270 Lonsdale Street
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|Opening hours||Its bar: breakfast, lunch, dinner every day; BKK: lunch, dinner daily|
|Prices||Moderate (dishes $20 to $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Call||03 9997 0437|
Don’t these people know that Melbourne is dead? That guy who laughs at the minute sitting with his glazed duck, golden fries and glass of gamay – doesn’t he know you can hear a pin drop on Bourke Street? Bachelor party revelers optimistically send off their daughters to be married – has anyone told them the trams are running empty? And that four-top in the corner calling for another round of tendrils to go with their garlicky snails – aren’t they aware the city has lost it, it’s just a shell, a ghostly rumor good time spent?
Apparently not. Spend some time working your way through four levels of food and fun at Her and you’ll feel like Melbourne is alive and kicking – and chilling out with cocktails, wok-fried noodles, sweet tunes and the glow out.
So who is she? This ambitious venture from the team that owns the all-day democratic drink Arbory (next to Flinders Street station) and Arbory Afloat (on the river below) bought this 1903 Romanesque revival building it six years ago.
They gutted it, dug an eight-meter-deep basement for grease traps and a kitchen, reinforced the roof to add a bar for romping in the fresh air, and painstakingly transformed the old edifice. from Sniders & Abrahams cigarette makers into a bustling hospitality playground.
Its Bar on the ground floor is a Frenchy restaurant that works a bit like a lobby. Curved and leathery, the feel of the place is silky and buttery, the flavor is gougères ($7) and gratin ($14), and the idea is that you could type on your laptop during the day and then scream at the ear of your date at night.
Behind this upbeat living room, stairs hug a central elevator to the first-floor Music Room, a retro LP-lined den that instantly makes anyone who enters feel 20% cooler.
Keep climbing and you’ll come to BKK, a charcoal-burning Thai restaurant with bar stools facing the fragrant kitchen and small tables hugging the brick perimeter interspersed with windows with city views. Climb back up and you spill out onto Her Rooftop, the noisy perch overlooking the wonderful city of Melbourne.
Executive Chef Nick Bennett oversees Chef Josh Rudd (ex-Blakes Feast) and BKK Chef Sungeun Mo (ex-Red Spice Road), who offer completely different menus in their respective kitchens.
Rudd’s chic and easy bistro menu ranges from oysters (from $15 for three) and delicate marinated mackerel ($21) to duck fries ($38) and cheeseburgers with raclette and fries ($26 ).
Upstairs, Mo’s menu is a night market ranging from snacks to kebabs, then salads to curries, ending with shaved ice and a Thai version of tiramisu ($14). BKK is a tribute to Bangkok’s street food, aiming for key markers of spice and balance without any buttoned-up obsession with authenticity whatsoever.
Apart from a rice cooker and a deep fryer, everything is cooked over charcoal, its licking smoke becoming a key ingredient in most dishes. The rock oysters ($6) are dressed in a reduction of sweet and sour tom kha gai (coconut soup), bringing a glossy creamy layer to the brackish sparkle of the shellfish.
For the pork skewers ($8), the neck meat – marinated in coconut, condensed milk, soy and white pepper – is interspersed with slivers of fat. The char from the grill, the melting shine of the fat, the sweetness of the meat amplified by the caramelized dairy products, make this dish deeply flavored and very, very good.
Thai cuisine can be layered and complex; it can also be simple. The rice noodles ($19) are wok-fried, again over charcoal, with shrimp, pork, and a simple, enticing dressing of fish sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar. Like most dishes, they are served on colorful and loud melamine. Fine dining it is not; try the roasted pineapple margarita to see how casual can still be elegant.
Speaking of cocktails, drinks are pre-dosed in the basement and dispensed to each level. If that sounds a little trashy, it’s not: the ingredients are high quality, the ratios are consistent, the flavors are fused together.
A multidimensional project like Her runs the risk of feeling dispersed: this is not the case here. There are some tweaks needed of course, mostly to set the mood so each room can express itself without the whole building looking like a multi-story frat party, but overall the vision is quite refined.
Whether you’re wandering from room to room on a visit or leaving yourself reason to return, she’ll be waiting for you. It’s Melbourne on all fours.
Atmosphere: Celebration and fun
Essential dish: Charcoal Stir-Fried Pork and Shrimp Rice Noodles
Drinks : High-quality, quick-to-serve cocktails and accurate wine lists that match each tier’s offering
Cost: Its bar dishes: $26 to $38; Large BKK Dishes: $19 to $52
This review was originally published in Have a nice week end magazine