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Sunday, 15 March 2015

Arbory Bar and Eatery

New: Arbory Bar and Eatery, Flinders Walk, Melbourne

When I heard Arbory Bar and Eatery had opened along one side of Flinders Street Station, I was surprised that I'd managed to skip any pre-launch hype about it. (a) A new bar, (b) in such a central location, and (c) such a big venue - how had I missed this?! But no matter. I was able to get along and check it out only two weeks after opening. Redeemed.

Drinks with a river view

So - this place is pretty cool. Arbory (Flinders Walk, Melbourne) runs the length of the old Sandridge platform (up to 150 metres, depending on which source you believe), along the river side of Flinders Street Station. The Sandridge railway line, which went to what is now Port Melbourne, ran for 133 years from 1854. Since it was decommissioned in 1987, its dedicated Flinders platform had been left terribly sad and unused.

Flinders Street Station backs onto one length of Arbory

The combined powers of Metro Trains and the HQ Hospitality Group (operators of many of the refreshment stalls at railway stations around Melbourne) have resulted in Arbory, apparently in the works for around four years. Named for the canopy of trees along the river, initially, the idea was to create a central go-to coffee spot. But, according to Tim Botterill, Director of the HQ Group, the idea "grew legs" and expanded to what is now Arbory. The brand new venue will be open every day of the year for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks until late, with beautiful river views and extensive people-watching potential. At dusk, it is an unbeatable spot to wile away time watching teams of energetic rowers do their thang.

Unfortunately, there is no direct access to the bar from Flinders Street Station itself (how cool would that have been!). However, the venue is easily accessed at either of its ends: from the underpass which runs from Elizabeth Street through to the Yarra, or near the Princes Bridge (down the stairs from St Kilda Road).

Princes Bridge (St Kilda Road) entrance to Arbory

It blends neatly into its surrounds; in fact, you wouldn't necessarily notice it unless you happened to look up from the riverside path or across from Southbank.

A short swim over to Southgate

But its proximity to one of the most central hubs of Melbourne (Flinders Street Station) - not to mention Melbourne's "Tourist Central" (Southbank) - guarantees it trade, and therefore probably longevity.

View from Flinders Street Station looking across to Arbory

Once onsite, the first thing you notice is the venue's length. Arbory seems to stretch on forever, dotted by large green umbrellas, wooden decking, balustrade and seating. Its design, by Melbourne architectural group Jackson Clements Burrows, is predominantly alfresco. (I am hoping they have a good heating system in place for winter - this is Melbourne, after all!)

It was allegedly inspired by a linear park in New York, The High Line, which made use of an unused, elevated section of railway in Manhattan. The main difference at Arbory is that it also provides a place to eat and drink - two of my (and Melbourne's) favourite things!

Container bar

Drinks are obtained from one of two bars at either end of a 60-metre long container, which also houses the kitchen, servery and bathrooms (with cool rainforest wallpaper and matte black taps). Food is ordered at the bar and delivered by staff who find you via a number system (poor fullas - that will be a panus in the buttus at a place as long as this). Staff are obviously getting used to the venue themselves, but seem young, friendly and astute.

Water with a water view

When I was there, an additional serving cart had been set up at the Elizabeth Street underpass end, apparently for some kind of Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event.

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2015 event cart

Storage seems scarce and therefore confined to a shed down the Princes Bridge end of the venue, or upon a stretch of the platform behind the bar. Unfortunately, it is cordoned off by a black tarp sheet, which isn't the prettiest to look at. That would probably be my only gripe about the look of the place - I hope it is only a temporary solution. Removing it would increase the feeling of space, being able to see through to the station almost all the way along one side, and the river on the other.

I have been to Arbory twice now, and each time drank delightful wines which I will never recall the names of - the first was a beautifully light rose (not too sweet, just the way I like it), and the second, some kind of Spanish varietal like a Grigio. Ish. (I just went to the bar and asked for "that Spanish white". Works for me.)

That Spanish white

The wines by the glass were a teensy bit on the pricey side but they were pretty lovely and, again, considering the venue's location, it could be expected that prices might be slightly higher in general. However, the food all seemed quite reasonably priced.

On my second visit, a friend and I tried some of the food. She ordered the mushroom and haloumi burger, which she quite enjoyed - apparently the sauce was delicious.

Mushroom and haloumi burger

Saucy goodness

We each had a mushroom and cheese croquette - nicely crisped on the outside; a bit too mushy for my liking on the inside, but still tasty.

Mushroom and cheese croquettes

I tried the steak tartare - unusual in two respects: there was a lot of steak provided (most other venues seem to skimp on the main ingredient!), and it was served with foccacia-style bread that had cheese cooked into its middle. Sounds weird, but it was delicious and complimentary to the strong meat flavour and accompanying creamy, tangy sauce (perhaps a mayonnaise, but less eggy?). Does it sound weird to say it had a Scandinavian flavour? Regardless - I was quite impressed.

Steak tartare

Executive Chef Nicholas Bennett, who jumped the river from Fatto Bar and Cantina at Hamer Hall (formerly Trocadero), wanted a contemporary European angle to the food, but also needed to cater to the variety of folks likely to patronise the venue. Considering Arbory is open from 7.30am every day, I'd also like to sample its breakfast fare. Will keep you posted! (Or this post posted... you know what I mean.)

Facing the Elizabeth Street underpass entrance

I enjoyed the music (the likes of Lorde, Phoenix... light, alternative-to-mainstream stuff), amusingly punctuated on occasion by the blare of a train horn.


The crowd was mixed - there is definite appeal for the after-work crowd -- just stumble onto the train home, guys! -- and obviously, tourists. But I think Arbory will attract a wider crowd, probably mid-20s onwards, right up to your distinguished greys. It's great for anyone wanting a buzzy but relaxed environment; central, with great views ...And that is the clincher, people! I'll be continuing to visit, at the very least, for that.

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