Let’s be honest. Southgate probably isn’t at the top of the list when planning a hot dinner in our fair city (Pure South excepted). It’s probably more a spot to bring your visiting cousin from Sicily for a nice meal and to ooh and aah at the river views. But you may have noticed a few changes happening at Southgate recently. It might have been the shiny new restaurant signs going up around the place, or the quiet closing of some old favourites. The last few months has seen a slew of new restaurant openings at the Melbourne riverside precinct. A slow Southgate shift if you will. It’s an exciting time. What was once a tourist sweet spot is finally finding its groove amongst the locals.
Last month I was invited to visit Southgate for a three course ‘Moveable Feasts’ lunch. The ‘Moveable Feasts’ is a unique concept. Diners sign up for three courses to enjoy at three different Southgate restaurants. It’s essentially an afternoon of restaurant hopping and a great way to test out the new Southgate players.
We started with entrée at the newest member to the Southgate family, Artusi. Occupying the old Walter’s Winebar space, Artusi is light and bright with a sleek bronze fit-out and enormous floor to ceiling windows offering spectacular riverside views.
Artusi promises a twist on the traditional with a menu of modern Italian cuisine. I get my back up instantly when I hear ‘modern’ Italian. For me, the beauty of Italian cooking lies in those years of tradition. It’s about ingredients, skill and intuition passed down from Nonna to granddaughter. There are ingredients on the Artusi menu that I’m certain my Nonna has never heard of before and would probably struggle to pronounce.
Despite the subtle Asian influence, Artusi nailed it. A lively entrée of Berkshire pork belly was presented with a sprinkling of pink pomelo and a crunchy, slightly tart endive slaw. It was a perfectly balanced dish of fat, pork and zingy citrus flavours with a texturally satisfying crunch at the end.
North American inspired Amarok hosted the main event. With a menu heavily influenced by Inuit culture, Amarok focuses on traditional cooking methods and bold, earthy flavours. I was seduced by the promise of a pine needle and acorn roasted chicken breast with Sierra Nevada stout. The reality was disappointing. The sauce, sticky and sweet was enjoyable enough but the chicken was too dry and overdone for my liking. The others seemed to enjoy their meal and there was much happiness over the pouch baked salmon, but my chicken didn’t impress.
Our last stop was Southgate stalwart Bluetrain. Describing itself as ‘Melbourne’s meeting place’, Bluetrain is worth the visit just to spy the recent refurbishment by local designers Studio Equator. The new space is distinctly Melbourne with bold and colourful graffiti covered pillars, custom made bike wheel lights and a host of other edgy pieces.
The dessert offerings as part of the Moveable Feasts made the final decision a truly impossible one. The ‘layered childhood memories’ dish was a mash-up of kiddy favourites with delectable layers of chocolate cake snuggled amongst roasted hazelnut and peanut salted caramel, globs of chocolate fudge, thick marscapone, fresh berries and a magical milo ice cream. It was a sort of deconstructed snickers bar topped with fuzzy fairy floss.
I also tried the crème brulee double whammy, featuring a duo of thick, creamy crème brulees infused with chai tea and American cheesecake flavours. The delightfully crisp shortbread added a fantastic texture and crunch.
Call it a transformation or simply a refresh but whatever it is, Southgate has done it. The ‘Moveable Feasts’ was a perfect way to try out the newest restaurants and make a solid plan for my next visit to the precinct. Unfortunately the ‘Moveable Feasts’ dinners have ended for this year but with so many restaurants in the one area there is no reason why you can’t design your own. Southgate really does lend itself to this sort of nomadic dining. Feel free to drop me an email if you would like some Southgate suggestions :).
My Fair Melbourne enjoyed a complimentary course at each restaurant featured above as part of a ‘Moveable Feasts’ lunch hosted for bloggers and the media.