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Monday, 29 July 2013

Mercy Bar + Eatery (closed)

*This venue is now closed* 

I'd been looking forward to this dinner for a long time - not only for the company, but also because I was keen to try Mercy Bar + Eatery (31 Flinders Lane, Melbourne), formerly known as Virginia Plain (see my previous blog post here).


In its former state, I'd tried the degustation with matching wines and been quite impressed. Word on the street was that, although Mercy Bar is still run by the same crew (owned by Marco Santucci, with Andy Harmer as chef and Mat Beyer running front-of-house), it was revamping in response to what the people wanted: a more casual eatery, with a 'less austere' ambience. It's still a great venue, but I'm not sure it has hit its mark just yet.

Sure, it's a little more colourful, with street-style art by Steve Cross and touches of bright neon lighting, but I was expecting more bar, less eatery - well, less 'restaurant' style eatery, anyway. I was kinda disappointed to see that the restaurant's layout is much the same: long bar down one side, kitchen at the back (though I guess that's harder to move), plus what's basically a hall full of low dining tables (srsly, this place is MASSIVE). The only major layout change I could see was a few communal tables in the front section.

I gather that Mercy is a popular business lunch venue, being smack-bang in the middle of Melbourne's CBD foodie zone (the Paris end, naturally, dahhh-link). It claims to have loosened its menu, introducing more snack-style options, and is planning to offer more beers on tap (which it may well have already done - I don't drink beer, so I wouldn't have a clue. I did, however, enjoy a lovely lemon champagne cocktail on arrival - a French something-or-other).

Frenchie cocktail

For a second time upon this site, I ventured into degustation territory - only to find it a VERY similar experience to the Virginia Plain degustation. Everything was delicious, but it felt like history repeating: soup, fish, meat taster, dessert. Déjà vu! Perhaps I should have requested a mix of the new menu items - but one would expect the degustation to have changed somewhat, well over six months later and with a branding revamp.

I also found the wine matching very strange. First course was a French onion soup - the onions had been caramelised for three days, we were told. With this, came a strong, dry sherry, apparently to cut through the sweetness of the caramelised onion. Whaaaa?! I'm not a sherry fan at the best of times, but I gave it a shot. It was definitely better with the food, but I'm still not convinced it was the best drink to begin with. The other wines were more 'normal', but I still found them too diverse and too strong in general. Yes, I like to try new wines, but food-and-wine-matching is a delicate art and I think, Mercy, you might be trying a wee bit too hard in this regard.

French onion soup


Then followed a DELICIOUS terrine - although it was so soft, it was more like a pâté - and a fish dish, possibly cod (??) that was nice and foamy. The meat tasting platter was yummy, but basically the same as last time, and the dessert was a HUGE improvement on my previous experience of Banoffee Pie (I HATE bananas... yes HATE them): this time, a delicious chocolate sponge with pear mousse. Ohhhh baby yes. 

Terrine, NOM

One of the better wines, happily served in a massive glass

Fishy goodness

Tasting platter of pork belly (I think), bone marrow, wagyu steak, potato stack

Chocolate & pear dessert... although it looked like poo, it did not taste like poo

The main benefit of a degustation is that you don't have to think. We definitely took advantage of this, and concentrated on our catch-up. The waitstaff were delightful in general: fun and flirty, there when you wanted them to be and absent when you didn't, and describing each dish in enough detail to enjoy it, but not to be bored by their dissertation! Mercy Bar also has a fun social media presence - clearly, interaction with customers is one of its stronger points.

I came away from Mercy Bar having enjoyed my dinner, but a little disappointed that it wasn't as different as I'd hoped. It's a very large space - which, admittedly, would be difficult to rearrange or redecorate. Although it's funkier now, I don't feel it's quite dropped the 'austere' tag. I believe a reshuffle of the layout - perhaps filling it with more STUFF to make it feel more knick-knacky and therefore casual, or dividing it into smaller sections - would go a long way towards creating the vibe they are hoping for.

Still well worth a look for a fabulous dinner or lunch, particularly if you are looking to impress.

Mercy bar + eatery on Urbanspoon