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The Cullen: Dinner at Gramercy – Good-Bye Melbourne, Hello New York

Words and photography by: Andrew Davidson & Megan Evetts

One of the great things about Melbourne is the fact that you can visit any country in the world just by walking into a restaurant. The variety is endless but some do a better job than others and Gramercy Bistro brings a welcome quality addition to the world atlas that is Melbourne cuisine – America.

Owned by previous owner of Pound and Carre Street Deli, Adam Faigen’s Gramercy Bistro describes itself as a New York-inspired bistro, paying homage to some of the city’s greatest hotels and the classic dishes and cocktails that have originated from many of these institutions. The menu reflects this, with American classics such as whiskey sours with Maraschino cherries, baby back pork ribs and Reuben sandwiches, as well as other items that are a bit further afield such as a pickleback – a 30ml shot of Jameson whisky with a chaser of pickle juice and a Kosher pickle.

Whilst paying homage to the classics there are also personalised and unusual touches to the menu, including house-infused earl grey Tanqueray gin in the Martini and a marinade on the ribs that is almost more aligned with Asian flavours than the traditional barbeque. Overall, the menu is long and impressive and should certainly have something to satisfy most cravings.

In terms of fit out, unlike the Cullen under which it sits, there is relatively little colour inside the restaurant itself. The décor consists of dark tones against white tiles and very few items on the walls, which is in stark contrast to the bright and diverse pieces next door in the Cullen reception. This is perhaps amplified by the fact that the restaurant is surprisingly large, with an enormous outdoor area. In the midst of a cold and dreary Melbourne winter, the outdoor area looks somewhat out of place being empty. However, there is no doubt that the space will be a place to watch in the upcoming summer – particularly with the food, drinks and prices on offer (think ‘wet hour’ from 4-7 every day, $20 burgers+ drinks deals on Thursday with seven different burgers to choose from and $24 steak and wine on Tuesday’s where you choose your own steak from cuts such as black angus eye fillet or 4+ wagyu rump). 

Like the décor, the service is cool and laid back. The staff were conversational but not overbearing and had strong confidence in the items on Gramercy’s menu. When prompted for recommendations, we were told that we should choose what most appealed to us and let the kitchen show us what they’re capable of.

Challenge accepted.

To start, we shared a serve of soft tacos filled with tuna ceviche, guacamole, black bean and corn salsa and a chipotle aioli, as well as the pan-seared scallops served atop a bed of cauliflower puree with a crispy chorizo crumb. Both dishes were well presented and ample sized. All of the taco ingredients were fresh and whilst the flavours were more subtle than we’re used to in traditional Mexican cuisine, they were still well-balanced. The stand out favourite of the small plates, however, had to be the scallops. They were perfectly cooked and well-matched with the fine fried chorizo crumb and silky smooth cauliflower puree.

Whilst we don’t wish to detract from the share plates on offer, we believe that the Gramercy’s strength lies in its main courses. The crumbed veal rib eye was large, succulent and perfectly cooked. Its bed of Paris-mash lacked the finesse of the cauliflower puree that accompanied the scallops but the flavours of the pepperonata went beautifully with the jus. Similarly, the baby back pork ribs were as tender as the menu had promised with a very distinct marinade that seemed to impart both Malaysian and smoky bbq flavours. The serving size was enormous and the finger bowl was both much needed and appreciated.

Given the size of the share plates and the dessert to come, there was definitely no room for enticing side dishes such as the Gramercy “chop-chop” salad or the duck fat potatoes but we’re sure that they would have been a welcome accompaniment to any of the mains that the Gramercy had on offer. What did go nicely, however, was the 2000 Bogle Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The unique selection of Californian wines was a welcome addition to the varied, well-structured and inexpensive wine list on offer.

Finally for dessert we shared a self-saucing chocolate pudding with beautiful ice cream and caramel popcorn. This was washed down with a glass of the Frogmore Creek ‘Evermore’ Iced Riesling from Tasmania and the Campbells Muscat from Rutherglen Victoria, another testament to the quality and variety of the wines on offer.

The chocolate pudding was moist, rich and everything you would expect. Somewhat surprisingly, the real stand out of this dish was the caramel popcorn, which had the perfect balance of sweet and salty flavours with a fantastic crunch. Next time we’d be content with a bowl of popcorn and any one of the sticky or fortified wines on offer!

To sum up one of us would say “go for the wine, stay for the food”, the other would say “go for the mains and stay for the wine”. Overall there is a lot to love about the Gramercy and we will certainly be back to see what else both comprehensive menus have to offer.

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