FROM THE FARM
Some restaurateurs open successively bigger, grander enterprises. Not Catherine Chauchat, whose new 30-seat tapas bar is smaller than anything she's done before. In its pocket-sized simplicity and direct connections to farmers and diners, it's the perfect restaurant to take us into 2021.
Chauchat's last restaurant was Boire, a 60-seat Collingwood darling known for its tight menu (three mains), milk ban (black coffee only) and easy warmth. It closed in 2013, and Chauchat returned to her native France for two years before realising Australia is the country of her heart. She came back, studied psychotherapy and fetched up at Pinotta in North Fitzroy, where she met chef Adam Racina.
Together they hatched the plan for La Pinta and found an old Italian espresso bar to bring it to life. They kept the kitsch murals and installed a large central bar with open kitchen.
The counter is a captain's bridge from which Chauchat can pour $5 vermouth and wine from tapped barrels, sling plates from the kitchen and tortilla from the cabinet, talk about the important stuff – wine, humans, farming – and keep things humming. La Pinta feels casual but it is very deliberate, a balance of utter rigor and disarming informality that means labour and costs are reduced and prices stay low.
The food is free-wheeling, though more Spanish than anything else. A broccoli salad comes with florets and stalks plus raw cauliflower and its pickled stalks – not much hits the bin here.
Meat is minimal and chosen carefully. "Spent hen" fettuccine makes a treat of tough laying birds, brining, browning and braising the meat into a deeply flavoured ragu. Beef heart is also brined before searing and tossing with pickled shallots to create a bright nose-to-tail salad. Mackerel is topped with broad beans, capers and a dressing with garum, the ancient Roman version of fish sauce, fermented by Racina for eight months.
This is unfussy, farmer-focused food served without artifice. But La Pinta is also a thoughtful treatise – about how people should interact with the world and each other – in the entirely palatable form of a tapas bar.
La Pinta 791 High Street, Reservoir, 0492 818 032, lapintareservoir.com.au
Open Wed-Sat 4pm-late
Prices Tapas: $5-$10; Plates: $10-$20
Future Food System
A collaboration between sustainability activist Joost Bakker and chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett is almost complete. The closed-loop building is habitation and farm, sustaining 250 species of plants, insects, snails, fish and chickens. For five months, Stone and Barrett will live in the house that feeds them.
Federation Square, Melbourne, futurefoodsystem.com
The General Food Store
Given its community and sustainability focus, it makes sense that local producers are openly honoured at this Dandenong Ranges cafe. Whether it's greens from Ramarro Farm or free-range pasture-raised eggs from Springfern, this menu walks the eat-local talk.
377 Belgrave-Gembrook Road, Emerald, 03 5968 3580, thegeneralfoodstore.com.au
Just six kilometres from lovely Lake House, the Wolf-Tasker family's Dairy Flat Farm has two hectares of vegetable gardens, plus glasshouses, an orchard and olive grove. The bounty of these gardens, plus produce from beloved farmers forms the basis of seasonal meals at the venerable restaurant.
King Street, Daylesford, 03 5348 3329, lakehouse.com.au
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