True South

298 Beach Rd, Black Rock, VIC

WHEN chef Phillip Wagstaff was ''cooking for Prince Charles and the kids'', he created his bitter-sweet chocolate tart recipe.

It's a mighty good tart, too, smooth and rich, with soft chocolate pastry and a big scoop of cinnamon ice-cream - a winning combination. Wagstaff also says he ''cooked personally for Madonna'' under the tutelage of Marco Pierre White at the Belvedere in London. If none of this rings a bell, you might remember him from the TV series My Restaurant Rules.

Now you'll find Wagstaff at True South, a smart, stand-alone microbrewery owned by Grant and Suzanne Dow. True South is the couple's first hospitality venture and it's an ambitious project, with plenty of cash sunk into the glossy, industrial-style fitout.

They certainly have the location right, opposite Black Rock beach, and it's a pleasing pitstop on a beachside drive. There's an indoor-outdoor design going on so you can decamp with a bottle of bubbles to the enclosed front area, where bi-fold windows let in the light.

Head deeper into the building and the ceilings are sky-high with exposed beams. Timber benches are custom-built around the room, maximising the space but keeping it sectioned with dividers of indoor plants. For such a large area, some of the seating can be too close.

The snazzy bar runs the length of one wall, with five shiny taps dispensing the house brews. Down the back are the brewing vats, indicating that beer is at the heart of this operation. Some days, the sweet, soapy smell of fermentation pervades the room.

Samara Fuss, one of few female brewers in Australasia, is the chief brewer and her background includes Little Creatures, Matilda Bay and Gunn Island.

The menu keeps it casual - more ''smart-casual'' really - with posh pub classics and a grazing menu with seafood and Asian flavours such as king prawns deep-fried in shredded pastry, soft-shell crab or oil-slicked green beans with fried shallots and nuggets of Persian feta. It's all good drinking food that partners well with a full and fruity light beer or gutsier house lager.

There's beer in the food, too, such as the pale-ale fish and chips. Four flathead tails are well cooked and thickly coated in a crunchy, fluffy batter, served on a bed of smashed, minted peas. The house-made tartare sauce textured with gherkins and capers is a highlight.

For the chips, Wagstaff chooses the week's potatoes based on the starch, sugar level and size of the spud. He's bought a manual chipper but has custom-modified it so each chip is the same fat oblong size and shape.

Burgers are seasonal. The herbed patties are thick and juicy, made from quality beef. The buns are specially made by a local baker (Wagstaff's recipe) with a focus on getting the salt-to-sugar ratio right. This one came with double-smoked bacon, emmental cheese, tomato, chilli chutney and ''poloili'', Wagstaff's pale-ale aioli.

Then there's that bitter-sweet chocolate tart.

It's food fit for a king (maybe Charles, one day), a queen (of pop), and even you and me.

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298 Beach Rd, Black Rock, VIC

  • 1300 878 360
  • Cuisine - Modern Australian
  • Prices - Breakfast, $5.50-$13; share plates, $5-$22; mains, $18-$34; desserts, $6.50-$7.50
  • Chef(s) - Phillip Wagstaff
  • Owners - Grant and Suzanne Dow
  • Cards accepted - AMEX, EFTPOS, Mastercard, Visa
  • Opening Hours - Open Tues-Fri, noon-late; Sat-Sun, 8am-late
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