There comes a time in every diner's life when they get a bit jaded by it all — the endless queues for in-vogue food, the jockeying back and forwards to find share plates that everyone wants to eat, the drink forgotten by the waiter who would clearly rather be anywhere other than answering your questions about the menu.
If you've reached this point, don't despair. Saxe, a two-storey restaurant and bar on Queen Street in the legal district, is here to make you believe in good ol' fashioned hospitality again — the sort where you can make bookings for parties of any size, where you can order your own impeccably crafted main meal and where the staff are all hospitality professionals.
Saxe is the first solo outing by Joe Grbac, who, having previously worked in a slew of award-winning restaurants, made a name for himself as co-owner of the much-lauded Saint Crispin on Smith Street in Collingwood. His experience is telling — Saxe feels comfortable and polished from the moment you step through the front door and the staff direct you upstairs to the dining area.
If you're in the mood for a casual drink, stay on the ground floor at Saxe Kitchen, the restaurant's more relaxed counterpart, where you can pull up a seat at a bar table and watch the action in the open kitchen over a few shared plates or a four course sharing menu for $65 per person.
The main event is in the upstairs dining room, which is a fancy legal-chamber-meets-Smith-Street cool. There's a navy velvet banquette running the length of the room and dark wood tables and chairs. The grey wall behind the banquette has moulded recesses and there are hanging globe lights connected together along a steel truss. At the risk of sounding like a real estate brochure, it's classic, modern and clearly designed to last.
If the decor is cool, then the staff are the opposite: warm, welcoming and hospitable, although slightly hard to catch at times. Once you've sat down — after fighting your dining companion for the spot on the banquette — order from the short, but seriously excellent, wines by the glass list and settle in.
The menu is à la carte mod-Australian with a raft of influences and only 12 dishes all up. If you can't decide, there's always the chef's selection — a degustation of five ($85) or seven ($120) dishes. Alternatively, there's the fantastic express lunch where you can have a two-course meal for $40. The menu isn't designed for sharing and you'll want more than one dish in order to properly sample the flavours coming out of Grbac's kitchen.
The food matches the decor, sophisticated and assured. The meal starts with bread served with macadamia and saltbush butter and coriander crisps, followed by kingfish with mussels and zucchini flowers ($38), say, then a mousse-y almond and apricot dessert that tastes simply like summer. The only hiccup in the proceedings was that it took slightly too long between dishes, but with a wine list like that, you won't notice too much.
After an hour or two of good food and good times at Saxe, you'll walk down the stairs and out onto Queen Street feeling slightly less jaded than when you entered, a little more hopeful that your next meal out will be similarly easy, skilful and delicious. It's a refreshing change of pace – and trust us when we say it would be a crime to leave Saxe to the suits.