49 Peel St Collingwood, VIC 3066
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri 5pm-late, Sat noon-late|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9068 7464|
Restaurants have chapters, just like books. And just like novels, key characters can disappear from the narrative then swoop back to push the plot along. That's what happened at Collingwood restaurant Congress.
In this tale, our supporting character turned protagonist is chef Zach Tinsley who was 2IC under head chef Jack Stuart when the restaurant opened in 2017.
Tinsley stretched his wings over at city restaurant Osteria Ilaria before returning recently to Congress as head chef when Stuart shifted to Brisbane's excellent Gauge.
The Tinsley chapter has begun seamlessly, strongly. Congress is still a neat amalgam of vision, spirit and place, bringing life and identity to the cool apartment block it underpins.
The multi-level space is flexible, feasible as mid-week snack stop or special occasion destination.
The restaurant is owned by the property's developers, brother and sister team Michael and Katie McCormack, and the creative, contemporary food and drink approach is something like "underpromise and overdeliver".
Delicious wines come with bonus backstory and apparently simple dishes reveal themselves as complex while still being disarmingly easy to love.
There are two menu mainstays. The pig's head sandwich is an explodingly juicy croquette brightened with parsley-mustard mayo between rounds of Coles sliced white.
And pastrami-brined kangaroo is sliced into wafers, laid over cultured cream and scattered with crisp onions.
Both dishes are quietly ethical: the jowly sandwich speaks of nose to tail, the roo of abundant wild-caught meat.
Tinsley is proud to serve Congress classics but he's made his mark with from-scratch elements (housemade malt butter with the excellent sourdough), cheese (either made here or by his curd nerd mate Lucy Whitlow), and a slew of odd bits that are cured or fermented into flavour bombs.
One is a robust snack of juniper-pickled pear with duck ham. Another is a brilliant vegan dish that combines sweet-sour leeks, parsnip cream and chestnuts: the elements are simple but the cascading play of flavours and textures belies detailed thought and technique. For example, the parsnips are braised in Bonsoy, creating a milky amalgam that meets somewhere between earthy and ethereal.
Service is astute and the room is congenial, ensuring this chapter in the Congress tale is gripping and inspiring.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)