We knew the suburbs of Melbourne must hide some foodie gems, and in browsing options, we came across Imbue Food and Wine in Maribyrnong. Their pitch on Instagram is “To inspire through food”. The food photos looked good, and their menu (one must check beforehand) seemed to be a mix of some classic European dishes, and Asian flavours.
If we hadn’t already picked Imbue as a destination, we might never have known about it. It is located on the well-trafficked Gordon Street, near the cluster of shops that includes Aldi, but not quite in the busy bit. The signage is stylishly understated, and, unfortunately, just about blocked from view from the road by a tree.
We found our way to the entrance, and crossed the threshold into the eatery space. The interior was done in a quite standard for modern restaurants dark colour scheme with dim lighting. A mural running along one wall added local flavour, with some neighbourhood references worked into it.
We had booked ahead, so were shown to our table, already set with glasses, cutlery, and menus. We did find that the hard surfaces in the space made voices echo and trapped the music. Even though it wasn’t absolutely packed (moderately full), it was noisier than we expected for the diner numbers, and some particularly shrill people at another table made it quite unpleasant at times.
We had considered going for the 5 course tasting menu option, but after looking through the a la carte menu, decided that there were more dishes we wanted to be able to pick from there. Instead of the tasting menu option of 3 sharing dishes, 1 main dish, and 1 side dish to share, and a dessert per person, we ended up choosing 6 of their sharing dishes and 1 main dish between us.
Three cheese croquettes, black truffle, aioli. These cigar-shaped morsels were served piping hot. The outside coating of panko crumbs had a good crunch. The interior was a soft potato mash mixed with gooey cheeses, and with small bits of truffle scattered through. It was a well-seasoned, moreish start to the meal.
The other dishes were then brought out in quick succession, filling the table. We wished it had been better spaced, as it meant that while you were savouring one dish, others went cold.
Fried chicken, sticky fish sauce, chilli, fried shallots, spring onion. There was a good, robust crunch to the coating, without it being too heavy. The meat remained juicy through the frying. The seasoning over it all was a mix of salty and faintly sweet.
Grilled Tiger prawns, sweet chilli, cream, salmon roe, lime. The king prawns were appropriately sized (large), and shelled all the way down to the last segment of tail for easier eating. We also appreciated that the chutes were entirely cleaned out, so we didn’t have the gritty surprises that have happened at other places. They retained a juicy texture, and there was a hint of smoky grill aroma that was present over the sweet sauce.
Mushroom medley, stracciatella, croutons, black garlic, lemon. We saw the components in this dish, and were drawn by the promise of an umami hit. It had a milder flavour than we expected though, particularly when had with the other dishes. The mushrooms were well cooked and tender, and the croutons added a contrasting crunch.
Roasted pork belly, blood orange, beetroot, red onion. The beetroot was sweet rather than pickled, but worked well against the salt of the pork belly. The pork belly pieces had a competently crispy skin, but unfortunately one of the pieces was mostly a slab of unrendered fat underneath that, rather than a good ratio of meat and fat.
Torched kingfish, avocado mousse, pickled fennel, ponzu, chilli. The kingfish was just cooked, so the pieces were still almost translucent. It had just the right texture, and picked up flavour from the ponzu sauce. The avocado mousse underneath was a smooth puree. The accompanying fennel slices were tart and citrussy.
Crumbed pork loin, stewed apple, shaved cabbage, mustard vinaigrette. This was like a tonkatsu cutlet in presentation style. It was deftly cooked, so the pork was still pink and juicy. It had a fine crumb as the outer crust. There was zing from the vegetables. One almost wanted a creamy sauce to go with it though.
On the whole, we enjoyed our meal at Imbue Food and Wine. There were a couple of missteps, but they mostly delivered tasty dishes with a range of flavours, so the dishes were distinctly different. It is somewhat hidden away, but worth tracking down as a neighbourhood gem if you’re looking for a meal that’s a bit fancy that you don’t have to travel into the city for.
Price point: Starters $10 to $26. Mains $26 to $26. Our meal was $128 between us.
Value: Alright, for what you get.
Address: 2/419 Gordon St, Maribyrnong
Phone: 03 9088 8090
Website: Imbue Food and Wine