14/20

GG

150 Clarendon Street, East Melbourne, VIC

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Go-to dish: Black pudding pies.
Go-to dish: Black pudding pies. Photo: Ken Irwin

Larissa Dubecki

The Demons, since you ask. The mighty Ds, whose ritual flogging at the 'G will be a grimly observed family ritual until the great hope of Jack Watts manifests and we ascend to glory. Bitter, moi? In a football epoch in which ''Dees make Swans work'' makes for a thrillingly positive headline, I'll admit to a raging case of schadenfreude that footy food is so reliably awful. Will it be cuisine d'junk, or a table in the members' dining room for one of its legendarily prosaic lunches? In this we hurt together.

There is good news, however, and its name is not Paul Roos. Beat against the tide of humanity flowing down Clarendon Street to GG, a restaurant and wine bar that deals sensibly with its status as the footy crowd's saviour.

A slow train coming, the large ground-floor venue anchoring a super-posh apartment block attracted a revolving cast of industry identities over its five-year gestation. The prevailing trio of owners has a good shot at making this the de facto fuel stop of the footy crowd, as well as a solid neighbourhood restaurant.

Devilishly masculine: GG's inviting interior.
Devilishly masculine: GG's inviting interior. Photo: Ken Irwin

Why? Crucially, they haven't had their heads turned by East Melbourne's moneyed charm. The closest you'll get to a degustation here is a four-course sharing menu for $55. The prices are reasonable and anyone ought to welcome the rustic Italian pragmatism of a pizza and pasta menu that ballasts a classy, unpretentious pan-Euro menu.

They even do a footy pie that sticks to the brief. Really. At $3.90 it's the size of a party pie, made with glossy crimped pastry and innards of crumbly, rich black pudding and apple, a clove-accented red onion jam on the side. Four'N Twenty, you are dead to me. Still deep in snacking territory, the crab beignets show off chef and co-owner Paul Dunlop's 10 years at Bistro Thierry: textbook crabby golden puffs - blue swimmer, not filler - rolled in toasted sesame seeds, with a lilting Asian charge led by coconut milk and red grapefruit.

Kaiserfleisch-wrapped medjool dates with gorgonzola do little except bring on an attack of 1970s dinner party nostalgia; other novelties such as the fried gnocchi ends - the salty fried ends of each roll of gnocchi dough - ought to start a tradition of their own. Treat them as chips rather than pasta to make sense of a big, bold spiced tomato sugo that's more like ketchup on steroids.

A wine store and bar to one side of the long, sleek, devilishly masculine room is another canny play for the 'hood's affections. The list flexes its muscles over a selection with enough boutique cred to stoke the flames of interest but not so esoteric to alienate the core audience. Going by the accepted wisdom that most people order the second cheapest bottle of wine, you're looking at about $40, and they throw in the service charms of owner-sommelier Luca Montebelli and his team for free.

There's a whole other world under the ''medium'' and ''large'' menu headings. The former: French onion soup, a fine stocky base offsetting the sweetness of the onions, and gruyere-smothered crouton. Dunlop's love for French bowl food extends to a bold bouillabaisse broth with shavings of raw fennel, a saffron-hued rouille and oiled, charry ciabatta.

The de rigueur porcine trio - fried strips of ear for the chewy cartilaginous component; braised shoulder for the fried croquette; a puck of the roasted belly for the… erm… roasted belly - gets its tart/sweet/creamy sidekicks in the form of green apple sticks, yoghurt tartare and a sweet cider syrup. Light, shade, pig… very nice. There's similar commendation for the rostisserie lamb, which doesn't overplay its hand: a rugged pile of flame-licked lamb shoulder, a cheek of lemon, salt-sprinkled duck fat potatoes.

It's cucina rustica at its most satisfying, although Dunlop heads back to his fancier French roots with a custard tart, bruleed with the finest glassy shard of toffee, ably backed by a support cast of salted caramel and sugared pecans, creme fraiche sorbet and poached apple.

You can tell he could do this stuff with one hand tied behind his back. The hard part is getting the mix just right so the East Melburnians, the fevered footy folk and the sportingly neutral all embrace GG. Melbourne's tribes are a particular bunch, but I think they've nailed it. I plan to celebrate here when the Demons finally - as they must, surely? - come good.

THE LOW-DOWN
The best bit Fantastic footy fare
The worst bit Low banquettes - not good for shorties
Go-to dish Black pudding pie, $3.90
Wine list A smart collection with boutique appeal and good entry-level selections
We drank Moorooduc Devil Bend Creek chardonnay (Mornington, Vic), $11/$55
Vegetarian Two entrees, two pastas
Dietary All dietary requirements well catered for
Outdoors Yes
Parking Street
Service Great
Value Fair
Noise Not a problem
Wheelchairs Yes

Twitter: @LarissaDubecki or ldubecki@fairfaxmedia.com.au

How we score
Of 20 points, 10 are awarded for food, five for service, three for ambience, two for wow factor.

12 Reasonable 13 Good if not great 14 Solid and enjoyable 15 Very good 16 Capable of greatness 17 Special 18 Exceptional 19 Extraordinary 20 Perfection

Restaurants are reviewed again for The Age Good Food Guide and scores may vary.

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Book

150 Clarendon Street, East Melbourne, VIC

  • Cuisine - European
  • Prices - Typical entree, $21.90; main, $33.90; dessert, $16.90
  • Features - Licensed, Outdoor seating, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access
  • Chef(s) - Paul Dunlop
  • Owners - Rocky Veneziano, Luca Montebelli and Paul Dunlop
  • Cards accepted - AMEX, Visa, Mastercard, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Mon-Fri, 11am-late; Sat-Sun, 7am-late
  • Author - Larissa Dubecki
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