Discover delicious food, good company and a hidden bar at Vesper.
If you’ve been missing the joys of a European holiday, don’t worry. Vesper Bistro & Bar is an intimate restaurant that will take you on a journey to the Mediterranean. Situated in South Yarra on Toorak Road, this venue is a destination for foodies across Melbourne. Each dish was inspired by the islands of Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and the south of France. On top of their delicious food and wine, they also have a hidden bar and dining space.
The owners of Vesper, Duncan and Marlane Fraser-Smith, were inspired to open this restaurant by their travels in the Mediterranean. After living in Dubai for ten years, the couple moved to Melbourne and signed the lease for the venue during the long lockdown of 2020. It was a bold choice, but with over 40 years of combined hospitality experience, they were confident in their vision.
“Everything we created at Vesper is what we love and what we enjoy, whether it’s the décor, the food, the wine or the atmosphere,” said Marlane. “It’s all been with the view that if we were going to go out for dinner, this is where we would want to go.”
Luckily for them, the stars aligned with their chef de cuisine, Francesco Castellana. Born in Italy, Castellana has worked at some of the world’s most recognised establishments, included Michelin starred Per Se in New York and Melbourne’s Vue de Monde.
“He found out that we were opening and his vision was also very similar to ours,” said Marlane. “He created a menu that really worked for us. It all was about these delicious bites, packed full of flavour.”
Pearls and Caviar
The warm ambiance of Vesper makes this restaurant the perfect place to socialise. The Pearls and Caviar nights are a point of pride for Marlane. Originally tried out as an event in May, Pearls and Caviar was designed as the perfect after-work activity. You get to nibble on three canapes and pair it with three delicious drinks. Pair the chargrilled octopus with a Vesper Martini, enjoy salmon caviar infused with shiraz with a gin and soda, and mozzarella in an Italian fish sauce with a rosé. After its success in May, Pearls and Caviar are set to become a permanent after-work fixture on the menu.
Feast on some fresh food
Everything at Vesper is freshly made on-site. Seafood lovers are spoiled for choice. Oysters, mussels, octopus, snapper and caviar are dotted around the menu. Marlane is a self-proclaimed lover of seafood and the menu reflects that love and care. For something light, opt for the kingfish “crudo” with spicy citrus salad. For a larger main, enjoy the red snapper with seven olives ragout and potato crisps.
And if you don’t like seafood?
One of Marlane’s favourite things to eat at Vesper is the open spanakopita. Although spanakopita is normally closed with a layer of filo pastry on top, Marlane fell in love with the open version on her travels in Greece. At a beach club in Mykonos, she remembered, “The waiter came out with this beautiful open spanakopita”. Marlane was unable to forget it, so when they opened the restaurant, she told Castellana an open spanakopita simply had to be included.
With the spinach and feta on display in the middle of the dish, the spanakopita is simply inviting. It beckons you to dig in, and a healthy serve of pastry, spinach and feta will introduce a heap of flavour onto your palate. Whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat lover, this entrée is flavoursome enough to win hearts all around.
Speaking of vegetarians, you can’t go wrong with their indulgent ravioli. It’s hard to think of the Mediterranean without including eggplant, so these little pasta pockets are stuffed with them. They are covered with an oozy smoked burrata sauce. It’s the perfect warm winter dish.
If you enjoy meat, but you don’t like seafood, why not try their herb stuffed chicken? It’s flavoursome, dripping in sauce, and accompanied by fresh, juicy clementines that burst in your mouth.
Indulge in dessert
Before you go, don’t forget to treat yourself to some delectable desserts. Our recommendation? The torta caprese. It’s a heavenly chocolate dessert infused with cherry notes and accompanied by date ice cream.
And to drink?
Duncan is a bit of a James Bond fan. Of course, they had to do something inspired by Bond’s favourite drink, a martini shaken not stirred. Duncan’s favourite cocktail, therefore, is the Vesper Martini. This cocktail is a a bit more modern, filled with Four Pillars Olive Leaf Gin, vodka and topped with a bit of rosemary.
Meanwhile, Marlane’s beverage of choice would be anything from their wide spritzer selection. These drinks are all cool, citrusy and summery – the perfect way to daydream about sunbathing by the sea.
A place to feel at home
Marlane’s taste is reflected across the restaurant décor. For her, going to a restaurant is like going into someone’s living room. “It’s a place where you get hosted and you go relax and enjoy yourself,” Marlane said. “It’s all about pleasure.”
Vesper is located near the Fraser-Smith’s home in South Yarra. They can walk to work, go into the restaurant and welcome members of the community into their space. In a way, it’s like their second home.
As Marlane adds lemon to everything, there is a lemon on every table for guests to use when they need to. The feature wallpaper was agonised over before finally landing on an inviting shade of green from Christian Lacroix. Artwork hangs on the walls, oozing French chic and “Gucci lips”.
The Green Room
Tucked away in the back of the restaurant, down a narrow corridor, is Vesper’s hidden bar. The Green Room is a secluded and comfortable space with floral walls and aqua velvet banquettes. It opens onto an outdoor courtyard with its own working fountain, perfect for summertime.
Inside the Green Room is another nod to James Bond – a picture of Eva Green, who played Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. The hidden bar is partly named after the actress, but also after the lushness of the Mediterranean.
Whether you’re hidden in the Green Room or out in the main dining area, you’ll definitely feel comfortable and at home at Vesper.
Vesper is currently open for dinner trade from 5.30pm onwards. Find Vesper at 25 Toorak Rd, South Yarra VIC 3141.