Melbourne has a solid reputation for laneway restaurants, wine bars and good quality mid-range dining. Serai, a new 50-seater in the CBD, takes all those things and layers in Filipino cuisine, something rarely seen in restaurants. It’s more often cooked at home among the 25,000-plus Filipinos who live in Melbourne and Victoria.
But the first restaurant of chef Ross Magnaye (ex Rice Paper Sister) and partners Shane Stafford and Ben Waters might flip that trend without even trying.
“Of course I want people to try Filipino food but I don’t do it for that,” says Magnaye. “I just want to do a nice restaurant where people can come and eat.”
At Serai, which opens on Thursday, he will deliver Filipino staples such as adobo (a vinegar-soy marinade) and lechon (roast suckling pig) in a contemporary package that straddles restaurant and wine bar. Drinks include minimal-intervention wines and playful Filipino cocktails.
A tempura scallop in a pan de sal bun spread with crab fat mayonnaise, dubbed the McScallop, is a two-bite snack. Smoked kangaroo served tartare-style and dressed in coconut vinegar is a riff on kilawin, a dish normally made with goat. Magnaye adds wood-roasted bone marrow and toast for a Euro twist.
Vegan dishes are also given plenty of attention, whether it’s a tartlet of spiced coconut puree, charred pineapple and tapioca “caviar” or a piece of pumpkin that Magnaye “treats like meat”, marinating it in a sweet-salty tocino-style sauce and serving it with a roasted garlic sauce.
Small-batch Filipino rums drive several of the drinks by bar manager Ralph Libo-on. Others have fun with Filipino ingredients, as in the Ube-Wan Kenobi involving ube, white chocolate, cognac, creme de cacao and bitters.
A small chef’s counter has a view of the open fire that smokes, chars and roasts everything from duck to vegetables.
The rest of the room, a former gelateria, is a mix of brick-red banquettes and timber-topped tables with pale bentwood chairs. Spherical lights suspended from the ceiling add a warm glow to the whitewashed space, featuring industrial steel ceiling beams, large concrete pillars and heavy steel doors.
Open Tue-Sat noon-2.30pm, 5.30pm-9.30pm
7 Racing Club Lane, Melbourne (enter via 373 Little Bourke Street), no phone, seraikitchen.com.au