One of Melbourne’s newest establishments, a two-level floating bar and eatery on the Yarra River, Yarra Botanica, has recently announced all-year-round operating hours and the launch of a beautiful premium boutique produce-driven winter menu that’s got tongues wagging. During the cooler months, the venue is layered in gorgeous native floral and foliage arrangements, adding texture and depth to the overhead space, painting a scene similar to a forest canopy. Awnings and heaters help to shield diners from the wintry chill.
The menu comprises cleverly designed hot and cold snacks, sourdough pizzas, grazing platters, outstanding wine and cocktail lists, plus a no-brainer ‘Feed Me’ menu that provides a tremendous all-round tasting experience. On it, a range of flavour-rich indigenous-themed delights makes this choice unique. For example, the Stoneground Sourdough Flatbread with warrigal greens pesto, burnt pumpkin hummus, dukkah, and Mount Zero chickpeas is heartwarming and moreish.
The dainty Portarlington mussel crumpets with nduja, cultured cream, kelp soy butter and sea herbs succeed brilliantly in balancing umami with salty-sea and earthy flavours. The wonderfully textured Hand-Stretched Burrata with roasted eggplant demonstrates dedication, and the brightly coloured Halloumi cubes painted in a warm persimmon and quandong compote, topped with macadamia nuts and bush honey, add a level of finesse to turn these tiny bites into sweet, salty and sour modern food masterpieces.
The venue’s key to success is sourcing ingredients that amplify the depth and wide range of food flavours sourced in Victoria, including a long list of indigenous tastes. So there’s the creative use of wild rosella flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa used for dressings), wattleseed (used in sourdough bread), Davidson plum (for sources and jam), as well as warrigal greens, saltbush, foraged coastal plants and a tempting range of native spices.
Executive chef Telina Menzies explains: ‘I’ve always had a love for native ingredients and a passion for using them – I feel we should showcase and educate people about them. There are many beautiful stories behind each ingredient, and we like to make sure we’re supporting indigenous-owned and operated businesses.’
Regarding proteins and lesser indigenous exotics, a long list of Victorian suppliers are also showcased, including products like Port Arlington hot smoked barramundi, Murray cod, Yarra Valley truffles, farmhouse cheeses, honey and fresh vegetables. But it’s what the kitchen team does in terms of mindset, time spent and consideration of ingredients that sets the menus apart.
‘The concept was always going to be centred around Australian ingredients and telling that story’, Telina continues. ‘But we ended up using all Victorian products, including the enormous range of spirits and drinks from Victoria, ultimately complementing the food and going further to showcase the local farms’ artisan producers. And produce is treated very simply, as the quality is so high, like cooking mushrooms in tempura batter and serving them immediately.
While the name Botanica could easily be dismissed as a visual theme only, the venue’s title truly represents its proximity to the land and coastal environment. Indigenous flavours on offer lead diners’ along a gentle tasting journey around Victoria. Showcasing just how rich and diverse Victoria’s indigenous food history is, sampling a few plates at Yarra Botanica is both an education and a pleasure.
Entry into Yarra Botanica is free, and now the venue is open seven days a week, all year round; bookings are recommended, walk-ins possible.
Southbank Promenade, Southbank, Victoria
Tel 03 8840 4824