Little Drop of Poison

Foraged flowers garnish the beef tartare.
Foraged flowers garnish the beef tartare. Photo: Paul Jeffers

937A Main Rd Eltham, VIC 3095

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Opening hours Mon 6.30am-3pm; Tue-Fri 6.30am-late; Sat 8.30am-1am; Sun 8.30am-7pm
Features Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Kobi Ruzicka, Luci Di Lullo
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 0420 833 354

Little Drop of Poison is a chefs' bar, owned and run by a couple of mates who apprenticed together. Most people come for pots or schooners of craft beer (two taps), interesting Australian wines and the general intimacy that a little bar in a mid-century shopfront in a laneway (in Eltham) affords. But these guys also bring out great flavours in their deceptively simple-sounding bar food.

The laconic blackboard menu gives little away. "Croquettes" invites, and welcomes, inquiry. The tiny kitchen (if you can call an electric hotplate and grill behind the bar a kitchen) means there's a chef on hand to talk easily about their food, probably while pouring your drink.

The chef will be owner Kobi Ruzicka, who also owns business Them Bones, a kind of roving kitchen that does Brew & Stew residencies and pop-up tasting menu takeovers "sometimes in places without kitchens"; clearly he's a dab hand in tight spaces. The other chef is mate Luci Di Lullo who Ruzicka worked with at Va Tutto in Ivanhoe about six years ago.

Local pearl: Inside Little Drop of Poison in Eltham.
Local pearl: Inside Little Drop of Poison in Eltham. Photo: Paul Jeffers

The bar menu changes to some degree every few weeks. With spring here, you can expect locally foraged flowers (wild fennel, saltbush, sorrel) springing from beef tartare, a ring of hand-chopped free-range Yarra Valley beef marrying beautifully with its bed of smoked oyster cream. You might also find slow-cooked spring lamb served with crushed fresh green peas, kale chips and wild spice mix.

It's leek season; they might be charred in the pan, tossed in mustard, then dusted with finely shaved 24-month aged Comte. Fried school prawns tossed with chilli, black garlic and spring onions served with mayo and a wedge of lime are particularly good "crisps" for lager drinkers.

During the day, there's a breakfast and lunch menu serving coffee-cured salmon and avocado with sourdough, and sandwiches including specials like corned beef, mustard pickle and roasted red onion. By day, coffee is the poison of choice, and Little Drop of Poison opens early (from 6.30am weekdays) to serve the commuters filing down to the Hurstbridge line (just out the back) their doses of Small Batch coffee.

Slow-cooked spring lamb with crushed fresh peas and kale chips.
Slow-cooked spring lamb with crushed fresh peas and kale chips. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Whether seated at a high table against the long window or on a squat vinyl chair in the back, every perch is a chef's table of sorts; the place is small enough to feel part of the goings-on and to gather up pearls of local wisdom.

Said pearls could be observations on local vernacular (how nearby suburb Warranwood is a conjunction of neighbouring suburb names: Warrandyte and Ringwood) or suggestions on which wine is a good match with the gorgonzola and pear croquettes.

Do … Make use of the train station; you can see it from the back balcony.
Don't … Book, just walk in.
Vibe … Little drop of inner-city Melbourne in Eltham.
Prices … Breakfasts and lunches, $7-$18; bar food, $5-$20.