53 Gertrude St
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
It is a widely known fact that everything Andrew McConnell touches turns to gold, but as much as I adore the man, I have had a few lacklustre experiences in his slew of amazing restaurants. Still, that ratio doesn’t stop me from being excited when I heard about the opening of Marion, a companion wine bar to his Modern Australian superstar, Cutler and Co.
Located right next door to Cutler and Co, Marion is housed in one of the many historic buildings that are a feature of Gertrude Street. Spread across two storefronts with the middling wall knocked out, the front half consists of a bar and quaint tables for couples, whilst further in you’ll find the large open kitchen and a space designed for group dining. Despite the whitewashed brick walls and somewhat industrial fit-out, the overall vibe is actually charmingly European, and really quite elegant. Call it the Fitzroy Effect if you will.
Although there is a rotating list of nibbles and share plates spelt out on the wall with wooden blocks, Marion is first and foremost a wine bar. This place is better stocked than many bottle shops, and there are entire categories of wine I had never heard of. Like pinot noir? How about choosing from a selection of 30? Looking for a way to spend your inheritance? The $3350 bottle of red should do it. There is also a respectable selection of other tipples on offer, but being neither a fan of wine nor losing my license, I thought it best to stick with the food.
That said, I couldn’t resist a glass of the Giulio Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino ($11). After all, it’s Friday, and I won’t be driving for several hours. This golden vermouth tasted of honey and fruit; it’s bold, heady aroma was very Italian indeed.
Whilst the wine-drinkers were given a small dish of nuts to nibble on, we were bestowed with a plate of Flatbread with Fromage Blanc to whet our appetites. Glistening with melted butter and wafting with the hypnotic scent of garlic, these fluffy yet crisp pieces of flatbread were sinfully good. To go with it was a cool, creamy dollop of fromage blanc – made in house, of course.
For those of you who don’t like ambiguity, the menu at Marion will not be for you, as the simplicity of the names gives nothing away. Case in point: the vaguely named Kingfish ($12) was actually a beautiful underwater garden of sashimi, mussels, and edible aquatic plant life. The delicate folds of kingfish and plump, smoky mussels were complemented with a creamy mustard sauce, the bold flavours highlighted by threads of pickled onion.
Continuing with the seafood theme, we indulged in a plate of Grilled Calamari ($16). The curls of squid were beautifully cooked, with a smoky charred exterior, and a centre that was almost sticky in its pearly tenderness. Dressed with a mixture of fromage blanc, herb paste, and a generous amount of coarse black pepper, this was bright and vivacious drinking food at its classiest.
The Ox Tongue Mortadella ($14) was an unabashed carnivorous fantasy. The top layer consisted of velvety ribbons of ox tongue with crispy edges, and on the bottom were large sheets of pan-fried mortadella. It was all held together with dollops of sweet mandarin puree, and basically tasted like fancy ham and bacon.
The Padron Peppers Jamon ($14) is a popular dish everywhere, because as it turns out, people seem to love a bit of risk. For those of you who don’t know, padron peppers are often dubbed The Russian Roulette, or as I like to call it, The Capsaicin Crapshoot. Whilst most of them are sweet and smoky, and absolutely delicious wrapped in sheets of jamon, approximately 1 in 10 is extremely spicy. Now I have had these before, and from personal experience, the spicy ones are hot but edible. Unfortunately for me, one of the ones I picked up was cataclysmically nuclear, and within seconds my mouth felt like it had been branded with a hot iron. Thankfully when I called our waiter over, he took one look at my face and poured me a tall glass of cold milk. And you know what? Even their milk was delicious. I took much, much smaller bites of the peppers from then on.
The Pasta Fricelli ($23) on the other hand was unadulterated comfort food. Each little tube of pasta was al dente, garnished simply with a smidge of butter and a handful of wilted chicory. It was simultaneously homely and classy – the kind of thing I imagine chefs cook up for their supper.
Needless to say, I was pretty taken with Marion, even without being a wine-enthusiast. I adored the casual elegance of our meal, and the way the time stretched out like taffy over the parade of good food. I have to admit that the busyness took away from the quaintness of the setting, especially when a group of 4 decided to cram themselves into a table for two next to us. But despite that, I will definitely be back.
Rating: 15/20 – capsaicin crapshoot.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.