136 Gertrude Street
There was an article in The Age today about the gentrification of Gertrude Street.
Titled “is this the hippest street in town?”, I would wager if The Age has found out about it, it’s probably too mainstream for real hipsters. While I did have a sojourn living in Northcote, I definitely am not a hipster, and I’ve been going to restaurants on Gertrude Street for quite a while. That gentrification train has sailed, even though Dr Kate Shaw is quoted in the article as saying that south-of-the-Yarra types will probably still find Gertrude Street “too confronting”. I don’t know what she’s on about. This may be just me, but I find St Kilda FAR more confronting than Fitzroy. The level of homelessness, drug abuse, and drunk 18 year olds in St Kilda far outweighs anything I’ve seen on Smith/Gertrude Streets.
There is one restaurant on Gertrude Street however, that us gentrifying foodie types can eat at with a clear conscience – Charcoal Lane. Run by Mission Australia, it’s a fine-dining atmosphere restaurant with a stated purpose to train Aboriginal and other disadvantaged youth in the hospitality industry, so they can move into full time work. They call it – and I liked this – “reconciliation through dining”.
That friend we took to Hutong when she was back from Afghanistan for a quick visit also deserved a special dinner, and I was stoked to find out that this place was on a couple of my friends wishlists, as well as mine.
The food is fine dining with an Australian twist. The restaurant tries to use as many native ingredients as possible. We also had a Canadian dining with us that night, so she had to try the wallaby tartare for entree.
Pork belly and scallops were served elegantly with some pureed jerusalem artichokes and little pops of finger lime dressing. There were two at our table who ordered the pork belly, and they wouldn’t share it, preferring instead to guard their plates jealously while telling us all how good it was.
I had to order the kangaroo for my main. Spiced on the outside and perfectly cooked fillet on the inside, it wasn’t dry in the slightest. This has to be the best kangaroo I’ve ever eaten. It’s so hard to get right because it can really toughen up when it’s overcooked. The asparagus was yummy and the potato mash was decadent – I sure don’t want to know how much butter goes into restaurant mash, but I appreciate them puttin’ it in.
A friend got the barramundi, which as you can see, I was unable to convince him to stop eating for a sec’ so I could take a photo. Now that’s a review!
Desserts were also interesting. They too, made use of Australian flavours. I ordered the lemon aspen tart, which was delicious. It appears to have been so delicious that I didn’t even take a photo. For shame, Cat!
Oh – I nearly forgot to mention – I had a feijoa cocktail also while I was there. It may be a native NZ plant, but feijoas are one of my favourite all time fruit. Get on it, if you go there.
A new chef started in February 2012, and the only other blog review I can find after that time is Poppet’s Window, who liked her meal as much as I did.
Charcoal Lane offers the chance to have fine dining for a reasonable price (all mains are under $30) and with the pleasant feeling that you are helping others at the same time. The standard of dishes we got on our table was so high (I honestly think that kangaroo steak may even be the best lump of meat I have eaten this year) that I don’t know what training they have left to do – the staff in the kitchen, at least on the night we went, were top notch. They also have a prix-fixe lunch menu (3 courses for $45). If this is what gentrification brings to Gertrude Street, I’m all for it – recommend!