Friday, September 9, 2011

A place to eat, drink and be merry this summer


Address: 359 Chapel Street, South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, 3141

Telephone: (03) 9824 0770

Opening Hours:  
Tue to Wed, 7am until 4pm
Thu, 7am until 10pm
Fri to Sat, 7am until 1am
Sun, 7am until 4pm

Ironically named Speakeasy, Chapel Street’s latest watering hole has settled in South Yarra, just before Commercial Road. The term ‘speakeasy’ refers to establishments that illegally sold alcohol during Prohibition, which occurred in the United States from the ‘20s until the early ‘30s. At this modern kitchen and bar, patrons need not speak in hushed tones when ordering from the extensive drinks list, aptly separated into ‘From the Prohibition Era and Earlier’ and ‘Modern Cocktails,’ but not to the exclusion of martinis, gin, beer, cider, and any other beverage one can think of.

One drink in particular stood out: under its own heading of ‘Liquid Dessert’ was ‘The Fix.’ A dangerous and decadent mixture of Absolut Vanilla Vodka, Mozart Black Chocolate Liqueur, Licor 43, cream, and grated chocolate, I couldn’t justify ordering it with breakfast! “I’ll be back,” as Arnie once said.

As spring reminds Melbourne that summer is just around the corner, Speakeasy has endowed our city with one of the best outside dining-cum-drinking areas in a long time. The majority of the red brick walls are covered in stylish graffiti by Paul Round of Urban Enhancement and extend to the rear of the surrounding historical buildings. The detailed, monochrome cityscape artwork frames the wooden benches, long tables and umbrellas that accommodate the mixed crowd. With plans for live music in the summer and more graffiti to be commissioned in the back laneway leading to Commercial Road, Speakeasy is guaranteed to be popular.

The space inside, designed by Eon Architects, is equally impressive. Although deceivingly small when viewed from the tables on the footpath, the property stretches a long way back, around the corner and outside! 

The decorative steel, almost latticed entry is the first feature to catch the eye. Step inside and you pass a high and impressive wooden and marble table. It is covered by the roof but open to the elements; perfect for smokers—not that I encourage such nasty habits. Above the table is a modern, industrial chandelier of light bulbs and wires juxtaposed against a display of bright flowers below. 

A similar light hangs strikingly beyond the secondary entry, almost precariously situated above the coffee machine, planted beside a massive wall of booze. 

Continue past this narrow bar area, and you will see the immaculate, buzzing kitchen on your left. You can sit at the polished pinewood ‘kitchen bar’ on square stools and watch the chefs work their magic. Alternatively, behind the bar beneath the triangular skylight is the perfect spot if you desire being drenched in natural light.

Sit to the side for an intimate meal or join the communal table with chalk blue and white chairs. Also of interest is the sprouting plant centrepiece and the long, narrow feature light whose bulbs mockingly replicate individual candles. Speakeasy caters for larger groups as well, although it is recommended you book ahead to guarantee a spot. 

While there was plenty to admire in terms of decor, the still novel appearance of a sunny spring morning enticed us outside. It was just after 10am on a Sunday and the place was surprisingly quiet. That being said, within the hour it would have been impossible to land a table without a booking. Coffee orders were taken as soon as we were seated and the beans come freshly roasted from Dukes Coffee up the road. We were presented with a strong, hearty brew and we ordered more after the food.

On that note, the no-frills breakfast menu is available until 3pm on weekends. It makes a nice change to see a ‘trendy’ new place that knows how to keep it simple.  I would guess that breakfast offers an additional revenue stream, but lunch, dinner and drinks are Speakeasy’s forte. The space is so enjoyable so it stands to reason they should be open all day. If you are interested, check out the kitchen menu here.

We ordered the fried egg with baked beans, ham hock and sausage. The fried eggs were perfectly cooked: slightly crispy on the underside but with slightly oozing yolks. The baked beans and ham hock came as a tasty mixture in a small white bowl, with two pieces of crunchy sourdough toast on the side. The sausage was full of flavour but with a touch of chilli—too spicy for the little man who ordered it!

On the other end of the breakfast scale was the Bircher muesli. It came sprinkled with some macadamia nuts and currants and although the texture was reportedly 'spot on,' the serving size was too small to satisfy another member of our party.

Also selected from the menu were the scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. The plate came with two slices of sourdough toast perched alongside a mound of scrambled eggs with a blanket of smoked salmon on top. Unfortunately the scrambled eggs were undercooked, and revealed a watery puddle beneath them.

I only have good things to say about the French toast with red berries. Four chunky rectangles were served piled up like Duplo. The inside was soft, almost creamy, while the outside was caramelized, sweet and sticky. Combined with the dark, syrupy blueberry compote and fresh strawberries, my sweet tooth was spoiled early on in the day.


Overall, it was a no fuss, simple and tasty breakfast. Although stylish and rather chic, Speakeasy is very accessible. I will definitely be returning for cocktails and staying for dinner, and then staying for more cocktails! This spot is sure to be jam-packed as the summer finds its groove.  The Speakeasy word is worth spreading. Perhaps it was dubbed Speakeasy because there is so much to talk about, and equally, to look forward to.

Speakeasy Kitchen Bar on Urbanspoon

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