First impressions count, and Grill Americano delivers plenty of good ones. Chris Lucas’ latest restaurant distils a retro-glam brief into a squelchingly expensive fit-out of terrazzo floors and royal blue leather seats, a sweeping white marble bar lit by individual deco-ish lamps and the sultry backdrop of ink-blue walls. Gosh, it’s nice. Add a soundtrack that will whisk you straight to the Amalfi Coast in the company of Dickie Greenleaf and it’s almost impossible to resist.
Unlike Society, Lucas’ big restaurant play of 2021, this isn’t a venue ruled by highfalutin technique and chef-auteur worship. A produce-driven grill hanging at the Italian end of the steakhouse dial requires little explanation, bless it. With all the stylistic ducks in a row, the kitchen’s mission is simply to keep up its end of the bargain, and it does so with oodles of confidence across the canon of oysters, charcuterie and pasta to steak and its merry band of luxe proteins from the wood grill.
But let’s start with the important business of snacks, which tend to fall into the "fried, salty and cheesy" bracket. There are arancini, miniaturised into crisp-crusted two-bite wonders, bedded in pea puree and showered in a tangy fluff of Reggiano. Little squares of fried polenta get their cacio e pepe on with a blizzard of parmesan and spicy aioli. And stuffed with a farce of chicken, pork and veal, the fried green olives champion the "luxe nonna" category.
The mantra of simplicity guides a menu long enough it should come with a trigger warning for the indecisive. There’s a matrix of smoke-licked octopus discs going the carpaccio route, dressed simply with parsley and lemon, a fizz of chilli and a generous glug of good olive oil. There’s ravioli caprese, each fat pouch oozing goats’ curd innards and bursting with the edible sunshine of a sweet, unfussed napoli.
And there's steak, of course. Expensive? Si. Whether a sirloin New York cut, wagyu bavette or Florentine-style Bistecca, your piece of protein on a plate does not come cheap – but look on the bright side of precision cooking on the charcoal grill and a sauce smorgasbord including black truffle butter and green peppercorn with Cognac. No, you cannot do steak like this at home.
Grill Americano's appeal isn't confined to the surroundings and the menu, nor even the predictably weighty wine list playing up to both the big spenders looking for big-name producers and the chin-scratchers after the interesting and the hip. Maybe Lucas has gathered the A-list service team from across his venues to launch the Flinders Lane baby but they’re all smooth operators, from the suited ringmasters to the white-jacketed worker bees. Add the kinetic energy of Melbournians thrilled to be dining in splendour again and it beats front-row tickets to Hamilton for sheer viewing pleasure.
The showstopper here is dessert. Namely the vanilla-meringue cake that cast off its moorings from Harry’s Bar in Venice to travel the world. Its tiger-striped layers of sponge and vanilla custard encased in punkish spikes of flamed meringue is one of those sights that makes the whole room pause. In the eating (sweetish, delicately compelling) it becomes a case of style meeting substance. Sums it up, really.
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