Restaurants

Host | The Verdict

By Clare Acheson - 10 May 2016

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The best thing about Brunswick—and about any suburb in Melbourne, really—is the hidden gems that you find while wandering down an alleyway, looking for something entirely different. (For me, it’s usually my dignity…) And that’s exactly what happened when I stumbled upon newly opened restaurant, Host, and it’s small but perfectly formed converted warehouse premises tucked behind Sydney Road.

The single-room restaurant is dotted with stunning bespoke booths and a compact bar, with an open kitchen at one end and the entrance at the other. The menu and drinks list follow the same rule of thumb: keep things short and sweet, with a handful of delicate details, and you’re unlikely to go wrong.

Owners Nedim and Majda Rahmanovic​, previously of North Melbourne’s Twenty & Six Espresso café, recruited chef Florian Ribul​ (ex-Hammer and Tong and Enquire Within, the old B’Stilla pop-up… God, I can hardly keep up) to work his menu magic in the wood-finished space. Dishes change frequently to make the most of the season’s produce and to keep diners on their toes, but the vast majority focus on simple pairings and prep that allow the ingredients to shine, free from over-seasoning; a light Japanese-inspired broth here or a coffee or cocoa rub there, but not a cryogenically frozen edible flower in sight.

After being served an incredible glass of sparkling red—seriously, drink everything the Host team recommends, as each and every one of the wines they tipped was I-need-to-buy-a-bottle-of-this-right-now-OMG-who-sells-it delicious—I tucked into flame grilled mackerel and mushroom dish, followed by coffee rubbed sirloin steak with a side of Jerusalem artichokes, pine mushrooms, greens and cocoa nibs. Admittedly, I was a little sceptical about coffee rubbed steak (c’mon, Melbourne, we don’t need coffee in every-bloody-thing), but I was completely converted. If you’re a red meat aficionado, this NEEDS to be on your must-eat list, pronto.

As for dessert, Host isn’t one for the calorific gelato sundae fan. Think barley cake served with citrus jam and brown butter ice-cream, buttermilk with stewed quince and gingerbread, and a chocolate, cumquat and mint dish that’s definitely more on the challenging side of sweets than your average Messina cone. But hey, isn’t that why we eat out rather than cozing up with the same tub of shop-bought ice-cream every week?

While there are enough seats to accommodate a crowd, the Host vibe is intimate and relaxed—more tasteful date material than the beers and bands you’ll find in Brunny’s buzzing nightlife venues—and, although the space itself isn’t dripping with polished copper bar tools and marble candles, there’s an air of homely sophistication that’ll appeal to design-savvy diners and late-night drinkers. Before I ventured into the bathroom, I silently put a twenty on there being a bottle of that $50 Aesop hand soap in there. And there was.

In Melbourne’s sea of frilled and fluffed plates that require a culinary degree to decipher, Host’s wholesome, smoke-and-mirror-free approach to dining is one that’s quietly making a resurgence in foodie circles. Should you go? Obviously, yes. Just don’t tell too many people about your newfound laneway gem.

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Image credit: Host, Catherine Grey for The Urban List.

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