MELBOURNE | Academy Kitchen and Bar Richmond is one of the most recent places to open up in this section of Bridge Road that’s been experiencing somewhat of a food renaissance of late. With neighbours like Anchovy and Minamishima, the standard in this part of town has been set very high so when The City Lane was invited to sample the offering at Academy, we were interested to find out whether it was up to the ever increasing standards of the area.
The space is small and simple. The bricks are exposed on one side and painted white on the bar side, with the low warm lighting providing some cosiness to the bare re-purposed timber tables. With the kitchen hidden out the back and the long bar taking up a big portion of the room, the space feels more like a cosy bar than a restaurant. Clearly it’s no coincidence that the word “bar” forms part of Academy’s name.
The drinks selection is very focused, with a page of mostly local wines and craft beers on offer, plus a few French options for good measure. The cocktail list is equally focused, with only a handful on offer. Staff will however, make the classics if you request them.
Moving on to the food, and owner/chef Will Manning (La Trompette, Foliage and Smiths of Smithfield in London, Townhouse and The Deanery in Melbourne) has attempted to find the sweet spot between the casual dining that’s so popular in Melbourne and his fine dining pedigree. The menu contains a range of options from across the spectrum of dining, and there aren’t any rules as such other than that of the produce and flavours being great. Academy is where you’ll find a burger and fried chicken sharing the page with raclette potato agnolotti and duck and mountain pepper parfait.
We didn’t pay on this occasion, but have included prices for your reference.
Oysters (3 for $10.00, 6 for $20.00, 12 for $32.00)
We decided to start our meal with some freshly shucked oysters. The ones on offer when we visited were from Tasmania and we chose to have them served natural. If you’re a fan of oysters you won’t find much to complain about here. They’re fresh, and the vinaigrette and lemon do exactly what you expect in providing some sweetness and acidity.
Crispy Pigs Ear And Kohlrabi Lettuce Wraps With Hot Sauce ($14.00)
As soon as we saw pigs ears on the menu we knew we had to give this dish a go. The crisp lettuce cups held together the kohlrabi and pigs ears which were very tasty. Texturally this dish was all about the crunch but we couldn’t help but feel that one of the best aspects of pigs ear was missing with each bite. The missing element – gelatinousness. That contrast between the crisp exterior and gelatinous interior is what makes pigs ears so magical but the ears here were sliced so thinly that it was mostly crispy. The flavour was still great and it was a nice dish, however having the ears cut a bit thicker would really make this special.
Seven Flavours Squid Salad With Yuzu Truffle Dressing ($15.00)
This was one of the highlights of the meal. The squid was perfectly pan fried and it was great to see the entire squid used, wings and all. The yuzu truffle dressing was tangy, salty and full of umami and worked beautifully with the squid. The salad was nice too, but that’s not why you’re ordering this one.
Yabby And Wattle Seed Roll With Preserved Lemon Mayo ($14.00)
Another highlight of the meal was the yabby and wattle seed roll which looked nothing like we had anticipated when it arrived on our table. The yabbie was fashioned into a sausage and the entire thing was served like a hot dog. A novel idea that thankfully wasn’t at the expense of flavour. The yabbie was sweet and delicate and the preserved lemon mayo gave each bite real citrus tang. I could have easily gone for another.
Crispy Skin Snapper With Pumpkin, Vadouvan Puffed Rice And Battered Mussels ($29.00)
Moving away from the “snacks and starters” section of the menu and onto the mains, we had to try the snapper which has been generating a bit of hype since Academy opened. With each bite it was clear to see why it’s been so popular. The snapper was perfectly cooked, nice and tender while the crispy skin added some textural difference to things. This textural difference continued elsewhere on the place – soft pumpkin and crispy rice, soft mussels and crispy batter. There was a lot going on in the plate, but nothing felt unnecessary.
Spicy Fried Chicken With Smoked Potato & Gravy And Apple Slaw ($23.00)
When the fried chicken arrived at our table the first thing that came to mind was “this is one bread roll away from a KFC potato & gravy box”, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was where the inspiration came from. The flavours are totally different than the aforementioned box however with the chicken being quite different than almost any other fried chicken we’ve recently had. It was crumbed as well as battered which gave it a super crispy double coating. A tick of approval there for doing something a bit different. There was spice there but for something advertised as “spicy” it was underwhelming on that front. The potato & gravy was thankfully quite smoky and went really well with the chicken. Overall a great choice, but can it be called spicy fried chicken? Let’s just say fried chicken.
Passionfruit Cheesecake With Coconut Meringue ($14.00)
This dessert was the better of the 2, with its simplicity really allowing the passionfruit to come through quite intensely. The meringue added an additional textural element to each bite in this fitting for summer dessert.
Chocolate Fondant With Salted Caramel Ice Cream And Peanuts ($14.00)
The “Snickers” flavour combination that’s been so popular around Melbourne over the past few years shows no signs of abating and this dessert is Academy’s take on the flavours. There wasn’t anything wrong with this dessert – the textural variances were there, as were the sweet and salty elements however given how many similar desserts are out there it didn’t really do anything to stand out from the pack.
How then does Academy Kitchen and Bar go with finding its middle ground between fine and casual dining? In many ways this isn’t a new concept to Melbourne – look at places like Town Mouse, St Crispin and Estelle Bistro for example. What Academy does that’s different from the rest is that the dial is turned more towards casual here. It’s reminiscent of last year’s ill fated Raconteur in Brunswick, a venue that tried a similar thing but ultimately failed due to its size, the confusion of the menu and the location. Academy has the location right and the space is small and cozy, so what it really comes down to is the food. Manning has taken a good crack at finding the middle ground he was seeking and the fact that there are more hits than misses so early on in the piece bodes well. We’ll be interested to see how the menu develops and refines over the coming months as Academy settles into its groove.
Academy Kitchen And Bar
318 Bridge Road
Telephone: (03) 9427 8231
Wed – Fri: 12:00pm to 11:00pm
Sat – Sun: 9:00am to 11:00pm