Gastro-pub fare meets explorer chic at Natural History Public Bar, Collins Street’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
Curating one’s own Wunderkammer, or “Cabinet of Wonder”, was once the domain of only the wealthy and the well placed. A status symbol, they were kept away in the drawing rooms of manors and palaces, never to be seen by the eyes of the every day man. But by the late 1880s, and with a generous push from explorer and Renaissance-man extraordinaire – Theodore Roosevelt – these curiosities and wonders became accessible to people from all walks of life, opening up the farthest reaches of the world to its new audience. It’s in Roosevelt’s intrepid spirit of openness and curiosity that Collins Street’s own Wundekammer of the people, Natural History Public Bar, opened it’s doors in 2018
Inspired stylistically by the American Museum of Natural History in New York and similar museums, the aesthetic of Natural History Public Bar is striking and undoubtedly unique. Where else will you find 15ft metre diorama of over 20 species of taxidermy specimens? While artist Vanja Zaric’s diorama is without a doubt the star of the show at Natural History, there’s plenty of other trinkets and treasures adoring the the walls, from butterflies mounted in shadow boxes, to phrenological display heads, scaled down battleships, and other artefacts of antiquity. Natural History is not just a restaurant or bar, it’s an experience.
Natural History have relaunched their menu, reimagined and refreshed but still with plenty of American-style dishes to please even the pickiest palate, and heaps of nightly specials that make it the perfect launching pad for a night out.
If you’re just popping in for a quick drink and dine, the bacon, cauliflower, and cheddar croquettes are definitely one to check out. Super creamy and crunchy, you may not want to share! If you are in the mood for sharing, the summer tostadas were a huge hit when we visited. With summer radish and black bean salsa tucked into a tostada and topped with barbecued eggplant and lashings of fresh coriander, this one catches the summer vibes. We also loved the cured salmon served with sumac pickled onions, sour cream, and thyme crackers. I love anything cured and/or pickled, so this dish was a no-brainer for me, and I absolutely adored it. It’s also light enough to whet the appetite without spoiling it for the larger dishes on the menu.
Speaking of, here’s where things get meaty. Think 300g of flat iron steak with onion rings, and you’re on the right track, throw in some smokey charred tomatoes and dollops of your choice of sauce, and you’re in American grill heaven. If 300g still isn’t enough to sate your mighty hunger, there’s a 500g rib eye for ambitious omnivores to tackle – or share, if you’re feeling generous.
Given this meaty madness, you might think that a venue like Natural History – all taxidermy and carnivorously leaning dishes – would be off the menu for your vegetarian and vegan friends, but the Americana tinged menu includes a number of plant based dishes that will please the whole squad. The parmesan and cashew lasagne served with a quinoa and tomato bolognese and a raw zucchini salad is a particular fave, and it’s gluten free too, so everyone can enjoy it! Lentil stuffed zucchini flowers with sunflower cress and pickled raisins is another great option for the herbivorous diner, with the richness and tanginess of the raisins perfectly offset by the freshness of the cress.
With a great array of wines, beers, and spirits, Natural History Public is the perfect place to start your night or to simply be the night’s destination venue. And if you drop by on a Thursday or Friday night, world renowned singer and pianist, Matt Ganim will be tinkling the ivories and taking requests – and it can get a little rowdy! If you’ve not heard his fancied-up piano cover of Britney’s Toxic, then whack it in that request bowl and I guarantee you wont regret it!
If you love the quirkier side of life, check out our guide to unique Melbourne date ideas!