I have been meaning to visit Charcoal Lane for some time, particularly since I met chef Damien Styles at Taste of Melbourne and got to sample a little of his food. The restaurant is run by Mission Australia and provides work experience and training to Aboriginal and disadvantaged young people.
I finally visited Charcoal Lane to celebrate a friend’s upcoming wedding, which involved 20 of us gathering in the private dining room upstairs. Given we were there for a private function, we had a cut down menu of three entrees, three mains and three desserts to choose from.
While we were settling in with some bubbles and noise levels were starting to border on deafening, the wait staff arrived with an amuse bouche of duck curry:
Thick, rich and unctuous. A great start to the night.
For entree I had the risotto with garden peas, native mint and mascarpone:
Risotto is one of those things that can go so very wrong, but this was really good. It was nice and creamy and there was a lovely pop of freshness from the peas. The native mint was interesting – it added a peppery note that cut through the richness of the mascarpone.
My friend M ordered the kangaroo tataki with ginger, soy, pickled daikon and coastal saltbush:
I snatched a taste and loved the balance of this dish. Tataki really is a great method for preparing lean meats that can otherwise dry out, such as kangaroo.
For main I couldn’t go past the crispy pork belly with seared scallop, ginger glaze, apple salad and fried saltbush:
The flavours and textures of the dish worked really well – sticky, sweet glaze, fresh crispy apple, rich pork and saltiness from the salt bush. The scallops were perfectly cooked and had a lovely sear on the outside. My only issue with the dish was with the pork belly – the fat hadn’t been rendered away and so the exterior was chewy rather than crispy. It was a bit unfortunate.
On to desserts, I ordered the flourless blood orange pudding with vanilla bean ice-cream and orange crisps:
I was somewhat surprised when a little flourless orange cake arrived, as I had expected something else given it was advertised as ‘pudding’. Nonetheless, it was warm, airy and packed with flavour.
When my friend M’s dessert arrived, I was envious:
Doesn’t it look beautiful?
I immediately begged for a taste and M was nice enough to share it with me. The dark chocolate tart was very rich but had a lovely lightness to it. I liked the earthy, nutty flavour of the wattleseed ice-cream too. Total win.
All in all, a lovely night to celebrate the impending nuptials. I really liked Charcoal Lane’s focus on using native ingredients and it was nice to try things I hadn’t had before, such as the native mint and saltbush. The pork belly was a bit of a disappointment, but I do recognise the fact that we were eating in a large group, which can’t have been easy on the kitchen. I’m looking forward to going back and trying dinner in the restaurant proper sometime soon.
136 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Ph: (03) 9418 3400