First Look: Nathan Toleman’s Hazel Arrives, All Soft Hues and Natural Light, in a Historic Flinders Lane Building

Written for Broadsheet

Flinders Lane’s historic Richard Allen & Son building was constructed in 1897 and operated as a fabric-manufacturing warehouse in the early 20th century. More recently, the site existed as office space before the Mulberry Group – which sold its iconic Melbourne cafes Top PaddockKettle Black and Higher Ground last year – took it over in 2017 and began transforming the space to reflect elements of its former life.

“It was an opportunity to strip it right back to its bare bones and start again,” Mulberry Group CEO Nathan Toleman says.

The result is Hazel, a pared-back eatery that stretches over two floors. Hana Hakim of Stella Collective (Kettle Black, and the group’s new cafe, Liminal, which opened in the T&G building next door earlier this year) is behind the fit-out. The colour scheme is soft and neutral with American oak floorboards, pale-leather banquettes, Hazelnut-coloured bentwood chairs and pink-stone benchtops. Ornate light fittings and mirrors feature on otherwise minimal walls, and the space is flooded with natural light from the large south-facing windows.

“We wanted a place that was timeless and classical and not too design-led,” Toleman says. “Something that could be here forever. We want it to be the kind of place that people feel at home in.”

Head chef Zac Nicholson (formerly head chef at Rockpool Bar & Grill, also at Liminal) leads the kitchen. The menu covers five categories: starters (which includes oysters with chicken sauce and pigs-head terrine); on toast (with toppings on oven-grilled sourdough); house-made pasta; proteins (lamb chops with chimichurri, and duck breast with aged balsamic); and sides including pumpkin with whey butter and soured cream, and burnt eggplant with basil pesto.

“The ‘on toast’ section – that’s my favourite,” says Nicholson. House-made sourdough bread is charred over one of three woodfired grills heated by Australian ironbark coals, then topped with anchovy and kefir butter; house-made fromage frais (fresh cheese), fried ‘nduja and guindillas (a type of chilli); or grass-fed beef rump tartare with creamy anchovy sauce.

“The open flame gives you that beautiful smoky flavour. It adds another level that you wouldn’t normally get on the gas or electric,” Toleman says. “It’s the kind of food you want to come in and eat and come back again and have the next day … It’s just really unfussy food.”

Southern calamari and grilled prawns are roasted over the flames too, served with garlic butter and cumin mayo respectively. And oysters arrive in a light chicken broth that bands together with the mollusc’s natural brine for a very delicate surf and turf.

For dessert there’s vanilla soft serve with smoked caramel and a cookie crumb. When you’ve eaten your way through the first layer of topping, the kitchen brings out another pot of warm caramel.

Bar manager Alberto Carrozza (QT Melbourne) and head bartender Tom McHugh (Gin Palace) take a clever but respectful approach to classic cocktails. Strawberries cooked in a Negroni bath for around an hour are pressed flat into a ritzy take on a Rollup to top the Strawberry Negroni. The Appleseed Gimlet is all punch and tang, and there’s a selection of booze-free cocktails made with Seedlip, a non-alcoholic spirit. The extensive wine list includes drops from New Zealand, South Australia, France, Italy and the Mornington Peninsula.

“We just want create a restaurant that Melbourne can be proud of and be happy to call their own,” Toleman says.

Dessous – the team’s new wine and cocktail bar – is opening in the building’s basement on Monday.

164 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Mon to Sat 12pm–4pm, 6pm–11pm
Sun 11am–5pm

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