236 Swan St
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu 5 pm-late, Fri-Sat noon-late|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $ 20- $ 40)|
|Phone||03 7033 1674|
Is it generous or a cop-out when an artist names a work “Untitled”?
I’m with American artist Mark Rothko on that one: it allows the observer their own interpretation.
But what does it mean for a restaurant? The team behind Richmond restaurant Untitled undoubtedly had art in mind when they settled on that name. The Swan Street entrance to the two-level space is hung with two scene-setting, chewily textural abstract works by artist Gregory Hodge while pieces by Melbourne artist Lucina Lane hang in the upstairs dining room.
So are we supposed to take Untitled as a work of art too, or are we being invited to use the restaurant as we like? A bit of both, it seems.
Untitled’s menu, from chef Timothy Martin (ex-The European), is a user-friendly, flexible and reasonably priced list of comforting flavors that signals the intent to be a local restaurant angling for repeat business from the surrounding neighborhood. It does it well too, punters to choose their own adventure.
There are small snacky things such as oysters served at the proper (cool, not chilled) temperature with a very good celery heart-flavored mignonette ($ 6 each), the earthiness working a treat with the oysters’ salty brine.
There are also correctly golden arancini ($ 12 for two), filled with a take on the traditional risi e bisi (rice and peas) with some fresh ricotta thrown in for good measure, and a pretty scallop crudo ($ 26) served with pickled green tomatoes and saltbush, dressed with fresh lime and olive oil that just pulls back from the brink of being overly acidic.
If you’re just stopping by for a cocktail (a martini, made with 3608 gin from Nagambie arrives satisfyingly swiftly), you’d be happy with Untitled’s snack game that also includes an excellent fougasse-style flatbread ($ 4).
Larger dishes are easy to share and understand too. Gnocchi with slow-cooked duck ragu ($ 35), the silky sauce flecked with shreds of warrigal greens and crowned with a rich walnut pangrattato, makes as much sense for a solo diner perched downstairs at the horseshoe bar nursing a glass of King Valley sangiovese, as it does sharing it with a group of friends in the darker, moodier space upstairs.
That group might also add the free-range porchetta ($ 36), lifted with a skilfully balanced fennel jus gras, a not-quite-successful paste of almond, sesame and spices, and, lovely touch, large whole leaves of fresh sorrel adding a citrus freshness.
Don’t miss Martin’s take on mejadra, the classic Middle Eastern rice dish ($ 24), here with added farro and fragrant with cinnamon, cumin and coriander and the essential crisp fried onions.
Similarly, when dessert time rolls around and there are only two choices – an excellent version of the traditional eastern European (formerly Russian) honey cake, medovik, and an indulgent, super-sweet chocolate-bar like chocolate and salted caramel delice (both $ 15 ) – you should order both.
Given that one of Untitled’s owners has family connections to Mitchelton Winery, it’s not a surprise to see some of those wines on the list. They’re good value and their 2018 “Collection” Heathcote shiraz ($ 105) is particularly worth considering among a gathering that meanders across Australia, with an occasional Spanish, French or Austrian ring-in.
But back to the art thing. Successful restaurant design is an art and Melbourne is very, very good at it, so much so that in a city that’s given us names such as Connell, Gomes-McNabb, Six Degrees and Foschia, just for starters, it’s easy to take eating in beautifully designed spaces for granted.
Untitled is a good-looking place, designed by Flack Studio (who swivelled international heads recently after remodelling pop star Troye Sivan’s new Melbourne pad), a study in curves and textures, light and air, from warm timber to both black and white marble, steel, textured plaster, rippled glass and indoor greenery.
There are many great details, like the metal and leather bar stools around the downstairs bar or the green painted edges of the timber tables, that subtly but surely enhance the overall experience. And there’s the art on the walls too, of course.
In the end, everybody will interpret Untitled their own way but chances are that interpretation will include plans for a return visit.
Vibe Casual designer
Go-to dish Honey cake with amaretto
Cost About $ 160 for two, plus drinks
Drinks Smart, compact, trend-conscious list
Pro-tip Nightcap? Next-door cocktail bar The Ugly Duckling has the same owners.
Michael Harden is Good Food’s acting chief reviewer.