Encapsulating California OC’s sleek sophistication and South American flavours and hospitality, Newmarket is brilliant.
St Kilda is an inner-city bayside township with a history, and present, of extreme contradictions. Palatial mansions with breathtaking sea views, twin-set pearls and long-established fine dining institutions with soaring prices, are juxtaposed against grubby medium-density housing, bohemian hipsters and grungy seedy bars attracting the fishnets and leathers. Joining St Kilda’s internal identity contradiction is Newmarket Hotel, complete with a history and a frontage of a down and dirty pub recently transformed into a rather strikingly sleek dining venue that buzzes like an uber-trendy, open-plan house party. Seamlessly transcending the boundaries of outside and inside, there are four distinct but fluidly connected terraced seating areas. The main dining area does away with Melbourne’s obsession for bistro hard wood chairs, offering instead the posterior-friendly comfort of retro, upholstered, swivelling cauldron seats as accompaniments to honeyed wood tables set with black woven placemats. Positioned under imposing Moorish hacienda-esque concrete arches and futuristic UFO-shaped drop pendants, it slides into a large centrally-located brick enclosure of a bar that plies a fast and furious trade, and which in turn opens out onto two areas — a huge communal table that affords a vantage point of toiling chefs, and a breezy al fresco courtyard. It’s all washed ablaze in a lurid Cubist palette of garish terracotta of the brick frontage, deep twilight blue of the ceiling, cool greys of the pillars and walls, bright tartan of the carpetting, warm ochre tones of the dried chilli decorations and tango couples and matadors flitting on the wallpaper. At midday, it begins as a subdued languorous affair, gathering both momentum and decibels as the hours strike closer to the next twelve.
MoMo & Coco visited for a weekend lunch. Composed into a one-page document, Newmarket Hotel’s a la carte Hispanic/Southern California/South American menu was as flexible as the venue’s set-out. Allowing one to opt for nibbles of shared plates and alternatively, go the way of a traditional 3-course structured meal, selection may be made from an array of interesting “seasonal starters,” to “ensaladas and empanadas, cocas and latin street food,” to a jumble of “main courses and wood oven rotisserie” plates. Being spring/summer and lunch, MoMo & Coco’s dining party erred towards a lighter option. From the list of “starters,” the Wood-roasted Octopus Salad ($18) was a memorable fiery opening, just-seared tiny morsels of octopus darting through a spicy salad that called for many a waterglass, doused as it was in pimentos and tossed with shards of lime, pumpkin and crunchy vegetables. The BBQ Corn on Cobs ($6 each) were decidedly juicy, smothered in sour cream flecked with queso fresco. One pair thatched with a spray of prawn salad, and another pair served with a huddle of soft-shell crab, the serving of just two Tacos ($16) were unjustifiably overpriced morsels, but nonetheless veritable flavour explosions. Boom! More generous in size were the crescents of Quesadilla ($17), folded with spinach and earthy huitlacoche (a Mexican corn fungus truffle paste), and sweeps of cheese and mushrooms.
To fill up the stomach just a little more, our dining party selected the more-puffy-than-flat Cocas ($15), administered with a homely, stomach-patting blanket of fontina cheese and asparagus, flecked with rosemary. It wasn’t on the menu during this blog-documented visit, but as we have sampled on previous visits to Newmarket Hotel, one would be advised to keep a very beady eye out for the bawdy miniature Morcilla Bocadillo burger, sandwiching a nicely-overloaded tower of piqullo peppers, jamon, quail eegs and chicarons ($16 for 2) — it goes on MoMo & Coco’s favourite mini-burger list, alongside Movida‘s calamari version, Little Press‘ wagyu, and The Aylesbury‘s chorizo.
There are five sweet irresistibles at Newmarket Hotel, with one being a ubiquitous ice cream option, another being a shared bombe alaska requiring a quota of participants, another two desserts being ever-present signatures and one seasonally changing. Ending our meal with a trilogy comprising the latter three, the first sweet irresistible sampled was the seasonally-changing “Coconut Creme Brulee” ($16). This voluptuous, well-flavoured little mound had a slightly lardy mouthfeel compared to the more custardy taste associated with traditional creme brulee, perhaps attributed to the use of coconut milk instead of only eggs. Tanned on its surface, it was flanked by a fat thigh-shaped quenelle of tangy pink grapefruit sorbet and a sliced-and-diced fruit salad wearing a glistening strawberry syrup kaftan. Overall, a tropical Caribbean island of a dessert.
