From the ground level on Swanston Street, you'll see an unassuming black steel door with the words 'Stairway to Meat-Heaven' plastered across it. It's easy to miss, but once you notice it — and the glowing staircase behind it — you'll no doubt feel the allure of the Dexter team's new untraditional meat-focused restaurant, Cheek.
To get there, climb the stairs to the dining room, which can comfortably cater up to 70 bums on seats. It's the first floor of what will eventually be a three-level venue — with a bar called Peaches and a rooftop called Cream slated to open soon.
But, for now, it's just Cheek — a narrow restaurant with an industrial aesthetic and strong black and white contrasts with softening pops of light blue. Like Dexter in Preston, it's a bit of a no-rules barbecue joint. The menu here, though, leans heavier on Asian influences, taking inspiration from Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisines.
You'll find Japanese dried powders, miso ranch, sweet and sour flavours of plum, yuzu and smoked hoisin throughout the menu. A carefully curated wine list accompanies the food, and more inventive cocktails are added to Dexter's repertoire, such as the Cheek Fizz with gin, pecan, honey, lemon and fizz, and the PB Oldie with peanut butter bourbon and pickle juice.
Some options on the large-plate section of the menu include a half duck with smoked hoisin, a whole baby snapper and smoked short ribs with sesame caramel. Dry aged steak and pork cuts are expected to fly through the specials board, too. Those looking for something smaller will find mapo tofu empanadas, sweet 'n' sour cauliflower and pork cheek with crisp skin and pickled apples. "It's incredibly buttery and benefits from every second it gets during the 40-minute rendering down process," says Peasnell of the latter.
While you're deciding what to eat, start off with the house-made meat bread — made by cooking bone marrow damper over charcoal — served with Cheek's own butter. Or, order a round of the barbecue prawn crackers.
When complete, the entire (three-storey) venue will accommodate a generous 220 people — so get ready for some frozen margaritas and peaches and cream cocktails this summer.
Images: Kate Shanasy.