For the romantic bon vivants amongst us, it doesn't get much better than eating a seafood platter looking out across the sea as the sun sets. So it's surprising, perhaps, that there are very few places in Melbourne that offer stunning floor-to-ceiling vistas and food of a similarly high calibre. Hence, The Baths at Middle Brighton appears to be something of a little-known gem in our gastronomic city.
The man behind this Bayside institution is owner and chef Paul Raynor. He was part of the so-called 'Brit pack' — which includes Martin Webb, Donovan Cooke, Jeremy Strode, Paul Wilson, Michael Lambie, Raymond Capaldi, Steve Szabo and Ian Curley — who came over and transformed the Melbourne fine dining restaurant scene in the mid-'90s. Paul worked at The Baths for three years early on in his Melbourne career after he did a swap with Maurice Esposito at The Stokehouse. Years later when the opportunity arose to take The Baths on himself, Paul went for it.
Eight years on, Paul and his wife have done the hard (and consistent) yards and decided it was time for a revamp and a relaunch. Enter designer Wendy Bergman. The Art Deco building and the panoramic bay views it affords have been used as inspiration to transform the space; the materials and colours used were all picked to reflect and complement the beautiful surroundings. From the organic, swirling texture of the Portuguese cork floor and the deep oceanic blue of the walls to the Art Deco-inspired bespoke lighting from industrial designer Paul Grummisch, The Baths are a modern, fresh and casual space. You can come not only for dinner with a view, but also for breakfast, a coffee, or perhaps a drink at the bar as the sun goes down across the water.
Choice is a fine thing, but be prepared to frown a bit over the decision making process at The Baths because this menu has much that's appealing. Maybe start with a few cheeky oysters served natural with a red wine shallot vinaigrette ($4 each) then move on to the twice- cooked pork belly with caramelised apple and ginger puree and calvados jus ($19). Or if you want to go the way of the vegetable, the carpaccio of heirloom beetroots and goats' cheese salad is a good turn.
Paul's favourite main is the slow-braised ox cheek on ash with Bordelaise sauce ($35), but the chicken coq au vin ($32) and the roasted barramundi fillet with green asparagus and morel velouté ($36) also deserve consideration. You can't go wrong whatever you choose; it's clear all these dishes are made with love and years of experience.
We all know sharing is caring, so in addition to the individual plates, you can wrangle the aforementioned seafood platter, a Flinders Island roasted lamb rump, or you can literally go the (almost) whole hog — give 24 hours notice and a quarter or half a Western Plains suckling pig can be yours ($120/240).
And don't forget the sneaky lunch special Tuesday to Sunday, where you can get two courses for $38 and three courses $45 (both include a glass of wine). It could be the perfect way to break up the day. The view says it all.
Images: The Baths and Jo Rittey.