Walking into Donovans restaurant is like walking into someone’s home. And that’s just the way Gail and Kevin Donovan want it.
The hospitality legends are the husband-and-wife team behind the iconic restaurant sitting on the St Kilda foreshore. Born out of a dream to showcase their city more than 20 years ago, Donovans is now as quintessentially Melbourne as the smiling face of its neighbour, Luna Park.
The site the venue occupies was one of three original bathing houses built in 1920. Bought by Gail and Kevin in 1995, they undertook extensive renovations to the site, creating a space that feels and look exactly like someone’s house. Ravished by fire in August 2014, it rose from the ashes to be restored to its former glory.
Natural timbers, rich fabrics and sandstone fireplaces appear throughout the living and dining areas, including the Cape Cod-inspired main dining room and lounge and bar. Floor-to-ceiling windows open onto the beach, while an outside terrace and enclosed verandah incorporate the best of the natural environment. But don’t expect things to look the same every time you visit – they like to change the way their house looks and feels every six months.
The venue is home to 60 welcoming staff including Co-Head Chefs, Emma D’Alessandro and Adam Draper, who have been with the team for 14 years. Together with their expert squad of culinary connoisseurs, they turn out a menu that fuses Gail and Kevin’s knowledge of modern American cooking and Emma and Adam’s extensive kitchen experience. The modern mix of favourite dishes – 10 of which have been around since the venue’s inception – emphasise the best local produce, with plates changing depending on what’s available at the time.
Open your culinary adventure with a selection of the day’s best oysters, served with Spanish onion and dill vinaigrette. Once your appetite is tickled, turn to the new season’s local asparagus, served with buffalo milk ricotta, spring vegetables and a crumbed quail egg; or the free-range chicken liver parfait, accompanied by a shallot and ginger compote, cornichons and house-made sourdough.
Next, choose between the pastas or main courses. The white wine braised rabbit with rigatoni, fresh tomato, broad beans and pecorino will ignite the senses, but it’s hard to look past one of the classics, like the old-fashioned chicken pie, with mushrooms, a medley of vegetables, tarragon and a crisp pastry. Charcoal connoisseurs can choose any number of options cooked over the grill, including spring lamp rump from the Western District and grass-fed Hopkins River eye fillet – each served with thick-cut chips, condiments and cos lettuce.
When you first start ordering, keep in mind that dessert is a must. The famous bombe Alaska combines chocolate hazelnut ice cream and toasted meringue for a sweet treat you’ll never forget.
The excellent selection extends past the food to the wine. Kevin, as Head Sommelier, has built up a jaw-dropping cellar over the last 20 years, with the current list boasting more than 500 wines, predominately Australian. If you’re a novice, let him or one of the friendly staff pair the drink to your dish – it will not disappoint.
Donovans has been delivering a charming and welcoming dining experience for more than 20 years, becoming one of Melbourne’s most-loved restaurants. With plans for an expansion on the horizon, it’s a hospitality institution that will cook its way into the history books.