He Says She Says

Larissa Dubecki
All rounder: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, He Say She Says has it covered.
All rounder: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, He Say She Says has it covered. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

1101 Toorak Road Camberwell, VIC 3124

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Permanently Closed

Even for an era marked by unusual, attention-seeking and occasionally perplexing restaurant names - Supernormal, Andrew McConnell? - He Says She Says stands out. I'm still undecided if the name is the result of an ingenuous lack of guile (''it's fun and flirty!''), or if it's a deliberately annoying attempt to burrow into the cerebral cortex. I'm going with the former, if only because there's little else definably outre about this fairly recent Camberwell newcomer.

It's an area desperately in need of a steady, all-purpose operation - the sort that feeds the masses by day before dimming the lights to put on something a bit more special at night. Ignoring the fact it hugs two sides of a busy intersection, He Says She Says ought to please in the style stakes.

It's a modern, glass-walled kind of place decked out in trendy, modern brutalism, with lots of designer concrete softened by flashes of colour - green cloth banquettes, yellow chairs, arty panels on the high ceiling.

Go-to dish: Barramundi, morcilla and romesco.
Go-to dish: Barramundi, morcilla and romesco. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

It's almost as smart as the hardworking business model of smashing out eggs and feel-good brekkie fare for the upscale Camberwell crowd and segueing into a restaurant-slash-bar that's still kid-friendly - or at least until the children's meal deal clocks off at 7pm. But wait, there's more - computer tablets to keep the young 'uns amused. They've thought of everything.

The menu feels quite short, which might be more of a statement about Melbourne's current best menu practice of the A3 sheet of paper plastered with 60 different options. It's a tight selection of four starters and seven mains, bumped out with a few cafe classics, such as a Wagyu burger and fish and chips.

The same cafe-ish attitude is attached to the starters. Straightforward but executed well enough, they include cheesy balls featuring a lava of creamy manchego swamping nublets of chorizo and enough crunch to get the brain's pleasure receptors kicking into gear. Or pineapple-cut fried squid - a touch overcooked - in a cast-iron pan with smoked paprika mayo, parsley and a squeeze of lemon.

And there's the bread, also listed under ''entrees'', with hummus, for $10. It's a practice seen increasingly often across Melbourne and the start of the breakdown of civilisation. He Says makes a small gesture towards compensation with roasted almonds in a mouth-tingling grit of paprika and chilli that arrive gratis. They do the trick; you'll definitely be wanting a drink. The beer list is pedestrian (so he says). But the wine list is spiced with on-trend southern European varietals and has some sturdy, if not exactly exciting, choices in the sub-$40 bracket (so she says).

Chef Matthew Beard has spent time at Shane Delia's Maha and the Moorish theme pops up now and again, without dominating the menu. His best dish is a beautifully cooked piece of barramundi on a crunch-edged disc of morcilla, surrounded by a vivid orange moat of smooth romesco. A tangle of shaved fennel and dill adds freshness and crunch.

An eight-hour lamb brik (''brick'', the menu endearingly says) might have been more successful at the seven-hour mark. The meat has gone beyond the soft cartilaginous stage of maximum deliciousness to stringy and dry; the spicy fried crust with plenty of cumin is also a little overdone, although it comes with a very fine tabbouleh with green olives and pistachio.

It isn't their fault it's quiet on this particular Tuesday night, but a few things could be tweaked to deflect attention from the matter. The room is a little too cold, the music a little too loud and the empty wine glasses left a little too long before refills are offered.

But they finish on a good note with desserts, which include a chocolate fondant (oozy centre - tick) with an excellent mint ice-cream, another creamy thing too substantial to be called a milk ''foam'', and crushed shortbread. It sticks to the broad appeal brief. Beneath its high-gloss surface, He Says She Says is a modern take on the dependable local. And you can't have too many of those.

The best bit
Smart fit-out
The worst bit
Paying for bread
Go-to dish Barramundi, morcilla and romesco, $32

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