Food with a mission, is the best food for yourself and others.
If you like a feel-good movie or a book, then why can’t you have a feel-good meal? Well, here at Charcoal Lane in Fitzroy, Melbourne does just that. Located at the increasingly trendy Gertude Street, Charcoal Lane is considered the old boy from the block launched three years ago. Charcoal Lane doesn’t just do food; their concept, direction and philosophy all come with a mission – a mission to provide the career opportunity for Aboriginal and disadvantaged teenagers through training at this restaurant. Under head chef Andy Bedford’s mentorship, a handful of trainees will work with him each day to create a contemporary menu that emphasises local ingredients, native bush food in particular.
The 145 year old bluestone building is now an immaculate spacious dining hall with modern casual decor, fine dining but relax sans white linen tablecloths casual atmosphere. Our super friendly maitre d welcomed us like the brightest sunshine, led us to our table and immediately water was poured, menu was flipped to right page in front of us, it was a A++ in his report card.
The contemporary ways of using native Australian ingredients on the dishes were innovative and non intrusive. The sashimi of Ora King Salmon was simply stunning, vibrantly orange firm trout flesh was sweet and velvety smooth, balanced nicely with sour pickled beetroot and hot radish. But I simply loved the sweet crab meat with the sudden zingy bursts of finger lime pulps now and again. A clean flavour dish with every single flavour note presented with precision.
Wallaby, not something you’ll see on the menu very often, let alone served raw; I simply had to have it. The native animal was sourced from Flinders Island Meat, a disc of wallaby tartare mixed with pickled cornichon was surprisingly sweet and tender like beef, drops of egg yolk gel adhered to it like a silky smooth glue, all scraped up by a wavy smoked bread that looked more like a Pringle potato crisp; a scoop of horseradish potato salad added richness with a subtle heat note.
Main courses were executed just as fabulous as the entrees. The Flinders Island lamb backstrap believed to have been sous vide then finished off with a slight grill for the crispy skin, but the meat itself was incredibly juicy, pink and oh so succulently delicious! The meat spoke for itself, the pairing of green beans, black olive, crispy fondant potato, oven dried tomatoes suddenly seem so ordinary and outshone.
The most beautifully presented dish had to be the Tanami spiced kangaroo loin – yes, another hopping animal. The perfectly cooked loin was rich and lean but not tough, the red meat flavour was enhanced with a sweet rosella flower jus; pillows of potato gnocchi were light and soft, everything wrapped up beautifully with streaks of pumpkin puree like a Japanese sand garden that was utterly smooth as baby’s bottom.
We were pacing ourselves and only shared one dessert between us. Possibly wise to share only just one as the chocolate marquise was pretty decadent, it was like a block of solid chocolate ganache served with rich coconut sorbet then topped with a slice of crispy candied orange; streaks of salted caramel was unnecessary, but is salted caramel, you simply can’t say no to it.
By creating a full menu that uses native Australian ingredients can easily turn into a disaster, that you hope this isn’t just a tourist trap to get people in. I was skeptical but glad Charcoal Lane proven me wrong, they used the ingredients with respect, menu with a clear vision and dishes simply executed with flawless consistency. This is the place where you want to bring your overseas friends to experience what bush food is all about without the cliches.
In fact, I loved it so much that I decided to host my Food Photography Workshop in Melbourne here in the private dining room upstairs. I am looking forward to spend a whole day to share not just knowledge, but also a unique dining experience with them.
136 Gertrude Street
P: 03 9235 9200