517 Flinders Lane Melbourne, Victoria 3000
|Features||Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 9972 6993|
Heirloom vegies, ''ancient grains'', sustainability, seasonality, a proposed rooftop kitchen garden, and a drop-off point for CERES vegie boxes: The Grain Store sounds like a slow train to downtown hippiedom.
It isn't. With its farmhouse-chic fitout, it's part of a new breed of eateries putting sophistication into sustainability and tapping into a global trend of going back to basics.
''Two weeks ago, we got a whole Berkshire pig in from northern Victoria,'' says co-owner and chef Ingo Meissner, who turned the cuts into sausage, schnitzel, terrine, brined pork - he worked in a Berlin butchery as part of his chef's apprenticeship. Next week, he'll buy in a whole lamb and do the same again.
It's a bugbear for Meissner that we buy Cryovaced meat, and he says ''it's not natural having strawberries around all year''. He knows where his produce comes from, and that it's ethically produced, with no preservatives or pesticides.
The five-week-old Grain Store is pitched just right to its corporate crowd. Naked filament globes create a warm light. Sliding barn doors lead to an 18-seater private dining room. And the food is casual yet fine-dining enough for schmoozing, with a snappy wine list that's all Victorian, bar the French bubbles.
It's the sort of place into which you might pop for a gutsy, well-made St Ali coffee, or a sneaky bowl of pre-work granola - a toasted, honeyed combo of oats, seeds and nuts, topped with al dente rhubarb, scrummy organic vanilla bean yoghurt and - wait for it - quinoa milk, which is dairy free and made from the seed.
There's a ''good morning fillet steak'' with fried eggs, house fries and ''grown-up ketchup'', or non-traditional breakfasts, such as cauliflower salad with quinoa, or barberries and a smear of hummus.
The always-vegetarian ''tart of the day'' is a deep-dish affair with crunchy, crispy puff pastry made here. It's creamy and soft, the egg filling herby with thyme and rosemary. Mine had grilled zucchini, pumpkin and haloumi - delish; the next day, it was broccoli, roasted tomato and smoked mozzarella.
Sweet and succulent, Spencer Gulf prawns - Australia's first sustainably farmed prawns - are baked in an amazing tomato-based sauce that's been simmered for five hours with the juice of smoked herring, milk, potato and onions, with a gratinised feta crust on top. It comes with thin toasted bread, but I longed for thick sourdough to sop up the sauce.
Up front, the counter display has the same aesthetic as a five-star hotel breakfast: tiers of danishes, muffins, stuffed baguettes to go, savoury pastries. Meissner's background is hotels (ex-Hilton in Sydney), and he's also done stints at Fitzrovia and Albert Park Deli.
The Grain Store is a great addition to the city centre. Those hippies were on to something.
Do … Take advantage of Wilson's $5 weekend parking for Grain Store diners.
Don't … Forget to place your vegie-box orders for pick-up on Thursdays.
Dish … Salmon with fried and poached eggs.
Vibe … Soothing haven with sustainability at its heart.
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