Syracuse was one of the many restaurants I tried in my first year in Melbourne and since then it has become a stalwart of the CBD’s scene, particularly for the banker-and-lawyer end of town. It’s not a so-hip-it-hurts kind of place with queues streaming out the door – more of a quiet high achiever.
Syracuse’s decor has not changed much from my last visit. Still very elegant, with lofty ceilings and quiet subdued period features framed by a theatrical curtain swathing the front entrance.
I was invited to try their new menu, which has moved in a very different direction from my previous visits. It’s goodbye to Italian-influenced comfort food style of cuisine and hello to a lighter, more playful approach incorporating flavours and techniques from beyond the Mediterranean.
For lunch they have an Express Lunch menu with two courses and a glass of wine for $45 but we opted to order a la carte as we were intrigued by many of the dishes on the menu.
To start, To start, we shared some tender line caught calamari (more sustainable than traditionally netted calamari) with potatoes beurre fondue, braised leek and bottarga ($16.50). A delicate entree with an inspired combination of textures.
While Syracuse has moved beyond traditional Italian cuisine generally you shouldn’t dismiss the kitchen’s skill with Italian dishes like the featherlight pan fried potato and porcini gnocchi ($23 entree size). This was served with earthy wild mushrooms, a dab of avocado and a surprising ‘garlic milk’. Basically it was a frothy light sauce infused with cloves of roasted garlic and was an inventive change from a basic cream sauce. I found the addition of avocado a bit too inventive though – for me there was just something not quite right with the addition of a cold avocado puree to the mix. I would have preferred a more tradition pea puree or nothing at all.
The hearty slow roasted Flinders Island lamb rump was incredibly tender and the tumbling combination of fermented tomatoes, black olive, macadamia and shanklish gave the dish a Mediterranean twist ($38).
In contrast the King George whiting, with a lineup of mandolined crayfish, pickled cabbage and watermelon ($40) was a delightfully zingy dish for Autumn and almost Japanese in its execution particularly with the garnish of roasted rice. It was certainly ornately presented.
To finish we shared a crème brûlée delicately scented with violets, combined with a drizzle of passionfruit caramel and ‘passionfruit crispies’ ($15). It was well-balanced in its sweetness despite the potential for overwhelming sugar in its combination of ingredients. A perfect sugar crust on the top too, perfect for cracking with the back of a spoon.
The Cherry Bombe was also well balanced with the meringue hiding the cherry ice cream within, though personally I could have done without the optional hit of limoncello ($16). I adored the pretty presentation.
Syracuse’s revised menu is an interesting departure from the traditional fare that it used to serve. Some of it was more successful than others but in general I enjoyed the ambience, service and the thoughtfully presented dishes. A restaurant that should definitely satisfy the gastronomes.