122 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
Phone: 9415 6876
Disclaimer: I ate and drank for FREE at the Commoner on the night in question.
‘Twas the night before the anniversary of that guy being nailed to a cross. Some call it Maundy Thursday, but in my ten years of Catholic education, I never learned the meaning of Maundy – it always sounded rather drab laundry, like dull greyish white socks which hadn’t been washed with enough bleach – so it was a pleasant twist when I received an invitation to the Commoner’s launchy Thursday for their April themed event. They’re running different events throughout the year, all with delightfully dorky punny names based on movies. ‘Claws’ = Jaws, but instead of sharks, they’re serving crustacea.
I was allowed to bring a +1 to the launch, but with it being the night before an extra long weekend, many of my friends already had plans to be away. Thankfully, the hard-working @thatjessho was stuck in town and on good behaviour, as she was working on (not-so) Good Friday. So she happily came along, and it was a good chance for the two of us to catch up over free flowing Red Claw pinot gris and invertebrate canapes.
First up were lobster custard cigars. Oh, and by the way, if you want pretty pictures, there were a host of other bloggers at the event, including @msihua @ironchefshellie and @myfoodtrail, so I’m sure you can find much better lit (Jess and I resorted to lighting the food with our phone screens for one another) and framed photos. Anyway, these cigars were a nice way to start the evening – a cold savoury custard with little chunks of lobster meat piped into crisp and slightly crumbly cigars. The custard was a little too salty for my liking, but I’m quibbling; they were pretty good.
The next item was a crayfish, lobster and scallop terrine, wrapped in smoked salmon, on melba toast. I liked the texture of this; the terrine wasn’t an amorphous mass, and had nice big chunks of shellfish in it.
By this stage, I was craving something warm, and right on cue, these soft-shelled crab sliders arrived. They were quite good, but there were tweaks that Jess and I both agreed we would have made. First of all, the little round buns were cute, but the height of them meant there was too much bread when compared to filling. The other thing was that the remoulade (I can’t remember if it was celeriac or fennel) was a classic accompaniment, but the saltiness of the crab still required something with more acid or cream to temper it. We concluded it needed mayo.
Prawn cocktail with a Bloody Mary sauce. Well, prawns with a Bloody Mary, really. The prawns were wonderfully fresh, and cooked perfectly, but the standout was actually the Bloody Mary. It was mixed expertly, in the thicker style befitting its use as a sauce, yet still balanced well with spice and lemon, so it didn’t have the heavy feel some Bloody Marys have; instead, it was bright and fresh.
Then came the highlight of the night, in my humble opinion. Beer-battered scampi with french fries. The scampi were amazing. Fried until they’re just done, so the flesh was still bouncy and succulent, and hadn’t lost any of the fresh sweetness that often disappears when you overcook seafood. The accompanying fries were miniature and cute; they reminded me of the packet Smith’s french fries I used to eat as a kid. I don’t mean that in a bad way. They were a good vehicle for the aioli (or was it tartare? I can’t recall exactly). The wedge of lemon was pretty unnecessary, really, as the scampi was best eaten as it was presented.
There was also a chilli crab chowder, with crispy pig’s ear flakes on top. This was quite good too, though I’m not sure how it would translate to a full bowl-sized serving. I had arrived late, so I missed the kataifi-wrapped prawn, but Jess told me it was awesome.
This was all finished off with a brown ale pudding with a salted caramel sauce. Which I could have eaten kilos of; it was that good.
All in all, this was a pretty impressive tasting menu – it’s being served all month as a 5 course degustation – I’m not sure which dishes will make the cut – for $80/$120 with matched wines.