A Fitzroy North wine bar, bottle shop and bistro doing considered comfort food.
At a time when much of Melbourne's food-related buzz is reserved for the boundary-pushing contemporary, The Recreation is a refreshing nod to the old-school. Just don't be put off by the fact that this Fitzroy North building churns through tenants like nowhere else, or by the somewhat senior average age of the dining room crowd — this one's heading straight to the top of your return visit list.
It's a wine bar, bottle shop and bistro, all wrapped up in one delightful package and helmed by the expert trio of chef Steven Nelson (ex-Bistro Gitan and Jacques Reymond), sommelier Mark Protheroe, and FOH gun Joe Durrant (both ex-Grossi Florentino).
To one side, the bar space of any wine lover's dreams boasts a huge communal table and a jam-packed wall of bottles, carefully plucked from all over. There's something here for every budget and palate, whether you're dropping in for after-work sips, or grabbing a take-home treat.
Next door, the dining room is an instant charmer, with its rustic mix of timber and exposed brick, and affably crisp service. The kitchen's plating up modern iterations of some classic French flavours, with just the right amount of cleverness shining through. It's comfort food with a sophisticated edge — a study in beautifully executed, classic Euro flavours.
Silky veal tartare gets a kick from pickled radish and creamy wasabi rouille ($8), while a zucchini flower, fat with lemony ricotta, is punctuated perfectly by a tumble of heirloom tomato ($8.50). But it's the sweet-meets-savoury tarte Tatin that really steals the starters show, ingeniously teaming rich, crumbly black pudding with sticky glazed pear and some truly memorable pastry ($11).
The handful of entrees and mains is clearly not trying to win over anyone in the vego camp — but, hey, everyone else is in for a real treat. There's an O'Connor flat iron steak, dressed in chimichurri and teamed simply with a bowl of hand-cut fries ($38). See also a free-range Milawa chook that's the culinary equivalent of a big, cosy hug — perfectly juicy, doused in a honey-sweet jus, and sitting atop an earthy jumble of grains ($37). Otherwise, the menu states that the kitchen team can prepare more vegetarian options on request.
And, just as that hefty retail collection alludes to, the wine list here is brimming with gold, and the waitstaff know how to help you get the most out of it — whether that involves amping up your meal with a 2007 Meursault 1er Cru Charmes from the cellar ($240), or ambling through the global range of pouring wines. There's a considered spread of local drops and foreign labels, so you'll just as likely find yourself sipping a clean, fresh 2014 Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley's Elmswood Estate ($12.50), as you would a 2014 Fleurie Clos du Pavillon from Burgundy ($16). There's even the option of bringing along a special bottle of something from home, for a $20 corkage fee.
Images: James Morgan.