To question Gimlet’s beauty is like pondering out loud whether the sky is blue. One foot through the door into the Trader House team’s almighty fine diner and you’re swept into an era of astonishingly impressive 1920s glamour. The handsome, plush curved booths invite you to settle in and share a bottle of Champers with a friend, uniformed staff skate around the floor with ease, and warm light dances off the grand chandeliers overhead. It’s undeniably fabulous, but also cosy at the same time – less ostentatious ‘razzle-dazzle’ and more hearth-y and heartwarming somehow, even in all its magnificence.
Tonight, my friend and I are seated at the perimeter of the amphitheatre-like dining room, affording us generous views of both the sparkling hubbub of Russell Street at dusk and the swish centrepiece bar down the steps. Every dish that hovers by only serves to build that feeling of wistful anticipation, for while Gimlet is precious to look at (and sit in), our senses are set firmly on the food.
Of course, a Gimlet cocktail is the first thing you should start off with at Gimlet. And there is no better take on that juicy gin and lime invention in Melbourne than the classic one you can drink here. Refreshing and expertly balanced with moscato and a touch of Geraldton wax, it’s pure sophistication in a glass. We also knock back a Punch, a playful concoction of Jamaican rum, pomegranate wine falernum, hibiscus tea and pomegranate yoghurt. It’s a sublime start to the evening.
One need only glance at Andrew McConnell’s star-spangled portfolio (Cutler and Co, Cumulus Inc, Marion, Apollo Inn, Supernormal) to see that here is a man who knows what he’s doing. But Gimlet is truly something else – an unashamed landmark for special occasion dining, dishing up true European flavours with old-world hospitality and style.
Fluffy dark-crusted country sourdough bread arrives with cultured butter. A kindly sommelier appears to present us with a bottle of French bubbles, before pouring a slosh into each glass for us to taste. We’re overwhelmed with the scope of the stunning wine list and so he offers to pick a drop that will go well with each course so we can relax.
The Gimlet gilda, a punchy skewer of olives, fresh smoked tuna and pickled mussel, is a delightful foray into Basque tapas territory, but the remainder of the menu skews French. Our wood-roasted garfish comes bathed in a soup of rich caviar sauce, tender and silky soft. Fat glistening rings of calamarata pasta are tossed with fleshy prawns and celery, and the ultimate seafood sauce: a creamy tomato-orange Américaine. And our Gippsland strip steak is a tender marvel, popping with bulbs of spring garlic and a cheerily piquant salsa verde.
The produce sings on the palate with freshness, thanks to the kitchen’s dedication to working only with sustainable seafood producers and small-scale farmers and growers that hero the best of the season’s harvest. Our side dish of Kipfler potatoes with confit garlic aioli and a shower of melty pecorino is given much more than an afterthought, its nutty and earthy flavours blending beautifully with the rich steak and pasta dishes. A glass of fruity, dry rosé strips down all that butteriness and it’s a marriage made in heaven – cheers to the som.
You can, of course, go all out at Gimlet and dine on lobster, caviar service and exxy bottles of wine all night, but this taste of a few dishes here and there is truly a lovely way to experience the restaurant, which tends to feel welcoming and adaptive no matter how much you’re willing to splurge.
Three years young onto the scene, Gimlet remains as glittery and gorgeous as ever. But it’s settled into itself and grown warmer somehow, softer around the edges than other modern fine diners and steered by smart service staff who exhibit care and attention to detail at every touchpoint. It’s an indulgence (with a price tag to match), but you’ll float away afterwards on cloud nine.