NEW HEIGHTS

Mel­bourne chef Dave Ver­heul, who gained a cult fol­low­ing for his culi­nary feats at The Town Mouse, is ex­pand­ing his moody CBD wine bar, Em­bla, up­stairs to cre­ate a new vi­sion of fine din­ing, where sim­plic­ity, qual­ity and veg­eta­bles reign supreme.

delicious - - HAND PICKED. - @dav­ev­er­heul @dav­ev­er­heul

Bolt­ing up and down stairs is an ar­du­ous work­out as Dave Ver­heul can at­test. This sea­son, the in­de­fati­ga­ble Mel­bourne chef will un­veil a long-awaited restau­rant above Em­bla, the city eatery he op­er­ates with busi­ness part­ner Chris­tian Mc­Cabe. “It’s only 18 or so steps, which is eas­ier than what I did be­fore,” Ver­heul says, re­fer­ring to his pre­vi­ous venue, The Town Mouse in Carl­ton, which closed its doors a few months ago af­ter five years of trad­ing. It’s on­wards and up­wards for Ver­heul, who’s putting the fi­nal touches on his lat­est am­bi­tious project.

Though it’s been two years in the mak­ing, Ver­heul was still de­lib­er­at­ing on a name when he spoke to us. What’s cer­tain is that the two venues will be markedly dif­fer­ent. Whereas Em­bla is a ca­sual, moody wine bar with wood­fired share plates, the new 54-seat ven­ture will fea­ture set menus, veg­etable-cen­tric dishes and an airy de­sign care of ar­chi­tect Al­lis­tar Cox. It will trade four days a week, and mostly serve din­ner. It’s equipped with an open kitchen, a two-tonne oven and seven win­dows that gaze out to the tree­tops of Rus­sell Street. White table­cloths? Ver­heul bris­tles at the sug­ges­tion. “No way!”

“It’s not clas­sic fine din­ing, but fine din­ing has changed so much,” he con­tin­ues. “It’s now about be­ing some­where where you feel com­fort­able, where ser­vice is en­gaged and you’re not pre­tend­ing to be old English money.”

As the recipes on these pages demon­strate, Ver­heul has a way of teas­ing flavour from in­gre­di­ents. Given his affin­ity for cook­ing with fire, it’s sur­pris­ing to hear him nom­i­nate the cold spinach salad as his favourite. He says the old-school green has been un­fairly ma­ligned, but shines lightly cooked, so it is “suc­cu­lent, re­fresh­ing and juicy”. A pas­sion­fruit pos­set, a twist on an English dessert, speaks to ca­reer stops in London, where the New Zealand-born chef worked at The Savoy Grill with Mar­cus Ware­ing.

At Em­bla, Ver­heul tweaks the menu ev­ery week, and shuns the no­tion of sig­na­ture dishes. His im­pec­ca­ble roast chicken, beloved by many pa­trons for its golden sub­lim­ity, ap­pears on the Sun­day lunch menu once a month. “When you get known for some­thing it’s great, but it’s also re­strict­ing,” he says. “How do you evolve if you just do the same thing?”

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