Time Out says
It’s brash, it’s bold, and it’s broadly barbecue. Cheek is here to divide and conquer
If ever there was a restaurant aimed directly at the jugular of anyone under the age of 30, Cheek is it. Cheek was born under the star sign of 'go hard or go home'. It is the restaurant equivalent of a summer dance party; the place to woo a date against an backdrop of the pretty young things who’ve flocked to this pink-staircased bower above Swanston Street.
It’s the sibling to Dexter, Preston’s home of American barbecue, but Cheek is a more metrosexual beast. With no fixed geographical point of reference and a vague mission statement involving “meat, but not as you know it”, Cheek is a restaurant designed for people who’ve come of restaurant age in a post-canonical world. It pulls Korean moves on the steak tartare, adds some Chinese heft to the duck and argues a Transatlantic case on the steak.
A sleek fit-out makes like a sexy spaceship with a tableau of meat hanging at one end and an intergalactic, backlit wall of low-fi-leaning wine. Cheek has the ambition to match the looks (a bar on the floor above and a rooftop are due to open soon) and a quorum of hard, shiny surfaces to create the aural equivalent of a stadium concert. It’s predictably busy and staff work hard to keep the the caboose on the rails.
Prawn crackers with a sprinkling of barbecue dust and edamame lolling in a luscious savoury buttery are the primers for a menu that sticks to a broadly barbecue theme. Golden-breaded chicken wings with yuzu kosho mayo take the finger food of the Deep South on a Tokyo holiday. The pull-apart char and fat of pork cheek in an agrodolce sauce is kept in check by curls of pickled apple.
Occasionally the menu pummels its modest charms with ham-fisted enthusiasm. To wit: the gastronomic naughtiness of putting dessert at the start of the meal via profiteroles stuffed with chicken liver parfait and raspberry jam, the calorific orbs then dusted in chocolate. Kazuki’s, a few kilometres away on Lygon Street, is kicking goals doing something similar (minus the chocolate) but this sugar and fat-bomb conjures images of a 1976 Elvis Presley.
But the New York strip steak has nicely judged crust and seasoning, a slightly bitter edge to the thin sauce and bone marrow on the top that will make your arteries contract with the merest glance.
If there’s will for dessert, the sensible option – and by that we don’t mean the brioche ice-cream and parsnip with hundreds and thousands – is the palate-cleansing ginger granita set against an ambrosial yuzu ice-cream.
The wine list’s collar matches the food’s cuffs. It’s a bold, “interesting” (their words, but we agree) collection that stands up to the food with the help of a global band of wine-making eccentrics. Or submit yourself body and soul to the program at hand with a peanut butter bourbon cocktail with pickle juice and ancho chilli rim. It’s too cheeky by half – which we gather is exactly the point.