81 High Street Northcote, Victoria 3070
|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)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9939 4762|
Locals aren't the only ones dropping by for intelligent food and stylish service.
WHERE AND WHAT
Merricote owners Rob and Bronwyn Kabboord say the name derives from the Merri Creek and the Northcote 'burb, but I suspect it could be an indigenous word that translates as "the perfect local restaurant". No simple equation, it's a combination of professionalism worn with unstuffy grace, seriously good food and a wine list that holds its own. There's more boxes being ticked than on a census form, and it's great value to boot.
WHERE TO SIT
The fitout is unpretentious, bordering on quaint, with animals (of the edible sort) providing the single shopfront's unifying motif. Noise is squelched by a patterned rug, light bulbs on cords mix it with old-fashioned standing lamps and, out back, there's dining in a courtyard on the astroturf.
There's more boxes being ticked than on a census form, and it's great value to boot.
Plenty of interest here, as befitting a past winner of The Age Good Food Guide's gong for short wine list.
Merricote's engine hums with only Rob and one other chef in the kitchen - which makes the bold, intelligent, rather worked but unfussy food all the more surprising. There are glimpses of his Dutch heritage, including the rabbit bitterballen - fat, juicy meatballs with mustard fruits.
Lamb gets the nose-to-tail treatment - palest pink loin, belly like supercharged bacon, the brain crumbed and fried, tongue, a sausage, all ladled with a jus that largely owes its charms to the cooking juices. With plenty of add-ons - pickled shallot, peas, chestnut, black olives - it's a great example of whole-animal cooking.
A fat, golden-skinned fillet of John Dory dominates a slate-grey plate, set atop a muddle of shaved cuttlefish and fennel with cauliflower and the salty crunch of sea succulents. With a lemony oil base, it's simple and effective.
Dessert is a stunner: fat quenelles of white-chocolate mousse, jewel-like violet jellies, salty biscuit crumbs and crunchy-chewy meringue.
The Westgarth cinema is a few doors along and Merricote will get moviegoers in and out before the next session of The Hobbit if they mention their time constraints. Diversity rules but it's mostly a crowd that knows its kale from its kohlrabi.
Because every restaurant aims for the kitchen-service synergy but few achieve it with such aplomb.