In Melbourne’s bountiful ocean of triple-stack burgers, maxed-out waffles, doughnut ice cream cones and fries so loaded you’ll need a spoon to eat them, fine dining (and all the dehydration, sous vide-ing and centrifuging that comes with it) has become something of a dirty word. Should I really care about the latest venue that’s serving a summer berry crumb on a foam of truffle-infused fairies’ wings? What even *is* a foam anyway, and how am I meant to eat it? These were all questions that drifted through my mind when I was presented with a seating at one of Melbourne’s most hotly tipped—and yet still under-the-radar—new openings of the year: Armadale newcomer, Amaru.
The Amaru story is a curious one: up-and-coming sous chef Clinton McIver learns from Melbourne fine dining’s golden boy—Vue de Monde’s Shannon Bennett—how to puff the perfect wild rice grain and puree, well, just about anything. Said chef and partner (Ali Rolim Correa, also ex-Vue de Monde) both decide to up sticks and take their hospitality skills to the unlikely location of Clayton Bowls Club (?!), introducing the ‘burbs to the delights of the degustation. After a year, chef and partner go travelling to South America, picking up references for everything from plating ceramics to lighting design, then return to poach Lee Ho Fuk’s sommelier and open one of the most opulent yet relaxed dining experiences you’ll find within the three thousands.
And that, my friends, is the story of Amaru.
First up: yes, it’s incredible. However, it’s a different breed of incredible to the bells and whistles of Heston’s recent circus—and one that’s faaaaaar more easy to relax into. Rather than feeling as if you should be on your best behaviour—which, after anything from nine to fourteen courses served with matched drinks, is rather tricky—Amaru has a warmth and humility to it that a handful of Melbourne’s top eateries just aren’t nailing right now.
It’s considered but not contrived; the 34-seater venue has an open kitchen and petite bar, and the attention to design detail is resolved without being such an art piece that finding the doorhandle to the bathroom is a challenge. Think Vue De Monde: if it undid its top button, had a glass or two of wine, and replaced those impossibly heavy granite slabs (how the hell am I meant to move that into more Insta-friendly lighting?) with something more manageable. Like, you know, an actual plate.
In keeping with McIver’s vision, the food is centered around flavour rather than fancy-schmancy techniques, and while the dishes are on the more progressive side, it’s a relief that the ingredients are recognisable: the duck breast looks like duck breast, freshly baked bread is served heartily, and flourishes such as a disc of frozen macadamia nut milk are served with mud crab because they taste fantastic.
As for the drinks pairing, at $150 a head it’s not going to be an everyday occasion—but with some fantastic European wines and delicious sakes on the menu, it’s a particularly worthwhile piece of the Amaru puzzle.
Should you go? If you’re in the mood for an epic burger and loaded fries combo, it’s probably not going to hit the spot—but for fans of fine dining’s newest, more relaxed guise, Amaru is a must-eat that’s certainly worth devoting three or four hours of indulgence to. Book your seat at the kitchen-side table now, while you still can.
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Image credit: Supplied.