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The unexpected bonus of dining with a couple of gay mates at a former wharfie pub in Port Melbourne this week is having them cast a queer eye over The Grahams renovations. This 140-year-old ex-tavern has long since shed its tatts and overalls interior to keep pace with upwardly mobile Port, but it has recently had another makeover that tones down the noise and ramps up the style factor.
My mates lets call them Gav and Waz, because theyll hate that have just finished renovating their impeccably stylish Richmond warehouse and can spot a real Artemide light from a Matt Blatt replica at a hundred paces. Seated in the Grahams handsome dining room picture windows over broad streets, chocolate carpet, bold-toned artworks they swiftly picked the overhead lamps as fake Artemide Logicos (they have the bona fide version at home, naturally) but the curvaceous feature mirror is the real Philippe Starck deal and the Thonet chairs are genuine too. All told its an appealing facelift, as much for its good looks as its fiscal restraint. And noise levels are much more civilised now the beech-ply finishes and Baltic pine floors have been banished.
The other big change at the Graham is its new head chef, Shayne McCallum, who was elevated from his sous position in May when Daniel Lewis, ex-Arintji and Blakes, left to open his own restaurant in Collingwood.
McCallum seemed to have everything under control during a Sunday lunch when the restaurant and separate function room were packed with feasting diners. The menu read as appetisingly as ever, and some of his plates were pretty as a painting. Case in point: cured kingfish morsels spiced with allspice, clove, cinnamon and chopped thyme, artfully arranged on a rectangular plate with halved baby beetroot, crisp discs of pancetta, splodges of dill-laced yoghurt and red mizuna shoots.
There was a similar flair to the winning combination of lightly battered crunchy mudcrab smeared with wasabi mayo and sitting on a tumble of yuzu pickled vegetables and nori.
Of the three mains we ordered, the standouts were Wazs lemon-crumbed veal stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto sort of like a veal Kiev but with oozy cheese rather than garlic butter and the half-roasted Glenloth (i.e. free-range, corn-fed) chicken with one leg swaddled in pancetta, some duck-fatty kipflers and plenty of pan juices. The kipflers were cut into tiny nuggets that resembled spaetzle noodles but their rich wintry goodness outshone the unusual presentation. The only off note was a bowl of hand-cut chips that lacked crunch and flavour. We would have been much happier with a cracking serve of golden, salty, commercial-brand fries.
Desserts are old school with new tricks, as in the sticky date soufflé with tonka bean ice-cream and a quince and almond clafoutis (basically a small baked pudding) with a shot glass of gingerbread ice-cream on the side. Substituting the traditional cherry filling with quince was inspired; the perfumed fruit mingled sweetly with the ice-creams potent vanilla bean and ginger.
Co-owner Tony Giannakis has compiled a seriously excellent list of lubricants to complement McCallums high-calibre food. There are 27 by the glass, from Billecart-Salmon to an '08 Leconfield cab sav, and hundreds by the bottle. No one could browse this list and come away disappointed, regardless of whether their tastes ran to a premier cru burgundy, an elegant McLaren Vale shiraz grenache by S.C. Pannell or a 98 Chateau dYquem sauterne.
Our tastes ran to a Domaine Christian Salmon Sancerre that we enjoyed so much we had a second bottle, then a Pedro Ximenez chaser. This may explain the favourable review, but I think thats got more to do with the sophistication of The Graham. Theres a polish to everything from the service to the wine and food and now, with its chic designer reno, the interiors as well.
The Graham, Corner Graham Street and Esplanade West, Port Melbourne
Cuisine Modern Australian
Chef Shayne McCallum
Hip pocket Three courses about $150 for two; ample wine choice in the $40-$60 range
Open Daily, noon-3pm, 6-10pm
Highlights New look, new chef, dazzling wine list
Lowlights Boring hand-cut chips
Bookings Yes, 9676 2566We rate it 7.5/10