Sunday lunch is one of those traditions that should be preserved and cherished. They bring back memories of childhood and family; being with those you love and sharing a meal together. For those times that you want to enjoy a great meal with family and friends, but without labouring away in the kitchen, Union Dining is there to give you a lazy Sunday lunch (or any meal) without the stress.
Union Dining opened in 2011 under chef Nicky Riemer (Melbourne Wine Room, Trunk, Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder) and front-of-house Adam Cash (Cutler & Co, Ezard). The room is unpretentious with pale walls, warm wood, high ceilings and large arches, with a few provincial touches like the hessian sacking around the hanging lights. This style carries through to the uncomplicated provincial European food and the passionate and confident staff (whose descriptions of the specials are addictively enthusiastic). The wine list is generous, with a strong selection from Australia and across Europe, and the list, and staff, guide you well.
The food makes the most of seasonal produce, and is fresh, clean and vibrant. For Sunday lunch they serve a la carte or a ‘shared provincial experience’ for the whole table, and my suggestion is to go with the chef’s choice and let them take care of all the details; you won’t be disappointed. The shared meal begins with a selection of appetisers, then a main and side, followed by dessert. It is worth noting that despite it being a shared meal, they will look after anyone with food allergies and provide them with their own serve where needed (as always advance notice is the best bet).
Not to discount the main meals, but I adore the appetisers every time I visit. They’re the kind of simple yet delicious plates that you would happily eat all day, every day. Each of them a perfect journey of flavour and texture, where each component sings in harmony and becomes a celebration of the season. A salad of sweet prawn and fresh spring broad beans balances with the salty creaminess of ricotta and the crunch of crispy onions and seeds with a dusting of dukkah spice. Their panzanella has chunks of charred bread which slowly soak up the juices of the sweet tomatoes, with cucumber and parsley bringing a vibrant freshness, and the capers and buttermilk adding salty and acidic notes. Another dish has hunks of smoked ham hock, which is meltingly tender, juicy slices of sweet roasted apple, as well crunch and texture from roasted hazelnuts and black quinoa, lifted with herbacious parsley. The final appetiser on this visit was trimmed spears of al dente asparagus with gently oozing soft egg, sweetly acidic balsamic shallots and smooth goat’s curd.
The main dish moved us into the festive season with roast chicken stuffed with shiitake, confit garlic and caramelised onion, served with gently roasted whole cherries and a vinaigrette-influenced jus. The chicken is tender and juicy, with the stuffing bringing comforting earthy sweetness. On the side are crunchy roasted potatoes served with caramel and prunes; despite sounding overly sweet it balances well, especially with the gentle acidity of the cherries and jus.
Fitting with the season, and at the end of a generous meal, dessert is strawberries and vanilla ice cream. Beneath such a simple description lies a sublime dish. While they may lack that burst of juiciness that most strawberries give, the Yarra Valley alpine strawberries have an intensity of flavour that puts your standard strawberries to shame. Hard to describe, but delicious to eat, these berries are small but with a soft texture and a rich, smooth, decadent flavour. Accompanied by an unctuous passionfruit curd and vanilla ice cream, this is a perfect end to a wonderful meal.
I can’t recommend Union Dining enough as one of those restaurants that always delivers perfect service and food but with no attitude or fuss. This is about unpretentious food that delivers layers of flavour, texture and variety. Their shared Sunday lunch gives you the perfect chance to indulge in a comforting meal with family and friends, knowing that you will leave with fond memories and plans to return.