268 Little Collins St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Aru was awarded the Good Food Guide’s best restaurant of 2022, and by god is it a doozy. The food, a very loosey-goosey Asian Fusion take on Modern Australian cuisine, is clever and refined down to the last detail, but also so, so much fun. Similarly, the cavernous space may seem intimidating, if not for the glimmering curtains and soft lighting dividing it into little crannies of laid-back conviviality. My only nit to pick is the service, which is sleek but a little impersonal, but that only stands out because everything else is just about impeccable. I originally ended up here because I couldn’t get a booking at Gimlet (more on that come September), but regrets? Not a single one.
Rating: 17/20 – aru’nt i glad i ate here.
Must-order: wagyu tongue, but also I don’t think it’s possible to go wrong here.
Don’t miss: the mocktails; they may seem pricy but you’re getting quality akin to the most intricately-crafted cocktails.
No two ways about it, the Wagyu Tongue ($24) is a sucker-punch KO of a start. The buttery meat, smoky marrow, and violently pungent Vietnamese-styled sate sauce wrapped up in a peppery betel leaf is just about a flawless mouthful. It’s got flavour for miles, yet the careful balance meant no single element overwhelmed another.
Are you a real Aussie if you don’t order the Duck Sausage Sanga ($18ea)? Reminiscent of the blood sausage version served at Ester, this puts a light Asian spin on the summer BBQ classic, by swapping out tomato sauce for a sweet yet savoury combination of honey and peanut hoisin.
Now this, this is fun. The Pâté en Croute ($34) is made in the style of a traditional terrine, except it’s filled with all the goodies you’ll expect to find in a banh mi. The textured meats are stuffed full of herbs and umami flavours, and it’s even complete with a centre of pâté, and a cap of meat jelly – the latter which you’ll only find in the most traditional of sandwiches. And don’t forget the cucumbers and pickled daikon, which are served as a delicate little side salad, dolloped with creamy mayo. Take a bit of everything and have it all in one go; the resemblance is uncanny, almost alchemical.
The Kingfish Collar ($24, small) is for those who like to work for their food. I personally love picking off the tender morsels of meat, sweetened by a dry curry rub, its edges charcoaled by flames. Daub a bit of the tangy, slightly astringent orange kosho – it really brings on the complexity of the spices.
The 14-Day Dry Aged Duck ($68) is a stunner – the balance between crisp, fatty skin and succulent meat absolutely exquisite. Rounding out the decadence is a hearty sauté of rhubarb leaves, black cabbage, and bamboo shoots, which not only had enough weight to hold up against the duck, but also absorbed the sweet, fruity sauce beautifully.
In yet another call-back to my meal at Ester 5 years ago, dessert was a Scorched Pavlova ($24). But whilst the fancy sausage sizzle at Aru definitely won out between the two, Ester did this one better. Although a perfectly tasty combination of meringue, coconut, passionfruit, and cream, it just wasn’t very inspired, especially compared to the rest of the meal.
The Ante Up ($16) is easily the best non-alcoholic I’ve had since my visit to Quay, which taught me just how good booze-free drinks could be. For starters, it’s great to see presentation that rivals that of a fancy cocktail. And of course, the flavour was phenomenal. A sharp start of yuzu is mellowed out by the deliciously floral, caramel tones of leatherwood honey, whilst a base of spiced (non-alcoholic) gin gives each mouthful a lingering complexity. I’m really, really loving how there’s finally beginning to be recognition that not everyone wants to drink, and that not drinking doesn’t mean you’re automatically relegated to a subpar experience.
Another delicious alcohol-free option is the Melon + Smoke ($16). The use of gently brewed Pu’er tea makes for a more delicate, earthy flavour, though I would’ve liked to see a hint more smoke alongside the melon.