Published on 13 May 2021
A handful of new hotels, and their restaurants and bars, have arrived in Melbourne’s inner city this year. But the new Next Hotel, at 80 Collins, is the first hotel in Australia to barrel-age its own spirits. It all happens inside the aptly named Barrel Room, located inside the hotel’s flagship restaurant, La Madonna.
Heading the kitchen of the third-floor bar and restaurant are chefs Daniel Natoli and Adrian Li. The duo have worked together at many Melbourne restaurants, including Tokyo Tina, Neptune Food & Wine and Donovans, and bring their respective Sicilian and Hong Kong roots to the handsome bar and eatery.
The menu celebrates the season’s best produce and the distinctive kitchen backgrounds of each chef. On the drinks menu, you’ll find spirits, herbal liqueurs and cocktails that are all aged in barrels on the property.
Stop by for a coffee and Hainanese chicken-inspired roll, or settle in for an aged Negroni and Fernet cannolo (yes, really). The pair share their top picks at La Madonna’s bar, restaurant and its ground-floor outpost.
Which of the dishes on the menu best captures the vibe at La Madonna?
The tomato compressed in white soy, stuffed with stracciatella, sitting in a bath of basil and yuzu kosho oil: it starts with great local produce, has a surprise centre of stracciatella, and together with the oil, the flavours combine to create something that tastes fresh and familiar but with the element of something very moreish and comforting.
How about a drink?
We recently decanted a very smooth Negroni matured in former Australian sherry barrels for 12 weeks. It drinks well as an aperitif or a nightcap, and gives you a nice glimpse of the creativity underway in the Barrel Room (have a wander over for a peek while you’re here). For a classic with our signature twist, try the Martini a La Madonna: a good gin and some aromatised verjus stirred (not shaken), with a caperberry. Familiar with a touch of the unexpected, it sums up what La Madonna is all about in both the food and drinks list.
What if I’m here for a good time, not a long time?
The grilled ox tongue and salsa verde is a great little late-afternoon snack. It’s enough to take the edge off an appetite but light enough to stay in snack territory. It works well with the aged Negroni, or try the aged Old Fashioned, made with Rebel Yell bourbon, Calvados, raw sugar and aromatic bitters, matured in ex-pinot barrels for six weeks.
If we’re talking lunch and you’re pressed for time, duck into our ground-floor outpost, Ingresso, and grab a Hainanese chicken-inspired Rooster Roll with our smoky, house-made red jalapeño sauce.
Got anything light and fresh?
Start with a tasty alcohol-free rhubarb soda made with vanilla and tonka bean. We’d then go for the kingfish crudo with confit octopus and forgotten citrus (using remnants of citrus fruits used in the bar), and perhaps a serve of clams served Casino-style with smoked poblano dashi and lardo. Pair it with a glass of one of our small-batch whites, such as the Victorian 2019 Pachamama Riesling.
What’s this about Fernet cannoli?
It’s cannoli, but not as you know it. Our take has a thin dark chocolate casing, filled with a Fernet Branca-infused chocolate semifreddo which is then dipped in pistachio and served on a crumb made from spent coffee and cocoa. The Fernet gives it an unexpected depth to the flavour. Enjoy it at the end of a meal or at the end of a night out. Salute.
I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals.
Go for a selection of our meat-free snacks to share, like the salt-and-vinegar zucchini fritto; the diavoletti (smoked mozzarella stuffed with olive and chilli, pan-fried like saganaki); bitter leaves, hazelnut and kuromitsu (the Japanese sugar syrup); and, while the tomatoes are still good enough to be on the menu, our signature compressed tomato, white soy, stracciatella and basil . Freshly made pasta is one of our staples and Danny makes it all to order, including whenever diners are looking for vegetarian choices.
Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
Ask Dom Getson, our restaurant manager, to help you choose from our well put-together list of sparkling; from local and imported prosecco to Champagne to skin contact. Nothing says “go big” better than bubbles. We’d say a few starters to share, including oysters all round. For the wow-factor, we’re currently serving a bistecca alla DiAna; a play on classic steak Diane, made with shiitake, mascarpone, whisky and our own barrel-aged white soy. Served on a large glass platter, it will feed four to six as part of a shared plate meal (or one or two if you’re ravenous). Keep an eye out for the dry-aged duck; it’s currently finishing its ageing in our glass cabinets. We’re still playing around with it, but expect an Aperol twist on Peking duck that’s perfect for feasting.
What about to close?
Our tiramisu is all at once light, very boozy and decadent; best paired with a dessert wine, maybe the late-harvest Scorpo Pinsanto pinot gris from Mornington. Again, let Dom guide you. It would then be criminal not to then venture back to the bar, sink into a lounge chair and ask Phil Smithers, our master of spirits and bar manager, to fix you a nightcap. Just don’t get him started on his barrel-aged Manhattan.
La Madonna, Level 3 at Next Hotel Melbourne, 103 Little Collins St, Melbourne, www.lamadonndamelbourne.com
La Madonna Restaurant is open for breakfast 7am-10am on weekdays and 7am-11am on weekends. The restaurant is open daily for lunch from noon to 3pm and dinner from 6pm till late. La Madonna Bar is open 4pm-1am Mon-Thurs, from noon till late Fri-Sun.
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