Roxborough is the sort of place you want to keep secret. Except you can't because it's located smack-bang in the heart of things on Acland Street, looking out through the palm trees to Luna Park. Also, it's just so darned good that Melburnians will be falling over themselves to say they've been there — the evidence of which, we forecast, will be all over social media in no time. There's no keeping this secret. And really, why not share the goodness? Given that host and co-owner Marco Pugnaloni welcomes everyone like a long lost friend and the waitstaff make you feel as though you're their only table, there's no need to be exclusive.
Named after well-known London party 'architect' Johnny Roxburgh, the tribute is more a personal one than anything; he's a dear friend and inspiration to owners Marco and Paul Jewson, who also own St Kilda's Fitzrovia. But however random the connection, it sums up what makes this restaurant so endearing, chic and approachable.
The interior has been expertly wrangled by Paul Hecker of Hecker Guthrie Interior Designers, making the most of the lovely art deco bones of the historic St Kilda Army & Navy Club building. Empire style friezes, stucco finishes, and tiled details are all resplendent in white. Background music vies with the pandemonium of parrots in the trees outside and the buzz of a St Kilda summer evening.
If your new year's resolution was to eat less, that just won't work here. A friend once sagely advised never to eat a quantity larger than the size of your head, but that is totally out the window at Roxborough. With a focus on southern European cuisine, Roxborough's dishes are inspired by the Mediterranean and put together with produce sourced from Victorian boutique suppliers. The menu is jam-packed with all that is tantalising.
There is a lot to choose from and our waiter recommends ordering as we go. Sharing is the preferred approach to head chef and a business partner Christian Byrne's menu.
Jamón and manchego croqueta ($6.50) leap out from the snack section, and they come out as three little ovals of deep-fried happiness. Just a warning: you'll burn your mouth in your eagerness to bite through the crisp breadcrumbs to the intensely savoury Spanish ham bound in Manchego béchamel. Chicken liver parfait is a fairly classic restaurant entrée, and Roxborough's version is the defining standard. Paired with port jelly and a pear and fennel chutney ($8.50), the silky, melt in your mouth parfait will make you close your eyes and see a utopian future.
Molten smoked mozzarella gratin with crisp guanciale ($9.50) sees the very sexy liaison between sweet and salty cured pork cheek lardons swathed in rich melted cheese. The idea is to scoop up the melted cheese and spread it on the accompanying bread. Think DIY cheese on toast but the 4D version. So damn good.
Pippies, clams and smoked pork hock shreds ($16.50) may sound like unlikely bedfellows, and yet this combo works and results in bliss. The char-grilled 400-gram pasture-fed Gippsland entrecôte on the bone with bone marrow and horseradish butter, when shared, is a very reasonably priced taste of heaven at $35. However, it may mean that dessert is no longer feasible — in which case, a return trip is necessary.
Roxborough will make you wish you were a St Kilda local — but, either way, you may be swayed to make seaside sunsets from a table on their terrace a weekly ritual.
Note: Roxborough will open for brunch daily from Friday, January 20.