It's been a week since dinner at Charcoal Lane and I'm still gushing about the experience to anyone who will listen. A Sydney friend of mine, Mrs G, who works for Mission Australia and was down for the Melbourne Cup Pin and Win promotion, suggested the venue for our catch-up weeks ago and I'd been looking forward to it ever since.
The first thing that strikes me about Charcoal Lane is not the beautiful bluestone building itself, but the way the warm lighting shines through the windows, welcoming patrons and passers-by alike. Modern, interiors are clean and simple resulting in an overwhelming feeling of space.
We were greeted by pleasant staff and left to settle in and contemplate wine list and menu, before enjoying an amuse bouche of creamy salmon. An entree of poached WA marron was tempting, but the kangaroo tataki came highly recommended and didn't fail to deliver. Rich, tender red meat was lifted by the freshness of ginger and soy while occasional tastes of wasabi (or was it horseradish?) used an element of surprise to thrill. Serious food envy circulated around our table, with two of us enjoying kangaroo tataki, but it was largely unfounded. S-bo ate the marron which, whilst subtler than the kangaroo, was delicate in flavour and beautifully presented and Mrs G's risotto of garden peas, native mint and mascarpone cheese spoke loudly of spring, particularly with the addition of bright green broad beans.
Sitting on the receiving end of food envy continued with the arrival of mine and Mrs G's main: crispy pork belly, seared scallop, ginger glaze, apple salad and fried saltbush. I find pork belly disappoints more frequently than it delivers, probably due to its frequency of menu appearances across the city, so it's stars like this that make me realise the gamble is worth it. I will continue to order pork belly in the hope I get a dish like this, every time. A dish where crispy really means crispy and a generous slab of moist flesh can actually be found under the delicious fat. Two huge, tender scallops, amazing in their own right, were a mere garnish in the shadow of such great pork belly.
I told you I was gushing.
Elsewhere on the table, Mr G (not to be mistaken as Mr G off Summer Heights High) enjoyed barramundi fillet and S-bo ate slow cooked wildfire spiced king salmon, which, although delicious, could have upped the wildfire spice. I'd love to know what's in the peppery and herby blend and S-bo was craving for more.
The wine list is familiar and comfortable thanks to a selection of quality Australian drops and good value is a bonus. Of course it's fun to browse wine lists that rival War and Peace sometimes (a bit like this post), but the concise, reliable offering was somewhat relaxing. We still managed to change our mind three times and for that I apologise to the waitress. After downing an '08 Punt Road Pinot Gris (between the four of us, that is) we went a little bit gaga over a 2008(?) Warramate Pinot Noir.
The blow-by-blow monologue continues into dessert. Don't even try to consider what to have, order the selection of desserts for two. It cuts out indecisiveness and you get to try all 5. I want to describe each one in detail but I'll try to stick to a quick run-down. The selection is strikingly presented with orange crisps, mandarin mushrooms and a gravity-defying maple syrup snap all pointing skywards. A surprise favourite of mine was the rice pudding, cinnamon myrtle, strawberry gum and date icecream, the dark chocolate tart was always going to be a crowd please and I have to give a special mention to the Heilala Vanilla ice-cream accompanying the flourless blood orange pudding.
I didn't set out to document a chronological recollection of the evening, but every bit was good. How to choose which bits to write about? Charcoal Lane is a lovely story and a noble, successful pursuit; but, its also a great restaurant in its own right. We ate great food in a polished yet relaxed atmosphere, supporting a great cause along the way seemed like a bonus when, in actual fact, the bonus is the former.
136 Gertrude St
(03) 9418 3411