Charcoal Lane

36 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9418 3400

A while back, I was lucky enough to be invited to @jeroxie‘s birthday dinner, at Charcoal Lane. I’d been meaning to visit Charcoal Lane for a while, as it’s within walking distance of home, and has the twin attractions of a native ingredient-inspired menu, and being a chance to support Mission Australia’s training program for Aboriginal and disadvantaged youths. From their site:

Charcoal Lane enables Aboriginal and disadvantaged young people to gain experience in a supported, real work environment as part of an integrated program which includes personal skills development and accredited education in hospitality.

There was a big group of us, so we were upstairs in the function room, and Head Chef Damian Styles put together a six course menu for the event. We got to sample the highlights of the seasonal menu, as well as a couple of experimental dishes. An excellent night was had by all, and considering the size of our group, the service was very good.

The night started off with an amuse bouche of curried pumpkin veloute with native pepper berry. This was a nice way to start the meal, thought technically the size of it was far greater than an amuse should be. It was more of a mini-entree! The veloute was smooth and creamy. The richness of the pumpkin was well balanced with the sharpness of the pepper berry.

This was followed by the first of two entrees – an oddly named ‘ultra’ scallop, wagyu breasola, and tofu in dashi, with pickled daikon, shiso and native finger lime. This was great. The scallops were barely cooked; their sweetness married beautifully with the salt of the bresaola. The dashi was light, and kept lively with the pickled daikon and the little bursting vesicles of finger lime, which had the table guessing until we asked the waitress.

As you can see, I really liked this dish. I also really liked the second ‘entree’. Again, this was probably a little on the large side. But hey, I wasn’t complaining!

Native peppered kangaroo, bush tomato tart, with rosella flower jus. That’s what the menu read. Though looking back at the picture now, I don’t really see a bush tomato tart. Do you see it? Regardless, it was, again, wonderful. There were a few at the table who had either not eaten kangaroo before, or had a history of disliking it. Nobody at the table disliked this dish. The kangaroo was juicy and tender, and somehow lacked the distinct gamey-ness that usually makes kangaroo a bit of a divisive meat. While I like the gamey taste, this entree was certainly delicious even without it. Maybe it’s something about making native Australian ingredients more accessible?

Onto the main course! Bendigo duck breast, leg terrine, quandong and cluster fig. I’m not usually a huge fan of duck done in a Western style. Don’t get me wrong, duck is very likely my favourite meat, but I much prefer it in the various Chinese preparations. This, however, was memorable duck. The breast was cooked ever-so-slightly medium, a welcome change to the dry, well-done duck I’ve tried in the past in some French restaurants. It rested on a bed of wilted spinach, which was a clever way to soak up all the juices without adding a heavy, starchy component to the dish; clever because we were, after all, having six courses on the night. The terrine was packed with flavour – a touch too salty in my humble opinion – and the pistachios were an imaginative inclusion. This was well offset by the sweetness of the quandong puree and slice of fresh fig, which I left until last to cleanse my palate.
Because, apparently, you don’t go having two desserts, the first dessert was named a pre-dessert. Passion berry pannacotta. This pannacotta was smooth, and exceedingly fruity. I’m usually not a fan of pannacotta, only because my stomach objects to the lactose, but I felt very little guilt digging into this one.

Then the ‘real’ dessert followed. A slow-cooked lemon aspen tart, with yoghurt sorbet and maple syrup crunch. That lemon aspen tart, with a lightly bruleed top, was heavenly. It looks like a small-ish slice, but it was a big plate, and you really didn’t need much. It was super rich. I don’t remember exactly what the little pickled berry things were, but I remember them being a little unpleasantly bitter in the centre. The sorbet was refreshing, and the crunch was, well, crunchy! A texturally well-played dish.

For the quality of the food which is served, Charcoal Lane really does deliver good value. I’ll certainly be back soon.

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