Fitzroy social enterprise restaurant Charcoal Lane is closing after 12 years

Diners enjoyed dishes showcasing Indigenous ingredients at Charcoal Lane.
Diners enjoyed dishes showcasing Indigenous ingredients at Charcoal Lane.  Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Pioneering social enterprise Charcoal Lane restaurant is closing after 12 years of providing hospitality training and employment to aspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander chefs, and fine dining-style Indigenous dishes for its diners.

The last day of trade for the Gertrude Street restaurant will be September 16, with building owner Victorian Aboriginal Health Service returning to the site to provide increased services to its community in the wake of the pandemic. The health service originally occupied the building between 1979 and 1992.

Emu crepinette with risotto was on the menu at Charcoal Lane in 2020.
Emu crepinette with risotto was on the menu at Charcoal Lane in 2020. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

"When Mission Australia opened Charcoal Lane in 2009, they breathed new life into this building which has immense cultural and historical significance for our local Aboriginal community. We are looking forward to the next chapter for this building where we will continue to provide vital healthcare to our community," said Michael Graham, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, in a statement.

Charcoal Lane was established as a social enterprise, with profits from the restaurant reinvested to provide up to 30 young Indigenous people with vocational skills and accredited qualifications each year. More than 300 young people were part of the program.

During its 12-year tenure, Charcoal Lane attracted global headlines , with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle dining there in October 2018.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited Charcoal Lane during their visit to Melbourne in 2018.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited Charcoal Lane during their visit to Melbourne in 2018.  Photo: Phil Noble

The venue acted as a platform for showcasing Indigenous ingredients before they became more mainstream. Bundjalung man Mark Olive kickstarted popular interest in what were termed "bush foods" in the 1980s through his television appearances, along with European-trained chefs Jean-Paul Bruneteau and Andrew Fielke, who helped bring it to a fine-dining setting.

Charcoal Lane pre-dates the recent resurgence of native Australian ingredients that has been led by the likes of chefs Kylie Kwong, Ben Shewry and Dan Hunter.

The restaurant's menus were driven by the seasons and included 12-hour wallaby shank with quince poached in wine and strawberry gum, and laksa enhanced by bunya nut and lemon myrtle.

A mural on the side of the Charcoal Lane building painted by local artist and Gunnai Waradgerie man Robert Young will remain.
A mural on the side of the Charcoal Lane building painted by local artist and Gunnai Waradgerie man Robert Young will remain. Photo: Chris Hopkins

It also offered catering to high-profile events and venues including Marvel Stadium and the Grand Prix, showcasing lesser-known ingredients to international visitors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurantĀ pivoted to takeaway and also prepared meals for those in need.

"My hope is that what we've done in this environment has helped young people achieve a pathway to their own independence. But in addition IĀ hope we've helped shine a light on aboriginal culture through food. It's an entry point," said Troy Crellin, Mission Australia's manager of social enterprise programs in Victoria.

136 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, charcoallane.com.au