Grub review

Inside Grub's leafy greenhouse.
Inside Grub's leafy greenhouse. Photo: Christopher Hopkins

87-89 Moor St Fitzroy, VIC 3065

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Opening hours Tue-Fri 10am-10pm; Sat 8am-10pm; Sun 8am-6pm
Features Family friendly, Licensed, Outdoor seating, Cheap Eats, Breakfast-brunch, Bar, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9419 8991

There's nowhere like Grub. How could there be? The restaurant started eight years ago as a coffee van in Tim Mann and Mark Murphy's front yard, then it crept into the home out the back, sprouted a kitchen, and eventually evicted its owners.

Tim and Mark have moved around the corner but Grub is more homely than ever, a hospitable hangout in the world you wish you lived in: community minded, open hearted, unflustered and unrelentingly delicious.

Being here feels like hanging out at a good friend's ramshackle country property, only you never quite sit down with said friend because they're always pottering away in the kitchen, sending you tasty morsels.

Blowtorched sardines and roasted capsicum on sourdough.
Blowtorched sardines and roasted capsicum on sourdough. Photo: Christopher Hopkins

While they're concocting, you're lazing around in the rambling garden, fluttery with birds, dotted with dogs, overseen by a silver Airstream caravan that dispenses drinks: maybe an iced latte, a peppery celery soda or a pitcher of sangria.

Otherwise, you're closer to the open, rustic kitchen in the greenhouse, a sprawling agglomeration of artists' salon, arboretum and happy share house.

So who is this friend in the kitchen? Chef Ravi Presser may have put food on your plate at Circa (way back in the Michael Lambie days), Cumulus Inc or Feast of Merit. He's an ingredient lover, a believer in sourcing the good stuff, nudging it towards simpatico flavours and letting it be what it is.

Vintage tomato salad.
Vintage tomato salad. Photo: Christopher Hopkins

He's been at Grub since August, sharpening the focus, simplifying the food and his menu is confident and expressive, flowing from season to season, morning to night.

It's always a good time of day to eat fresh sardines. These fillets are cooked by running a blowtorch over the skin, and laid over sourdough with sweet roasted peppers and sheep's milk curd.

Heirloom tomatoes – whatever's good on the day - are served raw, crumbled with spiced labne, lemon, red onion and nuts. Fennel is roasted hard, then jazzed up with the last mandarins, pickled celery and candied walnuts.

Pierre Roelofs is on dessert duty. Berry frangipane tart pictured.
Pierre Roelofs is on dessert duty. Berry frangipane tart pictured. Photo: Christopher Hopkins

Every dish turns one ingredient into an accomplished soloist, then builds a chorus around it: zest, crunch, sweetness, pucker, an easy stretch to harmony.

Grub feels the weather. When it's clement, it's all golden light and good vibes but on super hot days, the greenhouse warms like it was designed to do and humans may wilt. Air-con wouldn't be apt here; instead, there's a mist spritzer that gamely assists.

What also helps is a cold summer soup: cauliflower is simmered in a fish stock base, dotted with lightly pickled mussels and slugged with fruity frantoio olive oil.

The savoury food is boosted by a cake cabinet stocked by dessert maestro Pierre Roelofs. I've heard people cross town for the carrot cake but I can't go past the frangipane tart: crisp pastry, buttery almond meal and the very best berries.

Beyond the sweet shelf is the kitchen sink. Owner Tim Mann often does the dishes – owning a restaurant is so glamorous – and it's among the suds that he experiences the nanoseconds of satisfaction that keep him in business. "Sometimes I'll look out and the place is buzzing, delivering those moments of sincerity that we try for," he tells me. "It feels good."

Grub's delight in the pleasure of giving is obvious: on the plate, in the room, even in the jar of dog treats. It takes hard work and sharp-eyed clarity to be this cruisy: thanks, Grub, for pedalling steadily underwater so we can sit up here and sip sangria.

Rating: four stars (out of five).