122 Johnston Street Fitzroy, Victoria 3065
I can't see why you wouldn't like The Commoner. Lovely modern Brit-ish food is amplified and underpinned by capable and clued-up service, wrapping up a warm experience that had me glowing all the way from ''hello'' to ''here's your coat''.
The Commoner - a perpetual country feast on a gritty city street - opened in 2007 and owner Jo Corrigan has been the constant through chef changes, the addition of a courtyard for wood-oven roasts, the creation of cosy upstairs parlours and, recently, the devastation of a kitchen fire and three-month closure. Restaurant life isn't easy, even when it's smooth, so it's testament to Corrigan's commitment to the art and heart of hospitality that she's still here, turning customers into friends, at least for the couple of hours they're dining.
Winning touches include chalked announcements that feel like whispered secrets (a special dinner, a new cocktail), vintage knick-knacks, and a respectful attitude to allergies and preferences. Sommelier Jasmine Wakely has a charming way of allowing drinking to feel cultural, nigh on artistic. She made me feel so clever for choosing an unusual pinot gris blend, and we seemed to agree that I was pretty much a genius for enjoying it.
You're in safe hands with the feed-me feast ($75), plucked from a repertoire of exuberant produce (much of it foraged - no, really) honoured with careful cooking. There are homages to ingredients: a reverent assembly of beetroot carpaccio, jelly and sturdy foam is a purplish pastiche offset by iridescent sorrel and startling white curd. Other dishes deliver massive whacks of flavour: crisp-crumbed gooey cheese and onion croquette, or pumpkin that's roasted with honey till it's dark, sweet and as satisfying as a good cry. Poussin (small chicken) is served with foraged morel mushrooms, smooth chicken liver parfait and a jus gras (gravy) that's a distillation of the joys of roast chook. Sturdy brown ale pudding is the most British dish, especially when its treacle and cream co-conspirators are considered: it makes me think of pipes, slippers and darkness creeping in at 4pm.
This is such a likeable, golden place and the food is always striving for that tasty sweet spot. Even better, the eating is perfectly aligned with The Commoner's soul: generous, assured, and crafted for pleasure.
Rating: 4 stars (out of five)