MEL­BOURNE RE­VIEW

Laneway res­i­dent Ar­lechin her­alds a new era of so­phis­ti­ca­tion in late-night bar cul­ture, writes

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - OCT - MICHAEL HARDEN.

Ar­lechin her­alds a new era of so­phis­ti­ca­tion in late-night bar cul­ture.

Mel­bourne’s bar cul­ture had its Big Bang mo­ment 23 years ago in a CBD laneway site ren­o­vated by then-fledg­ling architecture group Six De­grees. That game-chang­ing bar, Meyers Place, closed re­cently and to prove, per­haps, that na­ture ab­hors a vac­uum, a new bar de­signed by

Six De­grees has just opened in a nearby laneway. And, yes, it’s also some­thing of a game-changer.

Ar­lechin shows how far Mel­bourne’s laneway bars have evolved in two decades. For starters, it’s an irony-free zone. A 40-seater with her­ring­bone par­quet tim­ber floors, bar­rel-vaulted cork ceil­ing, back­lit wine cel­lar, mar­ble-topped bar, fully equipped kitchen and a young, well-cre­den­tialled team, it’s as far as you can get from the punk DIY aes­thetic of the early scene.

Sec­ond, Ar­lechin comes from the Grossi fam­ily, owners of

Grossi Florentino, the land­mark restau­rant that backs onto the same laneway. The blood­line makes the rea­son­ing be­hind the lo­ca­tion (and the money avail­able for the gor­geous fit-out) eas­ier to trace, and it also guar­an­tees that the food is as im­por­tant here as the booze. The dishes on Ar­lechin’s menu could still be cat­e­gorised as bar snacks (they’re priced that way) but de­scrib­ing a dish like Mid­night Spaghetti as a mere snack verges on crim­i­nal un­der­state­ment.

Mid­night Spaghetti ex­em­pli­fies Ital­ian food at its best: max­i­mum flavour with min­i­mal in­gre­di­ents. It’s a snack-sized serve, sure, but the tight tan­gle of bang-on al dente spaghetti de­liv­ers a fat whack of flavour. It’s tossed with a made-to­order sauce of chopped canned toma­toes, chilli, oregano, plump and as­sertive ca­pers, and a sub­lime gen­er­ous dash of co­latura di alici, the fish sauce from the Amalfi Coast. That dish alone will get you back through the door, es­pe­cially when you know the bar is open un­til three in the morning. True to its name, the dish’s siren song in the small hours is ir­re­sistible.

The singing doesn’t stop there. There’s risoni, cooked risot­to­fash­ion, per­fumed with saf­fron, stud­ded with bone mar­row and fin­ished with pan­grat­tato. Or an Ital­ian take on the Sloppy Joe, the but­ter­milk bun stuffed with bac­calà man­te­cato and but­tered leeks. Or cos, quickly grilled and served with smoky whipped ri­cotta and topped with bot­targa and a crumbed and fried egg yolk wait­ing to be stabbed. Or surf clams, clas­sic in wine, gar­lic and Clockwise from top: Mid­night Spaghetti; Ar­lechin; (from left) chef Fabrizio Amenta, Guy Grossi and man­ager Adam Rod­er­ick.

pars­ley cook­ing juices. There are oys­ters, too, and smoked-eel par­fait capped with a dark am­ber Marsala jelly.

Then there are the more solid dishes, seem­ingly tar­geted at din­ers who might’ve en­joyed a few cor­dials out on the town be­fore­hand. Chopped, crumbed and fried prawn meat on skew­ers and ox tongue sand­wiched in “bread” made from risotto be­fore be­ing crumbed and fried both lose some­thing in trans­la­tion if you’re sober. But, pie-eyed or not, the ridicu­lously good Bolog­nese jaf­fle is every­thing you could hope and pray those two words would de­liver.

Sweet stuff, of­ten ne­glected in the rush to fat and salt, de­liv­ers, too, in the form of adorable, de­vourable lit­tle pis­ta­chio or rasp­berry ice-creams on sticks, and a clas­sic jelly slice, all lay­ers of rasp­berry jelly, sponge cake and cream.

Do not forgo the cock­tails. Ar­lechin is a bar, af­ter all. As with its snack menu, there’s a dis­cernible but not overt Ital­ian inf lu­ence at play. The Half Way brings mez­cal, Cy­nar, or­ange bit­ters and a grape­fruit twist to­gether over ice, while the

Jun­gle Bird does greatly re­fresh­ing things with rum, Cam­pari, pineap­ple juice and lime. There’s apt glass­ware, and sub­tle and nec­es­sary gar­nish­ing but then flimsy pa­per nap­kins mas­querad­ing as coast­ers crash the party. Sad.

For wine lovers, the full weight of the Grossi Florentino cel­lar is at your fin­ger­tips (more or less lit­er­ally – Ar­lechin dou­bles as the wine stor­age fa­cil­ity for the Grossi restau­rants), but there’s also a site-spe­cific list that’s slightly more off-piste than you’d find in the mar­quee moth­er­ship. Play­ing to its tribe, it’s eas­ier on the wal­let, too.

Draw­ing mostly from Italy, France and Aus­tralia, the list here in­cludes inky Chalmers Project aglian­ico from Heath­cote in Vic­to­ria, golden, po­litely funky 2011 Mon­tenidoli Ver­nac­cia di San Gimignano from Tus­cany and the chardon­nay-sav­agnin blend Côtes du Jura “Les Belem­nites” Do­maine Buron­fosse. There’s no rad­i­cal boat-rock­ing, but still plenty to keep you awake.

Ar­lechin adds an­other layer to late-night Mel­bourne that im­me­di­ately feels es­sen­tial.

It’s a place that springs from the un­der­stand­ing that qual­ity food and booze, a civilised, hand­some en­vi­ron­ment and sharp ser­vice needn’t stop at mid­night. And while it may ap­pear light years from that orig­i­nal bar in Meyers Place, it has landed with a sim­i­lar sense of be­ing in ex­actly the right place at ex­actly the right time.

The bar at Ar­lechin. Left: Sloppy Joe with bac­calà man­te­cato and leek. Be­low: pis­ta­chio ice-cream.

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