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|
What's that study about women with higher qualifications not going for jobs that men with lesser credentials put their hands up for? I thought of that when talking to Hannah Green, owner of wine-loving community-hugging Etta, about how hard she worked to convince Rosheen Kaul, her 28-year-old new female head chef, that Kaul would indeed be able to run the kitchen at this 70-seat restaurant. Four months in, Kaul just about believes her.
It only took one meal to sell me. Rosheen Kaul has taken her multicultural Asian background with influences including Kashmir, China, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, and a CV that includes Lee Ho Fook, Dinner by Heston and Smith & Deli and meshed her sensibility, skills and smarts into the Etta menu structure of raw, grilled, snacky and salady stuff for sharing, most of it cooked over a red gum-fired hearth.
The result is a fierce and tasty poem about how we eat now.
Each dish riffs on food memories that play upon Kaul, and that she plays with in turn. A long arc of belly-on pork rib is marinated in shio koji, a fermented rice slurry that tenderises meat and focuses its flavours, enriched with Filipino adobo notes of soy, vinegar and garlic.
It's grilled – smoky, juicy, sticky – then served with an oyster emulsion that recalls the Korean predilection for pairing oysters and pork in hotpots, lettuce wraps, life. Writing about it pulls me back into the animal reverie of gnawing on the bone.
If the muscled finesse of the pork dish is about as close as Kaul gets to fine dining, the fried school prawns with curry leaves are a more straightforward pleasure. I could eat a bucket of them.
Same with the house sourdough with its crunchy chicken skin-studded schmear.
Scallop crudo is simple too, a painterly paean to produce in pearl and purple.
Who knew cucumber could be comfort food? Here it's lightly pickled, charred so it's faintly smoky, piled over milky stracciatella, daubed with 'nduja, scattered with dill.
You think Sichuan, Calabria, even Poland but you also give thanks to Melbourne, not just because we can dine here safely and joyously, unlike so many places around the world right now, but because we have chefs and restaurateurs looking back, forward and deep within to feed us such exciting food.