Scorcher reviews Cheek, Swanston Street Melbourne
1/301 Swanston Street, Melbourne
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Very few things put the roses back in one’s cheeks like a good meal in good company.
My complexion did turn a healthy ruddy hue while poring over the meat-heavy menu at Cheek – Melbourne’s newest no-holds-barred barbecue joint on Swanston Street – and it wasn’t from the ascent up the dramatic peach-coloured staircase (no doubt soon to become Melbourne’s most Instagrammed flight of stairs).
And no, cheeky reader, neither was it from an excessive consumption of booze, as my visit to Cheek coincided with a commitment to Ocsober – a crying shame as the drinks menu is an absolute corker.
My dining companion, however, took full advantage of the creative list of cocktails, including one consisting of vodka, sloe gin and Yakult. Three cheers to gut health!
Cheek bills itself as a non-traditional, modern “meatery”, with a focus on protein spiked with bold flavours borrowed from places like Korea, Japan and China. Brought to you by the boys behind Dexter in Preston, Cheek motto is proudly printed on a sign at the entrance: “It’s meat, but not as you know it.”
Later this summer, Cheek will transform into a three-level venue comprising an upstairs cocktail lounge called Peach and a rooftop bar. But for now it’s just the 70-seater restaurant on level one, a cool yet understated room of whitewashed exposed brick walls with baby blue accents, navy leather banquettes and light oak tables.
Food-wise, meat freaks are in for a treat at Cheek. But keep in mind the food here does lean more in the direction of fun rather than fine-dining. The New York striploin – “crazy good beef,” as co-owner Sam Peasnell put it to me – is flamed hard and fast and served with a bone marrow sauce. The meat is as tender as a wafting melody sung by a dapper crooner (#analogyfail), complimented nicely by a side act of honey beets, buttermilk and sesame hazelnuts.
The Berkshire pork cheek was soft and buttery, like a kiss on the forehead by a toothless grandmother, the richness of the dish balanced by celeriac puree and picked apple.
The five day duck is put through its paces before it arrives on your plate. Over a the equivalent of a working week the bird is brined, hung, blasted, stuffed, roasted and singed with frying oil and arrives paddling in a pond of smoked hoisin sauce, its flesh lovely and pink, its skin all browned and delicious.
You won’t leave hungry if you opt for the $65 set menu and you get to try some tasty snacks along the way, such as a flaky mapo tofu empanada with bulldog sauce – a dish that’s part Argentine, part Chinese, part British – although the spicy pork jowl filling does get swallowed up by the all-enveloping puff pastry. And while cauliflower turns up on menus all over town, the sweet and sour cauli with miso ranch sauce is next-level good.
A word of warning, however. Your outdoor voice may be required as this buzzy little room gets rather noisy, so you may need to shout to be heard by the person opposite you. But I did overhear (somehow over the cacophony of voices) one of the owners say they were working to fix the room’s acoustics.
So loop in a posse of fellow protein fiends, prepare to get your meat sweats on and I’ll bet you’ll leave Cheek positively glowing.