Dutch Mess from Merricote in Northcote.
Dutch Mess from Merricote in Northcote. Photo: Ken Irwin

81 High Street Northcote, Victoria 3070

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Opening hours L Fri–Sat; D Tue–Sat
Features Accepts bookings, Degustation, Events, Groups, Licensed, Long lunch, Open fire, Outdoor seating, Private dining, Pre-post-theatre, Romance-first date
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Stuart Munro
Seats 30
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9939 4762

What a lovely little place. Open for 18 months, Merricote has settled happily into its skin; it's both confident and playful, welcoming and keen. It has the warm heart of a neighbourhood bistro but it's also a sophisticated restaurant, with a small but savvy wine list, a thoughtful menu and expert service led by co-owner Bronwyn Kabboord. The food is grounded in French technique but there's a facility with Japanese flavours too.

There are also dishes that reference chef-owner Rob Kabboord's Dutch heritage without lapsing into Netherlandic stodge. A modern outlook sees some dishes served in surprising ways - in jars, with smoke, chilled when you're expecting hot, savoury elements where the sweet might have been. Most of the time it works; the bonus is you get big ideas for medium-size prices.

A love of the pig is evident in every part of the menu. There's charcuterie to kick off. There's capocolla (dry-cured pork) among the entrees, part of a delicious and fun dish of smoked egg yolk with broad beans, peas and puffed rice crisps. I love it for its theatre (there's a smoke-filled jar), varied textures and the bang-on seasoning that strikes me again and again during my Merricote meal.

Capocolla is a less happy addition to a dessert of miniature Dutch-style doughnuts, alcoholic currants and maple syrup parfait. I see where it's heading (Americano brunch meets Amsterdam food truck) but this dish is less balanced than others tried.

There's a gorgeous pork main course. If you learnt about animals from current Melbourne menus, you'd be forgiven for thinking pigs are comprised solely of bellies. Merricote reminds us they have shoulders, too, with a slow-cooked chunk of fatty gorgeousness that's braised in master stock, pressed and crisped to serve with apple chunks and ''gravy'' that's really pickling liquid and pork broth. It's a clever dish, honouring a less-loved cut and the timeless combination of pork and apple.

It's not all pig. You could easily come for snacks (rabbit meatballs, prawn cigars), wine (including 10 by glass and carafe) and cheese (offered from a handsome trolley).

The main dining room is a lovely place, as though the owners merged dreams of winding French roads, farm kitchens and golden Melbourne times. It's clearly underpinned by hard work but being there is effortless.

81 High Street, Northcote, 9939 4762
Licensed AE MC V eftpos
Thurs to Sat, noon-2.30pm; Tues to Sat, 5.30-10pm
Small $9-$19; mains $29-$35; desserts $13-$15