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Ripponlea Food & Wine is a great, cosy-corner venue five-minute walk from the famous Ripponlea Mansion. Already a neighbourhood favourite, the recently completed renovation included knocking down a wall to envelop what has previously been a shop next door. Capacity has doubled and now accommodates 80 people, but seating is still intimate with small booths, bar stools or in a carpeted private dining room.
The fit-out has been under wraps, as has the exciting new menu, but there was a media preview last Wednesday, so I can faithfully report back on what to expect of this revamped hip-chic space.
The premises were redesigned by Blackmilk Interior Design, an award-winning design studio based in Richmond. The result is a classic, vintage style New York bar with contemporary quirk. 'The building has such a timeless charm, and we wanted to complement this,' says Anna Debenham from Blackmilk.
My plus one - son Henry - Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
The long bar is made from solid timber in a black Japan stain. The emerald green seating creates richness and a pop, which offsets the quite dark interior, and compliments the mirror/lighting feature with its velvet material against the brass fittings.
We seated ourselves at the bar, which was a fantastic posey as we were entertained all night by the wizardry of the bartenders creating stunning drinks in laboratory style beakers right at eye level.
But the bar has also been designed so that what looks like a mirror behind the bar is, in fact, a see-through peep into the world of the other room. It was like staring into a TV screen and seeing so many people really enjoying themselves chatting and drinking.
We started with sparkling wine and a plate of bresaola, which is air-dried, salted beef, aged for three months until it turns a rich earthy reddish brown. This was served with golden and crispy thin house-made lavosh, which was shaped like pappadams and had a delightful crunch.
Then came a share plate of crostini decked in traffic-light colours. There were bright red heirloom tomatoes halves, vivid green crispy basil and the bright orange of gin and lime cured salmon. The texture of the salmon was sink-your-teeth-in-and-celebrate. The beetroot, mascarpone and the creaminess of crème fraiche on these traffic stoppers added to the pleasure.
Our next dish descended from the hand of the waiter above like a small cloud of fluffy white rice embedded with jewels. The delightful colours were from the small knobs of orange citrus fruit, threads of green mint, pendants of pomegranate seeds and ceviche made from fresh fish marinated in lime.
The share plate following was of small sliders stuffed with fresh lobster and baby endive in alfredo sauce. This was my adult son's first taste of lobster and so it was great it came in a form that he could so readily relate to.
The spring lamb and pine nut croquettes with pesto mayonnaise looked so delicious that I dove in and forgot to photograph them. Sorry. They were my favourite item on the menu and as you can see, they had some pretty stiff competition.
There was also a small shared serving of a house specialty, a traditional carbonara – although the ingredients were hardly traditional as they included house cured Guanciale with free range egg and white wine sauce on fettuccini with a light snow-drift of white parmesan.
Dessert could only be described as a showstopper. It looked like a chocolate bomb. Then a hand reached over with a jug of hot hazelnut semifreddo and orange spiked chocolate sauce.
As the sauce hit, the bomb shape caved in and molten rivers of chocolate, Baci crumble and candied orange oozed across the plate, like molten lava. My son took a video below.
The renovations at Ripponlea Food & Wine only took six weeks but the chef had been working on the menu for months and the dedication of incorporating local and seasonal ingredients ensured all dishes were standouts. With Attica , one of the best restaurants in the world, is just up the road. I guess it pays for local restaurants to punch well above their weight which is exactly what is happening here.
While there was entertainment on the night, watching the talented bartenders taking advantage of their well equipped new bar and creating memorable cocktails was an entertaining diversion.
The cocktail menu is divided into 'classics', 'classy' and 'kinda hood.' So while you can get your classics such as Espresso Martini or Negroni, you can try something unique such as a Hey Zues Caipirinha Cachaca, which is lime juice, passionfruit puree, peach liqueur & absinthe.
Shout out to some of the ingredients in the cocktails that included house-made lemonade, house-made blueberry & basil syrup and the great range of aromatic Four Pillars gins.
The local I was seated next to at my bar perch said that one of the things she loved about Ripponlea Food and Wine was that she and her husband knew they could always come in and order such interesting wines by the glass. With the new bar this great venue is expanding their well-considered wine list even further with a real focus on Victoria, so you will find new wines to try by the glass daily. But don't forget to pair it with some of the incredible food.
Outside looking in at all the fun on a warm night - photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt