Karen Martini's new flagship restaurant, Hero, in Melbourne, is a sign that the city is coming back.

It was years in the making but Hero is the right restaurant for this moment, a vibrant signal that Melbourne is back. Arrive via the Flinders Street entrance and it’s impossible to ignore the Australian Centre for the Moving Image after its two-year, $40-million update. Enter from Federation Square and you’ll pass the colourful beanbags and Astroturf laid out to induce people to linger in the heart of the city.

Yep, Melbourne is back and food polymath Karen Martini (chef, cookbook author, recipe writer and TV presenter) was the right person to deliver its revival restaurant.

Karen Martini, Melbourne, Victoria

Decked out with Pop Art portraits of Aussie greats, including local boy Nick Cave, the Chris Connell Design interiors deftly convey Hero’s smart-casual soul through powder-blue steel, light oak and glossy pegboard panels.

Taking diners from brunch through to late-night supper with the brio of three decades spent at Icebergs in Sydney, the Melbourne Wine Room and Mr. Wolf, Martini’s Italian-leaning food is best labelled “things people actually want to eat”.

Things like her ever-changing take on vitello tonnato. “I think it’s around version 35,” says her husband, Michael Sapountsis, who runs the floor with easygoing charm. It now features the visual flourish and satisfying crunch of fried artichoke flowers. Then there’s a gilda with red pepper, olive, anchovy and other bits and bobs that screams cocktail hour (see story on page 73). Even the bread – a cloud-like potato focaccia studded with blueberries and served with a silken slick of goat’s curd – is worth the price of admission.

And with Philippa Sibley, renowned as Melbourne’s “Queen of Desserts”, joining the team, there’s no excuse to tap out before sweets. Try the ethereal dark chocolate tart accessorised with the most grown-up of minted caramel ice-creams.

SEE ALSO: Rediscover Melbourne’s Restaurants and Bars for 2021

Image credit: Pete Tarasluk.

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