How I Melbourne: Matthew Bax

Published on April 24 2019.

Photo: Matthew Bax

Artist and bar-owner Matthew Bax first made his name in the Melbourne hospitality scene with Der Raum, the highly influential bar he ran on Church Street in Richmond from 2001 to 2012. He took things in a radically different direction with Bar Economico (a self-directed critique of expensive and exclusive cocktail culture, built on the former Der Raum site) and Bar Exuberante (which one publication called “Melbourne’s oddest cocktail bar”), then threw in another plot-twist with Gamsei, one the world’s first locavore bars, which he ran in Munich between 2013 and 2014. Back in the laneways of the Melbourne CBD at Bar Americano, the a smaller-than-small stand-up venue modelled on the American bars of interwar Italy, he continues to set a standard for cocktail excellence married with a singularity of aesthetic that knows few peers, local or otherwise. His latest venture, Grau Projekt, opened in 2018, combining his passions for art and cocktails in a ticketed gallery experience that – yes – includes “artist-curated” drinks.

Find out where this Melbourne taste-maker likes to spend his downtime in the city he calls home.

I know I’m in Melbourne when I haven't felt the sun on my face for months and yet I'm still somehow enjoying myself.

My first defining food moments in Melbourne were Caffè e Cucina, Vue de Monde (in its Carlton incarnation) and Attica (even back in the days of when the bathrooms were as bad as Der Raum's). The energy at Cucina impressed me, as did the calamari fritto – and Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan walking in together. Vue was a revelation because eating the whiting there made me see how good fish could be. Shannon Bennett, Ryan Clift, Matt Wilkinson, Bryan Lloyd – what a team. It’s been my favourite version of the restaurant; I have a soft spot for great food in modest places. Which leads me to the early days of Attica. Don’t get me wrong – my last meal there a few months back was perhaps the best I’ve had, but I think back to early Attica with great affection. Its food was seriously ambitious but never compromised on flavour, and was served with incredible humility. Those attributes still loom large at Ripponlea.

The best new thing I’ve found, like everyone else in Melbourne, is Di Stasio Città; come for the food, stay for the art.

When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I like dinner at Attica. Or anytime at Città.

There’s no better value in Melbourne than Aka Shiro, on Peel Street in Collingwood. It has real Kirin, its sashimi is my favourite in the city, and its oysters are always excellent.

And when I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to alternate between tours for beers in the ’hood (The Napier, the Union and so on) and then take them to the G to watch Carlton lose.

In the mornings you’ll find me at Everyday Coffee in Collingwood. The coffee, as at so many places is great but it’s always served with a smile. In the city I like Midtown and Market Lane for the same reasons.

My local is Aka Shiro, because Toshi is a legend and it’s incredibly fresh and offers brilliant value.

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here, I’d like to see more venues where good mixology and attentive service aren’t mutually exclusive.

The one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is its fascination with the new. Melbourne should be very proud of the way it supports the brave.

Grau Projekt, Level 1, 2-12 Alexandra Pde, Clifton Hill, grauprojekt.com

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