With Doveton Street’s new fine diner Underbar taking bookings a month in advance, food lovers keen to experience the intimate service may have to join the queue.
Originally from Darwin, chef Derek Boath has worked in kitchens across Melbourne and Sydney and cut his teeth at the three Michelin star restaurant per se in New York, operated by famed chef Thomas Keller.
After operating for more than six months out of the nearby FIKA Coffee Brewers site, Mr Boath and wife Lucy Taylor recently began cooking out of their own space at 3 Doveton Street North.
Continuing the Scandinavian theme from FIKA, Underbar (pronounced oon-de-bar, meaning delectable or divine) treats just 12 people to a set chef’s tasting menu.
A single table runs the length of the dining room with an open kitchen at the end, allowing the chef to interact with diners during the service.
While Mr Boath was one of 10 chefs working in the per se kitchen, Underbar sees him take charge of entire service from ordering and preparation to plating up.
“Part of this dining experience is very much to be interactive with the guests because we don’t want to be locked away behind a wall and be secretive,” Mr Boath said.
“We want to lose the stuffiness of fine dining and be approachable.
“Hopefully it helps guests relax so they can enjoy the food and try something they’ve never eaten before without feeling stressed by the silver service.”
In similar fashion to his New York training ground, Mr Boath’s Ballarat offering runs on a no repeat premise, where no ingredient features twice over the 12 courses.
The menu might consist of yellow tail kingfish, salted turnip, coastal greens with confit lemon or lamb rump, kipfler, royal blue, onion and black truffle with matching wines, with no two menus being exactly the same from week to week.
While it may have been the housing market pressures of Melbourne which encouraged the couple to make the move to Ballarat with their young daughter and set up the restaurant, Mr Boath said the city had responded overwhelmingly to the intimate dining approach since their first service in November.
“We never really planned on opening a fine dining restaurant...but we tried to work out what my skill set was and what differentiated myself from the average chef and that was the fine dining experience,” Mr Boath said.
“We weren't sure if Ballarat was ready for it, hence why we tried the pop-up at (FIKA), but Ballarat has really embraced it.”
While the couple are only operating on Saturday evenings, Underbar will also open on a Friday night beginning in September.