With its monochrome awning, gold signage and Parisian bistro chairs, Wildgrain has the look and feel of a sophisticated French brasserie. Owned by two ex-chefs, the restaurant combines casual charm with culinary excellence, making it the perfect destination for a multi-course dining experience or an elegant pre-or-post dinner drink.
An expansive, light-filled dining room maintains the European charm of the exterior, with a long marble bar, polished brass and artfully-placed antique mirrors adorning the walls. Rattan, leather and velvet add softness, with climbing vines and art-deco lighting completing the stylish fit-out. The vibe is instantly inviting and a far cry from traditional, stuffy fine-dining.
Owners Sean Flanagan and Sarah Peatfield are experienced players in the industry, having owned and operated successful cafes and restaurants across Sydney. Irishman Sean made his start working in Michelin star restaurants in London, including Mosimann's and the famous Le Gavroche, before meeting Sarah and eventually settling seaside in Mount Martha.
It's no surprise that the pair have attracted a team of a similar calibre. Head chef Leo Howard is an accomplished chef who worked in kitchens across the UK before moving to Australia. Like Sean, Leo is trained in classical French cuisine and ambitious and inventive in his approach. He uses traditional techniques to transform simple ingredients, with seasonal produce cooked over coals or pickled and fermented to enhance the natural flavours.
The venue offers bookings across lunch and dinner with walk-ins welcomed, from casual snacks at the bar to full-seated service. Small plates might include smoked lamb and saganaki croquettes with beetroot hummus and pickled berries – or Hiramasa kingfish Crudo with tarragon sauce, wild fennel and pickled cucumber. Larger plates include the beef short rib with barbequed carrots, shiitake mushrooms and sesame glaze. For herbivores, perhaps the smoked miso cauliflower with pickled grapes, toasted yeast and green goddess sauce.
With a paddock-to-plate ethos, the produce has to be impeccable. The Wildgrain kitchen team can be caught foraging across the coastline on their way to work for edible flowers, natives and herbs. Sean's green thumb is also evident in his home market garden, where he sources an ever-evolving mix of micro-herbs and seasonal produce. The menu showcases local produce from a wide variety of famous and unknown small producers.
Weighty leather menus house an impressive beverage list covering local and international wines, spirits, cocktails, aperitifs and digestifs. There are local beers on tap for those after a casual knockoff, including three standout ales from St Andrews Beach Brewery. Thyme negronis and spicy margaritas are made to perfection by the team behind the bar.
Restaurant manager Clement Cousin – of notable Parisian restaurant experience – is the driving force behind the front of house team. Clement layers his own wealth of knowledge to produce a beverage list that is both unique and complimentary to the Wildgrain experience. There's also a generous selection of non-alcoholic options for those withholding.
The venue seats 70 inside and 30 outdoors across the leafy courtyard and dog-friendly front tables, making it a perfect spot for larger parties and long lunches.
Wildgrain is a consolidation and celebration of years of experience, knowledge, and technical prowess gained locally and abroad. It's a worthy contemporary dining destination and a welcoming speakeasy for night-time revellers wandering down from Main Street Mornington.