-10pm
Maris has undergone a refreshing Arctic blast. The space previously decorated by the owners had showcased many of their own furnishings: an antique sideboard and an eclectic mix of curios. But earlier this year, a transformation took place and now there are crisp white walls, lots of mirrors and smart marble tabletops. Black woven seats on fine chrome frames, a vividly coloured painting and decorative white ironwork add style and interest. It’s a likeable look for a suburban restaurant; it’s not overtly lavish, and when the venue is full, all else becomes a subtle backdrop to the food and the crowd.