MELBOURNE | Gimlet at Cavendish House is the most recent addition to Andrew McConnel’s restaurant portfolio (Supernormal, Cumulus Inc, Marion, and more) , opening in between lockdowns in 2020. It’s arguably his most ambitious venture yet, a restaurant that’s designed to make a statement.
Housed inside the heritage listed, Art Deco 1920s Cavendish House, the space has been reimagined as a big, bold, and glamorous Chicago or New York take on a Parisian bistro. It’s gorgeous, with chequered black and while tiles, plus leather booths, a large u-shaped marble bar, and intricate hanging light fixtures. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the place always looked like this.
Gimlet is the kind of place that you visit for a special occasion, the place where you dress up for dinner, and the place that you go to be seen. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s a stuffy, pretentious spot that’s about style over substance, however. Service is attentive but not overbearing, professional but friendly. If you want, you can walk in wearing jeans and a hoodie for a few snacks and a drink at the bar, and you’ll be more than welcome.
The menu is very much inspired by European bistro classics, using the best possible local ingredients. Several dishes stick to tradition, but there are also contemporary flourishes, interesting flavour combinations, and native Australian ingredients to be found throughout.
The huge wood-fired grill that can be seen along the rear wall of the open kitchen, in full view behind the bar, is a showpiece. An entire section of the menu is dedicated to the grill. There’s also a section for cheese and caviar. Most of the menu is designed to share, but it’s also a menu that lends itself well to solo snacking.
Gnocco fritto topped with luscious bresaola and parmesan is a must order starter. Also brilliant to start is the bonito, cucumber, and French sorrel with spring onion vinaigrette. The half Southern rock lobster, wood-roasted in saffron rice, served with “bisque” sauce, is one of the most expensive things on the menu, and it’s as deliciously indulgent as you’d expect. If you do order it, make sure to grab a serve of fries to dip into all of those sauces.
For dessert, chocoholics can’t look past the baked Valrhona chocolate, topped with crème frâiche. It’s a simple and rich delight, perfectly executed. The gelato of the day is also well worth a look in. When I visited, it was mandarin, brown butter and nutmeg.
To drink, there’s an extensive list of new and old world wines by the bottle and glass, with a focus on smaller producers. There’s a small but quality beer menu, including a few local craft taps, and outstanding cocktails and spirits. The house gimlet combines Tanqueray Gin, Moscato, triple citrus cordial, and Geraldton wax. It’s a crowd favourite. I recommend the Blood Rose – Delord Bas Armagnac VSOP, Black Koji mole, and blood plum.
Gimlet at Cavendish House
33 Russell Street
Mon – Sun: 12:00pm to 12:00pm