February 13, 2014
This week we bid farewell to some dear friends who've quit their jobs to travel the world; we celebrated their four years in Melbourne and upcoming adventure at Gills Diner. When this restaurant opened six-ish years ago cursory research revealed that their churros were popular and they otherwise weren't too veg-friendly, so I never bothered to investigate further. Their current menu does have several meat-free entrees and one main so we fit in fine on the night.
Gills Diner's atmosphere is not what I expected by name or reputation. There's no booth seating or jukeboxes, but nor are there starched tablecloths or smooth tunes. The raw wooden tables, bare floors and chalkboard menus are those of a mess hall, with only gothic candlesticks, cloth napkins and the prices indicating that this is one-hat dining.
There's good bread and fancy butter, which I fairly pounced on when it arrived.
As an entree, we each ordered a zucchini flower ($7) and they were the teeniest flowers I've ever seen, stuffed with ricotta and pine nuts, battered and fried, then served with a fresh sweetcorn salsa.
We shared another entree at mains time, a goats cheese pannacotta ($14) with spicy tomato salsa. It was more firm than gelatinous, to my relief, but lacking a bit of bite; the accompanying salad didn't bring much of the promised spice either.
The vegetarian main is... *yawn*... gnocchi with summer vegetables and feta ($26). To be fair, these were great buttery little gnocchi, and the asparagus spears, sweet beetroot and kale wisps stood out best among the veges.
We shared all the sides ($9 each) across the table too. The kipfler potatoes were a highlight, smoky with paprika and garnished with roasted garlic. I also enjoyed the fennel and orange salad and the rocket salad with sliced pear, gorgonzola and candied walnuts. However they were burdened with too much oil and salt, a recurring problem across all the savoury dishes - none of the vegetables really got to shine.
We shared the two chocolatey desserts across the table, but neither the churros ($12) nor the chocolate fondant ($16) lived up to expectations. Even with nine of us present, they were left unfinished.
Wait times were reasonable and the service was professional, though we would've liked more attention paid to our often-empty water bottles. Gills Diner isn't ideal for pesky-tarians, though its chefs could probably whisk up something suitable with due warning and a reservation. Vegetarians dining with friends can slip happily under the radar, but I think our fine dining dollars are better spent elsewhere in this city.
Fellow veg blogger Nouveau Potato says she's a happy repeat visitor to Gills Diner. The venue also gets positive feedback on melbourne gastronome, (Original) Eating with Jack, Fitzroyalty, Gourmet Chick, Dave Plus Food, Love My Foods & Sugar, Eat, Cook, Drink, Tea with Mary, The Misadventures of MissC, Laws of the Kitchen, Friday Night, Date Night, Let Me Feed You: Melbourne, Triple Cee, BYEBYEMYTHYROID, Barley Restaurant Reviews, Let's Get Fat Together and rosyfutureblog.
Gills Diner inspired mixed feelings on Food Fable, MSG: The Melbourne Social Guide, Popcorn & Toast, PETIT MIAMx and The Epicurean of Southbank, and failed to impress my seasonal table and Gastrology.
Gills Alley, rear of 360 Little Collins St, Melbourne CBD
Accessibility: The entry is wide and flat but the tables inside are pretty dense, the lighting is fairly dim and the dining room can get noisy. The mounted chalkboard menus might be tough to read for the less agile too. There's full table service, and I didn't visit the toilets.