For those who had ever frequented the Continental Hotel's upper level back in its heyday, stepping into Audrey's will come as a pleasant shock. It would be an understatement to say the space – once affectionately known as 'the dungeon at the Conti' – was previously far less refined than its current iteration as Scott Pickett's (Smith St Bistrot, Estelle, Chancery Lane) new dazzler.
Audrey’s is about as far from a dungeon as it gets, with wall-to-wall windows lining the dining room overlooking sea views of Sorrento. You arrive to plush green velvet booths, white tablecloths and a grand raw marble bar with caviar, oysters and seafood atop. A homage to Pickett's grandmother, Audrey, who instilled his passion for cooking, the restaurant revels in Great Gatsby-esque elegance. It’s nice, real nice. And though it is an elevated dining experience, it retains the relaxed seaside atmosphere from downstairs that makes it less on the stiff side.
The seafood-only degustation menu ($150 per person) is comprised of four courses, although expect many more by way of small snack surprises. Said surprises include bread and a trio of butters (cultured, seaweed and miso) as well as spanner crab tartlets sprinkled with caviar and creamy-as-anything Coopers Island oysters with apple and white balsamic, among others. It starts off fresh, with a yellowfin tuna dish hidden under a bed of pickled burnt cucumbers and a welcomed mussel mayo that adds just enough oomph.
The snack time dishes best lend themselves to a glass of 2020 Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste Kabinett Riesling ($14) that in typical German style errs on the sweet side, though proves to be a solid option for most of the seafood-centred dishes. You’ll have no issue picking a good drop here. The impressive wine list matches Audrey’s best in class fitout. Curated by head sommelier Andrew Murch, the offering has everything from local Peninsula producers to French and Italian wines. The cocktails are also anything but a side show here, with an inventive menu concocted by Speakeasy Group (Eau de Vie, Nick & Nora’s).
Each course surprises and delights, though you’re bound to marvel at the arrival of the ‘spag bol’ – a take on grandma Audrey’s – made from local Mornington Peninsula squid. At first glance the mind boggles. It’s pasta, one thinks. By all accounts, the perfectly symmetrical sheets look as if they’re made from flour and water. Instead, squid is disguised as noodles of pasta, made – impressively – by freezing the squid, delicately slicing it and bringing it back to life by blanching it in a clarified butter. What results are strands of squid that provide sweetness in the way that only fruits of the sea can, twirled up in a salty, rich XO shiitake ‘bolognese’ that offers umami in spades. It’s inventive, and it works. If one could order it in bucket-size, one would.
Whilst the spag bol was a tough act to follow, a crispy-skinned fillet of Mulloway comes buttery and light with a beautifully-balanced cider emulsion. And, for those who want to deviate from the seafood for a moment, there’s the option of a meat add on ($40 per person). On this occasion, it’s a very finessed version of steak and chats – two (modest) pieces of well-marbled Wagyu rump cap with bone marrow jus and potatoes from nearby Hawkes farm in Fingal. Is it a bit of an odd addition to an all-seafood menu? Maybe. Though through skilful execution it manages to maintain the flow of the dishes that came before it.
By the time dessert comes, you realise Audrey’s is the gift that keeps on giving, much like a loving grandma who whips up feast after feast so effortlessly. The palate cleanser is a vibrant and ice-cold foam that tastes like the best kind of cloudy apple. The vacherin, a mainstay on the menu, is also one worth raving about. Much like the old retro ice-cream cake, this has all the good stuff: discs of meringue, cream, some form of fruit. It’s one helluva sophisticated take and strikes the balance of being sweet but not too sweet, conceptual but still nostalgic and, well, delightful.
Audrey’s is everything you want it to be and the impressive fine diner lives up to the four-year wait hype that was the Conti’s renovation. On the way out, you’ll notice another subtle nod to grandma – old school lolly jars, placed in front of a portrait of Audrey herself. And just like a visit to grandma’s, you’ll leave feeling full, taken care of, and just that little bit spoiled. A treat!