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Flying High: Mr McCracken

The Hyatt’s latest addition to the Australian hospitality landscape comes complete with a brilliant new destination restaurant.

Since Mr McCracken opened at the base of Hyatt Place, Essendon Fields, in Melbourne’s north west early in October it’s become a dining magnet: local food aficionados were quick to discover the quality of its food, wine and service. Though housed on the ground floor of the Hyatt, Mr McCracken is the latest creation of the team behind the hugely successful St Kilda beachside venues Republica, Captain Baxter and Encore.

After walking under the polychromatic tower that is the hotel you’re greeted at the door by a fun and casually dressed young maitre’d. At that moment you forget you’re in hospitality precinct on the verge of Melbourne’s second airport. Next door is the conference centre, across the road is a critically acclaimed Italian market. In the age of pop-up this juxtaposition of airport and excellent dining takes the cake. You’re walked past the bar, past the al fresco dining area with its stonefaced wood fire, to be eased into comfortable chairs in the 65-seat dining room. The surfaces are blonde wood columns and matte-textured concrete. A fireplace separates the bar from the dining room and the black steel-framed windows soar up to the ceiling. An impressive sense of grandeur is underplayed by the intimacy of the dining room – marble-topped tables for two and four and longer tables for larger parties in the centre. The focus is the broad, open kitchen, partly shielded from view by suspended steel wire gantries. The effect is dramatic but spares diners from the noise and intrusive aromas.

Interior view through to the al fresco dining area with its stonefaced wood fire

Interior view through to the al fresco dining area with its stonefaced wood fire

Provenance and freshness are key to group Executive Chef Matt Dawson’s ethos, brilliantly delivered by Head Chef Adam Baughan. Good examples are the small, sweet and herbaceous Mount Zero Ligurian olives and perfectly-crafted Hopkins River beef carpaccio. These delightful, relaxed offerings pair well with a range of textural whites and highly fragrant Victorian regional reds on the wine list. It’s a tight list, hand-picked by Luke Campbell, that focuses on Victorian wines. Even better, there’s a very reasonable mark-up.

Essentials recommends the charcuterie board draped with fresh and finely sliced salchi bosque flecked with pickled mushrooms, tissue paper thin slices of San Daniele prosciutto, Catalan sausage redolent of anise, plus rustic terrine and a parfait glass with a rich layer of silky smooth parfait topped with sweet and tangy Madeira jelly. It’s the fresh, crusty grissini straws that tip this perfect amalgam of every European bistro/bodega/trattoria starter towards Italia! A plate of golden croquettes appears, their crisp exterior hiding a creamy béchamel interior tangy with smoked cheddar and a chipotle aioli side for dipping.

From the corner of the kitchen comes a flash of white as Rome-born pizza chef Frankie Mariotti tosses his 72-hour fermented doughs. ‘Good for sensitive tummies,’ he says. They’re cooked in a specially imported Italian pizza oven creating fine crusted pizza with authentic toppings that we reckon give Sydney’s Stefano Manfredi a run for his money. Speaking of Italian, consider the pillow-light gnocchi with fresh peas, creamy fior di latte cheese with a punch of mint and slathered in brown butter sauce.

Dawson and his team are masters of tender flesh: beautiful sage-scented medallions of seared Borrowdale pork loin, perfectly soft and juicy inside, are plated with wonderfully savoury carrot purée finished with a sticky raisin jus. The flavoursome lamb rump is perfectly cooked prime Sovereign lamb from a farm in Victoria’s Goldfields region. Served with a pea purée and rosemary-scented jus it is the gastronomic version of an Aussie country lunch.

Do not go past the dessert menu. The written descriptions cannot do justice to what is delivered to the table. Lemon, vanilla pana cotta, coconut and ginger crumble is actually a masterpiece of blending traditional Italian (panna cotta) and Aussie flavours (lemon curd and ginger nut biscuit) into a parfait glass, finished with coconut snow and tuille. It’s a classic dessert with a tropical twist.

And that is the beauty of Mr McCracken. It combines the longed-for flavours of comfort food with unexpected twists of modern Asian and Middle Eastern while making you feel warm and welcome. The team have worked hard with a tough location and, remarkably, created a dining room and bar that not only constitutes a comfortable place of culinary refuge for Hyatt hotel guests, but is a dining destination for all Melbourne.

Mr McCracken
1A Larkin Boulevard,
Essendon Fields, Victoria
Tel 03 9379 1812
mrmccracken.com.au