Embla's rustic upstairs restaurant is primed for feasting and much wine drinking.
If you're the kind of person who likes to play the long game and really settle in for a dinner feast, then consider Lesa your new food haven. Tucked above Russell Street wine bar Embla and helmed by the same owners — Christian McCabe and Dave Verheul — it's a place where prolonged feasting is celebrated and every bite is made to be enjoyed.
The restaurant itself is primed for lingering — moody lighting sits above roomy antique tables, and warm timber is paired with exposed brick. Green subway tiles make the open kitchen pop and the hefty displays of wine nod to a pretty serious cellar collection.
Unless you're going extra large with the extravagant tasting menu ($120), or slipping in the two-course option at lunch or before a show ($55), your Lesa experience centres around a choose-your-own-adventure, four-plate feast ($85).
It's an oft-changing, seasonal menu, offering a choice of three dishes at each course — one usually stars something from the ocean, one heroes meat and a third showcases veggies. If you're hungry, you'd best kick off the meal with some of the dense fermented potato flatbread, dragged through a rich shiitake sauce and macadamia purée ($8).
Otherwise, you could ease into things with a dainty number like the veal tartare, cut through with summer tomatoes and shrouded with a layer of braised saltbush, or a flounder carpaccio dotted with peas and blackcurrant leaf. Next, comes the arrow squid: delicate folds of seafood draped over braised parsley stems and broad beans, and teamed with a clam broth that's jam-packed with flavour.
The main event is larger still — though you won't roll out of here too full to move — a fillet of hapuka brought to life with a decadent, fermented fennel juice beurre blanc. Carnivores might be more tempted by the aged pork loin served as a gutsy slab alongside buckwheat miso, pickled walnut and kale.
Desserts are equally crafty, and just as chic, with banging flavour combinations like the cultured butter ice cream with nashi pear, brown butter and koji — an ingredient made from grain treated with a specific mould, which is loved by Japanese cooks for its umami taste.
And the treat yo'self attitude extends to the drinks list, evident in the sprawling selection of Champagne and the range of splurge-worthy drops. The wine list favours interesting producers from various pockets of the world, and there's a fairly broad lineup to choose from if you're boozing by the glass, including Cobaw Ridge's ripper Il Pinko rosé ($15), which is primed for kicking off a meal.
Go on, you've made it through another Melbourne winter. Clear a few hours in your calendar, venture up the stairs and settle in for some much-deserved indulgence.
Images: Kristoffer Paulsen.