There’s something delightfully kitschy about Natural History. In a good way. As in the phrase, “Damn this place is kitschy, I f*cking love it.”
On paper Natural History is a nod to the old-school NYC steakhouses, and of course Manhattan’s Natural History Museum (that explains the 15m diorama that runs along an entire wall—more on this later). But Belles Hot Chicken maestro Morgan McGlone has created something fun and original with this place. It’s not really comparable to anything else in the CBD.
There’s the menu for one thing. How many other restaurants can you name that are serving an unashamed Caesar Salad alongside chicken liver parfait, anchovies and a giant pork chop (NB: not all on the same plate)? Natural History is not afraid to go retro, and that’s where the fun comes in.
The fit-out isn’t hard on the eyes either. The 1940s building on Collins St goes back and back forever, designer Michael Delany has run with the cavernous space, creating separate venues (let’s call them ‘exhibits’) inside Natural History.
Exhibit A: a classy porchetta bar facing the street. You can swing by here after work for a quick pint (warning, it gets pretty rammed) or sit up at the matchbox-studded glass bar and tuck into a fresh-made porchetta roll. The porchetta roll is 2018’s Aperol spritz—you heard it here first. There’ll be 20 more of these bars by the end of the year.
Exhibit B: a moody saloon in the centre of the room. Dark leather stools, red and black chessboard floor, ripples green glass partitions. You can plonk yourself down here and slurp natural or bakes oysters (retro, geddit?) to your heart’s content. This spot is perfect for larger groups or more intimate dining.
Dark wood tables round out the rest of the space. It’s here you’ll sit for the main menu: Cajun fish sangers with a tangy green tomato pickle, hanger steaks with cafe de paris butter, a gluten-free crab lasagna, made from zucchini ribbons and layered with creamy spanner crab mousse. There’s nothing subtle about this food: it’s bold and brash and playful. McGlone knows he’s mucking about with clichés, and you can tell he’s having an absolute ball.
The drinks list is encyclopedic. Natural wines, international bottles, craft and non-pasteurized beers, cocktails, spirits and liquors. There’s a weirdly Eastern European bent to the spirits, which is cool to see. Definitely not your standard back bar.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Natural History review without mentioning the 15m diorama on the west wall. Delaney recruited artist Vanja Zaric for this taxidermy masterpiece. Imagine a strange lunar landscape where ethically-sourced foxes, chital deer, mountain goats and badgers watch you eat under a harvest moon.
This is the bistro’s big drawcard, and you have to stand back and applaud...no matter how you feel about dead things watching you. We can’t shake the feeling that after the lights go down, these things come alive and have CBD adventures. Might be worth staking out Collins St, just in case.
Natural History is serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday (no brekky on Saturdays, FYI).
Want to learn more about Natural History? Check out our Directory page.
Image credit: Griffin Simm