Four small, perfectly uniform dumplings float on a dark viscous caramel. Chopped raisins and textbook quenelle of whipped malt cream, which begins to cascade from the residual heat, decorate the top. while the sweet scent of golden syrup and rum perfume the air. The dessert is a riff on a legendary CWA recipe, and if there is one dish that typifies Ursula’s, this is it: an old classic made new again.
The modern-classic theme is one that runs deep at Paddington’s new neighbourhood restaurant and the first independent venture from Phil Wood, former culinary director at Pt. Leo Estate in the Mornington Peninsula, and his wife, Lis Davies. It materialises in the dramatic transformation of the corner terrace – a historic building that has been home to a sprinkling of local businesses since the early ’30s, including a pub and grocer, plus a couple of well-loved restaurants: most recently, fine-diner Guillaume Brahini. And although the façade overlooking picturesque Hargrave Street may remain relatively unchanged, the restaurant’s core is entirely new.
Crisp white tablecloths and black Bentwood chairs are quiet bystanders in rooms awash with vivid ochre, azure and periwinkle tones – it’s visual umami, and the creative vision of Melbourne-based designer Brahman Perera. Sculptural wall sconces, colourful glassware and illustrated menus are icing on the eye candy.
Refreshed classic play out on the menu, too, which lists Wood-ified versions of time-honoured dishes, such as seafood crudo, roast chicken and peach Melba. When executed with care and precision, the classics are sure to draw diners in. But it’s the unexpected flourishes that will keep them coming back. take the carpaccio for example, which sees slivers of beef dressed in a roast tomato sauce that has been laced with lemongrass, galangal and makrut lime. Surprisingly, it’s a dusting of parmesan that ties everything together in a fragrant Italo-Thai alchemy.
The same can be said for a plump pork chop. Pan-fried until just-pink, the tender, meaty slices are doused in a sweet-spicy gochujang-based sauce then topped with a medley of greens, notably spring onion and diced nashi pear. Reminiscent of char siu, it feels playful yet familiar all at once.
An equally enticing wine list is an ode to revered Australian producers. Hatched by Master Sommelier Sebastian Crowther, it includes some pleasing drops by the glass, where a Clonakilla shiraz fluidly tails a Patrick Sullivan Baw Baw Shire chardonnay. Then again, there’s a juicy gamay that has been chilled to perfection.
Composed and efficient service only adds to the restaurant’s overall sense of confidence. It’s as though Ursula’s was always meant to be here.