23 Bank Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9670 1777
Disclaimer: Libby and Marty dined as guests of Syracuse and Dig + Fish.
“I’ll be dining at Syracuse this weekend.”
“Syracuse, isn’t that in New York or something?”
Well yes, guys, Syracuse is in New York. It also happens to be the name of a restaurant-slash-wine bar in Melbourne’s Bank Place.
I’ve walked past Syracuse several times en route trivia nights at The Mitre on the same tree-lined pedestrian thoroughfare. And while I knew it was once a hatted restaurant, I must admit that I didn’t know much else about it. So when Alice from Dig + Fish invited me to dinner there, I delightedly accepted.
Syracuse opens for breakfast and wraps up pretty late at night. Marty was flying in from Queensland that evening so a 6pm dinner booking was out of the question. When I asked Alice about the latest time I can make a dinner booking, she said the kitchen closed at 11pm so a 10pm dinner booking was fine.
We may have been a little bit late for our booking (let this be a lesson to all to ensure that you have enough time to make your flight before it closes, ahem), but the waiters at Syracuse were cool about it and lead us to a table against the wall.
Syracuse is housed in a 19th century-styled building where ornate arches, high ceilings and chandeliers make themselves at home next door to one of Melbourne’s oldest pubs (go the Mitre!). The lights are dim on evenings, creating a romantic yet warm atmosphere for couples on a date and ladies catching up over desserts and wines. We just so happened to rock up at the end of the financial year, so there were also big groups of suits celebrating a draining year over food and booze that evening.
Syracuse boasts a 25-page wine list and a Hugh Sanderson-designed menu that’s fittingly European, with nuances of Australiana thrown in for good measure. Think sautéed king prawns with shellfish butter, green olives, morcilla and white anchovy. Or wallaby with oyster sauce, pepperberries and kiwifruit.
This was the first of several starters we shared. The dish was a lovely study of textures, with the super-fresh raw tuna cubes being the highlight.
Next, we munched on some beautifully tender lamb cutlets. I especially loved the sweet miso marinade, which made these babies even more flavoursome.
‘Hungarian meatballs? What on earth are they?’ we thought, but we ordered them anyway. Turns out that all you need to do to call something Hungarian is to use lots and lots of paprika. Regardless, these meatballs were fantastic. The balls themselves were tender and full of flavour, while the paprika sauce just popped them on another level. Hell, even the sauerkraut (something that I don’t normally froth over) was fantastic in that it wasn’t overpowering.
Syracuse is supposedly famous for its terrines, something that we didn’t know on the night. To be honest, we probably would have bypassed this dish if the words ‘ bacon jelly’ did not catch our eye. I mean, seriously, BACON JELLY. Like we’d say no to it.
The terrine itself was beautiful – I especially loved the combination of the gamey pheasant and the earthy pistachios together. Meanwhile, the apple and quince chutney did well to provide sweet relief to the dish. As for the bacon jelly, it was simply that: bacon in jelly form. But it was good. REALLY GOOD. Marty jokingly said that it was Aeroplane jelly for adults but to be honest, I think I’d take bacon jelly over orange-flavoured jelly any time.
This dish did take a while to arrive at our table but the wait was well worth it. It was simply perfect in its execution and well, bacon jelly. Nothing else needs to be said.
Despite enjoying all those beautiful sharing dishes, we were bummed to have missed out on the fried green tomatoes – we were told they were sold out. That’ll teach us to make a 10pm dinner booking on a Friday night, hey.
But anyway, to our mains. Marty ordered the cod, on recommendation of the waitress. The cod was cooked beautifully, with the crispy skin providing a lovely textural contrast to the soft, silky flesh. I was afraid that the other ingredients would overpower the fish but was glad to see that their effects were much more subtle than I thought, hence providing a balanced supporting cast to the cod.
I had the entrée-sized risotto. While it wasn’t a bad dish, the smell of the broccoli, truffles and cheese made me want to hurl. I love each of the ingredients but I now know that they don’t work well together. I did manage to finish the dish, which tasted just fine – when you block your nose – but I think a little less broccoli (or none at all) would have worked just fine.
We skipped dessert and went straight for the coffees, probably not a good idea when it’s close to midnight but whatever.
Despite my very smelly risotto, we both enjoyed our late dinner at Syracuse. We were wooed by its romantic atmosphere, elevated by a bit of live flamenco guitar music (only on Friday evenings). We were also won over by the menu that was European-influenced yet screamed out Melbourne at the same time. And we were won over by OMG BACON JELLY.
I do have to say that the restaurant was severely understaffed that night so it meant that service was slow, especially in the early stages of the evening. That said, the staff on the floor did well given all the pressure. I would have also liked to receive all our sharing dishes at the same time, rather than one after the other. I mean, we weren’t in a rush to go anywhere that night but I’m one for efficiency and whatnot.
In a city that’s full of annoying hipster dining trends, I’m glad that a place like Syracuse exists. It celebrates Melbourne’s history and its European influences, while being fun at the same time (HELLO, BACON JELLY?). Plus, its late opening hours means that you can enjoy a coffee or two in a secluded laneway without having to deal with the idiots and bright lights of Swanston Street before heading down.
Question: What unusual ingredient would you like to eat in jelly form?