22-30 Lygon St Brunswick East, VIC 3057
|Opening hours||Wed-Thu 5pm-late; Fri-Sat noon-11pm; Sun noon-6pm|
|Features||Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9943 3050|
It looks like Brunswick East is the next big thing in dining. There's Etta and Old Palm Liquor. Plenty of restaurateurs are being lured by the hope that hundreds of apartments will mean big business. Will they? Only time will tell.
Faye, which quietly opened in December, is a contemporary wine bar built into one of Lygon Street's freshest towers. And if you were betting on its chances, the form looks fairly good. Chefs Marcus Dimabuyo and Daniel Naylor met at the refined Aubergine in Canberra. Their partner and floor manager, Rhen Dodd, is a winemaker who can steer you right.
That location? Despite warm olive walls and jars of preserves, bright bottles of spirits and neat modern chairs, there's no getting around how hard it is to make these boxy blank canvases feel alive. And yet the food brings a personality the bones of the room cannot.
The house-made bread is sticky and spongy in the best way, with a dark chewy crust that makes it compelling without the cultured butter (which risks being a little too cheesy).
Arancini, often the restaurant world's way to punish people for being dull enough to order a deep-fried rice ball, has the consistency of a properly made risotto, the grains equally interspersed with sweet corn and mussels and the whole crumbed thing offset by a salted lemon aioli.
Their croquette is packed with silverbeet and comte cheese, its fine shell draped with shreds of fermented asparagus and pureed apple. It's the well-balanced antithesis of filler fodder.
Faye's is a labour-intensive menu. There are simple moments, like skewered and lightly seared chicken hearts and fresh cherries, so minimal you must love iron-rich offal to be a fan. But even dishes that read simply have a determined individuality.
A dish of their own soft ricotta is perfumed with fig leaf, and served with heirloom tomatoes, grilled grapes and sorrel in a tomato water vinaigrette. It's elegantly spare.
Blue swimmer crab comes to the table cross-hatched by fine shreds of squash squiggled with a preserved cumquat sauce so it resembles the Japanese pancake okonomiyaki. Get a scoop of all the layers – the salty-sweet funk of the crustacean, the bitter tang of the sauce with a surprise curry hit of spice-mix vadouvan, with the neutral squash playing diplomat between – and you get an idea of the fine line this kitchen is willing and able to walk.
Where's the steak? Back in the hedonistic year of 2019, it seems. The proteins, as you might be noticing of other newcomers to the restaurant scene, are either fish or offal.
But the conscious attitude isn't a trial. Not when there are deep yellow potato gnocchi (properly tasting of the sweet tubers) washed in a buttery eel sauce with smoky bits of the flesh closing the loop on a stunning dish. Or a whole butterflied whiting, with its skin sticky and its body washed in a vibrantly verdant stinging nettle sauce (even if the grilled lettuce garnish is an aggressive interloper).
On the floor, Dodd holds up his end of the bargain, which is tough when there aren't many souls to liven up the joint. He's playing the hits equally from home and abroad, so you can get an Eden Valley riesling or a bright nebbiolo rosé from Langhe, Italy. The fig-infused whey that comes off the ricotta becomes a booze-free soda with strawberry, mint and lemon.
Dessert? Currently a festival of bright and interesting ice. There's a flowering gum ice-cream with smoked mango, or a salted coconut sorbet that enhances a rockmelon granita in the same way a bit of prosciutto might.
Faye's ethos and creative streak might not be reflected in a room that's a tough sell when there aren't enough souls, but it's perfect for the area. I think the bodies will come when they find that out.
Vegetarian Dietaries pretty much define the menu.
Drinks Local spirits, small batch beers, and a tight but interesting Australian-European list.
Cost Bites $8; medium $16-$20; large $26-$30.
Pro Tip: Long Sunday lunches are coming soon.
Go-to Dish: Mussel and corn arancini with salted lemon aioli ($8).