Imbue Food and Wine brings upscale dining with a relaxed setting to Maribyrnong
The creators of Imbue Food and Wine describe themselves with proud grins as just a couple of boys hailing from Melbourne’s west, with a desire to stick to their western roots. Enter Imbue Food and Wine, a recent addition to the Maribyrnong food scene. Imbue joins the mix with upscale food served in an industrial chic setting, adding a kick of vivacity in a suburb long characterized for its casual family restaurants.
The menu is simple but diverse, with dishes ranging from Spanish croquettes to Italian panna cotta. The theme that binds the menu together is fresh, back-to-roots ingredients. Sixty five percent of the menu is gluten-free, not out of a desire to cater to dietary restrictions, but because Imbue Food and Wine serves food the way it used to be cooked- utilizing the resources available to our ancestors. The chef employs this traditional mentality with a flare of refined creativity, producing dishes that are equally as natural as they are inventive.
To experience the full range of the cuisine, we opt for the five course tasting menu. Although the menu appears to be meat and fish heavy, the chef is more than accommodating with my vegetarian restrictions. I order my typical glass of Pinot Noir while my dining companion seeks a smokey whisky cocktail. Our waiter informs us that the bartender can create any concoction your palate craves, from the green tea gin martini scrawled on the chalkboard menu to adventurous requests from whisky aficionados.
Our first course arrives as whipped feta topped with honeycomb and dukkah, served alongside flatbread crisps. The whipped feta is remarkably soft on the palate and benefits marvelously from the sweetness of the honey partnered with the nutty earthiness of the dukkah.
Our second course comes as two dishes: one to appease the non-meat eater and one for my dining companion. His dish is a beautiful tower of melt-in-your-mouth rice crisps layered on raw tuna, ponzu, spring onion, and chili.
However, the showstoppers of this course are the unassuming three cheese croquettes. Fried to a crispy perfection, the medley of mozzarella, Parmesan and cheddar creates a creamy filling with the distinct sharpness of rich cheese. Not sitting heavy in the stomach (a sure sign of high quality ingredients), the second course leaves us eager to discover what more the chef has in store.
Next to arrive is a colorful serving of roasted beetroot topped with burrata cheese and a sprinkle of Otago radishes. I’m impressed to discover how the mild burrata cheese, handmade in the Imbue kitchen, transports the creamy, woody notes of the olive oil dolloped inside the nooks of the cheese. Combined with the earthiness of the beetroot, this course arouses the sensation of eating directly from the garden.
Heirloom carrots are the star of the show for our main course. My meatless dish consists of caramelized and grilled onions, feta, and pureed purple cabbage alongside the colorful array of carrots. Although primarily composed of vegetables, my dish comes alive with buttery, creamy notes that could easily confuse the likes of those who swear by beef. The carrots can be cut with the light touch of a fork and their sweetness is intensified by with the rich, smooth texture of pureed cabbage.
My carnivorous friend engages in a dramatic eye roll as he takes a bite of his Poussin chicken served in a honey sauce topped with almonds, confirming that he is equally as pleased with his dish. We both fight over who gets the last of the fried potatoes, swooning over the salty, crunchy coating that eradicates any characteristics of the much-too-common mushy potato.
Unsure as to how we will squeeze dessert into our protruding waist lines, we’re pleased to discover that the vanilla panna cotta with berry compote is both a small portion as well as easy to share. We can smell the fruity aromatic dish as soon as it’s placed in front of us and immediately revel in how the tartness of the fruit perfectly compliments the vanilla essence of the panna cotta.
While all of our dishes at Imbue Food and Wine have the appearance and taste of fine dining, the atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed. As an American entering the Australian dining scene, I’m delightfully surprised at how the service is still exceptionally personal and attentive, even without the expectation of a tip following the bill. Situated in an unassuming, intimate venue next to the domineering Lazy Moe’s, it’s clear that Imbue Food and Wine is the local’s secret gem. Nonetheless, I doubt that this culinary newcomer will remain a secret much longer.
Imbue Food and Wine
2/419 Gordon Street, Maribyrnong
Tues- Sat 5pm – 10pm