Garden State Hotel on Flinders Lane in Melbourne is a four-level scenester hangout with an extensive cocktail list and modern Australian cuisine from ex-Circa chef, Ashley Hicks.
It was once Rosati’s, ground zero for Melbourne’s glitterati in the cashed-up 1980s, and having been recently reborn as the swish Garden State Hotel it’s like the boom never ended.
The huge venue – four levels are connected via a leafy central atrium – is heaving with polished young professionals doing whatever it is polished young professionals do in their downtime… but the good news is that if you have a booking in the restaurant known as the Garden Grill, tucked at the rear with booths and carpeted comfort, you’ll win dispensation from the guy with the clipboard and skip the queue.
A place as frenzied as this could be forgiven for mercilessly smashing out chicken parmas and burgers, but head chef Ashley Hicks (ex-Circa) is aiming to make food worth remembering the next day. His menu builds on the produce-driven ideal, so you’ll get a rough-hewn steak tartare with a miso mayonnaise and malt pickled onions heavy on the umami. Meaty trunks of barbecued octopus (he fries them first so they’re nicely charry) are teamed with fried and pickled eggplant anchored in a sauce owing depths of flavour to black garlic. Even John Dory becomes a flavour bomb with fermented shiitake mushrooms and vinaigrette of roasted rappe. Fashionable ingredients abound: the licorice-y note of fennel pollen on a side dish of golden beets and ricotta; kampot pepper seasoning the wagyu rump cap. Desserts? The play on an Iced VoVo looks fabulous but wants texture. Chocolate mousse with beetroot and coffee elements is a much cleverer balance of bitter, sour and sweet.
Add an oyster bar, a cocktail list plucked form the annals of the world’s great watering holes, and a small army of staff marshalling the crowds… the sum total of this place can be mind-boggling. Even the crowd-averse would have to agree it has style in abundance, but it’s good to see Hicks matching it with substance.
Location: 101 Flinders Lane, Melbourne; (03) 8396 5777; gardenstatehotel.com.au
Cuisine: Modern Australian
Atmosphere: A thumping scenester hangout where it’s cocktails at dawn (or until 5am, anyway). Need we say dress to impress?
Seats: 85 in the Garden Grill
Open: Seven days for lunch and dinner.
Big tick: The leafy central atrium, a piece of design brilliance that connects all four levels.
Must-try: Head for an après-dinner drink in the Rose Garden basement cocktail lounge - it’s removed from the madding crowds and boasts some seriously cocktail-savvy staff.
Images: Garden State Hotel
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