While The European takes heed from continental Europe, it is now a Melbourne icon, a go-to for all food and wine lovers from breakfast through to dinner.
Sitting atop the CBD on leafy Spring Street, its position across from the grandiose Parliament makes it a favourite for not only well-heeled clientele, but also city visitors and tourists from out of town.
Inspired by extensive travels throughout Europe, owners Con Christopoulos and Josh Brisbane established The European and upstairs neighbour, Melbourne Supper Club in 1998. Together, they injected a wealth of accumulated hospitality experience into the venture.
Con was involved in Degraves Espresso and Café Segovia. This experience, as well as the 18 years of operating The European, is evident within the dining room, where visitors can find baked eggs for breakfast, spaghetti alla marinara for lunch and rabbit cassoulet for dinner.
Under the helm of group Executive Chef, Ian Curley, Peter Sheldon turns out a trans-continental European menu that runs the gamut from France to England, with pit stops in the Mediterranean. The menu stays away from trend-based offerings, in favour of a classic approach, where quality ingredients and flavour are paramount.
Peter established his career in a front-of-house capacity in Brisbane, and can sometimes be spotted managing the kitchen from the service side of the pass. After a four-year stint working as a chef in London’s Mayfair, he returned to Melbourne and started as sous chef at The European, taking over the reins as Head Chef in 2015. Innovation is certainly not lost on Peter, who uses the seasons to guide the direction of the menu.
Freshly shucked oysters, the provenance of which changes daily, are served on a round silver tray with muslin-wrapped lemon and shallot vinegar, while hand-minced steak tartare with caperberries and charred onion is a balanced starter that emphasises the high quality of the produce. Pasta is freshly made, subject to daily specials, to showcase the best seasonal produce, but there’s no changing the pepper steak with celeriac remoulade; it’s an unmoving fixture on the menu, loved by the business lunch set.
Peter’s nose-to-tail methodology is best seen in the main dishes. Follow up entrees with Great Ocean duck, witlof and orange, or a Châteaubriand designed to share between two. To finish, cheeses are selected by The Spring Street Cheese Cellar, and presented with bread and fruit paste, while a seasonal soufflé will satisfy any sweet cravings.
The all-European wine list, written by principal wine buyer, Chris Broughton, is brought to life on the floor by Jay Bessell. His charisma and intuitive approach helps steer both the bewildered novice and wine buff in the right direction.
Just as the menu is a classic tribute, the interior is ageless. Bentwood chairs, chequerboard floors and wood-panelled walls evoke a classic Parisian bistro. Con has a personal eye for collecting, and all of the items in the restaurant have been acquired by him or been especially made along the way.
The European has earned its stripes as one of Melbourne’s finest dining establishments, deservedly so. Its longevity is a testament to consistently high quality and a loyal following, even if its occupants across the road change every four years.