49 Rathdowne Street, Carlton
• wining and dining to impress
• a birthday celebration
• hospitality night
Even from the outside, Epocha looks exciting. A stately Victorian terrace with an enviable view over Carlton Gardens has been given a groovy lift with wooden slat furniture, flourishes of olive green and a striking pentagon sign. I can envisage summer wedding parties already.
Inside, this gorgeous old home, built in 1884 during Melbourne’s boom period, feels really special. It’s been gutted and given a taverna-cum-fine diner feel, with thatched chairs, rustic tables, vibrant tiles and incredible black steel multi-armed lighting that’s truly impressive.
But what’s been retained is equally important – the original unpolished floorboards, fireplaces, arched hallways and terrifically towering ceilings. Further details add whimsy.
Old-world cutlery, fancy floral plates and a wooden dessert trolley that trundles out rows of meringuecapped lime pies and triple-layered chocolate slices with honeycomb crunch (both $12).
The attention to detail just keeps coming: filtered still water, house-churned butter, rye bread served warm in a knotted bag, and encyclopaedic explanations on food and wine quandaries.
It’s no surprises then to find that the duo behind Epocha is hospitality dynamites Angie Giannakodakis (previously of Press Club and Hellenic Republic) and Guy Holder (ex Momo, Rockpool).
Giannakodakis’s wine sensibility is evident on the largely European list. Greek wines butt up against Spanish and Italian varietals and even the wine astute may get tripped up. The list is brief and wonderfully fresh, with offerings from little known vineyards and boutique labels.
Heading up the pots and pans in the kitchen is head chef Mick Bolam (ex-Sanctuary, Hunter Valley). The menu is largely rustic European fare with clever twists perfect for sharing.
The snack section really is bite sized.
Fried duck tongues ($6) and mini-crumpets with honeycomb ($7.50) are exciting alongside more classic duck liver pate ($9) and spiced chickpeas ($4).
A pot of ajvar ($5) is full throttle flavour. But then I love capsicum.
The waiter tells me Bolam’s version of this capsicum dip is the purest form – roasted then pureed capsicum.
Two finger length salt cod croquettes ($7) aren’t so successful. The golden exterior has a lovely crunch but yielded to a chewy dense centre that just wasn’t bright enough with cod.
Stealing my heart, however, was a simple skate dish ($16) under the small shares section. The thick squares of salty, soft skate dancing a jig beneath lemon, capers and parsley, the dish grounded by a creamy fava bean puree.
Lamb Kalamaki ($18) is Athenians’ version of souvlaki; cubed and skewered marinated lamb that’s chargrilled to finish.
Epocha follows a very traditional line with the lamb skewers but ups the ante with chunks of gorgonzola and sweet, soft and halved baked pear.
Large shares are the main affair, but don’t expect huge portions, apart from the 900gram cote de boeuf ($78).
wo fat stumpy pork and sage faggots ($25) proved that small portions can still pack punch. Course in texture, the house-made sausages were unapologetically bold and succulent.
The accompanying bubble and squeak proved a collision of roasted bacon, peas, potato and carrots that worked harmoniously alongside such farm-style goodness.
It’s difficult not to finish with a dive head long into the dessert wine and liquor list.
Old-world charm, staff and serious atmosphere makes you want to linger here long into the night.
Details/bookings: 9036 4949 or visit epocha.com.au
Open: Tuesday-Wednesday, 5.30pm-late; Wednesday-Saturday, 12pm-late; Sunday 12pm-4pm.
■ Got a favourite spot you’d like to share? Email mary-jane. firstname.lastname@example.org. au or Tweet me @MaryJaneDaffy.