Behind the dark mauve façade of 113 Lonsdale Street sits a building steeped in history.
What was once a former Chinese textile warehouse, a 1930s sweatshop, a brothel and Buddhist monastery, is now a Pan-Asian restaurant, cocktail lounge, basement bar and coffee house, all coming under the umbrella of Seamstress.
The name isn’t the only thing paying tribute to the building’s former life: Tally Konstas was careful to leave remnants of the original features intact. Each level mirrors the theme of the building, with draping textiles and scattered Singer sewing machines.
Split over four distinct levels and spaces, Seamstress covers all bases. On the ground floor you’ll find Drystore Espresso, which looks after your coffee, sandwich and sweet treat needs. Decked out with Chinese cheongsams (silk dresses) and various knick knacks, there is room to sit and sip on an espresso, or enjoy a cheeky beer by the bi-fold window.
Ascend up a flight of rickety stairs to the main dining room, decked out in a similar style with undulating red and orange fabrics suspended from the ceiling. The original wooden floor and ceiling and exposed brick walls give hints as to its past life as does the Asian-inspired menu.
Brenda O’Riordan and Ashok Ranabhat are both at the helm of the kitchen dispensing flavour-filled dishes. Menu items come in three sizes, small, medium and large – a subtle take on clothing sizes, which translate into perfect portion sizing ensuring multiple shared dishes work just as well for tables of two as it does for larger dinner parties.
Options include Cantonese-style barbecue chicken with maple bacon and Szechuan dressing, and wok-tossed baby octopus with yuzu and habanero vinaigrette. The oven-baked barramundi an explosion of flavour, while the carpaccio of scallop is dressed with a tangy jalapeño and coriander emulsion, native salt bush and popcorn sprouts.
For dessert you can’t go past the pumpkin and coconut custard with cocoa crumble, candied pepitas, salted caramel and coconut and pandan sorbet.
If you’re feeling like splashing out or in search of a speakeasy space with precision table-service and a bite to eat, look no further than the second floor cocktail bar. The long and creative list offers classics with Asian tweaks, such as the Roscoe Sling mixed with yuzu and sesame honey and the G Man, concocted from Jinzu gin, sake, matcha syrup, coconut, light cream, white cacao and mint.
A light dinner menu is also available until late, serving up grazing food such as crispy Brussels sprouts with lemon, white miso and togarashi, and soft shell crab sliders with green papaya and mango salad.
If you are in a mischievous mood, Sweatshop Basement Bar & Yard is the antithesis of its upstairs sister. The space is small and dark with a raw concrete floor exposed services, minimal decoration, lit by dim lights and scattered candles with a funky back yard. Grab a craft beer or ask the laidback bartenders to shake you up a cocktail. Its chill vibe and funky tunes make it the perfect spot for a casual drink, with a selection of snacks available to help tide you over.
With four decidedly different levels, Seamstress has something for everyone. It’s a quintessential Melbourne haunt, with interiors and a history to match.