Being a parent of two young kids, one of the things I miss the most is doing stuff on the fly. Spontaneity doesn’t get much of a gig, particularly when it comes to having an impromptu bite to eat on a night out… both of which are rare treats these days. On a most recent Saturday night, I found myself lucky enough to gain a leave pass for some drinks with a couple of good friends and I almost forgot that at some point, we may need to consider some form of sustenance other than a most delicious and cloudy Coopers Pale Ale.
It was only six or seven years ago that Smith Street and Gertrude Streets were still a bit dodgy and there wasn’t all that much on offer other than a kebab. These days, the gentrification of this part of Collingwood / Fitzroy leaves you quite spoilt for culinary choice, with places like Añada, Charcoal Lane, Cutler & Co, Ladro, Panama Dining Room, Josie Bones, Huxtable, Gigbaba and so on and so on. Mind you, most of the people eating in these places on a Saturday night aren’t being spontaneous – they’ve had the good sense to plan and book.
So with the sky looking quite ominous, we traipsed from one side of the street to another, seeking a venue that would take pity on six forlorn, hungry and slightly merry patrons. We almost thought all of our Christmases had come at once as there, right out the front of Huxtable was a shiny, vacant table with more than enough space to accommodate all of us.
Alas, after a frank and sensible conversation with the lovely waitress at the door, who cautioned us that if we chose to stay at the table, we did so at our own peril as the table was not undercover and if the heavens did open up on us, we’d have no choice but to stay and suffer. She really wanted us to stay but vowed it could end in disaster. I really wanted to stay too – I mean, what’s a little rain? I was willing to deliciously suffer. However my vote sadly did not warrant consensus, so we moved on. And then it started raining. Heavily
Some Turkish restaurant across the road nonchalantly took us in and although requesting us to wait at some tables on the footpath (until a table was cleared), they’d come and take a drink order. However, after about 10 minutes, we were under the impression we’d been forgotten about. It was at this point, I remembered it was 2011 and duly pulled out my phone and decided to do what we should have bloody done in the first place – find a few nearby places on Urbanspoon and call ahead to find somewhere that could accommodate us. Fortunately for us the first phone call was a success. We were about to give Birdman Eating a go.
Birdman Eating’s been part of Gertrude Street for around four years, which probably makes it a pioneer of the much improved food movement in this part of the world. Known more for its edgy and immensely popular brunch menu, Birdman Eating has this year branched out to a Dinner menu from midday. So in hindsight it makes good sense to have lunch here because you then have the luxury of selecting from both Dinner and Brunch menus. I would have gladly polished off some grilled kippers with fried potato and horseradish butter or black pudding with bubble and squeak, poached eggs, toast and a pear & date chutney over a couple of cleansing ales… breakfast, lunch or dinner.
But dinner it was, with the emphasis on plates to share… which was no real surprise because it’s practically the norm these days. There are four or five smaller dishes, like olives, hummus and bread and a rather interesting confit kipfler potatoes with chilli salt and vanilla aioli in the $7.50-$12 price range, with the remainder of the dozen or so dishes that fell into the $15-$20 bracket, plus a further half dozen dishes on the specials board.
A small assortment of bottled beers are on offer; local handcrafted ales, a couple of internationals and Melbourne Bitter thrown in for good measure.
We started proceedings with a selection of smaller dishes to whet our appetites, which didn’t really need too much whetting. Zucchini and fetta fritters ($10.50), haloumi with red rice ($15) and hummus with bread ($9) were the first dishes to grace our table. The fritters were delicious; piping hot, soft in the middle and a crunchy textural crust from the fryer and a piquant, cooling fetta cream to contrast. The hummus on the other hand was a little on the dry, chalky side and very, very bland… nothing to write home about, other than if you were writing home to tell someone that you’d just eaten really bad hummus. The haloumi was still tender, tangy from a squeeze of lemon and a little squeaky – just how I like it. The accompanying red rice salad was OK from a flavour perspective, punctuated with dried sour cherries and pistachios, but the rice was a little undercooked and as an accompaniment to the haloumi, it was a strange choice.
With a token vegetarian (sorry, Jase) as part of our group, we were very mindful to ensure we ordered some dishes to duly comply with a vegetarian’s needs. Fortunately Birdman Eating’s menu carries a good balance of dishes to appease omnivores and vegos alike. In fact, out of all of the dishes we selected in our second round of ordering, a couple of the vegetarian dishes were indeed the highlights of the evening. The ricotta gnocchi with roasted pear and gorgonzola ($17.50) was probably the dish of the night. Meltingly soft, light pillows of gnocchi were served in a hot, cast iron dish with wedges of roasted pear that still had a little resistance for some texture. The gorgonzola was just the right amount, not too much to dominate the dish. The Roasted Pumpkin ($15.50) was a close second featuring some of the sweetest, most intensely flavoured pumpkin I’ve ever come across. Yum! I hate it when vegetarians gloat.
That’s not to say that the other dishes, featuring meat or seafood, were not good. In fact they were largely commendable. The prawns with taramasalata ($18) were self explanatory, pan fried prawns sitting on a generous smear of cod roe dip, which although tasty was most likely a shop-bought number. The Rich River Berkshire Kurobuta pork belly ($17.50) was meltingly unctuous and the pickled blood plum sauce was a perfect foil to cut through the rich meat. The house made terrine ($16.50) was made from duck and pig (I believe) and it was OK, although it was a little on the cold side and as a result it didn’t really taste of anything… pig or duck. The accompanying condiment of onion jam was a nice balance of savoury and sweet with some acidity.
The last dish we sampled was slow roasted lamb shoulder with celery heart leaves, fetta and lemon ($18.50). Chunks of meat, pulled straight from the bone were served in its own juices. A small bowl of bread was also served as an addition to thoughtfully allow us to mop up the remaining juices and retort with some gloating of our own.
The waiting staff were fine; present when needed for top ups and the timing of the food from the kitchen was spot on.
To drink, we selected a couple of bottles of local Pinot Noir which were at the cheaper end of the extensive wine list; a 2008 Brokenwood Pinot at $48 was not shockingly expensive at a 200% mark up. There are generally 4-6 wines in each varietal under the $50 threshold, the same again in the under $100 category and the same again in the under $200 category, so there’s something to cater for all budgets, although I was surprised to see so many wines over the $100 mark for a place renown for peddling eggs. I don’t know – perhaps the brunch-going Fitzroyalty and Collingwood Glitterati like to quaff a $180 Piedmont Barolo with their baked eggs.
In any case, we experienced some reasonable value (only setting us back $50 each), some good food and more than adequate shelter to avoid the elements for a bit, before moseying on down Gertrude Street for a few more quiet drinks.
238 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy 3065
(03) 9416 4747
Good For: Taking in some sodden, hungry folk, lunch… when you can’t decide on breakfast, lunch or dinner
Not Good For: Hummus