When I first moved here I was told that Melbourne is the kind of city that keeps revealing itself to you over many years. I learned that newcomers often find Melbourne a difficult place to get to know, because the best restaurants, bars and shops are often unmarked doors hidden down random alleyways. This is why visitors to Melbourne always do best when they know people here who can show them around.
I love that even though I have now lived in this amazing city for 13 years, I can still experience the thrill of discovering new places. This is how I felt when I walked into Eau de Vie for the first time a few weeks ago.
My friend Cynthia is the kind of girl who knows a lot of places around town. She loves to eat, and has a job where she regularly entertains clients, so I get the impression that there aren’t many places around town that she doesn’t know. After an always-impressive dinner at Il Bacaro (order the spaghettini with Moreton Bay Bugs… make it a large one!), we followed Cynthia down a random alleyway to find a quintessentially Melbourne unmarked door.
The vibe at Eau de Vie is sophisticated without being stuffy, and friendly without being fake. Think 1920s speakeasy without the phony theme park feeling. This is the kind of place where customers are invited to purchase a special bottle of something to store in their personal drinks cabinet, kept under lock and key behind the bar. It’s a bit fancy, but still relaxed and intimate.
Upon entering Eau de Vie, you’re welcomed like a VIP and led to your table (it’s always better to book). These guys really know how to provide proper service. The cocktail menu has all the old school favourites enough fresh addiitons to make you feel adventurous. The drinks arrive with a theatrical flourish that makes you feel as though you’re somewhere special. We loved the Dark and Stormy served in a ceramic Tiki mug, and the Espresso Zabaione which gives a brief nod to the Adams Family as the dry ice smoke wafts over the top of the waiter’s tray to create a frozen mousse head.
The bartenders have a sense of humour here.
O and I loved Eau de Vie so much, that we returned there on Saturday night, this time for dinner. I loved being able to introduce some new people to this place, as it reminds me that mothers of two young kids like me can still be “sophistimicated” and don’t have to stay at home in their trackie dacks every night.
We were celebrating a friend’s promotion and they’d already cracked open a bottle of bubbles by the time O and I arrived. I always find that I can test out what a restaurant can truly do by placing our order solely in the hands of the staff. So we placed ourselves in the capable hands of Greg, Mr Eau de Vie, and asked him to bring us lots of wonderful things to eat and drink.
Usually, this is my favourite way to order in a good restaurant. I spend a lot of my life making decisions about food, so it’s refreshing to go out and have someone else make them for me. It works best when you are in a good restaurant like Eau de Vie, that specialises in shared tasting plates. It also works best when you are dining with other adventurous eaters who don’t have any dietary restrictions and who aren’t afraid to try new things.
You also need to have faith that you’re eating in the kind of restaurant that will want to impress you. You want the chef to be flattered that someone will be asking him to show off what he can really do, and in a good restaurant you usually get a few off-menu favourites that the chef has been keeping up his sleeve. A not-so-good restaurant will take it as an opportunity to use up stock they’re trying to move, so choose wisely.
We weren’t disappointed on Saturday night. The cocktails came thick and fast between courses, which included Scotch Eggs, fried zucchini flowers, steak tartare, jamon and deliciously sticky pork belly.
After such a great meal and such an impressive crescendo of cocktails, Eau de Vie is one of my new favourite places. The menu was so creative that I suspect we’ll get treated to something different each visit. I’m already looking forward to the next trip down that alleyway.