One of last year’s most impressive restaurant openings, Farmer’s Daughters, is former chef Pastuso Alejandro Saravia’s love letter to Gippsland. But now the Melbourne-based Peruvian chef is spreading the love statewide with Victoria, an ambitious new restaurant bringing the state’s best food, drink and even art to Melbourne’s CBD.
Saravia says it’s a natural extension of what he and the team created at Farmer’s Daughters. “The success we have had [there] made us realize that we had a great concept. Every week we had Victorian farmers, growers and vintners approaching us to collaborate, but we couldn’t do that if they weren’t based in Gippsland… We wanted to expand the concept to showcase the best the regions. The “region in residence” program means he will be the hero of different Victorian regions at different times.
Victoria has the fiercely local ethos of a destination restaurant – minus the drive – but it’s also poised to become a smart, perfectly positioned new dining option for the pre-theater and Arts Center crowd.
A collaboration between Farmer’s Daughters and Fed Square, the sprawling 250-seat venue sits right by the river in the square’s Yarra building. Outside there is an all-weather (but perfect for summer) terrace overlooking the Yarra.
The interior was designed by Agents of Architecture’s Luke Hickman, who created a sophisticated restaurant, bar and mini art gallery that blend together easily. One wall in the entry dining room features spectacular locally made carvings; the other is illuminated by a projection of the regions staged on a wall topographic map.
Walk through the restaurant and you’ll find an interactive ingredient table in the center of the table – hand-carved from a single piece of reclaimed eucalyptus obliqua – where you can touch and smell the Victorian ingredients the kitchen offers to all moment.
Opposite is an open kitchen surrounded by a handful of bar seats – possibly the best seats in the house – for those who want a front-row view of all the wood-fired and grilling action at the charcoal. To either side are two understated dining rooms in earthy tones; the cavernous, long-sleeping space has been injected with a grown-up character.
As the food starts to arrive, you’ll have to fight the urge to stock up on bread; a pair of soft, oversized, separable sourdough breads from Cobb Lane (with Caldermeade Farm Cultured Butter) will test you. Standout snacks include the Otway Gold Potato Rosti with Dried Bass Strait Scallops and Bacon Avocado, and the Snake Valley Smoked Eel Patty with Pancetta and Beets.
But the main event, without a doubt, are the meats. O’Connor’s big dry-aged 800-gram ribeye is served sliced with rocoto-chili salsa, but the bone left on the plate invites you to pick it up and eat it like no one is watching (it’s little likely someone is). And Milla’s smoked half duck might be the crispiest cut of meat you’ll eat this winter.
In the lulls between courses, you might spot an all-glass room at the back of the restaurant: the 3,000-bottle Victorian ‘wine library’. It sounds (and looks) fancy, but it’s by no means forbidden. “Wine is made to celebrate, not to be tucked away in a corner gathering dust,” Saravia says. Here you’ll find private local crus and off-menu drops accessible only through Saravia connections, as well as winemaker-led masterclasses.
“There are so many great farmers, grape growers, winemakers, and wine regions in the state that aren’t necessarily accessible to people,” says Saravia, who, essentially, wants to put the best of the state on your plate (and in your glass). ) in a centralized location.
“We want to highlight all the amazing aspects of the state, not just for the locals, but [also] to help introduce Victoria as a world culinary leader to anyone overseas.
Victoria opens Thursday, July 28.
Ground Floor, Yarra Building, Federation Square, Melbourne
(03) 9121 0505
Thu to Sat 5pm to late