14/20

Noir

175 Swan Street, Richmond, VIC

Go-to dish: Rabbit pie.
Go-to dish: Rabbit pie. Photo: Eddie Jim

Larissa Dubecki

The hipsters are coming. Large swaths of the inner north-east have fallen; now even Richmond's Swan Street, erstwhile home of the pathologically daggy Dimmey's, has toppled.

The cool crowd is propped elbow-to-elbow at Meatball & Wine Bar and forming a disorderly queue at Meatmother, while over in Doctor Follicles an impressively beardy young man strums a guitar while waiting for a mop to chop. But just when you're about to make a dash for the safety of Glen Iris, there it is - Noir, an island of sober, old-fashioned restaurant civility, where being able to hear your dining companion is considered a virtue and the menu takes a lonely stand for entrees and mains.

Noir owners Peter Roddy and Ebony Vagg are not so old as to be unaware of eating and drinking fashions. Swan Street Social, their wine bar above Noir where you can eat ''black sausage roll(s), green tomato ketchup'' until your hipster pants split, provides succour to the new breed of Richmondite.

Smooth charm: The understated good looks of Noir.
Smooth charm: The understated good looks of Noir. Photo: Eddie Jim

Noir is cut from a more familiar cloth. Dark walls are hung with timber-framed mirrors, there are decent-sized tables and dark, sound-squelching carpet. It rises above the uncomfortably pleathery high-backed chairs to embody the unpretentious local restaurant with a bit of style.

They're doing the typical division of labour - Roddy, who has worked for the likes of Gordon Ramsay and the Roux brothers, is doing the cooking, and Vagg is running the floor with smooth charm. Noir sports other old-fashioned virtues, such as value (mains are standard, but entrees hovering around the $17 mark are keen value). The food's technique pledges fealty to France, its sensibility to Australia, and the portion sizes and salt to an earlier, more innocent time when meat wasn't measured to a fraction of a gram and health concerns were for wimps.

For $18, for example, you get five business card-sized wedges of pork belly anchored in a gutsy garlic cream, three of them graced prawn tails, with peas and snow pea pods lending a vibrant green hand. The pork is great - sous-vide, then pan-fried; there's the merest edge of chewy-crisp fat. It's a mighty thing for an entree, the tendrils of red elk giving a modern flourish to the Francophilic leanings.

There's an ocean trout ballotine, a fat cylinder of gently poached seafood presiding over a splodge of daikon puree and a conga line of radishes and pickled cucumber punctuated with Avruga, sorrel and borage, that's far more indulgent than it suggests.

And - mon dieu! - the rabbit pie, which begins with a big white plate laid out with wilted kale and roasted parsnips and parsnip puree and sweet little one-bite rabbit riblets. Onto this they reverse-engineer the actual pie, popping the golden puff pastry lid upside-down, then spooning on the innards, a mix of slow-braised bunny and firmer pieces in a creamy and fragrant thyme and pepper sauce. It's as magnificent and insanely comforting a bit of cold weather food as you could imagine. If the side-order of roasted cauliflower with a golden comte cheese crust wasn't a little underdone, I'd probably still be there, sucking on my spoon and declaring winter the finest season of all. The pine mushroom tortellini are pretty good evidence for the theory as well - an earthy mushroom duxelle with a hint of parmesan in the fat pasta crowns, and Jerusalem artichoke chips, a creamy puree and a bit of herbage keeping things contemporary.

Desserts are not a strong point.

The lemon posset simply didn't work. The white pot of runny lemon topped with mandarin granita was taken off the bill. A vanilla creme brulee had a thrillingly crackable burnt sugar top, but the nuevo additions - dehydrated apple crisps puncturing the toffee, and a moat of fresh green apple juice - didn't herald an exciting new chapter for the menu stalwart.

But as the Urbanspoon generation of food critics would say, whatevs. My lasting impression of Noir is food that's smart, and generous, in an environment that's warm and comfortable. If those are retro values, then you can call me a hipster.

THE LOW-DOWN
The best bit The old-fashioned virtues
The worst bit Sodium overload
Go-to dish Rabbit pie, $35
Wine list Good list of Old and New World, decent selection by the glass
We drank Farr Rising chardonnay (Bannockburn, Vic) $16/$80
Vegetarian Two entrees, one main
Dietary GF available
Service Warm
Value Good to fair
Outdoors Yes, street
Wheelchairs Yes
Noise Easy
Bookings 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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175 Swan Street, Richmond, VIC

  • Cuisine - Contemporary
  • Prices - Typical entree, $17; main, $35; dessert, $15
  • Features - Licensed, Outdoor seating, Wheelchair access, Gluten-free options
  • Chef(s) - Peter Roddy
  • Owners - Peter Roddy and Ebony Vagg
  • Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Tues-Sun, 6-10pm; Fri-Sun, noon-3pm
  • Author - Larissa Dubecki
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