60 Lygon St Brunswick East, VIC 3057
|Features||Bar, Accepts bookings, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9448 8233|
Brunswick East has come a long way since it was known only for Hellenic Republic and gangland shootings. New apartments now tower over Lygon Street, and between the froghurt bars and wellness food emporiums developers assume off-the-plan buyers love, real life is stirring.
Etta is an entry from the school of Here and Now. The room is long, slim and sleek, a concrete, blond wood and bronze box that has had the magic eye and touch of designer Iva Foschia cast over it. Style-wise, you're looking at the Bar Liberty model of pro-veg cooking, electric wines, pretty surrounds and whip-smart service from staff who have trod some well-respected boards.
This A team consists of Hannah Green, who once lit up the floor at Attica, co-pilot Dominique Fourie McMillan (Rosetta alum) and chef Hayden McMillan, last seen serving mod-European dishes yum cha-style at the Roving Marrow.
Here, McMillan has pulled back on some of the technical whiz-bangery, added some Japanese accents and, most importantly, is serving fettuccine made entirely from cheese. It's mozzarella, to be specific, sous-vide, rolled into sheets and cut to mild ribbons with convincing bite. Depending on the season it might have zucchini and squash rumbled through it with kombu stock and dehydrated olive dust.
Take that dish and hold it to the light. It's your best marker for this restaurant's contempo-wine-food-without-borders ambitions.
Opening snacks include a Bar Liberty-ish snack of tempura brassicas – shaved sheets of turnips and broccoli stems given a tangy vinegar dust. But right alongside are briny oysters, which also get a similarly fine battering for dunking in aioli. A plate of fresh veg and pickles – sweet onions, tiny radishes and celery sticks that taste much as usual – to run through grassy herb emulsion is a fresh, if uneventful place to start.
In fact, a lot of the wildest and most exciting things you'll put in your mouth will come in liquid form. The house blanc de blanc is a batch of Yarra chardonnay from winemaker Dom Valentine, laid on lees for six years and finished in collaboration with Green just for Etta. With dessert comes lightly effervescent, low on booze Bugey Cerdon made in the methode ancestral style. You have already guessed, from the cut of Etta's jib and its local and seasonal rhetoric, that the words small batch, and minimal intervention play on repeat.
A word on Etta's mission statement. The pitch back in December was a 70-per cent plant-based menu. That has landed closer to 50-50. You can certainly be a vegetarian here (or gluten-free, for that matter, given the malty bread with almost caramely whipped brown butter is the only glutinous carb we see). A salty-sweet and fudgy wedge of tamari-slicked pumpkin, crunched up with sunflower seeds, will be the go-to, followed by the Jap-Italian black vinegar-marinated eggplant in a shaggy panko crumb and creamy polenta, all crowned with fresh tomatoes.
My vegetarian mates are happy without erupting in the kind of fizz Town Mouse's cult cabbage or cauliflower dishes inspire. A protein option would also help round out the offering. For the rest of us bloodthirsty suckers, there are straight easy options: sticky and delicate flounder fillets with green beans and silky almond cream; a couple of plush pink slices of charcoal lamb rump with sweet figs and goat's curd.
Whichever way you swing, the fact is, they could be serving and you'd still come for the thermal waves that ripples off the warm service, the sparkle of what's happening in glass and the pretty glow that comes off the marble hourglass bar up front. Big things could happen at this small batch bar.
Brunswick East gets a neighbourhood bistro from the school of Here and Now
Pro Tip: A bar snack menu is coming down the pipeline.
Go-to Dish: Mozzarella pasta, with zucchini and black olive ($17).