70 Middleborough Rd Burwood East, VIC 3151
|Opening hours||Wed-Thu 5.30pm-10pm, Fri 11.30am-10pm, Sat 11.30am-10pm, Sun 11.30am-4pm|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Accepts bookings, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Family friendly, Breakfast-brunch|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||0403 229 233|
The start of a working day for a chef often means entering a kitchen with hard surfaces and no natural light and staying in there for long, hot, clattery hours.
The beginning of the day for Acre chef Brad Simpson is different. He might perch next to his quail enclosure and listen to the chirping. He could wander his glasshouse, where 11,000 plants reach towards the sky. He might check on his hanging strawberry wall, then see what the clouds are doing over the Dandenongs.
And even when he enters the kitchen, either at Acre's Glasshouse cafe or the airy Farmhouse restaurant next door, it's less like entering a cave and more like being in a modern country kitchen, complete with windows by the sink and a glowing grill.
Acre Farm and Eatery is on the rooftop of Burwood Brickworks, a new development that bills itself as the world's most sustainable shopping centre. Natural light, recycled and non-toxic materials, water recycling, filtered air and community spaces are all part of the picture.
Acre fits right in – wellbeing, ethical eating and an environmental credo are central to the project.
The urban farm is a safe exploring and learning place for kids (ask about workshops) and the on-site eateries it supplies aim to connect diners to their food, whether it's grown here or sourced from aligned, eco-minded producers.
The indoor-outdoor Glasshouse cafe does all-day chilli eggs, burgers, and a bowl with beet hummus and rooftop greens.
The Farmhouse is a feel-good restaurant for happy feasting – it's bright, sprawling and relaxed with stop-you-in-your-tracks views to the hills. The menu is built for sharing, though if you just want fish and chips or a steak all to yourself, that's there too.
It's testament to the appeal of the vegetable dishes that I couldn't get past them to the epic lamb shoulder, whole chicken or slow-roasted pork hock.
Zucchini is thick-sliced, char-grilled and piled up with goat's curd, lemon zest, dukkah and whichever flowers and herbs look good.
Hummus is served with jammy eggplant relish and pert spears of carrot and cucumber. Heirloom tomatoes are sliced and laid over sweet caramelised onions and a round of vegan puff pastry. It's all fresh, produce-centric and full of flavour.
There are two types of people in this world: eggplant lovers and those who haven't had good eggplant yet. Acre's eggplant spaghetti may be the dish to turn haters into swooners. Two types of cooked eggplant are used: roasted flesh and chargrilled whole eggplant, blackened skin and all.
Using the skin is radical! It's usually carefully picked away. But Simpson uses the bitterness to balance the dish, pushing pureed eggplant up against confit garlic, fresh chilli, mint leaves, roasted walnuts and tart olive oil. These feisty elements are all flicked through spaghetti to create a robust vegan dish that's impossible to stop eating.
Souffle is a Simpson signature. I lucked onto a cherry version, which was an embarrassed shade of pink, as fluffy as advertorial, and as purely enjoyable as tickling puppies.
Before he came on board to open Acre, Simpson had worked at Pantry, The Smith and Taxi Dining. They're all good restaurants but they're also inner-city machines pushing through big numbers.
Acre is large too but it has more of a country feel and a connection to food that not only tastes great on the plate but also offers an enjoyable path to more considered consumption.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)