The Walrus is a welcoming wine and oyster bar


Let yourself be steered off-road and try a different pairing at oyster and wine bar The Walrus.

Dani Valent

14/20

European$

There are lots of things to say about The Walrus, an oyster bar that opened late last year as summer snuck into St Kilda, one coy sunbeam at a time.

I’m going to start with the toilets, though. So often, a restaurant is cosy and chic, but the facilities are drab and chill. A dining experience hitherto characterised by the flushed cheeks of conviviality is undone by a shivery interlude where one’s more private cheeks are chilled and the only flush is one that harrumphs from a weeping cistern.

Not at The Walrus. Here, ablutions are a delight. There are two exceedingly pleasant, all-gender bathrooms, each installed with a Japanese toilet that has a heated seat and the ability to wash and dry one’s derriere. The toilets signal the attention to detail that’s woven through the whole place.

St Kilda’s dining scene has been lukewarm for a while, but The Walrus is part of a slew of new or reimagined places giving locals hope.

You see it in the daily changing menu, inked on a mirror behind the bar: bold, hearty wild boar ragu with polenta ($16) one day, umami-creamy, sea-urchin orecchiette ($23) the next. It’s there in the greeting: “It’s been five days, where have you been?” one of the owners asks a less-regular-than-usual gent as he slides onto a leather bar-stool. Even the dogs notice it: a Maltese looks expectantly for its water bowl, which comes as swiftly as hydration for its owners.

There’s oyster-themed art on welcoming yellow walls and a record player settles into a Beatles album. It’s hard to choose the best spot: I’d say the scooped green chairs in the street-side salon for a sunset session, then a snug perch in the rear mezzanine as the night stretches long and the biggest drama is duelling spoons tapping through the sugary shell of a shared crema catalana ($12).

Go-to dish: The oyster selection is fun to slurp your way around the Australian coast.
Go-to dish: The oyster selection is fun to slurp your way around the Australian coast.Bonnie Savage

If you really want detail, though, let’s sit down with some bivalves. The house oysters are from Wapengo Lake on the south coast of NSW. Farmer Shane Buckley is a master of his craft and it doesn’t get better than his Sydney rock oysters, which he ships directly.

They’re opened to order with skill and respect and served classically, with lemon and a mignonette dressing. They need neither: sparklingly clean and briny with a long mineral finish, they’re exemplary and transfixing.

The oyster selection ($65 a dozen) is rounded out with two or three other varieties that are looking good: it’s fun to slurp your way around the Australian coast.

Chat to the team about wine. Champagne and chablis are classic mollusc matches, but I recommend letting yourself be steered off-road, maybe to a wet martini, Spanish cava or sheer, sharp Muscadet.

Creamy, sea urchin orecchiette might feature on the day’s menu.
Creamy, sea urchin orecchiette might feature on the day’s menu.Bonnie Savage

The Walrus is owned by Amy McGouldrick (ex-Supernormal), a front-of-house professional, and her partner Marty Webster, a long-time chef (ex-Montalto) who moved into venue management. Their business partner is chef Micheal Weal, who’s more hands-off.

Webster and McGouldrick met while working at The Alps wine bar in Prahran, part of the six-venue Diggin’ in the Cellars group. As they closed and opened (and closed and opened) the bars during COVID-19, the pair realised that they’d learnt how to launch a place of their own.

St Kilda, where they live, lacked a classy cave for excellent snacks and sips. Cue The Walrus, named because it sounds quirky and tusks look cute on a logo, but also because there’s an oyster-obsessed marine mammal in Lewis Carroll’s poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter.

The Walrus occupies a storied space in a NeoMetro building that first housed cutting-edge Luxe restaurant in the 1990s, then was home to Karen Martini’s Mr Wolf pizza place, which recently closed. The Walrus is in the same premises that housed Mr Wolf’s bar offshoot.

The multi-level concrete shell has been warmed by its Parisian timber-and-mirrors renovation, but it lists towards San Sebastian, too: there are pintxos, which include gildas ($9 each), the olive, anchovy and pickled-chilli assembly that’s the best snack ever to be speared by a toothpick.

Morcilla croquettes on sauce gribiche.
Morcilla croquettes on sauce gribiche.Bonnie Savage

Morcilla croquettes ($9 each) sit over a tangy, balanced sauce gribiche, the fine work of apprentice chef Liv Downie.

An intriguing oyster pâté ($18) is a beguiling entry-point for the oyster-averse. Nothing’s complicated, nothing overreaches, but it’s all clever, appropriate and bang-on in flavour and tone.

St Kilda’s dining scene has been lukewarm for a while, but The Walrus is part of a slew of new or reimagined places giving locals hope. I like it a lot: it’s personal but outward-looking, heartfelt and responsive, with hospitality as well-honed as an oyster knife.

The low-down

Vibe: Euro wine-cave meets St Kilda zip

Go-to dish: Oysters ($6.50 each; $65 dozen)

Drinks: Oyster-friendly wines – cava, a Spanish sparkling, and Muscadet, a crisp, Loire Valley white – are highlighted, but this is a great place to discuss your options

Cost: About $90 for two, excluding drinks

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This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine

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