Since Australia is a former colony of Great Britain, it’s no surprise that you’ll find British influences throughout the country, especially in the pubs that are popular for an afternoon beer.
When I was in Melbourne, I visited The Commoner for lunch — a restaurant in the hip Fitzroy neighborhood opened seven years ago by Jo Corrigan, an Australian who spent 12 years working in kitchens in London. The Commoner’s kitchen is headed by Jake Kellie, a young chef who follows the owner’s mission of delivering modern British food using locally foraged and seasonal ingredients.
Corrigan not only put a lot of details in the menu but also on almost every detail of the restaurant decor, from the chalkboards with hand-written quotes to the modern English tavern spin on the decoration to the complimentary potato sourdough bread brought out to the table. I do feel, though, that sometimes the puffy pillows and frilly dinnerware can make it more like a tea parlor.
The menu offers up unique ingredients like pork jowl, and all the dishes are beautifully plated and simple, such as the beet salad (which literally has the word “beautiful” in its name), served with house-made curd and orange segments. The beets were nicely cooked, but the curd was a bit bland.
The main dishes, however, lean on the high end, most over AUS$30 a plate, like the snapper I ordered with pickled mussels (pickling mussels are popular in Australia) and pippies (small clams). The snapper was nicely cooked but seemed like a small portion for the price, and the pickled mussels weren’t all that pickled. (I heard from the restaurant, who said they’re on the low end for mains, saying other places average AUS$45. Ouch.)
I ended with a dessert of brown ale pudding, which was like a moist brownie served with salted caramel sauce and clotted cream. I enjoyed the pudding cake but I didn’t really detect much of a brown ale flavor.
The Last Bite
The Commoner dishes up beautiful modern British cuisine in a friendly and welcoming environment. While some of the flavors are sometimes too sublime, it’s a nice clean fusion of British cooking style with Australian ingredients.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The Commoner, 122 Johnston St., Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia. PH: +61(03) 9415-6876. Open lunch, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from noon; and dinner Wednesday to Sunday, from 6 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.thecommoner.com.au
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