More memorable however, was the incarnation of El Dorado, as found in the “Mexican Coffee & Tequila Flan” ($14). Juxtaposed against the whiteness of a deep valley bowl, a flan rendered in lighter Spanish style (vis-a-vis its French counterpart) rose like a golden mirage, dreamily interweaving egg custard, caramel and cream. Its cloak of molten coffee-chocolate, golden pool of caramel and the heady whack of tequila-intoxicated “drunken cherries” were powerful allusions to the dark history of indigenous South America. A crisp roll of sesame seeds interlocked like a DNA helix provided a theatrical crunch of finality. Simply hmmmm… irresistible…
Following the first irresistible that evoked a Caribbean beach to the second irresistible arising from the Incan/Mayan/Aztec hinterlands, one continued the Latin American journey to the streets, with the simple but still equally delectable “Latin Style Chocolate Pot” ($14). It was held in a moulded, sloping cup-bowl that one could well have picked up from a streetside shop, glazed with a lovely crackle glass finish, edges seared for a mottled antique feel. Filled with a light-textured chocolate concoction that was halfway between molten chocolate and mousse, it started out with mild sweetness before charging through as relentless as a propositioning Latin lover with more steely, illicit, rum-tinged tones. Sweeter relief was found in the grilled banana medallions crusted with little pralinised specks and a thin layer of dulce de leche that erred on the watery side,
The service rendered at Newmarket Hotel was as effortlessly seamless as the venue lay-out itself, during this blog-documented visit and on previous visits. Unlike many Melbourne restaurants where one may encounter many a fumbling or oblivious waiter, our one designated French-accented waiter was highly intuitive, duly vigilant, non-intrusive, succinct and knowledgeable in his recommendations, refilled wine and water glasses without being summoned, delivered dishes promptly, and even unrolled and re-rolled our heavy cloth napkins upon seating, between mains and desserts and when members of our dining party temporarily left the table. Finally, service is served in Melbourne.
With all our reviews in this journal-blog, MoMo & Coco have used our travel and other experiences as a referential benchmark. It is important for our readers to note that with the exception of having sipped Caribbean-esque cocktails, studied its historical/political intrigues, and snuggled with tales by J. Ribeiro, G. Marquez, C. Zafon, and I. Allende etc, MoMo & Coco have neither set foot on the South American continent nor herald from that culture. Hence, we have negligible exposure to that region and its cuisine, and therefore are unable to comment on the authenticity of such offerings in Melbourne. Notwithstanding this qualification, there’s no doubting the immense, easy likeability of Newmarket Hotel. Like the Conquistadors ticking off their target list of chocolate, coffee, gold and slaves, Newmarket Hotel ticks three fundamental criteria on MoMo & Coco’s list of what constitutes a memorable dining-out experience: conversation-friendly ambience, immersive food and personalised service. Indeed, one can hardly cavil about much at all when Newmarket Hotel beautifully encapsulates the sleek sophistication of California’s Orange County, minus any pretension, and yet simultaneously, the bold hearty flavours and warm hospitality of South America. Removing the need to contemplate the masses queuing for mass-produced offerings at a chaotic, no-bookings CBD venue of similar culinary orientation (Mamasita), and furthermore, the arduous torture of a 20+ hours trans-Pacific flight to Southern California or South America, Newmarket Hotel is simply brilliant.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Newmarket Hotel Restaurant, 34 Inkerman Street, St Kilda, Vic 3182.
- ☑ Budget: $$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Neo-classical Hispanic-Southern California fusion.
- ☑ Must-eat: Every dessert that you can fit in, but especially the “Mexican Coffee Tequila Flan.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Encapsulating California OC’s sleek sophistication and South American flavours and hospitality, Newmarket is brilliant.