Just as Con Christopoulos was almost single-handedly responsible for reclaiming the Paris end of Melbourne’s city from what looked like terminal decline some decades ago, he too is redrawing the borders west of Elizabeth Street. In territory mired in restaurant touts, with menus pitched mainly to a tourist audience, and otherwise populated by city workers…
The Dolphin Hotel
Sydney’s favourite Melbourne restaurateur transplant, Maurizio Terzini (well, he’s vying for that tag with the lads from Fratelli Paradiso…), pitched back into the pub game after a decade and a half (Melbourne Wine Room being his first foray) of focusing on restaurants, launching the new look Dolphin Hotel in 2016. And what a distillation of Terzini it is, a venue that captures his multiple fascinations with food, wine, art, fashion and music.
Terzini teamed up with designer George Livissianis (The Apollo, Sydney and Tokyo; Cho Cho San) to transform the Dolphin from local watering hole into a slightly anarchic rethinking of what a pub can be. Well, the word pub doesn’t do it justice. They’ve taken the concept, smashed it and remade it anew. Livissianis has taken to the Dolphin with freehand strokes, flaying the interior back to the barest essentials and then tying, trussing and wrapping it into a thoroughly original new whole. Artist Tracey Deep and Artist in Residence (how many pubs have those?) Beni Single were given an open brief to adorn, with the former inserting floral sculptures, while the later has channelled Keith Haring with monochrome graffiti riffs on the plastic-wrapped banquettes and ottomans – along with an ever-evolving collection of new works.
Group executive chef Monty Koludrovic takes the food down a less formal road than at Icebergs, but still with its mod-Italian Italian tilt, with wood-fired pizza as the anchor. The pizzas supply to a recipe inspired by Rome and further north, rather than the puffed, blistered crust of the ubiquitous Neapolitan versions. And there’s no imported Tipo ‘00’ flour or San Marzano passata here. Aside from drawing the line at anchovies and “proper parmesan”, all the ingredients are Australian, including La Stella burrata and buffalo mozzarella. Share plates – “small plate, big taste” – half a dozen mains, dessert and cheese fill out the offer.
As he does across Terzini’s venues, James Hird takes the wine reins, and it’d be no surprise to those familiar with Hird that minimal-intervention is the order of the day. Having said that, those hankering for a glass of Hunter Semillon won’t end up having to puzzle over an unwanted glass of Georgian Rkatsiteli. Indeed, the service here is deeply informed and informal, with none of the slick formality of Icebergs, but without losing any of the detail.
The list runs to about 350 bins, with 40-odd open by the glass, and new bottles are broached on a daily basis to keep things interesting. Hird also addresses one of the lingering industry-wide issues with wine by the glass – that of temperature. The list is split into temperature categories, with more fragrant, lighter bodied reds listed at 12°C and those more robust hitting the glass at 15°C, for example. Bravo, we say.