I have generally had a poor hit rate in linking up with friends of friends and those “oh, you must look up…” connections in travels so far, so I crossed the threshold of today’s lunch venue, Charcoal Lane, in hopes of improving things.
In this case my link was with chef Nic, who is the training chef at this social enterprise. It is focussed on building hopsitality expertise in the young Aboriginal community while showcasing ingredients and cooking methods native to Australia.
Lunch service was quite quiet on a sunny weekday when locals were taking advantage of the improving spring weather. I took a seat in their dining room and was left to contemplate the menus which included some lunch specials and full a la carte.
I quickly plotted out a good route to success which started with local smoked eel followed by emu.
First up was bread made by one of the trainees. It was a really good pumpkin seed and euchalyptus variety with a satisfyingly tight crumb. I enjoyed this with a tin of their Sparkke Change the Date pilsner which is doing its bit to raise awareness of the need to celebrate Australia Day on a more mutually agreed date.
My starter was a very elegant millefeuille of smoked eel, with the layers provided by sheets of nori. On the side was a wasabi sauce with finger lime and crisped leaves.
This was extremely accomplished stuff with the nori as millefeuille layer an excellent idea. The central eel ingredient was splendid. I enjoyed it a lot.
The main course was a susbtantial chunk of emu fillet meat, lightly cooked to pink. It looked like duck but tasted rather meatier. I suspect it’s very close to ostrich but I don’t remember the last time I ate ostrich to be 100% sure.
The accompaniments included really good garlic polenta and a vegetable soil of various foraged elements. It was a hearty and well-balanced dish.
I rounded things out with house blend Red Dust espresso which was very good.
So overall, I really enjoyed my visit to Charcoal Lane. I got to say hi to Nic and ate a very pleasing lunch from a social business with a hugely powerful message and ethos. I’d urge you to visit at your earliest convenient opportunity.
Blythe scores Charcoal Lane
4/5 for food
4/5 for presentation
4/5 for service
4/5 for setting
giving an overall 16/20
I ate: pumpkin and euchalyptus bread, Victorian eel, goat’s cheese, wasabi
I drank: Change the Date pilsner, cabernet franc, water, espresso
I wore: purple hibiscus
Total bill: $82
Address: Gertrude Street, Melbourne VIC 3000