Rich pickings for night owls at Arlechin

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Score 14.5/20

Address Mornane Place, Melbourne, 03 9662 2412, arlechin.com.au

Open Daily 5pm-3am.

Cost Plates $4.50-$14

Vegetarian Grilled cos, pickles, and adjustments to other dishes on request.

Drinks Australia, Italian and French wines, changing seasonally, excellent cocktails.

Wheelchair Yes, but the alleyway is cobbled and room is tight.

It’s a good time to be up late and hungry in Melbourne. A new sheriff of fun has arrived and its name is Arlechin. The Grossi family’s late-night bar is a domed temple of Italo-Australian wines, bracing cocktails and things you can and want to eat with one hand after midnight, from bolognese jaffles to half a quail, crisp and chilli-crumbed.

Better yet, Arlechin’s got competition. The Mayfair, David Mackintosh’s 1930s-era New York supper club, will soon be open until 1am for scrambled eggs, piano and martinis, and the Butcher’s Diner, the European Group’s 24-7 meat party is coming in hot any day. Yep, Melbourne’s certainly about to bring the fun.

But first, bring on the midnight spaghetti. It is, without doubt, the most unlikely hero snack that Melbourne has produced in some time. Tomatoey, capery, the pasta coil gets its allure from colatura, a fish sauce of anchovies from Italy’s south coast that makes everything it touches taste somehow in high definition.

Is it the pasta itself, or the promise of eating it late? There’s something very particular, almost pervy, about the idea of ordering things (that aren’t kebabs) after bedtime. Granted you’ve always been able to do this. France-Soir cemented itself into hearts 30 years ago for staying up to shuck oysters and sizzle steak until 1am. And how many relationships have been built on the foundations of Supper Club polenta chips?

Arlechin joins those ranks with ease and, as a bonus, better cocktails. Joe Jones of Romeo Lane has done a great job consulting on the list. It’s dark and bitter, bright and fresh, classic and innovative all at once. Martinis are syrupy cold, with fat Sicilian olives. Ice is from Navy Strength, so that your rear window (a warm yet fresh union of ginger, bourbon, Aperol and lemon) glows bright around those invisible cubes.

The wine list is simultaneously broad yet specific, featuring Australian, Italian and French wines peppered with less common varietals such as the structured Italian grape falanghina. Bottles start about $60, but you’ll notice, if you look to walls of this cork-lined cave, that the whole Grossi Florentino cellar has been placed around the rim, and is at your disposal if you’re feeling flush, or foolish.

Back on plate, chef Fabrizio Amenta is delivering more instant classics. Salt cod sloppy joes see the fish whipped with garlic, potatoes and olive oil to become almost like a warm dip, which fills a bun with sweet, charred leeks. A dish of risoni, that slippery rice-sized pasta, is cooked al dente risotto-style with saffrony stock, its richness kicked up a gear with daubs of bone marrow.

It’s a carb-heavy regime with a strong Italian streak, though it’s all about things you can eat one-handed without disrupting conversation. One hand only is needed for breaded prawn pops dressed with just a little lemon. There are bright pickles, rich slices of fennel-flecked salumi (made next door at Ombra) and salty bowls of parsley-flecked clams for punctuation.

There are challenges that come with late night operation. Service on a Monday night, or at 1am when whole groups of off-shift hospitality workers arrive, mightn’t be as tight as when the full A-team is on earlier in the night or later in the week.

I’d vote 6pm mid-week as the sweet spot for sitting at the marble bar, ordering complicated drinks and dishes you need elbow room for (the grilled cos, say, which comes with creamy whipped ricotta and a cured egg yolk). Come the rush hour, the smarter play is to get a bottle of Crawford River riesling and defensively claim a corner.

Either way, the potential for good times are plentiful whether it looks like the aforementioned quail, sherry cobblers over perfect pebble ice or its dramatic dessert: a custard-filled doughnut presented under a spun sugar web, set ablaze.

If doughnuts on fire at 2am don’t get your pulse up, I don’t know what can.

THE LOWDOWN
Go-to dish: Midnight spaghetti, $14.
Pro tip: Time your visit, expect less attentive service late at night.

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