Ms Botanica – A fresh culinary take in a beloved local venue


    By Deborah Ong

    The Venue

    34 Ballarat St has been home to many food establishments over the years – once a cosy Italian trattoria, it became Café Fidama in the 2010s. More recently, it was Azabu Juban – a Japanese whisky bar and izakaya – until Ms Botanica took over in 2022. 

    Ms Botanica burst onto the local bar and dining scene post-pandemic, offering cocktails, an eclectic range of local and imported gin along with a small but tasty selection of grown-up snacks. A wonderful addition to Yarraville Village.

    About a month ago, the kitchen at Ms Botanica was taken over by chef Chris Krugel, with the support of his partner, Nicole Thomson. 

    The Chef

    Chris first came to Melbourne in 2003 from South Africa via training in Cape Town and working at some highly regarded establishments in the UK. These include The River Café, Michel Roux’s La Gavorche in London, and the Fisher’s Hotel in the Scottish Highlands (just to name a few). 

    In Melbourne he spent considerable time heading the function and wedding kitchens at the beautiful Sorrento Baths before it was gutted by fire in 2015. He eventually met his partner, Nicole, while working at her restaurant in Melbourne’s CBD – Lt. Osteria. 

    The Covid pandemic took a toll on many individuals and businesses in hospitality, Lt. Osteria being one of the many casualties. After a short stint at Copperpot Seddon, Chris decided to take the opportunity to step away from the kitchen and try something a little different.

    Chris drove trucks for a good two years before a recent holiday to Singapore inspired him and Nicole to look into the possibility of getting back into the business of creating delicious food. 

    The Food

    I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that it’s been a while since I’ve been this excited about the food at a local venue. We’re a bit spoilt for choice here in the west in terms of the range and diversity of our casual dining joints, but it does get a little sparse when it comes to smart, flavour-forward and technique-driven bar snacks and sharing plates.

    Chris’s menu is compact, incredibly well thought out and very reasonably priced for what you get. From the simple and elegant gildas and the oysters spiked with Hendriks gin and fine cucumber brunoise to the perfectly seasoned wagyu tartare and caviar on potato hash, every morsel is a flavour sensation that ticks all the right boxes. It was a tough fight but I think my favourite of all the snacks (and we did order all of them!) was the betel leaf with tempeh, king oyster mushrooms, coconut and sambal. 

    Not to be missed is also the house-made wattleseed flatbread with macadamia butter. This was my husband’s favourite, and I had to stop him from ordering another portion before our mains arrived. 

    The stracciatella was beautifully restrained, served with stone fruit, green beans, radicchio and sugared walnuts. Lightly dressed with sea salt and a crack of pink peppercorns, the ingredients were allowed to sing without being encumbered by heavy dressings or oils. Large enough as a meal on its own, but also wonderful to place in the middle to share with a serve of flatbread to mop up the creamy, cheesy goodness.

    I love steak with a good bordelaise, and Chris’s did not disappoint. Flank can be quite a divisive cut as it doesn’t have the fat from a scotch fillet or a rib-eye. It is quite unforgiving because of this, but it does have a lovely beefiness that you don’t get from the more ‘popular’ cuts. The Black Opal Wagyu Flank is cooked medium rare here. We have been twice in the last month and both times it was done perfectly. 

    We did not get to try the desserts on both visits as we were too full, but I am excited to see the use of bay leaves, peppercorns and cardamom. We have definitely taken note to not get too carried away with snacks and mains the next time so we have room to sample the sweets.

    Chris Krugel and Nicole Thomson are off to a great start. The food is sophisticated and yet still approachable for the general public. The laid-back vibes and great cocktails at Ms Botanica play a considerable role in making this work. I can’t wait to see what else this partnership has in store for us. 

    Ms. Botanica
    34 Ballarat St, Yarraville
    Wed-Fri 5pm-late

    Insta: @ms_botanica, @chefchriskrugel

    Your feedback

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here



    Latest Articles

    Latest edition

    #98 July 2024

    Recent editions


    Become a supporter

    The Westsider is run on the power of volunteers. Your contribution directly contributes to ensuring we can continue serving and celebrating our community.

    Related articles