In the last few years there’s been a lot more interest in casual dining than fine dining in Melbourne; not to say that fine dining is dead, it is well and truly alive and kicking. There’s still plenty of exceptional fine dining restaurants in Melbourne, not to mention informal restaurants, which serve up fine dining quality food, just in more casual surrounds.
A great example of a casual meets fine dining restaurant is the newest kid on the block in Richmond – Academy Kitchen and Bar – which has joined one of Melbourne’s most flourishing foodie strips, Bridge Road. Owner and chef, Will Manning, is not a stranger to fine dining. He comes with a bevy of international experience in Michelin starred restaurants including LaTrompette, Foliage and Smiths of Smithfield in London and, more recently, he co-owned Townhouse in Toorak.
At Academy Kitchen and Bar the menu is fairly compact, neatly divided into snacks and starters, mains, sides and dessert. Showing off his international experience and flair for fine dining, Manning has cleverly crafted a menu, which sees finer dining options paired with casual options like fried chicken and burgers. Seem confusing? Strangely not. Each dish has Manning’s touch of creativity; old favourites are given a twist, like the spicy fried chicken paired with smoked potato and gravy and apple slaw. Academy celebrates informal dining in its finest form.
Academy Kitchen and Bar is a handsome venue, full of clean lines, exposed brick, timber and a rather attractive bar counter. There are a few tables to dine alfresco and people watch on Bridge Road, or sit at the bar at the heart of the action. Industrial type globes in the front dining room illuminate timber tables, while the rear room has more of a quiet intimate feel.
We started with the crispy pigs’ ears and kohlrabi lettuce wraps ($14). I remember trying pigs’ ears for the first time at Duck and Waffle in London and being instantly enamored by them. Delicately spiced, the ears were teamed with slithers of kohlrabi and hot sauce, which provided a bit of heat to the dish. A cup of crisp lettuce was perfect to wrap the filling. I can see this dish being a huge hit on the menu in months to come.
Also on the starters menu is the yabby and wattle seed roll with preserved lemon mayonnaise ($14). It’s great to see a restaurant embracing some native Australian ingredients: And this roll was nothing short of superb. In typical hot dog style, a yabby type sausage was sandwiched between a golden buttery brioche bun, finished with preserved lemon mayonnaise and a touch of spice.
The larger dishes were equally impressive. The raclette potato agnolotti with asparagus, peas and mushrooms took me straight back to Italy. Agnolotti, which is typical of the Piedmont region of Italy, is made with small pieces of flattened pasta dough. The parcels were cooked perfectly, the raclette and potato providing a beautiful creamy flavour which was lightened by the greens.
A generous piece of crispy skin snapper was teamed with pumpkin, vaduovan puffed rice and battered mussels. The snapper was nice and crispy on the outside but unfortunately a little overcooked for my liking (but I do tend to like my fish more on the undercooked side). Putting that aside for now, the flavours were superb and harmonised brilliantly on the plate.
To finish, a strawberry shortcake sundae. Need I say more? I better. The sundae was enough to conjure up whimsical feelings of childhood, with its burst of flavour, colour and texture. Strawberry icecream was layered with cake, peppermint, lime and some pop rocks and dehydrated raspberries for extra measure.
It’s great to see a casual eatery delivering top-notch food at affordable prices. If Manning keeps on delivering food like this, Academy Kitchen and Bar will be a staple in Bridge Road for many months to come. I can’t wait to come back to try the weekend brunch menu. With options like warm coconut rice with mango, chilli and candied lime it sounds amazing. And the locally roasted Seven Seeds is a bonus too.
Academy Kitchen and Bar
A 318 Bridge Road, Richmond, Melbourne
T 03 9427 8231
I was invited as a guest of Academy Kitchen and Bar. All views are honest and my own.