Does new vegan-friendly restaurant Amphora beat a meat pie?

Does new vegan-friendly restaurant Amphora beat a meat pie?


Amphora and Friends of Fire have dual menus: an omnivore and a vegan version from Smith & Daughters chef Shannon Martinez.



I love to eat cakes. Whether it's a day game or a night game, I always have one for dad and me. Sure, I'm happy if my team wins, but I'm almost as happy if I manage to slather sauce on this cake without tomato stains ending up on my pants.

After eating and brushing the crumbs off our jumpers, it's review time. “That was a nice cake,” Dad might say, letting the conversation flow my way. “Very nice and warm,” I'll probably reply, bringing it back to handball.

While I'm not in that group of fans who have been expecting elevated food options at events, I wholeheartedly applaud the efforts to provide them, especially at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne. The 53,343-seat Docklands facility sits on the edge of the city grid, surrounded by offices and apartments. It makes a lot of sense to think of the venue as a resource that needs to be leveraged to serve as many people as possible and as often as possible, not just when there's a game or a concert.

The AFL, which owns the facility, clearly agrees and tendered hospitality operators to fill the new stadium square ground off Spencer Street. Awardees were Greg Kahan, owner of The George on Collins restaurant and former owner of Strike Bowling; Peter Filipovic, ex-CEO of Carlton United Breweries; and Peter Sidwell, a businessman with interests in racing and wineries. The trio has just opened three locations.

At ground level, there are 250 seats fire friends, which looks like a fancy pub with an open kitchen. Above, there is The wine room, a temperate bar with 50 seats and, next to that, amphora, a chic 200-seat restaurant with a fake skylight that sends simulated sunlight into a stylish bar, plush booths under a floral mural and a huge screen that works for match-day viewing and corporate presentations.

There's a vegan menu, as well as an omnivore one…my hunch is that the massive focus on vegetables is out of whack with the public.

My first visit to Amphora was during a football match that drew 45,000 people. Only three of them were in the restaurant at halftime: there was an unbridgeable schism between the energy of the game and the quiet of the dining room. I went back to the venue to watch the Anzac Day match between Collingwood and Essendon. It was being played in a sold-out MCG, but there were only about 20 people watching it here on TV.

An afternoon cocktail sounded appealing. Rum-based Amphora Express ($25) is built in a glass with cold coffee, chocolate bitters and a frothy head of vegan almond foam. It's bold and bitter, as poised as a ruckrover on a tear.

Amfora Express cocktail.
Amfora Express cocktail.Bonnie Savage

Just after a quarter of an hour, the staff announced that the kitchen was closing, so we quickly ordered and what arrived was pretty good. A soft pretzel ($14) plays nicely with the mustard butter sauce, while a mini burger ($12) is topped with mortadella and provolone cheese. Mortadella, a fatty cured meat, is grilled to a slight crisp – you get a sausage and a chip, which I love.

Grilled prawns ($42 for five) are slathered in a delicious fermented chilli butter. Wood-fired broccoli florets are slathered in seaweed butter, but two chunky florets for $28 seems ambitious.

Mini hamburger with mortadella and provolone.
Mini hamburger with mortadella and provolone.Bonnie Savage

Amphora and Friends of Fire have dual menus: an omnivore from George on Collins chef Aaron Rodrigues and a vegan version from plant specialist Shannon Martinez, who runs the cool Smith & Daughters and is one of the most creative chefs of the country. It's nice to cater to non-meat eaters, but my hunch is that the massive focus on vegetables is out of whack with the public.

Also, having chefs design menus they are not here to cook can create problems with execution. I ate Martinez's Watermelon Ceviche ($18) a Friends of the Fire Their version is a clever sub for tuna, but the “grilled” corn it came with lacked a hint of color, and the cracker the dish was piled on was so soggy that the contents fell out. on the rug below.

Watermelon ceviche.
Watermelon ceviche.Bonnie Savage

Overall, there's a bad feel to the experience, especially in Amphora. On match days, you need a spectator ticket to get in, but on days the ground is closed, a staff member greets you downstairs and walks you through the eerie silence of the empty stadium. Many dishes are repeated in both locations; I don't understand why.

Amfora was a victim of the Empty Restaurant Syndrome, that unfortunate condition in which the fewer diners there are, the harder it is for the staff to notice them. The Stadium Square project has potential, but there is work to be done to integrate these restaurants into the life of the city on its doorstep.

the bass

Vibration: Encapsulated corporate fluff

Drink to go: Amphora Express ($25)

Drinks: The Amphora bar is the centerpiece. There's a wide variety of spirits (14 types of tequila!) and a wine list designed to impress. If you want to celebrate a win with an $800 bottle of Krug, it's waiting for you to pop the cork.

Cost: About $190 for two, excluding drinks

This review was originally published on Have a great weekend magazine

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